What it’s like to live in the hottest Bay Area real estate neighborhoods now

As the blazing-hot housing market continues to cool across most of California, the Bay Area communities maintaining the strongest growth in home values appear increasingly concentrated in affluent North Bay communities, especially on the Marin County coast, according to the latest data.

The Chronicle analyzed data from real estate listings company Zillow to see which ZIP codes across the Bay Area had the fastest average growth in typical home values so far this year, from January to June 2022, as well as over the past year, from June 2021 to June 2022. The analysis took only ZIP codes with populations of 1,000 or more into account, based on U.S. census data.

The data showed a continued slowdown in the wake of the “explosion of home values” tied to the pandemic — when remote workers no longer tethered to city centers fled to suburban and exurban areas, driving up prices, according to Zillow data spokesperson Matt Kreamer. Home value growth in the six-month period from January to June was less than half the year-over-year growth in nearly all the ZIP codes examined, he said.

But a number of Marin County ZIP codes — including several established coastal vacation areas — signaled their enduring popularity by topping both the 2022 and year-over-year lists.

Their dominance reflects a shift in buyers’ priorities during the pandemic, according to realtors Sarah Kowalczyk and Lotte Moore, a team with Compass in Marin County. Many were drawn to Marin for the same goals, they said: a better lifestyle, good weather and access to outdoor spaces.

‘Serene’ and ‘tranquil’: Woodacre

Woodacre, a tiny unincorporated community in Marin County’s San Geronimo Valley northwest of Fairfax, had the Bay Area’s highest 2022 growth in home values, at 15.4%, rising from $1.06 million in January to $1.29 million in June.

The pandemic opened buyers’ eyes to an area that previously was considered “too far out,” Kowalczyk said. “Now buyers are seeing what they can get, and they have no problem with the commute.”

She said her team has been seeing an increase in buyers from more-populated parts of southern or central Marin County, whose property values have increased to near-San Francisco levels. In Woodacre, they can “still find relative value” and get a large home with a lot of acreage, and “total privacy.”

A view of 110 Carson Road in Woodacre, a home currently listed by Mark Machado of Attain Real Estate.

Courtesy Mark Machado

While Woodacre has a “sleepy country environment” — there’s no gas station, and you have to drive a little farther for groceries — the town is still accessible, Kowalczyk said, and the area is served by top public school districts.

“There’s a learning curve, but 95% of people who move there figure it out…and are beyond thrilled by how safe it is, how quiet it is,” she said.

Realtor Mark Machado, a co-founder of San Rafael-based Attain Real Estate, said the community is tight-knit and friendly with a “serene, tranquil” feel. The only downside, he said, is that homes are on septic and propane systems, which can take some getting used to.

Coastal magnets: Point Reyes Station, Sea Ranch

To the west of Woodacre on the Marin County coast is Point Reyes Station, a popular tourist town acting as the primary gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore. It saw the third-highest growth in home values this year, 14.2%, rising from $1.57 million in January to $1.79 million in June.

The Compass realtor team said they’ve mainly seen older buyers who want second homes, perhaps initially looking in Wine Country to the east, or Bolinas or Stinson Beach to the south, and then widening their search.

30 Knob Hill Road in Point Reyes Station, a home sold by Compass agents Sarah Kowalczyk and Lotte Moore.

30 Knob Hill Road in Point Reyes Station, a home sold by Compass agents Sarah Kowalczyk and Lotte Moore.

Team Lotte & Sarah, Compass

A major draw for Point Reyes Station is its farm-to-table and artisanal culture, Moore said. It also serves as a hub for many activities and attractions, she added — but for residents, that can be a downside because the town fills up with tourists on weekends and holidays.

Coastal Marin County towns like Point Reyes Station have long been popular day-trip or weekend destinations for Bay Area residents seeking a quick getaway to enjoy nature and small-town life, Kreamer said. But the pandemic has transformed them into places where people are looking to put down roots. “It makes sense that a fair number of people would look to relocate there if they don’t have to commute to the office every day,” she said.

Another small coastal community, Sea Ranch in Sonoma County, continues to lead the Bay Area and California in home-value growth. A Chronicle analysis of Zillow data earlier this month found Sea Ranch had the highest year-over-year increase from May 2021 to May 2022 statewide.

The most recent data showed Sea Ranch had highest year-over-year percentage increase in home values in the Bay Area as of June, at 43.87%, and the region’s second highest increase for the January-to-June period, at 15.37%.

Realtors in the area said the uniqueness of the architecture, proximity to the coast, recent addition of high-speed internet and a private airstrip attracted well-to-do buyers who can work remotely.

A home in Sea Ranch that sold for $1.8 million in August 2021.

A home in Sea Ranch that sold for $1.8 million in August 2021.

Kennedy & Associates

The pull of the suburbs

For many, though, it’s about affordability and getting more bang for their buck. Kreamer said. Generally, buying a home in the cities of San Francisco or San Jose is more expensive than in the nearby Bay Area suburbs.

Three Tri-Valley ZIP codes in San Ramon and Danville and a ZIP code in Union City all saw significant year-over-year home value growth, each rising just over 24% from June 2021 to June 2022. ZIP codes in Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore also made the top 15 list for year-over-year home value increases.

“A buyer can certainly get more space for their money in some of the outlying areas,” Kreamer said. “If you’re a first-time buyer in the Bay Area, it makes sense you’d look at places like Livermore or Union City, where homes are relatively affordable and you can get more space and a yard for the price of a small condo closer to the city.”

Many Bay Area home buyers have had more freedom during the pandemic and in the past year to expand their choices, whether it’s the location, type of home or other amenities that are important to their lifestyles.

“What’s happening in the Bay Area is that many people are freer than ever to seek out homes that most closely fit their preferences, and to make fewer tradeoffs,” Kreamer said.

So nature lovers and those looking for a more peaceful life look to Marin and Sonoma counties, while families seeking larger homes, amenities and a backyard for the kids may be drawn to suburbs such as San Ramon and Danville.

Methodology

Zillow’s Home Value Index measures a region’s typical home value and housing market appreciation based on multiple data sources, including seasonal variations and the values of homes nearby. Home value estimates are not based just on the prices of recently sold homes, but rather estimate the value of all homes within the selected region, whether they were sold or not.

The approach differs from that used by many Realtors, whose data comes from regional Realtor and broker databases called multiple listing services; the methodologies can differ and the analyses would not be directly comparable.

Kellie Hwang is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @KellieHwang