A foot in the door: first-time home buyers fight to buy a house of their own in the Napa Valley | Local News


Here’s some of what it takes to be a successful first-time home buyer in Napa Valley:

  • Be willing to pay as much as $81,000 over the asking price of a starter home.
  • Offer all cash to buy a house that costs more than $500,000.
  • Bid on 20 different homes and be rejected time after time.
  • Postpone your wedding so you can spend more time house-hunting.
  • Adopt four chickens.

That’s exactly what a number of people found themselves doing in their quests to get their foot into the door of the Napa Valley real estate market.

Haziel Perez and his fiancé Erin Wilson were so serious about buying a house they postponed their wedding in order to focus on the search. Both work in the wine industry. Perez, 30, works in sales while Wilson, 29, works in finance.

It began late last year when they saw home prices continuing to rise despite the ongoing pandemic.

People are also reading…

“We didn’t want to wait any longer,” said Perez, though neither knew the journey would take more than six months to conclude.

The couple found one Napa house they wanted to buy. And another. And then another. Over and over the couple made offers to different sellers, “but we were still being outbid every single time,” said Perez.

“We did get discouraged a lot of times,” he said, adding he wondered if they’d ever get a house.  

“Every time we went into a bidding war, we kept losing out. And that was the discouraging part,” said Perez. On one house they were outbid by only $2,000 with no opportunity to make a counteroffer. “It’s just crazy.”

Kelsey and Peter Chenaux found themselves in a similar situation.

The couple, who are pregnant, were living in a condo on Pear Tree Lane in Napa when they realized they’d need more room for both their baby and their dog. Kelsey Chenaux, 37, works in the wine industry and Peter Chenaux, 49, works in the food industry.

After quickly selling their condo, they soon found a house on Seville Court that they wanted to buy. To their dismay, so did six other buyers.

“We felt very dejected,” said Kelsey Chenaux. Who knew how “good” the other offers were? Did those offers include more money or “better” loan arrangements?

Chenaux was also seven months pregnant. Would they find a new home in time for the arrival of their baby? They would, but it would be close. 

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “There were definitely times I was up at night thinking we made a huge mistake by selling our condo before we bought a home.”

Karine Vann and Vahe Markosian are also first-time Napa Valley home buyers. Both in their mid-30s; Markosian grew up in the South Bay. Before coming to Napa, they lived in Boston and more recently Vallejo. Vann works as a music teacher and Markosian is an architect working in the modular construction industry.

“We didn’t want to rent anymore,” Vann said. “We wanted to start paying ourselves” instead of a landlord.

However, they weren’t sure if they’d even be able to submit a competitive offer. Everything that came onto the market that was in their price range “got crazy outbid.”

“It was really challenging,” she said.

Another Napa couple, Adam Padilla and Caroline Helper, had similar experiences. Helper, 34, is a brand manager in the wine industry. Padilla, 38, works in hospitality and marketing. They’ve lived in Napa for about six years.

“We had been renting forever and we felt the smarter thing to do would to put our money into a mortgage so we’d start building equity,” versus paying rent to someone else, said Helper.

Last spring they started looking at home listings.

“We were seeing the housing market going crazy and starting to see prices creep up and up and up,” said Helper. “We started to feel like if we didn’t make a move, we’d get priced out.”

Like others in the market, they also found houses they wanted to buy, but their bids were rejected.

“I was very discouraged,” said Padilla. In his eyes, “we’re trying to build a life here and be a part of the community … but Napa is trying to push us out. It felt like we weren’t welcome.”

Jim Keller, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, described another local family who wanted to buy their first home in Napa Valley.

The family declined to be interviewed by the Napa Valley Register, but Keller shared part of their story. The mother works at a local medical center and the father works two jobs, as a cook and custodian. They have a teenager and one younger child.

They started their search in Napa but branched out into American Canyon, Fairfield and Vallejo.

“I must have showed them 50 homes,” over about a year, said Keller. “We made 20 offers. We were accepted on the 19th but it fell through because they were using an FHA loan and the house did not conform to FHA standards.” 

“The market was rising in price every month; it was quite challenging,” said Keller.

Both agent and buyer kept each other motivated during the long search, he said. “I was ready to throw in the towel a couple times,” Keller admitted. But once they passed the mark of having made offers on 10 houses, “I felt that there is no turning back. We’re going to keep at this until something comes our way.”

Priced out of the American dream

These families certainly aren’t alone.

According to a news release from state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), 555,858 homes were sold in California in 2021. However, only 35.5% of those homes were purchased by first-time buyers, the report found.

“With only 26% of households statewide able to afford to purchase a median-priced home, many California families are currently priced out of home ownership,” said the news release. ”That is especially acute for families of color — only 17% of Latino and Black households are able to afford the median-priced home.”

Another report from California Forward, using data from the California Association of Realtors, noted that the median sales price for a single-family home rose to $786,000 in 2021— a 38% increase since 2018.

Meanwhile, incomes have failed to keep pace with increasing prices, said the California Forward report.

“In 2020, the median home price was 8.5 times median yearly income —a level that is nearly four times the ratio in 1969,” the report said.

“Lack of affordability is a challenge in every community across the state, but is more acute in some regions than others. For example, the median house price in the Bay Area is nearly double the median house price in the Inland Empire. Aspiring homeowners in the Inland Empire still struggle to find the resources to afford a home, but in the Bay Area, the challenge is even more acute,” California Forward reported.

Fortunately, each of these would-be Napa Valley buyers found a way to successfully complete their first home purchase, even if it isn’t for their dream home.

“We got lucky,” said Perez. They were working with Realtor Josh Diaz of Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley, when a friend of the family told them about an older house that was part of a trust. “It was built in the ’70s, but well taken care of,” near Salvador Avenue. 

The couple was able to buy the home, which was not on the market. It isn’t in or near downtown, which they originally hoped for, but they ultimately valued the three bedrooms and two bathrooms their new home has over its location. “It all worked out,” said Perez.

“Buying a house was priority,” he said. “Now we can start planning the wedding.”

Kelsey Chenaux said when they saw their house on Seville Court, “it was everything we were looking for. It was the first home we saw (where) I would imagine living there a long time and raising a child.”

“’How do we get this?’” they asked their Realtor Susan Pujals of Homestead Real Estate. Pujals suggested they offer all cash for the home, while simultaneously applying for a conventional loan.

To do so, an older relative provided proof of funds that would cover the cash purchase of the Seville home. As they always intended, the couple did end up using a loan to buy the home, said Kelsey Chenaux.

Notably, they also offered $81,000 over the asking price of $779,000. Kelsey Chenaux said the main reason they were able to do that was their condo had just sold – and for $86,000 over their asking price.

They also agreed on a two-week escrow, “which is very short but we were eager to move in and we knew the sellers had already purchased their next home.”

Another key advantage: “We got our interest rate locked in for 60 days before we made the offer … right before interest rates went crazy. That was huge.”

And then there were the chickens. As part of their deal, the growing Chenaux family had to agree to adopt the four egg-laying hens that lived in the backyard. 

“We’ve never owned a chicken before,” admitted Kelsey Chenaux, but “the eggs are great.” And more importantly, the house is everything they could have wanted.

After Vann spotted a house for sale on Hilltop Drive, Realtor Giselle Lampe with Brokers of the Valley urged her to take a look at it. Interest rates had just started to rise, and the Hilltop listing didn’t immediately generate any offers.

The couple offered the asking price of $750,000. It was accepted.

“We bought at a peak,” Vann thinks. “We’re about to experience probably a trough. But I don’t feel like I got price-gouged. The neighborhood is lovely. I don’t plan to sell the house anytime soon. We want to live in it.

“Our interest rate is higher than I’d like to be; it’s 5%,” Vann added. “I’m not thrilled with that. But now they’re 7% so if we had waited wouldn’t have been able to buy a house.” The family plans to refinance once interest rates drop. Hopefully they will, she said.

“At the end of the day we’re really, really fortunate.”

Napa Realtors, experts weigh in on first time home buyer challenges, opportunities

First-time home buyers are jumping through hoops to make deals in Napa. Local experts weigh in. 

Padilla and Helper faced more bumps in their search. At one point they had their hearts set on a house on Iowa Street.

“It felt very magical to me,” said Padilla. Not only was their offer rejected, but “we found out we weren’t even in the top five offers,” he said. “I was super devastated.”

“That was pretty gutting,” Helper said.

Eventually they bid on a house in Glenwood Drive. She described the older cinderblock home as “quirky,” which might have turned off some buyers, but not all.

“We had to be really competitive,” Helper knew. They ended up buying the house for $75,000 over the listing price of $575,000.

“I expected we were going to have to go over,” said Helper. “I knew that was the game we were playing. The listing price was never the asking price; it was the starting price.”

Out of seven other offers, theirs was accepted.

The bidding and searching was stressful, but “I had the belief if it was meant to be and the right house was out there we’d find it,” said Helper. “It was discouraging, but I just had faith.”

As for Keller’s clients, after making 19 other offers (every one of them over asking price), the family finally made a deal. They bought a home on Gisela Drive in American Canyon, the third house the family had bid on on that same street. This home was listed at $639,000 and the family paid $660,000.

Apparently the seller of this home faced similar changes when trying to buy their first home, “and wanted to work with us.”

“The home was pretty much ideal,” said Keller. It features newer construction and is nicely landscaped, and the house is in good condition. “In the end, they ended up getting the home they had probably hoped to get,” all along.

These new Napa Valley homeowners had some advice for others who are still in the market for their first home.

“You’re going to get a bunch of no’s until you get a yes,” said Perez. “Don’t expect your first offer to be accepted. There will always be more houses out there.”

“Be patient and know that opportunities will come along,” said Padilla.

“Don’t get caught up to a place where you’re making yourself financially uncomfortable,” said Helper. “Be mindful of your limits. Don’t push yourself too far (financially). Know your budget and stick to it,” she said.

Get pre-approved for a loan as soon as you can, said Chenaux. In addition, “don’t rush into the purchase of a home because of a timeline.” After all, “It’s the biggest purchase” of your life, she said.

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 707-256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com


Source link