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? In short:
- Density / Sprawl
- Weather / Climate
- Parking / Transit / Traffic
- Events & Dining
- Housing Sticker Shock
We’ll go over each of these below.
Silicon Valley Scenery
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.
A view of Downtown San Jose on the valley floor from The Ranch community in Evergreen district on the East Valley area of Santa Clara County.
Are you mulling over a job opportunity in the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley? If you’re relocating to San Jose, or nearby, there are a few helpful things to know right away. Here’s a quick primer:
Relocating to San Jose – Here are Some Quick Facts.
- San Jose (officially named City of San José) is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, so is part of the SF Bay Metro Area and about 1 hour by car south of San Francisco (which locals call The City).
- It is located within Santa Clara County, and geographically in the Santa Clara Valley and along the foothills of the Santa Cruz and Diablo ranges.
- This sprawling city has a number of different districts or communities, some of which have their own thriving downtown strips. There are also quite a few school districts – school lines are not based on city or zip code boundaries.
- The beach at Santa Cruz is anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes away from most of San Jose (assuming you don’t go at the peak of “beach traffic” timing on a weekend or holiday).
- San Jose is also the home of Silicon Valley, which began here in Santa Clara County, but has now spread throughout the area.
- This city is the 10th largest in the United States (though poll most people who aren’t in The Golden State and they couldn’t tell you where it is). The population is just shy of the 1 million mark. The county has about 1.9 million people and the Silicon Valley region (Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, and a little each of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County)
- Home prices are reportedly on average the highest in the nation, and 5th highest in the world. The average price of a house in the area is $1 million. And that is not for a big home, in most cases. Sticker shock is the #1 reason why some people won’t move here – and why others move away. Rents are, similarly, high. It’s not uncommon to hear of people spending half their income or more on housing.
- Next to housing or real estate prices, traffic is the second biggest complaint.
- Weather is often ideal – 300 sunny days per year, and there are many parks and open spaces to make use of it all. Winter here is pretty much just December and January, and even in January you’ll see some trees pop alive with beautiful blossoms.
- San Jose has frequently been named one of the best places to raise a kid.
Looking for more info? Here are some links:
Facts about San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley
From the City of San Jose: San José at-a-glance
San Jose is big and sprawling: where the the districts?
Browse available listings of San Jose homes for sale
Silicon Valley retirement can be challenging for those already living in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s even more challenging for those hoping to spend their Golden Years here if they are coming from a less expensive area. Today I want to give some info on:
- what does it cost to buy a home here (typical retirement size home)
- what are typical HOA dues
- what are typical property taxes
- what are some of the housing options that retirees or seniors have when relocating to Silicon Valley?
Silicon Valley retirement: what a modest home costs to buy here
The average sale price of a condominium in Santa Clara County is over $1 million (and it’s even more in San Mateo County), and that includes the range from most pricey to most affordable (and often most remote) locations. In most of the Unites States, a million dollars will get you a high end house on a comfortable lot. Houses are averaging around $2 million, so that is out of the question for the majority of retirees who move here from out of the area.
If a family member wants to come here to retire, most likely he or she will want to pay cash for a home so that there is no mortgage payment in retirement. If the budget is $1 million or less, that’s likely to mean purchasing a condo or perhaps a townhouse. In Santa Clara County, here’s where the money would go furthest:
A 2 bedroom, 2 bath unit…
Silicon Valley retirement costs will be vastly different between Palo Alto and Gilroy. San Jose will generally be more affordable than most of the rest of Santa Clara County except for the “South County” areas of Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Gilroy. San Jose is home to about a million people, and it has more and less expensive areas, of course.
The average sale price of a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condominium in San Jose in the last 30 days was $748,797. The average square footage was 1160 SF,
If 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?
“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?
Fire 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?”
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.