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
What’s going on with the Silicon Valley real estate market? 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.
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.
It’s an old question – should you find your Realtor first or your lender first? I would like to suggest that you find your Realtor first, and then ask your real estate agent for a list of reputable, trusted loan agents or lenders.
Because as with all professionals, lenders (and Realtors) are not created equally.
You will probably spend a LOT more time with your Realtor in viewing homes, reviewing disclosures, writing the contract, meeting inspectors, and so on – so I do suggest that you begin by very carefully choosing the right real estate licensee or broker for yourself. A good Realtor can probably give you between 3 and 10 names of trusted, reputable, reliable, knowledgeable lenders. From there you can interview and choose someone.
It is extremely important that your lender be good at what he or she does. A bad lender – and there are many of them – could cost you the sale, but definitely will create undue stress, will waste your time and ultimately cost you money. This is no exaggeration.
In our hot Silicon Valley real estate market, when there are multiple offers, many listing agents will phone the buyer’s lender to see how solid the buyers are and how decent the lender seems to be. The better loan agents will answer the phone when called – because they are anticipating the call. The lesser ones are not paying attention and don’t pick up. That small decision, one way or the other, can be critical! Just today I spoke with a high powered agent out of Saratoga who told me of this very scenario. She concluded “the lender who didn’t take my call cost the buyer the sale”. Yes, it matters that much.
A poorly organized loan agent may misplace documentation, causing you to miss work so that you can get it to him or her again in a rush (under pressure of the loan contingency removal date). I have known buyers to lose time from work due to the ineptitude of a loan agent (but not one that I suggested).
All deadlines must be agreed to by buyers and sellers in writing, no exceptions. Can you imagine what it’s like to ask your lender how many days will be needed for the loan contingency, only to have to extend it not once, but a few times, because it’s just not done yet? A lousy lender will make this happen. Sometimes they are submitting loan packages based on old guidelines rather than current ones. You and I won’t be involved at that microscopic level – but if the lender messes up, we’ll hear about it later.
In the worst case scenarios, a really terrible mortgage banker or broker will cause so many delays that you close escrow late, causing you, the buyer, to pay some of the seller’s coverage costs. If the rates go up during all of the delays, you may pay a higher interest rate too.
That’s the gloom and doom of it.
In my real estate practice, often about half of my clients come to me with their own lender. Although this is not ideal (it’s better if the Realtor and lender go into it with a good working relationship), often it works out OK. But sometimes it’s a train wreck. This doesn’t happen, at least not in my experience, if you get a lender I’ve already vetted. Or if you’re working with another great Silicon Valley Realtor, one that he or she has screened. I would not suggest someone incompetent or who will screw up the transaction – of that you can be sure! I want you to buy your home as much as you do, and I want it to be as smooth and hassle free as possible. A bad lender can put all of that in jeopardy, though.
What do international home buyers need to know about financing a real estate purchase in the United States?
Many of my relocation clients come to Silicon Valley from outside of the U.S. For them, financing a home purchase may be a big concern. There are many questions about down payment amounts required, moving money to the United States from abroad, purchasing without a regular credit history here, and many more.
I thought it would be helpful to get some lending and finance information to my global readers and have interviewed Allen Liang, a private mortgage banker with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, a very experienced and knowledgeable lender who has worked extensively with global clients and can speak to these issues authoritatively. Below please find my questions and his answers.
How difficult is it for international home buyers to get financing in today’s market?
Lending to international home buyers is not as hard as many people think. Most international home buyers are well qualified buyers. Due to a lack of credit history and income verification system different than in the U.S., the lender normally does require more documents. With a thorough interview and well prepared paperwork, we can help international buyers obtain the mortgage in the U.S. However, the processing of international home buyers’ loans might take a slightly longer time to process. I highly suggest starting the paper work as early as possible, so we can get them pre-approved by the underwriter. Continue reading
What does it cost to buy a house in Santa Clara County? And San Mateo County? Both are home to “Silicon Valley”!
Silicon Valley is a large area, with much of it in Santa Clara County (where San Jose is the largest city with almost one million residents) and most of the rest is in San Mateo County along the San Francisco Peninsula. So what does it cost to buy a house in these areas? Today I spent some time on MLSListings.com, our local multiple listing service, and pulled the data, which I hope that newcomers will find very helpful.
Below is a chart of single family homes purchased between October 1 2013 and the end of January 2014 by price point.
Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:
As you can see, only a tiny fraction of homes sell for less than $400,000. Most people pay between quite a lot more, with many sales happening in the $600,000 to $1,000,000 range (and it’s more in the areas with best schools and short commutes, generally, so many are much higher, too). The average Santa Clara County home sales price was $1,002,119 and the average price per square foot was $526.
How about San Mateo County prices? As you may know, The Peninsula is pricier than it’s warmer neighbor to the south. But how much more will it cost you?
Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:
The average sales price was in San Mateo County for the last three months was $1,254,114 and average price per square foot was $625 (all sizes of houses and lots throughout SMC). This is about 20% than Santa Clara County.
I have been fortunate to have made 5 trips to Europe, one of them lasting 9 months, and will be returning again before the end of 2013 (this time to Belgium). It is so diverse, beautiful and compelling! Having experienced a little culture shock myself (when living in Florence, Italy, for one year of university), I’m very sympathetic about how hard an international move can be, and I understand that for Europeans moving to Silicon Valley, there can be an acute culture shock, particularly for those coming from more rural areas.
The bulk of Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County, which is at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. In this county, there are approximately 1.8 million people, almost a million of them in the city of San Jose. Some areas, or districts, of San Jose have a distinctive character and are almost like towns or small cities themselves. So in this article I’ll mention both cities and towns, but also areas or districts of San Jose, which might appeal to our European transplants. Most of my comments will reference Santa Clara County or “south bay” locations, but I will also mention others on the San Francisco Peninsula and SF Bay Area too.
Architecture, Urban Centers and Charm
It is an unfortunate negative in Silicon Valley that much of our housing consists of ranch style tract homes, and truthfully, they are not exactly a work of art. New or newer homes tend to be on very tiny parcels of land (or “lots”) and for many people may simply feel too congested or crowded. But there are beautiful residential neighborhoods – you just need to know where to look! In many ways, the areas with higher charm can make our global home buyers feel more comfortable than if they were faced with only track, ranch neighborhoods.
Do you value unique, older architecture with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor or other home styles? Then check out these areas:
- Within San Jose: the Japantown, Vendome, and Naglee Park areas of downtown San Jose. Also in central San Jose are the Rosegarden, Shasta Hanchett and Burbank neighborhoods which all boast some lovely older homes. Or, if you love classic Spanish Revival style homes with views, consider the old Alum Rock area of San Jose near the country club (golf course). The Willow Glen area of SJ (zip code 95120) is full of lovely old established neighborhoods with historic homes and tree lined streets. If your job takes you to downtown San Jose, all of these areas will be fairly close.
- If you want a rural, eclectic atmosphere, check out the “New Almaden” area of San Jose. This is actually a county pocket with a San Jose mailing address.
- Other towns or cities with older, more interesting architecture include the “downtown” ares of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Mountain View, Saratoga and Menlo Park (in San Mateo County, just north of Palo Alto).
- If work will be on The Peninsula, there are many areas nearby that may work. San Mateo has some fantastic neighborhoods! Also San Francisco, which is tiny but full of beautiful areas, may be a strong draw (I do not sell there – it’s too far for me). Warning: the weather in San Francisco is very often COLD in summer!
- Across the bay, Berkeley has some great Victorian and other homes and several really interesting pockets, as does parts of Oakland. (I do not work these areas either as they are too far for me, but I did live in Berkeley in graduate school and can connect you with a great agent there.)
- Palo Alto (very costly)
- Cupertino (less expensive for the school scores compared to other areas up to #5 on this list)
- Saratoga (very expensive)
- Los Altos & Los Altos Hills
- Los Gatos & Monte Sereno (95030 & 95032)
- Parts of San Jose in Cambrian 95124 and Almaden 95120 (very good value)
- The Los Gatos Mountains (zip code 95033)
- Parts of Fremont (Mission San Jose area)
Can you buy a home with a contingent offer, subject to selling your current home, in Silicon Valley?
In many parts of the United States, it is not uncommon to write a purchase offer on a property which is contingent upon, or subject to, selling the buyer’s current home. Contingent offers are not very common in Silicon Valley, generally. They are unlikely to be successful if the property has been on the market only a week or two, but if the offer is otherwise really strong, home sellers may consider it. We see a few of them happen here and there, so it’s not impossible to be successful with this kind of real estate contract, but it does pose a few extra challenges. Let’s see what might improve the odds of success with one of these.
What could make a contingent offer strong?
One thing, of course, is cash. Right now in Silicon Valley, anywhere from 30-35% of all sales are without a mortgage or loan, they are all cash deals. So if the sale will mean that once the buyer’s house or condo sells and closes, the purchase can happen without a loan, that’s good – no loan means less risk that it won’t close. Even if the resulting sale isn’t 100% cash, if the sale will bring more than 20% loan to value into the next transaction, it will help.
Terms can really impact whether or not a contingent offer will go through. Some offer terms can be appealing to San Jose area home sellers too, such as a flexible close of escrow date or the option to rent back (at cost or for free).
Many other issues must be factored in, of course. How strong is the market for the property that needs to be sold? This plays into the issue of risk. If it’s an area in high demand, and the home is priced aggressively, or if it is already sale pending, this may lessen the concern that it won’t sell at all. It’s important to share market conditions with the listing agents and sellers so that they have a good understanding of the situation.
Finally, it should be noted that Silicon Valley is composed of many, many niche or micro markets. While some areas are “on fire” – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino – others are simply good (Silver Creek, Los Gatos, Almaden) and certain areas and price points (think luxury market) are close to balanced. Depending on where and what you hope to buy, a contingent offer may be more or less likely to be successful.