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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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.)

Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?

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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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What can you buy for $1 million in Silicon Valley?

With soaring housing prices in Silicon Valley, newcomers and folks potentially relocating here may wonder what can you buy for $1 million or less 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 and are generally considered a specialty market. 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’d 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

  • Gilroy
  • Morgan Hill
  • Milpitas
  • Certain districts in San Jose
    • Alum Rock
    • South San Jose
    • Evergreen
    • Berryessa
    • Downtown and Central San Jose
    • Santa Teresa
    • and Alviso (including County pockets)
  • 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. You can find information, including a list of mountain neighborhoods, on the page linked as well as the occasional market update. If you’re interested in buying or selling a mountain home here in the Bay Area, please reach out! I do some work in the mountains, and if it’s not a match I am happy to connect nice folks with trusted Realtors that are mountain market specialists.

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 August 31, 2021) 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.

Silicon Valley homes for under $1 million: houses

(Trouble reading the image above? Click to view the full-sized photo.)

This doesn’t mean you can’t find something under $1mil elsewhere. San Jose’s Almaden Valley, Willow Glen, and Cambrian areas each had one sale under the million-dollar mark during the same time period, but these sales are significantly less common. When you see ratios of something like 3% or less 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.

Areas in Santa Clara County where a house is possible but unlikely, but a townhouse or condominium may work:

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What does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?

Relocation question - what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?Moving to the San Jose or San Francisco Bay Area? You may be wondering what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley? (You can find a list of rental housing resources on this site here.)

The range in rental prices varies with location, condition, and amenities – exclusive or covered parking, air conditioning, dishwashers, a small yard for downstairs units, and pools are not all automatic.

  • In general, it is very difficult to find a decent 1 bedroom for under $2,000 per month (but possibly as low as $1800).
  • An average 1 bedroom is likely to run $2300- $2600 in most areas.
  • It’s not hard to find one at $3,000 per month, especially in nicer and more in-demand areas such as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Saratoga, and Los Gatos.
  • If you move to one of the expensive areas and get to enjoy extra perks, you may be spending $3000, $3500 or more per month.

If you are working on a smaller budget, you’ll find a few studio apartments available and they will of course be more affordable. Apartments lacking air conditioning, pools, or other highly sought after amenities will also be offered for a bit less. Another option is to look a little further out and consider units without AC, pools, etc.

Apartment homes with a yard are renting for about 15% more than those with no outside space, from what I have seen.

Recently I saw a studio in West San Jose (fairly expensive area) for about $2100. The complex does have a pool, but the units don’t have air conditioning of any kind. I also viewed a 1 bedroom in Campbell for about the same price but it included a wall AC unit. It’s very similar to purchases in that if you get closer in, you get less home for your money.

A couple of things to beware of when looking for rental housing

Something to be aware of is that some houses have Accessory Dwelling Units that seem inexpensive, and often it’s because something is missing, whether it’s a decent amount of square footage, a kitchen will a full sized oven and stove, etc. Not long ago I saw such a place but the kitchen was really just a wet bar with a microwave and toaster oven. The old adage is accurate: if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. (more…)

Linguistic Quirks in Silicon Valley

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!

Silicon Valley linguistic quirksPlaces:

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

Read the rest of the post on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog post, Silicon Valley Local-Speak: A Guide to Understanding Folks in the South Bay