Sonoma County home sales slowed markedly in November, but the housing market remains on track for its best showing in seven years.
Buyers purchased 349 single-family homes last month, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report compiled by Pacific Union International Vice President Rick Laws. Sales fell 16.9 percent from a year earlier.
The median price declined less than 1 percent from October to $453,000. The median increased 21 percent from a year earlier and has risen 42 percent from November 2011, when it was $318,000.
Home sales historically decline after Labor Day, but activity this autumn seemed slower than normal, said Gerrett Snedaker, a senior vice president in Sonoma for Wine Country Group by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
“We just didn’t have our typical fall flurry,” Snedaker said.
To date this year, county sales have exceeded $2.6 billion, the highest dollar volume for both houses and condominiums since 2006.
The market’s rebound follows a historic housing bubble, a dramatic plunge in prices and an unprecedented number of distressed homeowners who lost their properties.
The county’s median price soared to a record $619,000 in August 2005, before falling to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.
In the past seven years, more than 11,000 county homes were lost to foreclosure.
In November, sales actually increased 16 percent from a year earlier for those properties with equity.
However, sales of foreclosures and short sale properties fell by 76 percent. Last month such homes comprised just 11 percent of total sales.
“Equity sales have replaced the distressed market,” Laws said.
That’s good news for the real estate industry, he said, because more sellers today are able to go out and purchase another home. That doesn’t happen when owners surrender homes through foreclosure or short sale.
A short sale refers to a property that is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.
Part of this year’s jump in the median price is due to a drop in sales of starter homes and an increase in sales of homes in higher-priced neighborhoods.
The number of homes sold for less than $400,000 has declined 39 percent to date this year.
Meanwhile, sales at or above $400,000 have increased 44 percent. That includes 303 homes that were sold for $1 million or more, an increase of 35 percent from the same period in 2012.
November ended with slightly more than 700 available homes for sale, about a two-months supply at the current sales pace. That remains considerably less than the roughly six-month supply that experts say is needed for a balanced market.
As the year winds down, a few areas in the county stand out from the crowd.
Sales along the Sonoma Coast have increase 30 percent to date this year, the most of any area. In contrast, sales for the same period declined 8 percent for the entire county.
However, Scott Adams, owner of Adams Realty in Bodega Bay, said the picture is more mixed around his coastal community.
“We are seeing comparatively lower prices than last year and much fewer million dollar homes sold,” he said.
Meanwhile, sales around Sebastopol have increased 20 percent so far this year, and the total dollar volume for sales has climbed 40 percent to $205 million.
Many buyers remained on the hunt this month, said Mark Stevens, a broker associate with Artisan Sotheby’s International Realty in Sebastopol.
“The only reason were slowing down is there’s nothing on the market,” he said.
In Healdsburg, the median price of homes sold to date this year has increased 40 percent to $653,000.
Charlene Schnall, a broker associate at Healdsburg Sotheby’s International Realty, said even agents are surprised by the jump in prices and the way that people from around the country are inquiring about the small town.
“I think the quaintness, the plaza, is just drawing people here in droves,” she said.
— Robert Digitale