first-time home buyers struggle to buy their own home in Napa Valley

July 30—Here’s what it takes to successfully buy a first home in Napa Valley:

* Be prepared to pay up to $81,000 more than the asking price for a first home.

* Offer all the money to buy a house that costs more than $500,000.

* Bidding on 20 different houses and being rejected over and over again.

* Postpone your wedding to spend more time house hunting.

* Adopt four hens.

This is exactly what a number of people have found themselves doing in their quests to get their foot in the door in the Napa Valley real estate market.

Haziel Perez and his fiancée Erin Wilson were so serious about buying a house that they postponed their wedding in order to focus on the search. Both work in the wine industry. Perez, 30, works in sales while Wilson, 29, works in finance.

It started late last year when they saw house prices continue to rise despite the ongoing pandemic.

“We didn’t want to wait any longer,” Perez said, although neither knew the trip would take longer than six months.

The couple found a house in Napa that they wanted to buy. And another. And then another. On several occasions, the couple made offers to different sellers, “but we always outbid each time,” Perez said.

“We often got discouraged,” he said, adding that he wondered if they would ever get a house.

“Every time we got into a bidding war, we kept losing. And that was the disheartening part,” Perez said. On one house, they were outbid by just $2,000 with no chance of making a counteroffer. “It’s just crazy.”

Kelsey and Peter Chenaux found themselves in a similar situation.

The couple, who are pregnant, were living in a condo on Pear Tree Lane in Napa when they realized they needed more room for their baby and dog. Kelsey Chenaux, 37, works in the wine industry and Peter Chenaux, 49, works in the food industry.

After quickly selling their condo, they quickly found a house on Seville’s courtyard that they wanted to buy. To their dismay, six other buyers did the same.

“We felt very discouraged,” Kelsey Chenaux said. Who knew how “good” the other offers were? Did these offers include more money or “better” loan terms?

Chenaux was also seven months pregnant. Would they find a new home in time for their baby’s arrival? They would, but it would be close.

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “There were definitely times when I was up at night thinking we made a huge mistake selling our condo before buying a house.”

Karine Vann and Vahe Markosian are also first-time home buyers in Napa Valley. Both in their mid-30s; Markosian grew up in the South Bay. Before coming to Napa, they lived in Boston and more recently in Vallejo. Vann works as a music teacher and Markosian is an architect working in the modular construction industry.

“We didn’t want to rent anymore,” Vann said. “We wanted to start paying ourselves” instead of a landlord.

However, they weren’t even sure they could submit a competitive bid. Anything that came on the market that was in their price range “greatly overbid”.

“It was really difficult,” she said.

Another Napa couple, Adam Padilla and Caroline Helper, had similar experiences. Helper, 34, is a brand manager in the wine industry. Padilla, 38, works in hospitality and marketing. They have lived in Napa for about six years.

“We had been renters forever and thought the smartest thing to do would be to put our money in a mortgage to start building up equity,” rather than paying someone else rent, said Helper.

Last spring, they started looking at real estate listings.

“We were seeing the housing market going crazy and starting to see prices go up and up,” Helper said. “We started thinking that if we don’t move, we’ll be priceless.”

Like others in the market, they also found homes they wanted to buy, but their offers were rejected.

“I was very discouraged,” Padilla said. In his eyes, “we’re trying to build a life here and be part of the community…but Napa is trying to kick us out. It felt like we weren’t welcome.”

Jim Keller, a real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties, described another local family looking to buy their first home in Napa Valley.

The family declined to be interviewed by the Napa Valley Register, but Keller shared part of their story. The mother works at a local medical center and the father works two jobs, as a cook and a caretaker. They have a teenager and a younger child.

They started their search in Napa but branched out to American Canyon, Fairfield and Vallejo.

“I must have shown them 50 houses,” over about a year, Keller said. “We made 20 offers. We were accepted on the 19th, but it fell through because they were using an FHA loan and the house was not FHA compliant.”

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