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.
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.