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.)
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
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
Realtor Magazine ran an article declaring that many global home buyers consider U.S. real estate prices a bargain. (Related article that was the basis for this piece can be seen here.) Get into these articles just a little bit, though, and you can see that San Francisco and San Jose are exceptions, as are Los Angeles and San Diego:
The study found the following major markets were the most unaffordable:
- Hong Kong
- San Francisco
- San Jose
- San Diego
- Los Angeles
This study included medium and large cities. But what do you think would happen if they looked at the most desirable cities and towns nearby, the suburbs with low crime and great schools (or the areas of those 2 cities with the same)? That’s right, it’s worse – much worse.
Nicer suburbs will really cost you, especially those on “The Peninsula” or San Mateo County. Here’s a glance at the median and average sale price of houses sold last month (June 2015). Countywide it is $1,300,000 with homes selling at about 110% of list price.
Heading south does help. Just as San Jose is a little less expensive than San Francisco, so, too, is Santa Clara County a bit less than San Mateo County. San Jose considers itself the Capital of Silicon Valley – a big suburban, sprawling city of 1 million people reaching out to meet cities like Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Santa Clara all here in the South Bay’s Santa Clara County. It’s not cheap here, of course. But compare the $1 million median sale price of a home here compared to $1.3 million a little north of here, and you’ll understand why it’s not just the better weather than brings people a little further south (the Peninsula gets more wind and fog than the South Bay does, generally).
These are tough realities for newcomers to the area, whether buying or renting (rents are possibly harder to swallow than purchases). I’d be doing you no favors to sugar coat the situation. Some companies will help by improving your relocation benefits package. None of them will enable you to move here and get as nice a house as what you’ve got elsewhere for a reasonable amount of money. They cannot and will not pay you enough for that to happen.
Even so, it’s worth it to make the leap. There’s so much to love about this vibrant area: great minds, fabulous international flavor, excellent education, wonderful weather with 300 sunny days a year in a subtropical climate, access to nearby beaches, San Francisco, the Monterey Bay, Wine Country and so much more. (And you don’t need to go to Napa or Sonoma for wine – there are about 2 dozen wineries in Santa Clara County alone! See A visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino as one example.)
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
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.)