Before Oct. 8, the upscale home at 120 Canyon Drive boasted 3,500 square feet, four bedrooms, three baths and a three-car garage.
And then came the Atlas Fire.
That night, the flames destroyed the Silverado home. Today, all that is left at 120 Canyon Drive is a mailbox, a concrete patio, retaining wall and a lone metal hand rail with two steps leading to nowhere.
The space where the home once stood has been scraped clean of debris. A layer of straw has been spread on the bare dirt and rolled straw wattles circle the property edges.
In 2002, the house – located in the area above Silverado Resort — sold for $1.3 million. Today, the lot is available — for $799,000.
Four months after the October wildfires, a small but growing selection of home sites have been listed for sale in the county. Real estate agents call them ‘fire lots’.
The parcel at 120 Canyon Drive is one of half a dozen available in Napa County. Prices for the fire-damaged properties range from $550,000 to $1.5 million.
It’s too soon to tell what the market is for such fire lots, said Julie Larsen, broker associate with Pacific Union International. Larsen represents the owner of Canyon Drive lot.
However, empty lots for sale are quite uncommon for the Silverado area, she said. “We’re going into uncharted territory.”
According to Coldwell Banker Realtor Cynthia Turnbow, the market for fire lots “is a little bit all over the place.”
There aren’t always comparable sales to use as a measuring stick to set prices.
Jocelyne Monello of Heritage Sotheby’s International thinks more such lots will be listed in the coming months.
“I would imagine in the next three months, people should know if they will rebuild or not. At that time I imagine we’ll see more activity.”
Eric Bolen of RE/MAX Gold said “I get a lot of calls from Bay Area investors trying to buy cheap lots” as a result of the fires.
Those buyers think they can come in and “buy burned up parcels at big discounts,” he said. “There’s just not enough of them that have hit the market to allow that. That’s just not the reality.”
Larsen said she’s noticed the same thing.
Immediately after the fire, “we had a lot of interest from potential buyers who thought we would be selling at a discount” because of the disaster, she said.
However, “Our real estate market is very robust right now so fair market value should apply,” Larsen said.
Before the fire, Larsen’s client on Canyon Drive was already in contract on a property that is currently under construction.
“The intention was to sell their (Canyon Drive) home this year and so they chose not to rebuild because they are already purchasing something else,” she said.
According to Larsen, once homeowners get their insurance claims settled and make decisions to rebuild or not rebuild, the number of fire lots listed for sale could rise.
“Time will tell how this plays out,” said Larsen.
Realtor Turnbow is helping sell one fire lot — located at 2806 Monticello Rd. Before the fire, the home was for sale for $1.8 million. Today, the lot is listed at $873,000.
Turnbow said over a four-day period, she had five showings of her listing. For vacant land, “that’s a lot” of interest, she said.
Of her showings, two were local buyers and three from out of town. Of the local buyers, one was a fire victim, she said.
“I think people have gotten adjusted” to the trauma of the fire and the aftermath a bit and now the interest in the lots is there, Turnbow said.
In addition, “In Napa we don’t build a lot of new homes,” Turnbow said. “The conversation wasn’t even available before.”
“Now, there are opportunities” for people who want a new home but don’t want to remodel an older home – and in prime locations where empty lots weren’t previously available.
Real estate broker Teresa Davis of Pacific Union International & Christie’s Great Estates, has lived at and sold real estate in the Silverado area for many years.
Unfortunately, Davis is also a fire victim, twice over. During the Atlas Fire, she lost two homes in Silverado, her residence and a rental.
She plans to rebuild her home but isn’t sure about the former rental. “I don’t know,” she said.
“We may build a spec home or something and rent it. We just haven’t decided.”
For those who may be considering selling a lot, “I am telling my clients that are unsure not to rush into making a decision,” Davis said.
“It’s early on in the game,” she said.
Davis thinks it’s better to wait until the weather improves, the hills green up and more fire debris is removed.
According to the county of Napa, an estimated 134 house and condos in the Silverado area were destroyed in the fires. That doesn’t include homes immediately adjacent to the Silverado complex or on Atlas Peak Road.
“There will definitely be more lots” coming on the market, said Davis. Some owners are still trying to figure out their insurance payouts or whether or not they want to rebuild.
Others who have received their insurance claim payments may find that due to the costs of rebuilding, it’s not feasible to rebuild the kind of home they would want. That could also lead to new lots being listed.
Jocelyne Monello has a fire lot for sale at 337 Alta Mesa Circle in the Silverado area.
The listing price is $550,000. Before the fire, the homes on Alta Mesa were selling for $1 million to $1.6 million.
Monello said she’s gotten calls on the lot from buyers from San Francisco but also larger contractors that hope to rebuild more than one home at the same time.
However, “It’s a little premature in some ways,” because many homeowners haven’t settled their insurance payout yet. “It’s a little early for people to know what they want to do.”
The Alta Mesa homeowner already received his payment, said Monello. Her client plans to relocate to a different area, she said.
“He did not have a need to rebuild and did not feel that’s what he wanted to go through. It was an easy decision for him,” she said.
“I think a lot want to rebuild but with time and costs and negotiations, some may decide to just to sell the lot. We don’t know.”
As for the future owner of the parcel at Alta Mesa, “We’ll wait and see what happens,” said Monello. “I’m pretty sure we’ll sell it to someone who wants that nice location.”
On the other side of the valley, Eric Bolen is also representing a fire lot for sale.
Located at 590 Wall Rd., that 10.5-acre parcel is priced at $600,000.
According to Bolen, the owners “briefly thought about rebuilding,” but after seeing an existing home for sale that they liked in Browns Valley, they bought that home a few weeks ago.
The couple had already been talking about moving, he said. Faced with a two-year rebuilding process, they decided to move on.
Bolen said that immediately after the fires, the second-home buyers disappeared. The fires put the brakes on searching, he said.
However, “In the past two weeks, we’ve had a flood of them back into the market.”
The idea seems to be, “Let’s start looking again,” he said.
Bolen said he’s surprised he’s not seeing more such lots for sale. “The interest is certainly there.”
“I don’t know what the hold-up is. I know some still working through insurance talking to builders, what the cost is going to be. There’s a lot of figuring going on still.”
The Realtor said he was surprised to see how different the Wall Road property looks just four months after the fires swept through the property.
“It’s incredibly green,” he said.
“A lot of the trees are alive. The grass is alive. You can’t even tell a fire went through except for the fact there’s a dirt pad where the house was.”