Homes & Housing

How is buying a home in Silicon Valley different from in other parts of the country?

Silicon Valley area is different from other parts of the US for home buyers.  What did they need to be concerned about here versus in the midwest or east coast? They knew about earthquakes, and having to strap water heaters for earthquake safety, but what about earthquake insurance? Are termites a problem here?  What things should home buyers worry about here that perhaps are not issues elsewhere?

I thought that this was a great question.  Here are the big areas that come to mind:

    1.  Earthquakes (of course) and everything related: selling requirements, insurance questions, related natural hazard zones (liquefaction zones, landslide areas, etc.), where fault lines are located, etc.  People moving to California generally know that they need to be concerned about seismic occurrences, but perhaps not all the related areas.
    2.  Expansive clay soils: when you read your history, you may have heard that in early California, homes were made of adobe bricks.  What may not have been clear is how strong that soil is. I have a couple of blog posts on my Valley of Hearts Delight blog on this topic: Cracked Foundations, Adobe Clay Soils and Water in Silicon ValleyWhat To Consider When Buying a Hillside Home in Silicon Valley
    3.  Termites: in general, there are 2 types of these pests active on the valley floor: drywood termites and subterranean termites. (In the Los Gatos Mountains and closer to the Pacific Ocean you may also encounter dampwood termites.)  It may be possible to try to prevent subterranean termites with bait stakes placed underground, but there is no way to prevent drywood termites.  You can fumigate your home and within a few days they could be back (but won’t be visible for a year or two at the earliest in most cases).  Termites do better here than in many places of the country simply because it’s warmer here.  They may swarm twice a year rather than once.  Please also read this post for more info: How Often Should You Get A Termite Inspection?
    4.  Houses:
      • No basements – there are very few homes with basements here (the very old ones and those which are newer and extremely expensive).  A very common question is “where do people store all their stuff if they don’t have a basement?”  For most households, the storage center tends to be the garage.  Built in cabinets and storage shelves are highly appreciated.  When people purchase homes with 3 car garages, often that 3rd space is not for a car, but for “stuff” – luggage, holiday decor, momentos, old files, etc.
      • Foundations – older homes are usually built on a “raised” foundation or perimeter foundation with support beams under the center part of the home.  Some types of homes, such as Eichler designed houses (mid-century modern ranch style) were built with slab foundations and actually have radiant heating (heating coils built into the slab).  Newer homes now tend to be built on slab also (10-15 years of age or less).  Most of our valley has 40-60 year old ranch style homes, though, and these are mostly “raised” foundations with a crawl space.
      • Houses are built to move in case of an earthquake – most of our homes are built with wood and are intended to move in the case of an earthquake.  It is very rare to find a house made out of brick here because they don’t do well in case of severe shaking.

These are perhaps the most salient differences home buyers relocating to Silicon Valley might want to be aware of.  For each of these points, there are things to learn and red flags to watch for.