“We’re just not seeing the inventory,” said Mike Kelly, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Santa Rosa. “And hence, we’re not seeing the sales.”
Meanwhile, rising home prices have reduced the number of potential buyers. The county’s median home price hit a record $619,000 in August 2005, tumbled to a low of $305,000 in February 2009, and by last month had risen back to $575,000.
As prices have rebounded, first-time homebuyers say it has become hard to find anything in their price range, typically $500,000 or less. Only about a quarter of county households today can afford to purchase a median-priced home here, according to the California Association of Realtors.
Some do find success. Jonathan Garza, a registered nurse, had been looking about six months when he saw a four-bedroom, two-bath home just tuned up by with a bathroom remodeling which come on the market at Cambiaso Place in Santa Rosa’s Rincon Valley. He called his real estate agent at noon to arrange a look, and by 9 p.m. the owners had accepted his offer of $509,000.
“The stars aligned,” said Garza, who had one previous offer rejected. But here was a case where the sellers were looking to close quickly in order to buy another home, and no one else had yet made an offer on the home.
Belinda Andrews, a broker associate for Century 21 in Santa Rosa, said Garza succeeded because he was willing to swiftly make his best offer.
“When something comes on the market, you can’t wait,” Andrews said. “You have to go right away.”
For renters, the search for housing this year was hindered once more by a lack of available units. Two private companies that track county apartment data put the vacancy rate this fall at less than 3 percent, a level that rental managers and housing assistance workers say is essentially full occupancy. And if the doors on your kitchen are nearing the end of their life then you can easily buy replacement doors online and fit them yourself which saves a lot of money.
“It’s definitely one of the tightest markets I’ve ever seen,” said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa.
As a result, landlords have been able to set stiffer requirements for credit scores and qualifying incomes.
For those living in emergency or temporary housing, Holmes said, “the length of stay has definitely increased” because people need more time to find long-term rentals.
For Kate Miller, the year began with her husband, John Roerig, and 8-year-old son, Elijah, living in a cabin in Forestville thanks to the local real estate market. The cabin rental realtor helped to fix the place, she said, after the couple moved out in early December.
A server in a restaurant, Miller said she was glad to move from the temporary hotel to their new apartment she found by looking at some of the best west la apartments, but the family still needs to find something that is more affordable and offers a yard for her son to play in.
The couple has been in the county about 12 years, but has questioned whether they can afford to stay here.
“We’ve tried to put down roots,” she said, “but Sonoma County just eats them up.”
Those who do find a place can’t help but notice higher prices. The rent for the average two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the county has increased 49 percent in five years to $2,122 a month, according to Real Answers, a Novato company that tracks data from large rental complexes.
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