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.
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.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. Continue reading
If you are house hunting in Silicon Valley and new to the area, you may wonder when the usual open house times are. Unfortunately, open house times are not perfectly predictable as there is variation both from one brokerage or agent to the next and one region of the counties that comprise Silicon Valley to the next as well. As an example, in the Blossom Valley area of San Jose, condos or houses are frequently available for viewing between 1:30 and 4:30, but it’s not a rule – some listings may have a totally different schedule!
In general, most open houses will be available between 2 and 4 on weekend days if advertised as open (sometimes Saturday, sometimes Sunday, sometimes both. Open houses can run from 12-5, 2-4, 1-4, 1:30 – 4:30, 2-5 etc. If you arrive between 2 and 4 (not “at” 4), you are likely to find it open if it’s advertised as such. Some real estate agents may hold it open sooner or later, though. If a Realtor has a couple of properties that need to be held open for the public, one could be from 11-1 and the other from 3-5 or some such schedule.
The broker open house is usually not intended for the public, but for agents to show listings to other agents who are looking for their clients. Occasionally (more frequently now than before), the home is open to the public to view. Broker open home tours take place on weekday mornings, typically Wednesday, between approximately 9:30am and 12:30pm. If non real estate professionals (the public) are welcome, it will be advertised on our MLS, so check online or with your agent.
It is always best to check online at www.MLSListings.com for the most accurate schedule for open houses, which may be during weekday mornings, twilight tours, or weekend afternoons or mornings.
Finally, do not count on all properties listed for sale in Santa Clara or San Mateo Counties to necessarily be available for viewing at an open house. Some listing agents and some sellers prefer NO open houses, believing that any qualified buyer who’s serious will be working with a buyer’s agent and can make an appointment to see it privately. (This is yet another reason why every buyer should have his or her own real estate agent rather than planning to work with the listing agent when buying their next home.)
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. Continue reading
Just read an interesting article on how important tech workers feel it is to live in Silicon Valley: Is Silicon Valley Still the Top Tech Hub? This piece reports on a survey done by Indeed Prime which found that many high tech workers do not believe that living in Silicon Valley is all that important for their careers. For all those polled, 68.3% said that living here is either “not that important” or “not at all important.”
I can almost hear local old timers saying “great, maybe we’ll get our calm environment back if they all go to Seattle, New York, or Austin!”
So what is happening? High housing costs do scare people off of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and San Jose and nearby specifically. Recently, my 26 year old son (in high tech also – he’s a video game designer currently getting a master’s in that field) informed me that many of his old high school friends don’t feel like they’ll ever be able to afford to live here. And they are all well employed. I can see that, and it’s terribly sad.
But I don’t think you can blame the lack of attachment by tech workers generally to Silicon Valley real estate prices, because the attachment to living in the Santa Clara Valley is not uniform across all types of tech workers.
Further into this article, there’s a breakdown by age – and here it gets interesting. Many younger high tech folks find value in being here, but the interest wanes as the workers age (that could be due to housing and the availability of other alternative locations for work).
For those thinking that having a job in Silicon Valley is important or very important, the generational breakdown is as follows:
Gen X 32.5%
Baby Boomers 10.2%
Will we see a trend toward a younger, more transient population here? Time will tell. But the other places luring Silicon Valley talent share some of our same challenges. Alternative locations for high tech careers include New York (not known for being inexpensive) and Boston (also fairly pricey) as well as more affordable locations such as Austin (where prices have been going through the roof), Seattle (also seeing extremely steep appreciation in real estate costs), Washington DC, Atlanta, and Demver.
It is a very interesting bit of research and I encourage my readers to check it out.
This video is pretty good overall, though it misses some areas which are part of Silicon Valley, mispronounces the names of many areas, and refers to Gordon Moore as George Moore. Despite some errors, it’s entertaining and brief, and I think newcomers will find it helpful as an intro to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley regions of California.
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:
- San Jose is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, so is part of the SF Bay Metro Area (and is about 1 hour south of San Francisco, which locals call The City)
- This sprawling city has a number of different districts or communities. 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 recently hit 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 just about the highest in the nation. 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 on housing.
- Weather is often ideal – 300 sunny days per year, so you won’t need that basement if you’re coming from someplace with long, cold winters. 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 the best place to raise a kid. Just google that 🙂
- Next to housing or real estate prices, traffic is the second biggest complaint.
Looking for more info? Here are some links:
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).
Santa Clara County homes for sale with good schools up to $1,200,000
Palo Alto[idx-listings city=”Palo Alto” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Los Altos[idx-listings city=”Los Altos” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Cupertino[idx-listings city=”CUPERTINO” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Saratoga[idx-listings city=”Saratoga” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Los Gatos[idx-listings city=”Los Gatos” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Milpitas[idx-listings city=”Milpitas” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Almaden area of San Jose[idx-listings community=”Almaden Valley” maxprice=”1200000″ statuses=”1″ propertytypes=”275,328,329″ orderby=”DateAdded” orderdir=”DESC” count=”5″]
Want more areas? Please search below, or use the widget in the sidebar.[idx-quick-search format=”horizontal”]
Odor problems are a sensitive topic, whether you’re talking about someone just in from exercising or a whole town or neighborhood. Home for sale with a periodic stench? That won’t be listed in the MLS, and it may be down played in the disclosures. This can be very upsetting if you learn it only after you move in.
The most common issues in Santa Clara County seem to relate to either agricultural areas, food processing, or sewer / sewage processing. Other issues can be at dumps, areas with standing water (bad idea as this can breed disease bearing mosquitos), and food or other consumable processing plants (not common in Silicon Valley). A brewery or coffee roasting plant can be stinky at times. Get downwind of any of these and it may be unpleasant. On a much smaller scale, it’s possible to have a bad neighbor who creates an odor nuisance, making life unpleasant. I’ve had clients tell me of neighbors who “go out to their back yard and smoke pot every day”, making my client’s back yard an unpleasant place and nearly unusable. Other bad neighbor problems can be from yards with too many pets and not enough cleanup, or poor composting.
For folks relocating to Silicon Valley, though, it’s important to be aware of smelly or potentially smelly areas. The locals know about them – and you should, too.
Gilroy, in the “south county” area, is well known as the Garlic Capital of the World. There’s a Garlic Festival late each July. To be sure, the smell is strong when the garlic ripens in the field. I can often smell it all the way in Los Gatos on a warm summer morning! The smell is also strong when it’s getting processed at the plant along Highway 152. Gilroy has a nice downtown area and is more affordable than most of Santa Clara County. It enjoys a Caltrain stop so offers an easier commute than most places in the San Jose area.
Morgan Hill, just a little north of Gilroy, but also in south county, has a mushroom festival (the Mushroom Mardi Gras in late May each year). Mushrooms are a super food but mushroom farms smell pretty awful. Currently, there are 3 mushroom farms in Morgan Hill. Buying in that beautiful city? Visit the area many times, at different times of the day and week. Talk to neighbors and see if you can find out if this is an issue for them – I want to note that it is not a problem everywhere. Morgan Hill is also more affordable than most of the San Francisco Bay Area, also includes a very nice downtown, and features a Caltrain stop too. (I’m told that Google and Apple buses have stops there as well.)
Milpitas, on the northeast end of the county, sometimes has problems from the wind carrying smells from a landfill near the bay on the east side of Alviso. There’s also a sewer processing plant in the same general area that may be contributing to the challenge. It’s bad enough that there’s a whole website dedicated to this problem: http://milpitas-odor.info/ This smell is not confined to just Milpitas but may be experienced in adjacent areas such as Alviso, north San Jose, northern Santa Clara, and southern Fremont, but Milpitas appears to get the brunt of it. Milpitas has really strong public schools, is “close in” and convenient for many commuters, and is not as expensive as communities on the west side of the valley with similarly high scoring schools. It’s a very good “bang for your buck” in terms of the amount of home / school you get for your money. But the odor problems have been enormous ones over the years.
The Shoreline park in Mountain View was a landfill at one time, and years ago was well known to have issues with smells and also with spontaneous combustion fires that began as the gas from composting materials somehow lit. That was almost 20 years ago and the situation has been corrected for many years now. (You can read more on that here.)
There’s a landfill in the Almaden area of San Jose near the Los Gatos border, the Guadalupe Landfill (that area was originally a mercury mine). I’m not aware of odor problems coming from this one, but due to Milpitas’s ongoing nightmare with bad smells, some of the waste that might have gone to the Newby Island landfill will now be going to Guadalupe, starting in late 2017.
What can a newby to Silicon Valley do?
First, read the disclosures very, very carefully. Often home buyers breeze through them and don’t ask probing questions on what something means. A seller may write “occasional agricultural odors” and that doesn’t sound too bad. What if that means half the time, you cannot miss the mushroom farm? Ask questions to get more info on the disclosure answers. And talk to neighbors as well as local real estate agents.
Second, learn where these items are located, if local: food processing plants, water processing plants, landfills, farms, ranches, homes with farm animals (if any). You might be surprised that in Silicon Valley you could have a 4-H neighbor who’s raising a goat or some other type of animal – it may smell or be noisy! In my east Los Gatos neighborhood, I was surprised that a neighbor about 5 houses away had goats for 4-H, and glad they weren’t any closer!
It’s so easy to get lost when you’re new to an area and don’t know what’s where! Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in large landmarks such as the Bay, the coastal range and the east foothills. At first, the mountains might seem like they all look the same. But if you know what to look for, you’ll soon get your bearings – assuming that it’s daytime and the weather is cooperative!
Here are my Silicon Valley landmarks and mental tricks or visioning – the ones I use to know where I am or where I am going. First, imagine that the Santa Clara Valley is a bit like a funnel with mountains that narrow at the bottom on two sides and the San Francisco Bay on top. OK, it’s not quite straight, but it’s not a bad analogy otherwise. Next, consider how to tell the two sets of hills apart. The ones closest to the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains (aka the coastal range) are full of redwood trees and another conifers and they stay green year round. These hills are nearly always a deep, dark green or blue-green. The eastern foothills, on the other hand, are mostly grassy but dotted with oak tree clusters in the nooks and crannies of the hills where the rain catches. Those hills are a bright, lighter green in winter (when it rains!) but for much of summer and fall they are blanketed with a yellow-gold grass.
Now that you have the basic East – West (or actually South to Soutwest, depending) direction sorted out, it’s time to learn what to look for in each of the mountains to get your location sorted out a little better. Fortunately, each of them has a large structure perched on a high peak, so as long as the weather is clear and it’s daytime, they tend to stand out from almost anywhere in Santa Clara County.
Mt. Hamilton & the Lick Observatory
On the east side, if you scan the crest, you will see a white blip or two. That is the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.
Here’s a closer view (aerial):
On the southwest side, in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose, we have Mount Umunhum (which I’ve blogged about previously on my SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com site – see http://sanjoserealestatelosgatoshomes.com/tag/mt-umunhum/ ). It looks like a big, white box sitting on a flat part of the mountaintop.
Sometimes all you see is a little snippet of it poking out over some other hill – this is especially true if you are far north of it.
And here’s an aerial view of it from the Santa Cruz side of “the hill”:
If you are too far north, you will not see it at all – but if you can see it, you are likely to be fairly close by, on the southern end of Silicon Valley (unless you’re in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or nearby and another hill is obscuring the view).
My next, and last, tip is to look for “the pass” for highway 17 from Los Gatos and running through the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is easier to spot than you might think – just remember that any mountain pass is going to come in a natural gap of some kind and in a low point on the hills. That happens here, too. The image below was taken from a medical center’s parking garage on Samaritan Drive in San Jose, just on the Los Gatos border. That low point where you see two hills going way down – that’s it, that’s the pass. And that’s where you’ll find downtown Los Gatos (or very close to it).
Almaden would be to the left of this, by the way – but visible from this spot.
If you can find at least 2 of these landmarks – Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, or the Santa Cruz Mountains pass at Los Gatos, you can likely figure out your approximate location. Hope this helps!