Sonoma County home prices go higher, stay higher

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For the past 48 months, Sonoma County’s home prices consistently have remained higher from a year earlier.

That trend held in May when the median single-family home price rose to $580,500, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report, compiled by Pacific Union International senior vice president Rick Laws. The price increased 6.5 percent from a year earlier.

The last time home prices were higher 12 months earlier was in May 2012. Four years ago the median price was $329,500, and the housing market was just starting a rebound that continues to this day.

“We have been consistently recovering,” Laws said Monday. “And we are in recovery.”

Buyers last month purchased 428 single-family homes in the county. The total was 5.9 percent lower than a year earlier. But to-date sales for 2016 are nearly identical to the same period for the past two years.

The housing market remains a place where large numbers of county residents can’t afford a home and where many potential buyers face obstacles when seeking property, agents and brokers say. Such buyers include those looking for condominiums and smaller homes and those who need to sell a property in order to buy another one.

If you’re a buyer competing for houses priced under $500,000, “you are struggling,” said Vicki Roberts, an agent with Bertolone Realty in Santa Rosa.

This week Roberts offered a home in Rohnert Park for $479,000 and quickly received five offers and plenty of inquiries.

“I’ve been swamped with calls,” she said.

The county’s median price now stands just 7 percent below the record high of $619,000 set in August 2005. That peak came in the midst of a national housing bubble made possible by risky residential lending.

The bubble burst a few years later. By February 2009, the median price had fallen to a low of $305,000.

As prices rebounded, more residents have found themselves priced out of the market. Only 26 percent of county households could afford the median priced home here in the year’s first quarter, according to the California Association of Realtors.

“They’re seeing the market run away from them again,” said Gerrett Snedaker, senior vice president for the North Bay division of Wine Country Group by Better Homes and Gardens.

When prices return to the previous peak, nearly all homeowners will no longer be under water, he said. That should mean more owners can sell with equity or at least not take a loss by putting their homes on the market.

“Over the next couple of years we’ll see the inventory come up higher,” Snedaker said.

May ended with fewer than 800 homes for sale, less than a two-month supply of inventory at the current rate of sales. Agents and other experts generally consider that indicative of a sellers market.

Laws predicted prices have yet to peak.

“My feeling is there’s a lot of money out there,” he said. Much of it belongs to buyers coming in from San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Roberts said she still sees signs that the market has yet to return to normal. At a recent open house, three buyers told her they have sold homes and moved into short-term rentals so they won’t have to make offers contingent upon the sale of their properties.

Contingency offers can work when a seller is looking at just one or two offers, Roberts said. But when multiple offers come in, “those poor buyers get beat out every time.”

An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect year for the record median price. It was 2005.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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