By Chris Morris
December 5, 2017

As wildfires roar through Ventura County in southern California, some residents of more northern areas of the state—Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties—are struggling to move on from the devastation they suffered less than two months ago.

The October fires destroyed an estimated 8,400 homes and buildings with over $1 billion in damages. The Ventura County and Santa Paula fires, while still young, have already claimed 150 structures and spread to 31,000 acres, appearing to head to areas that are more densely populated. The fires remain out of control as of Tuesday morning.

While it’s much too early for people evacuated from the Ventura, Sylmar, and Kagel Canyon areas to think about what happens after the flames are snuffed, the scene in wine country isn’t exactly encouraging.

For sale signs are popping up in the area, as residents walk away from their burned-out lots. And the prices for those lots is a lot lower than you would expect for the area.

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that lots are selling for between $160,000 and $300,000 on average, roughly one-third of what they would have gone for if homes still stood on the property. And realtors expect the market to be flooded with more lots in the months to come.

In some cases, it’s because owners didn’t want to wait to rebuild a house, a process that could take up to two years in the area. Others say their insurance payout was insufficient to rebuild. And some say it just seemed a good time to leave.

It’s an awkward purchase for buyers, given the loss of life and property in the area, but realtors grudgingly admit it’s a heck of a deal. Beyond the reduced lot prices, buyers also are getting properties that are already permitted for development and connected to utilities. That’s attracting the attention of developers and real estate speculators.

“It’s not your dream sale,” Realtor Shannan Luft told the Chronicle. “It’s helping people. It’s what we have to do to move Sonoma County forward.”

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