Communities

Urban Living Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley and San Jose

The Silicon Valley and San Jose areas are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of “urban living” neighborhoods. If you are looking to rent or buy a home in one of these areas, you may wonder where you can find them.

For those not familiar with the “urban living” name, it refers to areas where homes and shops are close together, so that residents are not so dependent upon cars. Some sites refer to them as “walk to town,” though that phrase is used less now to be inclusive of non-ambulatory citizens.

Here’s a quick list of areas to consider if you want the urban living experience:

(1) Downtown San Jose

In the downtown district of San Jose, you will find both new high rise condos (several were built all at once), ranging from nice to extremely upscale & elegant. Additionally, there are some neighborhood in or near downtown with houses full of character and architectural charm as they were built in about the 1920s. Once such neighborhood is Japan Town, where many of the homes are Spanish or Mediterranean style, and there’s a little “downtown” area (apart from the more congested, sky scraper area) with wonderful shops and restaurants. San Jose’s Japantown, by the way, is one of only 3 in the country – all of which are in California. The others are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Read more about San Jose’s Japantown in my blog through the link.

Find my San Jose Real Estate Market Update through the link.

(2) The Willow Glen area of San Jose

Willow Glen was once its own town but has been incorporated with San Jose for nearly a hundred years. Downtown Willow Glen is found along Lincoln Avenue between Bird and Minnesota. The area is old (some homes are Victorian and date back to the late 1800s) and many of the houses there are from the early part of the 20th century. There are some newer places, though, including apartments, condos and townhouses.

Find my Willow Glen Real Estate Market Update through the link.

(3) CampbellCampbell water tower

The city of Campbell is south of San Jose and borders it. It enjoys a lovely and popular downtown area along Campbell Avenue, clo
se to the Los Gatos Creek trail, parks and a par course, and also within a short jaunt to the Pruneyard Shopping Center. This part of the valley has both older homes (again dating back to the Victorian home era) as well as newer, and an added bonus is that the metro area’s light rail comes right into Campbell.

Find my Campbell Real Estate Market Update through the link.

(4) Los Gatos

A bit closer to the hills from Campbell is the town of Los Gatos, snuggling up to the base of the foothills. I have written about Los Gatos extensively on my Live in Los Gatos blog, as this is where I live. The downtown area is extremely beautiful and vibrant – and costly!  As with most “urban living” areas, it’s much less expensive the further out you get.

View a slideshow of Los Gatos (and links to more slideshows from there) courtesy of Mary Pope-Handy.

Find my Los Gatos Real Estate Market Update and the Market Trends by Price Point and High School District through the links.

(5) Saratoga

A little north of Los Gatos, Saratoga is also up against the coastal range so is very scenic. Saratoga is smaller and quieter, and many would say also more upscale. The schools in Saratoga are fantastic so most people moving there today do so for the schools. Prices are extremely high by Silicon Valley standards, but those who live in Saratoga will insist it’s worth it! The downtown area is lovely and full of wonderful places to dine as well as three for wine tasting.

Enjoy a slideshow of downtown Saratoga Village (photos and show by Mary Pope-Handy, link will open in a new window)

Find my Saratoga Real Estate Market Trends by Price Point and High School District through the link.

(6) Mountain View

If you love to dine out, you will find your way to Mountain View sooner or later! Like Los Gatos, the downtown Mountain View area is very vibrant and not terribly small. It’s right along the Cal Train route too so is a fabulous commute location for anyone going up the peninsula or to San Francisco.

Find my Mountain View Real Estate Market Update through the link.

(7) Palo Alto

Adjacent to Mountain View, and immensely expensive, is the very impressive city of Palo Alto. Home to Stanford University and some of the best schools in the nation, the downtown area also boasts wonderful eateries, shops, a classic movie theater, and much more. Everyone loves Palo Alto.  The only trick is affording it!

I don’t do regular market updates for Palo Alto, but occasionally I will compare it to other South Bay markets. See Comparing cost of housing in West Valley communities from Palo Alto to Los Gatos to Blossom Valley: what will a 4 bedroom home cost?

(8) Santa Clara’s Rivermark Area

The city of Santa Clara destroyed its original downtown many decades ago, so the main part of that fine city unfortunately has a “generic American” look to it now, though there are some lovely residential areas with beautiful older homes. A few years back, a new neighborhood was designed and built at the northern part of Santa Clara near the bay (on the land formerly housing the Agnews Developmental Center): Rivermark (just off River Oaks Parkway). The area includes a big retail area with a grocery store, banks, shops and restaurants, a park, several types of housing (apartments, condos, townhomes and houses). There is a private school in the neighborhood, too. (The local public schools are not noted for high scores.) Most of the homes in the area were built between 2005 and 2009, so the neighborhood is very popular with those who strongly desire to buy new construction.

Find my Santa Clara Real Estate Market Update through the link.

(9) Santana Row

Like Rivermark, Santana Row is a newer development but this one is in a well-established area at the intersection of Winchester Blvd and Stevens Creek Blvd, right where the cities of Santa Clara and San Jose meet. This is San Jose’s answer to Rodeo Drive – it’s where you’ll find the Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Coach and other similar stores. The complex is mixed use with shops below and apartments, townhouses and condos above. It’s young, it’s lavish, it’s European feeling – so as you might expect, this upscale area is not inexpensive! Whether you buy or rent a home there or just spend a weekend (there is a hotel) or an evening, it’s a great place to hang out, dine, stroll, shop and people watch. A grocery store is a mere block away and a movie theater tops off the attractions here, so this neighborhood truly seems to have it all.

A description of Santana Row with Slideshow (will open in a new window) by Mary Pope-Handy.

Find my San Jose Real Estate Market Update through the link.

 

What does it cost to buy a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in the West Valley areas of Silicon Valley?

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 that have sold within the last 120 days.  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. Below is a flashback to September 2016.  Do you notice the difference in ordering? A couple of markets have switched places, but there’s not too much different. Sunnyvale has fallen behind a good deal, and Campbell and Santa Clara have swapped positions. For the most part, rankings have changed very little as far as cost per square foot.

This next chart was from last March.

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

Home with in-law suite

920 Hazelwood Ave Campbell guest suite or second family room

920 Hazelwood Ave Campbell – Home with in-law suite or guest quarters

Looking for a Silicon Valley home with in-law suite and a quarter acre lot? It can be challenging to find a house offering a separate wing of with guest quarters big enough for family, friends, or rental income and still have a nice sized back yard left over.  Right now you can find a fantastic place in Campbell, one of the most popular cities within the region, that’s been remodeled and expanded, featuring a spacious guest suite and a large back yard. It is sure to please!  Let me introduce you to 920 Hazelwood Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008.

From small bungalow to stunning, remodeled home with in-law suite

Originally built as a small ranch style home in 1945, the house was a modest but thoughtfully designed 3 bed, 1 bath home with a detached 1 car garage at its inception. Long before there was Silicon Valley, this was a quiet county pocket near Campbell with quarter acre lots (today it is incorporated and part of the city.) Previous home owners expanded the house, adding a family – dining area, an office, and a second bath off of the office. Hardwood floors are found throughout all of these areas except for in the bathrooms.

In around 2000 to 2001, current owners did a beautiful kitchen remodel, demolished the 1 car garage and built an over-sized 441 SF attached 2 car garage just off the kitchen, and added a 539 SF guest suite behind the garage.  Today it is a 4 bedroom, 3 bath home with 2024 square feet – and it’s move-in ready!

About the in-law or guest suite

The in-law quarters features a large living space with big wet bar, a good sized bedroom with a walk in closet, and a full, private bath.  This area includes a separate entrance, so the residents can come and go via a gate in the side yard.  It also does connect directly to the house.  The guest quarters’ living area, or a second family room, offers windows on 3 sides, with one wall featuring a large slider to the back yard (see image above).  This room provides recessed lights as well as a regular ceiling light.  It is a beautifully bright room, whether used for family or daily living. (If you don’t need a separate apartment for family or tenants, this makes a great 2nd family room.) If you want the master bedroom suite to be away from the rest of the bedrooms, this is ideal!   My clients furnished this charming suite and rented it out via Air B & B at $2,000 per month.  This can be a wonderful supplement to help cover the mortgage!

Remodeled kitchen with skylight

920 Hazelwood Av Campbell remodeled kitchen with skylight

920 Hazelwood Av Campbell remodeled kitchen with skylight

The remodeled kitchen at 920 Hazelwood Avenue offers an ideal layout, open to the family – dining room and with a view to the spacious backyard beyond it.  Impeccable maple cabinets, slab granite counters, tile back splash with glass tile accents, stainless steel appliances, pullouts, recessed lights and under the cabinet lights, a breakfast bar, and a wonderful skylight  to boot.   This kitchen – family – dining area is the heart of the home.  It is a joy to spend time here, with beauty both inside and out.

More features, and a stunning back yard

Similarly, the bathroom in the bedroom wing of the house was exquisitely remodeled with slate flooring, tile walls, and stall shower. The room was thoughtfully designed with room for a hamper. The other two baths have both been updated, too.

Many Silicon Valley home buyers want a large backyard, ideal for entertaining. Here you have it, and more!  The back yard provides a gorgeous dining & lounging area with pavers, and the walkway along both sides of the home are also done with pavers.  A large lawn area is graced by mature landscaping, including a pluot tree and an avocado tree.  A wooden play structure completes the garden in one corner.

This lovely house features dual pane windows throughout.

Campbell home for sale in-law suite big back yard

Campbell home for sale in-law suite big back yard

Room to grow: if someone wants a little more home, it’s possible to add on and still leave an enormous amount of yard.  One of the bedrooms could be expanded to create another master bedroom with private bath.  Stop by the open house and I’ll show you where that can be done.

Great, quiet location close to downtown Campbell

In so much of Silicon Valley, it can be hard to get away from freeway and road noise.  The house at 920 Hazelwood Avenue enjoys the enviable bonus of being close to major commute routes (San Tomas Expressway, Highway 17 /880, Highway 85) but being far enough away that the backyard truly is a quiet oasis.  You cannot read about this – must experience in person!

The location is also close enough to downtown Campbell to make it a quick jaunt or bike ride for the farmers market, dining or shopping.

Lest we forget the schools:

Public schools are Capri Elementary, Rolling Hills Middle, Westmont High.  Canyon Heights (a private, Catholic school) is very nearby.

Inspections have been done and the home is ready to be sold today!  Please call or email to learn more – or stop by our open house this weekend, August 13-14, 2016 between 1 and 4 both days.

Please view the virtual tour!
Virtual Tour!    920 Hazelwood Av Campbell CA 95008 virtual tour: Home with in-law suite



Video walk through of this lovely home



View the multiple listing service information below
920 Hazelwood Avenue, Campbell – home with in-law suite!

We're sorry, but we couldn't find MLS # 81594323 in our database. This property may be a new listing or possibly taken off the market. Please check back again.

 

Video clarifying Silicon Valley vs San Francisco

This video is pretty good overall, though it misses some areas which are part of Silicon Valley, mispronounces the names of many areas, and refers to Gordon Moore as George Moore. Despite some errors, it’s entertaining and brief, and I think newcomers will find it helpful as an intro to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley regions of California.

Relocating to San Jose

Evergreen The Ranch view of Downtown San Jose

Evergreen The Ranch in the East Valley area of Santa Clara County – view of Downtown San Jose

Are you mulling over a job opportunity in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley?  If you’re relocating to San Jose, or nearby, there are a few helpful things to know right away.  Here’s a quick primer:

  • San Jose is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, so is part of the SF Bay Metro Area (and is about 1 hour south of San Francisco, which locals call The City)
  • This sprawling city has a number of different districts or communities.  There are also quite a few school districts – school lines are not based on city or zip code boundaries.
  • The beach at Santa Cruz is anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes away from most of San Jose (assuming you don’t go at the peak of “beach traffic” timing on a weekend or holiday).
  • San Jose is also the home of Silicon Valley, which began here in Santa Clara County, but has now spread throughout the area
  • This city is the 10th largest in the United States (though poll most people who aren’t in The Golden State and they couldn’t tell you where it is).  The population recently hit the 1 million mark.  The county has about 1.9 million people and the Silicon Valley region (Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and a little each of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County)
  • Home prices are just about the highest in the nation.  The average price of a house in the area is $1 million.  And that is not for
  • a big home, in most cases.  Sticker shock is the #1 reason why some people won’t move here – and why others move away.  Rents are, similarly, high.  It’s not uncommon to hear of people spending half their income on housing.
  • Weather is often ideal – 300 sunny days per year, so you won’t need that basement if you’re coming from someplace with long, cold winters.  Winter here is pretty much just December and January, and even in January you’ll see some trees pop alive with beautiful blossoms.
  • San Jose has frequently been named the best place to raise a kid.  Just google that 🙂
  • Next to housing or real estate prices, traffic is the second biggest complaint.

Looking for more info?  Here are some links:

Facts about San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley

San Jose is big and sprawling: where the the districts?

  1. 0 beds, 0 bath
    Home size: 29,716 sq ft
    Lot size: 1.08 ac
    Year built: 1968
  2. 0 beds, 0 bath
    Home size: 18,824 sq ft
    Lot size: 28,749 sqft
    Year built: 1962
  3. 6 beds, 0 baths
    Home size: 6,685 sq ft
    Lot size: 17,859 sqft
    Year built: 2016
  4. 5 beds, 7 baths
    Home size: 8,451 sq ft
    Lot size: 1.09 ac
    Year built: 2002
  5. 5 beds, 7 baths
    Home size: 7,004 sq ft
    Lot size: 2.37 ac
    Year built: 2005
  6. 6 beds, 7 baths
    Home size: 7,088 sq ft
    Lot size: 22,598 sqft
    Year built: 2013
  7. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,725 sq ft
    Lot size: 13,329 sqft
    Year built: 1948
  8. 3 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 1,301 sq ft
    Lot size: 13,329 sqft
    Year built: 1948
  9. 7 beds, 6 baths
    Home size: 8,314 sq ft
    Lot size: 3.40 ac
    Year built: 1989
  10. 0 beds, 0 bath
    Home size: 9,963 sq ft
    Lot size: 32,844 sqft
    Year built: 1965
  11. 5 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 4,107 sq ft
    Lot size: 13.70 ac
    Year built: 2001
  12. 5 beds, 6 baths
    Home size: 6,139 sq ft
    Lot size: 13,068 sqft
    Year built: 1998
  13. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 4,527 sq ft
    Lot size: 31,877 sqft
    Year built: 2017
  14. 4 beds, 6 baths
    Home size: 5,432 sq ft
    Lot size: 17,424 sqft
    Year built: 1994
  15. 0 beds, 0 bath
    Home size: 5,902 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,755 sqft
    Year built: 1964
  16. 6 beds, 5 baths
    Home size: 5,187 sq ft
    Lot size: 14,592 sqft
    Year built: 1965
  17. 5 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,965 sq ft
    Lot size: 22,651 sqft
    Year built: 1999
  18. 5 beds, 5 baths
    Home size: 5,094 sq ft
    Lot size: 14,461 sqft
    Year built: 1993
  19. 5 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,000 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,699 sqft
    Year built: 2017
  20. 5 beds, 6 baths
    Home size: 4,572 sq ft
    Lot size: 10,280 sqft
    Year built: 2014
  21. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,650 sq ft
    Lot size: 9,452 sqft
    Year built: 2005
  22. 5 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,753 sq ft
    Lot size: 29,228 sqft
    Year built: 1975
  23. 5 beds, 5 baths
    Home size: 3,802 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,494 sqft
    Year built: 2009
  24. 5 beds, 5 baths
    Home size: 4,108 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,230 sqft
    Year built: 2017
  25. 6 beds, 5 baths
    Home size: 5,456 sq ft
    Lot size: 23,173 sqft
    Year built: 2002

See all San Jose, California Real Estate.
(all data current as of 6/21/2017)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.

What’s that smell? Odor problems in some communities

Angry faced iconOdor problems are a sensitive topic, whether you’re talking about someone just in from exercising or a whole town or neighborhood. Home for sale with a periodic stench? That won’t be listed in the MLS, and it may be down played in the disclosures.  This can be very upsetting if you learn it only after you move in.

The most common issues in Santa Clara County seem to relate to either agricultural areas, food processing, or sewer / sewage processing. Other issues can be at dumps, areas with standing water (bad idea as this can breed disease bearing mosquitos), and food or other consumable processing plants (not common in Silicon Valley). A brewery or coffee roasting plant can be stinky at times. Get downwind of any of these and it may be unpleasant.  On a much smaller scale, it’s possible to have a bad neighbor who creates an odor nuisance, making life unpleasant.  I’ve had clients tell me of neighbors who “go out to their back yard and smoke pot every day”, making my client’s back yard an unpleasant place and nearly unusable.  Other bad neighbor problems can be from yards with too many pets and not enough cleanup, or poor composting.

For folks relocating to Silicon Valley, though, it’s important to be aware of smelly or potentially smelly areas.  The locals know about them – and you should, too.

Communities with well known odor problems

Gilroy, in the “south county” area, is well known as the Garlic Capital of the World.  There’s a Garlic Festival late each July.  To be sure, the smell is strong when the garlic ripens in the field.  I can often smell it all the way in Los Gatos on a warm summer morning!  The smell is also strong when it’s getting processed at the plant along Highway 152.  Gilroy has a nice downtown area and is more affordable than most of Santa Clara County. It enjoys a Caltrain stop so offers an easier commute than most places in the San Jose area.

Morgan Hill, just a little north of Gilroy, but also in south county, has a mushroom festival (the Mushroom Mardi Gras in late May each year).  Mushrooms are a super food but mushroom farms smell pretty awful.  Currently, there are 3 mushroom farms in Morgan Hill. Buying in that beautiful city?  Visit the area many times, at different times of the day and week.  Talk to neighbors and see if you can find out if this is an issue for them – I want to note that it is not a problem everywhere.   Morgan Hill is also more affordable than most of the San Francisco Bay Area, also includes a very nice downtown, and features a Caltrain stop too. (I’m told that Google and Apple buses have stops there as well.)

Milpitas, on the northeast end of the county, sometimes has problems from the wind carrying smells from a landfill near the bay on the east side of Alviso. There’s also a sewer processing plant in the same general area that may be contributing to the challenge. It’s bad enough that there’s a whole website dedicated to this problem:  http://milpitas-odor.info/  This smell is not confined to just Milpitas but may be experienced in adjacent areas such as Alviso, north San Jose,  northern Santa Clara, and southern Fremont, but Milpitas appears to get the brunt of it. Milpitas has really strong public schools, is “close in” and convenient for many commuters, and is not as expensive as communities on the west side of the valley with similarly high scoring schools.  It’s a very good “bang for your buck” in terms of the amount of home / school you get for your money.  But the odor problems have been enormous ones over the years.

The Shoreline park in Mountain View was a landfill at one time, and years ago was well known to have issues with smells and also with spontaneous combustion fires that began as the gas from composting materials somehow lit.  That was almost 20 years ago and the situation has been corrected for many years now. (You can read more on that here.)

There’s a landfill in the Almaden area of San Jose near the Los Gatos border, the Guadalupe Landfill (that area was originally a mercury mine).  I’m not aware of odor problems coming from this one, but due to Milpitas’s ongoing nightmare with bad smells, some of the waste that might have gone to the Newby Island landfill will now be going to Guadalupe, starting in late 2017.

What can a newby to Silicon Valley do?

First, read the disclosures very, very carefully.  Often home buyers breeze through them and don’t ask probing questions on what something means.  A seller may write “occasional agricultural odors” and that doesn’t sound too bad.  What if that means half the time, you cannot miss the mushroom farm?  Ask questions to get more info on the disclosure answers.  And talk to neighbors as well as local real estate agents.

Second, learn where these items are located, if local: food processing plants, water processing plants, landfills, farms, ranches, homes with farm animals (if any).  You might be surprised that in Silicon Valley you could have a 4-H neighbor who’s raising a goat or some other type of animal – it may smell or be noisy!   In my east Los Gatos neighborhood, I was surprised that a neighbor about 5 houses away had goats for 4-H, and glad they weren’t any closer!

 

Beach Traffic

One of the many lures to the San Jose area and Santa Clara County generally is the fairly close proximity of the beach at Santa Cruz, Capitola, Rio del Mar, and other scenic places that line the Monterey Bay. From most of Santa Clara County, it’s under a one hour drive. If you live in Los Gatos, it could be just half of that.  That said, not all days are created equally when it comes to beach traffic. Go on a regular weekday in summer and it’s pretty much a piece of cake. Go on a weekend or holiday and it’s a whole other matter.

Photo of Capitola Beach as seen from the Capitola Pier on a sunny summer day with colorful beachfront condos lining the shore

Capitola Beach as seen from the Pier – photo by Mary Pope-Handy

Most of the locals know this about holidays or weekends and the shore: go early or don’t go.

How early is early enough?

If you want to get over the hill before it’s stop and go traffic, I suggest 9:30am or earlier.  It can be backed up as early as 9:30 or 10. Coming home from the coast, the line of cars may move sluggishly as early as 3 or 4pm if the fog rolls in early.

If you go early, you can enjoy breakfast with a bay view in Capitola on the esplanade. Or hit wonderful Gayle’s Bakery in that same town with some piping hot coffee before taking in a walk at the coast.  Sometimes there may be a marine layer (fog), but it usually burns off by late morning.  The beach will be fairly quiet if you arrive before the crowds.  Or go a little later and have an early lunch at the Crow’s Nest at the harbor.  Play in the surf  and sand and return around 3:30 or so, and it will be a lot easier than a 5pm trek across the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Related reading on MPH’s other sites:

Spending Summer Days In Santa Cruz? Some Tips & Favorite Places to Share (Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Beach towns in Santa Cruz County (from popehandy.com)

California and Bay Area Real Estate Market at a Glance

Today we’ll take a look at the housing market from a very high overview position, that is, by metro area within California. How’s the San Francisco Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, faring in comparison to the rest of the state? And how is the real estate market within the 9 Bay Area Counties? Have a look at the statistics to get a sense of the market at a glance. (Note: SFH stands for Single Family Homes.)

Silicon Valley is found primarily in Santa Clara County, but also substantially in San Mateo County.  There are some pockets, very small, also in Alameda County and Santa Cruz County.  Santa Cruz County is not considered part of the SF Bay Area, but part of the Monterey Bay Area and the Central Coast (the SF Bay area is considered Northern California.)

Statistics for Bay Area Real Estate Market

Statistics for Bay Area Real Estate Market care of the California Association of Realtors

What does it take to buy a home in Silicon Valley?

Graphic of people running to an open houseYou’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):

  1. A large down payment is needed – usually 25% or more – to win in the multiple offer situations which are the norm right now.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)

What about living in the Los Gatos Mountains (or Santa Cruz Mountains)?

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 (95030 and 95032 zip codes are “in town” and 95033 is the unincorporated county areas with a Los Gatos mailing address). 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 communities 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.

Finally, if you are not sure which area is in Los Gatos vs having a Los Gatos mailing address (which can also happen in pockets on the valley floor), the best resource is the map of the town’s boundaries, which you can find here: http://www.losgatosca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/338

Mary Pope-Handy
Realtor,
CIPS, CRS, ABR, SRES
Sereno Group
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd.
Los Gatos CA 95030
[Silicon Valley, California, USA]
1-408-204-7673
mary (at) popehandy.com
CA BRE # 01153805

CIPS - Certified International Property Specialist
CRS - Certified Residential Specialist
ABR - Accredited Buyer Representative
SRES - Seniors Real Estate Specialist

Helping nice folks to buy and sell homes in Silicon Valley since 1993. Mary Pope-Handy, Realtor, Silicon Valley
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