What can you buy for $1 million in Silicon Valley?

With soaring housing prices in Silicon Valley, newcomers and folks potentially relocating here may wonder what can you buy for $1 million or less in Silicon Valley? This article will provide a snapshot in time and provide a sense of whether your million dollar budget can get you into a house, a townhouse, or a condo – or perhaps “none of the above” – on the valley floor.

(Homes in the Los Gatos or Santa Cruz Mountains are generally more affordable, but will of course be farther out and are generally considered a specialty market. Not included will be mobile homes, as the space rents are often close to or more than $1,000 per month. Also not included are duplexes, which you’d be hard pressed to find many of under that $1 million mark.)

If you absolutely must buy a house, and the budget must be under $1 million…

If you absolutely must have a house or single family home, as opposed to a condominium or townhouse, there are a number of areas for you to consider in Santa Clara County, including

  • Gilroy
  • Morgan Hill
  • Milpitas
  • Certain districts in San Jose
    • Alum Rock
    • South San Jose
    • Evergreen
    • Berryessa
    • Downtown and Central San Jose
    • Santa Teresa
    • and Alviso (including County pockets)
  • the Los Gatos 95033 (mountains) area – which is vast and contains many small communities

The Los Gatos mountains area varies in price from one community to the next and right now that is a hopping market, I’m told. You can find information, including a list of mountain neighborhoods, on the page linked as well as the occasional market update. If you’re interested in buying or selling a mountain home here in the Bay Area, please reach out! I do some work in the mountains, and if it’s not a match I am happy to connect nice folks with trusted Realtors that are mountain market specialists.

To determine where someone could get into a house for under $1,000,000, I pulled the sales from the last 90 days (as of August 31, 2021) and looked at how many of the sales of houses for any given area were under that budget amount.  In many places, there were zero – even if I looked back a full year!  The areas below are listed in order of the average sale price for these “in budget” properties, though you might prefer to rank them by the average square footage or some other criteria.

Silicon Valley homes for under $1 million: houses

(Trouble reading the image above? Click to view the full-sized photo.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t find something under $1mil elsewhere. San Jose’s Almaden Valley, Willow Glen, and Cambrian areas each had one sale under the million-dollar mark during the same time period, but these sales are significantly less common. When you see ratios of something like 3% or less of the houses sold are under that price point, it’s important to understand that those homes may be major fixer uppers, tear downs, or have a location issue or some other big challenge. But – perhaps you are handy, do not mind the property condition, location, extremely small size, or whatever the presenting issue may be.

Areas in Santa Clara County where a house is possible but unlikely, but a townhouse or condominium may work:

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San Jose Districts and their Values

San Jose Districts Price Rankings Graphic Aug 2021 Landscape

What does it cost to buy a single family home in the city of San Jose?  There are many districts in this spread out city and their values vary by about 2 to 1 from the highest to lowest priced areas in this large, sprawling city with about 1,000,000 residents.

In this article we’ll take a look at the main, fairly well defined districts and discuss the cost of purchasing a house in each one. After each small description, there’s a link to a post on my popehandy.com website for that area.

You can also find relevant information on my Valley of Heart’s Delight blog, SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com – just click on the “Neighborhoods” link.

Lastly, if you’d like to see a map of where these parts of SJ are located, please click on this link to find this article with a helpful map: San Jose is big and sprawling: where are the districts?

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Smoke and air quality

August 2021 - smoke and air quality in Los Gatos are impacted by the Caldor and Dixie firesFire season has been getting longer in Silicon Valley, and with it are smoke and air quality issues.  The  Bay Area is full of micro climates, and that translates to areas which are more or less impacted by these problems.

  • windier areas, where the breeze blows from the San Francisco Bay or the Monterey Bay to inland areas may have the cleanest air if the fires generating the smoke are far away
  • lower elevation areas may have less smoke if the blazes causing the smoke are far (distant fires seem to cause the smoke to be higher up)

Weather patterns, smoke and air quality

Please note, I’m not a meteorologist, but am going to share my observations from living here most of my life (except a few years from 18-23, I’ve been in this area).

Our Silicon Valley weather is dominated by the nearby Pacific Ocean. Most of the time, the coast enjoys foggy mornings and sunnier afternoons, and the inland areas are impacted by that. When the coastal overcast burns off, clouds recede from the Monterey Bay.  In the mid to late afternoon, winds reverse, and breezes pick up. This is also true with winds coming off the San Francisco Bay and moving south along the Calaveras Mountains.

Wind patterns are key for the discussion around smoke and air quality.

Most of Silicon Valley is in the Santa Clara Valley. Valleys can trap air in what is called a heat inversion at times (a warm area prevents the air below it from moving around – we see this in winter sometimes). When that happens, we get a “Spare the Air” day and are asked to do what we can to help the air pollution problem. The coastal areas don’t have this issue, so usually don’t have smog. They have plenty of wind from the ocean. If there is a fire elsewhere in California, most of the time it does not impact the coast to the same degree as the inland areas.

As a general rule, when the fog is pushed in from the Pacific, it comes through any low points or passes it can find. The foggier areas to the north of Silicon Valley, such as Daly City and San Francisco, don’t offer much resistance to the push from the Pacific. Nearly always, coastal wind means cleaner air. (more…)

What does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?

Relocation question - what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?Moving to the San Jose or San Francisco Bay Area? You may be wondering what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley? (You can find a list of rental housing resources on this site here.)

The range in rental prices varies with location, condition, and amenities – exclusive or covered parking, air conditioning, dishwashers, a small yard for downstairs units, and pools are not all automatic.

  • In general, it is very difficult to find a decent 1 bedroom for under $2,000 per month (but possibly as low as $1800).
  • An average 1 bedroom is likely to run $2300- $2600 in most areas.
  • It’s not hard to find one at $3,000 per month, especially in nicer and more in-demand areas such as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Saratoga, and Los Gatos.
  • If you move to one of the expensive areas and get to enjoy extra perks, you may be spending $3000, $3500 or more per month.

If you are working on a smaller budget, you’ll find a few studio apartments available and they will of course be more affordable. Apartments lacking air conditioning, pools, or other highly sought after amenities will also be offered for a bit less. Another option is to look a little further out and consider units without AC, pools, etc.

Apartment homes with a yard are renting for about 15% more than those with no outside space, from what I have seen.

Recently I saw a studio in West San Jose (fairly expensive area) for about $2100. The complex does have a pool, but the units don’t have air conditioning of any kind. I also viewed a 1 bedroom in Campbell for about the same price but it included a wall AC unit. It’s very similar to purchases in that if you get closer in, you get less home for your money.

A couple of things to beware of when looking for rental housing

Something to be aware of is that some houses have Accessory Dwelling Units that seem inexpensive, and often it’s because something is missing, whether it’s a decent amount of square footage, a kitchen will a full sized oven and stove, etc. Not long ago I saw such a place but the kitchen was really just a wet bar with a microwave and toaster oven. The old adage is accurate: if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. (more…)

Which cities are part of Silicon Valley?

Where is Silicon Valley - map of general areaWhich cities are a a part of Silicon Valley? When people are considering a move to the San Francisco Bay Area, that’s one of the first questions asked.

Silicon Valley is not really a valley, though it did originally harken back to the Santa Clara Valley’s geography. The towns and cities which are included in Silicon Valley are primarily in Santa Clara County (by far the largest Silicon Valley city is San Jose), with San Mateo County also having a number of areas, with little snippets of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County.

While San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the region is probably Palo Alto – Mountain View – Sunnyvale.

This is an amorphous area. If you asked 10 different real estate agents,  you might get 5 or 6 different answers, but I believe the list below would be agreed upon by most.

It is important to note that San Francisco is NOT in Silicon Valley. Many reporters get this wrong and report on Silicon Valley with stories out of SF. The regions are certainly related, and there are high tech companies in The City but they are distinct.

A list of which cities are part of Silicon Valley

In Santa Clara County (most of the county) – also known as the South Bay

  • Campbell
  • Cupertino
  • Gilroy – possibly
  • Los Altos
  • Los Altos Hills
  • Los Gatos
  • Los Gatos Mountains (not incorporated) – possibly
  • Milpitas
  • Monte Sereno
  • Morgan Hill
  • Mountain View
  • Palo Alto
  • San Jose
  • Santa Clara
  • Saratoga
  • Sunnyvale

In San Mateo County (bayside areas) – on The Peninsula

  • Atherton
  • Belmont
  • East Palo Alto
  • Foster city
  • Hillsborough
  • Menlo Park
  • Portola Valley
  • Redwood City
  • Redwood Shores
  • San Carlos
  • San Mateo
  • Woodside

In Alameda County – in the East Bay

  • Fremont
  • Possibly Newark, Hayward

In Santa Cruz County – not part of the San Francisco Bay Area (9 counties), but part of the Monterey Bay Area and the Central Coast

  • Scotts Valley
  • possibly Santa Cruz & Santa Cruz Mountains

Related Reading:
Where is Silicon Valley?

Market Reports for Three Silicon Valley Counties

Below please find real estate market reports for three Silicon Valley counties where I’m most active: Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and Santa Cruz County. First we’ll provide the data for single family homes, then condos and townhomes, for each region. (“Silicon Valley” is 95% within Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, plus a little of Santa Cruz County and a small part of Alameda County. Alameda County uses a different MLS system, and I don’t usually sell there, so am not covering it in my reports.)

Early Summer 2021: Three Silicon Valley Counties

Santa Clara County Real Estate Market Report for June 2021

First, Santa Clara County – home to San Jose, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Santa Clara, Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and a number of other cities and towns. This area has generally come up in price about 10% since last year, though in March the median sale price is over 14% higher, and in June that jumped to 27% higher in 2021 than in 2020! Homes sold more than a month faster this June compared to last year. Of course, it hasn’t been even growth.

While the 2019-2020 winter was particularly hot, it experienced a massive swing at the start of the California pandemic falling to it’s lowest point in Santa Clara County around May and June. This put pressure on the market by stifling spring activity and, over the course of the year, created a backlog of demand with severely low available inventory. Pent up activity is driving up prices and the sales to list price ratio, among other things. Santa Clara County is keeping up the momentum from a raging hot spring market into early summer.

Santa Clara County SFH Market Report - June 2021

And the condominium and townhouse report for Santa Clara County:

This June shows about a 14%-15% rise in median sales price for condos and townhomes since last year, a clear rise in sales to list price ratio, and increased, but still low, active inventory compared to last month.

June 2021 – Condo _ Townhouse Market Report - Santa Clara

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Waterfront homes in Silicon Valley: are there any concerns?

Beach view from Sunny Cove in Santa Cruz, CASometimes people relocating to Silicon Valley tell me that they’d like to move to a waterfront home with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Most of Silicon Valley is inland, though, separated from the ocean by the coastal mountains.

For those truly set on having a view of the Pacific, home can be found in the Santa Cruz area with lovely ocean and Monterey Bay views.  The compromise will likely be a long, winding commute over Highway 17’s mountain pass. Or similarly, ocean lovers may settle close to Half Moon Bay or Pescadero, but will have to slog over the coastal hills on Hwy 35 each day to get to the Peninsula. (Some lucky souls may find employment in Scotts Valley or along the coast, but most of the jobs are not in these places.) If a faraway ocean view will work, making the Santa Cruz Mountains home may be the ideal fit.

If you want to live along the waterfront within Silicon Valley, there really are not a lot of neighborhoods from which to choose.  Most of the water views involve the San Francisco Bay.  There are a few rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes to be found as well, but enjoying lovely water views up close is not the easiest criteria to fill. Along the bay, though, it often comes down to Foster City and Redwood Shores, which we’ll discuss next. (more…)

What does it cost to buy a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in the West Valley areas of Silicon Valley?

It can be 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 cities and areas using the formula: single family homes of 1,800 – 2,200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 5,000 SF – 10,000 SF that have sold within the last 60 days. The prices listed are the average from sales in this criteria, so areas with a higher volume of sales will have more stable averages than those with less sales to analyze. DOM means “Days on Market”, the number of days a home was listed as available before pending.

Please note that this is a rough sketch of home prices based on averages taken across large, diverse residential communities. There are many factors that will affect market value beyond these boundaries.

Now, on to the charts.

The Cost To Buy A 4 Bedroom 2 Bath Home In…

I have arranged this chart in descending order by Sales Price. This is usually how I organize the data, and you can see certain markets shifting position, moving up or down the order depending on what’s hot. Occasionally one of these markets will have no sales within the timeframe, so those will be left in place from where they were when we last checked, but will show “n/a” in place of any pricing or statistics. Once you’ve reviewed the most recent data, scroll down farther to compare today’s market against past years!

Please use the list below as a way to get your bearings on nearby areas in the South Bay (southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area). This is not an exhaustive list – it’s just most of the areas closest to Highway 85 or the West Valley Freeway. You can study various cities, downs, and districts within the region at my stats site, popehandy.rereport.com. (Free and you do not have to register unless you want email updates.)

Want to do a deep dive on any of these areas? Please visit my Valley of Heart’s Delight Blog to learn about them.

Comparing West Valley House Prices 2021-06-28

There have been a number of changes to the order since the last time we checked in December 2020. Campbell, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View have all moved down the list. Their prices are higher than last time we checked, they just haven’t gone up this spring as much as some of the other markets. Saratoga has climbed much higher on the chart, but with so few sales it’s normal to see broad fluctuations in the charts for this community.

What we see across the entire chart is sky high spring pricing and extremely low days on market – under 2 weeks in all but two areas! Looking more closely, the Cambrian (San Jose) market had one highly unusual sale where the MLS listing shows a whopping 496 days on market. Discounting that sale, the average becomes a lighting fast 10 DOM! So while there are still the occasional slow sales the majority are selling at breakneck speeds! As for pricing, communities are showing increases from roughly 3% all the way up to 31%! Averaging it out, the West Valley average home is selling 16%-18% above where they were early last winter.

In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location or both. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian would be fairly high up as it is 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).

Also, it should be noted that one of the main drivers of home values is school districts. In the San Jose / Silicon Valley area, the school district boundaries do NOT follow the city or town boundaries. Los Gatos, for example, has 3 different elementary school districts, with varying scores which impact home values.  So too with Saratoga and many other areas, San Jose especially! All this to say that the figures above are only ROUGH GUIDES. When you break it down to micro-markets, the picture changes more. But as a starter guide, I think you’ll find the above info helpful to give you a general idea of how far your money can go in home buying for areas in Santa Clara County from Palo Alto to Blossom Valley.

Palo Alto is a gorgeous, exciting area with all kinds of wonderful features – beautiful neighborhoods, lower crime, great schools, short commute. It is usually the most expensive area on this list. But unless you found a successful startup company or inherit a couple of million bucks, it can be hard to buy a single family home there. Many people would like to live in the shadow of Stanford University, but the budget just won’t allow it.

Now let’s have a look at that December 2020 chart I’ve been referencing. Los Altos had no sales during this time, although overall it was an active market in the West Valley.

2020-12-10 60D SFH 4B/2B Cost

Historical Comparisons of Home Prices in the Same (or Similar) Areas

We’ll start off with something fairly recent, a report from October 29th, 2019.

October 29th, 2019:

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Where are the Superfund sites in Santa Clara County?

Santa Clara County is home to a number of Superfund sites. Where are they?

A helpful, free website that anyone can use is EnviroStor. From the home page you can take a tour on how to learn about Superfund and other environmental hazards in California. The image below is showing only the Federal Superfund – please note in the left column that just the first box is  checked. If you are particularly interested in school cleanup or school investigation, you’ll want to check those boxes. (The image is linked to the EnviroStore page fyi.)

 

EnvirStor - screenshot of map of Santa Clara County, showing SuperFund sites

There are quite a few Superfund sites concentrated in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View, but they can be found in San Jose, East Palo Alto, Scotts Valley, Cupertino, Palo Alto, and more areas in Silicon Valley.

Home prices by high school district

Here’s a quick look at home prices by high school district. This is a great way to get a broad sense of where it’s more affordable or more costly to buy a home in Silicon Valley!

First, the median home prices by high school district for single family homes in Santa Clara County. (Click on the image to view a larger version). The SP/LP figure refers to the sale price to list price ratio. When it says 112 %, that means the home sold on average 12% over list price. Med DOM is the median Days on Market.

PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO VIEW LARGER VERSION

Median Home prices SFH high school district in Santa Clara County

Within each of these high school districts, there are more and less expensive areas. In the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union HSD, for instance, some homes are in Los Gatos, some in Monte Sereno, and some in Saratoga – some have views and acreage, some are more modest. The figures are very broad.

Next, the same data but for condominiums and townhouses in Santa Clara County. These are far more affordable, but still very costly.

PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO VIEW LARGER VERSION

Median home prices Condo and Townhouse high school district

 

Need other areas? I can provide San Mateo and Santa Cruz County data on request.