As the dust begins to settle, and the hillsides show signs of life with regrowth and new shoots popping up from the base of torched trees, it feels like we are basking in the miracle of life and the extraordinary resilience of nature.
I had a watershed moment recently, reminding me of how incredibly blessed I am, when I had dinner with a dear friend and client who lost his hillside home on 40 acres in the fires, just eight hours after it was launched on the Multiple Listing Service. He barely got out with his life, his computer and his phone, and here we were in his new temporary rental with rental furniture, and he was cooking me dinner. I told him how sad I felt that he had lost absolutely everything, especially all his stunning pottery and copper pots that I knew he loved. With a huge smile on his face, he said I have to show you something. In the midst of the rubble from his 5,000+ sf home he salvaged one single thing. A beautiful plate from his pottery collection that he had somehow managed to flawlessly glue back together again. Next to it was a new engraved wooden tray that said, “I love the times I can’t remember, with the friends I can’t forget”. Like my friend, many thousands of people lost absolutely everything, including their identity. All that remains are their friends, family and the many challenges that lie ahead.
One of the biggest challenges that owners of burned hillside properties have is ascertaining the value of all that is left–their land. I have yet to meet anyone who plans to rebuild after the fires and I estimate that at least fifty percent of owners will not rebuild. So, the questions are: what do they do with their land and is there a market for it. I have visited many sites to help owners try to figure this out.
Before a market value can be determined, owners need to have Napa County Fire Department come out to review their driveway for safe ingress and egress, and ensure there is enough area around their cleared building pad for a fire truck turn-around. Napa County is making an exception to the rules for fire victims and not requiring owners to bring driveways up to code if they determine the driveway was not a contributing factor in delaying or prohibiting emergency responders from accessing the original structure, or for safe evacuation during the disaster. For driveways that were a contributing factor, changes will need to be made and in some instances, that could mean bringing in heavy earthmoving equipment to widen driveways and provide a firetruck turnaround. Then owners have to deal with all the dead and fallen trees on approach, on the site and on the hillsides of their properties. Once the cost of these challenges is determined, owners can decide if they want to do the work themselves or subtract the costs from the value of the land and sell it as is. For well insured properties, insurance covered the replacement of bridges, wells, septic and utilities. Ultimately, buyers want to know how much money needs to be invested into the infrastructure and cleanup to get to the point where they have a building pad and can pour a slab. Once that number is known, we can estimate a market value.
It should be noted that Napa County does not require dead trees to be removed. However, finding buyers who are willing to invest $1M in land and construction costs, to end up looking at or being surrounded by torched hillsides, is not very likely.
The cleanup of these trees is a daunting and expensive task to undertake. Some owners are fortunate to be able to hang on to their land for a couple of years and allow nature to work its magic. For others, the reality of their losses will be unveiled in the coming year.
On a more positive note, Saturday’s Premier Napa Valley, held at the Culinary Institute of America in Saint Helena raised four million one hundred thousand dollars. Silver Oak had the top bid–$110,000 for twenty cases of their 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon – that’s $458 per bottle. You can read more about the top ten bids by clicking here.
Congratulations to Morlet Family Vineyards. They have just released their highly acclaimed 2016 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs–their ‘Coup de Cœur’ and ‘Joli Cœur’ received 98-100 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Enjoy the rest of the February 2018 newsletter here.