Silicon Valley

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!

 

Slideshow of Silicon Valley neighborhoods

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

The biggest challenges in moving to Silicon Valley

Finding Affordable HousingMoving across the state, country, or globe always presents opportunities – but also challenges.  What are the biggest hurdles for people moving to Silicon Valley?

The cost of housing is the # 1 challenge for newcomers to Silicon Valley

For most people, the hardest issue is the cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Whether buying or renting, it’s extremely costly here.  Depending on where you’re coming from, it could be man, many times more expensive. Finding affordable housing is the # 1 challenge for people relocating to Silicon Valley.

How does it compare to other places?  It is close to on par with New York  City, about 50% more expensive than Austin, TX, and about 1/3 more than Chicago, IL.  Check Sperling’s Cost of Living comparison to get a good sense of how it relates to your current home town.

Not only are the houses, condominiums, townhouses and apartments more expensive, but most of our homes are smaller too.   Continue reading

Lost in Silicon Valley? A few geographical markers to help you out.

It’s so easy to get lost when you’re new to an area and don’t know what’s where!  Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in large landmarks such as the Bay, the coastal range and the east foothills.  At first, the mountains might seem like they all look the same.  But if you know what to look for, you’ll soon get your bearings – assuming that it’s daytime and the weather is cooperative!

Here are my Silicon Valley landmarks and mental tricks or visioning – the ones I use to know where I am or where I am going.  First, imagine that the Santa Clara Valley is a bit like a funnel with mountains that narrow at the bottom on two sides and the San Francisco Bay on top.  OK, it’s not quite straight, but it’s not a bad analogy otherwise.  Next, consider how to tell the two sets of hills apart.  The ones closest to the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains (aka the coastal range) are full of redwood trees and another conifers and they stay green year round.  These hills are nearly always a deep, dark green or blue-green.  The eastern foothills, on the other hand, are mostly grassy but dotted with oak tree clusters in the nooks and crannies of the hills where the rain catches.  Those hills are a bright, lighter green in winter (when it rains!) but for much of summer and fall they are blanketed with a yellow-gold grass.

Silicon Valley geographical landmarks

 

Now that you have the basic East – West (or actually South to Soutwest, depending) direction sorted out, it’s time to learn what to look for in each of the mountains to get your location sorted out a little better.  Fortunately, each of them has a large structure perched on a high peak, so as long as the weather is clear and it’s daytime, they tend to stand out from almost anywhere in Santa Clara County.

Mt. Hamilton & the Lick Observatory

On the east side, if you scan the crest, you will see a white blip or two.  That is the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.

Mount Hamilton - the Lick Observatory

 

Here’s a closer view (aerial):

Mount Hamilton closeup

Mt. Umunhum

On the southwest side, in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose, we have Mount Umunhum (which I’ve blogged about previously on my SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com site – see http://sanjoserealestatelosgatoshomes.com/tag/mt-umunhum/ ).  It looks like a big, white box sitting on a flat part of the mountaintop.

Mt Umunhum from the Country Club area of Almaden

 

Sometimes all you see is a little snippet of it poking out over some other hill – this is especially true if you are far north of it.

Almaden - Mt Umunhum

 

And here’s an aerial view of it from the Santa Cruz side of “the hill”:

Mount Umunhum - aerial view from Santa Cruz side

 

If you are too far north, you will not see it at all – but if you can see it, you are likely to be fairly close by, on the southern end of Silicon Valley (unless you’re in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or nearby and another hill is obscuring the view).

My next, and last, tip is to look for “the pass” for highway 17 from Los Gatos and running through the Santa Cruz Mountains.  This is easier to spot than you might think – just remember that any mountain pass is going to come in a natural gap of some kind and in a low point on the hills.  That happens here, too.  The image below was taken from a medical center’s parking garage on Samaritan Drive in San Jose, just on the Los Gatos border.  That low point where you see two hills going way down – that’s it, that’s the pass.  And that’s where you’ll find downtown Los Gatos (or very close to it).

Los Gatos panorama toward the Santa Cruz Mountains

 

Almaden would be to the left of this, by the way – but visible from this spot.

If you can find at least 2 of these landmarks – Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, or the Santa Cruz Mountains pass at Los Gatos, you can likely figure out your approximate location.  Hope this helps!

San Jose and San Francisco rank as some of the most expensive cities in the world

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:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Vancouver
  3. Sydney
  4. San Francisco
  5. San Jose
  6. Melbourne
  7. London
  8. San Diego
  9. Auckland
  10. 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.

 

June 2015 San Mateo County SFH stats by city

June 2015 San Mateo County SFH stats by city

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).

June 2015 Santa Clara County SFH stats

June 2015 Santa Clara County SFH stats

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.)

 

Traffic patterns in Silicon Valley

On another of my websites, I wrote about congestion and traffic patterns on Silicon Valley highways and roads.  For many transplants to the San Francisco Bay Area and especially the Peninsula and South Bay areas, traffic is an enormous consideration on where to live and how much to pay for real estate.

If this is a topic that interests you, please take a look:

http://popehandy.com/understanding-silicon-valley-traffic/

The most expensive places to live in Silicon Valley

High end communities collageIf 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:

The 20 Most Expensive Zip Codes In Silicon Valley

The shock of Silicon Valley housing costs: how little you can buy on a huge income

If you’ve just been hired as a high level executive at Apple, Google, Microsoft or any other high tech or biotech firm in Silicon Valley, you may be coming to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley from an enormous home (5000+ square feet) on an enormous lot (1 acre +).  You are a raging success.  You are highly regarded.  You are on the top of your game.  Your house “back home” displays your accomplishments.

You’ve heard that prices are bad here, but how much worse could they really be? Surely you could downsize a bit to a 3000 to 3500 square foot house on a half acre with a 20 minute commute, right?  And you’d still have great schools for “resale value”, right?   You are prepared to give up the full basement, the pool and tennis court and the 4 car garage.  That is enough of an adjustment, isn’t it?

No, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t.

That house you are leaving behind in the suburbs of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, or wherever you’re coming from is a super high end luxury home.  It’s probably worth $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.  But guess what?  Here, in a nice area, that’s a 2000 SF house on a 10,000 lot in a good area that’s a tear down.  And in traffic, it’s a 40 minute commute.  Want an acre in an area with really good public schools at all levels? Think $3 million plus.  And that doesn’t mean that the house will be turn-key.  You will very likely have to remodel or personalize so that you are happy with it, as most of our houses were built between the 1960s and 1980s.  (Here a 25 year old home is considered relatively young.)

Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?

Why on earth should you move here to the San Jose area when real estate prices are so insanely high? Santa Clara County is bad, and San Mateo County is worse.  Why would anyone make that kind of sacrifice in living space and prestige?

First, because this is a great place to live because of who’s here.  Great minds have coalesced here.  The spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well and imbues much of the culture here.  Diversity reigns – fabulous people have converged here from all corners of the earth, bringing with them a richness and vibrancy that is appreciated across the area.  Want Ethiopian food? No problem.  Thai? Easy.  Korean, French, Honruran? Check, check, check.  You name it, we seem to have it, whether it’s middle eastern, African, Asian or European, there’s something for everyone. (OK I haven’t yet seen an Australian restaurant, but I’m not sure that food from there is any better regarded than that from England. But generally, you get my drift.)

Additionally, and part of who’s here, we have a number of great universities in the region: Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCSF (for medical), Santa Clara University, San Jose State, UC Santa Cruz (math, marine biology, astronomy and more).

Second, this is a fantastic place to live because the weather encourages a life where you’re not confined to your house and dependent on a big basement.  Listen: 300 sunny days a year.  As I write this in late January 2015, we had a 75 degree day.  Back in the midwest or northeast, they have beautiful snow. Snow for months and months and months. Yes, it’s lovely, but doesn’t it get old?  Here people are golfing, sailing, biking, hiking year round.  Want snow? No problem, drive to Yosemite, Bear Valley or Tahoe.  Enjoy the snow for the weekend – then drive home to the land of palm trees!

Third, this is an exceptional place to live because of what’s nearby.   Within an hour or two we have San Francisco, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel, Napa and Sonoma Valleys (wine country).  Within 3-5 hours we enjoy Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara and much of the California Coast.  (California has an incredible array of climates and a diversity of agriculture and economy seldom seen anywhere.)

Moving here means giving up the palatial house and garden and realizing that your accomplishments are simply not going to be reflected in a ginormous house and yard.   The house and yard are often more reflective of when you bought rather than how you were able to buy.

The good news is that Silicon Valley continues to expand and be in demand.  Hiring is strong.  Economically, tech is leading the way and this area was one of the first to emerge from the Great Recession.   Prices are tough to swallow, but as long as huge companies continue to hire, there’s no reason to think that real estate won’t be a wise investment.

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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Listings by Price Range
Below please find a list of SOME of the popular Silicon Valley areas with listings offered by price range. This is not a complete list! Please use the "search" app to find ALL properties on the MLS.
Trends & Statistics

Click the link below to get real estate data for Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and Santa Cruz County (together making up about 98% of "Silicon Valley").

Real Estate Market Statistics and Trends for Santa Clara County


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