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Petaluma a seller's market

Kat Bloom and her children Katelin, 10, and Kole, 8, smile in their new Petaluma home.

John O'Hara / For the Argus-Courier
Published: Monday, July 1, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 9:21 a.m.

Is there any hope for a hard-working parent seeking to buy a Petaluma home in the roller coaster that is today's real estate market? To Kathleen “Kat” Bloom, a pharmacy technician at Kaiser and mother of two, the answer seemed to be no.

After making offers on property after property, only to be outbid by people offering all cash, or seeing multiple bids drive the price out of her reach, she was discouraged, as many home buyers now find themselves in a market that seems to have shifted from favoring buyers to sellers overnight.

“I'd see the same people at every new listing,” said Bloom. “Everyone was bidding against each other for the same house.”

Bloom, who is from Petaluma, wanted to remain near her family, but had to face the prospect of moving elsewhere.

Her Realtor, Trish Iribarne, an agent with Coldwell Banker, said Bloom was doing everything right, but that, “It is so competitive, especially in the bracket that Kat is in — that of a first-time buyer. You can be qualified, present personal letters or recommendations, make an offer over the asking price and still lose out to cash buyers.”

Sean Payne, a Realtor with Frank Howard Allen and president of the Petaluma Chapter of Realtors, confirms that the market conditions have shifted.

“The market has picked up in favor of the seller, and the change was not gradual,” said Payne. “It happened in just over a year.

“Currently we have only 61 homes active in Petaluma,” says Payne. “Many potential sellers are concerned that if they sell, they won't find anything to buy.” This tight inventory of available housing, historically low interest rates and a recovering economy in which job growth is continuing, has released a pent-up demand for home ownership. With more buyers than properties, Petaluma is experiencing a resurgence of the multiple offers and bids over the asking price not seen since the housing bubble burst in 2007.

Foreclosures and short sales have declined, though they still comprise one in five properties sold in Sonoma County. Contractors, corporations and “flippers” are buying up distressed homes and turning them around quickly for a profit.

Some investors take an uninhabitable property and return it to a livable state, benefiting the buyers who often would not have the means or resources to both buy and renovate. Other companies snap up a foreclosure, then simply slap on a coat of paint, install cheap carpeting and appliances and put it back on the market at a much higher price.

Jeffrey Ventrella, a software engineer who has lived at 335 Kentucky St. for 13 years, watched as the home next door went through a series of owners and renters. “A nice couple with two kids bought it in the real estate heyday, and when the market tanked, they lost it to the bank.”

The Craftsman-style, historic home sat vacant for three years, deteriorating and broken into by transients.

“Of course our property values went down as a result,” he said. Eventually, the home was bought in January, 2013 in a cash sale for $326,000 by a developer who renovated the property and sold it in May for $618,000.

“Petaluma is one of the more affordable and desirable places to live in the Bay Area and a gateway to the wine country,” contends Todd Mendoza, manager of the Petaluma office of Coldwell Banker Northern California.

“It has the atmosphere of a village, with citizens who are engaged and participate in their community.”

“I tell buyers that 'today is the best day to buy' because tomorrow the house and the interest rate is only going up,” counsels Bill Gabbert, a Realtor with Century 21 Bundesen. “You may not get the first home you try for, but you can't 'lowball.' Make the highest and best offer that you can.”

Kat Bloom did just that. “I even offered $20,000 over the asking price in one instance and didn't get it,” she said. “But I wasn't going to give up.“

For buyers, the “new normal” requires patience as the market regains its equilibrium. The most frequent piece of advice the real estate community gives buyers is to persevere. “Give yourself the gift of time,” said Denise Lucchesi, an agent in the Century 21 Bundesen office. “Take your time, be realistic and be prepared.”

Bloom hung on to her dream and one afternoon, her Realtor Trish Iribarne called with a listing that sounded puzzling. A foreclosed property was for sale on Lindberg Circle, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) of 40 entry level, single-family homes, and no offer had been made on it for seven days. “I don't know if it was that it had a HUD sign on it and people assumed it was low-income housing or what,” relates Bloom, who made an offer for the asking price that night.

“Here was this great neighborhood, filled with families and designed so that kids could play in front of the house like they did in years past,” she said.

Her offer of $342,000 was accepted on Dec. 7, 2012.

“This is the newest, nicest — the best house we've seen,” said Bloom, “and now it's ours!”

The 1,700-square-foot house has all the space and features Bloom had hoped for. There are four bedrooms on the upper floor with two full baths.

Bloom's 10-year-old daughter, Katelyn, boasts that, “I got the big view bedroom,” a large sunny space that overlooks the tidy rows of homes on the circle.

“It's like a playground outside and the kids have made lots of friends already,” said Bloom.

“It's so exciting to be able to make this into our home,” she added. “It was a long journey, but when I look at all we have now, I know it was worth every moment.”

(Contact Dyann Espinosa at argus@arguscourier.com)

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