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:

(more…)

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

 

What are the usual open house times in Silicon Valley?

Open House signs when to whenIf 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.)

Moving to Silicon Valley in fall or winter? A few things to know.

Winter Arrival Graphic - says "Winter Arrival"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. (more…)

Silicon Valley desirability for tech workers may hinge on age

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:

Millennials  45.5%

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.

http://blog.indeed.com/2016/07/06/is-silicon-valley-still-top-tech-hub/