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

J December 16, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Hopefully they are too judgmental of Ptown and discard us. They've done it this long.
Aunty Development December 16, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Don't encourage them.
Theresa December 16, 2012 at 05:03 PM
We are certainly not hipsters, we are a hardworking teacher and social worker who live in the East Bay...for folks like us, we can't afford to buy here and if we want to have a house and a quiet life we've been looking to re-locate and are seriously considering Petaluma...hope we are welcome.
Ptown December 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Hate to burst your bubble Armand. These "rich hipsters" already found Petaluma longvbefore the bubble burst. It's just taking longer (thank god) for the median price to get back out of control here again.
John.Maher December 16, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Gonna have to widen the 'ol tip jar. :-)
juzme December 16, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Sadly, it makes us locals unable to purchase a cute older home...due to many Marin buyers bidding wars and locals, too. Prices have jumped up and it's a sellers Market..not a buyers...Some PTown peeps may have to purchase in another area. Dislike!!!!!
mamaluma December 16, 2012 at 07:48 PM
Here we go again... was this written by a Petaluma Realtor? Of course it was. Stop the hype Armand, your commission checks will be fine brother. We like Petaluma just the way it is and have reached our quota on high strung mama's in Lexus SUV's. It sucks up here Marin, stay away!! hehe
Reginald "Rex" Henderson December 16, 2012 at 10:37 PM
You nailed it: http://www.bundesen.com/Roster/2928/Armand-Ramirez.aspx.
Armand Ramirez December 17, 2012 at 12:08 AM
First off – thanks for all the comments, even those that might seem critical. To Theresa: yes, Petaluma would absolutely welcome a hardworking teacher and social worker. We are an extremely tight-knit town and I think you'd appreciate how involved and community-focused the public school system is here. To mamaluma, I sure do wish I had the power to create a housing boom with a just few tweets and blog posts, but I really am just a messenger, and these "hipsters" really are coming! I use the term "hipster" party in jest. Only a couple years ago it was a slang pejoritive for self-absorbed 20-somethings avid of skinny jeans and analogue tapes, yet if the Huffington Post can use the term for a new demographic of homebuyers in San Francisco, then I will too! So to address your remark, Mr. "Ptown", these "Hipsters" I'm referring to certainly are a different bunch than the techies who bought in the early 2000s – this group is just now barely turning the corner on 30. Remember friends, I'm one of you (PHS class of '99), and my daughter is enrolled at one of our public schools, so I'm not fond of being run out of the housing market myself either. But with all the amenities we currently enjoy that were absent just a decade ago, we can't expect our quaint neighborhoods to not be prized by newcomers as much as we prize them ourselves.
mtnbikey December 17, 2012 at 12:37 AM
I encourage change of any kind. I have lived here since 1968 and tired of the status quo of the politics of this town. Bring on the hipsters and their money and hopefully some change as well
Robert Ramirez December 17, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Don't shoot the messenger the facts are a gift to you. Knowledge is power and if you want to live in denial, well be prepared to pay heavily for it. As for padding commissions well it unfortunate you see it that way. It pretty clear you have never met Armand Ramirez in person. If you ever get the privilege to meet him you will be eating your words and apologizing profusely. That aside all great comments, a great article and again don't argue the facts. Use it to your advantage if you can.
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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