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.
Last week I compared several areas using the formula: single family homes of 1,800 – 2,200 SF, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 6,000 SF – 10,000 SF that have sold within the last 120 days. I sometimes will adjust this criteria slightly, usually the days, depending on the market activity. 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 Price per Square Foot. Most of my charts are organized either by Price per Square Foot or by Sales Price, and you can see certain markets shift positions compared to past charts, moving up or down the order depending on what’s hot.
Occasionally one of these markets will have few to 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 – usually I try to avoid this and will increase the timeframe of my search! 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.
There have been a number of changes to the order since the last time we checked in December 2020 – that time I did arrange it by sales price, however, so some of these changes are due to the sorting system difference. Saratoga jumped to the top of the list with it’s sole sale. Sunnyvale and Cambrian also climbed the ladder, even taking into account the sorting difference.
Most, but not all, areas averaged higher prices compared to last year. The West Valley “typical” home is selling approximately 7% above where they were last June. In areas like Saratoga with few sales it’s normal to see broad fluctuations in the charts for this community, so these may move around without suggesting any major changes in the market.
What we see across the entire chart is sky high spring pricing and extremely low days on market – about 2-3 weeks in most areas. While there are the occasional slow sales the majority are selling quickly, although not at the breakneck speeds of last year.
Cost to Buy in West Valley Varies Widely: What’s the Difference?
This chart shows average sales in West Valley communities above $3M and under $1.5M. Why such a big difference? In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location or both. Communities like Palo Alto and Los Altos, which are consistently high, tend to have 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, Campbell, Sunnyvale, 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 June 2021 chart I’ve been referencing. Although overall it was an extremely active market in the West Valley, low inventory meant few sales in most areas!
Now let’s have a look at that some older charts.
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.
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:
The 20 Most Expensive Zip Codes In Silicon Valley
The beautiful Beckwith Building in downtown Los Gatos, California
I have been fortunate to have made 5 trips to Europe, one of them lasting 9 months, and will be returning again before the end of 2013 (this time to Belgium). It is so diverse, beautiful and compelling! Having experienced a little culture shock myself (when living in Florence, Italy, for one year of university), I’m very sympathetic about how hard an international move can be, and I understand that for Europeans moving to Silicon Valley, there can be an acute culture shock, particularly for those coming from more rural areas.
The bulk of Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County, which is at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. In this county, there are approximately 1.8 million people, almost a million of them in the city of San Jose. Some areas, or districts, of San Jose have a distinctive character and are almost like towns or small cities themselves. So in this article I’ll mention both cities and towns, but also areas or districts of San Jose, which might appeal to our European transplants. Most of my comments will reference Santa Clara County or “south bay” locations, but I will also mention others on the San Francisco Peninsula and SF Bay Area too.
Architecture, Urban Centers and Charm
It is an unfortunate negative in Silicon Valley that much of our housing consists of ranch style tract homes, and truthfully, they are not exactly a work of art. New or newer homes tend to be on very tiny parcels of land (or “lots”) and for many people may simply feel too congested or crowded. But there are beautiful residential neighborhoods – you just need to know where to look! In many ways, the areas with higher charm can make our global home buyers feel more comfortable than if they were faced with only track, ranch neighborhoods.
Do you value unique, older architecture with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor or other home styles? Then check out these areas:
- Within San Jose: the Japantown, Vendome, and Naglee Park areas of downtown San Jose. Also in central San Jose are the Rosegarden, Shasta Hanchett and Burbank neighborhoods which all boast some lovely older homes. Or, if you love classic Spanish Revival style homes with views, consider the old Alum Rock area of San Jose near the country club (golf course). The Willow Glen area of SJ (zip code 95120) is full of lovely old established neighborhoods with historic homes and tree lined streets. If your job takes you to downtown San Jose, all of these areas will be fairly close.
- If you want a rural, eclectic atmosphere, check out the “New Almaden” area of San Jose. This is actually a county pocket with a San Jose mailing address.
- Other towns or cities with older, more interesting architecture include the “downtown” ares of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Mountain View, Saratoga and Menlo Park (in San Mateo County, just north of Palo Alto).
- If work will be on The Peninsula, there are many areas nearby that may work. San Mateo has some fantastic neighborhoods! Also San Francisco, which is tiny but full of beautiful areas, may be a strong draw (I do not sell there – it’s too far for me). Warning: the weather in San Francisco is very often COLD in summer!
- Across the bay, Berkeley has some great Victorian and other homes and several really interesting pockets, as does parts of Oakland. (I do not work these areas either as they are too far for me, but I did live in Berkeley in graduate school and can connect you with a great agent there.)
If what you want is a “walk to town“, urban experience, many of the areas above will work for you. Additionally, there are a couple of more recently built areas that might appeal to you – Santana Row in San Jose (along the Santa Clara border) or the Rivermark area of Santa Clara off of highway 237, close to the bay.
Sometimes newcomers to Silicon Valley strongly prefer older homes, such as Victorians, Craftsman, or other distinctive architectural styles, preferably surrounded by homes of the same vintage. Most of the valley is filled with ranch style housing, but there are quite a few neighborhoods which enjoy historic home which exude tons of charm. Where to find them?
San Jose’s historic homes
San Jose is a large city (10th largest in the United States, almost 1 million residents) and very spread out with a wide diversity of neighborhoods. Here are a few to consider for classic, older properties:
In central San Jose there are quite a few areas to check out:
(1) Downtown San Jose generally, but within that area
(2) the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood
(3) the Rosegarden area (close to Shasta Hanchett, both in “central San Jose”)
(4) Alum Rock in east San Jose – up into the foothills there are lovely, older Spanish style homes
(5) Willow Glen – close to downtown SJ, features all sorts of architectural styes, from mid-century modern to Spanish, Victorian, Tudor – you name it. Within Willow Glen, The Palm Haven neighborhood has the added charm of so many palm trees (very visible when flying into the San Jose airport)
There are many more scattered throughout San Jose and nearby suburbs, even in places like Cambrian Park or Almaden (away from the old mercury mining area), where it seems all the houses were built from the 1950s to the 1980s. When we see a hundred year old house in this area, it’s very likely that it used to be the house on a large ranch, orchard or farm.
The town of Los Gatos is far smaller than neighboring San Jose, but has a great assortment of historic districts that are beautifully maintained and tastefully updated, most of them right in downtown. I’ve written about these on my Live in Los Gatos blog, so here are a few links to those neighborhood posts:
Almond Grove District
Broadway – first subdivision in Los Gatos
Palo Alto enjoys some of the most beautiful, gracious older houses in Silicon Valley, particularly the Professorville and Old Palo Alto areas, but others too. Drive the neighborhoods between Stanford University (El Camino Real) and 101 and you’ll find lots of historic homes to love! The challenge is affordability, as these are the most expensive historic homes in the region.
There are many more lovely older homes throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and nearby. If you enjoy these classic beauties, watch for a series of spring home tours which become available beginning in around March each year. Most of them will cost a few dollars, with proceeds going to a worthy local charity. If you’re interested in purchasing an historic property, visit my “search by map” page and enter a “built before” year and then scroll around the valley to see what is available.