A Local’s Tips for Buying Napa Real Estate
My husband and I are lucky enough to have just bought a little piece of Napa acreage and are currently selling our downtown 1898 Victorian. Though our new “dream home” is a little boy’s heaven of redwood trees bordered by a creek with tadpoles, many people dream of having a Napa Valley hideaway that might include vineyards, historic features or a shed for making a little homemade Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we’re not real estate professionals (and we recommend you hire one of those too by the way) we still thought we should pass on some of the layperson’s tips and knowledge we picked up along the way buying our first and now second Napa home. Interest rates are at historic lows and though prices are definitely on the rise in Napa, it’s still a great time to get into the market.
Most real estate searches, especially if you live in the area, start out online. Sites like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow are good places to start as most realtors are listing their properties there. Sotheby’s and Coldwell are two of the major firms with a lots of local listings. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the online search portal of the Napa Valley Register (our local newspaper) very helpful or easy to navigate…..but most realtors market their properties correctly and get them onto a multitude of websites like these listed by Bankrate.com as being the best online home search sites.
Get on a bike
When Chris and I bought our Victorian in downtown Napa in 2006, we were already renters in the area. We knew that we wanted whatever we bought to be within walking distance of the corner of First and Main streets- the nexus of the developing Oxbow district and the very heart of downtown. So from that point we drew a 1 mile radius and got on our bikes. After finding two open houses we took shelter from a freak rainfall on the porch of a third- and fell in love with the porch, the hardwood floors, high ceilings and the neighborhood. Biking through neighborhoods rather than driving allows you to go at a slower pace and to get a better sense of the area and people around your new potential home. Don’t wear earbuds and you’ll get an idea of how many birds are chirping in the trees…and if your potential neighbors have a loud, barky dog. As the years have gone by and downtown Napa has burgeoned into the culinary, wine and community-focused center it is today, we recommend this approach to shoppers looking to live within walking distance of this amazing place.
Get in a hot air balloon
It’s hard for anyone, even locals, to get the lay of the land around Napa from street level. When I took Chris for a hot air balloon ride for his 40th birthday last year, we realized we’d found a whole new way of assessing an area. Getting up in the air and leaving the limitations of roads, parks and yes, private property lines, gives you an unbeatable perspective on how near- or very far- certain features are. We never would’ve guessed that our new property, which with the trees and creek feels miles away from anywhere, is actually almost as close to downtown as our old place. Of course I suppose you could also try Google Earth, but it’s nowhere nearly as fun. No matter your method, getting “above it all” is an entirely new way to gain valuable perspective.
Get a Newspaper
You’re going to laugh that we actually found our new place from a newspaper ad. Chris and I have been keeping our ears and eyes open for places on the outskirts of town with some property (so our two and four year old could have ample “free range” space to run around). In the meantime, my sister has been toying with an idea of buying a place in Napa with two units- one for her to rent out and one for her to come up for the weekends from San Francisco. We were together one weekend and bought a Sunday issue of the Register, which contains a special real estate section. We were just scanning the listings when a photo of tall redwoods and wide-open spaces grabbed both of us. We immediately were intrigued by the rest of the listing and even though, at a 2 bedroom/2 bath it was smaller than I was looking for, we went to the open house anyway….and ended up closing escrow on it yesterday. Had I been searching online I might have missed this one because I was only searching for three bedrooms and above. Which brings me to my last tip…….
Get outside the “brackets”
Though the online search results for a given area code can seem huge, in Napa it often pays to search both above and below your price and bed/bath combo brackets. Sometimes larger bedroom/bath houses than you think you can afford have been on the market for a long time and have dropped in price. Or you could find a smaller square footage house that you could easily add on to with the money you’d save on the purchase price. Similarly, there are a surprising number of houses in Napa with “in-law units” and even sheds or shops that will not count as bedrooms or taxable square footage but that would count as valuable useable lifestyle and/or living space for you. We found our new paradise by being willing to look outside of our ideal search brackets, and being willing to plan on putting on a new master suite.
Get it? Got it? Great- and good luck!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. She is selling the downtown Napa Victorian where this blog got its start- contact Jocelyne Monello at 707-224-8281 for a showing! The advice above is based on Alison’s personal experience and in no way is meant to replace the advice of a professional agent or real estate lawyer.