Are you mulling over a job opportunity in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley? If you’re relocating to San Jose, or nearby, there are a few helpful things to know right away. Here’s a quick primer:
- San Jose is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, so is part of the SF Bay Metro Area (and is about 1 hour south of San Francisco, which locals call The City)
- This sprawling city has a number of different districts or communities. There are also quite a few school districts – school lines are not based on city or zip code boundaries.
- The beach at Santa Cruz is anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes away from most of San Jose (assuming you don’t go at the peak of “beach traffic” timing on a weekend or holiday).
- San Jose is also the home of Silicon Valley, which began here in Santa Clara County, but has now spread throughout the area
- This city is the 10th largest in the United States (though poll most people who aren’t in The Golden State and they couldn’t tell you where it is). The population recently hit the 1 million mark. The county has about 1.9 million people and the Silicon Valley region (Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and a little each of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County)
- Home prices are just about the highest in the nation. The average price of a house in the area is $1 million. And that is not for
- a big home, in most cases. Sticker shock is the #1 reason why some people won’t move here – and why others move away. Rents are, similarly, high. It’s not uncommon to hear of people spending half their income on housing.
- Weather is often ideal – 300 sunny days per year, so you won’t need that basement if you’re coming from someplace with long, cold winters. Winter here is pretty much just December and January, and even in January you’ll see some trees pop alive with beautiful blossoms.
- San Jose has frequently been named the best place to raise a kid. Just google that 🙂
- Next to housing or real estate prices, traffic is the second biggest complaint.
Looking for more info? Here are some links:
Odor 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.
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!
One of the many lures to the San Jose area and Santa Clara County generally is the fairly close proximity of the beach at Santa Cruz, Capitola, Rio del Mar, and other scenic places that line the Monterey Bay. From most of Santa Clara County, it’s under a one hour drive. If you live in Los Gatos, it could be just half of that. That said, not all days are created equally when it comes to beach traffic. Go on a regular weekday in summer and it’s pretty much a piece of cake. Go on a weekend or holiday and it’s a whole other matter.
Most of the locals know this about holidays or weekends and the shore: go early or don’t go.
How early is early enough?
If you want to get over the hill before it’s stop and go traffic, I suggest 9:30am or earlier. It can be backed up as early as 9:30 or 10. Coming home from the coast, the line of cars may move sluggishly as early as 3 or 4pm if the fog rolls in early.
If you go early, you can enjoy breakfast with a bay view in Capitola on the esplanade. Or hit wonderful Gayle’s Bakery in that same town with some piping hot coffee before taking in a walk at the coast. Sometimes there may be a marine layer (fog), but it usually burns off by late morning. The beach will be fairly quiet if you arrive before the crowds. Or go a little later and have an early lunch at the Crow’s Nest at the harbor. Play in the surf and sand and return around 3:30 or so, and it will be a lot easier than a 5pm trek across the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Related reading on MPH’s other sites:
Spending Summer Days In Santa Cruz? Some Tips & Favorite Places to Share (Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)
Beach towns in Santa Cruz County (from popehandy.com)
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.)
You’ve probably heard that buying a home in Silicon Valley is a bit like purchasing real estate in Manhatten, London, Tokyo, Paris, or other regions where the prices are in the stratosphere. It’s true. It’s a strong seller’s market.
And yet, every day, homes are bought and sold in the San Jose – Palo Alto – Foster City area. They aren’t all cash; perhaps 20-30% are bought without any loan or mortgage, but the rest of the properties are sold with some sort of financing.
Here’s a quick summary of what is needed to buy a house, condominium, or townhouse in Silicon Valley (this list applies MOST of the time and with few exceptions):
- A large down payment is needed – usually 25% or more – to win in the multiple offer situations which are the norm right now.
- Nerves of steel: it’s scary to buy a house, but here, many homes are purchased without the normal contingencies for loan, appraisal or inspection. (But home sellers do provide a full battery of inspections that you can review before making your offer in most cases.)
- The ability to move quickly and decisively as the best homes sell very, very fast – often in a week to nine days. In the last 30 days, there were 385 houses which sold and closed in the city of San Jose. Of those, 282 went under contract and became pending sales in 14 days or less. That’s 73%. In Sunnyvale the numbers were 47 and 47, so 79%. Here you need to be 110% sure. If you give off signals that you are hesitant, your offer is unlikely to be accepted.
- It’s a big help if you have a really good Realtor who’s known, liked and respected in the local real estate community. Listing agents will prefer to work with an agent who’s trusted. In some areas, like Palo Alto, many homes sell “off market” and then the full inventory tends to be known only by those local and trusted agents.
- A strong lender, especially if you are coming from abroad, who’s experienced in tracking work history, credit, etc. in other countries (and in some cases other languages). Don’t just walk into a bank and pick someone. Get a good recommendation, either from someone at your company who’s had a similar experience or from your Realtor, who should be used to working with international home buyers.
- Being clear on priorities and being able to put them in order is crucially important. It’s usually not possible to get everything on the wish list and also get it in budget. So decide which is most valuable to you: schools, commute time, home type (perhaps you can get what you want, where you want – but only if you buy a condo?), commute time or?
Those are the key ingredients. Perhaps the hardest one, when getting started, is the last one. Let’s talk about that.
Priorities list: pick any 2 out of 3
A request I often get is to find a nice sized home and yard in good shape with good schools and a commute to Palo Alto that’s under an hour. So far, so good. Then comes the desired price tag: under $1,200,000 or under $1,500,000. You can get the home, yard, schools, and commute, but it won’t be under $1.5 million for a good sized, remodeled house and a big yard with better schools. The price tag fitting that description is probably closer to $2 million due to our clogged commute routes.
One of the best areas in terms of schools and pricing is Cambrian, which is a part of San Jose, with either the Union School District or the Cambrian School District. You can get a Cambrian home with good schools for under $1.4 million and it will have a decent sized lot, be in good condition, etc. But the morning commute to Palo Alto will likely be a little more than an hour, and the evening commute perhaps 80-90 minutes, depending on where in PA or Cambrian you’re going and what time it is. A nice house in east Los Gatos with the same schools but more house and yard will probably run around $1,700,000 to $1,800,000 for 2500 SF on a 10,000 SF lot.
Cupertino has great schools but the houses there tend to start at around 1.5 million – so if you are ok with a townhouse or condo, that might work.
The upset as reality sinks in
Most home buyers, even if they’ve studied the market here intensely before arriving, go through some strong emotional stages as they learn the real estate ropes and what their budget can and cannot buy. Sometimes the main shock hits before arriving, though. Recently I got an email from someone moving here from the south, who lamented the situation with a question along these lines: “can you explain to me why home prices in Silicon Valley are 5-6 times more than they are in Atlanta?” It is that bad, yes, and I am sorry. It is upsetting. The faster you can move through the shock and upset, the sooner you’ll be able to clear the emotional clutter and buy that next home and really settle in.
Focus on the positive
The good news is, aside from the cost of housing and the traffic, San Jose – Sunnyvale – Los Gatos and whole Silicon Valley region really is a wonderful place to live. We enjoy 300 sunny days a year on average. San Jose has often been named the best place to raise kids. The intellectual climate cannot be beat as we have great minds from all over the world here. The coast is close, and so is San Francisco. If you do buy a home, appreciation may be substantial, far more than in most of the U.S., if you can “buy and hold“. (We’ve had a lot of real estate corrections and downturns since the 1940s, but look at some old Los Gatos real estate home prices then and see the buy and hold value at its best.)
When people relocating to Silicon Valley get “sticker shock” on our real estate prices, most of the time they look for more affordable places in which to live that are close by. Often finding neighborhoods with good schools comes into play. Or perhaps they simply love the scenic town of Los Gatos but can’t buy in town (95030 and 95032 zip codes are “in town” and 95033 is the unincorporated county areas with a Los Gatos mailing address). The mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz – the coastal range – is home to a number of communities such as Chemeketa Park, Holy City, Aldercroft Heights, the Lexington Reservoir area (the town of Lexington is under the reservoir now!), Alma, Redwood Estates (Upper Redwood Estates, Lower Redwood Estates) and more.
The Los Gatos Mountains are a specialty area and I don’t usually work them. I frequently will refer them out or team up with someone else who knows a lot more than I do about the unique things you need to worry about if buying up there.
There are many plusses to living in the Los Gatos Mountains: clean air, more open space (less crowding), beautiful vistas, great schools (top rated public schools), lower housing costs. It’s a fabulous place if you have horses or just love more seclusion. The folks who live in the hills absolutely love their communities and homes.
At the same time, there are special consideration if you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here’s a list of potential issues that mountain residents may face:
Many residential roads are private & there are private road agreements in place (so owners must agree on paving, clearing brush or trees too close to the road, pay if the road washes out in a mudslide to clear it or if soil beneath it gives way, etc.)
- Utilities: in the valley, we have Pacific Gas & Electric (PG & E) and public water (most of us have San Jose Water). In the mountains most or many of them have propane gas (not P G & E), they do have electric from PG & E though, and well water. Our recent drought – which ended officially this week – was not severe but with a worse drought the wells can run dry and then mountain residents have to truck water in, which is very expensive. You also must periodically check well water for arsenic and other elements and purity. (Also there’s septic instead of sewer. Not a big deal but it’s one more thing to maintain.)
- Fire concerns – the wildland areas are at risk of fire in summer, so the fire marshall’s regulations are to keep brush cleared a certain distance from your house to help lessen the risk. (Google “fire santa cruz mountains” and you will get a lot of news returns on fire danger and past fires).
- Winter weather issues – the higher elevations can get snow a couple of times a year – doesn’t last long but can make roads impassable (not as low as Chemeketa Park but near the summit and perhaps upper Redwood Estates). Trees sometimes fall and block roads and driveways during heavy rainfall. Our redwood trees have VERY shallow roots and I think this is why they come down in strong winds and rain, but I’m not sure. The lovely trees are green year round, including winter. They can keep the sun away if you’re in a heavily forrested area, though. I had friends who lived near the summit and they said that in winter, sunshine never touched their property. Finally, with all the trees and more severe winter weather in the Mtns, residents there lose electricity more often than we do in the valley (due to trees falling I am sure).
- Beach traffic – the mountain communities are all pretty dependent on Hwy 17 (there are few alternatives) and there’s a wave of traffic tie ups as coast visitors come and go with the warm weather.
- San Andreas Earthquake Fault – runs pretty much down the spine of the coastal range (on or close to Summit Road). The summit is the “sunniest” area in the mountains, so if I lived there I’d want to be where there’s more sunlight – but that would mean straddling one of the most powerful and most scary earthquake faults on the globe. I won’t do it!
- Travel time – hwy 17 can be pretty smooth but once off the road, it can be 10 to 20 or more minutes until you get to the house, so the total travel time to whereever you’re going can be long. That’s especially true if there’s an accident on 17, which is not so uncommon with all the curves in the road. There is a large grocery store on Summit Road so it is not necessary to drive to the valley for the basics.
- Resale issues – even in a “hot” market, it takes far longer to sell a mountain home than one on the valley floor. Agents in my office say that on a typical open house up there they get one or two people per hour. It is not uncommon for a mountain house to take a year to sell. I just checked the average Days on Market and it’s 63. In todays hot sellers market, that’s significantly longer than in the valley but far less than when I last updated this post in March 2011 when the Days on Market were 212.
- Bugs – in addition to drywood termites and subterranean termites, up in the SC Mtns they also have dampwood termites.
If you’re interested in learning more about the mountains, please email me! I can get you more info and partner with a “mountain agent” to get you the best deal on a property in the coastal range near the San Jose area.
Finally, if you are not sure which area is in Los Gatos vs having a Los Gatos mailing address (which can also happen in pockets on the valley floor), the best resource is the map of the town’s boundaries, which you can find here: http://www.losgatosca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/338
What’s available in the mountains today?
Here’s what’s listed in the Los Gatos Mountain area today.[idx-listings linkid=”447643″ count=”10″ showlargerphotos=”true”]
The City of San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, with just over 1 million residents, and a look at this large and highly populated area will give you a quick sense of what the region is like, generally.
Today I found an online document produced by the San Jose Planning Department which covers a wealth of information, including the largest employers, educational resources, annual rainfall, cost of rentals by number of bedrooms in the apartment, residential real estate median & average sale prices (data is a little old on home buying prices, so don’t use those numbers), and demographics (education, income, race, employment and more).
Here’s the info:
“FACT SHEET: HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY”
Department of Planning, Building & Code Enforcement, Planning Division
See homes for sale in San Jose below:[idx-listings linkid=”437963″ count=”25″ showlargerphotos=”true”]
San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States, and it’s quite sprawling, too. As an introduction, it’s helpful to know a bit about each of the major districts or areas. Within them, of course, there are smaller sections which have their own distinct style.
Below, please find links to most of these areas with articles found on my popehandy.com site.
East San Jose
South San Jose
West San Jose
Want more information? Please also check http://SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com
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:
- Hong Kong
- San Francisco
- San Jose
- San Diego
- 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.
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).
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.)
If 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: