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.
The Silicon Valley real estate market is spread out over a few counties, primarily Santa Clara County but also much of San Mateo County and part of Alameda and Santa Cruz Counties. Santa Clara County is home to about 1.8 million residents, more than half of them in the big city of San Jose. The high tech companies such as Cisco, Apple, Google and more are spread out around the valley, and each neighborhood has a very different set of housing market conditions. Even so, we’ll take a broad view of the county today to give some general indicators on what you might expect when moving here.
As a whole, home prices in Santa Clara are rising due to a dire scarcity of listing inventory. On average, houses sold in December were overbid and the sales price to list price ratio was about 102%. Here are the numbers at a glance:
|Trends At a Glance||Dec 2012||Previous Month||Year-over Year|
|Median Price||$682,500||$685,000 (-0.4%)||$530,000 (+28.8%)|
|Average Price||$908,873||$885,921 (+2.6%)||$714,562 (+27.2%)|
|No. of Sales||899||903 (-0.4%)||903 (-0.4%)|
|Pending Properties||980||1,500 (-34.7%)||1,396 (-29.8%)|
|Foreclosures Sold||25||34 (-26.5%)||112 (-77.7%)|
|Short Sales Sold||154||138 (+11.6%)||229 (-32.8%)|
|Active Listings||534||782 (-31.7%)||2345 (-77.2%)|
|Active Foreclosures||22||27 (-18.5%)||173 (-87.3%)|
|Active Short Sales||39||52 (-25.0%)||980 (-96.0%)|
|Sales Price vs. List Price||102.6%||102.3% (+0.3%)||98.7% (+3.9%)|
|Days on Market||36||32 (+11.3%)||63 (-42.8%)|
Though there was a slight slippage in values from the prior month’s median sales prices, the average price was up 2.6%. More dramatically, though, prices were up 27-28% from the year before! Foreclosures and short sales are way down. Inventory is critically low, off 77% from a year earlier.
It is a very deep seller’s market in Santa Clara County. Some areas, such as Cupertino, are very difficult for buyers right now. Cupertino’s prices are already past the last peak pricing and have only about 2 weeks of inventory.
|Trends At a Glance||Dec 2012||Previous Month||Year-over Year|
|Median Price||$1,343,880||$1,325,000 (+1.4%)||$982,500 (+36.8%)|
|Average Price||$1,304,180||$1,373,820 (-5.1%)||$1,085,210 (+20.2%)|
|No. of Sales||26||27 (-3.7%)||24 (+8.3%)|
|Pending Properties||18||23 (-21.7%)||13 (+38.5%)|
|Foreclosures Sold||0||0 (N/A)||0 (N/A)|
|Short Sales Sold||0||0 (N/A)||0 (N/A)|
|Active Listings||13||26 (-50.0%)||31 (-58.1%)|
|Active Foreclosures||0||0 (N/A)||0 (N/A)|
|Active Short Sales||0||0 (N/A)||4 (-100.0%)|
|Sales Price vs. List Price||102.9%||104.4% (-1.4%)||96.4% (+6.7%)|
|Days on Market||31||33 (-5.8%)||52 (-40.7%)|
To get the full report with much more data and information for all areas within Santa Clara County, please see www.popehandy.rereport.com.
How do you choose where you’d like to live in Silicon Valley? Especially if you’re relocating here from out of the area, this can be a huge question. Most Santa Clara County home buyers have strong preferences for low crime, good schools, and pleasant looking & quiet neighborhoods.
My clients often ask me to compare for them areas which are somewhat similar, such as Los Gatos & Los Altos. Off the top of my head, I can give general answers, such as these: Compared to Los Gatos, Los Altos is a more expensive (perhaps 20 or 25% more?), has a very slightly smaller population, is a little more spread out, has slightly milder weather and is overall “quieter” in terms of the downtown night life. Los Altos is more convenient if you want to go to Palo Alto or San Francisco. Los Gatos is more convenient if you like to visit Santa Cruz, Monterey and the coast. Los Gatos is more mixed in terms of housing types (it still has many beautiful historic districts with nicely renovated Victorian homes, but also newer construction). Both are “nice looking” but Los Gatos has more varied terrain as it is nestled into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Both enjoy pleasant neighborhoods, good schools, lower than normal crime and community involvement.
That’s the kind of “ballpark” info I can tell people about various areas of the Santa Clara Valley, whether it’s comparing one part of San Jose to another (Cambrian Park vs Almaden Valley vs Willow Glen) or one city to another (Cupertino vs Saratoga). I can give general info on schools….
To read more, please see the rest of the article on the Valley of Hearts Delight blog:
Two things are happening that create pressure:
- There are a lot of companies hiring, and many high tech people, especially, are moving to Silicon Valley
- People who have lost homes in foreclosure, or who had to do a short sale to avoid it, are not able to buy for at least a few years. They may double up with family or friends for awhile but eventually do rent.
With demand increasing like crazy, rents are increasing like crazy too. It’s the old tale of supply and demand: more demand than supply exists in the rental housing market today.
Just watch out for the scams! If a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I wrote about this not too long ago, please have a look:
Finding a place to rent – how do people locate one in Santa Clara County? Where can you find properties to lease or rent? I have a list of resources on my Valley of Hearts Delight blog – please click on the following link.
What about a broker or agent? Can a Realtor help you to find a rental home in Silicon Valley? Most of the time, a real estate sales person will not be of much help in finding rental properties, and that’s because they aren’t usually listed in the MLS (and the MLS is the way in which we are paid).
Sometimes, though, a rental is listed on our Multiple Listing Service (MLS). You can check it out directly at www.MLSListings.com – just select rental under “type”. The vast majority of rentals are online via Craigslist, though, and a real estate agent has no role in that type of rental property. Just beware of the scams, mentioned above, and always google the address of the property that looks interesting to see if it’s for sale also. If it is listed as for sale, the odds are that it’s not really for rent.
On occasion, members of the real estate community will know of a “courtesy rental” property, meaning that a client wants to rent it out but not necessarily put it on Craigslist or the MLS. Instead, it’s word of mouth. You do not need to call every real estate professional in town to ask if they have any courtesy rentals. Instead, turn to your trusted Realtor and ask him or her to inquire for you. Most agents are very happy to send out the request within their company and to top agents or managers of others nearby to ask on your behalf (but it’s no good if 10 Realtors are all circulating the same request, so please don’t give in to temptation and ask everyone for this favor.)
Search for rental housing on the MLS on my sites:
1- find a home by map
In lower left corner you’ll see “property types” – scroll down and find Residential Rental and click the box to select it
You can input bedrooms, bathrooms etc. in the fields to the right of it. I input 3 bed or more and 2 bath or more and got just 25 results
2 – simple city or town search on my blog
Scroll down and view the left sidebar – you’ll see Real Estate Search in the left sidebar (just over the list of zip codes) – input the area/size you want and where it says “all property types”, do a pull down and you’ll find “rentals” as one of your choices.
Yesterday I was asked how the San Jose – Silicon Valley area is different from other parts of the US for home buyers. What did they need to be concerned about here versus in the midwest or east coast? They knew about earthquakes, and having to strap water heaters for earthquake safety, but what about earthquake insurance? Are termites a problem here? What things should home buyers worry about here that perhaps are not issues elsewhere?
I thought that this was a great question. Here are the big areas that come to mind:
- Earthquakes (of course) and everything related: selling requirements, insurance questions, related natural hazard zones (liquifaction zones, landslide areas, etc.), where fault lines are located, etc. People moving to California generally know that they need to be concerned about seismic occurrences, but perhaps not all the related areas.
- Expansive clay soils: when you read your history, you may have heard that in early California, homes were made of adobe bricks. What may not have been clear is how strong that soil is. I have a couple of blog posts on my Valley of Hearts Delight blog on this topic:
Cracked Foundations, Adobe Clay Soils and Water in Silicon ValleyWhat To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley
Termites: in general, there are 2 types of these pests active on the valley floor: drywood termites and subterranean termites. (In the Los Gatos Mountains and closer to the Pacific Ocean you may also encounter dampwood termites.) It may be possible to try to prevent subterranean termites with bait stakes placed underground, but there is no way to prevent drywood termites. You can fumigate your home and within a few days they could be back (but won’t be visible for a year or two at the earliest in most cases). Termites do better here than in many places of the country simply because it’s warmer here. They may swarm twice a year rather than once. Please also read this post for more info:
- No basements – there are very few homes with basements here (the very old ones and those which are newer and extremely expensive). A very common question is “where do people store all their stuff if they don’t have a basement?” For most households, the storage center tends to be the garage. Built in cabinets and storage shelves are highly appreciated. When people purchase homes with 3 car garages, often that 3rd space is not for a car, but for “stuff” – luggage, holiday decor, momentos, old files, etc.
- Foundations – older homes are usually built on a “raised” foundation or perimeter foundation with support beams under the center part of the home. Some types of homes, such as Eichler designed houses (mid-century modern ranch style) were built with slab foundations and actually have radiant heating (heating coils built into the slab). Newer homes now tend to be built on slab also (10-15 years of age or less). Most of our valley has 40-60 year old ranch style homes, though, and these are mostly “raised” foundations with a crawl space.
- Houses are built to move in case of an earthquake – most of our homes are built with wood and are intended to move in the case of an earthquake. It is very rare to find a house made out of brick here because they don’t do well in case of severe shaking.
These are perhaps the most salient differences home buyers relocating to Silicon Valley might want to be aware of. For each of these points, there are things to learn and red flags to watch for.
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!”
Frequently, people new to Silicon Valley and the San Jose area arrive from places where their last home was new construction, and they hope to find a brand new home here, too.
Unless you are looking to purchase a condominium or a townhome, though, it can be really challenging to find truly new homes for sale here. (There are tons of fabulous new condos in downtown San Jose, which is enjoying a great redevelopment period.)
For the most part, Silicon Valley had a post World War II housing boom that stretched primarily from the 50s into the 70s. By the 1980s, even, most of the open space was gone. Today we do have a few new patches of new homes “here and there”, but there aren’t many. Unfortunately, too, since most of the best land was built up long ago, some of the newest developments are in less desireable areas such as next to freeways.
For the Silicon Valley new home buyer, I want to suggest a couple of strategies: first, in addition to checking out whatever new homes are currently being built, consider homes that are younger than 20 years of age. Many of them are still in great shape. Some have already been remodeled! Another option is to look for the “fully remodeled” home. With the latter, you must be extra dilligent to make sure that the house has not just been gussied up to be be flipped, but is truly remodeled in areas you cannot see, such as the wiring and the pipes.
Please also read:
Myths and Misconceptions about Buying a New (or Newer) Home
Some younger neighborhoods:
Introducing a Beautiful Willow Glen Neighborhood, “The Willows”
The Almaden Winery Neighborhood of San Jose
If you are coming to the Silicon Valley area from outside of California, you may not know what to make of our school scoring system. It’s actually pretty straightforward: the API scores (Academic Performance Index) are based on a 1 – 1,000 point system. The target number for “good schools” is 800 (that’s the goal for the county). Anything close to 800 is considered decent. Over 800 is good. Over 900 is rare and is the indicator of an excellent school. Here’s an example of a very strong elementary & middle school district:
Browse school districts by county in CA:
Santa Clara County Schools (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Palo Alto & most of Silicon Valley)
San Mateo County Schools (north of Palo Alto along “the peninsula” south of San Francisco, includes San Mateo, Burlingame, Hillsborough, Woodside, etc.)
Alameda County Schools (Fremont and cities & areas along the “east bay” near Santa Clara County)
Santa Cruz County Schools (Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz and areas close to the northern part of the Monterey Bay)
I’m often asked: where are the very best schools in the San Jose area? The answer depends a lot on your expectations and possibly also the needs of your family. If you need special services, such as support for autism or learning disorders, you may want to investigate which schools or districts have the best support. If your child plays a musical instrument, you may want to seek out the schools with a strong band program. Or if you have a serious swimmer, you may be drawn to schools and districts with a great program there. Not everything is measured by the API scores and sometimes you may just have to do more research to find the very best “fit”.
A note about the various school levels and API scores: while in many areas the elementary schools can be extra strong, sometimes as you go on to middle school and high school those numbers will fall a bit. What seems to be happening is that unless all the elementary and middle schools are equally high scoring, the lower performing schools’ impact will be to pull the upper schools’ scores down.
In areas where all three sets of schools go into the 900s, home prices tend to be the highest and buyers face the most competition for real estate because so many families put a premium on education. For instance, in the city of Palo Alto (home to Stanford University), there are 18 schools in all levels. Of those, only 2 are under 900! One of those two is 896! Homes in Palo Alto are highly prized for many reasons, not the least of which are these outstanding scores. And they cost a fortune.
Sartoga has more than one school district, but if kids are enrolled in “Saratoga Schools”, they will enjoy schools in the 900s – only in the 900s – all the way from kindergarden through 12th grade. And again, these homes are very, very expensive (upwards of a million dollars for a very small house).
What is a middle class family to do? To get into a strong school district for under $650,000 is not easy in Santa Clara County, but it is possible if you can be flexible on your home’s size and condition. There are many 3 bedroom, 2 bath homes in the wonderful Union School District or Cambrian School District in the Cambrian Park area of San Jose. Kids in these areas get really fine schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, but the houses are in the 600s and 700s instead of over $1 million. If you happen to find a short sale or bank owned home, you might be able to get it in the 500s, depending upon condition. Most of these homes are on the small size, though, as in 1100 to 1400 square feet (smaller ranch style homes). Typically, homes in the upper 5s or mid 6s will require some updating – so being flexible on the condition is important if you want that tradeoff with the great schools.
There are other areas with high scoring elementary schools too, and some of them are more affordable than Cambrian. Have a look at the numbers – it can be a helpful starting point in figuring out where you may want to live.
If you are relocating to Silicon Valley and wish to choose an upscale or luxury neighborhood, where should you begin looking? Where are the very best areas in or near San Jose?
Here are some quick lists of areas in Silicon Valley areas which enjoy beautiful estate properties:
Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley’s west side
Most of the more expensive parts of Silicon Valley are along the “west valley” areas, and these all enjoy excellent public schools. If you were to look at a topographical map, they would be the cities, towns and neighborhoods close to the coastal foothills (also known as the Santa Cruz Mountains). Or if you looked at a road map, most of them would be on the west side of Highway 85. Unless otherwise noted, the districts, cities or towns are all in Santa Clara County.
These “west valley communities” are listed from southernmost to northernmost, extending from southwestern San Jose up into the San Francisco Peninsula.
Almaden Valley (part of San Jose)
Cupertino (foothills area in particular)
Los Altos Hills
Portola Valley (San Mateo County)
Woodside (San Mateo County)
Hillsborough (San Mateo County)
These are not the only places to find high end real estate in the South Bay area, though – it’s just that most of them are located along the west valley corridor.
More Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley
More communities which are “exclusive” can be found:
The Silver Creek area of San Jose (eastside, within the Evergreen district)
Part of the Alum Rock neighborhood near the old San Jose Country Club (also on the east side).
The Rosegarden area of central San Jose
The Naglee Park neighborhood near downtown San Jose
Willow Glen enjoys some beautiful old mansions (between downtown SJ and the west side)
Part of the Mission District of Fremont (Alameda County)
Eagle’s Ridge community in Gilroy (south part of Santa Clara County)
Something to be aware of is that many of these areas are served by more than one school district. In some cases, the different school districts can be very different in terms of school performance scores. In Saratoga, for instance, there are 3 different districts. Two have excellent scores and the third has good scores – but very different numbers! This can be a surprise to people who relocate to Silicon Valley: so be aware of this quirk if you move here! (Even if you are not interested in utilizing the schools, know that they are a prime driver in home values and pricing.)
Would you like to learn more about luxury real estate & homes in Silicon Valley? I have some other blogs with posts that you might find helpful
Related posts on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog:
The Silicon Valley Luxury Home Market (browse listings over $2 million in a few areas)
Related posts on the Live in Los Gatos blog: