Are Fire Seasons New?

Fire season is a concern for all on the West CoastFire season is a concept we are familiar with in the West Coast, but it may be foreign to those moving here or living far away.

Not long ago I was on the phone with a cousin from the East Coast. That area had recently been hit by Tropical Storm Ida and over here we were being smothered by the smoke from the Northern California fires (Caldor, Dixie, Tamarack and some others). Aghast at enormity of it all, my cousin asked the poignant question, “has there always been a fire season, or is that a recent thing?”

Fire Season

Briefly, yes, California has always had a fire season.

One major reason people (myself included) love California is for its mostly dry Mediterranean, subtropical climate. However, that ideal dry hot summer climate is also a perfect tinderbox. Without summer rain, the grasses and annuals die off and many native perennials go dormant. Dry hot winds, frequent from around August through October, dry out the landscape even more. By this time, an open hillside is A-grade kindling – one little spark and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Even in wet seasons with no drought, the summer will always be hot and dry with a high risk of ignition. So while fire season is nothing new, it’s longer and much worse than it used to be.

Fire and California Homes

For California homeowners and buyers, the increasing fire danger is strongly felt. Most buyers tell me they do not want to be in high fire risk zones, but might not always know what to avoid. State and local governments have put more preventative regulations in place to keep homes safe from wildfire, both on builders and homeowners.

If you are relocating to Silicon Valley, you may be wondering what the risks of wildfire are like for this area. There are plenty of resources available online, and I always recommend clients to look at the hazard maps such as those listed in my article Tools You Can Use When Relocating to the San Jose Area. While the mountain and foothill communities may be at risk of wildfire, even the lowlands are experiencing another concern that comes with harsher fire seasons: smoke and air quality.

In my other blogs I have more articles dedicated to the topic, so I won’t go into detail here. I encourage you to view some of my articles about Fire at the Live In Los Gatos Blog or over at the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog under the Natural Hazards and Safety categories if you’re interested in learning more.

Some of the oldest trees living in California have the scars of past fires, sometimes multiple. Native plants have evolved and adapted to fire and can thrive in its shadow. And for as long as people have lived here, they have contended with seasonal fire danger.

Fire season 2021 has come to an end with the arrival of rain – a double bounty since we are in the middle of a severe drought. When the rains come, the problems aren’t over, though. In burned out areas, the next challenge will be mudslides and further damage to the fire zones. This is an old problem also, I remember hearing about the mudslides following the fires as a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s.

Fire hardening” is an important concept for those of us who live in or near large open spaces with hills especially. I suspect it will grow into a cottage industry with new experts appearing to advise or possibly install features which will make our homes and landscaping more resistant to advancing flames.

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…)