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Sonoma County’s housing market sees third straight drop in new listings

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Sonoma County’s housing sector in September suffered its third monthly drop in new listings from a year earlier, a trend that has some agents and brokers bracing for a possible slowdown in business.

The decline in the number of homes coming to market didn’t lead to a decline in sales. Buyers purchased 427 single-family homes in September, a 6 percent increase over a year ago, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report, compiled by Pacific Union International senior vice president Rick Laws. But while sales increased, new listings fell 12 percent from a year earlier.

For July through September, new listings have declined 14 percent from the same period in 2015, falling to the lowest level for those three months since Laws began reporting them in 2009.

“Frankly it amazes me that we’re seeing the ... sales that we are with so little inventory,” said Laws. September ended with less than a two-month supply of available homes at the current pace of sales.

The drop in new listings may itself be an impediment for agents and brokers seeking more homes to sell, he said. While the current low inventory makes for a seller’s market, many potential sellers now seem even less inclined to list their properties out of fear that it will be too hard to find a suitable replacement home.

“It’s worse now,” Laws said. “It’s gotten more pronounced.”

The median sales price for a single-family home last month increased 10 percent from a year earlier to $597,500. The median increased slightly more than 1 percent from $590,000 in August.

Laws and other real estate experts last month spoke to agents and brokers in Santa Rosa about the shifting housing market. At a breakfast meeting of the North Bay Association of Realtors, they noted the market in the short term may be shrinking but it also seems to be moving from the boom and bust of the past 15 years to a less volatile business.

County home prices soared after the turn of the millennium, reaching a record high of $619,000 in August 2005. But a national housing crisis followed, and the median crashed to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

Starting in 2012, median prices have risen each year, with annual gains of 8 to 23 percent.

Agents and brokers said sellers today seem more inclined to delay listing properties. One reason is the fear of being unable to find homes to replace their current residences.

Sellers this year also seem affected by doubts on such matters as the outcome of the U.S. presidential election or the ramifications of Britain exiting the European Union, said Dave Fahrner, an agent in Santa Rosa with Terra Firma Global Partners.

“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about the world in general,” he said.

And as in past years, some potential sellers don’t want to list homes now because a sale might not be completed before the holidays.

“I see people who have houses to sell being somewhat reluctant to put them on the market until the spring,” said Carol Lexa, an agent who works primarily in the county for San Francisco-based Paragon Real Estate Group.

Demand and supply vary widely among price segments in the market.

September ended with only 145 county homes priced for sale under $500,000, slightly more than one-month supply of inventory for that segment. Supply rose to about 1.5 months for homes priced between $500,000 and $1 million, but it jumped to a six-month supply for homes priced at $1 million and above.

The situation gets even more pronounced in the Sonoma Valley, said Gerrett Snedaker, senior vice president in Sonoma for the North Bay division of Wine Country Group by Better Homes and Gardens. A quarter of the available homes there are priced at or above $2.5 million. The number of such homes in that segment amounted to a 10-month supply.

“They’re taking a lot longer to sell,” Snedaker said.

In the county’s condominium market, the median sales price in September increased almost 18 percent from a year earlier to $341,250. In contrast, the median condominium price hit a low in June 2011 of $133,000, roughly the same price as in 1999 without adjusting for inflation.

To date this year, buyers have purchased 535 condominiums, an increase of 4 percent from a year earlier. In comparison, single-family home sales have declined almost 3 percent to date this year to 3,540.

Two weeks ago the county had just one condominium selling for under $200,000, Fahrner said. A year earlier a number of units were selling under that price, but demand has increased as rising prices have pushed more buyers out of the single-family home segment.

“The condo market is red hot because it has become the entry-level buyer market,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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