Moving to Silicon Valley in fall or winter? A few things to know.

Winter Arrival Graphic - says "Winter Arrival"If you are moving to Silicon Valley, whether San Mateo or Santa Clara County, you should know that things are a little different in fall and winter than they are in spring and summer.  Here are just a few areas that might not be intuitively obvious to the newcomers.

First, a word on appearance.  In Santa Clara County, we have two primary sets of hills – one closer to the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay (west side), and one closer to central California (east side).  Because our local weather is dominated in very large part by the Pacific Ocean, much of the weather blows in from the coast.  A lot of the rain gets dumped in the coastal range, also known as the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Less makes it all the way to Los Gatos, less still to downtown San Jose, and a much smaller amount to the east foothills and places such as Alum Rock Park.  The coastal range (also called just “the hill” by locals) is green year round as it is full of redwoods and other trees which love the moisture. The east side, though, is more grassy, fewer trees, and gets far less rain.  In winter the grasses are a lovely green.  With drought or in summer, however, the grass turns brown or pale yellow.

For people coming from the east coast, the hills there are more likely green in summer and brown in winter.  Here, though, it is the opposite.  We don’t usually get rain in summer, so the grasses die and the hills go brown.

Rain, when we get normal patterns, usually begins in November and comes and goes between then and late April.  In a typical year, San Jose gets 15-20″ of rain (Los Gatos more, the Los Gatos Mountains much much more).  If we get an El Nino pattern year, temps will be warmer than usual and rain will be much more common than typical.  It’s not much fun to have an El Nino year, but right now we desperately need the rain, so folks here are all hoping for it.

Second, a word on roads and travel.  Silicon Valley enjoys a sub-tropical climate with mild temperatures and not too much rain, even in a normal year.  With very little rain most of the time, our streets and highways can develop a dusty, oily film.  Whenever we get rain after a dry spell, those highways and roads can be slicker than you might expect.  It’s not that we need a ton of rain for the surfaces to become more slippery, either.  A very small amount of precipitation can do the trick, so be careful!

If your destination requires going over “the hill”, be triply careful!  Too many people, whether regular commuters or first time adventurers, either tailgate or drive too fast, and it can make it too easy for accidents to happen when a little weather is added into the mix. (more…)

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 an eatery with A/C.  Besides, locals would insist, “it’s a dry heat“.

Over the last few decades, though, central forced air conditioning has become 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) = 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

Interesting to see that 21% had no fans or other type of cooling at all and that at least 63% but possibly as much as 72% do have central forced air.  If you are house hunting in the San Jose area, it’s important to realize that at least 25% of the homes on the market will not have A/C. 

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

This has always been the old debate: do we really need air conditioning?  In places like San Francisco and Santa Cruz, which are right on the ocean or bay, often the cool breezes make A/C absolutely unnecessary.

The further inland you go, the more important having it becomes. This is true both for the coast and the areas closest to the San Francisco Bay.  Morgan Hill and Gilroy, in “south county” are far from the SF Bay and from the Monterey Bay.  They get very hot in summer, and having a cooling system is an absolute must.

If you live in Redwood Shores or Foster City, which jut into the San Francisco Bay, it’s quite a bit cooler. Perhaps it would be a waste of money there to make that home improvement. Los Altos can be 5 or more degrees cooler than Los Gatos because it’s closer to the water. Even in Los Gatos, though, there are many micro-climates.  Downtown may get strong coastal winds bringing fog from the coast, while little valleys or areas tucked behind hills can be warmer and completely calm.

How hard is it, and how expensive, to add air conditioning?

Most of the houses here are served by central forced air heat, and they have ducts for this already.  If the furnace is younger, and if it is pre-plumbed for cooling, it may be simple and not too expensive (possibly around $5000 – $6000 but it depends on many factors, including home size).

It can be more expensive if:
-The furnace is older and needs replacing
-The electric panel is not sufficient – it may be necessary to add a sub-panel
-The condenser is a slim-line unit rather than a standard one
-If your house has radiant heating, electric baseboard or otherwise does not have central heating with ducts, the cost goes up very substantially.

It is always wise to take a few bids and to insist that your A/C contractor make sure that you get both permits and finals when adding it.

Many people with air conditioning find that they can run it much less by using a whole house fan and / or attic fans.  These are substantially less costly to operate, so having both can keep the power bills more reasonable. (That’s what we do at our house.)

Silicon Valley homes for sale

Graphic image of a magnifierIf you are searching for Silicon Valley real estate, or Silicon Valley homes for sale, you may discover that you get overwhelmed with choices and housing results.

The biggest problem is that the area is simply enormous.  Most agree that Silicon Valley is an area covering Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, part of Santa Cruz County (Scotts Valley) and part of Alameda County (Fremont – and some also add Union City and Newark). It’s a lot of territory – 1,854 square miles.  As of last year, this much territory was home to between just over 3 million people.

So if you are in house hunting mode, the very first thing you need to do is to understand your anchor point. The anchor point is the thing which you want to be near. For most people, that’s a work location (and in many cases, it may be 2 work locations). Sometimes it’s proximity to family members, a place of worship, a particular school or any number of things.  Most of the time, the main anchor point is the place of employment and desired commute time, tempered by things like good schools, shopping, parks, things to do, and quality of life.

Narrowing the home search geographically

Moving here to work in Scotts Valley?  Much of Santa Cruz County may work – but so could living in Los Gatos, Campbell or nearby, where you’d have a reverse commute.

Relocating for a job in Mountain View?  Most likely, you’ll eliminate Santa Cruz County due to distance and commute challenges with Highway 17 going over the Santa Cruz Mountains.

If good public schools matter, that will help to refine your search, as not all parts of the southern San Francisco Bay Area have equally good education.

Below I’ll post sample listings from communities noted for better public schools in Santa Clara County up to 1.2 million, which seems to be a very hot price point that many relocating home buyers can afford. I do also serve San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, but most of my clients are looking at Santa Clara Co., so limiting this search here.  Unfortunately, Alameda County (Fremont, Union City, and Newark are there) has a totally different MLS so usually I don’t work there – but am happy to introduce you to a great Realtor who does (please just email me and I will connect  you).

Current Santa Clara County homes for sale in areas with good schools

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Beach Traffic

One of the many lures to the San Jose area and Santa Clara County generally is the fairly close proximity of the beach at Santa Cruz, Capitola, Rio del Mar, and other scenic places that line the Monterey Bay. From most of Santa Clara County, it’s under a one hour drive. If you live in Los Gatos, it could be just half of that.  That said, not all days are created equally when it comes to beach traffic. Go on a regular weekday in summer and it’s pretty much a piece of cake. Go on a weekend or holiday and it’s a whole other matter.

Photo of Capitola Beach as seen from the Capitola Pier on a sunny summer day with colorful beachfront condos lining the shore

Capitola Beach as seen from the Pier – photo by Mary Pope-Handy

Most of the locals know this about holidays or weekends and the shore: go early or don’t go.

How early is early enough?

If you want to get over the hill before it’s stop and go traffic, I suggest 9:30am or earlier.  It can be backed up as early as 9:30 or 10. Coming home from the coast, the line of cars may move sluggishly as early as 3 or 4pm if the fog rolls in early.

If you go early, you can enjoy breakfast with a bay view in Capitola on the esplanade. Or hit wonderful Gayle’s Bakery in that same town with some piping hot coffee before taking in a walk at the coast.  Sometimes there may be a marine layer (fog), but it usually burns off by late morning.  The beach will be fairly quiet if you arrive before the crowds.  Or go a little later and have an early lunch at the Crow’s Nest at the harbor.  Play in the surf  and sand and return around 3:30 or so, and it will be a lot easier than a 5pm trek across the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Related reading on MPH’s other sites:

Spending Summer Days In Santa Cruz? Some Tips & Favorite Places to Share (Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Beach towns in Santa Cruz County (from popehandy.com)

The biggest challenges in moving to Silicon Valley

Finding Affordable HousingMoving across the state, country, or globe always presents opportunities – but also challenges.  What are the biggest hurdles for people moving to Silicon Valley?

The cost of housing is the # 1 challenge for newcomers to Silicon Valley

For most people, the hardest issue is the cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Whether buying or renting, it’s extremely costly here.  Depending on where you’re coming from, it could be man, many times more expensive. Finding affordable housing is the # 1 challenge for people relocating to Silicon Valley.

How does it compare to other places?  It is close to on par with New York  City, about 50% more expensive than Austin, TX, and about 1/3 more than Chicago, IL.  Check Sperling’s Cost of Living comparison to get a good sense of how it relates to your current home town.

Not only are the houses, condominiums, townhouses and apartments more expensive, but most of our homes are smaller too.   (more…)

Traffic patterns in Silicon Valley

On another of my websites, I wrote about congestion and traffic patterns on Silicon Valley highways and roads.  For many transplants to the San Francisco Bay Area and especially the Peninsula and South Bay areas, traffic is an enormous consideration on where to live and how much to pay for real estate.

If this is a topic that interests you, please take a look:

http://popehandy.com/understanding-silicon-valley-traffic/