Moving to Silicon Valley: is it possible to get a house here that’s as nice as the one you currently own?

Can You Get the Same Home Relocating to Silicon Valley?“Can I buy the same home in Silicon Valley?”

I am frequently contacted by extremely bright, successful engineers or high tech professionals who are in large homes on large lots with great schools in less expensive areas of the country, or ocasionally outsisde of the country. They want to move here because Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation, a center for jobs in high-tech, our weather’s great, crime’s low, and there’s so much to do in this region. The housing costs here are extraordinarily high here, but often these professionals hope that the salaries are commensurately high such that they can replicate the home and lifestyle they are accustom to elsewhere, but in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t work that way.

Unless you’re relocating here from New York, Tokyo, or Paris (or somewhere equally astronomically priced), don’t expect the salary offered in Silicon Valley will to go as far here as it would elsewhere in the world. I’m sorry.

Relocation & Silicon Valley: Downgrade to Upgrade

Downgrade the House, Upgrade the Price…

Most relocating homeowners can expect a home downgrade and a higher price compared to what they are leaving behind. Yes, incomes are a little higher but not nearly enough to match the discrepancy in real estate prices. This is even more true with the astronomical acceleration of the market that we’ve seen in 2021 and in early 2022. Even without a wild seller’s market I tell people, as a rule of thumb, that when you move here you will pay twice as much and get half as much. (While salaries might be a little higher, they are not usually double what you’d make elsewhere.)

Sometimes I get the comment: “I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley and have my family’s lifestyle negatively impacted by having to live in a smaller house. I want the quality of life to go up, not down!”

That is completely understandable. People who move here don’t do it because of the housing. They do it for the location and the style of living that this area offers.

… to Upgrade the Location and Lifestyle!

We have the Pacific Ocean an hour or less away, San Francisco an hour away, dozens of wineries, theatre, museums, professional sports (go Sharks!), and world-reknown parks and trails. Shoveling snow? Never! San Jose enjoys 300 sunny days a year on average. If you love to be outdoors, you can make the most of it all year long here where the weather is subtropical. Our population is highly diverse and highly educated, crime is low, not to mention it’s the center of the global tech industry! There are a thousand reasons why the South Bay is probably a major upgrade… but it’s not an upgrade if you equivocate your house with your lifestyle.

So if you are considering a move to Silicon Valley, expect to pay more, get less home, and move into an amazing community in a beautiful pocket of the world.

Related Reading from this and my other blogs:

Market Reports for Three Silicon Valley Counties

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

Comparing cost of housing in West Valley communities from Palo Alto to Los Gatos to Blossom Valley: what will a 4 bedroom home cost?

 

Are Fire Seasons New?

Fire season is a concern for all on the West CoastFire season is a concept we are familiar with in the West Coast, but it may be foreign to those moving here or living far away.

Not long ago I was on the phone with a cousin from the East Coast. That area had recently been hit by Tropical Storm Ida and over here we were being smothered by the smoke from the Northern California fires (Caldor, Dixie, Tamarack and some others). Aghast at enormity of it all, my cousin asked the poignant question, “has there always been a fire season, or is that a recent thing?”

Fire Season

Briefly, yes, California has always had a fire season.

One major reason people (myself included) love California is for its mostly dry Mediterranean, subtropical climate. However, that ideal dry hot summer climate is also a perfect tinderbox. Without summer rain, the grasses and annuals die off and many native perennials go dormant. Dry hot winds, frequent from around August through October, dry out the landscape even more. By this time, an open hillside is A-grade kindling – one little spark and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Even in wet seasons with no drought, the summer will always be hot and dry with a high risk of ignition. So while fire season is nothing new, it’s longer and much worse than it used to be.

Fire and California Homes

For California homeowners and buyers, the increasing fire danger is strongly felt. Most buyers tell me they do not want to be in high fire risk zones, but might not always know what to avoid. State and local governments have put more preventative regulations in place to keep homes safe from wildfire, both on builders and homeowners.

If you are relocating to Silicon Valley, you may be wondering what the risks of wildfire are like for this area. There are plenty of resources available online, and I always recommend clients to look at the hazard maps such as those listed in my article Tools You Can Use When Relocating to the San Jose Area. While the mountain and foothill communities may be at risk of wildfire, even the lowlands are experiencing another concern that comes with harsher fire seasons: smoke and air quality.

In my other blogs I have more articles dedicated to the topic, so I won’t go into detail here. I encourage you to view some of my articles about Fire at the Live In Los Gatos Blog or over at the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog under the Natural Hazards and Safety categories if you’re interested in learning more.

Some of the oldest trees living in California have the scars of past fires, sometimes multiple. Native plants have evolved and adapted to fire and can thrive in its shadow. And for as long as people have lived here, they have contended with seasonal fire danger.

Fire season 2021 has come to an end with the arrival of rain – a double bounty since we are in the middle of a severe drought. When the rains come, the problems aren’t over, though. In burned out areas, the next challenge will be mudslides and further damage to the fire zones. This is an old problem also, I remember hearing about the mudslides following the fires as a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s.

Fire hardening” is an important concept for those of us who live in or near large open spaces with hills especially. I suspect it will grow into a cottage industry with new experts appearing to advise or possibly install features which will make our homes and landscaping more resistant to advancing flames.

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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Cost of living calculator

Today I discovered a cost of living calculator on the MoneyGeek website and thought my readers may find it helpful, whether living here and thinking of retiring somewhere cheaper OR living somewhere less expensive and considering a move here. MoneyGeek includes San Jose in its list of cities, which other sites, such as Nerd Wallet, omit.

https://www.moneygeek.com/cost-of-living-calculator/

This seems to work best between large cities. When I tried to compare the cost of living in San Jose against other California cities or towns, the full info only came up in more populated areas. Give it a spin and see if it’s helpful!

Another good cost of living calculator can be found on the SmartAsset site, and this one factors in taxation:

https://smartasset.com/mortgage/cost-of-living-calculator

 

The shock of Silicon Valley housing costs: how little you can buy on a huge income

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.

Relocating from San Francisco to Silicon Valley

Coit Tower in San Francisco

Coit Tower in San Francisco

How hard could relocating from San Francisco to Silicon Valley be? It’s the same time zone, the same “San Francisco Bay Area” region, and depending on which part of Silicon Valley you target, the drive time could be all of 20 minutes – or perhaps well over an hour.

Relocating from San Francisco to Silicon Valley can be a little bit of a culture shock, which is surprising given the close proximity of the two areas.  What’s so different?

(1) Most noticeably, the scenery is different.

You won’t be seeing the Golden Gate Bridge,  facing frighteningly steep hills, or catching a view of the Pacific Ocean from the Cliff House when you’re in Silicon Valley. Nob Hill, the Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Union Square, Market Street, Mission Dolores, the SOMA district and so many other colorful parts of the city will be places you visit on weekends rather than drop in on some evening for supper. The scenic beauty of San Francisco may be the thing you will miss the most if you move out of that fabled city.

Beauty isn’t absent from Silicon Valley, though!  There are views of the San Francisco Bay in many places (Foster City and Redwood Shores especially).  Scenic vistas of the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains can be enjoyed from many locations in the South Bay, especially Los Altos, Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Gatos, and the Almaden Valley in San Jose. Part of Silicon Valley reaches into North San Jose, Milpitas, and Fremont, where views of the eastern foothills can be quite lovely, too.  Some of these communities have a high elevation and can see the bay as well as the valley.

San Mateo County - Crystal Springs path by water

San Mateo County – Crystal Springs path by water

If you are relocating from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, you’ll want to be outdoors more and enjoy the many open spaces available to you. Parks and hiking areas abound on the Peninsula and in Santa Clara County. For example, you’ve probably driven past Crystal Springs Reservoir many times- but did you know that you can hike there?  Santa Clara County has a network of trails following various creeks.  The Los Gatos Creek Trail (with some adjacent percolation ponds) runs from Lexington Reservoir down into the valley, stopping at Meridian Avenue. There are also trails around parts of the bay – and eventually trails should ring the whole SF Bay Area, but that may take quite awhile.

At Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos you can rent a paddle boat and roam the lake in style! Or how about sauntering on horseback in the low foothills of Saratoga at Garrod’s? A day at Filoli in Woodside is always good for the soul – lovely places to walk around both outdoors and in. (Really spectacular during the holidays, too.)

Got wine?  You’ll get great views if you take in some wine tasting in Saratoga (several spots, also at Cooper-Garrod’s if you want to sip wine after riding horses) or Cupertino at Ridge Vineyards, too. There are dozens of wineries in Silicon Valley, including J Lohr near the San Jose airport.

Lovely sights are bountiful in The Valley(more…)