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

Think homes in Petaluma are expensive? Not when you compare them to property in neighboring Marin County. And they are about to get even more expensive


Last week an old friend of mine closed escrow on his first home. 

It’s cute: a 1952 midcentury home 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 of Mill Valley. 

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% less than our southern neighbor.    

Back to m 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 $2000 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 center 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 SF 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

Robert Ramirez December 17, 2012 at 12:57 AM
I've been here since 1954 and I fully agree, thanks for having a open mind.
Chris P December 17, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Well said Armand, but it's not just Petaluma we need to worry about. Right now, real estate in CA is still far above the national average. Unaffordable for a "normal" person. I am not a white collar hipster, just a working man with a modest income and 2 kids. As a hopeful future homebuyer, I would not like to see home prices anywhere near where they were 5 years ago. Don't forget there are still people that live here that need to pour your coffee at Starbucks, serve your food at your local restaurant, ring you up at Safeway, change the oil in your car, spray your house for insects, or answer your annoying questions about the 70" flat panel TV that you are about to buy. We would like to be able to own our own home around here too.
mamaluma December 17, 2012 at 03:18 AM
Armand no disrespect intended. This article however is an echo from 7 years ago and there are still a lot of us in Petaluma that are sensitive from the raw wounds of the recent real estate market crash. I appreciate your enthusiasm about our community, I have it too!! That said there is something special about the separation of Petaluma & Marin. You leave something behind when you drive those 10 miles of beauty out of Novato that a whole bunch of us in town have no desire to see come North. It's not the money it's the entitled / selfish attitude. My friends & I have seen house after house be bought cash only for the last year then turned into rentals. This does not build community and it inflates the housing market making it more difficult for people who actually live here to own a home. Just sayin. As for you personally no disrespect!!! You sound awesome! But do not blame us for being a little sensitive when we get told now's the time to buy, or else... We've heard it before.
Robert Ramirez December 17, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Mamaluma, nice handle but I do need to really comment on your opinion of renters. All my first time buyers are renters and many have lived her for years and are part of the Petaluma community. Remember we were all renters at one time or another. Calling a renter not part of the community is a serious slam and not true at all. So you may want to re-think that position. And believe it or not many renters don't want to own a home and are perfectly content to pay their rent and have the landlord maintain the property. Owning a home is a big financial commitment and it's not for everyone. If there wasn't a incentive for people to both home buyers and investors to own Real Estate there would be an even larger shortage of homes to live in and prices would be even higher. I know this might be hard to understand but it is the truth and pure economics. Happy Holidays
Rayne Wolfe December 17, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I've got a question: Are Armand and Robert Ramirez related? Robert Ramirez certainly gives the impression that he is Armand's defender. I wonder why? Just curious.


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