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Housing prices surge in post-fire Santa Rosa

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In aftermath of disaster, real estate firm reports many out-of-towners eyeing North Bay properties

Fire on a mountain overlooking a Santa Rosa street.
Mountain wildfire overlooking a Santa Rosa street.
Photo by weriset

The 2017 Northern California wildfires, which burned at least 245,000 acres, seemed poised to spell the end of Santa Rosa at one point; however, less than six months later, real estate site Trulia says that housing demand in the North Bay city has rebounded and even surpassed pre-fire conditions.

In a recently released Trulia report (“After the Fire”), analysts Alexandra Lee and David Weidner concluded that in the aftermath of the disaster the city and county’s lost-home stock tightened an already tight market. Among their findings:

  • Housing stock of course declined after the fires: “Available inventory dropped to 267 at the start of March [2018], down from 434 on October 1, 2017, just before the fire. [...] In Santa Rosa, empty-lot listings jumped 235 percent to 231 in March, up from 69 the same period a year ago. And, during the same period, listings with single-family homes fell 16.6 percent, to 267 from 320.”
  • And in the wake of new shortages, prices surged: “The median home price in Santa Rosa rose 5.5 percent to $630,000 in March, from $597,250 a year ago. And there was hardly a reprieve: The median home price hardly budged after the fire (dropping just $10,000 in November from October) and quickly rose again.”
  • If the fires had scared off buyers, then the loss of stock might not have mattered so much, but that wasn’t the case: “In February [2018], 71 percent of searches by Santa Rosa residents were for properties outside of the city, up from 67 percent of searches a year ago. But the top ZIP codes searched are still either in Santa Rosa or close-by markets such as Ukiah, Clearlake, and Sacramento. [...] Inbound searches to Santa Rosa rose eight percent in February from the same period a year ago.”
  • More or less the same trends occurred across the larger Sonoma County region: In February of 2017, Trulia recorded a median home price of $699,000 in the county, based on 881 listings. In February of 2018 the median was up to $780,750, across a spread of 676 homes.”
Structures Destroyed By California Wine Country Wildfires Rises To 8400 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Two important points need to be made about the Lee and Weidner’s findings—the first being that they were limited only to Trulia listings and searches, which aren’t necessarily representative of the general region.

Data firm CoreLogic, for example, reported that home prices in Sonoma County were actually down year over year in 2018, dropping 1.1 percent to a median of $519,000.

But on the other hand, the California Association of Realtors drew the same conclusion as Trulia, indicating a county median of $689K for the month, up more than 15 percent. So it appears there’s some room for interpretation when it comes to the numbers.

Second, even if Santa Rosa’s housing market rebounds in fairly quick order, there’s far more to the long-term fallout of the fires than just the housing prices.

Earlier in March, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the surge in homeless encampments in the county as rental vacancies plunge to near zero.

“There’s no work, no place to rent,” one displaced resident opined. “We’re stuck.”

Meanwhile, KQED says the Santa Rosa Water Department found dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals contaminating much of the city’s drinking water in February, likely the result of melted plastics from the fires.

While Trulia buyers may be scoping out $700,000 homes, thousands of current and former Santa Rosa citizens are still dealing with the more immediate and dire consequences of losing nearly five percent of the city’s overall housing stock over the course of a few weeks.

Structures Destroyed By California Wine Country Wildfires Rises To 8400 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images