Keith Samples and Jessica Cherry are among the growing number of Californians fleeing for Santa Fe, eager to escape wildfires, earthquakes, expensive living and a lifestyle that demands a blueprint for even the simplest everyday tasks.
“You don’t run and do something,” said Samples. “You have to plan it.”
Fatigued by the grind in the Golden State, Cherry, a lifelong Californian, and Samples, a television writer and director, moved to Santa Fe in August. And they are not alone.
Homebuying is white hot in Santa Fe and across the country, evidently undeterred by the coronavirus pandemic.
The median sales price for a home in Santa Fe County for the summer months was $536,995 — a 19 percent jump over the third quarter of 2019 and a record-high median. It is the first time the median has crossed the half-million dollar threshold.
The median price in the city of Santa Fe in the third quarter wasn’t all that far behind at $461,500, a 16.4 percent jump from 2019. Many Santa Feans consider such prices sky high, but they are on par for states in the West, which saw median home prices in August rise 11.8 percent to $456,100, according to the National Association of Realtors.
“My feeling is every property has four or five offers,” said Jama Fontaine, general manager of Keller Williams International for New Mexico and team leader for the Santa Fe office. “If there was more inventory, I can’t even imagine what our market would look like.”
The third quarter saw 558 single-family homes sold in Santa Fe County, the most in any quarter since 2005, according to Santa Fe Association of Realtors statistics.
“I would bet 900 or even close to 1,000 homes could sell if we had the inventory,” Fontaine said.
Texans are the traditional drivetrain for Santa Fe home sales, but agents said there is now a surge of Californians, driven to a large extent by the wildfires that have burned more than 4 million acres this year.
“I get a call almost every day from somebody in California,” Fontaine said.
Cherry and Samples made their move in August, spurred by a road trip last year that took them through Sedona and Flagstaff, Ariz., on the way to Oklahoma. On their way back, they stayed in Santa Fe for four days.
The most recent round of devastating California wildfires did not drive them away, but the phenomena was certainly on the checklist to consider. Samples and Cherry evacuated four years ago because of a fire when they lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas.
“The fires have become a part of California living that are not a positive,” said Samples, who said smoke has come into play five or six times in the last 10 years. “When it does happen, the smoke and ash is nasty.”
Though home prices in the western U.S. are rising quickly, the entire country saw double digit-increases in August. Eight of the 10 fastest-growing states in population are in the West, though New Mexico is not among them, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For Samples and Cherry, their house in Las Campanas was cheap in comparison to the home they had in Sherman Oaks.
“This property [in Santa Fe] was in the mid-six figures less than the one in Sherman Oaks,” Samples said, adding insurance, taxes and utilities are “40 percent less than Sherman Oaks.”
The inventory of homes available in Santa Fe has long been drifting downward — from more than 2,000 in 2008 to 349 in the third quarter of 2020, the lowest since Santa Fe County had a much smaller population decades ago. Inventory plummeted 45 percent from the previous year, according to Realtors association statistics.
Santa Fe County had only a 2.3-month inventory of homes in the third quarter, the lowest on record. Roughly four to six months is considered a balanced market between buyers and sellers.
The housing shortage is a combination of not enough new homes being built and homeowners reluctant to sell for a number of reasons, including concerns about being able to find another home to buy.
Fontaine said quite a few people are selling their homes directly to others without listing them on the market. These homes don’t count in the inventory.
“People who said they are going to move here are now doing it,” Fontaine said.
The pandemic also is triggering an onslaught of people wanting to leave the big city for smaller places with spacious properties somewhere in the mountain states.
Santa Fe, of course, fits that bill.
“Santa Fe is a gorgeous place to live,” said Susan Orth, president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors. “People all over the country know that. They say: ‘I’ve been wanting to live in New Mexico and Santa Fe, and now is the time.’ ”
Samples and Cherry put their California home on the market around the end of February — and took it off the market a few weeks later after the coronavirus locked down the country.
But a real estate agent called six weeks later with an offer and the buyer wanted to move in 30 days.
“We got the offer on Sunday and were in Santa Fe looking for a house on Tuesday,” Samples said. “It’s a significant lifestyle change and change of scenery for us. We like the climate. It’s not harsh seasons. It was an attractive housing market for us.”