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
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.
(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:
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…)
Below please find real estate market reports for three Silicon Valley counties where I’m most active: Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and Santa Cruz County. First we’ll provide the data for single family homes, then condos and townhomes, for each region. (“Silicon Valley” is 95% within Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, plus a little of Santa Cruz County and a small part of Alameda County. Alameda County uses a different MLS system, and I don’t usually sell there, so am not covering it in my reports.)
Early Summer 2021: Three Silicon Valley Counties
Santa Clara County Real Estate Market Report for June 2021
First, Santa Clara County – home to San Jose, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Santa Clara, Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, and a number of other cities and towns. This area has generally come up in price about 10% since last year, though in March the median sale price is over 14% higher, and in June that jumped to 27% higher in 2021 than in 2020! Homes sold more than a month faster this June compared to last year. Of course, it hasn’t been even growth.
While the 2019-2020 winter was particularly hot, it experienced a massive swing at the start of the California pandemic falling to it’s lowest point in Santa Clara County around May and June. This put pressure on the market by stifling spring activity and, over the course of the year, created a backlog of demand with severely low available inventory. Pent up activity is driving up prices and the sales to list price ratio, among other things. Santa Clara County is keeping up the momentum from a raging hot spring market into early summer.
And the condominium and townhouse report for Santa Clara County:
This June shows about a 14%-15% rise in median sales price for condos and townhomes since last year, a clear rise in sales to list price ratio, and increased, but still low, active inventory compared to last month.
It can be challenging for people moving to Silicon Valley to get a sense of pricing for home buying. So to compare “apples to apples,” let’s take a hypothetical case of a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home of approximately 2,000 SF house (appx 185 square meters) and see how the cost looks in one area versus another.
Today I compared several cities and areas using the formula: single family homes of 1,800 – 2,200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 5,000 SF – 10,000 SF that have sold within the last 60 days. The prices listed are the average from sales in this criteria, so areas with a higher volume of sales will have more stable averages than those with less sales to analyze. DOM means “Days on Market”, the number of days a home was listed as available before pending.
Please note that this is a rough sketch of home prices based on averages taken across large, diverse residential communities. There are many factors that will affect market value beyond these boundaries.
Now, on to the charts.
The Cost To Buy A 4 Bedroom 2 Bath Home In…
I have arranged this chart in descending order by Sales Price. This is usually how I organize the data, and you can see certain markets shifting position, moving up or down the order depending on what’s hot. Occasionally one of these markets will have no sales within the timeframe, so those will be left in place from where they were when we last checked, but will show “n/a” in place of any pricing or statistics. Once you’ve reviewed the most recent data, scroll down farther to compare today’s market against past years!
Please use the list below as a way to get your bearings on nearby areas in the South Bay (southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area). This is not an exhaustive list – it’s just most of the areas closest to Highway 85 or the West Valley Freeway. You can study various cities, downs, and districts within the region at my stats site, popehandy.rereport.com. (Free and you do not have to register unless you want email updates.)
There have been a number of changes to the order since the last time we checked in December 2020. Campbell, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View have all moved down the list. Their prices are higher than last time we checked, they just haven’t gone up this spring as much as some of the other markets. Saratoga has climbed much higher on the chart, but with so few sales it’s normal to see broad fluctuations in the charts for this community.
What we see across the entire chart is sky high spring pricing and extremely low days on market – under 2 weeks in all but two areas! Looking more closely, the Cambrian (San Jose) market had one highly unusual sale where the MLS listing shows a whopping 496 days on market. Discounting that sale, the average becomes a lighting fast 10 DOM! So while there are still the occasional slow sales the majority are selling at breakneck speeds! As for pricing, communities are showing increases from roughly 3% all the way up to 31%! Averaging it out, the West Valley average home is selling 16%-18% above where they were early last winter.
In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location or both. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian would be fairly high up as it is a good “bang for the buck” location – though not a super short commute for folks who work in Mountain View (though not so bad for people working in Cupertino). None of these is especially close to North San Jose (Cisco).
Also, it should be noted that one of the main drivers of home values is school districts. In the San Jose / Silicon Valley area, the school district boundaries do NOT follow the city or town boundaries. Los Gatos, for example, has 3 different elementary school districts, with varying scores which impact home values. So too with Saratoga and many other areas, San Jose especially! All this to say that the figures above are only ROUGH GUIDES. When you break it down to micro-markets, the picture changes more. But as a starter guide, I think you’ll find the above info helpful to give you a general idea of how far your money can go in home buying for areas in Santa Clara County from Palo Alto to Blossom Valley.
Palo Alto is a gorgeous, exciting area with all kinds of wonderful features – beautiful neighborhoods, lower crime, great schools, short commute. It is usually the most expensive area on this list. But unless you found a successful startup company or inherit a couple of million bucks, it can be hard to buy a single family home there. Many people would like to live in the shadow of Stanford University, but the budget just won’t allow it.
Now let’s have a look at that December 2020 chart I’ve been referencing. Los Altos had no sales during this time, although overall it was an active market in the West Valley.
Historical Comparisons of Home Prices in the Same (or Similar) Areas
We’ll start off with something fairly recent, a report from October 29th, 2019.
San Jose apartment rental prices have softened during the coronavirus pandemic. Each month, ApartmentList.com produces a national and local report on rental market trends, including prices. If you are interested in renting an apartment, it’s a good idea to bookmark this page so you can circle back to it every few weeks. Apartment List National Rent Report
Here are some of this month’s highlights:
Rents in San Jose decreased by 2.9% month-over-month, and are down 12.2% since the start of the pandemic in March, the #5 biggest decline among the nation’s 50 largest cities.
Year-over-year rent growth in San Jose currently stands at -11.1%, the lowest rate in October of any year since the start of our estimates.
Median rents in San Jose currently stand at $1,777 for a 1-bedroom apartment and $2,111 for a two-bedroom.
How are the San Jose apartment rental prices as compared to other areas in the U.S.?
Here’s their graphic, but visit the link above to see the whole report.
If you’re relocating to the San Jose area, there are a few tools you can use for resources as you evaluate different parts of the region. When I started this website, I had books listed that you could purchase. Today, mostly I have websites that you should bookmark – for free!
Natural & Environmental Hazard Information Tools You Can Use
Natural hazards are found throughout the United States, often the major one people consider is the one hundred year flood plain. Here in the Golden State, we have some additional concerns relating to fire and earthquake risks.
California MyHazards can display a map anywhere in the state with information relating to liquefaction zones, earthquake faults, 100 year flood plains, and high fire risk areas.
Flooding from Dam Failure (potentially caused by earthquakes as well as other possibilities) is scary. Learn more about those zones at the link I’m providing here. (As of this writing, the Approved Inundation Maps link is not working.)
A Barclay’s Locaide will outline earthquake faults, flood plains, and other natural hazard zones you might want to know about. This is now out of date, but you may be able to locate a used one online or see if a local real estate association of Realtors bookstore has it available.
Something else to know is that there are state mapped earthquake faults (the more active ones, such as the Hayward or San Andreas Fault) and also the city, town or county mapped fault zones (for example, the Shannon Fault). The latter may have been dormant for 11,000 years or more.
Buying a home? Sellers usually provide a Natural Hazard Report, an Environmental Hazard Report, and a Tax Report from a company such as JCP. This same company / site has a great amount of information on local conditions on its About the Hazards page that newcomers would benefit from.
When buying a home in California, consumers are given a link to download brochures, or one combined document, on a variety of hazards. I’m not sure that most of them take the time to read it, but it’s excellent info and I highly encourage anyone living in CA, whether renting or owning, to read it: Homeowner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety & Environmental Hazards
Environmental Hazard Zones
Local concerns also include environmental ones, such as SuperFund sites. here you can see SuperFund sites in reuse (meaning offices and homes on those sites).
Some sites with spills, leaking underground storage tanks, or other issues can be found at this Cleanups in my community page (nationwide info)
Mercury, or quicksilver, was mined in Almaden (New Almaden and related mines) and east Los Gatos (Guadalupe Mine area) – it is a naturally occurring element in cinnabar. For that reason, creeks in those areas should not be entered or fished in.
Asbestos is another naturally occurring element here. It was prized for being somewhat fire resistant and was mined under Communications Hill. It’s something to investigate if you want to live in that area.
Oil, gold silver, and other elements were mined here as well as granite (we still have quarries active in Santa Clara County today, a couple in the Cupertino area and one in the hills by Lexington Reservoir just outside of Los Gatos). Some old mines are not mapped if they are on private land, so one of the disclosures we have relates to unmapped, abandoned mines., which may be found in more rural pockets of the county.
Other Priorities for the Tools You Can Use list
In addition to natural and environmental hazards, there are big plusses that will attract new residents.
A School District Map of the County with school district boundaries will be a big help to you here, as schools are the #1 thing that drive home values. You can buy one at bookstores or online for about $5
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