The first signs of resurgence are beginning to show in West Marin’s real estate market since the Great Recession in 2008 first caused a downturn in home values.
Fueled by the stock market’s recovery and an influx of wealth in the Bay Area, the increased activity on the housing market is hinting at changes to the region’s demographics, with longtime residents selling their homes to wealthy clients looking for a second home.
Across the county, home values peaked this summer. The median home sold for $990,000 in July, one of the most profitable months on record. The sales neared pre-recession values—a median of $1 million in 2007, a significant improvement from the 2011 median sale of $742,000. The threat of foreclosure is waning, too, with 61 percent fewer default notices filed in the first three quarters of this year compared to 2012.
As a whole, the Bay Area did not see a downturn until late into the recession, said B.G. Bates, a realtor from Bolinas. “If you’re going down later in the game, you’re going up later, too, though it does tend to bounce back much quicker than other places because we’re in this wonderful location.”
The most activity in West Marin last year occurred in Stinson Beach, with 51 sales between last November and the end of October, according to the most recent data available from the county assessor’s office. With a mean sale price of $1.56 million, Stinson Beach real estate is somewhat separate from the rest of the region.
But across 215 sales throughout the region, the average property still went for a hefty $1.115 million. Why are people willing to pay?
“The rural character of West Marin, the two national parks, the ocean, the weather, the wildlife, commuting proximity to the country’s most civilized city, low crime rates, clean environment, uncorrupt county government, decent schools, and available mortgage money have conspired with growing urban problems, rising populations, inflation, the almost sold out status of West Marin properties, and various building moratoriums to produce a set of economic pressures that only a natural disaster could reverse,” Richard Kirschman wrote—in March 1977, in a column titled “Unreal Estate” in the Tomales Bay Times.
Much, though certainly not all, seems to be the same today. The high price of living has been a perennial problem in Marin County. Then, Mr. Kirschman bemoaned an increase in prices to “levels where only the affluent can afford to buy.” As an example of the boom “clearly in progress” at the time, he cited a homeowner on the Bolinas Mesa who bought his house for $8,000 and sold it 10 years later for $50,000.
Those transactions seem laughably cheap today. The average sale price in Bolinas over the last 12 months was $1.19 million. Even the bargain buys are selling for an order of magnitude more than those Mr. Kirschman decried: a one-bedroom home on Terrace Avenue with 705 square feet of living space sold for $510,000 in May.
Fueled by the booming tech industry to the south, available homes are selling quicker and fetching ever higher prices. But some are worried about who is benefiting from the real estate market and what residual effects these sales will have on West Marin.
Real estate is always a cycle of booms and busts, and a signal of changing populations. But during this downturn, more local residents seemed willing to leave the area, Ms. Bates said. “I saw people just leave,” she said. “Beyond Petaluma. We’re talking, ‘I’m out of here to Southern California or Oregon or someplace where it is much less expensive to live.’”
An analysis of property transfers in West Marin over the last 12 months shows a number of new residents moving up from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, with many newly wealthy from the tech industry. Many are from the Bay Area because they “believe in the pricing here,” Ms. Bates said, while others may not understand the reason behind the high prices.
In Inverness, John Wookey, a former Oracle executive who now works for a cloud computing company in the city, bought undeveloped land on Via de la Vista for $515,000, and Trystan Upstill, a software engineer at Google, paid $1.57 for a four-bedroom home on West Robert Drive. In Bolinas, Kathryn Geminder, a former director of product and user experience for Facebook, paid $1.219 million for a home built in 1909 on Brighton Avenue. In Woodacre, Hans-Peter Riecken, an executive for an image recognition startup acquired by Yahoo! to improve Flikr, bought a place on Oak Grove Avenue for $1.006 million. And in Lagunitas, Shereff Bishay, a lead designer for Microsoft, now lives on Arroyo Road after paying $945,000.
Others work in industries that have profited by association with startups, particularly law firms and venture capital companies. Daniel Yost, for example, a partner at a Silicon Valley law firm that helped sell Instagram to Facebook for approximately $1 billion, bought a $1.317 million home on Joaquin Patio in Stinson Beach.
Asked if there was a unifying demographic moving to the area, realtor William Barrett had a quick answer: “Rich people,” he said. “The most defining fact for them all is that they can afford to live in a place that allows them a lifestyle they want.”
“The person waiting with fingers crossed for an affordable fixer-upper in West Marin is becoming a mythological beast,” Mr. Barrett added. “If there were more houses under half a million dollars, you’d have a lot more locals being able to afford houses.”
Meanwhile more sellers are looking to profit from the interest of wealthy buyers, Ms. Bates said. Some of them are ending rental agreements with their tenants, creating a shortage of housing for those who cannot afford to buy. “[Rentals] are scarce,” Ms. Bates said. “And they are expensive.”
To those with an eye on the past, the shift into an area heavily dominated by second homes can seem like coming full circle. Inverness, Stinson Beach and Dillon Beach all took shape as getaways from the city, historian Dewey Livingston said, with Inverness being the first official subdivision in 1889. The towns provided a place away from the bustle of the urban living, where a family had “a shack or an austere cabin,” a place to swim and hike, Mr. Livingston said.
Around the time the counterculture arrived in the late 1960’s, the region became a place to live and raise a family. A cross-section of the young and well-educated population found affordable prices to rent or buy, Mr. Livingston said. As the area was “discovered,” more retirees and the wealthy followed. The classrooms were full, and homes seemed to be occupied throughout the year, Ms. Bates said.
With the emergence of the organic farming and foodie culture, the well-known beauty of the seashore, West Marin is no longer the secret getaway that it once was. “It’s so well-known,” Mr. Livingston said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if people from all over the world are looking at the place.”
But limits on development due to so much state, county and federal parkland mean only so many can stay, and lately, it seems the wealthy are the only ones who can afford to, he added.
While the changes may be more apparent now, they’ve been brewing for a long time. “Bohemia attracts the money which ruins Bohemia,” Mr. Kirschman wrote in 1977. “It is a phenomenon with precedence in Greenwich Village, North Beach, Paris’ Left Bank, Mendocino and Sausalito. Enlightened zoning and environmental laws may make these transitions less damaging but not less certain.”
This article was corrected on Dec. 30 to reflect the actual buyer of 9 Brighton Avenue in Bolinas: Kathryn Germinder, not her ex-husband, Michael. Our apologies, Kathryn.
Listed below are the buyers, sellers, selling prices and addresses of the 66 properties in West Marin that sold for $1 million or more in 2013.
Stuart Peterson sold 178 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Horatio L.L.C. for $7 million in June.
Scott Kivel sold 18400 State Route One in Marshall to Kenneth Dunaj for $4.2 million in August.
Clark Graham sold 168 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to the Bently Family Limited Partnership for $3.6 million in November.
Brian Lurie sold 252 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to John Cogan for $3.4 million in June.
Brian Crutcher sold 341 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Martini Casa L.L.C. for $3.3 million in October.
Warran Knudson sold 6195 Chileno Valley Road in Petaluma, an agriculturally zoned property with a 1900 farmhouse, to Samuel Cohen for $3.25 million in March.
Alden Adkins sold the Inverness Valley Inn at 13275 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Inverness to Andrew Howards for $2.7 million in January.
Barbara Hancock sold 145 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Henry Pilger for $2.55 million in June.
William Belardi sold 179 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Curtis Gardner for $2.45 million in May.
Robert Cart sold 40 Mesa Road in Bolinas to Bradford Hunt for $2.4 million in April.
Jeffrey McKinley sold 167 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Robert Fram for $2,173,580 in August.
Paul Schmitt sold 211 Dipsea Road in Stinson Beach to Serena Mondavi Ventura for $2.04 million in April.
Laura Kimpton sold 2000 Old Rancheria Road in Nicasio to Todd Renschler for $1.945 in February.
Karen Hooper sold 32 Calle del Pinos in Stinson Beach to Stinson on the Beach L.L.C. for $1.94 million in September. This property is zoned multi-family residential.
Mark Cavagnero sold 125 Laurel Lane in Stinson Beach to Jessica Norfleet Coy for $1,879,800 in May.
Judith Hartnett sold 11 Via del Sol in Nicasio to Torrington L.L.C. for $1.875 million in March.
Gaylyn de Martini sold 34 West Nicasio Road in San Geronimo to Paul Kirincic for $1.85 million in June.
David Perticone sold 5 Nicasio Creek Road in Nicasio to Herbert Burack for $1.85 million in November.
Nicholas Wilton sold 26 West Nicasio Road in San Geronimo to Amy Waterhouse for $1.83 million in June.
Piedad Saldarriaga Moreno sold 200 Pine Avenue in Woodacre to Guy Armstrong for $1.82 million in April.
William Hamilton sold 166 Ocean Parkway in Bolinas to David Strathairn for $1.795 million in September.
Jeffrey Zwart sold 37 LaFranchi Lane in Nicasio to John Reimer for $1.79 million in November.
Kevin Hicks sold The Sandpiper at 1 Marine Way in Stinson Beach to John Vantress for $1.755 million in February.
Debbie Kiraly sold 125 Dipsea Road in Stinson Beach to Lucinda Watson for $1.73 million in June.
John Phillips sold Dancing Coyote Beach, at 12794 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, to Rachel Hamilton for $1.725 million in September.
Richard Janson sold 205 Dipsea Road to John McCaslin for $1.65 million in May.
Deborah Bixby Seymour sold 215 Seadrift Road to Lawrence Crutcher for $1.6 million in October.
David Sherwood sold 6900 Chileno Valley Road in Petaluma to Scott Stoll for $1.595 million in June.
Jeffrey Howson sold 195 Dipsea Road in Stinson Beach to Mika Salmi for $1.582 million in October.
Jerry Knight sold 31 Calle del Pradero in Stinson Beach to West Water L.L.C. for $1.575 million in July.
Douglas Boszhardt sold 60 West Robert Drive in Inverness to Trystan Upstill for $1.57 million in May.
Norman McVea sold 235 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Roy Shimek for $1.55 million in June.
David Stark Wilson sold 370 Calle del Mar in Stinson Beach to Brennan Boblett for $1.55 million in October.
Samuel Goldberger sold 13 Cypress Road in Point Reyes Station to James Pellegrin for $1.545 million in October.
Rigdon Currie sold 1 Balboa Avenue in Inverness Park to Jerry Sontag for $1.524 million in April.
Leonard Short VIII sold 10 LaFranchi Lane in Nicasio to Stillwater Beach Partners L.L.C. for $1.51 million in November.
Timothy Moran sold 1250 Nicasio Valley Road to Karen Hawkes for $1.5 million in May.
Robert Hewitt III sold 169 Dipsea Road to Mark Thomas Wayland for $1.5 million in
William Sabin Phelps sold 1 Sonoma Patio in Stinson Beach to Sonia Sato for $1.45 million in July.
Leland Kugelgen sold 28 Calle del Onda in Stinson Beach to Anantha Pradeep for $1,432,775 in October.
Cris Chater sold 13 Cypress Road to Samuel Goldberger for $1.4 million in February.
Mark Pickering sold 67 Wild Iris Road in San Geronimo to Amos Klausner for $1.375 million in June.
David Roselund sold 1 Joaquin Patio in Stinson Beach to Paul Brody for $1,316,500 in July.
Steve Ryan sold 10 Schipper Ln. in Bolinas to Shlomo Rosenfeld for $1.31 million in August.
Peter Worsley sold 12073 State Route One in Point Reyes Station to Maria Donat for $1.31 million in October.
Pierre Tehrany sold 825 Olema-Bolinas Road to Lawrence Richards for $1.3 million in May.
Linda Hanson sold 3 Avenida Olema in Stinson Beach to Thomas Hendrickson for $1.3 million in March.
Jeanne Palombi sold 17 Madrone Avenue in Woodacre to Nathaniel Kidder for $1.28 million in August.
Anthony Griffin sold 2 Cameron Street in Inverness to Christopher Rivett-Carnac for $1.279 million in March.
Henry Raab sold 245 Seadrift Road in Stinson Beach to Sonja Hoel Perkins for $1.246 million in January.
Christopher Olsen sold 61 Dover Road in Inverness to Stefan Spielman for $1.228 million in June.
Kimberly Bender sold 9 Brighton Avenue in Bolinas to Kathryn Geminder for $1.219 million in August.
Robert Gerber sold 2 Fox Drive in Inverness to Valerie Esler for $1.209 million in October.
Margaret Skornia sold 1 Carlton Place in Inverness to Robert Houghtelling for $1,204,500 in April.
Virginia Rulon-Miller sold 14 Calle del Pradero in Stinson Beach to Andre Shashaty for $1,203,516 in December.
Andrew Fisher sold 240 Calle del Mar in Stinson Beach to Eric Blasen for $1.15 million in September.
Elizabeth Perry sold 7490 Panoramic Highway in Stinson Beach to John Hyland for $1.13 million in August.
Christopher Sabec sold 60 Arroyo Road in Forest Knolls to Kenneth Browne for $1.125 in June.
Jonathan Goodman-Herrick sold 20 Elizabeth Place in Inverness to Carmen Schujman for $1.1 million in January.
David Anderson sold 54 Kona Lane in Dillon Beach to Bruno Van Wontergheim for $1.095 million in October.
Sidney Vicknair sold 151 Mesa Road in Point Reyes Station to Duncan Kerr for $1.08 million in December.
Sharna Law sold 30 Camino Margarita in Nicasio to Brooke Hanson for $1.05 million in August.
Roger Ruppe sold 240 Buena Vista Avenue in Stinson Beach to Silva Robin for $1.04 million in March.
Doree Friedman sold 12641 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Inverness to Douglas Martin for $1.012 million in October.
Mary O’Neill sold 55 Oak Grove Avenue in Woodacre to Hans-Peter Riecken for $1.006 million in June.
Lisa Bell sold 370 Ocean Parkway in Bolinas to Bruce Lowry for $1 million in December.