Roofer Shortage Impacts Buyers’ Decisions

An article in the Marin Independent Journal confirms what I have been warning clients about for months: most roofing companies are completely booked for months on end and the situation will only get worse as we start to rebuild after the fires. What the article doesn’t mention is given how busy these companies are, all but one have said they will no longer do roof inspections for buyers in escrow. I spent hours during a recent escrow calling roofers in Marin, Sonoma and Napa Counties to no avail when my go-to company could not oblige. One service I now provide to my clients is getting on a roofer’s schedule as soon as possible if the home in question has an older roof. Long term, in my opinion, it is time for our society promote skilled construction jobs and apprenticeships. It can be a healthy and more lucrative alternative to racking up tens of thousands of dollars in college debt followed by difficulty landing a cubicle-based position.

When Walter Cox worked with a building contractor to get a new roof on his daughter’s San Rafael home, he had no idea the contractor had not yet hired a roofer.

“It’s frustrating — maddening,” said Cox, who said it took five months to get someone out to the house, and this was after the old roof had already been removed.

Marin residents hoping to schedule an estimate for replacement or repair are likely to find themselves in a similar situation. Roofing services across the county have become increasingly difficult to book, as local roofing companies find they are in such high demand that they are already committed weeks or months out.

Brian McLeran, owner of San Rafael-based McLeran Roofing, said the booming business is like nothing he has ever seen in his 44 years in the industry.

“We’re scheduled through 2018,” he said. “We are scheduled completely. I can’t put any more work in.”

At San Rafael’s Miranda’s Roofing Co., the story is the same, with business booked into March, said Gilbert Nichols, a sales associate.

“It’s been as good as I’ve ever seen it,” he said.

Many in the roofing business said last year’s heavy winter storms are to blame.

“Customers who thought they had a few more years because our winters had been dry in California for years, their roofs didn’t hold up like they were expecting,” said Sara Lopez, office manager at McLeran Roofing. “They’re having to do replacements.”

McLeran said many of Marin’s long-time roofing companies are not doing as much work as they used to.

“What’s happened is you got a lot more work on one end, and on the other end, you got the companies going through generational change,” he said. “This is not just roofing, but a lot of industries. With generational changes, you don’t see same volume (of work) being produced by all the companies.”

Nichols said he thinks there are not enough qualified workers in the field, as younger workers are not entering the construction industry.

“The old guys like me are fading away and dying off,” he said. “The young people realize they can make a pretty fat living dealing with the computer madness. They’re getting out of the construction trade.”

Cox, owner of San Rafael’s Master Builders of Marin, said the roofing industry is in desperate need of workers.

“I would say that if anyone is willing and able to get out and get a contractor’s license and do honest work and meet his commitments, he or she can do very well right now,” he said. “There’s more work than there are people.”

Patrick Newman, owner of Novato’s Northgate Roofing, said the last year-and-a-half has been busier than he has ever seen. He said typically during this time of year, he would be responding to service calls on a week-to-week basis but right now he is booked through the next month-and-a-half. He said he thinks the healthy economy is enabling homeowners to pursue more projects.

“People can afford to make decisions to put on roofs, where before they put it off,” he said. “People have extra income or the ability to get a loan.”

At San Rafael’s Aussie Roofing, the company is booked through summer, but has a list of customers it’s trying to work into the busy schedule. Office manager Nila Guastella said her advice is to call roofing businesses as early as possible.

“If you’re considering a re-roof, you want to get on the phone now if you’re considering it for the next 18 months or so,” she said.

Lopez said residents may be able to get a quicker response if they contact their homeowners insurance companies rather than roofing businesses.

“A lot of insurance companies have contractors that when they have a claim, they send out their adjuster or contractor to give a proposal,” she said. “Sometimes a customer who contacts their insurance company can more easily get someone to look at something.”

The wildfires around wine country in October also raised concerns about a regional labor shortage during the lengthy reconstruction, although the ripple effect on Marin is unclear. The fires destoyed more than 5,000 homes.

“We had a real problem of worker shortage before the fires,” said North Coast Builders Exchange president Keith Woods, according to the Press Democrat. “It has been magnified a hundred times over with the disaster.”


Is Your Agent Sending You Off Market Listings?

Coming soon, this home features a beautiful master on the main living level, large oak-studded lot and views to die for. Water views, Mount Tam view, and harbor view. A lot of garage space, too! It’s in a desirable San Rafael neighborhood, so the price I am sure, will not be nearly what one would pay in Tiburon or Sausalito.

This home is not my listing, and will be priced and going on the market next week. In this low inventory climate, it’s important to have a representative with boots on the ground previewing all Marin real estate.

Call me for more sneak peeks, and an honest assessment of any home’s pros and cons.

– Julie  415.309.7074

Still some deals in #MarinRealEstate

The darling cottage in a great Marin location that I will be holding open this Sunday shows that not everything is selling immediately and going over the list price with multiple offers. This home needs some polishing up and the kitchen could use a remodel, but now that it has been lowered in price to under $1.3, it should attract a lot of interest.

Perfect for a single or couple moving from San Francisco, I would think of this home as a 2 bedroom with the third bedroom being a better downstairs home office. There is a one-car garage and plenty of street parking. An easy commute location in the lower Chapman Park neighborhood, and it’s a nice setting with view – a great combination. Great schools and local parks. This is not my listing, but I will be holding it open for a colleague on Sunday. Please contact me for more information on this sweet shingled cottage and another listing coming on in this price range that would be great for downsizers.

Off Market Ops- Your Agent Should be Getting you in First

Only a few circumstances will prompt me to agree with a client that they could sell their home off market. In one of those rare times, during the holiday season, I posted the contemporary San Rafael home at 217 Picnic Avenue on TopAgent Network, and at the Marin County buy/sell meeting, and finally on my company-wide email list. The postings for this $1,050,000 three bedroom brought many interested agents and buyers, and one solid offer was accepted. Right after we closed, sure enough, a couple of agents were kicking themselves that they missed it. Know that your agent has their boots on the ground and that they are a part of the Marin County Realtors’ networking platforms.

Sonoma Square Real Estate Update

Julie Leitzell, Selling in Marin County and the Towns of Sonoma , Glen Ellen & Kenwood

After the Fires: Yes, Still Closing Sales

Sold! This home lives like a 5- star resort with views of vineyards, hillsides and distant mountains. Pushing through with inspections during the fires, I knew that the characteristics of this particular neighborhood with its underground wires, neighborhood water system and maintained public places would assure my closing this $3.9 deal … even while white ash floated from the sky. Going forward, there will be areas of wine country that will be more desirable to buyers after the fires, and sadly, of course, areas that will suffer.

What is Happening With Wine Country Inventory

The numbers speak for themselves. Comparing October of 2017 to the same month last year, the number of available listings in the county of Sonoma has fallen 21%. At the same time, as you can see by the uptick of the pending line below, the percent in contract has risen by 18% over 2016. Competition for desirable locations is becoming fierce.


SOLD: $1,240,000
Featured in the SF Chronicle Real Estate section, this home in The Springs sold in one week. It had failed to sell when listed by three other agents. Superior photography, staging, networking & client management sealed the deal.

SOLD: $1,035,000 
4 months after buyer paid $980K for the same house on an acre, I sold this home in 2 weeks. Photoshop on flyers helped buyers see the potential.

Sonoma and Marin 2017 Sales

Listed and Sold:

  • 23 Elizabeth, Greenbrae $1,790,000
  • 17140 Keaton, Sonoma $1,240,000
  • 260 San Luis, Novato $875,000
  • 20855 Hyde, Sonoma $1,035,000
  • 178 Morningside Drive, San Anselmo $1,556,000

Buyer Representation:

  • 4112 W. Alder, Sonoma $3,900,000
  • 70 Inverness, San Rafael $2,175,000
  • 70 Arguello Circle, San Rafael $1,700,000

In Contract:

  • 78 Rollingwood San Rafael
  • 730 Oak Lane, Sonoma

Off Market Listing:

  • 217 Picnic Ave San Rafael

Referrals: $3 million placed

Some winter events in Sonoma:

  • Mardi Gras party at ‘The Reel’ Saturday Feb. 10: Tickets are here
  • $15 Wednesday Ramen Nights at Suite D (catered by Girl and the Fig) Bring Your Own Wine—$5 corkage. More Info
  • Sonoma Film Festival passes on sale now. March 21—25. More Info

Has the Damage from the Fires Affected the Beauty of the Wine Country?

In the areas that I specialize in, it takes some effort to come face-to-face with the neighborhoods with heavy damage and heartbreaking losses. Glen Ellen was hit harder than Sonoma or Kenwood. Fortunately, very few wineries were lost. California’s oldest premium winery, Buena Vista, found itself on the front line of the fire that threatened the town of Sonoma, but was saved by heroic firefighter efforts. Here is a photo showing how close the flames came to one of BV’s historical buildings. Bouncing back, we are seeing grass already growing on the blackened hillsides.

A sense of gratitude and neighbors helping neighbors is still evident in our small towns.

Local Knowledge Is Key

  • Which neighborhoods have new sewer line regulations?
  • How will new planned developments and the new VRBO rules affect each area?
  • What are the soil and perc characteristics of different areas? What are the chances of getting a septic permit for an addition or remodel?

Thinking about retiring to Sonoma?

I’m happy to provide a tour of the neighborhoods and the pros and cons of various Over-55 Communities. I attend the weekly networking meetings and provide a high level of service. Your choice of agent will make a big difference in the results.

Julie Leitzell

County map shows Fire Boundaries and Potential Flooding/Mudflow Areas

For those near the fire lines in Sonoma and Napa, this county map shows areas that may experience mudflows or flooding if there are heavy rains this winter. The map also shows where the fires burned, as well (the black boundary lines). There may be changes in insurance rates coming for us all due to these natural disasters, and I am doing some research as to whether insurers are pulling out of high risk areas too. More to come….

Rush for real estate in Sonoma didn’t wait for fires to cool

Even before the fires were out in Sonoma County, the scramble for real estate was on.

“The fires started Monday and on Wednesday I was showing properties” to people who had lost homes, said Tammra Borrall, a Realtor with Pacific Union International in Santa Rosa. “It was shocking — we were just in survival mode, and yet we had people who wanted to be out looking at homes. They had the foresight to see what was happening. It was like musical chairs for homes. They didn’t want to be left without a roof over their heads.”

The destruction of approximately 5,000 homes in Sonoma County has sparked a frenzy that may sound familiar to people in San Francisco and neighboring areas: homes attracting multiple offers and selling within days at prices well above asking, often for all cash.

“I come from the Peninsula and have friends in Menlo Park, Palo Alto. You have been dealing with that intense pressure for some time. Here it has been more balanced,” Borrall said. Before the fires, “half our sales had multiple offers. Now, all our listings have multiple offers.”

The median price of an existing, single-family home in Sonoma County jumped 4.7 percent between September and October and another 1.8 percent in November, hitting a record $660,000 last month. Compared with November 2016, the median price was up 14.7 percent, according to Multiple Listing Service data compiled by Rick Laws, senior vice president with Pacific Union in Santa Rosa.

Homes are also selling faster: The average number of days between the time a home was listed and an offer was accepted dropped to 45 in November from 69 in October. In November 2016, it was 67. These figures exclude condos and new homes, but new homes are also being snapped up.


At Skyhawk Reserves, a new development not far from the destroyed neighborhood of Fountaingrove, “we were averaging about three sales per month” before the fires, said Mark Cooper, sales manager for developer APM Homes. “Within two weeks of the fire, we sold out the remaining part of our subdivision, which was 20 homes.” Skyhawk homes, priced at roughly $1.2 million to $1.4 million, are similar to those in Fountaingrove; all 20 were purchased by former residents of the upscale community.

Aruna and Vivek Jayaraman signed a contract on a home in Healdsburg on Oct. 16, one week after their home in Fountaingrove burned down. The couple had been looking at that house before the fire and had considered offering less than the asking price, because it had been on the market a while. After the fire, the couple immediately offered asking price.

“It was stressful the first week, figuring out where we were going to live. You’d hear about a rental that was available and all of a sudden it wasn’t available anymore. Our insurance company couldn’t find anything. They offered to house us in Menlo Park,” Aruna Jayaraman said. That would have been impossible, because she is a doctor at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and can’t be more than 30 minutes away when she’s on call.

The owner of the Healdsburg house “had an offer from an insurance company to rent it for a ton of money,” but he accepted the couple’s offer instead, Aruna Jayaraman said. If they were buying it now, they’d have to offer more than asking price, she said.

Sonya and Michael Sweeney are waiting to close on a home they purchased west of Sebastopol. They paid roughly the same price — around $1.26 million — they had paid for a home in Fountaingrove less than a year ago. But the new house has only 2,600 square feet while the old one had 4,000 square feet and a pool. The couple decided not to rebuild their previous home because by the time it would be done, their two kids would be in college and they would not want a big house.

Maddie Sweeney, 15 and her brother Nicky, 12, who lost their home during the recent fires, take a moment with one of their dogs before school. Photo: Peter DaSilva, Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Peter DaSilva, Special To The Chronicle

After the fire, the family “wanted to take a break” from the devastation left behind in Santa Rosa. The first house they looked at, in Penngrove, “had just come on the market and had four offers already,” Sonya Sweeney said. “They said be prepared to go over asking if you want this house. I had to pull over to the side of the road and write a letter about why they should choose us.” By the end of the day, the house had seven offers and went to a buyer “who was all cash and way over asking.”

She looked at other homes online and visited three in Petaluma, but everything seemed to have pink toilets, mold or other major flaws. “Everyone who had a problem house, it was like this is the time to unload that house,” she said.

There could be some truth to that. In Sonoma County, 357 single-family homes hit the market in November, compared with 288 new listings in November 2016, according to MLS data.

Realtor Sudha Schlesinger, who lost her home in northeast Santa Rosa, bid on a replacement home two days later a couple of blocks from her son’s high school because she wanted some stability for the 17-year-old. There were only three other offers on that home, and hers was accepted. “It was less competitive then” than it is now, she said.

Since then, she has helped four clients purchase homes, three for all cash. One of her older clients had to pull out of a deal because the insurance company could not say when the claim would be paid and she could not get a loan. “You don’t necessarily have to pay cash,” Schlesinger said, but “people who don’t have the ability to get a loan are more handicapped.”

Some fire victims were able to buy a new home quickly because their parents paid for it, Borrall said.

Others are using insurance money. Most policies provide separate coverage limits for a home’s structure, contents and additional living expenses such as rent and rental furniture. Because the fires were declared a state emergency, fire victims have up to two years to exhaust their additional living expenses. Normally these expenses are paid as incurred, but some fire victims have negotiated with their insurance companies to get them in a lump sum and used that as a down payment on another home that they may need to describe as a “rental” property, Laws said.

Jim Scally, who lost his home in the Windrose subdivision next to hard-hit Coffey Park, doesn’t know anyone in that area who has purchased a new home. “Everybody is renting. The big elephant in the room is, we don’t know what our insurance is going to pay us. That all takes time.”

Schlesinger is warning prospective buyers not to go overboard. She had one client who bid on a home in northwest Santa Rosa priced at $549,000. Before the fire, it might have been worth $400,000 to $450,000. “It had 11 offers. We were at $560,000. The accepted offer was $635,000. I could not in good conscience tell my client to go that high. I said I don’t know if I can resell it three years from now (at that price or higher) when there are a lot of new houses” on the market, she said.


Recent Sonoma Closings

Two motivated buyers of mine just closed on two homes in the town of Sonoma.  Curious as to what the stats look like for the entire county, I see that there was an 18% jump in homes going into contract over October of 2016.   Some investors were snapping up rentals before the smoke cleared….and others looking for the perfect home were happy to have found something before the demand grows.