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.
Although normally I prefer to take photos than be featured in them or in videos, many of my Realtor friends from across the country have been telling me that our blog readers would like to see us on video (and not just read our typed words). So I’m caving in – and saying hello! Hope you enjoy this 4 minute video, shot from my home office in Los Gatos.
Is it a good idea for newcomers to Silicon Valley to rent for a year, or smarter for them to purchase right away? Normally, I would suggest deciding where you want to live generally (example, Almaden area of San Jose 95120) and renting there for a bit first just to make sure it’s where you want to be. This is especially true if you have children who will be in public schools, as it can be rough on them if they change again once you’ve been here for awhile. Renting first enables you to learn the area and takes some pressure off. Also, it can take some time to move money from overseas for your down payment, so the little extra time can help there, too.
However, many people want to buy immediately and will make several trips here before the move to find and purchase a home. Often this is because they see the value in owning (tax benefits, getting kids into certain schools). I’ve had many people tell me that it helps them to establish themselves in their new community faster if they buy rather than rent.
Right now interest rates are very favorable. Lawrence Yue, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, recently stated at our annual conference in San Francisco that he’s expecting interest rates to go as high as 5.4% by the end of 2014 (as of right now, it’s hovering between 4.125 and 4.25%).
What does this rise in interest rates mean in terms of housing affordability?
$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 4.25% = monthly payment of $2459
$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 5.4% = monthly payment of $2807
Difference = $348, or a 14% increase in the monthly payment
Or, let’s look at it in terms of buying power.
$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 4.25% = loan amount of $508,192
$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 5.4% = loan amount of $445,211
If the interest rate goes up to the 5.4% that the NAR chief economist expects, that cuts into the buying power of a $2500 payment to the tune of almost $63,000.
For most people, the cost of waiting is a significant factor in this buy vs rent decision. My concern is that many people who elect to lease or rent for a year do not understand the risk that may accompany waiting. For most folks relocating to the San Jose or Peninsula area, the hardest thing to manage is the cost of housing. This could become substantially worse by putting off the purchase for a year, so right now I cannot recommend doing that. The low interest rates are a gift that won’t be around forever.
Want more info? Please see my Valley of Heart’s Delight blog, with the related article
How will rising interest rates impact your home buying power?
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.)
Many people who move to Silicon Valley want to rent initially. Los Gatos is a great place to start! Many newcomers say that Los Gatos is the “most European” of Silicon Valley’s cities and towns. I agree!
In addition to the El Gato Penthouse (in downtown LG on Main Street), a newer complex with some furnished rental units on the edge of Los Gatos next to Netflix is Aventino. It’s a luxurious community with granite counters in the kitchens, a beautiful pool and spa area, and secure parking.
The Bay Tree Apartments are in the Almond Grove District (downtown or “walk to town” Los Gatos) and they have both furnished and unfurnished, but they do not always have vacancies. Here’s their contact info to check back later or see if there’s a waiting list: 347 Massol Aven Los Gatos, CA 95030 (408) 354-7317.
Want to learn more about living in Los Gatos? Please visit my Live in Los Gatos blog and see selected pages on my popehandy.com website devoted to the town of the cats.
Want to purchase a house, condo or townhouse in Los Gatos? Here are some links to help you with your research.
Browse Los Gatos Homes for Sale on my popehandy.com site:
- Los Gatos homes for sale under $1,000,000
- Los Gatos homes for sale priced between $1 and $2 million dollars
- Los Gatos homes offered for sale between $2 and $3 million USD
- Los Gatos homes listed between $3 and $5 million USD
- Los Gatos luxury properties at or over $5,000,000
A couple of days ago I made a quick trip to Spokane, Washington, on some family business. As I’m writing this in mid-December, just short of the winter solstice (shortest day of the year), I was struck by how early the sun set and then, the following morning, how late it rose again. It seemed like I’d “lost” an hour of daylight.
Upon returning home to the San Jose and Los Gatos area (Silicon Valley), I found an awesome site that charts sunrise and sunset (dawn and dusk) times for all of the world. The link below will take you to the page for San Jose, California, which is a good representation of Santa Clara County and the general Silicon Valley area.
I played with this site awhile, checking the hours of daylight for today going north and south of this area. It will be the same amount of daylight hours (or very close) during the shortest daylight day of the year, December 21st. So for people moving around on the west coast, here’s a comparative glimpse on the number of daylight hours during these shortest days of the year:
In summer, of course, it’s the opposite. The further north you go, the longer the days, while the closer to the equator, the shorter the days (and the smaller the swing between summer and winter).
During these “shortest days of the year“, a later sunrise and earlier sunset are really noticed. In Spokane (about the same as Seattle) the sun is coming up at 7:33 and setting at 3:59pm vs the San Jose area’s 7:16 sunrise and 4:52 sunset (8:26 hours of sun up north vs 9:36 in the south Bay Area – 1 hour, 10 minutes more sun here).
How does this compare to other major cities around the US? How many hours of sun are they all getting during these darkest days?
New York City 9:13
San Jose 9:36
Los Angeles 9:53
San Diego 10
Seeing the wide differences in sunlight hours alone, I can see why “snowbirds” would migrate south in winter!
Another factor to consider is how much sun you actually see during those hours of daylight! The San Jose area gets only about 20″ of rain during most years. Most of our rain comes between November and March or April, but even so, it’s unusual to get rain day after day for more than 3-5 days. Normally there are sunny and dry days inbetween patches of overcast, drizzle or rain. The weather will be drier in south county or in the east valley and wetter closer to the coastal foothills (Almaden Valley, Los Gatos, Los Altos). The Santa Cruz Mountains usually hold back the summer fog, leaving the inland areas sunnier and drier than the coast.
Sometimes the winter fog is “ground fog”, or fog from the Pacific which snakes its way inland through the Golden Gate and inches down the bay southward. When that happens, you can sometimes go to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains and enjoy the sunshine while hiking the trails off Skyline Boulevard.
We have 300 sunny days per year in our mild, subtropical climate. Not bad! Even our winters are not so tough. As one of my Finnish clients said to me recently, “Mary, you don’t really have winter in San Jose!”
Every area has its linguistic quirks or slang, and the San Jose – Silicon Valley – Santa Clara County region is no exception. Some of it is in the words we use, some of it’s the way we pronounce things, and some of it is just the way we think. If you relocate to the South Bay, you may want to know what some of these mean!
The Hill – refers to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Going “over the hill” means going to Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, or somewhere along the coast.p>
The City – means San Francisco, even though it’s smaller in population than San Jose.
South County – areas such as Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Coyote Valley (and outlying areas)
The Bay – is the San Francisco Bay, not the Monterey Bay.
The Airplane Park – this is Oak Meadow Park in the Town of Los Gatos
Read the rest of the post on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog post,
Silicon Valley Local-Speak: A Guide to Understanding Folks in the South Bay
Got swimmers? Our sub tropical climate in Silicon Valley makes swimming a popular sport, so if you relocate to the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” you may find an increased desire for jumping into a pool.
Perhaps swimming is already important to you or to your family.Several community centers have excellent swimming facilities, including the Cambrian Park Community Center in San Jose (at Union & Camden Avenues, approximately), the Y and several provate clubs.
If you are looking to live in a neighborhood with a swim club and cabana, you will find many options in the San Jose – Santa Clara County region.
The city of Santa Clara probably has more pools, cabanas and swim teams than any other part of the south bay. There are plenty in San Jose, too, though, including in Los Gatos, Cambrian Park and Almaden Valley. There are different leagues, not all of them with easily findable websites.
Valley Cabana Swim League is a local association with these member teams
Almaden Country Club (in San Jose’s Almaden Valley)
Belwood Dolphins (Los Gatos – Belwood & Belgatos area)
Montevideo (in Almaden)
Silver Creek Valley Country Club (in Evergreen area of east San Jose)
Here’s a good list of local and greater Bay Area swim teams:
Relocation can be challenging but if you know what features you want to find when you get to Silicon Valley, I can help you to locate them, whether it’s a place to swim or virtually anything else.
Silicon Valley’s rush hour traffic can begin as early as 6:45 or 7 am and last until 9 or 9:30am most workdays. The evening commute begins to get congested around 3 or 3:30pm with a knot of traffic in place by 5pm and lasting until around 6:30 or 7pm on some roads.
Looking for a reverse commute? Many commuters do precisely that!
If you work in Scotts Valley (just “over the hill” in Santa Cruz County), living in Los Gatos, Campbell, Cambrian Park or West San Jose will be a reverse commute for you. You’ll be going against the flow of traffic and your commute will be immensely easier.
Ditto that if you work in the south San Jose or Edendale region and begin your commute in Almaden Valley. Once you get to 85, it will be a breeze!
Work in Gilroy? Living in Blossom Valley or Almaden, you can engineer a reverse commute on the back roads or take Santa Teresa Blvd going south.
Most employees and workers try to carpool, take light rail, or otherwise beat the rush by using tricks of timing or alternate routes to avoid spending twice as much time on the road as necessary. Many companies have flexible hours – it’s worth investigating to see if you can shorten the length of your time in the car!
Relocation to Silicon Valley can be a bit of a shock to people in terms of the traffic and commute times if they are not accostomed to suburban living (which is most of the valley). Typical commute times are about 30 minutes, though some people have longer or shorter commutes, of course.
Traffic moves toward downtown San Jose primarily along Highways 87, 680 and 280 and toward the Cupertino – Sunnyvale – Mountain View areas along Highway 85 (and 280). Bringing traffic in from the south county is 101. Other roads getting a lot of use too are 17 and 880 (same road, different stretches), San Tomas Expressway, Montague Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Santa Teresa Boulevard, Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, Stevens Creek Blvd. and Almaden Expressway.
Silicon Valley residents will sometimes refer to “South County”. Where is it? This is the area south of south San Jose where you find Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and nearby areas.
The south county region of Santa Clara County is the last real stronghold of agricultural land in the valley (that plus the eastern range by Mt Hamilton). There you will find many orchards, vineyards, farms and ranches even today. As you drive through Gilroy you may catch a scent of garlic – particularly if you drive highway 152 toward Pacheco Pass as you go past a garlic processing plant! In summer you will want to visit the famous “Garlic Festival” at least once, if not make it an annual event.
South County is home to the discount Outlet Malls in Gilroy (at Hwy 101 at 152 east), so if you live in or near San Jose, you will eventually find your way there!
Want to relocate to South County? Many San Jose area residents consider it a good place to retire since they can downsize to a comfortable home and often pay much less than a comparable home might cost in Los Altos, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Willow Glen or Almaden and at the same time get more home. A number of my clients have spoken of wanting to retire into the Eagle Ridge Golf Course area of Gilroy for that very reason.
View a map of South County on Google maps.