Every area has its linguistic quirks or slang, and the San Jose – Silicon Valley – Santa Clara County region is no exception. Some of it is in the words we use, some of it’s the way we pronounce things, and some of it is just the way we think. If you relocate to the South Bay, you may want to know what some of these mean!
The Hill – refers to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Going “over the hill” means going to Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, or somewhere along the coast.p>
The City – means San Francisco, even though it’s smaller in population than San Jose.
South County – areas such as Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Coyote Valley (and outlying areas)
The Bay – is the San Francisco Bay, not the Monterey Bay.
The Airplane Park – this is Oak Meadow Park in the Town of Los Gatos
With soaring housing prices in Silicon Valley, newcomers and folks potentially relocating here may wonder what can you buy for $1 million in Silicon Valley? This article will provide a snapshot in time and provide a sense of whether your million dollar budget can get you into a house, a townhouse, or a condo – or perhaps “none of the above” – on the valley floor. (Homes in the Los Gatos or Santa Cruz Mountains are generally more affordable, but will of course be farther out.) Not included will be mobile homes, as the space rents are often close to or more than $1,000 per month. Also not included are duplexes, which you’be hard pressed to find many of under that $1 million mark.
If you absolutely must buy a house, and the budget must be under $1 million…
If you absolutely must have a house or single family home, as opposed to a condominium or townhouse, there are a number of areas for you to consider in Santa Clara County, including
the Los Gatos 95033 (mountains) area – which is vast and contains many small communities
The Los Gatos mountains area varies in price from one community to the next and right now that is a hopping market, I’m told. (Please find info on a list of neighborhoods at the link above.)
To determine where someone could get into a house for under $1,000,000, I pulled the sales from the last 90 days (as of March 1, 2018) and looked at how many of the sales of houses for any given area were under that budget amount. In many places, there were zero – even if I looked back a full year! The areas below are listed in order of the average sale price for these “in budget” properties, though you might prefer to rank them by the average square footage or some other criteria.
Areas in Santa Clara County where a house is possible but unlikely, but a townhouse or condominium may work:
There are some areas in the valley where a few properties that sell under a million are single family homes or houses. When you see ratios of something like 3% of the houses sold are under that price point, it’s important to understand that those homes may be major fixer uppers, tear downs, or have a location issue or some other big challenge. But – perhaps you are handy, do not mind the property condition, location, extremely small size, or whatever the presenting issue may be.
These long-shot, but perhaps possible, areas include Willow Glen (area of San Jose), Cambrian (area of San Jose), Santa Clara, and Campbell. In most of these desirable locales, a townhouse or condo is very doable, but a house – not too likely.
What about condos or townhomes? Except for areas which stratospheric pricing like Palo Alto and Los Altos, a condo or townhouse under $1 million should be possible in virtually all of Santa clara County.
Areas where you will NOT find a house for under $1 million
If you absolutely must buy a house, and not a condo or townhome, skip Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Saratoga, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, and West San Jose. Also skip Santa Clara where the schools are Cupertino. It just isn’t going to be in budget.
What about San Mateo county?
In general, San Mateo County is more expensive than Santa Clara County. However, there are some pockets that may work.
Silicon Valley really includes the bayside areas of SMC, not the side that is along the Pacific Ocean. The beachside areas are far more affordable, but you will find the commute to be a bit arduous if you are working in central Silicon Valley. If you don’t mind a longer drive, do check into Pacifica (a pretty good value area) and other communities by the shore. that said, Half Moon Bay is super popular, and that price point won’t work there.
Redwood City is a good value area overall. The schools do not rank as highly as some other areas, and the plus to that is that home prices are a little more affordable. In the last 90 days, 7 of 103 sold houses were under $1 million. That’s not a high percentage, but it may not be impossible. More likely, you’ll get a far nicer townhouse with more space than you would a house in RC. Keep your options open there!
Inland, East Palo Alto has been coming into its own, steadily improving, and showing itself to be a good value area. In the last 90 days, 12 of the 17 homes sold went for $1 million or less. Yes, that’s hardly any inventory, but it is in range – so keep your eye on it.
Daly city had 33 of 70 homes go for $1 million or less. That’s definitely worth checking out, especially if your work takes you to Redwood City or South San Francisco.
Brisbane had 2 of 6 sales sold for $1 million or less. (Inventory so small that you shouldn’t count on it.)
South San Francisco had 16 of 43 homes sell in range.
The rest of the areas were either highly unlikely or a slam dunk “no” to selling in budget for a house.
What about the East Bay?
The east bay tends to be more affordable than the south bay or Peninsula. I did not check into those areas as I don’t know them as well (though I did live in Fremont for a year when I was in grad school). The bridges can get quite backed up. Over time, I believe that “Silicon Valley” will creep more and more into the east bay, both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Some home buyers just must have land, a yard, a detached home. For them, it will be imperative to not spin wheels trying to locate a single family home in areas where they simply won’t be “in budget”. In Silicon Valley, the usual remedy is “drive a little, save a lot”. Hopefully, once BART comes through, the driving will be a whole lot less!
If 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 (5000+ 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.
You’ve heard that prices are bad here, but how much worse could they really be? Surely you could downsize a bit to a 3000 to 3500 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 $2,000,000. But guess what? Here, in a nice area, that’s a 2000 SF house on a 10,000 lot in a good area that’s a tear down. And in traffic, it’s a 40 minute commute. Want an acre in an area with really good public schools at all levels? Think $3 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.)
Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?
Why on earth should you move here to the San Jose area when real estate prices are so insanely high? Santa Clara County is bad, and San Mateo County is worse. Why would anyone make that kind of sacrifice in living space and prestige?
First, because this is a great place to live because of who’s here. Great minds have coalesced here. From the heavy hitters like Google and Intel to the many fresh startups, the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well and imbues much of the culture here. Diversity reigns – fabulous people have converged here from all corners of the earth, bringing with them a richness and vibrancy that is appreciated across the area. Want Ethiopian food? No problem. Thai? Easy. Korean, French, Honduran? Check, check, check. You name it, we seem to have it, whether it’s Middle Eastern, African, Asian, Pacific Islands, or European, there’s something for everyone. (OK I haven’t yet seen an Australian restaurant, but I also don’t know what counts as classic Australian cuisine other than Vegemite sandwiches and barbecues.)
Additionally, there are a number of great universities in the region: Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCSF (for medical), Santa Clara University, San Jose State, UC Santa Cruz (math, marine biology, astronomy and more).
Second, this is a fantastic place to live because the weather encourages a life where you’re not confined to your house and dependent on a big basement. We’re talking 300 sunny days a year. This January we hit 70F one day, which is not unusual. Back in the midwest or northeast, they have beautiful snow. Snow for months and months and months. Yes, it’s lovely, but doesn’t it get old? Here people are golfing, sailing, biking, hiking year round. There are weekend farmers markets open all year! Want snow? No problem, drive to Yosemite, Bear Valley or Tahoe. Enjoy the snow for the weekend – then drive home to the land of palm trees!
Third, this is an exceptional place to live because of what’s nearby. Within an hour or two we have San Francisco, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel, Napa and Sonoma Valleys (wine country). Within 3-5 hours we enjoy Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara and much of the California Coast. (California has an incredible array of climates and a diversity of agriculture and economy seldom seen anywhere.) Minutes away, take a little trek around the valley’s mountains and hills, which are full of open space preserves, county, and local parks which make for a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the valley floor.
Moving might mean giving up the palatial house and garden and realizing that your accomplishments are simply not going to be reflected in a ginormous house and yard. The house and yard are often more reflective of when you bought rather than how you were able to buy.
The good news for those who buy here is that Silicon Valley continues to expand and be in demand. Hiring is strong. Economically, tech is leading the way and this area was one of the first to emerge from the Great Recession. Prices are tough to swallow, now more than ever, but as long as huge companies continue to hire, there’s no reason to think that real estate won’t be a wise investment.
Is it a good idea for newcomers to Silicon Valley to rent for a year, or smarter for them to purchase right away? There are many factors to consider, and even more if you are coming from another state or country.
Normally, I would suggest deciding where you want to live generally (example, Almaden area of San Jose 95120) and renting there for a bit first just to make sure it’s where you want to be. This is especially true if you have children who will be in public schools, as it can be rough on them if they change again once you’ve been here for awhile. Renting first enables you to learn the area and takes some pressure off. Also, it can take some time to move money from overseas for your down payment, so the little extra time can help there, too.
However, many people want to buy immediately and will make several trips here before the move to find and purchase a home. Often this is because they see the value in owning (tax benefits, getting kids into certain schools). I’ve had many people tell me that it helps them to establish themselves in their new community faster if they buy rather than rent.
The current market remains an impacted, strong seller’s market which has refused to let up over the last few years. With home prices trending on a seemingly endless climb, some buyers are clamoring to purchase before prices rise higher. Other potential buyers sometimes try to rent with the plan to sit out the storm until the market has cooled, but high demand has raised rental costs as well, and there’s no knowing how long it will take for the market to correct, or if it will ever correct below the current trend. For this reason, trying to wait-out the market involves a huge risk.
Back in 2013, when I originally published this post, there was a lot of focus on mortgage interest rates, which were very favorable at the time, hovering between 4.125 and 4.25%. Since most buyers use mortgage loans, the interest rate can be a big factor in budgeting the purchase. To understand the impact, let’s compare the 2013 numbers with the predicted rise that was given for 2014 to 5.4% interest.
What does this rise in interest rates mean in terms of housing affordability?
$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 4.25% = monthly payment of $2459
$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 5.4% = monthly payment of $2807
Difference = $348, or a 14% increase in the monthly payment
Or, let’s look at it in terms of buying power.
$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 4.25% = loan amount of $508,192
$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 5.4% = loan amount of $445,211
To summarize, a rise of interest from 4.25% to 5.4% cuts into the buying power of a $2,500 payment to the tune of almost $63,000.
For most people, the cost of waiting is a significant factor in this buy vs rent decision. My concern is that many people who elect to lease or rent for a year do not understand the risk that may accompany waiting. For most folks relocating to the San Jose or Peninsula area, the hardest thing to manage is the cost of housing. This could become substantially worse by putting off the purchase for a year, so right now I cannot recommend doing that.
Perhaps 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 views in Silicon Valley, though there are some of the San Francisco Bay in places. What’s easier to find are views of the hills or views of the valley from the views. What do these Silicon Valley view homes cost?
Naturally a lot of the answer has to do with location, home size, condition of the property, and land value. 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.
Right now, I have a gorgeous Los Gatos view home for sale in the Belgatos area. It is in great condition and features 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and about 3,000 SF of living space close to Belgatos Park in east Los Gatos, which is a “close in” location, not out in the boondocks. It’s a remodeled, single story house, stunning condition with a pool and spa, and the list price is $2,288,000. (You can check it out here: 211 Westhill Drive, Los Gatos CA 95030.) Los Gatos is a bargain by Silicon Valley standards. If you haven’t spent much time there, I’d invite you to check it out!
Take that same house and move it to Saratoga with Saratoga, and the price would be substantially more expensive, and more still in Los Altos. 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. Supersized estates and land may well cost more. We see homes in Santa Clara County priced up to $20 million at times, and on The Peninsula with much higher ceilings.
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.
For those not familiar with the “urban living” name, it refers to areas where homes and shops are close together, so that residents are not so dependent upon cars. Some sites refer to them as “walk to town,” though that phrase is used less now to be inclusive of non-ambulatory citizens.
Here’s a quick list of areas to consider if you want the urban living experience:
(1) Downtown San Jose
In the downtown district of San Jose, you will find both new high rise condos (several were built all at once), ranging from nice to extremely upscale & elegant. Additionally, there are some neighborhood in or near downtown with houses full of character and architectural charm as they were built in about the 1920s. Once such neighborhood is Japan Town, where many of the homes are Spanish or Mediterranean style, and there’s a little “downtown” area (apart from the more congested, sky scraper area) with wonderful shops and restaurants. San Jose’s Japantown, by the way, is one of only 3 in the country – all of which are in California. The others are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Willow Glen was once its own town but has been incorporated with San Jose for nearly a hundred years. Downtown Willow Glen is found along Lincoln Avenue between Bird and Minnesota. The area is old (some homes are Victorian and date back to the late 1800s) and many of the houses there are from the early part of the 20th century. There are some newer places, though, including apartments, condos and townhouses.
The city of Campbell is south of San Jose and borders it. It enjoys a lovely and popular downtown area along Campbell Avenue, clo
se to the Los Gatos Creek trail, parks and a par course, and also within a short jaunt to the Pruneyard Shopping Center. This part of the valley has both older homes (again dating back to the Victorian home era) as well as newer, and an added bonus is that the metro area’s light rail comes right into Campbell.
A bit closer to the hills from Campbell is the town of Los Gatos, snuggling up to the base of the foothills. I have written about Los Gatos extensively on my Live in Los Gatos blog, as this is where I live. The downtown area is extremely beautiful and vibrant – and costly! As with most “urban living” areas, it’s much less expensive the further out you get.
A little north of Los Gatos, Saratoga is also up against the coastal range so is very scenic. Saratoga is smaller and quieter, and many would say also more upscale. The schools in Saratoga are fantastic so most people moving there today do so for the schools. Prices are extremely high by Silicon Valley standards, but those who live in Saratoga will insist it’s worth it! The downtown area is lovely and full of wonderful places to dine as well as three for wine tasting.
Enjoy a slideshow of downtown Saratoga Village (photos and show by Mary Pope-Handy, link will open in a new window)
If you love to dine out, you will find your way to Mountain View sooner or later! Like Los Gatos, the downtown Mountain View area is very vibrant and not terribly small. It’s right along the Cal Train route too so is a fabulous commute location for anyone going up the peninsula or to San Francisco.
Adjacent to Mountain View, and immensely expensive, is the very impressive city of Palo Alto. Home to Stanford University and some of the best schools in the nation, the downtown area also boasts wonderful eateries, shops, a classic movie theater, and much more. Everyone loves Palo Alto. The only trick is affording it!
The city of Santa Clara destroyed its original downtown many decades ago, so the main part of that fine city unfortunately has a “generic American” look to it now, though there are some lovely residential areas with beautiful older homes. A few years back, a new neighborhood was designed and built at the northern part of Santa Clara near the bay (on the land formerly housing the Agnews Developmental Center): Rivermark (just off River Oaks Parkway). The area includes a big retail area with a grocery store, banks, shops and restaurants, a park, several types of housing (apartments, condos, townhomes and houses). There is a private school in the neighborhood, too. (The local public schools are not noted for high scores.) Most of the homes in the area were built between 2005 and 2009, so the neighborhood is very popular with those who strongly desire to buy new construction.
Like Rivermark, Santana Row is a newer development but this one is in a well-established area at the intersection of Winchester Blvd and Stevens Creek Blvd, right where the cities of Santa Clara and San Jose meet. This is San Jose’s answer to Rodeo Drive – it’s where you’ll find the Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Coach and other similar stores. The complex is mixed use with shops below and apartments, townhouses and condos above. It’s young, it’s lavish, it’s European feeling – so as you might expect, this upscale area is not inexpensive! Whether you buy or rent a home there or just spend a weekend (there is a hotel) or an evening, it’s a great place to hang out, dine, stroll, shop and people watch. A grocery store is a mere block away and a movie theater tops off the attractions here, so this neighborhood truly seems to have it all.
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