Monday, July 9, 2018

Say Hello to Sonoma County's Newest Landowners!

July 9, 2018
Santa Rosa, CA

Our cashier's check for the downpayment on our land.  Feeling broke.
Remember that piece of land we put an offer on last year? Well, as of today it's ours.

Let's pick up the story where we left off. I was freshly recovered from my poison oak and unsuccessfully negotiating for an eight-acre parcel on the Santa Rosa Plains just west of the city, at the corner of Piner Road and Willowside. We had bid $100k below asking, they countered at $50k below, we stood firm, they walked away.

By way of some brief internet research, we learned that over the winter the property was under contract. And for the third or fourth time in the last year-and-a-half, the deal fell apart. So when we came back to the table with the same offer of $100k below asking, this time they accepted! Caroline and I both felt like saying "woo hoo!" and "oh shit!" at the same time. Now it was up to us to get any final research and estimates out of the way to see how good of an idea this really was.

I immediately set about once again talking to pre-fab homebuilders (the local HybridCore, BluHomes, Connect, Ideabox), and also spent half of a day at the county planning department.

But the biggest concern was environmental, and what to do about building in an area suitable for the endangered California Tiger Salamander. After getting quotes for an initial quick & dirty look at the property from a guy in Walnut Creek and a pair of local ladies, we decided to go local, since they seemed to be quite familiar with the property. We were able to meet them out at the site for what turned out to be about an hour-and-a-half of walking around (and carefully avoiding all of the poison oak) while one of them laid out doomsday scenarios. 

She notified us that we would need to buy mitigation credits to mitigate for potential loss of habitat. I knew that much. And to buy credits you need to have an incidental take permit (ITP), which protects you in the event that you accidentally "take", i.e. kill, a salamander - I also knew that. But to get an ITP, you have to go through the California Environmental Quality Assessment (CEQA) process. To go through that, you need to have a local agency lead the process, and we were told the city and county wouldn't get involved in this type of project, so it would be up to the state, who would drag their feet and perhaps take years. All of this costing much more in the way of both time and money than we'd had in our initial calculus.

Our biologists taking an initial walk around the property. Those structures in the background are on the neighbor's land - there is absolutely nothing on ours. 
We drove away from the land feeling pretty down about the whole thing, thinking that we should probably walk away, unless the sellers were to want to go even deeper below the list price. Ultimately, upon the urging of our real estate agent, we decided to modify our offer to $200k below asking, explaining everything we'd learned about added costs/time, thinking they'd probably decline and we'd move on with our lives. Who wants to build right now anyway, we thought. With thousands of rebuilds in motion from the October '17 wildfires, you can't even get a general contractor to talk to you.

Well, after the sellers apparently debated amongst themselves and with their legal counsel, they came to the conclusion that they wanted to unload this land and accepted our modified offer without countering. Wow! We were more than a little shocked that they didn't at least try to split the difference again. Our modified offer also came with the clause that if they accepted we'd move right to close, waiving any additional inspection period. Perhaps that's what made them seal the deal.

So now we own property. There is so much to do and think about now, it's all a bit overwhelming. Hopefully we'll be able to build a home in a year or two, but at this point we just really don't know what will happen. Our (well, my) feeling is that owning prime-location land in Sonoma County can't be all that bad of an investment, even if we end up just sitting on it for 5 or 10 years, in the worst case scenario. But hopefully we'll figure out a way to get around (spend around) the environmental issues and be able to afford to put a home out there someday soon.

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