Only about a quarter to half of the original residents whose homes were reduced to ash are likely to return and rebuild, Bell predicts.
“Emotionally they’re overwhelmed. Financially, they’re overwhelmed,” he says. “When these fires come through, they don’t just burn houses. They burn stores, restaurants, the churches, the schools. They burn everything. You may rebuild a house, but where’s your infrastructure?”
Even homeowners with insurance premiums may not get enough money to rebuild their entire homes to what they were before, Bell says. That’s because the price of construction is likely to skyrocket with the extra demand for construction workers, for which there is currently a national shortage compounded by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and building materials. Some will get loans, others will tap into their savings.
Those who do rebuild are in for the long haul. The area is expected to recover only about 10% to 15% each year, according to Bell. That means it’s likely to take five to 10 years before homes, businesses (including employment and tourism), and the local infrastructure is back to normal.
Plus, they’ll have to find a place to live while they rebuild—which won’t be an easy feat.
“We had a housing crisis before the fire,” says Santa Rosa–based Realtor® Daphne Peterson, of Keller Williams Realty. “We’re in a very high-cost area. Our vacancy rate was about 1%. Now we’ve lost about 1,500 to 2,000 homes. We have no place for people to stay.”
Homeowners who decide to sell won’t have it easy, either. Those whose homes survived should expect the properties to sell at a 10% to 35% discount. That’s because it’s not as desirable to live near burnt-out houses or with fewer services and businesses nearby.
“People don’t buy a house,” Bell says. “They buy a neighborhood.”