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Cloverdale, the Russian River and the Sonoma Coast — three areas unscathed by October’s devastating wildfires — together saw a jump in home purchases this year that nearly equals all sales in 2018 for Sonoma County’s residential real estate market.

The three regions each saw home sales increase by 40 percent or more in 2018 compared to a year earlier, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International senior vice president Rick Laws. Property owners in those communities together sold 59 more homes during the first four months of the year than in the same period of 2017.

In comparison, sales for the entire county grew by 61 homes during that period, an increase of 5 percent from a year earlier.

Several reasons are given for the increased sales in those areas. Some buyers may be looking farther afield after last fall’s deadly wildfires, which destroyed nearly 5,300 homes in and around Santa Rosa and the Sonoma Valley. Some owners apparently decided that record prices make for a good time to sell, even if it means leaving the county. And out-of-area buyers continue to seek second homes at the coast, the river area and Wine Country.

“We have several folks who were fire victims who decided to buy out here,” said Steve Hecht, a broker associate at Artisan Sotheby’s International Realty in Bodega Bay.

Most coastal sales still involve those purchasing second homes, he said, but the fire survivors “certainly had an impact” on the increased sales.

The county’s real estate market has recorded six years of rising prices in the aftermath of a national housing crash that began in 2007. During that tumult, the county’s median price hit a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

The median price ended April at $685,000, less than 1 percent below the record high of $689,000 set two months earlier in February. The price increased nearly 11 percent from a year earlier.

April ended with fewer than 680 homes for sale, an increase of nearly 2 percent from a year earlier. That total amounts to less than two months’ worth of inventory at the current sales pace, which is generally considered a sign of a seller’s market.

On a countywide basis, the market data look similar to last year, agents and brokers said. But the picture changes when the focus turns to individual communities within the county.

Laws called it significant that so many more homes have been sold this year in Cloverdale and along the Russian River.

“I think buyers are going out to wherever they can find affordable housing,” he said.

Ron Pavelka and his wife, Jane, are Pacific Union agents in Cloverdale, and he said many homeowners there have decided this year is the right time to place their properties on the market.

“We do have a fair number of people who are putting their homes up for sale and moving out of the county,” he said.

Susan Packer, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate Russian River in Guerneville, said most properties listed along the river are getting multiple offers this year. The buyers include fire survivors, retirees and commuters to the county’s Highway 101 corridor.

But the listings also attract a significant amount of younger Bay Area residents “who’ve suddenly found Guerneville and the Russian River.” Those buyers typically are seeking vacation homes.

As in other areas, the biggest demand is for “turnkey” homes that don’t need any remodeling.

“We find fixers are harder to sell,” Packer said.

Laws noted the three areas also had a bigger jump in median home prices compared to the county overall, which recorded a 12 percent increase to date this year from the same period in 2017. He cited six communities with significant growth in prices.

Southeast Santa Rosa led the way with a 23 percent gain in the median price from a year earlier. It was followed by Windsor, at 22 percent; the coast region and Cloverdale, both at 20 percent; northwest Santa Rosa, at 17 percent; and Russian River, at 16 percent.

For these communities, brokers and agents noted the overall number of transactions are generally small. Thus, it doesn’t take many unusual sales to significantly change the median price.

Also, they said, the jump in the median prices likely includes both rising values and a shift in the mix of sales toward homes in more expensive neighborhoods.

In areas with homes destroyed in the wildfires, more than 400 burned lots have been placed on the market since November, according to Laws. That includes 77 first listed in April.

Forty-seven such lots sold in April with a median price of $250,000. As of last month, nearly 200 burned lots have been sold since last fall.

In the months ahead, agents will be watching to see how many people who lost homes in the fires choose to buy another place rather than rebuild. Mike Kelly, an agent with Keller Williams in Santa Rosa, pointed to reports that the vast majority of those fire survivors have yet to settle with their insurance companies.

“I still think the wild card is all those people out there,” Kelly said. If large numbers of fire survivors decided to become home buyers, it could greatly add to the competition for properties.

Belinda Andrews, a broker associate with Century 21 in Santa Rosa, said the market may look similar to a year ago, but the rising prices suggest more competition among buyers.

“The difference is there are more people looking for the same amount of homes,” she said.

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

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