Red caution tape rings the property. The charred husk of a car sits out front. And fragments of a washing machine, patio and chimney are all that’s left of the house that once stood on the parcel in the Larkfield community north of Santa Rosa.
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“City will be finished with lot cleanup this week,” the ad reads.
The property is not one of a kind. At least a half a dozen burned-out lots from the most destructive firestorm in California history have hit the market in recent days, a grim reminder of the many altered lives.
The October wildfires killed 44 people and ruined 8,900 structures statewide. With unprecedented losses raising tough questions for thousands of residents in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, some are deciding that they have no choice but to sell.
Among those are Andrei and Rozalia Bostan, both 67, the owners of the taped-off parcel in Larkfield.
The Bostans, who came to California four decades ago to flee dictatorship in Romania, said they’re leaving their adopted home for Colorado. Despite successful careers in technology, Andrei Bostan said he can’t stretch the family’s finances enough to afford to rebuild with his wife and their 43-year-old son, Emanuel, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
“I thought I had it all figured out,” he said. “I had a house that was paid off and a small retirement payment. But now I’m forced out after I spent 40 years of my life in the Bay Area.”
The burned properties, which real estate experts expect will be the first of scores to hit the market, are priced at about a third of the value they would have fetched if homes still stood — about $160,000 to $300,000. Each will be cleared of fire debris before they’re sold, giving the buyer a clean slate to shake whatever back story came before.
Some sellers simply couldn’t wait the year or two, at minimum, it will take to rebuild, or they didn’t want to embark on the work required to find a contractor and draw up plans. Others cite financial reality, with insurance payouts falling short of what it will cost to build a new home.
Insurance for fire victims vary based on their policies, but generally those who sell their bare land walk away with the proceeds as well as their insurance check, which would typically go toward rebuilding.
For Andrei Bostan, the insurance payment wasn’t what he expected. Turns out he unknowingly bought a policy that covered only part of the home’s value and not the added cost of rebuilding or renting temporary housing. When he learned that constructing a new house would eat through his insurance payout as well as a chunk of his retirement savings, he realized they had to move on.
The couple is selling their lot, located on a once leafy cul-de-sac off Old Redwood Highway now flanked by blackened trees, for $299,000. Just down the street, another resident is selling for $280,000.
The Bostans plan to use the proceeds to buy a home where their daughter lives in Arvada, Colo., for just over $500,000. That doesn’t include the expense of retrofitting for their son’s mobility needs, but is about half of what it would have taken to rebuild in California, they figure.
“Santa Rosa is a great place, and I love the whole Bay Area,” Andrei Bostan said. “But I have no choice.”
The family’s rush to leave was hastened by the trauma of the fires. Andrei Bostan, a violinist, was touring with an orchestra in Eastern Europe when the Tubbs Fire struck on the night of Oct. 8 and swept west from Calistoga to Santa Rosa. That left his wife to escape the fast-moving flames with their son, who weighs 250 pounds and cannot walk.
After her struggle to get him out and into a Honda Accord — instead of the family’s custom van, which was behind a garage door that wouldn’t open with the power out — both were hospitalized. She underwent emergency surgery for a perforated ulcer.
“Thank God there were no additional complications,” said Rozalia Bostan, who has recovered and whose friends have been collecting donations to help the family. “We’re all going to be much better when we move into our new home.”
A few miles south of Larkfield, in Santa Rosa’s fire-ravaged Coffey Park neighborhood, John Blood and his wife, Denise, have decided reluctantly to sell the property they’ve owned for 26 years because of their age and deteriorating health.
The real estate sign that sits conspicuously on their dirt lot, freshly cleared of debris, went up Wednesday. The $160,000 parcel is flanked by other dirt lots, all in various stages of cleanup.
“I love the neighborhood, love the summers, love the festivals,” said Blood, 68. “But when you get older, your priorities change.”
The couple is hoping that money from the sale, on top of their insurance payment, will allow them to buy a home closer to their son in Southern California.
Blood said he had previously thought about leaving the old house because it was two stories, and he’d prefer just one because he has trouble with stairs. While the city is allowing fire victims to rebuild with expedited permitting and low fees, the new home design must be similar to the old one.
The Bloods are fortunate to own property in Mesa, Ariz., where they’re staying until they figure out their next move.
Their for-sale sign, one of two within a couple of blocks in Coffey Park, has become a stark reminder for neighbors that things won’t be the same.
“You hate to see them leave, but hopefully we’ll see them again,” said resident Brad Reid, whose nearby home survived the fires. “There’s a lot of unknowns around here now. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
The Bloods’ real estate agent, Michael Williams of Coldwell Banker, said he expects to see more empty lots put on the market as people come to terms with their financial situations.
Wine Country Fires
“Some people will walk away,” Williams said. “But I think there’s a strong sense of community and people want to remain.”
Buyers of this type of property typically range from developers wanting to turn a profit to home-seekers looking for a deal, real estate experts said. Unlike vacant land elsewhere, the burned lots offer the benefit of being permitted for development and connected to utilities.
Realtor Shannan Luft, also of Coldwell Banker, recently listed the charred parcel in Larkfield down the street from the Bostans’ property. She acknowledged that the listing was outside her normal trade of modest suburban homes, but said the job was important.
“It’s not your dream sale,” Luft said. “It’s helping people. It’s what we have to do to move Sonoma County forward.”
Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kurtisalexander