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.
Sometimes people relocating to Silicon Valley tell me that they’d like to move to a waterfront home, something with a view of the Pacific Ocean or the San Francisco Bay. Most of Silicon Valley is inland, though, separated from the ocean by the coastal mountains.
Ocean View Homes
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.
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 faraway ocean view will work, a home in the Santa Cruz Mountains may be the ideal fit.
Silicon Valley Waterfront Homes
If you want to live along the waterfront within Silicon Valley and not these neighoring communities, there really are not a lot of neighborhoods from which to choose. Most water-view homes involve the San Francisco Bay. There are a few rivers, creeks, ponds (mostly man-made or percolation), lakes, and reservoirs to be found as well, but enjoying lovely water views up close is not the easiest criteria to fill and each come with their own concerns. Waterfront bay views often come down to Foster City and Redwood Shores, which we’ll discuss next. (more…)
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?
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.
You’ve probably heard that buying a home in Silicon Valley is a bit like purchasing real estate in Manhattan, 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.)