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:

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Smoke and air quality

August 2021 - smoke and air quality in Los Gatos are impacted by the Caldor and Dixie firesFire season has been getting longer in Silicon Valley, and with it are smoke and air quality issues.  The  Bay Area is full of micro climates, and that translates to areas which are more or less impacted by these problems.

  • windier areas, where the breeze blows from the San Francisco Bay or the Monterey Bay to inland areas may have the cleanest air if the fires generating the smoke are far away
  • lower elevation areas may have less smoke if the blazes causing the smoke are far (distant fires seem to cause the smoke to be higher up)

Weather patterns, smoke and air quality

Please note, I’m not a meteorologist, but am going to share my observations from living here most of my life (except a few years from 18-23, I’ve been in this area).

Our Silicon Valley weather is dominated by the nearby Pacific Ocean. Most of the time, the coast enjoys foggy mornings and sunnier afternoons, and the inland areas are impacted by that. When the coastal overcast burns off, clouds recede from the Monterey Bay.  In the mid to late afternoon, winds reverse, and breezes pick up. This is also true with winds coming off the San Francisco Bay and moving south along the Calaveras Mountains.

Wind patterns are key for the discussion around smoke and air quality.

Most of Silicon Valley is in the Santa Clara Valley. Valleys can trap air in what is called a heat inversion at times (a warm area prevents the air below it from moving around – we see this in winter sometimes). When that happens, we get a “Spare the Air” day and are asked to do what we can to help the air pollution problem. The coastal areas don’t have this issue, so usually don’t have smog. They have plenty of wind from the ocean. If there is a fire elsewhere in California, most of the time it does not impact the coast to the same degree as the inland areas.

As a general rule, when the fog is pushed in from the Pacific, it comes through any low points or passes it can find. The foggier areas to the north of Silicon Valley, such as Daly City and San Francisco, don’t offer much resistance to the push from the Pacific. Nearly always, coastal wind means cleaner air. (more…)

What does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?

Relocation question - what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley?Moving to the San Jose or San Francisco Bay Area? You may be wondering what does it cost to rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley? (You can find a list of rental housing resources on this site here.)

The range in rental prices varies with location, condition, and amenities – exclusive or covered parking, air conditioning, dishwashers, a small yard for downstairs units, and pools are not all automatic.

  • In general, it is very difficult to find a decent 1 bedroom for under $2,000 per month (but possibly as low as $1800).
  • An average 1 bedroom is likely to run $2300- $2600 in most areas.
  • It’s not hard to find one at $3,000 per month, especially in nicer and more in-demand areas such as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Saratoga, and Los Gatos.
  • If you move to one of the expensive areas and get to enjoy extra perks, you may be spending $3000, $3500 or more per month.

If you are working on a smaller budget, you’ll find a few studio apartments available and they will of course be more affordable. Apartments lacking air conditioning, pools, or other highly sought after amenities will also be offered for a bit less. Another option is to look a little further out and consider units without AC, pools, etc.

Apartment homes with a yard are renting for about 15% more than those with no outside space, from what I have seen.

Recently I saw a studio in West San Jose (fairly expensive area) for about $2100. The complex does have a pool, but the units don’t have air conditioning of any kind. I also viewed a 1 bedroom in Campbell for about the same price but it included a wall AC unit. It’s very similar to purchases in that if you get closer in, you get less home for your money.

A couple of things to beware of when looking for rental housing

Something to be aware of is that some houses have Accessory Dwelling Units that seem inexpensive, and often it’s because something is missing, whether it’s a decent amount of square footage, a kitchen will a full sized oven and stove, etc. Not long ago I saw such a place but the kitchen was really just a wet bar with a microwave and toaster oven. The old adage is accurate: if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. (more…)

Which cities are part of Silicon Valley?

Where is Silicon Valley - map of general areaWhich cities are a a part of Silicon Valley? When people are considering a move to the San Francisco Bay Area, that’s one of the first questions asked.

Silicon Valley is not really a valley, though it did originally harken back to the Santa Clara Valley’s geography. The towns and cities which are included in Silicon Valley are primarily in Santa Clara County (by far the largest Silicon Valley city is San Jose), with San Mateo County also having a number of areas, with little snippets of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County.

While San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the region is probably Palo Alto – Mountain View – Sunnyvale.

This is an amorphous area. If you asked 10 different real estate agents,  you might get 5 or 6 different answers, but I believe the list below would be agreed upon by most.

It is important to note that San Francisco is NOT in Silicon Valley. Many reporters get this wrong and report on Silicon Valley with stories out of SF. The regions are certainly related, and there are high tech companies in The City but they are distinct.

A list of which cities are part of Silicon Valley

In Santa Clara County (most of the county) – also known as the South Bay

  • Campbell
  • Cupertino
  • Gilroy – possibly
  • Los Altos
  • Los Altos Hills
  • Los Gatos
  • Los Gatos Mountains (not incorporated) – possibly
  • Milpitas
  • Monte Sereno
  • Morgan Hill
  • Mountain View
  • Palo Alto
  • San Jose
  • Santa Clara
  • Saratoga
  • Sunnyvale

In San Mateo County (bayside areas) – on The Peninsula

  • Atherton
  • Belmont
  • East Palo Alto
  • Foster city
  • Hillsborough
  • Menlo Park
  • Portola Valley
  • Redwood City
  • Redwood Shores
  • San Carlos
  • San Mateo
  • Woodside

In Alameda County – in the East Bay

  • Fremont
  • Possibly Newark, Hayward

In Santa Cruz County – not part of the San Francisco Bay Area (9 counties), but part of the Monterey Bay Area and the Central Coast

  • Scotts Valley
  • possibly Santa Cruz & Santa Cruz Mountains

Related Reading:
Where is Silicon Valley?

What does it cost to buy a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home in the West Valley areas of Silicon Valley?

It can be challenging for people moving to Silicon Valley to get a sense of pricing for home buying. So to compare “apples to apples,” let’s take a hypothetical case of a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home of approximately 2,000 SF house (appx 185 square meters) and see how the cost looks in one area versus another.

Today I compared several cities and areas using the formula: single family homes of 1,800 – 2,200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 5,000 SF – 10,000 SF that have sold within the last 60 days. The prices listed are the average from sales in this criteria, so areas with a higher volume of sales will have more stable averages than those with less sales to analyze. DOM means “Days on Market”, the number of days a home was listed as available before pending.

Please note that this is a rough sketch of home prices based on averages taken across large, diverse residential communities. There are many factors that will affect market value beyond these boundaries.

Now, on to the charts.

The Cost To Buy A 4 Bedroom 2 Bath Home In…

I have arranged this chart in descending order by Sales Price. This is usually how I organize the data, and you can see certain markets shifting position, moving up or down the order depending on what’s hot. Occasionally one of these markets will have no sales within the timeframe, so those will be left in place from where they were when we last checked, but will show “n/a” in place of any pricing or statistics. Once you’ve reviewed the most recent data, scroll down farther to compare today’s market against past years!

Please use the list below as a way to get your bearings on nearby areas in the South Bay (southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area). This is not an exhaustive list – it’s just most of the areas closest to Highway 85 or the West Valley Freeway. You can study various cities, downs, and districts within the region at my stats site, popehandy.rereport.com. (Free and you do not have to register unless you want email updates.)

Want to do a deep dive on any of these areas? Please visit my Valley of Heart’s Delight Blog to learn about them.

Comparing West Valley House Prices 2021-06-28

There have been a number of changes to the order since the last time we checked in December 2020. Campbell, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View have all moved down the list. Their prices are higher than last time we checked, they just haven’t gone up this spring as much as some of the other markets. Saratoga has climbed much higher on the chart, but with so few sales it’s normal to see broad fluctuations in the charts for this community.

What we see across the entire chart is sky high spring pricing and extremely low days on market – under 2 weeks in all but two areas! Looking more closely, the Cambrian (San Jose) market had one highly unusual sale where the MLS listing shows a whopping 496 days on market. Discounting that sale, the average becomes a lighting fast 10 DOM! So while there are still the occasional slow sales the majority are selling at breakneck speeds! As for pricing, communities are showing increases from roughly 3% all the way up to 31%! Averaging it out, the West Valley average home is selling 16%-18% above where they were early last winter.

In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location or both. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian would be fairly high up as it is a good “bang for the buck” location – though not a super short commute for folks who work in Mountain View (though not so bad for people working in Cupertino). None of these is especially close to North San Jose (Cisco).

Also, it should be noted that one of the main drivers of home values is school districts. In the San Jose / Silicon Valley area, the school district boundaries do NOT follow the city or town boundaries. Los Gatos, for example, has 3 different elementary school districts, with varying scores which impact home values.  So too with Saratoga and many other areas, San Jose especially! All this to say that the figures above are only ROUGH GUIDES. When you break it down to micro-markets, the picture changes more. But as a starter guide, I think you’ll find the above info helpful to give you a general idea of how far your money can go in home buying for areas in Santa Clara County from Palo Alto to Blossom Valley.

Palo Alto is a gorgeous, exciting area with all kinds of wonderful features – beautiful neighborhoods, lower crime, great schools, short commute. It is usually the most expensive area on this list. But unless you found a successful startup company or inherit a couple of million bucks, it can be hard to buy a single family home there. Many people would like to live in the shadow of Stanford University, but the budget just won’t allow it.

Now let’s have a look at that December 2020 chart I’ve been referencing. Los Altos had no sales during this time, although overall it was an active market in the West Valley.

2020-12-10 60D SFH 4B/2B Cost

Historical Comparisons of Home Prices in the Same (or Similar) Areas

We’ll start off with something fairly recent, a report from October 29th, 2019.

October 29th, 2019:

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Where are the Superfund sites in Santa Clara County?

Santa Clara County is home to a number of Superfund sites. Where are they?

A helpful, free website that anyone can use is EnviroStor. From the home page you can take a tour on how to learn about Superfund and other environmental hazards in California. The image below is showing only the Federal Superfund – please note in the left column that just the first box is  checked. If you are particularly interested in school cleanup or school investigation, you’ll want to check those boxes. (The image is linked to the EnviroStore page fyi.)

 

EnvirStor - screenshot of map of Santa Clara County, showing SuperFund sites

There are quite a few Superfund sites concentrated in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View, but they can be found in San Jose, East Palo Alto, Scotts Valley, Cupertino, Palo Alto, and more areas in Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley house for under $1 million

The Silicon Valley real estate market is notoriously expensive. It isn’t easy, but you can find a Silicon Valley house for under $1 million – if you are willing to drive a little further to those tech centers.

Tonight I did a quick search and found that it’s not too hard to find a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with at least 1200 square feet in the south county and very scenic communities of Gilroy, San Martin, and Morgan Hill. Other possibilities are in the Santa Cruz or Los Gatos Mountains, south San Jose, Evergreen, and parts of east San Jose – among others. Here’s a map showing houses recently sold with the above listed criteria.

Most likely areas for finding a Silicon Valley house for under $1 million

 

 Where to find a house for under 1 million

 

When I loosened the criteria (such as showing all bedrooms), more homes and areas opened up, but some were very small, or needed a lot of repairs, or were in a 100 year flood plain, or had other issues.

The bottom line is that if your budget is $1 million or less, there are places that are likely to work – but probably won’t be in Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Palo Alto, or Santa Clara.

Want a shorter commute? You might want to consider looking at condos and townhomes for the more “close in” location.

 

San Jose apartment rental prices

San Jose apartment rental prices have softened during the coronavirus pandemic. Each month, ApartmentList.com produces a national and local report on rental market trends, including prices. If you are interested in renting an apartment, it’s a good idea to bookmark this page so you can circle back to it every few weeks. Apartment List National Rent Report

Here are some of this month’s highlights:
  • Rents in San Jose decreased by 2.9% month-over-month, and are down 12.2% since the start of the pandemic in March, the #5 biggest decline among the nation’s 50 largest cities.
  • Year-over-year rent growth in San Jose currently stands at -11.1%, the lowest rate in October of any year since the start of our estimates.
  • Median rents in San Jose currently stand at $1,777 for a 1-bedroom apartment and $2,111 for a two-bedroom.

How are the San Jose apartment rental prices as compared to other areas in the U.S.?

Here’s their graphic, but visit the link above to see the whole report.

San Jose apartment rental prices and national rent data as of October 2020

Tools You Can Use When Relocating to the San Jose Area

If you’re relocating to the San Jose area, there are a few tools you can use for resources as you evaluate different parts of the region. When I started this website, I had books listed that you could purchase. Today, mostly I have websites that you should bookmark – for free!

Natural & Environmental Hazard Information Tools You Can Use

Natural hazards are found throughout the United States, often the major one people consider is the one hundred year flood plain. Here in the Golden State, we have some additional concerns relating to fire and earthquake risks.

  • California MyHazards can display a map anywhere in the state with information relating to liquefaction zones, earthquake faults, 100 year flood plains, and high fire risk areas.
  • Flooding from Dam Failure (potentially caused by earthquakes as well as other possibilities) is scary. Learn more about those zones at the link I’m providing here. (As of this writing, the Approved Inundation Maps link is not working.)
  • A Barclay’s Locaide will outline earthquake faults, flood plains, and other natural hazard zones you might want to know about. This is now out of date, but you may be able to locate a used one online or see if a local real estate association of Realtors bookstore has it available. 
  • Earthquake Zones of Required Investigation can be used throughout the state to identify landslide, liquefaction, and other zones relating to quakes.
  • Something else to know is that there are state mapped earthquake faults (the more active ones, such as the Hayward or San Andreas Fault) and also the city, town or county mapped fault zones (for example, the Shannon Fault). The latter may have been dormant for 11,000 years or more.
  • Buying a home? Sellers usually provide a Natural Hazard Report, an Environmental Hazard Report, and a Tax Report from a company such as JCP. This same company / site has a great amount of information on local conditions on its About the Hazards page that newcomers would benefit from.
  • When buying a home in California, consumers are given a link to download brochures, or one combined document, on a variety of hazards. I’m not sure that most of them take the time to read it, but it’s excellent info and I highly encourage anyone living in CA, whether renting or owning, to read it:
    Homeowner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety & Environmental Hazards

Environmental Hazard Zones

  • Local concerns also include environmental ones, such as SuperFund sites. here you can see SuperFund sites in reuse (meaning offices and homes on those sites).
  • Some sites with spills, leaking underground storage tanks, or other issues can be found at this Cleanups in my community page (nationwide info)
  • Mercury, or quicksilver, was mined in Almaden (New Almaden and related mines) and east Los Gatos (Guadalupe Mine area) – it is a naturally occurring element in cinnabar. For that reason, creeks in those areas should not be entered or fished in.
  • Asbestos is another naturally occurring element here. It was prized for being somewhat fire resistant and was mined under Communications Hill. It’s something to investigate if you want to live in that area.
  • Oil, gold silver, and other elements were mined here as well as granite (we still have quarries active in Santa Clara County today, a couple in the Cupertino area and one in the hills by Lexington Reservoir just outside of Los Gatos). Some old mines are not mapped if they are on private land, so one of the disclosures we have relates to unmapped, abandoned mines., which may be found in more rural pockets of the county.

Other Priorities for the Tools You Can Use list

In addition to natural and environmental hazards, there are big plusses that will attract new residents.

It is also helpful to have a knowledgeable Realtor as your resource!  Please call me if you’d like assistance in your move to SIlicon Valley. I’d be happy to help you.

 

Related Reading

Silicon Valley liquefaction zones (on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Is there a radon risk in Silicon Valley homes? (Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Comparing 4 west valley real estate markets

Market comparison_ Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, and Los AltosToday on the Valley of Heart’s Delight Blog,  I looked at the real estate markets for Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, and Los Altos.

All four of these areas are known for good public schools, proximity to the coastal range, and a nice way of life. All but Cupertino have a quaint downtown area, and those three communities each have about 31,000 residents, while Cupertino is more than double that. For folks relocating to the San Jose area for work, most likely, all four will be considered if schools are a priority.

To see how these 4 highly regarded communities compare in terms of market conditions and what you can buy for your money, please visit:
Market comparison: Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino and Los Altos on the Valley of Heart’s Delight Blog.

 

 

Related Reading:

Silicon Valley neighborhoods

Los Gatos neighborhood videos

How to find the median rental price by zip code