You’ve probably heard that buying a home in Silicon Valley is a bit like purchasing real estate in Manhatten, London, Tokyo, Paris, or other regions where the prices are in the stratosphere. It’s true. It’s a strong seller’s market.
And yet, every day, homes are bought and sold in the San Jose – Palo Alto – Foster City area. They aren’t all cash; perhaps 20-30% are bought without any loan or mortgage, but the rest of the properties are sold with some sort of financing.
Here’s a quick summary of what is needed to buy a house, condominium, or townhouse in Silicon Valley (this list applies MOST of the time and with few exceptions):
- A large down payment is needed – usually 25% or more – to win in the multiple offer situations which are the norm right now.
- Nerves of steel: it’s scary to buy a house, but here, many homes are purchased without the normal contingencies for loan, appraisal or inspection. (But home sellers do provide a full battery of inspections that you can review before making your offer in most cases.)
- The ability to move quickly and decisively as the best homes sell very, very fast – often in a week to nine days. In the last 30 days, there were 385 houses which sold and closed in the city of San Jose. Of those, 282 went under contract and became pending sales in 14 days or less. That’s 73%. In Sunnyvale the numbers were 47 and 47, so 79%. Here you need to be 110% sure. If you give off signals that you are hesitant, your offer is unlikely to be accepted.
- It’s a big help if you have a really good Realtor who’s known, liked and respected in the local real estate community. Listing agents will prefer to work with an agent who’s trusted. In some areas, like Palo Alto, many homes sell “off market” and then the full inventory tends to be known only by those local and trusted agents.
- A strong lender, especially if you are coming from abroad, who’s experienced in tracking work history, credit, etc. in other countries (and in some cases other languages). Don’t just walk into a bank and pick someone. Get a good recommendation, either from someone at your company who’s had a similar experience or from your Realtor, who should be used to working with international home buyers.
- Being clear on priorities and being able to put them in order is crucially important. It’s usually not possible to get everything on the wish list and also get it in budget. So decide which is most valuable to you: schools, commute time, home type (perhaps you can get what you want, where you want – but only if you buy a condo?), commute time or?
Those are the key ingredients. Perhaps the hardest one, when getting started, is the last one. Let’s talk about that.
Priorities list: pick any 2 out of 3
A request I often get is to find a nice sized home and yard in good shape with good schools and a commute to Palo Alto that’s under an hour. So far, so good. Then comes the desired price tag: under $1,200,000 or under $1,500,000. You can get the home, yard, schools, and commute, but it won’t be under $1.5 million for a good sized, remodeled house and a big yard with better schools. The price tag fitting that description is probably closer to $2 million due to our clogged commute routes.
One of the best areas in terms of schools and pricing is Cambrian, which is a part of San Jose, with either the Union School District or the Cambrian School District. You can get a Cambrian home with good schools for under $1.4 million and it will have a decent sized lot, be in good condition, etc. But the morning commute to Palo Alto will likely be a little more than an hour, and the evening commute perhaps 80-90 minutes, depending on where in PA or Cambrian you’re going and what time it is. A nice house in east Los Gatos with the same schools but more house and yard will probably run around $1,700,000 to $1,800,000 for 2500 SF on a 10,000 SF lot.
Cupertino has great schools but the houses there tend to start at around 1.5 million – so if you are ok with a townhouse or condo, that might work.
The upset as reality sinks in
Most home buyers, even if they’ve studied the market here intensely before arriving, go through some strong emotional stages as they learn the real estate ropes and what their budget can and cannot buy. Sometimes the main shock hits before arriving, though. Recently I got an email from someone moving here from the south, who lamented the situation with a question along these lines: “can you explain to me why home prices in Silicon Valley are 5-6 times more than they are in Atlanta?” It is that bad, yes, and I am sorry. It is upsetting. The faster you can move through the shock and upset, the sooner you’ll be able to clear the emotional clutter and buy that next home and really settle in.
Focus on the positive
The good news is, aside from the cost of housing and the traffic, San Jose – Sunnyvale – Los Gatos and whole Silicon Valley region really is a wonderful place to live. We enjoy 300 sunny days a year on average. San Jose has often been named the best place to raise kids. The intellectual climate cannot be beat as we have great minds from all over the world here. The coast is close, and so is San Francisco. If you do buy a home, appreciation may be substantial, far more than in most of the U.S., if you can “buy and hold“. (We’ve had a lot of real estate corrections and downturns since the 1940s, but look at some old Los Gatos real estate home prices then and see the buy and hold value at its best.)
The cost of housing is the # 1 challenge for newcomers to Silicon Valley
For most people, the hardest issue is the cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether buying or renting, it’s extremely costly here. Depending on where you’re coming from, it could be man, many times more expensive. Finding affordable housing is the # 1 challenge for people relocating to Silicon Valley.
How does it compare to other places? It is close to on par with New York City, about 50% more expensive than Austin, TX, and about 1/3 more than Chicago, IL. Check Sperling’s Cost of Living comparison to get a good sense of how it relates to your current home town.
Not only are the houses, condominiums, townhouses and apartments more expensive, but most of our homes are smaller too. Continue reading
It can be really challenging for people moving to Silicon Valley to get a sense of pricing for home buying. So to compare “apples to apples”, let’s take a hypothetical case of a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home of approximately 2,000 SF house (appx 185 square meters) and see how the cost looks in one area versus another.
Today I compared several areas and cities using the same formula: homes of 1800 – 2200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 6000 SF to 10,000 SF. Here’s how it shakes out in the “west valley areas” along the Highway 85 corridor. What areas are most affordable? One way of analyzing this is the “price per square foot” figure. How competitive is it? Have a look at the DOM or “Days on Market” figure. All of these days on market are short, but they range from low to heart-skipping fast.
How much have prices changed? That really depends on where you live, or where you want to live. Here’s a flashback to April 2015. Do you notice the difference in ordering? A couple of markets have switched places, but there’s not too much different. Saratoga has jumpped ahead a good deal, but that data might not be so reflective of the market – almost nothing is moving in Saratoga, so the data for this market is based on one sale, whereas the rest are all between 5-40 sales.
This next chart was from April last year.
In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian is fairly high up and a good “bang for the buck” location – though not a super short commute for folks who work in Mountain View (though not so bad for people working in Cupertino). None of these is especially close to North San Jose (Cisco).
What about a little longer term? What did this look like in 2013? Click through to see. Continue reading
What’s going on with the real estate market in Silicon Valley? Is it as crazy as ever with multiple offers, overbids, and few or no contingencies?
In many cases, yes – especially in the more affordable price points in areas with good schools and shorter commutes. Those areas are the ones most in demand. And as before, comparing the three counties (San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz), San Mateo is the most expensive and overall it becomes less expensive in Santa Clara County, then less expensive still in Santa Cruz County. Alameda County has a little of Silicon Valley, but that area is in a totally different MLS system so is not part of this analysis.
What does it cost to buy a house in Silicon Valley?
In Santa Clara County (home to Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Jose, and my own Los Gatos), the average sale price is about $1,150,000 and the median sale price has been bouncing around in the $900s range for the last few month.
In San Mateo County (home to Redwood Shores, Foster City, Menlo Park, San Mateo), the average sale price is in the range of $1.4 to 1.5 million for houses recently sold. The median is a little lower, closer to $1.2 million.
In Santa Cruz County (Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Aptos, Capitola, Soquel), it’s more affordable. The average sale price of houses recently has been in the 800s, and the median sale price has been right about $700,000.
How is the year over year appreciation in these different parts of Silicon Valley?
Naturally, it’s easier to buy near Santa Cruz than in San Jose, but the demand tends to remain stronger in the areas with the jobs as opposed to the coastal communities, so appreciation is usually stronger in the areas where it’s hardest to purchase. That seems to be true in a very similar way in San Mateo County, too – yes, it’s less costly to buy in Half Moon Bay, and in an up market it’s great, but in a down market it will not fare as well as Belmont, San Mateo etc.
Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County – prices up over 2014 by 6-8% appx
- Median home prices increased by 7.9% year-over-year to $917,000 from $849,975.
- The average home sales price rose by 6.4% year-over-year to $1,157,360 from $1,088,090.
- Personal note: appreciation in this range is fairly sustainable, as compared to the appreciation in 2014, which was closer to 20%. Double digit appreciation is usually a little worrisome since it often is not sustainable.
San Mateo County
San Mateo County – prices up from last year
- Median home prices increased by 21.9% year-over-year to $1,170,000 from $960,000.
- The average home sales price rose by 3.7% year-over-year to $1,482,950 from $1,429,870.
Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz County – prices off year over year
- Median home prices fell by 0.4% year-over-year to $700,000 from $702,500.
- The average home sales price dropped by 10.4% year-over-year to $801,516 from $894,204.
Within all of these market areas, there are hotter and cooler locations, school districts, price points, etc. Often there are work arounds to maximize the sale or purchase of a property. For instance, some homes have a pool that eats up the whole yard. That might make a home difficult to sell, so perhaps you can buy it without competing against so many offers – and then remove the pool later. Often the “fixes” are not as costly as you may think.
Want to buy or sell in Silicon Valley? Please reach out to me. I’d love to chat with you about it and see if we might work together.
When people relocating to Silicon Valley get “sticker shock” on our real estate prices, most of the time they look for more affordable places in which to live that are close by. Often finding neighborhoods with good schools comes into play. Or perhaps they simply love the scenic town of Los Gatos but can’t buy in town. The mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz – the coastal range – is home to a number of communities such as Chemeketa Park, Holy City, Aldercroft Heights, the Lexington Reservoir area (the town of Lexington is under the reservoir now!), Alma, Redwood Estates (Upper Redwood Estates, Lower Redwood Estates) and more.
The Los Gatos Mountains are a specialty area and I don’t usually work them. I frequently will refer them out or team up with someone else who knows a lot more than I do about the unique things you need to worry about if buying up there.
There are many plusses to living in the Los Gatos Mountains: clean air, more open space (less crowding), beautiful vistas, great schools (top rated public schools), lower housing costs. It’s a fabulous place if you have horses or just love more seclusion. The folks who live in the hills absolutely love their commuties and homes.
At the same time, there are special consideration if you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here’s a list of potential issues that mountain residents may face:
Many residential roads are private & there are private road agreements in place (so owners must agree on paving, clearing brush or trees too close to the road, pay if the road washes out in a mudslide to clear it or if soil beneath it gives way, etc.)
- Utilities: in the valley, we have Pacific Gas & Electric (PG & E) and public water (most of us have San Jose Water). In the mountains most or many of them have propane gas (not P G & E), they do have electric from PG & E though, and well water. Our recent drought – which ended officially this week – was not severe but with a worse drought the wells can run dry and then mountain residents have to truck water in, which is very expensive. You also must periodically check well water for arsenic and other elements and purity. (Also there’s septic instead of sewer. Not a big deal but it’s one more thing to maintain.)
- Fire concerns – the wildland areas are at risk of fire in summer, so the fire marshall’s regulations are to keep brush cleared a certain distance from your house to help lessen the risk. (Google “fire santa cruz mountains” and you will get a lot of news returns on fire danger and past fires).
- Winter weather issues – the higher elevations can get snow a couple of times a year – doesn’t last long but can make roads impassable (not as low as Chemeketa Park but near the summit and perhaps upper Redwood Estates). Trees sometimes fall and block roads and driveways during heavy rainfall. Our redwood trees have VERY shallow roots and I think this is why they come down in strong winds and rain, but I’m not sure. The lovely trees are green year round, including winter. They can keep the sun away if you’re in a heavily forrested area, though. I had friends who lived near the summit and they said that in winter, sunshine never touched their property. Finally, with all the trees and more severe winter weather in the Mtns, residents there lose electricity more often than we do in the valley (due to trees falling I am sure).
- Beach traffic – the mountain communities are all pretty dependent on Hwy 17 (there are few alternatives) and there’s a wave of traffic tie ups as coast visitors come and go with the warm weather.
- San Andreas Earthquake Fault – runs pretty much down the spine of the coastal range (on or close to Summit Road). The summit is the “sunniest” area in the mountains, so if I lived there I’d want to be where there’s more sunlight – but that would mean straddling one of the most powerful and most scary earthquake faults on the globe. I won’t do it!
- Travel time – hwy 17 can be pretty smooth but once off the road, it can be 10 to 20 or more minutes until you get to the house, so the total travel time to whereever you’re going can be long. That’s especially true if there’s an accident on 17, which is not so uncommon with all the curves in the road. There is a large grocery store on Summit Road so it is not necessary to drive to the valley for the basics.
- Resale issues – even in a “hot” market, it takes far longer to sell a mountain home than one on the valley floor. Agents in my office say that on a typical open house up there they get one or two people per hour. It is not uncommon for a mountain house to take a year to sell. I just checked the average Days on Market and it’s 63. In todays hot sellers market, that’s significantly longer than in the valley but far less than when I last updated this post in March 2011 when the Days on Market were 212.
- Bugs – in addition to drywood termites and subterranean termites, up in the SC Mtns they also have dampwood termites.
If you’re interested in learning more about the mountains, please email me! I can get you more info and partner with a “mountain agent” to get you the best deal on a property in the coastal range near the San Jose area.
The City of San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, with just over 1 million residents, and a look at this large and highly populated area will give you a quick sense of what the region is like, generally.
Today I found an online document produced by the San Jose Planning Department which covers a wealth of information, including the largest employers, educational resources, annual rainfall, cost of rentals by number of bedrooms in the apartment, residential real estate median & average sale prices (data is a little old on home buying prices, so don’t use those numbers), and demographics (education, income, race, employment and more).
Here’s the info:
“FACT SHEET: HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY”
Department of Planning, Building & Code Enforcement, Planning Division
San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States, and it’s quite sprawling, too. As an introduction, it’s helpful to know a bit about each of the major districts or areas. Within them, of course, there are smaller sections which have their own distinct style.
Below, please find links to most of these areas with articles found on my popehandy.com site.
East San Jose
South San Jose
West San Jose
Want more information? Please also check http://SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com
It’s so easy to get lost when you’re new to an area and don’t know what’s where! Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in large landmarks such as the Bay, the coastal range and the east foothills. At first, the mountains might seem like they all look the same. But if you know what to look for, you’ll soon get your bearings – assuming that it’s daytime and the weather is cooperative!
Here are my Silicon Valley landmarks and mental tricks or visioning – the ones I use to know where I am or where I am going. First, imagine that the Santa Clara Valley is a bit like a funnel with mountains that narrow at the bottom on two sides and the San Francisco Bay on top. OK, it’s not quite straight, but it’s not a bad analogy otherwise. Next, consider how to tell the two sets of hills apart. The ones closest to the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains (aka the coastal range) are full of redwood trees and another conifers and they stay green year round. These hills are nearly always a deep, dark green or blue-green. The eastern foothills, on the other hand, are mostly grassy but dotted with oak tree clusters in the nooks and crannies of the hills where the rain catches. Those hills are a bright, lighter green in winter (when it rains!) but for much of summer and fall they are blanketed with a yellow-gold grass.
Now that you have the basic East – West (or actually South to Soutwest, depending) direction sorted out, it’s time to learn what to look for in each of the mountains to get your location sorted out a little better. Fortunately, each of them has a large structure perched on a high peak, so as long as the weather is clear and it’s daytime, they tend to stand out from almost anywhere in Santa Clara County.
Mt. Hamilton & the Lick Observatory
On the east side, if you scan the crest, you will see a white blip or two. That is the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.
Here’s a closer view (aerial):
On the southwest side, in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose, we have Mount Umunhum (which I’ve blogged about previously on my SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com site – see http://sanjoserealestatelosgatoshomes.com/tag/mt-umunhum/ ). It looks like a big, white box sitting on a flat part of the mountaintop.
Sometimes all you see is a little snippet of it poking out over some other hill – this is especially true if you are far north of it.
And here’s an aerial view of it from the Santa Cruz side of “the hill”:
If you are too far north, you will not see it at all – but if you can see it, you are likely to be fairly close by, on the southern end of Silicon Valley (unless you’re in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or nearby and another hill is obscuring the view).
My next, and last, tip is to look for “the pass” for highway 17 from Los Gatos and running through the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is easier to spot than you might think – just remember that any mountain pass is going to come in a natural gap of some kind and in a low point on the hills. That happens here, too. The image below was taken from a medical center’s parking garage on Samaritan Drive in San Jose, just on the Los Gatos border. That low point where you see two hills going way down – that’s it, that’s the pass. And that’s where you’ll find downtown Los Gatos (or very close to it).
Almaden would be to the left of this, by the way – but visible from this spot.
If you can find at least 2 of these landmarks – Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, or the Santa Cruz Mountains pass at Los Gatos, you can likely figure out your approximate location. Hope this helps!
First there is disbelief or denial. “It cannot be that bad – people are exaggerating.” That’s followed quickly by “I thought it was bad where I used to live!”
Then there may be outrage (anger is too mild a word): “Why would anyone pay that to live there?”
Next, a little bargaining: “What’s the work around? Are there any bank owned homes? How about something older – I don’t mind a 15 year old house…” (To us, that’s a young house, by the way.) “What about buying a lot and building?” Or the commute negotiation “I thought I had to be within 15 minutes, but I could go 30.” A typical commute might be 30 minutes in the morning, but 45 in the evening. Many people have worse than typical, though, as they want a bigger, nicer home, better schools, quieter location, etc.
Depression soon follows suit. This may be accompanied by “We just cannot do it” or “We are not willing to do that” (until they see that rents are $4000 for a smallish house in an only OK area and $6000 per month for a decent sized home in a good area.)
Acceptance comes at last. It may lead people to decide to go all in, bite the bullet, and buy locally. It may lead them to move way out of the immediate area and embrace an hourlong commute – or to take the Apple or Google bus to work, if applicable. It could lead them to move to Seattle, Orange County or somewhere a little less overwhelming in terms of housing costs.
Sometimes people think they are at “acceptance” as they write offers which are habitually 5-15% too low. In reality, they are actually still in the “bargaining” phase, hoping for a good deal amidst our raging seller’s market. That doesn’t usually happen, so writing a lot of unsuccessful offers frequently leads to depression (and sometimes blaming their agent for their offers not going through, even when it’s clear at closing that their offer price or terms were the issue).
How fast can you get to acceptance and write a realistic purchase offer? For people who could have bought 12 months ago but are still shopping now, that wait has cost them about 10% of their home price in many cases. For those looking 2 years, it’s easily double that, and in some cases prices are up a full 30%. That’s like setting a match to your entire down payment.
If you want to be a successful home buyer in this crazy Silicon Valley real estate market, you will need to get onboard quickly, because the longer you take to get to acceptance, the more expensive your final home will cost when the market isappreciating, as it has been for about 3 years now. Time is money and nowhere is that more true than in the San Jose, Silicon Valley, or South Bay real estate market.
Looking for more Silicon Valley real estate resources? Here are a few of my other sites, blogs, and market stats tooks:
popehandy.rereport.com – real estate statics for San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, and Santa Cruz County
popehandy.com – Silicon Valley real estate, Los Gatos real estate, info on many areas of the realty market in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com – Santa Clara County real estate, special focus on San Jose areas of Almaden & Cambrian and also Los Gatos with info on the real estate market, neighborhoods, and more
LiveInLosGatosBlog – Los Gatos real estate, neighborhoods, events, businesses, parks. Many photos and neighborhood or subdivision profiles.