| TheUnion.com

Local woodturner rallies artists for the 15th annual Empty Bowl

 

“Feeling the wood, smelling the wood, each wood has its own distinctive smell,” explained woodturner Karl Miller. “Most of my life, I was a therapist. I would sit in a chair and listen to people — for over 30 years. It was very sedentary, not very sensory. When I retired, I wanted to do something artistic. I wanted to do something hands on. That’s what got me into woodturning.”

After moving to Grass Valley from Menlo Park in 2009 with his wife Suzie, Miller found woodturning a natural fit. Inspired to master the craft, Miller flew out to Provo, Utah, which he described as the “mecca of woodturning.” A five-day, hands-on workshop gave Miller the footing to stand on. Upon returning to Grass Valley, he found a woodturner mentor, Don Lawson, through Twin Cities Church and joined the Gold Country Woodturners, a local group of craftsmen and craftswomen who turn bowls, sculpt, and make just about anything and everything out of wood.

Twin Cities Church also introduced Miller and his wife to Hospitality House, the community’s leading homeless services provider for all of Nevada County. For years, the couple helped prepare and serve lunches for those without homes, but Miller found another way to give back: his art.

While attending the 2016 Empty Bowl benefit for Hospitality House at Peace Lutheran Church, Miller admired the many bowls donated by local artists. However, as a woodcraftsman, he immediately noticed all the bowls were ceramic. Where was the wood?

“I found the woman who was organizing the bowls and I asked if they might like to have wooden bowls,” recalled Miller. The answer was a resounding yes and for the last five years, Miller and fellow Gold Country Woodturners have been turning bowls for Empty Bowl.

Miller is the Gold Country Woodturners bowl coordinator and advocate for Empty Bowl. This year, the woodturners have collectively turned 110 bowls, all of which are scattered across seven featured Empty Bowl restaurants: Sopa Thai Cuisine, Tofanelli’s Gold Country Bistro, Lola at The National Exchange Hotel, Golden Gate Saloon at The Holbrooke Hotel, fudenjüce, Heartwood Eatery, and Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co.

“Empty Bowl is to serve our community —to help people who are food and housing challenged,” said Miller. “We wanted to do something big in that area.”

To make just one wooden bowl for Empty Bowl, the start to finish journey can take months. After cutting blanks in the forest (individual rounds of wood that will later become bowls), Miller explained the wood needs to dry out before it can be turned on a lathe. Woodturners do what they can to slow the drying down so the wood doesn’t crack into firewood and the greener the wood, the longer the waiting.

“I like to cut wet wood, seal it, and let it dry,” explained Miller. “I usually let my wood dry out two to three months. Then for the actual cutting of the bowl, an 8-inch bowl takes four hours. It can be longer than that. It could be an all-day process. If there are any imperfections, it extends the time.”

Miller and many fellow Gold Country Woodturners are perfectionists; every bowl donated to Empty Bowl is made with craft precision and the utmost of care. Woodturners range from novice to pro. The fastest known woodturner at Gold Country Woodturners, Bill Juhl, can crank out a black oak bowl in just 20 minutes, plus the time needed for sanding and finishing, but for most, two to four hours is the average time to donate just one bowl for Empty Bowl.

“Empty Bowl is one of the main ways we like to get people involved with the Gold Country Woodturners – turning bowls and giving back,” explained Miller. The club not only supports Empty Bowl annually — they support local schools by teaching the trade to students at no cost. They also share their knowledge with one another, bring in world-renown woodturners to lead demonstrations, and they’ve gone above and beyond for guests of Hospitality House, too. When one past guest shared his passion for woodturning, the club invited him into their circle with open arms.

“He came a few times,” recalled Miller. “He had done it a few times when he was younger. Hooking up with him was great; he was just so appreciative of being invited to come. We met at the Elks Lodge, we had dinner, and he came to the demo. He said, ‘I so miss this.’ He just enjoyed it. He had lost his job, but he ended up finding housing.”

Empty Bowl is an opportunity for the community to come together to help those in need. Participants receive a souvenir bowl, made with love by artists like Miller, which serves as an ongoing reminder of what a bowl of sustenance truly means when one is hungry and without a home.

“Empty bowls … they may just be bowls, but it shows people what can be done.”

Tickets to the 15th annual Empty Bowl are on sale now. All of the proceeds from Empty Bowl support Hospitality House’s emergency shelter operations and related services. Learn more and get tickets at hhshelter.org. Tickets subject to sellout.

Ashley Quadros is a local writer and the development director at Hospitality House. She can be reached for comment at aquadros@hhshelter.org

Karl Miller turning a bowl on a lathe.
Photo courtesy of Karl Miller

‘Everything has gone up’: Contractors observe increase in construction costs, Nevada County acutely affected by Bay Area migration

Stacks of lumber sit along Berriman Loop in Grass Valley. High lumber costs as well as a workforce shortage means more challenges for Nevada County home builders.
Photo: Elias Funez

To locals, Nevada County is already known for the low inventory of homes to buy or rent. Now, with increasing construction costs, many hopeful homeowners are not only priced out of already available real estate options, but of building their own homes.

Matthew Sutherlin, president of Grass Valley-based Green Bee Construction Inc., said he has heard of lumber costs alone as having increased 125%.

A sales representative from Caseywood Lumber Yard estimated that a year ago the price of a half-inch OSB board was between $18 and $20 dollars. In April, when construction costs began to peak, the cost of the same half-inch OSB board was between $115 and $120. Now the price is $80.

Fred Kerksieck usually works with the wood customers bring him at Fred’s Custom Milling and Lumber in Grass Valley, but said he noticed a significant increase in cost for personal projects.

“I bought some deck boards for a friend, my son and myself — every 1,200 feet used to cost you $1,200,” Kerksieck said. “Now it’s double that.”

Sutherlin said the price increase, which can be observed across North America, has significantly increased the cost of lumber-intensive projects like home builds or decks.

But lumber is just one fraction of the overall costs spent to create a home.

“A lot of other building materials are getting hard to find and have longer lead times,” Sutherlin added. “It used to take three days to get something delivered. I’ve heard of some things taking two months.”

Wood framing has started to go up on the three-story Brunswick Commons apartments off Old Tunnel Road. Forty percent of units in the project are slated for low income residents.
Photo: Elias Funez

Sutherlin said a painter he contracts with told him that paint companies are having to use different brands of materials and tools than they normally use, just to get the job done.

Steve Piziali, a local builder and president of the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, said the price of wood was at least 100% higher than the year previous, adding that metal, plumbing fixtures and appliances have increased in cost and scarcity.

“Everything has gone up,” Piziali said.

On top of the materials, the people power is also limited, Piziali said.

“There’s a labor shortage, so labor costs have gone up,” Piziali said. “We have to pay more to retain our employees — it’s not material costs only.”

Piziali said he’s been in the building business 31 years and the demand is the highest he’s ever seen.

EFFECTS

Green Bee’s Sutherlin believes that those who thought they might catch a break from California’s ever ascending real estate costs by buying land and building their own are in for a surprise.

“It’s no longer cost effective to build a new home,” Sutherlin said. “It’s pretty much going to cost more to build a home than it’s worth, in most cases.”

Sutherlin said projects continue for those who have no money issues.

“They are OK with coming in underwater — so to speak — on the other side of their building project,” Sutherlin explained. “For other people unable to buy a house in the first place, it’s just not happening.”

Sutherlin said since the beginning of the pandemic-related quarantine, he witnessed a marked increase in demand for building and remodeling services.

“People trying to convert their garages into apartments and so forth,” Sutherlin said, attributing the sudden interest in home projects to people spending more time in their home. “They’re making adjustments for home/work use, and also, because they’re at home all the time looking at their kitchen, they think, ‘Boy, I would like to have a new kitchen.’”

Homes by Towne are sold even before completion along Berriman Loop in Grass Valley’s Berriman Ranch subdivision currently under construction.
Photo: Elias Funez

Sutherlin said he confers with domestic and Canadian contractors regularly, and his peers have reported a similar increase in demand for construction services throughout the duration of the pandemic.

Salesman Josh Van Matre of Caseywood Lumber Yard shared a similar observation as he worked to meet the needs of building professionals and hobbyists, adding that projects people put off for decades became priorities.

Sutherlin said the rising cost of building materials seemed to both peak and plateau around spring, when COVID-19 restrictions first started to loosen after the vaccine became more readily available.

“All the people who were hesitant to have people coming into their homes previous are less hesitant,” Sutherlin said.

PROFIT

To Sutherlin, the high construction costs are unfortunate for those seeking affordable homeownership by building ground up, but are also inevitable given the changing relationship between supply and demand.

“Demand is higher than manufacturers can keep up with,” Sutherlin said. “With demand high and supply low, the automatic result is prices go up.”

Lumber mills and wood product manufacturers responsible for processing timber into materials like plywood, beams, and 2-by-4s are the ones walking away with the cash, Sutherlin said.

“Price gouging is occurring at the lumber mills,” Sutherlin said, adding that the bulk of these mills are located in either Canada or the American South.

Home sales have picked up at the Berriman Ranch subdivision going up behind Kmart in Grass Valley. It’s a challenge getting contractors up to Grass Valley due to the lack of job sites compared to other areas, according to the project developer.
Photo: Elias Funez

Piziali said the greatest profit margin is taking place at the wholesale level, as opposed to the retail level, and homeowners are eating the extra cost.

“Costs are up from a year ago and, you know, we’re combating it,” Van Matre said. “It’s just not great.”

Sutherlin said he is grateful that the industry he works in is doing well, especially in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, though he’s not making more per project than he was pre-COVID.

“There’s no shortage of work,” Sutherlin said. “In that respect, we’re making as much money.”

Sutherlin estimated 90% of his work over the last year has come from Bay Area transplants.

EXISTING PROBLEMS

Sutherlin said the influx of outside money, from tech or otherwise, has created a fiscally hostile environment.

“I think ‘gentrified’ is the term I’ve heard used to describe what’s happening here,” Sutherlin said, referring to the fading affordability of homes in Nevada County and available housing options for longtime locals.

Sutherlin said the average cost of a home in the area last year was in the high $300,000 range. Over the course of the pandemic, just over one year, Sutherlin said the average price is now in the high $400,000s. Sutherlin said track homes are selling for near $500,000 in the area that were worth less than half that when they were constructed 10 years ago.

“The effect on the people that are up here already is, if you don’t already own a home, you’re pretty much screwed at this point,” Sutherlin said. “If you already have a home, you’re sitting pretty because your home’s worth has risen considerably.”

A home off Berriman Loop is sold even before completion in a subdivision under construction behind Kmart.
Photo: Elias Funez

Barbara Bashall, with the contractors’ association, said the house next to her was bought for $50,000 over its asking price by Bay Area residents seeking a second home. Bashall said although construction costs are definitely a factor, the housing crisis will not be remedied by a subsidized increase in inventory from money outside the community.

“Materials have gone up substantially, and we have all the additional regulations on top of that,” Bashall said, referring to the marked increase in construction permits over the last decade. “(Recent Bay Area transplants) are really what’s pushing the market up more than anything.”

Bashall said the financial pressures begin for prospective homeowners before the actual construction, as the price of building permits has increased significantly over the last decade — around 20%, she estimated.

BUILDING PERMIT TRENDS

GRASS VALLEY

2019 — 721 permits

2020 — 655 permits

2021 — 389 permits, as of July 5

NEVADA COUNTY

July 2018 – June 2019 — 3,148 permits

July 2019 – June 2020 — 3,727 permits

July 2020 – June 2021 — 4,310 permits

Sutherlin said he is grateful for the work, but said those inclined to choose the status quo over change might find the demographic shifts alarming.

“If I was not in the building industry, I would think of it as a negative thing because our cute, quaint community up here is getting overpriced and the culture will be influenced by that as well, for better or for worse,” he said.

Sutherlin said the Bay Area overflow, to primary or secondary residences, can be observed in Nevada City, Grass Valley, Truckee, Reno and Auburn over the last six months. Sutherlin said construction demand slowed only slightly in June, attributing it to a delayed response to rising material costs, which subsequently saw their first price drop in the last year.

Piziali of the contractors’ association said the pressure is on.

“It’s a great time to be a contractor, to stay busy, but also a hard time because it’s hard to procure the necessary materials to get the job done,” Piziali said.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Local veterans offer up to $25K in matching donations to end veteran homelessness

The community has an opportunity to help eradicate local Veteran homelessness by Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2021. Beginning Aug. 1, for 11 days only, donations to Hospitality House’s Homeless Veterans Housing Program will be doubled by Friends of Nevada County Military, up to $25,000. $5 becomes $10.

Friends of Nevada County Military and Hospitality House came together last November to establish the Homeless Veterans Housing Program for the community. The program is principally designed to provide housing assistance and homelessness prevention to Veterans and their families, but it also includes safety net care, such as emergency shelter, food, case management, job training, mental health counseling and transportation as needed.

“When we learned Hospitality House and its partners had a goal to house every homeless Veteran in Nevada County by Veterans Day as part of a collaborative effort known as Built for Zero, we knew this was the time to drive additional interest and support of our housing program,” explained Veteran Fred Buhler, President of Friends of Nevada County Military. “We are proud to be part of the solution and will match every donation to Hospitality House, up to $25,000, for 11 consecutive days to help make this goal a reality.”

Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11, Friends of Nevada County Military will personally match donation to Hospitality House to help in the housing and care of Veterans.

“We’ve identified 22 known homeless Veterans right now in Nevada County — people who served their country when it called,” said David Langness, Veteran and Vice President of Hospitality House. “Let’s serve them by getting them housed! We can’t reach this goal alone. It’s a collective venture, so it’s our hope today that the greater community will help by donating now.”

Hospitality House has served homeless Veterans for the last 16 years, but the Homeless Veterans Housing Program expands capacity to create even greater, lasting impact. With rising rents amid a housing market with few affordable options, the Homeless Veterans Housing Program gives homeless Veterans a leg up by providing first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit funds if needed. The program also helps to prevent homelessness by offering financial support to maintain their housing. Expenses like past due rent, utility bills or mounting healthcare payments can set a person on the wrong trajectory and this funding can help bridge any financial gaps.

“With donations being doubled for 11 days only, this is a significant opportunity for concerned citizens and all of our community partners focusing on homeless Veterans to combine our efforts to meet this vital initiative,” said Nancy Baglietto, Board Chair of the Nevada County Continuum of Care (CoC) and Executive Director of Hospitality House.

Mike Dent, Department of Child Support, Collections, Housing and Community Services for County of Nevada, concurred. “Ongoing collaboration and community support are key. Veteran homelessness is a multifaceted issue but with our community giving toward the match, coupled with several programs and partnerships in place to support this undertaking, we are confident we will reach this goal by Veterans Day because we are ‘Better Together.’”

Donations can be mailed to Hospitality House at 1262 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. Please write “Veterans” on the check memo. Donations can also be made online at hhshelter.org or by calling 530-615-0852. Donations received between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11 will be applied toward the 11 days for 11/11 match.

Source: Hospitality House

HOW TO DONATE

MAIL: 1262 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. Please write “Veterans” on the check memo

ONLINE: hhshelter.org

CALL: 530-615-0852

Brian Hamilton: What’s going on with this market?

Are things slowing down?

When’s the correction coming?

There IS a correction coming … right?

Heading into the backstretch of second quarter home sales in western Nevada County, those with their eyes on the market are regularly being asked the same questions.

KEEPING PACE

If you’ve been following along at home over the past several months, you know market prices have been pushing higher largely due to a high demand for, but low inventory of, homes listed for sale.

Over the course of 2021’s first five months, despite a slight uptick of inventory, the median price of homes sold remains on the rise, or at least holding steady.

But it’s the year-over-year comparison that has everyone shaking their heads in disbelief and wonder.

May’s median sale price was $549,000 — 34% higher than the $410,000 median of May 2020 — following April 2021’s $550,000 median. Among all sales in 2020, the median price was $455,000.

So far, 2021’s median price of homes sold works out to $528,000, up 24% over $427,000 in the first five months of 2020.

TAKING INVENTORY

Since February’s low of 159 homes listed for sale, there have been more options for buyers to consider over the past three months, with 214 homes listed in April and 205 in May.

But those numbers still reflect a drastic drop of homes typically on the market this time of year.

THESE ARE THE DAYS

The effect of the low supply and high demand is also evident in average days on market, a statistic slimmed down to a single digit for the second straight month. It took an average of eight days to have an accepted offer between buyer and seller in May. That’s actually one day fewer than April’s nine-day average, which followed a 14-day average stay on the market in March.

A more typical timetable in western county is the 54 days on market average in the month of May in each of the past five years, including the 45 days averaged in May 2020.

STEADY AS WE GO?

With the slight uptick in homes available over the past few months, more homes are being sold since the start of the year, and actually keeping pace with the last half of 2020, one of the most productive six months in western county sales in recent memory.

Between 2016-2019, there were an average 121 homes sold on a monthly basis. With sales surging amid the pandemic, that number shot up to an average of 175 homes sold monthly over the final six months of last year, bringing an average of 145 homes sold per month in 2020.

So far, even with such a smaller inventory available, western Nevada County has seen an average of 138 homes sold monthly in 2021, with April (172 homes sold) and May (162) — actually keeping stride with 2020’s striking second-half surge in sales.

Brian Hamilton is the assistant to the regional manager for the Betsy Hamilton Real Estate Team. Contact Betsy Hamilton at realestatebetsy@gmail.com or 530-263-9044. Visit MidLifeOfBrian.com for previously published market updates. Contact Brian Hamilton at BrianHamiltonRE@gmail.com

BY THE NUMBERS

May sales in western Nevada County:

$549,000 – Median price (2021)

$410,000 – Median price (2020)

8 – Days on market (2021)

45 – Days on market (2020)

162 – Homes sold (2021)

134 – Homes sold (2020)

205 – Homes for sale (2021)

356 – Homes for sale (2020)

Western Nevada County home sales trends.
Graphic courtesy Brian Hamilton

Housing project on again by Tech Center

A proposed 71-unit development of homes and town houses next to the Nevada City Tech Center has a second chance.

The City Council this week unanimously approved The Grove, whose building permit had elapsed after an initial approval in 2017.

Council members were enthusiastic about the plans put forward by the same company that developed the Tech Center, Campus Property Group, for nearly 13 acres of a 19.6-acre site at 500 Providence Mine Road.

“I just look at the need of housing in the community,” council member Gary Petersen said. “I think it is entirely appropriate in our community. That is one of the things I think is really important about it. I’m not going to stand in the way of this project at all.”

Among the residences will be 15 single-family lots grouped together. Lots will be sold as undeveloped parcels for custom homes, City Planner Amy Wolfson told the council. The lots are grouped together around a common landscape area and will include a community garden.

Living space of the town houses and homes to be sold at market price will range from 1,250 square feet to 2,100 square feet. A number of the homes are proposed to incorporate an accessory dwelling unit, or granny unit.

“We’re looking to partner with a builder, a partner who is trying to create the right sense of community,” said Robert Upton, co-founder of Campus Property Group. “We would not be building the clustered homes, the 44 units. We’re looking for a builder to purchase the property or joint-venture it with us. We don’t have the capability to operate as a builder in Nevada City.”

Vice Mayor Duane Strawser recalled he was on council from the beginning of the project when it was initially launched.

“It was scrutinized from top to bottom by the council, planning commission and members of the community,” he said. “Robert Upton and his group met our requirements, the look, the style — and we were adamant the homes have a walk-ability to the Tech Center and allow the children in the homes to get to one of the schools in the proximity easily. So, I’m looking forward to this coming back through again.”

The project’s original building permit expired 24 months after it was issued. Upton said the process in California can be complicated, especially with California Environmental Quality Act standards that must be met.

The next step once a builder is secured will be grading the landscape. Upton said he does not have a precise timeline but said he hoped construction would start before the end of the year.

“I’m actually glad to see this project moving forward,” Mayor Erin Minett said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Normally, the Planning Commission has the authority to approve tentative subdivision map applications, said Wolfson. But the City Council is required to make a specific finding for proposals of more than 35 lots intended to promote the health, safety and welfare of the community.

Nevada City Tech Center office, a research and development complex, was completed 14 years ago by the Campus Property Group, a Bay Area real estate developer established in 1998 by co-founders Upton and Michael Hooper.

William Roller is a staff writer for The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

The City Council this week unanimously approved The Grove, whose building permit had elapsed after an initial approval in 2017.
Courtesy Campus Property Group

Hot market: Defensible space law could increase home cost

A new law set to take effect this summer has the potential to impact home prices in an already smoldering real estate market in California.

Starting July 1, the new law will require maintaining defensible space of 100 feet from each side and from the front and rear of a structure, but not beyond the property line. Building material, building standards, location, and type of vegetation will determine the amount of fuel modification needed. Also, fuels must be kept in a condition so that a wildfire burning under average weather conditions would be unlikely to ignite the structure.

Assembly Bill 38, authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood, is also known as the home fire hardening and defensible space advisory disclosure requirement prerequisite. It will mandate that a seller of real property, which is located in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone, inform a buyer that retrofits were completed to bring the property into compliance.

The work on each parcel can vary considerably. For property in heavily forested areas or property that has not been maintained regularly or even neglected for years, required clearance ordered by a fire marshal or fire safe council could cost a considerable amount, said Matt Merrill, owner of Yuba Forrest Restorations in Grass Valley.

It can be difficult to quote an average cost for such work. The cost of the work can only be determined after inspecting a potential client’s property, because the scope of the work involved varies considerably and often depends on how regularly the vegetation had been maintained in the past.

“It can vary from minimal (hundreds of dollars) to potentially tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

Mark Lawson, bidder/estimator of Grounds Guys, in Sparks, Nevada, also does defensible space clearance. “We use Google Earth Maps to accurately estimate a particular job,” said Lawson.

Typically he uses two man crews, but sometimes one man is adequate, though larger jobs require added staff. A two-hour job could cost $260 for clearance, and there is a two-hour minimum. Ladder fuels, like trees, as opposed to surface fuels, like weeds, grass or leaves, can add to the complexity and expense of a job.

CHANGES

Starting July 1, all home sellers must inform a buyer they have completed a home fire hardening and defensible space advisory disclosure within seven days of signing a contract. But there is no point of sale mandate if the seller has not had an inspection of the property. If the buyer decides not to require a defensible space inspection, they will not have recourse once an inspection is done and are ordered to do a clearance of vegetation.

The Nevada County Association of Realtors has been working with homeowners since the beginning of the year to bring them up to speed on new requirements that go into effect this summer, said Teresa Dietrich, past president of the Realtor group and now the organization’s legislative affairs chairperson.

“We are helping homeowners understand what affordable home hardening options are available such as gutter covers, heat sensing vents that close in a fire to prevent embers from entering attics and crawl spaces,” she said in an email.

Those measures prevent fire from spreading across sections of a house and to a neighbor’s house, Dietrich said. Home hardening initiatives can increase property values and make a home better for the community. If there is a row of five to 10 houses that are home hardened, it halts fire from spilling across an entire neighborhood.

“We’re trying to verify what homeowners have or have not done,” Dietrich said. “At some point in the future, people who completed home hardening can expect to get a reduction in their fire insurance premiums.

For newly constructed houses fire retardant materials are now fairly standard, she said. Roofs are Class A fire rated, windows are tempered glass and home siding is more often concrete, stucco or metal siding. New homes also include sprinkler suppression systems.

“Those (elements) are required for new construction, and it can be expensive,” Dietrich said. “But we’re talking about (this summer’s legislation) retrofit. The retrofit required is in the affordable range.”

Dietrich said it’s important for sellers and buyers to consult the website www.mynevadacounty.com to learn what the state, county and individual city ordinances are to meet compliance, because they can vary.

Additionally, Dietrich said some home owners are leveraging their retrofits though PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) loans from the state. PACE programs allow a property owner to finance the up-front cost of energy or other improvements on a property and then pay the costs back over time — usually 10 to 20 years — through a voluntary assessment.

“Home hardening is to the benefit of everybody in the community,” emphasized Dietrich.

Barbara Bashall, the Nevada County Contractors’ Association’s government affairs manager, said her group supports defensible space and home fire hardening.

“When you see what happened to Paradise,” she said, referring to the 2018 fire that destroyed the town. “Defensible space may cost additional money, but its benefits far exceed the cost.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Brian Hamilton: Real estate market smoking hot ahead of summer months

Nine days.

That’s how long it took, on average, for a home to sell last month here in western county, according to data compiled by the Nevada County Association of Realtors.

Nine days.

Continuing on the clear trend established throughout the first quarter of sales, western Nevada County’s market is still scorching hot. That single digit for April sales brings the average days on market for all of 2021, so far, to 15 days.

But ask any area real estate agent and they’re likely to share stories of sellers having an accepted offer even earlier, with multiple buyers making a bid above asking price in just mere hours after hitting the market.

HOW HOT?

With 214 homes listed for sale in April, there were 172 homes sold.

It was the most homes sold in a single month since September 2020, when 188 transactions closed. That was one of six months that saw sales surpass 150 units sold.

April 2020, though, was not one of them.

A year ago at this time, there were 396 homes on the market and 80 sold.

But April 2020, as you remember, was likely the month that saw home sales struggle the most due to the first shelter-in-place orders in response to COVID-19.

What’s more typical for this time of year?

In April 2019, there were 476 homes on the market with 120 units selling. One year earlier, April 2018 closed out with 112 homes sold and 390 active listings. And a quick look at the stats from all the way back to 2017 show a total of 113 homes sold and 298 active on the market.

Clearly, the 172 homes sold last month were easily the most homes sold in the month of April over the past five years. But the number also represents, outside of the sizzling sales of pandemic-driven 2020, the most homes sold in any single month over the past five years in western Nevada County.

In fact, prior to 2020, monthly home sales topped 150 units just three times since January 2017.

Smoking hot, indeed.

Graph courtesy Brian Hamilton

HOW HIGH?

Although the 214 homes listed for sale reflects a slight uptick in inventory — surpassing the 200 threshold for the first time since 283 homes were on the market in November 2020 — it still reflects an extremely low supply of homes to buy in western county.

Not only is April inventory typically more substantial, as mentioned above, but until July 2020 — with 295 homes for sale — western Nevada County’s market hadn’t dipped below 300 units on the market since February of 2018 (which totaled 286 units). There were 431 homes on the market in May 2020, before supply started spiraling downward.

In fact, not once in 2019 did Nevada County have fewer than 300 homes for sale. For sake of comparison, three consecutive summer months saw more than 600 homes for sale, including the highest number of homes on the market in July 2019 at 647 homes.

That more typical supply and demand scenario had the average sold price at $492,000 for the 136 homes sold.

In April 2019, with 476 homes on the market and 120 units sold, the average sale price was $443,000.

One year later, amid the pandemic shutdown, with 396 homes on the market and a mere 80 selling, the sale price stood at $459,000.

Last month, with 214 homes listed and 172 homes selling, the median sold price was pushed to $550,000.

That was up from $525,000 in March 2021 and, as stated, nearly $100,000 higher in a year-over-year comparison with the median sale price of April 2020.

Brian Hamilton is the assistant to the regional manager for the Betsy Hamilton Real Estate Team. Contact Betsy Hamilton at realestatebetsy@gmail.com or 530-263-9044. Visit MidLifeOfBrian.com for previously published market updates. Contact Brian Hamilton at BrianHamiltonRE@gmail.com.

Nevada County supervisors OK revised plan for retirement housing

The Rincon del Rio project has been green lighted by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors by unanimous vote.

The South County project is comprised of single-family cottages and bungalows, five-plex and 14-plex condos, residential loft multi-tenant condos and a group home memory assisted living facility. The plan was originally approved April 9, 2013.

This modified plan now includes a complex on a 215-acre site. The buildings occupy just 48 acres, with 167 acres of open space. Also included are a village center, which comprises walking trails, a community garden, aquatic center, tennis and bocce ball courts, as well as a pickle ball area.

Matt Kelley, senior planner for Nevada County, said the modified general plan includes 345 units that will have a cap of 415 residents. The main difference in the modified plan was some of the buildings were relocated on the site.

Brian Foss, planning director, said there are no environmental impacts identified.

“Traffic on Highway 49 in both directions can safely proceed as well as traffic from Lake of Pines, based on the original (Environmental Impact Report),” he said.

DOUBT

Not everybody was assured that necessary safety precautions were provided for. Bill Fortier and his wife Kristina are homeowners at Lake of the Pines, just a half mile from the Rincon complex. Bill Fortier, who provided comment at the Tuesday meeting, threw doubt on whether the modified plan was viable.

“I don’t believe any firefighter would move to del Rio, and not recognize the fire trap it is,” he stressed. “And 65 mile per hour traffic on Highway 49 creates a death trap similar to the Paradise Fire.”

Kristina Fortier also expressed dismay.

“I’m not opposed to more homes, but I’m opposed to the location,” said Kristina. “It is a two-prong deathtrap with Highway 49 and Rincon Way as the exit and entry points for traffic coming from Placer County, and Rincon Way is the gateway to Nevada County.”

And because the traffic pattern can challenge the best of drivers, Kristina said, they cannot rely on Rincon Way as an evacuation route in case an emergency forces an evacuation. The alternate route is Rodeo Flat and Combie roads, which are too narrow to accommodate a mass evacuation if a fire came from a westerly direction.

Another South County resident who objected to the modified plan was William Abbot. He maintained that he and his wife supported the original 2013 project. That proposal was supposed to provide a Continuum of Care Residential Center (CCRC). The goal, he said, was to provide sit care for those 55 years old and older for the next 30 years, or the end of their life.

“They’d take you up to hospice once you needed it,” said Abbot. “But now it’s a senior retirement community, not a CCRC. We’re not against what was proposed in 2013. But nothing has changed, except their business model.”

Supervisor Heidi Hall said it is clear the county needs more affordable housing, yet it is unclear how much of Rincon will be considered affordable.

“Overall, I am pleased to see thoughtful housing projects like this move forward,” said Hall. “I know the applicants worked hard to find compromises, so the project provides adequate mitigation for its impacts.”

Supervisor Dan Miller was also enthusiastic. The applicant asked the right questions, Miller said. The proposed modifications do not create adverse impacts.

“It remains to be seen how affordable the units will be,” he said. “I think the road system in the project promotes a neighborhood feel for the residents, and is conducive to being pedestrian friendly and still allows access for emergency vehicles required by county code. I still view the 55+ community with memory center a vital component. The state will be monitoring the CCRC to make sure they are in compliance with all regulations.”

William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at wroller@theunion.com

Brian Hamilton: Buying season begins in red hot seller’s market

Two hundred and one. That’s the number of homes posted for sale in western Nevada County as of April 16.

Although that number representing first time active inventory has been above 200 homes since November, and a slight uptick in inventory over recent months, it is still far off the number of homes typically listed this time of year, the beginning of buying season.

But make no mistake, low inventory hasn’t slowed high demand — nor the number of homes sold.

For example, a total of 357 homes were sold in the first quarter of 2021, which easily outpaced the first quarter in each of the previous five years of sales in western Nevada County, including the 281 homes sold in the first quarter of 2020.

For those hoping more homes on the market might mean more affordable prices, and a slow down in the bidding wars often resulting in multiple offers of above-asking price, the trends in this hot market continue to be the opposite.

A year ago, even amid the pandemic, there were 396 homes on the market at the end of April 2020, much more typical than the 200 fewer homes currently listed.

Despite the lower inventory, home sales last month in western Nevada County were up 10% over March 2020, and actually saw 20% more homes sold than February 2021.

And sellers who sold in March 2021 also enjoyed both a significant increase in median price of homes sold, as well as a short stay on the market with the listing.

March 2021’s median price of homes sold ($525,000) reflected a 23.5% increase over median price of home sold one year ago ($425,000), and marked a 7% increase over February 2021’s median of $490,000.

Meanwhile, the average days on the market in March was 14 (fourteen), a drop from 33 days on market in February, and well below the 53-day average that listings logged in March 2020.

According to Nevada County Association of Realtors data, the median price of a home sold in the first quarter of 2021 was $515,000. That’s up over the $450,000 median of 2020 and, for pre-pandemic context, higher than the $468,000 median for homes sold in the first quarter of 2019.

Similarly, the average 22 days on market in the first quarter of 2021 was similar to the 21-day average recorded in 2020, but nearly just half the 41 days averaged in 2019.

And, again for context, in the first quarter of five previous years (2014-2018), the average number of days on market was not once lower than 50.

It remains to be seen whether a significant increase in inventory is on the horizon as we move deeper into the April-July buying season, when historically more than 40% of a year’s housing transactions take place.

But for the time being, the low supply and high demand continues to fuel higher prices, higher volume of sales and a much shorter stay for homes on this extremely hot market.

Brian Hamilton is the assistant to the regional manager for the Betsy Hamilton Real Estate Team. Contact Betsy Hamilton at realestatebetsy@gmail.com or 530-263-9044. Visit MidLifeOfBrian.com for previously published market updates. Contact Brian Hamilton at BrianHamiltonRE@gmail.com.

Market Square Truckee aims to meet needs

The Railyard project, under master developer Holliday Development, is intended to draw more foot traffic to downtown Truckee.

Totaling 90,000 square feet, Market Square Truckee is just one mixed-use component of the anticipated renovations to come.

Yumi Dahn, an associate planner for community development in Truckee, said the development is meant to host and foster North Lake Tahoe’s “vibrant community.”

“We don’t want to take away from historical downtown,” Dahn explained. “That is the jewel of our community, so we want to be cognitive of that in our development.”

Market Square, formerly called the Central Pacific Yard, is located just east of the Historic Downtown District at the southeast quadrant of Donner Pass Road and Church Street in Truckee.

Foothill Partners Douglas Wiele said the whole premise of his team’s portion of the project is to provide daily needs shopping in downtown Truckee.

“Downtown Truckee is inviting, but not really for the local community — it’s for the second-home tourist community,” Wiele said.

Wiele said the development’s lead anchor tenant is New Moon Natural Foods, which will help address the region’s relative food desert and provide accessible grocery items to tourists and locals alike.

“They’re moving from their current location to a space three times as large and plan to grow themselves,” Wiele said.

Wiele said the grocery store will alleviate the region’s traffic and pollution.

The project should appear in front of the Planning Commission this spring, with construction in the fall, Wiele said.

Associate Planner Dahn said the project has not yet been scheduled to appear before the Town Council.

DEVELOPMENT

Wiele, the head of just one of the development firms involved in the project, dispelled rumors that the completed Market Square would eventually house the sporting goods giant REI. The REI logo appears on some planning documents for the project.

“The Railyard Master Plan sets out in some detail the types of uses that are allowed in the project,” Wiele said. “We’re going to honor that — no variances or exceptions.”

Wiele said early blueprints for the development, located in the balloon track of the larger development, included the REI logo because Gallelli Real Estate were also brokers for the outdoor company.

“It’s called a balloon track because it’s a circular track used to turn snow plows around,” Wiele said. “There’s one on each side of Donner Pass.”

Wiele said when Union Pacific sold property to Holliday Developments, they prohibited housing in the circle because it was unsafe.

“There’s a deed restriction which prohibits housing development,” Wiele added. “That’s acknowledged in the town of Truckee.”

However, housing exists in the form of Truckee Artist Lofts, which is part of the Truckee Railyard Master project.

The development includes Coburn Crossing — a 127-room Marriott Hotel and 138-unit high density residential project. Although all new developments in the region are required to also then create or contribute to a fund to create affordable workforce housing, Wiele said that requirement was met through the 77 units at the Truckee Artist Lofts.

“As to housing, we are part of the Truckee Railyard Master project,” Wiele explained. “The housing requirements — the workforce affordable housing was met in one fell swoop with the Artist Lofts.”

Wiele said Foothill Partners, which is particularly dedicated to the Market Square portion of the Railyard, specializes in developing in communities with high barriers to entryway.

“Places like Alameda, Berkeley — communities that are notorious for getting permits in,” Wiele said. “Truckee is a place where permission to build doesn’t come easy.”

Wiele said Foothill Partners shares the values of the community it is involved in.

“We’re socially aware, green-minded, we’re off from the left and comfortable there,” Wiele said.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.