If you are moving to California, or have recently arrived here, you are no doubt aware that this is Earthquake Country. There are modifications to the residence that can be done to improve earthquake safety, both inside of the home and in the structure itself. Is your home safe in an earthquake now? If not, it’s always a good time to address it, as quakes are a frequent occurrence here.
General tips and resources
Most injuries from quakes happen things falling on someone, so there’s a great focus on indoor precautions, such as securing book cases and tall pieces of furniture to the walls by bolting them securely in place, strapping water heaters, and so on. If you do a web search for how to make your home earthquake safe or ready, you will find many tips along these lines. If you aren’t familiar with these tips, here is one to get you started:
Required disclosures in California
When you buy or lease a home (for 1 year or more), you are supposed to receive the mandated Homeowner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety, print or digital, as well as information on mold, lead paint, etc. Both the state and also many companies provide these regulatory disclosures, and they are worthwhile reading for anyone living in the Golden State especially. If you implement the home improvement suggestions in these pamphlets, it could not just make your home safe in an earthquake, it could save a life.
Additionally, home owners need to provide a statement they’ve completed regarding earthquake hazards and what is known about them to buyers or those who will lease for 1 year or more. You can see that form here: Residential Earthquake Hazard Report. The questions were written by the state of California, so they are not 100% intelligible to consumers, however, submitting a query to any of the major search engines can provide results on what questions are being asked. Please read and learn to understand what the questions are asking, as they all pertain to safety issues, which for most of us would be paramount.
Sometimes I see sellers answer “don’t know” to every question on the form. That is not helpful. Most sellers do know if their water heater is strapped, and if they have done a pre-sale inspection, the inspector will have told them if the strapping is correct or not. If they don’t know what a cripple wall is, a quick search will tell them whether that question applies at all – and often, it doesn’t. Most houses here do not have brick (aka “masonry”) foundations.
Earthquake safety and soft story construction
Question 7 reads of the form listed above says:
If the house has a living area over the garage, was the wall around the garage door
opening either built to resist earthquakes or has it been strengthened?
A a garage or carport with a living area above it is called a soft story (sometimes spelled soft storey) and is more vulnerable to damage from earthquakes because of the large opening at the garage door. This could be a house, a townhouse, a duet home, a condominium, etc. – anywhere there’s a living space over a parking space with a wide opening for cars to pass through. In some cases, there’s only a little overlap between the parking area and the living area above. In others, there are 2 stories above, and no dividers between the carports, so there are a lot of gradations to it. Newer homes, of course, have been engineered better. (I think you are unlikely to see the open carport style in newer construction.)
We see that configuration all the time, yet many people do not understand the vulnerability or that they might want to address it. You can see some scary pics by doing a Google image search for Soft Story Earthquake.
It is possible to improve safety by strengthening or reinforcing the areas on each side of the door frame (if there IS a door frame, sometimes it’s an open carport), and perhaps additional areas, too. The same issue would be at play if you were in a home over a shop with large display windows and not much solid wall directly below you. A structural engineer can give the best advice on home improvements that will make the structure safer in case of a quake.
In some parts of California, there’s a movement to get apartment and soft story building owners to retrofit buildings. Palo Alto has been discussing it in recent years. Los Angeles has been requiring the retrofitting for seismic safety of many buildings mandatory for a couple of years now.
That could be a significant cost but would no doubt save lives in the event of a major seismic strike.
If you are going to purchase a home with a living area over the garage, or have already done so, see if you should bolster the engineering for safety. Some improvements may not be costly, so don’t dismiss it as unfeasible without investigating. If you own a condo with a soft story ground floor, learn what can be done to strengthen the building so there is a lessened risk of collapse.
There are many more issues to making your property more safe in an earthquake that we didn’t touch on here today. Be sure to ask your home inspector or structural engineer how you can make your dwelling more earthquake resistant and more safe in case of shaking and related issues. Read the state guide, linked above, which has great information that every California resident should know.
Here are some related links:
The annual Silicon Valley Jewish Music Festival will take place Sun, June 2, 2019 from 2:00 PM – 7:00 PM at the JCC in Los Gatos, and all are welcome. Enjoy live music, food, and family activities at this annual festival on the JCC field. This year’s theme will be camping and there will be song circles around a campfire, in between the headlining bands that will perform on the main stage. There will also be food trucks and a wine & beer vendor.
Get all of the details on the EventBrite page:
Looking to get a sense of the rental prices in Silicon Valley? Today I’ll show you how to find the median rental price by zip code for homes in Silicon Valley by using my weekly Altos Research real estate market reports for Silicon Valley.
We will use Cupertino’s housing market as an example, because many high tech employees plan to work in that city. My Altos Research report for Cupertino. You can access it at this link Mary Pope-Handy’s Cupertino Market Report. When you click through, it will look something like this:
There are tabs for houses and condos, and you can toggle as desired.
On the right, you will see the market profile. Below, view one for the single family homes and one for condos. I have outlined where the median rental value shows so that you can locate it fast.
Not really wanting to live in Cupertino? Find the “Search Anywhere” field near the top and enter a city name or a zip code and you can spot check areas of interest.
Subscribe for the weekly reports
Please click the “Subscribe” button in the upper right corner to get any of the reports emailed to you weekly.
Not a rental Realtor
NB: I do not work in the rental market as 99.99% of rental homes are “for rent by owner” and there’s not a place for a Realtor in that structure. When folks first move to Silicon Valley, though, they usually want to rent for awhile, so I will sometimes provide rental info because I know it’s needed. Interested in buying or selling? Please do reach out to me! Best to start with email so that a phone call can be scheduled: firstname.lastname@example.org as I get a lot of spam / robo calls. However, feel free to call first if you prefer – 408-204-7673.
San Jose Districts and their Values (Feb 2018)
This morning I read a comprehensive article assessing the real estate market in California and several key markets within it. Normally I do not publish a post here suggesting that people read analysis elsewhere, but this is an exception, as it includes 2019 predictions that most home owners or home buyers would find of interest.
Some of the 2019 predictions are along the lines of my own thinking, including that we have to see what happens in February to understand the market’s direction, and that it seems that it will continue to be an appreciating market in 2019 (if milder, per many economists). Also the falling prices have spooked home buyers, so rather than rushing at the 20% off sale, some are waiting for prices to be cut by 65% (I wouldn’t hold my breath) or some other extreme number.
California Housing Market Report and Predictions 2018 2019
If you’d like to check out the real estate market data in Santa Clara County and other Silicon Valley communities, please visit my main blog site, ValleyOfHeartsDelight.com/blog or SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com (the first link forwards to the second).
Other reading of interest:
What’s going on with the Silicon Valley real estate market? Is it as crazy as ever with multiple offers, overbids, and few or no contingencies? Today we’ll consider the regional view, aka The Big Picture, to provide a sense of what is going on. For info on smaller areas or districts, please head over to my main blog, the Valley Of Heart’s Delight Blog – SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com. There cities, towns, and districts are looked at in depth.
Seasonal Patterns in Silicon Valley
The quietest time (number of sales, traffic, etc.) and lowest prices in the real estate market tend to fall in January, or sometimes in December. As with most years, this time around January had the lowest prices.
Most years, we see strong buyer activity with multiple offers early in the year – often emerging as a pattern by the middle of February.
Right now, some home sellers have not accepted that home prices have dropped 20% or so since the peak last spring (more or less depending on location, pricing tier, school districts, property condition, and so on). Those properties are not moving quickly.
For sellers who understand the current market conditions and have priced appropriately, home buyers are flocking and multiple offers are back – in force.
In short, there’s a kind of duality right now, so it’s a weird time. Homes that were sitting on the market but get a price reduction may linger awhile, and then sell with multiple offers. This catches buyers and their Realtors off guard.
To provide regional Silicon Valley market conditions, today I’ll post info on the three counties (San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz).
In terms of expense, San Mateo is the most costly of these 3, and overall it becomes less expensive in Santa Clara County, then less expensive still in Santa Cruz County. Alameda County has a little of Silicon Valley, but that area is in a different MLS system so is not part of this analysis.
Next, a look at sale prices an market conditions for single family homes and condominiums / townhomes by county.
What does it cost to buy a house or condo in Silicon Valley?
In Santa Clara County (home to Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, San Jose, and my own Los Gatos), the average sale price is $1,413,000 and the median sale price $1,185,000 – quite a bit lower than last spring.
Santa Clara County
Please click to enlarge:
For condominiums and townhouses, of course, it is a more affordable.
In San Mateo County (home to Redwood Shores, Foster City, Menlo Park, San Mateo), the average sale price is about $1.78 million for houses recently sold. The median is a little lower at $1.425 million. Continue reading
Here’s a 10 or 11 minute interview with Mike Simonsen, Altos Research CEO (whose charts and graphs are found on all my sites) on the 2019 real estate market.
When people relocating to Silicon Valley get “sticker shock” on our real estate prices, most of the time they look for more affordable places in which to live that are close by. Often finding neighborhoods with good schools comes into play. Or perhaps they simply love the scenic town of Los Gatos but can’t buy in town (95030 and 95032 zip codes are “in town” and 95033 is the unincorporated county areas with a Los Gatos mailing address). The mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz – the coastal range – is home to a number of communities such as Chemeketa Park, Holy City, Aldercroft Heights, the Lexington Reservoir area (the town of Lexington is under the reservoir now!), Alma, Redwood Estates (Upper Redwood Estates, Lower Redwood Estates) and more.
The Los Gatos Mountains are a specialty area and I don’t usually work them. I frequently will refer them out or team up with someone else who knows a lot more than I do about the unique things you need to worry about if buying up there.
There are many plusses to living in the Los Gatos Mountains: clean air, more open space (less crowding), beautiful vistas, great schools (top rated public schools), lower housing costs. It’s a fabulous place if you have horses or just love more seclusion. The folks who live in the hills absolutely love their communities and homes.
At the same time, there are special consideration if you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here’s a list of potential issues that mountain residents may face:
Many residential roads are private & there are private road agreements in place (so owners must agree on paving, clearing brush or trees too close to the road, pay if the road washes out in a mudslide to clear it or if soil beneath it gives way, etc.)
- Utilities: in the valley, we have Pacific Gas & Electric (PG & E) and public water (most of us have San Jose Water). In the mountains most or many of them have propane gas (not P G & E), they do have electric from PG & E though, and well water. Our recent drought – which ended officially this week – was not severe but with a worse drought the wells can run dry and then mountain residents have to truck water in, which is very expensive. You also must periodically check well water for arsenic and other elements and purity. (Also there’s septic instead of sewer. Not a big deal but it’s one more thing to maintain.)
- Fire concerns – the wildland areas are at risk of fire in summer, so the fire marshall’s regulations are to keep brush cleared a certain distance from your house to help lessen the risk. (Google “fire santa cruz mountains” and you will get a lot of news returns on fire danger and past fires).
- Winter weather issues – the higher elevations can get snow a couple of times a year – doesn’t last long but can make roads impassable (not as low as Chemeketa Park but near the summit and perhaps upper Redwood Estates). Trees sometimes fall and block roads and driveways during heavy rainfall. Our redwood trees have VERY shallow roots and I think this is why they come down in strong winds and rain, but I’m not sure. The lovely trees are green year round, including winter. They can keep the sun away if you’re in a heavily forrested area, though. I had friends who lived near the summit and they said that in winter, sunshine never touched their property. Finally, with all the trees and more severe winter weather in the Mtns, residents there lose electricity more often than we do in the valley (due to trees falling I am sure).
- Beach traffic – the mountain communities are all pretty dependent on Hwy 17 (there are few alternatives) and there’s a wave of traffic tie ups as coast visitors come and go with the warm weather.
- San Andreas Earthquake Fault – runs pretty much down the spine of the coastal range (on or close to Summit Road). The summit is the “sunniest” area in the mountains, so if I lived there I’d want to be where there’s more sunlight – but that would mean straddling one of the most powerful and most scary earthquake faults on the globe. I won’t do it!
- Travel time – hwy 17 can be pretty smooth but once off the road, it can be 10 to 20 or more minutes until you get to the house, so the total travel time to whereever you’re going can be long. That’s especially true if there’s an accident on 17, which is not so uncommon with all the curves in the road. There is a large grocery store on Summit Road so it is not necessary to drive to the valley for the basics.
- Resale issues – even in a “hot” market, it takes far longer to sell a mountain home than one on the valley floor. Agents in my office say that on a typical open house up there they get one or two people per hour. It is not uncommon for a mountain house to take a year to sell. I just checked the average Days on Market and it’s 63. In todays hot sellers market, that’s significantly longer than in the valley but far less than when I last updated this post in March 2011 when the Days on Market were 212.
- Bugs – in addition to drywood termites and subterranean termites, up in the SC Mountains they also have dampwood termites.
If you’re interested in learning more about the mountains, please email me! I can get you more info and partner with a “mountain agent” to get you the best deal on a property in the coastal range near the San Jose area.
Finally, if you are not sure which area is in Los Gatos vs having a Los Gatos mailing address (which can also happen in pockets on the valley floor), the best resource is the map of the town’s boundaries, which you can find here: http://www.losgatosca.gov/DocumentCenter/View/338
What’s available in the mountains today?
How’s the market in 95033 this week?
It is not at all unusual for the housing market to go flat or even decline a little in the second half of the year. In October, the local Silicon Valley real estate market got an uptick as prices rose from the month before, homes sold a little faster, and basically things inched back into the seller’s favor. Sometimes homes that sell between Labor Day and Halloween seem to be in a second spring of sorts. In November so far, though, the Silicon Valley real estate market softens again – slightly. It’s all slightly more depressed than in October: prices are a little lower, days on market a little longer, etc. It is still a seller’s market, but not nearly to the degree it was in spring.
In other words, it’s a good time to buy (at least compared to 6 months ago).
Home buyers are funny, as a rule. They tend to buy when it’s a frenzy and prices are skyrocketing and multiple offers are in the crazy zone with buyers going in without any contingencies. Once the foot comes off the gas and they can buy with some rights to contingencies and can purchase closer to list price, many buyers freak out and won’t buy at all. It’s like the market has to be against them if they are at all interested.
Let’s look at the numbers for Santa Clara County. I pulled these tonight from MLS Listings and the data reflects single family homes in Santa Clara County. (Remember, closed sales were usually ratified about 30 days prior.)
First – inventory – I think it’s very important to not just view the month-over-month changes, but the year over year. How does it usually look for this month in the past? 2017 was a weird year, so going back a little further in time provides helpful perspective.
The Silicon Valley market recently seemed to be on the skids from late spring through summer. The question was whether the decline in average and median sales prices was “seasonally normal” or if it was the beginning of a correction. Depending on which way you look at the data (or which data you used), you might come up with a different conclusion. What I did not expect at this point was an uptick in the market.
Today I did a quick study of pricing in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County. To my surprise, it appears that the closed sale prices so far in October are noticeably higher than in August – perhaps the sliding prices are sliding no more? Do we have an uptick in the market? We’ll have to watch and see. There are obviously very few sales so early in the month, but no matter which angle I tried, I did keep getting the same result: higher median and average sale prices in Santa Clara County and San Mateo County for single family homes. It was also strong for the condo / townhome market in Santa Clara County, but there’s a little dip for San Mateo County so far this month.
Here are some charts that I created from MLSListings, using the stats tools, today.
First, Santa Clara County single family homes, average sale price and median sale price. The uptick in sale prices is clear.
Next, the same criteria, but for San Mateo County, which also shows rising average and median sale prices :
Whether you’re a long-term renter, temporary renter looking for a furnished rental, or a landlord, you’re probably wondering how the Silicon Valley’s apartment rental market is today and where it’s heading. Most real estate agents in this area do not deal with rentals, so rental housing is not typically something we track super closely. That being said, the same things that affect the residential resale market frequently effect the apartment rental market as well. So, without the help from my usual sources, such as the MLS (Multiple Listing Services), let’s look at what people are saying about the current trends.
Silicon Valley’s cooling apartment rental market
There are a few good sources for rental home information. One of them is RentCafe, which provides info on many cities and towns in Santa Clara County. The RentCafe page on Mountain View, for instance, provided the average apartment rental for all apartments, for studios, 1 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms, and 3 bedrooms. The overall averages seem to be somewhere between the 1 and 2 bedroom price points. It also shared today’s softened prices relative to last year’s. (I find this curious since buying a home is now more expensive than a year ago.)
RentCafe has similar info for a few cities nearby. You can find Santa Clara here, but change the last part of the URL to get a different city:
Another excellent source of information is Apartment List.
Apartment List does not analyze every city and town, nor do they study the difference between neighborhoods, such as comparing South San Jose with Willow Glen, but where they do give insight helps to show the major trends happening around the bay area. Check out Apartment List for more detailed analysis, and the most up-to-date information on the market. Also check out their Rentonomics page with more articles on renting.
Is there a solution to the lack of low-cost apartment rentals?
Analysts all believe there will be some market turnaround in the not too far future, but there are a few answers to where it may come from. CNBC published an article on the housing shortage dealing with high tech companies. Large industry leaders such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter continue to hire, bringing people into the area more quickly than developers are building, and forcing up the prices in both housing and rental markets. Employees have asked these companies to help, and some are responding. Google and Facebook have both come up with plans to construct affordable housing.
For years, California law has stated that a certain amount of affordable housing must be available in each community. Unfortunately, many communities are ignoring both the law and the need for such developments. If every community were to develop what the law required, the market would be much more balanced. Yet again, it’s the investors that are controlling the development, and it will not likely happen soon.