Visiting Silicon Valley for job interview and considering a relocation: how to get a feel for where to live?

Cruising Silicon ValleyA few times a month I get phone calls from people considering a relocation to Silicon Valley.  In most cases, a trip out to Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, San Jose, Menlo Park or somewhere else in the South Bay or Peninsula is planned. These questions always arise:

What should we see when visiting Silicon Valley?

What neighborhoods should we consider or tour while there?

First: know which part of Silicon Valley where the possible employer is located

Silicon Valley covers a lot of ground – most of 2 counties (Santa Clara County and San Mateo County) and snippets of a couple more, which the Silicon Valley sprawl now inching north toward San Francisco.  The first thing to know is where the potential job is located.  There’s a huge difference between Oracle in Redwood Shores, Apple in Cupertino or Cisco in North San Jose, let alone some of the more far reaching Silicon Valley areas like Scotts Valley, South San Jose (at the intersection of Hwy 85 and 101), over in Los Gatos (Netflix) or inching up the east Bay in Fremont or Hayward.

Second: know your commute tolerance and have your priorities organized

Everyone would like to live close to work (under a half hour commute) but if you are juggling multiple priorities such as having a house & yard for kids, needing good public schools, and bringing it in at less than $2 million, you may have to sort out which of the important priorities is the very most important and go from there.  For many, the commute gets longer in order to provide the other things (a house not a condo or apartment, better schools, lower price).  Most people say that they would like a commute of 30 minutes or less.  Often they end up with a longer one after seeing a few areas and properties.

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What does it cost to buy a house in Santa Clara County? And San Mateo County? Both are home to “Silicon Valley”!

Silicon Valley is a large area, with much of it in Santa Clara County (where San Jose is the largest city with almost one million residents) and most of the rest is in San Mateo County along the San Francisco Peninsula.   So what does it cost to buy a house in these areas? Today I spent some time on MLSListings.com, our local multiple listing service, and pulled the data, which I hope that newcomers will find very helpful.

Below is a chart of single family homes purchased between October 1 2013 and the end of January 2014 by price point.

Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:

Santa Clara County home prices Jan 2014

As you can see, only a tiny fraction of homes sell for less than $400,000.  Most people pay between quite a lot more, with many sales happening in the $600,000 to $1,000,000 range (and it’s more in the areas with best schools and short commutes, generally, so many are much higher, too).  The average Santa Clara County home sales price was $1,002,119 and the average price per square foot was $526.

How about San Mateo County prices?  As you may know, The Peninsula is pricier than it’s warmer neighbor to the south. But how much more will it cost you?

Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:

San Mateo County home prices Jan 2014

The average sales price was in San Mateo County for the last three months was $1,254,114 and average price per square foot was $625 (all sizes of houses and lots throughout SMC).  This is about 20% than Santa Clara County.

Which Silicon Valley areas are the most European feeling?

Beckwith Building in downtown Los Gatos, California

The beautiful Beckwith Building in downtown Los Gatos, California

I have been fortunate to have made 5 trips to Europe, one of them lasting 9 months, and will be returning again before the end of 2013 (this time to Belgium).  It is so diverse, beautiful and compelling! Having experienced a little culture shock myself (when living in Florence, Italy, for one year of university), I’m very sympathetic about how hard an international move can be, and I understand that for Europeans moving to Silicon Valley, there can be an acute culture shock, particularly for those coming from more rural areas.

The bulk of Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County, which is at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay.  In this county, there are approximately 1.8 million people, almost a million of them in the city of San Jose.  Some areas, or districts, of San Jose have a distinctive character and are almost like towns or small cities themselves.  So in this article I’ll mention both cities and towns, but also areas or districts of San Jose, which might appeal to our European transplants.   Most of my comments will reference Santa Clara County or “south bay” locations, but I will also mention others on the San Francisco Peninsula and SF Bay Area too.

Architecture, Urban Centers and Charm

It is an unfortunate negative in Silicon Valley that much of our housing consists of ranch style tract homes, and truthfully, they are not exactly a work of art.  New or newer homes tend to be on very tiny parcels of land (or “lots”) and for many people may simply feel too congested or crowded. But there are beautiful residential neighborhoods – you just need to know where to look!  In many ways, the areas with higher charm can make our global home buyers feel more comfortable than if they were faced with only track, ranch neighborhoods.

Do you value unique, older architecture with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor or other home styles? Then check out these areas:

  • Within San Jose: the Japantown, Vendome, and Naglee Park areas of downtown San Jose. Also in central San Jose are the Rosegarden, Shasta Hanchett and Burbank neighborhoods which all boast some lovely older homes.  Or, if you love classic Spanish Revival style homes with views, consider the old Alum Rock area of San Jose near the country club (golf course).  The Willow Glen area of SJ (zip code 95120) is full of lovely old established neighborhoods with historic homes and tree lined streets.  If your job takes you to downtown San Jose, all of these areas will be fairly close.
  • If you want a rural, eclectic atmosphere, check out the “New Almaden” area of San Jose.  This is actually a county pocket with a San Jose mailing address.
  • Other towns or cities with older, more interesting architecture include the “downtown” ares of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Mountain View, Saratoga and Menlo Park (in San Mateo County, just north of Palo Alto).
  • If work will be on The Peninsula, there are many areas nearby that may work.  San Mateo has some fantastic neighborhoods!  Also San Francisco, which is tiny but full of beautiful areas, may be a strong draw (I do not sell there – it’s too far for me).   Warning: the weather in San Francisco is very often COLD in summer!
  • Across the bay, Berkeley has some great Victorian and other homes and several really interesting pockets, as does parts of Oakland.  (I do not work these areas either as they are too far for me, but I did live in Berkeley in graduate school and can connect you with a great agent there.)
If what you want is a “walk to town“, urban experience, many of the areas above will work for you.  Additionally, there are a couple of more recently built areas that might appeal to you – Santana Row in San Jose (along the Santa Clara border) or the Rivermark area of Santa Clara off of highway 237, close to the bay.

Finding Furnished Rentals in Los Gatos

Main Street in Los Gatos, CaliforniaMany people who move to Silicon Valley want to rent initially.  Los Gatos is a great place to start!  Many newcomers say that Los Gatos is the “most European” of Silicon Valley’s cities and towns.  I agree!

In addition to the El Gato Penthouse (in downtown LG on Main Street), a newer complex with some furnished rental units on the edge of Los Gatos next to Netflix is Aventino. It’s a luxurious community with granite counters in the kitchens, a beautiful pool and spa area, and secure parking.

The Bay Tree Apartments are in the Almond Grove District (downtown or “walk to town” Los Gatos) and they have both furnished and unfurnished, but they do not always have vacancies.  Here’s their contact info to check back later or see if there’s a waiting list: 347 Massol Aven Los Gatos, CA 95030   (408) 354-7317.

Want to learn more about living in Los Gatos? Please visit my Live in Los Gatos blog and see selected pages on my popehandy.com website devoted to the town of the cats.

Want to purchase a house, condo or townhouse in Los Gatos?  Here are some links to help you with your research.

Buy a home in Los Gatos

Browse Los Gatos Homes for Sale on my popehandy.com site:

 Los Gatos real estate market trends – uses live charts and list prices (not solds)
Los Gatos real estate market statistics – uses sold prices for Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and all of Santa Clara County