Ken Mattson’s buying spree in Sonoma: 26 properties, $80 million
Ken Mattson started small... with a big eyesore.
After coming to Sonoma for years as a tourist, the Piedmont resident's first purchase in Sonoma Valley was the two water-logged and abandoned 7,000-square-foot houses on Moon Mountain Road. Mattson snapped up the property in 2015 for just under $1 million and agreed to raze the site immediately to improve the aesthetics of Highway 12. Two large new residences on the same site now near completion.
He soon began to seek out other properties around Sonoma that he believed were underutilized but held high potential. In 2016, he purchased Sonoma's Best deli and cottages on East Napa Street and Boyes Food Market and the “Lanning Structures” on Highway 12.
His pace has picked up since then. Mattson has quietly been purchasing residential and commercial properties as well as vacant lots, both inside the city limits and around the Valley. As of press time, according to CoreLogic real estate reports, he now owns all or part of 26 Valley properties totaling almost $80 million.
Two estate agents familiar with the local market agreed that Mattson is now one of the largest (non-vineyard) landowners in the Valley.
Most notable, have been Mattson's purchases, through his real estate company, LeFever Mattson, of Cornerstone Sonoma marketplace, Ramekins culinary school and the General's Daughter event space from Kenwood Investments.
But Mattson also now owns Leland Fishing Ranch property on Arnold Drive, the old Cocoa Plant building on Broadway, Cottage Inn & Spa downtown, a portion of the Mercado property on the Plaza, the Sojourn tasting room building on East Napa, and the list goes on.
The Cornerstone deal
Mattson told the Index-Tribune that he specializes in identifying underutilized assets.
“Not under-valued,” he said with a laugh, acknowledging Sonoma's high real estate prices, “under-utilized.”
In order to maximize the potential of the Cornerstone property, LeFever Mattson purchased the nearby 13-acre Leland Fly Fishing Ranch for $4.75 million and Mattson said he hopes to one day make that property “part of the Cornerstone experience.”
In order to maximize the potential of the Ramekins and General's Daughter properties, LeFever Mattson last week purchased the large barn behind the properties as well as some neighboring residences. He said that he purchased the Cottage Inn and Spa to have access to its hotel staff.
Sonoma's Best project
Mattson's seemingly random residential purchases around Sonoma's Best relate to his desire to take advantage of the store's location at the head of the much-anticipated bike trail that will someday run from Eighth Street East all the way up to Santa Rosa. His purchases related to the bike trail include three parcels near the intersection of Lovall Valley Road and Seventh Street East totaling 10 acres and almost $15 million. His acquisition of a house on Apple Tree Court behind Sonoma's Best will improve access to the bike path and add parking.
“We're working with the county to make the bike trail a reality from the store through the Springs as quickly as possible,” said Mattson. “You'll be able to park your bike safely at Sonoma's Best, or your car across the street, and bike into town – stop to eat, visit places in the Springs and make a complete day of it.”
Up Highway 12, Mattson's Springs project centers around the transformation of Boyes Food Market into a sister property to Sonoma's Best, to be called Boyes' Best. Up the road, his “Noodle Springs” container complex is still in the works – with an estimated opening this summer.
The development of the Boyes property is expected to happen in waves, with eight townhouses first, then a second retail building, before finally tackling the market renovation itself.
Both the new building and the refurbished food center will have small apartments in the second story above them, bringing the total number of housing units to 37, some as small as 350-square-foot studios, to 1,700-square-foot four-bedroom townhouses. Around 20 percent of these would be affordable housing.
Mattson's handful of purchases around the Plaza, including the units within the Mercado and the Sojourn tasting room, aren't tied to any of his bigger projects but they do give him a downtown presence and voice, which he said he sees as important, considering his stake now in the future of the area.
Where did the Mattson money come from?
Ken Mattson grew up in Rancho Cordova, and his wife, Stacy, in Fairfield. He describes himself as an entirely self-made man.
“I graduated from Cal with a grand total of $400 in my pocket,” he said. He has worked in the financial services industry for 35 years, most recently as a financial planner. He is in his 50s and Stacy in her 40s. They have been married for almost 30 years and have four children, all of whom are in their 20s.
Ken has bought the bulk of these properties with Stacy, under the name KS Mattson. Only the purchases related to Cornerstone, Ramekins and the General's Daughter have been conducted by the real estate company, LeFever Mattson, which he co-owns with Tim LeFever.
For most of the purchases, Mattson said he has obtained financing for approximately 25 to 50 percent of the purchase price, via mortgages with a half dozen different banks. He paid for a few of the smaller properties in cash.
For many of the transactions, he paid at or near the asking price. For others, like the Cottage Inn and Spa, he negotiated 25 percent off of the asking price. For Leland Ranch, he was able to knock the price down by almost a third - he paid $4.75 million while the listing price was $7. For many, he brokered a deal for properties that were not even on the market.
He said that he pays what he thinks is the right price and that sometimes lines up with the asking price and sometimes it doesn't.
He doesn't like to call himself a real estate investor, because, he told the Index-Tribune, “I buy but I don't sell. I like fixing up projects so that they long outlive me.”
Is he done?
When reached by the Index-Tribune last Tuesday, Mattson expressed both discomfort with being in the spotlight and bemused that his growing local real estate portfolio was considered news.
When asked if still more deals were in the works, he described his recent purchases as the “tail” of his larger investments.
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