The shock of Silicon Valley housing costs: how little you can buy on a huge income

Relocation Housing Costs: how little you can buy on a huge income in Silicon ValleyIf you’re relocating because you’ve just been hired as a high level executive at Apple, Google, Microsoft or any other high tech or biotech firm in Silicon Valley, you may be coming to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley from an enormous home (5,000+ square feet) on an enormous lot (1 acre +). You are a raging success. You are highly regarded. You are on the top of your game. Your house “back home” displays your accomplishments. What about your Silicon Valley Home?

Housing Costs & Relocation

Set Your Expectations

You’ve heard that prices are bad here, but how much worse could they really be? Surely you could downsize a bit to a 3,000 to 3,500 square foot house on a half acre with a 20 minute commute, right? And you’d still have great schools for “resale value,” right? You are prepared to give up the full basement, the pool and tennis court and the 4 car garage. That is enough of an adjustment, isn’t it?

No, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t.

That house you are leaving behind in the suburbs of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, or wherever you’re coming from is a super high end luxury home. It’s probably worth $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. But guess what? Here, in a nice area, that’s a 2,000 SF house on a 10,000 lot in a good area that’s a tear down. And in traffic, it could be a +40 minute commute.

Want an acre in an area with really good public schools at all levels? Think $4 million plus. And that doesn’t mean that the house will be turn-key. You will very likely have to remodel or personalize so that you are happy with it, as most of our houses were built between the 1960s and 1980s. (Here a 25 year old home is considered relatively young.)

Setting expectations is a battle of it’s own. If you’re having trouble coming to terms with the price of homes here and seriously want to buy, or maybe you’re wondering why your offers aren’t working out, you may find this article helpful for introspection: Silicon Valley housing prices and the emotional stages they’ll put you through. And if you aren’t already working with an agent, getting good professional help is one of the #1 ways to succeed in this market, so make sure you know how to find and keep a quality agent! We love working with our blog readers, so always feel free to reach out if you’re in need!

Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?

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South County – where is it?

Santa Clara County - South County, Stylized MapSilicon Valley residents will sometimes refer to “South County”.  Where is it?  This is the area south of south San Jose where you find Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and nearby areas.

View the approximate area on Google Maps.

Agricultural Stronghold

The South County region of Santa Clara County is the last real stronghold of agricultural land in the valley (that plus the eastern range by Mt Hamilton). There you will find many orchards, vineyards, farms and ranches even today.

As you drive through Gilroy you may catch a scent of garlic – particularly if you drive highway 152 toward Pacheco Pass as you go past a garlic processing plant! In summer you may have visited the famous “Garlic Festival” at least once, though the annual event has sadly been discontinued in recent years.

Neighbors and travelers alike can enjoy the roadside fruit stands. Visitors can enjoy seasonal events such as fruit picking, pumpkin patches, cut-your-own holiday tree farms, and more. And for just the adults, of course there are vineyards and wineries as well!

And equestrians from beginner to advanced will find plenty of horse properties here with boarding stables, arenas, and lessons.

Fun for the Family

Gilroy Gardens Amusement Park is another major attraction with fun for the family and seasonal celebrations.

It is home to the discount Outlet Malls (at Hwy 101 at 152 east), so if you live in or near South Bay, it’s likely you will eventually find your way there! Residents can enjoy plenty of shopping and dining areas around the community, including downtown Gilroy which is a hub of community activity and events as well as home to the Historical Museum.

There are plenty of outdoors activities to engage in, such as golfing, hiking, camping, and water sports, to name a few.

Moving to South County

Want to relocate to South Santa Clara County?

The area has plenty of appeal! Homes and land tend to be more affordable in this area, and whether you’re looking for an off-the-grid ranch, vineyard mansion, or a suburban new construction home there’s something for everyone!

But traffic can be an issue. For many people working in the Bay Area the South County is a long commute. In addition, commuters are mostly reliant on 101 which can slow to a crawl in rush hour traffic.

The region also has somewhat harsher weather. This part of the Santa Clara Valley is farther from the Bay and it’s temperate water-front climate, so gets more inland weather. Although air conditioning is becoming more standardized in Silicon Valley, it was adopted in these inland communities first due to the more intense dry summer heat they experience.

Many San Jose area residents consider it a good place to retire since they can downsize to a comfortable home and often pay much less than a comparable home might cost in Los Altos, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Willow Glen or Almaden and at the same time get more home.  A number of my clients have spoken of wanting to retire into the Eagle Ridge Golf Course area for that very reason.

 

 

Air conditioning & homes

Air conditioning condenser unit newerBack in the 1960’s, when I was growing up in Santa Clara, air conditioning was considered a luxury. I didn’t know anyone who had it in their homes in the immediate San Jose area. Hot days often weren’t too terrible, and if they were, we’d find our way to a pool, the beach, or a restaurant, library, or theater with A/C.  Besides, as locals would insist, “it’s a dry heat”.

Over the last few decades, though, central forced air conditioning has become more mainstream. I do believe that Silicon Valley has grown hotter in recent years and it’s less and less of a reasonable option to go without it for most home buyers.

How common is air conditioning in Silicon Valley?

Today I looked on the multiple listing service to get a sense of how common central air conditioning is in Silicon Valley homes. Here’s what I found:

Single family homes or houses for sale in Santa Clara County (home to about 1.9 million people) = 743
Of these, houses with central forced air conditioning = 457 (61.5%)
Houses with central forced air – gas = 0
With ceiling fans = 121
With wall or window units = 18
With whole house or attic fan = 17
With multi-zone cooling = 88
“Other” cooling listed = 28
No cooling of any kind = 172 (23.1%)

There may be overlap in some fields. Interesting to see that 23% had no fans or cooling listed at all and that at least 61.5% but possibly as much as 66.5% (if including multi-zone and “other”) do have central forced air.  If you are house hunting in the San Jose area, it’s important to realize that at least 23% of the homes on the market will not have any A/C. 

And from 2016:

Single family homes or houses for sale in Santa Clara County (home to about 1.9 million people) = 1408
Of these, houses with central forced air conditioning = 891 (63%)
Houses with central forced air – gas (could be overlapping with the group above but if combined it’s 1010) = 119
With ceiling fans = 254
With wall or window units = 4
With whole house fan = 33
No cooling of any kind = 298 (21.1%)

In just 7 years the percentages of homes listed for sale with central A/C or with no cooling haven’t changed much, however we are seeing more homes with alternative cooling advertised. This may indicate an increase in buyer interest in this feature.

How necessary is air conditioning in the San Francisco Bay Area?

This has always been the old debate: “do we really need air conditioning?” Like many things, that depends. microclimates can have a huge impact on weather.

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What do Silicon Valley view homes cost?

211 Westhill Drive, Los Gatos in Belwood - gorgeous Silicon Valley view homesPerhaps you love – even need – a good view in order to feel happy with your new home in a new place. We don’t have a lot of water view homes in Silicon Valley, though there are some of the San Francisco Bay in places – mostly either right on the shorefront or certain hillside areas. What’s easier to find are hill and mountain vistas, or valley views. So what do these Silicon Valley view homes cost?

Silicon Valley View Homes: The Market

Naturally a lot of the answer has to do with location, home size, condition of the property, and land value. If you’re looking for a turnkey +2500 SqFt home with a 20 minute commute and great schools expect to pay upwards of $3 million. In general, it’s difficult to find a house with valley views for less than $2 million unless the property needs a lot of remodeling, repairs, and updating OR is in a very remote location.

You can find plenty of Santa Clara County mountain homes for under $1 million in picturesque settings, as well as luxury ridge-top estates with picturesque valley, bay, and ocean views, however the mountains are a specialty market that’s not for everyone.

While it’s difficult to put an exact number on it, expansive and sweeping views will generally be of higher value than comparable properties with peek-a-boo views. That said, sellers – don’t forget to market your views! A good agent will know how and where to include a pleasant vista in their marketing, whether it’s capturing photos of the scene, drone footage to show off the location, greeting open house guests from the front deck, or a description of the foothills seen out the bedroom window.

Foothill Communities

I live in the Belwood neighborhood nestled beside the foothills of East Los Gatos close to Belgatos Park. A “close in” location, not out in the boondocks, assigned to the sought-after Union schools. Many of these homes are comfortably sized single family homes around 2,000 SqFt and on 10,000 SqFt lots. Over the last year (March 2022 – March 2023) in Belwood and neighboring Belmont, 14 properties sold between $2M for one of the smallest homes on one of the smallest lots in the area up to $3.65M for one of the larger homes which had been extensively remodeled.

Take that same house and move it to Saratoga with Saratoga schools, and the price would be substantially more expensive, and more still in Los Altos! Compared to some other foothill communities in the South Bay, Los Gatos offers homeowners good “bang for your buck”, at least for Silicon Valley standards. If you haven’t spent much time in this charming town, I’d invite you to check it out!

San Jose also has some popular communites in the foothills. Almaden Valley is surrounded by natural beauty with some of San Jose’s top-rated schools. Berryessa has also seen a more recent surge of interest as a good “bang for your buck” neighborhood, especially for East Bay and Penninsula commuters, with improving schools and foothill views. Cambrian has longstanding popularity for it’s commutability, highly regarded schools, and areas with hill views, as has it’s the neighboring, and slightly more affordable, Blossom Valley district.

Value of a View

Silicon Valley view homes vary in condition, size, parcel size, and many other factors. In most cases, the properties which are move-in ready will run between $2,000,000 at the low end to $5,000,000. Luxury estates and oversized lots may well cost more. We see homes in Santa Clara County priced up to around $20 million at times, and on the Peninsula sometimes much higher ceilings.

 

 

Urban Living Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley and San Jose

The Silicon Valley and San Jose areas are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of “urban living” neighborhoods. If you are looking to rent or buy a home in one of these areas, you may wonder where you can find them.

Where to experience Urban Living in Silicon Valley? Downtown San Jose - Italian Family Festa at Guadalupe Park

For those not familiar with the “urban living” name, it refers to areas of higher density and mixed use. These are areas where homes and shops are close together, sometimes even stacked, and land tends to be scarce and in high demand. In these areas residents often are not so dependent upon cars, and some sites may refer to them as “walkable” or “walk to town” neighborhoods, although that phrase is less inclusive and is being phased out.

Urban Living Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley

Here’s a quick list of areas to consider if you want the urban living experience:

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Absorption Rate

One of the simplest ways of assessing the real estate market is to check the absorption rate, often called the months of inventory.

In short, it tells you the pace of home sales (beyond the simpler days on market). It informs you:

  • if you’re buying, whether or not you need to hurry or if you can take your time!
  • if you’re selling, this figure tells you what the odds are of your success in the next month. That could impact your selling strategy.

What is the months of inventory, or the absorption rate?

Water and a faucet - understanding the absorption rateThe absorption rate tells us how quickly the current inventory will be absorbed, or sold off, if sales continue at the same pace and no new inventory were to be added.

The absorption rate could be measured in days, weeks, months,  years, or decades – but the most common is the months of inventory. It’s really two data points in one: the available inventory and the number of sales in a particular period of time.

If this is hard to picture, consider a bathtub. If the tub is draining, how long will it take until the water is gone if the faucet is left off and if water continues to exit the tub at the same rate? That is the pace we are considering for homes for sale.

When homes are selling fast, in 30 days or less, often the data is described as days of inventory rather than weeks or months.

What is a fast absorption rate, and what does that mean for home sellers and buyers?

A balanced rate of sales suggests that neither home sellers or home buyers have a real advantage over the other. In the United States, anywhere from 4 – 6 months is considered balanced. Less than that is a seller’s market, and more than that is a buyer’s market. The lower the number, the hotter the market. 

In Silicon Valley, though, it’s almost never as high as 4 months – though it can and does happen sometimes.

For us, anything under 2 months is a hot market, and anything under 1 month is a super hot seller’s market.

Here’s a graph displaying the absorption rate for houses in Santa Clara County between January 2005 and now. The highest absorption rate was 14.2 in January 2008. It fell quickly from there with the next month at 12.4, then 10.1 in March, and eventually settling in at around 6-7 months of inventory for a period.

 

Absorption rate for Santa Clara County houses Jan 2005 - August 2022

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