After Vanessa Rason landed an internship for harvest at a local winery, she immediately started searching for the second most important thing – housing. She quickly realized one thing about the local rental market.
“Napa is insanely expensive,” said Rason. “I thought I came from the most expensive place, Santa Barbara, but Napa is almost the same.”
And that’s even with a report that shows rents in Napa actually declined 7% to 11% in July compared to a year ago.
Zumper.com reported that the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment or home in Napa dropped 7.2% – going from $1,937 to $1,797 a month. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment or home in Napa dropped 11.4% – going from $2,587 to $2,292 a month.
This report had little impact on Rason’s search for Napa Valley housing. “I expected it to be pricey, but I did not expect it be as expensive as it was,” she said.
Rason said her budget was $1,000 a month. She gets a small housing stipend from her harvest employer, “but it doesn’t cover the whole thing,” she said.
Rason said at first her search was fruitless.
“All I had was Craigslist and a couple real estate rental agencies,” she said. She considered Airbnb as an option, but “the prices were exorbitant.”
Using Craigslist “I had absolutely zero luck” finding a place, she said. “I didn’t see many options, and the few I did initially were far out of range of what I could afford to pay,” she said.
After a new Napa acquaintance posted Rason’s needs on Nextdoor, she got a lead. She’s since moved into a bedroom at the home of a Napa woman who had the extra room and needed a roommate.
“If I didn’t have a local person searching for me, I wouldn’t have been able to find this,” said Rason. “I don’t know how other people are doing it. I’m lucky.”
Rason said she thinks there could be more of such “spare bedrooms” available this season due to COVID-19. For example, if a homeowner is laid off, that person may be willing to have a roommate to bring in some extra income.
Besides the room itself, Rason said that one of the best parts of her new living arrangement is that the homeowner is a Napa local.
“For me coming here and knowing nobody and wanting to get into wine, it’s wonderful to have someone who was born and raised here as my roommate,” she said.
“I’m very happy,” said Rason. “I found the perfect place.”
Jessica Buurma, a vice president with Compass Property Management, said she’s not seeing a significant decrease in rents for 1- or 2-bedroom units in Napa.
At the start of the COVID-19 impacts, “some owners were a little bit nervous and decided to drop the rents” somewhat, she said. Their attitude was more like “I’d rather have the place rented than have it sit vacant during this time.”
“We might have seen a small dip for a month or two, but I would say the market is the same, with the exception of the higher-end market which is absolutely nuts right now,” said Buurma.
The property manager said she’s getting multiple applications for homes above $4,000 a month, with some applicants pre-paying rent a year in advance before they can move in.
“It’s been absolutely crazy with people coming in from the city, wanting to rent a place,” she said.
“A lot of out-of-towners are committing to leases where they can have a backyard and more space. And (they) just enjoy working from home instead of their tiny 2-bedroom apartment.”
“I need to get out now,” is what one of those city-to-Napa transplants told Buurma.
Stefan Jezycki is a local realtor with Engel & Voelkers. He also has a home in Napa that he rents out. He’s not sure he’s seen rents decline either. Yes, more rental apartments have come on the market, notably in the Braydon apartment complex in South Napa.
“I know that people have moved out of other units to move into those units,” said Jezycki.
But the truth is that there are many people who are coming into the area who are not finding a lot of good-quality rental choices, said Jezycki.
“We have a really tight market,” he said.
On top of that, it will be three years since the October 2017 wildfires. That means those homeowners that had insurance that provided three years of rental coverage after such a loss are facing the end of that benefit.
“These people are making decisions” about moving, he said. “That will cause more turnover in the market. It could add to the lack of consistency” in pricing.
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org