The California ZIP codes where home prices rose the most in the pandemic

The Chronicle analyzed home value data from real estate listings company Zillow to see what ZIP codes across California had the fastest average growth in typical home values from January 2020 to January 2022. We took only ZIP codes with populations of 500 or more into account, based on U.S. census data.

The results show the ongoing trend during the pandemic of people fleeing city centers to generally more affordable areas with perks including more square footage, bigger lots and outdoor attractions. We also found that areas traditionally known as vacation destinations became bigger draws during the pandemic for buyers who want to work remotely in a scenic setting, or are looking for a second home.

The High Desert

Southern California’s High Desert was overwhelmingly represented in the top 10. Landers, a small, unique community that features the Integratron dome built by ufologist George Van Tassel, took the top spot: Home values there soared 84% in the past two years. The typical home value in January 2020 was $160,133, and jumped to $294,850 in January 2022.

In second place was nearby Joshua Tree, known for its eponymous national park, which saw home values grow 69% during the pandemic from $244,942 to $414,172. In third place was Twentynine Palms, just east of Joshua Tree, where home values rose 63% from $152,148 to $248,453.

Lynee LaVoie, a realtor with Cherie Miller and Associates in Yucca Valley, said interest in buying High Desert properties started before the pandemic, but “got crazier” after it hit. She said 90% of her business is people looking for a vacation home.

“A lot of people working from home…who were renting in the L.A. area and Orange County can’t afford to buy a primary residence for themselves,” she said, noting that the pandemic drove people to look for more space and get away from other people. “We are really an ideal location for a lot of city dwellers.”

San Joaquin County

In Northern California, San Joaquin County showed up several times near the top of the highest home value growth list. The 95391 ZIP code includes a planned community called Mountain House just outside Tracy, which saw 58% home value growth during the pandemic. Average home values went from $656,011 in 2020 to $1,036,579 in 2022.

Like many other areas that became popular relocation spots during the pandemic, Mountain House was a draw for Bay Area residents who could work from home and wanted more bang for their buck. Andrew Jacobsen, a real estate broker in Mountain House, said interest was driven by its proximity to the Bay Area and good schools.

“There are bigger houses, newer houses for considerably less,” he said. “People are moving here mostly from Fremont, San Jose and Cupertino, and selling their houses in that area.”

According to Jacobsen, Mountain House is a “big family community” where a majority of residents are employed in the tech sector and work remotely. He said the oldest house was built in 2003, and homes range from 1,400 to 4,400 square feet. While Tracy is very close, Jacobsen said, upcoming development in the area includes a Safeway that should make the community “self-sufficient” very soon.

The Bay Area

In the Bay Area, Sea Ranch in coastal Sonoma County had a 58% increase in typical home values, and home values on Bethel Island in Contra Costa County jumped 52% during the pandemic. They were included in a previous data analysis from The Chronicle showing increasing home values during 2021.

Both communities have access to water: Sea Ranch offers unique architecture and dozens of trails, while Bethel Island is a tiny waterfront community just east of Antioch. The real estate boom there has factored into an eviction battle at Anchor Marina, a boat launch and campground not legally permitted for housing

Only those two Bay Area ZIP codes are in the top 100. Kreamer thinks that’s because prices are already so high here.

“The Bay Area seemed to be hitting a price ceiling in 2019 before the pandemic hit, and it heated back up,” Kreamer said. “I hesitate to say that there isn’t much room to go higher because we’re breaking home price records every month these days. But it is the most expensive market in the country, and also the most unaffordable in terms of housing costs compared with income.”

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe has been a hot market for a while now, especially during the pandemic. Brooke Hernandez, a Compass realtor in the South Lake Tahoe area, said things started to pick up in June 2020 and have been pretty nonstop ever since.

“For one property to have 29 offers on it is a common thing in the Bay Area, but for our area it’s not,” she said. “That is driving prices upward. Lack of inventory is another thing.”

She said that as of Thursday morning, 30 homes were available in South Lake Tahoe. In a typical pre-pandemic year at this time, there would be about 300 homes on the market.

The devastating Caldor Fire, which burned more than 200,000 acres last fall, put a freeze on home buying for a couple months and led some potential home buyers to cancel contracts. But Hernandez said it picked right back up again when things settled.

A lot of buyers are second homeowners from the Bay Area, El Dorado Hills and Sacramento who can travel to the area and work remotely, Hernandez said. But like the High Desert, many locals are getting pushed out of the market as home prices have soared.

Kreamer said vacation spots in rural areas have far fewer transactions than larger areas, so a few sales can “take a big swing one way or another,” making it hard generalize about them.

“Vacation areas are definitely hotter during the pandemic, and it’s probably a blend of remote workers moving there full time and people buying second homes,” Kreamer said. “Vacation areas – whether it’s in the mountains or along the coast – have always been hot, and are hotter than ever.”

Kellie Hwang is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @KellieHwang


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