Sonoma County’s luxury home market poised for coming tech IPOs

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The $10 million home that just went on the market in Bennett Valley was built with tech money and there’s a good chance tech money will buy it.

The 2-year-old open design home has a breathtaking view of the western slopes of Bennett Mountain. Curved, twisted and gnarly oak trees outside the home’s countless windows frame views of green vineyards, grasslands and horse ranches.

Mary Anne Veldkamp, a Santa Rosa real estate agent who listed the property, said the likely buyer is probably someone from San Francisco or Silicon Valley looking for a vacation home or second home — someone like the person who built it, Bruce Gilpin, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Versity Software.

“I actually could see this as a perfect home for the San Francisco buyer, honestly someone in tech — this is their Wine Country residence,” said Veldkamp, who deals in high-end homes at Coldwell Banker.

Gilpin, a software entrepreneur who has been building companies from scratch for two decades, said technology money has been coming up to the North Bay for “some time,” building or buying homes like the one he built in Bennett Valley.

And if the past is any guide, the North Bay, along with the rest of the Bay Area, could receive another injection of tech wealth in the next few years.

With an estimated total valuation of up to $200 billion, the latest wave of Bay Area tech companies that have gone or are expected to go public this year could create thousands of new millionaires. These include recent IPOs for Uber, Lyft, Pinterest and Beyond Meat, as well as offerings expected soon for Slack, Airbnb and more.

Employees who joined these companies early on stand to make millions. Where and how they spend that money is the subject of giddy speculation among Bay Area economists.

While much of that wealth will likely remain in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, economists and Bay Area real estate professionals say the North Bay’s high-end real estate market will likely be a big draw for out-of-town buyers suddenly flush with money.

Deniz Kahramaner, a data scientist turned San Francisco real estate agent, has done extensive analysis of how previous IPO wealth has impacted the Bay Area real estate market. Kahramaner, who recently founded Big Data Realtor, said this year’s wave of IPOs could generate between $180 and $200 million and as many as 5,000 millionaires.

IPOs for Lyft, Pinterest, Beyond Meat and Uber generated more than $118 billion on their launch dates. Slack, Peloton, Airbnb, Palantir, Postmates and The We Company, formerly WeWork, are all reported to be preparing public offerings this year.

Kahramaner said the infusion of IPO wealth is not immediate and usually follows a “lock-up period” where certain classes of shareholders are restricted from selling off their shares.

“People usually start purchasing properties a year and a half or two years after an IPO,” Kahramaner said.

Al Lerma, director of business development and innovation for the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said the local property sellers are hoping to capture at least some of the wealth of “newly minted tech millionaires looking to invest their dollars in Sonoma County real estate.”

But he said none of the companies that are going public are based in Sonoma County, so he doesn’t expect much direct impact on the local business economy beyond the luxury real estate market.

“Most of the IPOs are for firms based in and around San Francisco, which is likely where any additional job growth and expansion will take place,” he said.

Gilpin, the owner of the Bennett Valley home, said those with excess wealth often look to buy second homes, airplanes or other luxury items. When he bought the Bennett Valley property, he wasn’t looking for a second or vacation home.

Gilpin said he was able to connect remotely to his work and started looking for property in all the usual locations, including Healdsburg and Sonoma. Bennett Valley offered both a beautiful rural setting that was only minutes away from Santa Rosa.

The nearly 6-acre property is surrounded by vineyards such as Matanzas Creek, Frost Watch and Argot, as well as undeveloped natural spaces that are visible from nearly every vantage point on the property.

Gilpin essentially razed the home that was built on the property but kept the unique, U-shaped footprint. The 5,700-square-foot home includes an open courtyard, a long, spacious kitchen and main dining and living room area, four bedrooms and six bathrooms.

The property also has a 75-foot lap pool, outdoor hot tub, bocce court and a half-acre, deer-fenced orchard that doubles as a dog run and has two dozen fruit trees, including cherry, pear, apple, plum, persimmon, pomegranate and fig.

Gilpin said he’s lived there with his family since it was completed in 2017 and it was supposed to be their “long-term” primary home. But he said he’s moving his family to the Portland area because one of his companies there is growing rapidly. He said he also has relatives in Portland.

“We loved it here,” he said.

Gilpin had the flexibility to live in Sonoma County but work remotely. Not all tech workers and soon-to-be tech millionaires will have that luxury, and many will stay close to their jobs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, said Kahramaner of Big Data Realtor.

Issi Romen, a chief economist at Trulia, and a fellow with the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, said the effects of the economic impact of the coming IPO wave is likely to be dispersed throughout the Bay Area.

Romen said some employees who joined tech companies during their infancy years ago have already moved out of San Francisco. For the vast majority of these workers, as well as those still living in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, commuting all the way to Santa Rosa or some other Sonoma County town or city is unlikely, he said.

The impact of the next injection of IPO wealth will be generalized, he said. “It’s not going to cause a temporary spike, but will likely feed demand in the long-run housing appreciation,” he said.

As housing prices in the SF and core Bay Area rise, people gradually move outward to “cheaper pastures,” Romen said.

“Appreciation comes in the form of IPOs and employee equity,” Romen said. “This is another pump or cycle or influx of that flow of capital into the Bay Area. It’s going to keep supporting the long-term increase in prices.”

That’s been happening for years, said Ned MacDonald, the owner of a 500-acre ranch just east of Gilpin’s property.

During a real estate broker’s tour of Gilpin’s home this week, MacDonald, 67, and his wife, Vivien, got a chance to see the inside of the new home they said “lit up” a good portion of Bennett Valley at night. The MacDonalds said they were viewing the property for a friend.

The couple said they’ve tried to maintain their property much as it was when their home was built around 1900. They could see their horse stables on the other side of Bennett Valley Road from Gilpin’s east wall windows in the living room.

“The landscape of people in Northern California has changed with the money from Silicon Valley, which is kind of the epicenter of the world,” said Ned MacDonald.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

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