Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Lesson for Victorian Homes from the Eureka, CA Earthquake

Many of you will recall that Eureka, California made national news on January 10, 2010 when a 6.5 earthquake rocked the city. We counted our own blessings, and were promptly forgotten by the rest of the world, when 2 days later when a 7.0 earthquake destroyed the country of Haiti. We in Eureka were truly fortunate, as there were no injuries, and relatively little property damage. My family lives in a 1902 Queen Anne Victorian home in the Henderson Center neighborhood of Eureka, and we sustained some property damage as our home rolled with the ground – lots of broken glasses, some dumped bookshelves, and our spice rack got de-alphabetized. (tear, sniffle)

Like all Californians, though, I know the “big one” is coming, so I immediately vowed to put a concrete perimeter foundation under my Victorian as soon as I could afford it. When a friend asked me how we had fared during the earthquake, I mentioned my plans. He gravely told me that was a bad idea, as the rigidity of the concrete perimeter would transfer more of the force of the earthquake to my home, thereby causing more structural damage; but the original post and pier foundation would allow the home to roll with the ground wave, and minimize the structural damage. “Why in the world do so many other updated Victorian homes have concrete perimeter foundations?” I thought. Hmm. What to do?

A couple of months ago I was visiting with a local civil engineer, Neale Penfold Sr., about the home of a client, and it was evident to me that he was in the talking mood after a long day. I decided to make it productive talk, so I asked his opinion; “Which is the better foundation for a Victorian home to survive the next big Eureka quake, a post and pier foundation, or a concrete perimeter?” He said, “Neither.” Mr. Penfold confirmed that post and piers allowed a home to flex, and that a concrete perimeter did indeed transfer more shock to the home.

He went on to explain a 3rd way. He said that lots of folks in the Eureka area have had lots of luck with a reinforced, braced post and pier system, whereby the posts are set on structurally enhanced concrete footings much bigger than the originals. The house is then attached to the posts, and the posts to the piers. Finally, the piers are cross-braced pretty extensively to one another. He said that this combination had the flexibility of the post and pier foundation, and the strength of the concrete perimeter foundation, and with the added bonus of being cheaper to boot!

Any other California Victorian owners out there? What experiences have you had with your home and earthquakes? Send them to me at!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Humboldt County, California Real Estate Statistics, September, 2010

What is the state of the real estate market in Humboldt County, Califorina? Our "Active" homes, while starting out the year lower than last year, crossed over 2009 in August, and have been tracking slightly higher than last year since. While this certainly isn't bad news, it does neutralize one of the good pieces of news we had through the first half of the year. If real estate inventory is down, it would certainly seem to put upward pressure (or neutralize any downward pressure) on home prices. Moving from under to over 2009 just removes a little reason we have to be optimistic.

Similarly, our monthly "Sold Homes" numbers were running higher than last year until July. They dipped under 2009, and started tracking pretty closely with 2 of the 3 most recent years. Again, this isn't bad news in itself, but it does take away one of the main real estate market factors for keeping home prices flat or rebounding. It seems to indicate that the same ooze south we've been seeing for the past 2 years is not finished.

Sure enough, while it's not a lot, the average home sales price insists on tracking just a bit below last year. Indeed, our real estate sales prices do seem to be going ever so gradually lower.

Our median home sales price is a little more decisively lower. It has been below our psychological $250,000 floor for over half of the months so far this year. It is pretty clearly indicating that Humboldt County home prices, while not falling dramatically by any means, are in a pattern of gradually lowering.

Does any of this worry me? No. One day in the future, you will be sitting around with your friends, and someone will say, "Dang, I wish I would've bought real estate in Humboldt County back in ____." And there will be a date in that blank. It could be September, '10. It could be October, '10. It could be January '11. It could be May of 2013. We don't know, but I am relatively sure that, with the elections coming up in a month, that both the Federal and California state governments will be making some changes that will improve our economic situation, and with that improvement will come a bottom and a turn up for the real estate market.