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The Hipsters Are Coming, and They’re Ready to Buy

Home prices in Petaluma are getting to be just as expensive as Marin, says this Petaluma real estate agent.

Last week an old friend of mine closed escrow on his first home in Mill Valley. It’s cute: a 1952 model with hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, a flat roof and a central courtyard layout on a corner lot, all wrapped up in a tidy 1,300 square-foot package just minutes to the charming town center. 

The price tag, however, isn’t as storybook. While many prospective Petaluma homebuyers are on the fence over $350,000 price tags, these first-timers jumped in at $700,000.  

All of which gave me a little reality check — that for being an extension of the Bay Area, Petaluma is an extremely affordable place to live. 

Consider this.

The median home price in Marin County is $690,000 compared to $400,000 in Sonoma County.

Looking at the average sale price for the area, the number climbs even higher to $860,000. By comparison, at $402,000, our county median sales figure is 71 percent less than our southern neighbor.    

Back to mt Mill Valley friend. 

Using an FHA mortgage, he and his wife will have a $4,400 monthly mortgage payment. Contrast that to a Petaluma couple who could have taken their pick of West Petaluma listings this year for $400,000 or less, should they use that same loan, their mortgage would be almost $2,000 less at $2,658. 

For the same price, both couples would be in award-winning public school districts (the main reason my friend didn’t purchase in San Francisco), and both would be within one mile of a downtown stocked with restaurants, art galleries, public parks, and turn-of-the-century architecture.      

And if you think my buddy is crazy, he isn’t alone.  He’s one of the many 30-something, high-income, “white collar” hipsters riding San Francisco’s wave of the largest tech boom since the early '90s.  And as Mill Valley is a 10-minute commute to the Golden Gate, paying $700,000 for the redwood-lined Marin hills is small change when considering the comparatively-priced Sunset district with its low-hanging fog and maddening public school system.  

So here we are in Petaluma, blessed with great weather, a rich history, and low prices. And with a commuter train on the way and the increasing option to telecommute, our own tech savvy 20-somethings may soon be riding that S.F. job boom themselves.

Ready for your own reality check, Petaluma?  It won’t be long before the rest of those high-income earners discover our little downtown for themselves.  And when they do, they’ll be wondering why they’re paying a 71 percent premium for a home just south of the county line. 

The hipsters are coming, so buy that $400,000 bungalow while you still can.

Armand Ramirez is a realtor with Century 21 Bundensen.

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