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
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.)
If you’re moving to pricey Silicon Valley, your goal may not be to find the very most expensive places to live. However, if you are coming here and looking for great schools, it’s very likely that the list of places with fantastic public schools will overlap considerably with that of expensive real estate.
A couple of weeks ago, the Business Insider compiled a list of the 20 most expensive zip codes in the area, and also compared the median sale price in 2014 with that of the same zips in 2013 so you can see how much prices are rising. These are the median sale price and does not reflect cost per square foot. If you want a 2,000 SF house, you may not easily find it in the toniest areas!
Their 2014 Silicon Valley areas include zip codes within Atherton (94027 median sale price $3.9 million in 2014) , Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Hillsborough, Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, San Carlos, and the Almaden Valley area of San Jose (95120, median sale price $1.177 mil in 2014). Since it’s by zip code, some towns or cities show up twice, for more and less costly parts of that community.
Surprising omissions are Woodside and Los Altos.
Not sure how Almaden could be more costly than those two areas, but this is the list they compiled. Read the whole article with the specifics here:
How do home prices compare between Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, and areas of San Jose such as Cambrian, Almaden and West San Jose?
Yesterday on my Live in Los Gatos blog, I compared a number of “west valley” areas in Santa Clara County, or southern Silicon Valley, to provide a sense of how much home you can get for your money in Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, and areas of San Jose such as Cambrian, Almaden and West San Jose. I used my Altos Research weekly newsletters, which provide a snapshot view of four real estate pricing tiers for various cities or areas. In these, you see the median list price per quartile with the type of square footage, lots size, beds and baths found for each one.
Let’s look at Cupertino first, since I get a lot of folks wanting to relocate to Silicon Valley for Apple employment, and many of the new recruits have heard about the wonderful public schools in that city – a major draw. A few years ago, it was very possible to purchase a small house in Cupertino for under a million dollars. But have a look at the chart below and check out the days on market as well as the other data….
In many areas, the most affordable homes are the ones that get gobbled up fastest. Why is it that in Cupertino, the lowest priced listings are on the market the longest? It’s not their size – I can tell you this from two decades of experience selling homes in the Bay Area. It is very likely that these properties are not too livable as a group. They probably need serious remodeling or rebuilding (and perhaps expansion as well). Most buyers do not have the cash to totally “rehab” a house, especially if they are starting at over $1,000,000. If you want to live in Cupertino and not throw a ton of money into the existing house, or tear down and rebuild, you’re most likely to need a budget closer to $1.3 or $1.4 million as a starting point. Want to be able to walk to Infinity Loop? Make that $1.5 or more – and you will still need to do some remodeling unless it’s very small!
What about other nearby Silicon Valley communities and neighborhoods? Please have a look at the full article with charts for a number of areas (plus one for all of San Jose).
As you may know, I have a number of blogs relating to Silicon Valley real estate (I will list them below). My family and I live in Los Gatos, and my office is in Los Gatos too, so my focus is that town and the nearby areas, such as Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, Monte Sereno, and parts of San Jose such as Cambrian and Almaden and Willow Glen. One area I’m working on for the blogs, as well as for my Facebook business page, Google + and Twitter are video “drive throughs” of neighborhoods. I’m starting in Los Gatos but eventually hope to get to all of the areas listed above.
Right now, I’ve got 5 Los Gatos neighborhood videos on my YouTube channel, plus slideshows of a few more areas and parks. Additionally there are some slideshows up of Saratoga and parts of San Jose. Interested in an up close view of these parts of Silicon Valley? Please visit my channel: http://www.youtube.com/PopeHandy Or start with the Los Gatos playlist, below. The first one is a slideshow of Los Gatos as a general intro, and after that there is a mixture of slideshows and drive throughs. Enjoy!
Other blogs about Silicon Valley real estate, homes and neigbhorhoods:
Live in Los Gatos blog (new site! Just moved to WordPress)
Belwood of Los Gatos blog
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)
Comparing real estate market conditions in Almaden, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Sunnyvale and Los Altos
For people relocating to Silicon Valley, often there’s not just one city, town or area which seems like a good fit. Sometimes it may come down to what your money can buy or how difficult it is to purchase in one area versus another. This is frequently the case with the “West Valley” areas where schools are good and the neighborhoods are tidy.
There are two statistics which are especially helpful in understanding the Santa Clara County real estate market. One is the “days on market” or DOM. The shorter this is, the hotter the market – and the harder it is to purchase. The second is the sale price to list price ratio, which hints at the existence of multiple offers, overbids, and buyers giving away all of their rights.
Today, then, we’ll have a look at these, starting with Almaden, the southernmost area, and working our way north along the coastal range. The charts below are all for single family homes (houses and duet homes, not condos or townhomes).
Almaden Valley is a district within the city of San Jose. Its boundaries roughly follow the 95120 zip code, though there are some parts of nearby zip codes which somewhat overlap into Almaden too. How’s the Almaden market? Red hot! Days on market is crazy low – a mere 16! And the average sale price is almost 104% of list price…and rising!
Almaden Valley, San Jose, 95120 days on market and sale price to list price ratio
Sometimes newcomers to Silicon Valley strongly prefer older homes, such as Victorians, Craftsman, or other distinctive architectural styles, preferably surrounded by homes of the same vintage. Most of the valley is filled with ranch style housing, but there are quite a few neighborhoods which enjoy historic home which exude tons of charm. Where to find them?
San Jose’s historic homes
San Jose is a large city (10th largest in the United States, almost 1 million residents) and very spread out with a wide diversity of neighborhoods. Here are a few to consider for classic, older properties:
In central San Jose there are quite a few areas to check out:
(1) Downtown San Jose generally, but within that area
(2) the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood
(3) the Rosegarden area (close to Shasta Hanchett, both in “central San Jose”)
(4) Alum Rock in east San Jose – up into the foothills there are lovely, older Spanish style homes
(5) Willow Glen – close to downtown SJ, features all sorts of architectural styes, from mid-century modern to Spanish, Victorian, Tudor – you name it. Within Willow Glen, The Palm Haven neighborhood has the added charm of so many palm trees (very visible when flying into the San Jose airport)
There are many more scattered throughout San Jose and nearby suburbs, even in places like Cambrian Park or Almaden (away from the old mercury mining area), where it seems all the houses were built from the 1950s to the 1980s. When we see a hundred year old house in this area, it’s very likely that it used to be the house on a large ranch, orchard or farm.
The town of Los Gatos is far smaller than neighboring San Jose, but has a great assortment of historic districts that are beautifully maintained and tastefully updated, most of them right in downtown. I’ve written about these on my Live in Los Gatos blog, so here are a few links to those neighborhood posts:
Broadway – first subdivision in Los Gatos
Palo Alto enjoys some of the most beautiful, gracious older houses in Silicon Valley, particularly the Professorville and Old Palo Alto areas, but others too. Drive the neighborhoods between Stanford University (El Camino Real) and 101 and you’ll find lots of historic homes to love! The challenge is affordability, as these are the most expensive historic homes in the region.
There are many more lovely older homes throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and nearby. If you enjoy these classic beauties, watch for a series of spring home tours which become available beginning in around March each year. Most of them will cost a few dollars, with proceeds going to a worthy local charity. If you’re interested in purchasing an historic property, visit my “search by map” page and enter a “built before” year and then scroll around the valley to see what is available.
Real estate is local, local, local. There may be discernable trends in the national real estate market, the California real estate market, or the Silicon Valley real estate market – but all of that may or may not be reflective of what is happening with your house or home today.
Los Gatos is a case in point. The view of “the town” is entirely different from a view of its parts taken separately. Recently I spent a few hours pouring over the data and learned how dramatically different the market is from the 95030 zip code to the 95032 zip code.
It all depends on how you search.
If you are analyzing all of the addressess with “Los Gatos” as the mailing address, you will get homes in town and also properties that are not part of the town but rather are in the Santa Cruz Mountains (such as Redwood Estates, Aldercroft Heights, Chemeketa Park, etc.). Those homes have a 95033 zip code and really should not be considered as the “Los Gatos real estate market” because the mountain communities are entirely different.
In town, the schools tend to define desireability. Most of 95032 does not have the exceptionally highly regarded Los Gatos Schools and right now, that is most likely what is causing the huge gulf between the markets.
I invite you to view my detailed post and check out the large number of graphs on my Live in Los Gatos site:
Understanding the Los Gatos Real Estate Market Trends and also see Los Gatos real estate market trends