What does it cost to buy a house in Santa Clara County? And San Mateo County? Both are home to “Silicon Valley”!

Silicon Valley is a large area, with much of it in Santa Clara County (where San Jose is the largest city with almost one million residents) and most of the rest is in San Mateo County along the San Francisco Peninsula.   So what does it cost to buy a house in these areas? Today I spent some time on MLSListings.com, our local multiple listing service, and pulled the data, which I hope that newcomers will find very helpful.

Below is a chart of single family homes purchased between October 1 2013 and the end of January 2014 by price point.

Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:

Santa Clara County home prices Jan 2014

As you can see, only a tiny fraction of homes sell for less than $400,000.  Most people pay between quite a lot more, with many sales happening in the $600,000 to $1,000,000 range (and it’s more in the areas with best schools and short commutes, generally, so many are much higher, too).  The average Santa Clara County home sales price was $1,002,119 and the average price per square foot was $526.

How about San Mateo County prices?  As you may know, The Peninsula is pricier than it’s warmer neighbor to the south. But how much more will it cost you?

Santa Clara County sales of single family homes:

San Mateo County home prices Jan 2014

The average sales price was in San Mateo County for the last three months was $1,254,114 and average price per square foot was $625 (all sizes of houses and lots throughout SMC).  This is about 20% than Santa Clara County.

Can you buy a home with a contingent offer, subject to selling your current home, in Silicon Valley?

Contingent offersIn many parts of the United States, it is not uncommon to write a purchase offer on a property which is contingent upon, or subject to, selling the buyer’s current home.  Contingent offers are not very common in Silicon Valley, generally.  They are unlikely to be successful if the property has been on the market only a week or two, but if the offer is otherwise really strong, home sellers may consider it.  We see a few of them happen here and there, so it’s not impossible to be successful with this kind of real estate contract, but it does pose a few extra challenges.  Let’s see what might improve the odds of success with one of these.

What could make a contingent offer strong?

One thing, of course, is cash.  Right now in Silicon Valley, anywhere from 30-35% of all sales are without a mortgage or loan, they are all cash deals. So if the sale will mean that once the buyer’s house or condo sells and closes, the purchase can happen without a loan, that’s good – no loan means less risk that it won’t close. Even if the resulting sale isn’t 100% cash, if the sale will bring more than 20% loan to value into the next transaction, it will help.

Terms can really impact whether or not a contingent offer will go through.  Some offer terms can be appealing to San Jose area home sellers too, such as a flexible close of escrow date or the option to rent back (at cost or for free).

Many other issues must be factored in, of course.  How strong is the market for the property that needs to be sold?  This plays into the issue of risk.  If it’s an area in high demand, and the home is priced aggressively, or if it is already sale pending, this may lessen the concern that it won’t sell at all.  It’s important to share market conditions with the listing agents and sellers so that they have a good understanding of the situation.

Finally, it should be noted that Silicon Valley is composed of many, many niche or micro markets.  While some areas are “on fire” – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Cupertino – others are simply good (Silver Creek, Los Gatos, Almaden) and certain areas and price points (think luxury market) are close to balanced.  Depending on where and what you hope to buy, a contingent offer may be more or less likely to be successful.

 

 

Moving to Silicon Valley: is it possible to get a house here that’s as nice as the one you currently own?

I am frequently contacted by extremely bright, successful engineers or high tech professionals who are in large homes on large lots with great schools in less expensive areas of the country.  They want to move here because Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation, our weather’s great, crime’s low and there’s so much to do in this region.  They know that housing costs here are extraordinarily high, but they hope that the salaries are commensurately high such that they can replicate the home & lifestyle they currently have – but put it here.

But that really doesn’t work.  Unless someone’s relocating here from Boston, New York, Tokyo or Paris (or somewhere equally astronomically priced), the salary offered in Silicon Valley will not usually make that kind of housing duplication possible.

I’m sorry.

To move here normally means downgrading the house and paying more for it.  Yes, incomes are a little higher but not nearly enough to match the discrepancy in real estate prices.  I tell people, as a rule of thumb, that when you move here you will pay twice as much and get half as much.  (Salaries? You get a little more.  Not twice.)

Sometimes I get the comment “I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley and have my family’s lifestyle negatively impacted by having to live in a smaller house.  I want the quality of life to go up, not down.”

That is completely understandable.  People who move here don’t do it because of housing.  Lifestyle often is better here.  Shoveling snow? Forgetaboutit.  We have 300 sunny days a year on average – if you love to be outdoors, your lifestyle will be far better here where the weather is subtropical.  We have the Pacific Ocean an hour or less away, San Francisco an hour away, about 2 dozen wineries, theatre, museums, the Sharks, parks and trails.  Our population is highly diverse and highly educated.  Crime is low.  There are a thousand reasons why the lifestyle here probably is far better than in other parts of the country… but it’s not if you equivocate housing with lifestyle.