National News

For Sale in Santa Rosa, Fire-Scorched Land

Posted January 3, 2018 1:00 p.m. EST

Browse California real estate listings and you will see impeccably staged houses with kitchens and living rooms that Martha Stewart may as well have designed.

It’s a different picture when you look at property ads in Santa Rosa. Over the past few weeks more than a dozen burned out lots have come onto the market. Families whose homes were destroyed in the October wine country wildfires are selling the charred dirt where their houses once stood.

Real estate agents say they expect many more plots to hit the market in the coming weeks as owners realize the time, investment and energy involved in rebuilding.

“The decision on whether to rebuild or not is a complicated one,” said Mark C. Spaulding, a real estate agent representing sellers who had two properties burn in the fires, one their home and the other a house they rented out.

Spaulding says haggling with insurance companies, finding contractors and dealing with the permitting process to rebuild their homes can be overwhelming, especially for older people. In Coffey Park, a neighborhood of vast devastation, he counts 14 burned-out lots that have come onto the market, including one on Tuesday.

Signs around Coffey Park read “From the ashes we will rise.”

But for many the question is how long that will take.

“Every contractor I’ve talked to said we’d be lucky if it took 10 years,” said Geri Rossi De Guevara, 69, who from her front yard looks out onto a blackened landscape where bulldozers are clearing the remains of hundreds of homes.

A year ago, her neighbor’s house was worth around $650,000, said Christopher A. Smith, a Santa Rosa real estate agent.

Last month the neighbors put up for sale all that remains of their property — blackened dirt — for $199,000 and are in negotiations with a buyer.

“It was a beautiful house, a two-car garage, a nice backyard,” Smith said. “They had done a lot of remodeling.”

The owners studied what it would take to rebuild the house and decided to take the insurance money, cut their losses and move out of town, Smith said.

“They are going to take their money and run,” he said.