The Silicon Valley real estate market is notoriously expensive. It isn’t easy, but you can find a Silicon Valley house for under $1 million – if you are willing to drive a little further to those tech centers.
Tonight I did a quick search and found that it’s not too hard to find a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with at least 1200 square feet in the south county and very scenic communities of Gilroy, San Martin, and Morgan Hill. Other possibilities are in the Santa Cruz or Los Gatos Mountains, south San Jose, Evergreen, and parts of east San Jose – among others. Here’s a map showing houses recently sold with the above listed criteria.
Most likely areas for finding a Silicon Valley house for under $1 million
When I loosened the criteria (such as showing all bedrooms), more homes and areas opened up, but some were very small, or needed a lot of repairs, or were in a 100 year flood plain, or had other issues.
The bottom line is that if your budget is $1 million or less, there are places that are likely to work – but probably won’t be in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Palo Alto, or Santa Clara.
Want a shorter commute? You might want to consider looking at condos and townhomes for the more “close in” location.
Aerial vew over San Jose looking east – photo by Mary Pope-Handy
What’s going on with the Silicon Valley real estate market? Is it as crazy as ever with multiple offers, overbids, and few or no contingencies? Today we’ll consider the regional view, aka The Big Picture, to provide a sense of what is going on. For info on smaller areas or districts, please head over to my main blog, the Valley Of Heart’s Delight Blog – SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com. There cities, towns, and districts are looked at in depth.
Seasonal Patterns in Silicon Valley
The quietest time (number of sales, traffic, etc.) and lowest prices in the real estate market tend to fall in January, or sometimes in December. As with most years, this time around January had the lowest prices.
Most years, we see strong buyer activity with multiple offers early in the year – often emerging as a pattern by the middle of February.
Right now, some home sellers have not accepted that home prices have dropped 20% or so since the peak last spring (more or less depending on location, pricing tier, school districts, property condition, and so on). Those properties are not moving quickly.
For sellers who understand the current market conditions and have priced appropriately, home buyers are flocking and multiple offers are back – in force.
In short, there’s a kind of duality right now, so it’s a weird time. Homes that were sitting on the market but get a price reduction may linger awhile, and then sell with multiple offers. This catches buyers and their Realtors off guard.
To provide regional Silicon Valley market conditions, today I’ll post info on the three counties (San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz).
In terms of expense, San Mateo is the most costly of these 3, and overall it becomes less expensive in Santa Clara County, then less expensive still in Santa Cruz County. Alameda County has a little of Silicon Valley, but that area is in a different MLS system so is not part of this analysis.
Next, a look at sale prices an market conditions for single family homes and condominiums / townhomes by county.
What does it cost to buy a house or condo in Silicon Valley?
In Santa Clara County (home to Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Jose, and my own Los Gatos), the average sale price is $1,413,000 and the median sale price $1,185,000 – quite a bit lower than last spring.
Santa Clara County
Please click to enlarge:
For condominiums and townhouses, of course, it is a more affordable.
In San Mateo County (home to Redwood Shores, Foster City, Menlo Park, San Mateo), the average sale price is about $1.78 million for houses recently sold. The median is a little lower at $1.425 million. (more…)
One of the tools I use in my Silicon Valley real estate practice is Altos Research. My subscription, which generates reports on mls data of homes for sale weekly, covers all the zip codes of Santa Clara County. The market reports by zip code can be a real wealth of information for home buyers trying to figure out how much home they can get for their money as the report breaks down each zip code area listings by price quartiles and provides the average home and lot size, among other items, in each bracket.
Here’s one part of this week’s report for single family homes in 95032
Profile of homes for sale by price quartile in 95032 (Los Gatos CA)
This is a really helpful way to grasp qucikly how much it will likely cost to get you into a certain sized home. It also provides a sense whether your particular price point is near the bottom or top of the market – or if it’s possible at all. Want to buy a home here but the budget is $1 million or less? The data above reveals that this is unlikely in a house. But perhaps a condo or townhouse might work.
Next, please notice the days on market by pricing tier. It’s a lot hotter of a market in the lowest priced houses than it is in the highest.
It also helps home sellers to understand what part of their local market is hot or cold (if any).
There are many other elements included in the report. The main summary of “how’s the market?” is found in the upper right corner. Below is the example from the same Los Gatos 95032 report cited above:
Altos Research Report for Los Gatos 95032
The Altos data is strictly by town or zip code, so school districts won’t be covered – and here they are a major driver on home values. Even so, this is a great starting point and a way to get the big picture painlessly.
Please sign up and get the monthly newsletter, too!
The report is free to you – please sign up below to get the market reports by zip code emailed to you automatically each week. Yo
But wait, there’s MORE! Two monthly newsletter options, too!!
I also offer a couple of monthly newsletter than you can sign up to receive. The Silicon Valley RE Report comes out between the 5th and 10th of each month, and that site automatically generates an update for particular addresses or areas, depending on what someone signs up for. If interested, go to http://popehandy.rereport.com/market_reports and navigate to the report you want (by city, the county, or part of San Jose, for instance) and sign up to receive updates by clicking on the “Subscribe to report” button.
Additionally, once a month I send out a personalized newsletter via Mail Chimp that includes some data from the RE Report as well as other information, such as stats I’ve pulled directly from the MLS or what I’m hearing about market conditions at office meetings, or changes to the purchase contract or disclosure paperwork, etc. You can see a sample with my May 5, 2018 newsletter and also view the past mailings (upper left side “Past Issues”) & sign up if you like to get these each month. The sign up button is on the upper left side and simply says “subscribe”. There will be a little overlap with the RE Report, but it will provide info that isn’t available on that site.
If you want to buy a Silicon Valley home and you’re coming from outside of the area, a few things are done differently here. Rather than give a lengthy explanation, I’ll just provide a quick list of things which are different from other parts of California, the U.S. or perhaps the world.
1.) The escrow account, where money is held and disbursed by a neutral third party, is ordinarily with a title company in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area generally. In CA it’s legal for real estate brokers to have the escrow account, but that is not the custom here. By contrast, in southern Calif., there are separate companies which often do the escrow work or a real estate broker may handle the funds, called trust funds.
2.) Santa Clara County is a “seller pay county” by tradition when it comes to the escrow fee and who pays the owner’s policy of title insurance. (Most of California is either buyer pay or split 50/50. Also, SCC is where San Jose and much of Silicon Valley is located.)
3.) Because it’s a “seller pay” county, the seller or the listing agent (the seller’s real estate agent) normally chooses the title company. Most of the time, the home owners do not have a preference and don’t know anyone working at the nearby title companies, so usually the listing agent suggests which one to utilize. If you purchase the property with a loan, you will need to buy lender’s insurance, too – and that’s a buyer cost.
4.) While in many east coast states an attorney is involved with the home buying and selling process, here lawyers are seldom involved with real estate sales – unless there is a big problem.
5.) Surveys are not usually part of the transaction here, with exceptions if there are serious doubts about the property boundaries.
6.) Buyers are provided information on natural hazards, and usually also known environmental hazards and area tax liabilities, in most cases via a professional disclosure company such as JCP Disclosures. Things such as 100 year flood plains, liquifaction zones, earthquake fault lines, underground water contamination will be revealed, if known, in most cases.
7.) In some parts of the world, buyers do not have their own real estate professionals for guidance and advocacy, but here they do. Most of the time, in the San Jose and Peninsula area buyers have their own real estate agent working on their behalf. Usually the buyers’ agents are paid by the sellers – but they do not represent the sellers. Dual agency is legal in California as long as it is disclosed (and dual agency can mean either the same person or brokerage).
8.) In recent years, it has become the norm to get pre-approved with a lender or bank prior to writing a purchase offer on a house, condo or other home. (If you meet with a Realtor, getting you set up with a reputable lender will be one of the first things he or she asks you to do.) Also it’s pretty normal to have to provide “proof of funds” to demonstrate that you have the down payment available. Sometimes our international clients are surprised at the documentation required here, so it’s good if you are aware of it upfront.
9.) It usually takes 30-45 days to close escrow on a property here (from the time the sellers accept your contract to the time you actually own it).
Finally, it should be noted that the cost of housing in Silicon Valley is truly exorbitant. Most people know that Silicon Valley houses are very expensive, but until they get out and see what things cost, they really don’t understand how extreme it is. Often I tell people to expect to pay twice as much and to get half as much. Unless you are coming from a pricey locale, such as London, Tokyo, Paris, Manhattan or Boston, you may still find yourself in “sticker shock.” A half million dollars buys a fairly small, modest home here, in an average area. A million dollars is better – you can get into a better area and better house. The “luxury market” starts somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million, depending on which area you’re considering.
Edit: I originally wrote this post on August 12, 2013, but it is still accurate today, January 25, 2018, and probably will be for years to come.
This morning I received an email from folks wanting to find a good area in which to move where they’ll have good schools but not pay the kind of prices they see in Palo Alto. Below is my response to them. I focus on Santa Clara County, and in particular the west valley areas from Los Altos to Almaden Valley or Blossom Valley areas of Willow Glen to Downtown San Jose, Santa Clara, Campbell, and back toward Los Gatos and its nearest parts. Below is my response – hope it is helpful to many of my readers! (The list is not exhaustive.)
The easiest way to check school scores is to use the site www.SchoolAndHousing.com
. It’s good for showing what house has which schools. The home search feature is not very good, though, so don’t use that. Best for home searching is www.MLSListings.com
, as it is the public branch of our agent MLS and it is updated continuously. Something to consider, though, is that the school scores do not tell the entire story
. There are many factors to include in your evaluation of a school, such as the variety of coursework offered (some schools may not have art or music, for instance), the availability of sports (for a balanced upbringing) and the overall feeling of a school (are the kids happy or are they overly pressured into excellence at a very young age?). For many of these things, the best approach is to visit the schools personally and request a tour
. See if you can chat with the parents who are waiting to pick their kids up after school to hear about their experiences. And of course read reviews online.
In terms of general areas to consider for schools near Mountain View, Palo Alto or Sunnyvale, in general, the better the schools, the more expensive the housing (whether to buy or to rent). Hence Palo Alto is extremely pricey because the schools are absolutely top. Here are some communities that have great schools or good to very good schools:
- Palo Alto (very costly)
- Cupertino (less expensive for the school scores compared to other areas up to #5 on this list)
- Saratoga (very expensive)
- Los Altos & Los Altos Hills
- Los Gatos & Monte Sereno (95030 & 95032)
- Parts of San Jose in Cambrian 95124 and Almaden 95120 (very good value)
- The Los Gatos Mountains (zip code 95033)
- Parts of Fremont (Mission San Jose area)
Also it should be noted that in many cases, it makes more economic sense to utilize private schools and to live in an area which is a little less costly, such as Santa Clara (part of SC has Cupertino schools, so that will be expensive) or parts of San Jose (part of west San Jose 95129 has Cupertino schools, and part does not). Many of my global clients initially do not see private schools as an option, for fear that all the kids in them will be from wealthy families and spoiled. But often that is not the case at all – the kids are from families who like the curriculum, the teachers, the overall approach of the school and literally make sacrifices to send their kids there. So I would advise that you at least have a look at that option since homes in the areas with the very best schools can be extremely costly.
It’s an old question – should you find your Realtor first or your lender first? I would like to suggest that you find your Realtor first, and then ask your real estate agent for a list of reputable, trusted loan agents or lenders.
Because as with all professionals, lenders (and Realtors) are not created equally.
You will probably spend a LOT more time with your Realtor in viewing homes, reviewing disclosures, writing the contract, meeting inspectors, and so on – so I do suggest that you begin by very carefully choosing the right real estate licensee or broker for yourself. A good Realtor can probably give you between 3 and 10 names of trusted, reputable, reliable, knowledgeable lenders. From there you can interview and choose someone.
It is extremely important that your lender be good at what he or she does. A bad lender – and there are many of them – could cost you the sale, but definitely will create undue stress, will waste your time and ultimately cost you money. This is no exaggeration.
In our hot Silicon Valley real estate market, when there are multiple offers, many listing agents will phone the buyer’s lender to see how solid the buyers are and how decent the lender seems to be. The better loan agents will answer the phone when called – because they are anticipating the call. The lesser ones are not paying attention and don’t pick up. That small decision, one way or the other, can be critical! A few years back, I spoke with a high powered agent out of Saratoga who told me of this very scenario. She concluded “the lender who didn’t take my call cost the buyer the sale.” Yes, it matters that much.
A poorly organized loan agent may misplace documentation, causing you to miss work so that you can get it to him or her again in a rush (under pressure of the loan contingency removal date). I have known buyers to lose time from work due to the ineptitude of a loan agent (but not one that I suggested).
All deadlines must be agreed to by buyers and sellers in writing, no exceptions. Can you imagine what it’s like to ask your lender how many days will be needed for the loan contingency, only to have to extend it not once, but a few times, because it’s just not done yet? A lousy lender will make this happen. Sometimes they are submitting loan packages based on old guidelines rather than current ones. You and I won’t be involved at that microscopic level – but if the lender messes up, we’ll hear about it later.
In the worst case scenarios, a really terrible mortgage banker or broker will cause so many delays that you close escrow late, causing you, the buyer, to pay some of the seller’s coverage costs. If the rates go up during all of the delays, you may pay a higher interest rate too.
That’s the gloom and doom of it.
In my real estate practice, often about half of my clients come to me with their own lender. Although this is not ideal (it’s better if the Realtor and lender go into it with a good working relationship), often it works out OK. But sometimes it’s a train wreck. This doesn’t happen, at least not in my experience, if you get a lender I’ve already vetted. Or if you’re working with another great Silicon Valley Realtor, one that he or she has screened. I would not suggest someone incompetent or who will screw up the transaction – of that you can be sure! I want you to buy your home as much as you do, and I want it to be as smooth and hassle free as possible. A bad lender can put all of that in jeopardy, though.