“What are we doing in Pollock Pines?” I asked smiling as she adjusted her seat belt. For nearly a month we had been previewing homes between Folsom and Placerville. Finding a home that would qualify in her entry-level price range had been difficult. We had already lost out on three homes despite our full price offers. She had initially told me that she wanted to live below the snow line and so when she asked to see homes in Pollock Pines I was taken back a bit but I understood her reasoning. Pollock Pines had homes in her price range.
Location is important and has a direct correlation to price. Location is why homes are selling in South Sac for $86 a square foot, El Dorado Hills for $165 a square foot and Los Gatos for $800 a square foot. Move a $300,000 track home in Folsom to Alameda and it’s now a $3 million home. But life is about compromises and however important a particular location may be, price most often determines where we live.
Living in the foothills in a pristine rural setting is often quoted as the reason folks move to El Dorado County. While living close to nature may be attractive to relocating buyers, most don’t buy homes in the woods. They actually settle in the most congested areas of the county. One of every three home sales in the county is in El Dorado Hills and two of every three sales are located within five miles of Highway 50. It is an interesting phenomenon that in a county that promotes itself for our rural lifestyle, most people chose to live where everyone else lives.
In fact, for most of the county’s 200-plus homebuyers each month, the more rural a property is the less attractive it is to buy. Property values are less for homes in the country not because they are smaller or cheaper to build but because the demand for their location is less. We profess our love for privacy and open space but end up buying a track home near the freeway. Go figure.
While every home is unique and every neighborhood is different, generally, the median price of a county home declines as the elevation into the foothills increases. As an example, the median selling price of a home in El Dorado Hills, at an elevation 800 feet, was $445,000 last month. Drive a little further uphill along Highway 50 to Cameron Park and the median selling price for a similar size home was $275,000. At the 1,800-foot elevation, Placerville’s median selling price is $185,000. Keep going up hill to Camino at 3,000-foot elevation where the median selling is $165,000 and at 4,000 feet elevation in Pollock Pines and the median is $151,000.
The most affordable housing can also be found in the most distant locations from Highway 50. Last month, the average price per square foot for a county home closing escrow was $138. In the town of Cool, the most northern community in the county, located only three miles from the Placer County line, the square foot average was $129. Travel in the opposite direction and end up in Somerset or Fairplay and the average square foot price is $100.
Homes in the village of Cool command a higher price per square foot than Camino at $116 a square foot or Pollock Pines at $111 a square foot because of the town’s close proximity to Auburn and Highway 80. Auburn homes typically sell for $151 a square foot. A scenic, 20-minute drive from Auburn to Cool will save a homebuyer $44,000 on a 2,000-square-foot home.
After considering price and commuting distance there are a number of factors that come into play on choosing the right neighborhood.
Traffic and street noise are usually a turnoff for most buyers. Traffic can present a safety issue for a family with children and few people want to listen to street noise while relaxing on their patio or deck. Street noise can be mitigated with triple pane windows, sound installation or landscaping but retrofitting can be expensive and takes time. If traffic is a concern, buyers should visit the neighborhood during different times of the day to determine the extent and duration of the problem. Noise may only be significant during certain times of the day and negligible the rest of the time.
We are fortunate in our county to have great schools and schools districts. However, if attending a particular school is important, homebuyers should call the district office to ensure their children will be guaranteed entrance. The county has 3,500 fewer children in school this year over our peak attendance. To adjust to declining enrolments and revenues, schools are consolidating classes, closing some and eliminating programs in others. School boundaries may change.
The county’s low crime rate is another attractive feature to relocating buyers. However, some areas are safer than others. The sheriff’s department maintains available crime statistics on neighborhoods and there is an online data base of sex offenders and where they live.
Choosing the right neighborhood that fits a buyer’s personality and lifestyle is often more important than picking out the right house. Shopping, restaurants and commuting distance may be important to some while living on acreage a priority for others. Too often buyers make a decision on a home based upon its internal features exclusively when a holistic view is required.
Ken Calhoon is a real estate broker in El Dorado County. He can be reached through his website at www.kencalhoon.com.