I have been fortunate to have made 5 trips to Europe, one of them lasting 9 months, and will be returning again before the end of 2013 (this time to Belgium). It is so diverse, beautiful and compelling! Having experienced a little culture shock myself (when living in Florence, Italy, for one year of university), I’m very sympathetic about how hard an international move can be, and I understand that for Europeans moving to Silicon Valley, there can be an acute culture shock, particularly for those coming from more rural areas.
The bulk of Silicon Valley is located in Santa Clara County, which is at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay. In this county, there are approximately 1.8 million people, almost a million of them in the city of San Jose. Some areas, or districts, of San Jose have a distinctive character and are almost like towns or small cities themselves. So in this article I’ll mention both cities and towns, but also areas or districts of San Jose, which might appeal to our European transplants. Most of my comments will reference Santa Clara County or “south bay” locations, but I will also mention others on the San Francisco Peninsula and SF Bay Area too.
Architecture, Urban Centers and Charm
It is an unfortunate negative in Silicon Valley that much of our housing consists of ranch style tract homes, and truthfully, they are not exactly a work of art. New or newer homes tend to be on very tiny parcels of land (or “lots”) and for many people may simply feel too congested or crowded. But there are beautiful residential neighborhoods – you just need to know where to look! In many ways, the areas with higher charm can make our global home buyers feel more comfortable than if they were faced with only track, ranch neighborhoods.
Do you value unique, older architecture with Victorian, Craftsman, Tudor or other home styles? Then check out these areas:
- Within San Jose: the Japantown, Vendome, and Naglee Park areas of downtown San Jose. Also in central San Jose are the Rosegarden, Shasta Hanchett and Burbank neighborhoods which all boast some lovely older homes. Or, if you love classic Spanish Revival style homes with views, consider the old Alum Rock area of San Jose near the country club (golf course). The Willow Glen area of SJ (zip code 95120) is full of lovely old established neighborhoods with historic homes and tree lined streets. If your job takes you to downtown San Jose, all of these areas will be fairly close.
- If you want a rural, eclectic atmosphere, check out the “New Almaden” area of San Jose. This is actually a county pocket with a San Jose mailing address.
- Other towns or cities with older, more interesting architecture include the “downtown” ares of Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Mountain View, Saratoga and Menlo Park (in San Mateo County, just north of Palo Alto).
- If work will be on The Peninsula, there are many areas nearby that may work. San Mateo has some fantastic neighborhoods! Also San Francisco, which is tiny but full of beautiful areas, may be a strong draw (I do not sell there – it’s too far for me). Warning: the weather in San Francisco is very often COLD in summer!
- Across the bay, Berkeley has some great Victorian and other homes and several really interesting pockets, as does parts of Oakland. (I do not work these areas either as they are too far for me, but I did live in Berkeley in graduate school and can connect you with a great agent there.)
Comparing real estate market conditions in Almaden, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Sunnyvale and Los Altos
For people relocating to Silicon Valley, often there’s not just one city, town or area which seems like a good fit. Sometimes it may come down to what your money can buy or how difficult it is to purchase in one area versus another. This is frequently the case with the “West Valley” areas where schools are good and the neighborhoods are tidy.
There are two statistics which are especially helpful in understanding the Santa Clara County real estate market. One is the “days on market” or DOM. The shorter this is, the hotter the market – and the harder it is to purchase. The second is the sale price to list price ratio, which hints at the existence of multiple offers, overbids, and buyers giving away all of their rights.
Today, then, we’ll have a look at these, starting with Almaden, the southernmost area, and working our way north along the coastal range. The charts below are all for single family homes (houses and duet homes, not condos or townhomes).
Almaden Valley is a district within the city of San Jose. Its boundaries roughly follow the 95120 zip code, though there are some parts of nearby zip codes which somewhat overlap into Almaden too. How’s the Almaden market? Red hot! Days on market is crazy low – a mere 16! And the average sale price is almost 104% of list price…and rising!
Almaden Valley, San Jose, 95120 days on market and sale price to list price ratio
Sometimes people relocating to Silicon Valley tell me that they’d like to move to an area with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Most of Silicon Valley is inland, though, separated from the ocean by the coastal mountains.
For those truly set on having a view of the Pacific, home can be found in the Santa Cruz area with lovely ocean and Monterey Bay views. The compromise will likely be a long commute over Highway 17. Or similarly, ocean lovers may settle close to Half Moon Bay or Pescadero, but will have to slog over the coastal hills on Hwy 35 each day to get to the Peninsula. (Some lucky souls may find employment in Scotts Valley or along the coast, but most of the jobs are not in these places.) If a faraway ocean view will work, perhaps making the Santa Cruz Mountains home may be the ideal fit.
If you want to live along the waterfront within Silicon Valley, there really are not a lot of neighborhoods from which to choose. Most of the water views involve being near the San Francisco Bay. There are a few rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes to be found as well, but enjoying lovely water views up close is not the easiest criteria to fill. Along the bay, though, it often comes down to Foster City and Redwood Shores, which we’ll discuss next. Continue reading
Sometimes newcomers to Silicon Valley strongly prefer older homes, such as Victorians, Craftsman, or other distinctive architectural styles, preferably surrounded by homes of the same vintage. Most of the valley is filled with ranch style housing, but there are quite a few neighborhoods which enjoy historic home which exude tons of charm. Where to find them?
San Jose’s historic homes
San Jose is a large city (10th largest in the United States, almost 1 million residents) and very spread out with a wide diversity of neighborhoods. Here are a few to consider for classic, older properties:
In central San Jose there are quite a few areas to check out:
(1) Downtown San Jose generally, but within that area
(2) the Shasta-Hanchett neighborhood
(3) the Rosegarden area (close to Shasta Hanchett, both in “central San Jose”)
(4) Alum Rock in east San Jose – up into the foothills there are lovely, older Spanish style homes
(5) Willow Glen – close to downtown SJ, features all sorts of architectural styes, from mid-century modern to Spanish, Victorian, Tudor – you name it. Within Willow Glen, The Palm Haven neighborhood has the added charm of so many palm trees (very visible when flying into the San Jose airport)
There are many more scattered throughout San Jose and nearby suburbs, even in places like Cambrian Park or Almaden (away from the old mercury mining area), where it seems all the houses were built from the 1950s to the 1980s. When we see a hundred year old house in this area, it’s very likely that it used to be the house on a large ranch, orchard or farm.
The town of Los Gatos is far smaller than neighboring San Jose, but has a great assortment of historic districts that are beautifully maintained and tastefully updated, most of them right in downtown. I’ve written about these on my Live in Los Gatos blog, so here are a few links to those neighborhood posts:
Broadway – first subdivision in Los Gatos
Palo Alto enjoys some of the most beautiful, gracious older houses in Silicon Valley, particularly the Professorville and Old Palo Alto areas, but others too. Drive the neighborhoods between Stanford University (El Camino Real) and 101 and you’ll find lots of historic homes to love! The challenge is affordability, as these are the most expensive historic homes in the region.
There are many more lovely older homes throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and nearby. If you enjoy these classic beauties, watch for a series of spring home tours which become available beginning in around March each year. Most of them will cost a few dollars, with proceeds going to a worthy local charity. If you’re interested in purchasing an historic property, visit my “search by map” page and enter a “built before” year and then scroll around the valley to see what is available.
A couple of days ago I made a quick trip to Spokane, Washington, on some family business. As I’m writing this in mid-December, just short of the winter solstice (shortest day of the year), I was struck by how early the sun set and then, the following morning, how late it rose again. It seemed like I’d “lost” an hour of daylight.
Upon returning home to the San Jose and Los Gatos area (Silicon Valley), I found an awesome site that charts sunrise and sunset (dawn and dusk) times for all of the world. The link below will take you to the page for San Jose, California, which is a good representation of Santa Clara County and the general Silicon Valley area.
I played with this site awhile, checking the hours of daylight for today going north and south of this area. It will be the same amount of daylight hours (or very close) during the shortest daylight day of the year, December 21st. So for people moving around on the west coast, here’s a comparative glimpse on the number of daylight hours during these shortest days of the year:
In summer, of course, it’s the opposite. The further north you go, the longer the days, while the closer to the equator, the shorter the days (and the smaller the swing between summer and winter).
During these “shortest days of the year“, a later sunrise and earlier sunset are really noticed. In Spokane (about the same as Seattle) the sun is coming up at 7:33 and setting at 3:59pm vs the San Jose area’s 7:16 sunrise and 4:52 sunset (8:26 hours of sun up north vs 9:36 in the south Bay Area – 1 hour, 10 minutes more sun here).
How does this compare to other major cities around the US? How many hours of sun are they all getting during these darkest days?
New York City 9:13
San Jose 9:36
Los Angeles 9:53
San Diego 10
Seeing the wide differences in sunlight hours alone, I can see why “snowbirds” would migrate south in winter!
Another factor to consider is how much sun you actually see during those hours of daylight! The San Jose area gets only about 20″ of rain during most years. Most of our rain comes between November and March or April, but even so, it’s unusual to get rain day after day for more than 3-5 days. Normally there are sunny and dry days inbetween patches of overcast, drizzle or rain. The weather will be drier in south county or in the east valley and wetter closer to the coastal foothills (Almaden Valley, Los Gatos, Los Altos). The Santa Cruz Mountains usually hold back the summer fog, leaving the inland areas sunnier and drier than the coast.
Sometimes the winter fog is “ground fog”, or fog from the Pacific which snakes its way inland through the Golden Gate and inches down the bay southward. When that happens, you can sometimes go to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains and enjoy the sunshine while hiking the trails off Skyline Boulevard.
We have 300 sunny days per year in our mild, subtropical climate. Not bad! Even our winters are not so tough. As one of my Finnish clients said to me recently, “Mary, you don’t really have winter in San Jose!”
If you are relocating to Silicon Valley and wish to choose an upscale or luxury neighborhood, where should you begin looking? Where are the very best areas in or near San Jose?
Here are some quick lists of areas in Silicon Valley areas which enjoy beautiful estate properties:
Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley’s west side
Most of the more expensive parts of Silicon Valley are along the “west valley” areas, and these all enjoy excellent public schools. If you were to look at a topographical map, they would be the cities, towns and neighborhoods close to the coastal foothills (also known as the Santa Cruz Mountains). Or if you looked at a road map, most of them would be on the west side of Highway 85. Unless otherwise noted, the districts, cities or towns are all in Santa Clara County.
These “west valley communities” are listed from southernmost to northernmost, extending from southwestern San Jose up into the San Francisco Peninsula.
Almaden Valley (part of San Jose)
Cupertino (foothills area in particular)
Los Altos Hills
Portola Valley (San Mateo County)
Woodside (San Mateo County)
Hillsborough (San Mateo County)
These are not the only places to find high end real estate in the South Bay area, though – it’s just that most of them are located along the west valley corridor.
More Luxury Home Neighborhoods in Silicon Valley
More communities which are “exclusive” can be found:
The Silver Creek area of San Jose (eastside, within the Evergreen district)
Part of the Alum Rock neighborhood near the old San Jose Country Club (also on the east side).
The Rosegarden area of central San Jose
The Naglee Park neighborhood near downtown San Jose
Willow Glen enjoys some beautiful old mansions (between downtown SJ and the west side)
Part of the Mission District of Fremont (Alameda County)
Eagle’s Ridge community in Gilroy (south part of Santa Clara County)
Something to be aware of is that many of these areas are served by more than one school district. In some cases, the different school districts can be very different in terms of school performance scores. In Saratoga, for instance, there are 3 different districts. Two have excellent scores and the third has good scores – but very different numbers! This can be a surprise to people who relocate to Silicon Valley: so be aware of this quirk if you move here! (Even if you are not interested in utilizing the schools, know that they are a prime driver in home values and pricing.)
Would you like to learn more about luxury real estate & homes in Silicon Valley? I have some other blogs with posts that you might find helpful
Related posts on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog:
The Silicon Valley Luxury Home Market (browse listings over $2 million in a few areas)
Related posts on the Live in Los Gatos blog:
Many relocating families search specifically for neighborhoods with the very best schools. There are many sites which will give you this information in immense detail, but if you want a “quick answer” on excellent schools in Silicon Valley and San Jose, I can give that to you quickly here.
The finest public schools and districts (with excellent scores at all levels of schooling) tend to be found in the most expensive parts of Santa Clara County, and most of them are along the “west valley” areas, including Almaden Valley (an area of San Jose), Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto. Most of these communities are found along the base of the coastal foothills, aka the Santa Cruz Mountains, are are located not too far from Highway 85. The Silver Creek area (of the Evergreen District of San Jose) on the east side also has some fine schools. There are pockets with great elementary schools scattered throughout the valley too.
What do these homes cost? In the best areas, it is not uncommon to spend a million dollars or more for a “turnkey” home of 1800 square feet with no issues (no high voltage lines, no busy road, etc.). In some areas, like Saratoga, that might be closer to $2 million.
In many parts of Santa Clara County the elementary schools are excellent, middle schools are “very good” and the high schools are good. This is true for parts of west San Jose (bordering Cupertino and Saratoga) and Cambrian Park. These areas tend to be much more affordable than those with excellent schools in all levels. For home buyers not so worried about high schools as cost, these can be a great option for getting more home (and school) for your money.
While many home buyers are reluctant to consider private schools, sometimes it is much less expensive in the long run to purchase a comfortable home in an area you like but which doesn’t have fantastic schools and then send your kids to private or parochial schools. In Los Gatos, where the schools run from very good to exceptional, about one-third of students are not in public schools.
If you are planning a relocation to Silicon Valley and want to know more about local schools (public or private) please email me at mary (at) popehandy.com and I’ll be happy to chat with you about them more in person. I can also help you to find areas which are more affordable and offer strong schools.
Got swimmers? Our sub tropical climate in Silicon Valley makes swimming a popular sport, so if you relocate to the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” you may find an increased desire for jumping into a pool.
Perhaps swimming is already important to you or to your family.Several community centers have excellent swimming facilities, including the Cambrian Park Community Center in San Jose (at Union & Camden Avenues, approximately), the Y and several provate clubs.
If you are looking to live in a neighborhood with a swim club and cabana, you will find many options in the San Jose – Santa Clara County region.
The city of Santa Clara probably has more pools, cabanas and swim teams than any other part of the south bay. There are plenty in San Jose, too, though, including in Los Gatos, Cambrian Park and Almaden Valley. There are different leagues, not all of them with easily findable websites.
Valley Cabana Swim League is a local association with these member teams
Almaden Country Club (in San Jose’s Almaden Valley)
Belwood Dolphins (Los Gatos – Belwood & Belgatos area)
Montevideo (in Almaden)
Silver Creek Valley Country Club (in Evergreen area of east San Jose)
Here’s a good list of local and greater Bay Area swim teams:
Relocation can be challenging but if you know what features you want to find when you get to Silicon Valley, I can help you to locate them, whether it’s a place to swim or virtually anything else.
Silicon Valley’s rush hour traffic can begin as early as 6:45 or 7 am and last until 9 or 9:30am most workdays. The evening commute begins to get congested around 3 or 3:30pm with a knot of traffic in place by 5pm and lasting until around 6:30 or 7pm on some roads.
Looking for a reverse commute? Many commuters do precisely that!
If you work in Scotts Valley (just “over the hill” in Santa Cruz County), living in Los Gatos, Campbell, Cambrian Park or West San Jose will be a reverse commute for you. You’ll be going against the flow of traffic and your commute will be immensely easier.
Ditto that if you work in the south San Jose or Edendale region and begin your commute in Almaden Valley. Once you get to 85, it will be a breeze!
Work in Gilroy? Living in Blossom Valley or Almaden, you can engineer a reverse commute on the back roads or take Santa Teresa Blvd going south.
Most employees and workers try to carpool, take light rail, or otherwise beat the rush by using tricks of timing or alternate routes to avoid spending twice as much time on the road as necessary. Many companies have flexible hours – it’s worth investigating to see if you can shorten the length of your time in the car!
Relocation to Silicon Valley can be a bit of a shock to people in terms of the traffic and commute times if they are not accostomed to suburban living (which is most of the valley). Typical commute times are about 30 minutes, though some people have longer or shorter commutes, of course.
Traffic moves toward downtown San Jose primarily along Highways 87, 680 and 280 and toward the Cupertino – Sunnyvale – Mountain View areas along Highway 85 (and 280). Bringing traffic in from the south county is 101. Other roads getting a lot of use too are 17 and 880 (same road, different stretches), San Tomas Expressway, Montague Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Santa Teresa Boulevard, Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, Stevens Creek Blvd. and Almaden Expressway.