The shock of Silicon Valley housing costs: how little you can buy on a huge income

Relocation Housing Costs: how little you can buy on a huge income in Silicon ValleyIf you’re relocating because you’ve just been hired as a high level executive at Apple, Google, Microsoft or any other high tech or biotech firm in Silicon Valley, you may be coming to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley from an enormous home (5,000+ square feet) on an enormous lot (1 acre +). You are a raging success. You are highly regarded. You are on the top of your game. Your house “back home” displays your accomplishments. What about your Silicon Valley Home?

Housing Costs & Relocation

Set Your Expectations

You’ve heard that prices are bad here, but how much worse could they really be? Surely you could downsize a bit to a 3,000 to 3,500 square foot house on a half acre with a 20 minute commute, right? And you’d still have great schools for “resale value,” right? You are prepared to give up the full basement, the pool and tennis court and the 4 car garage. That is enough of an adjustment, isn’t it?

No, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t.

That house you are leaving behind in the suburbs of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Seattle, San Diego, or wherever you’re coming from is a super high end luxury home. It’s probably worth $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. But guess what? Here, in a nice area, that’s a 2,000 SF house on a 10,000 lot in a good area that’s a tear down. And in traffic, it could be a +40 minute commute.

Want an acre in an area with really good public schools at all levels? Think $4 million plus. And that doesn’t mean that the house will be turn-key. You will very likely have to remodel or personalize so that you are happy with it, as most of our houses were built between the 1960s and 1980s. (Here a 25 year old home is considered relatively young.)

Setting expectations is a battle of it’s own. If you’re having trouble coming to terms with the price of homes here and seriously want to buy, or maybe you’re wondering why your offers aren’t working out, you may find this article helpful for introspection: Silicon Valley housing prices and the emotional stages they’ll put you through. And if you aren’t already working with an agent, getting good professional help is one of the #1 ways to succeed in this market, so make sure you know how to find and keep a quality agent! We love working with our blog readers, so always feel free to reach out if you’re in need!

Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?

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Finding New Homes for Sale in Silicon Valley

New Homes in Silicon ValleyFrequently, people new to Silicon Valley and the San Jose area arrive expecting to find new homes like the ones they left behind. But in reality that’s just not the norm in this market!

Unless you are looking to purchase a condominium or a townhome, or are looking at areas with very long commutes, it can be challenging to find truly new homes for sale here.

Finding New Homes in Silicon Valley

For the most part, Silicon Valley had a post World War II housing boom that stretched primarily from the 50s into the 70s. By the 1980s, most open space in the Valley was gone.

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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!

Tools you can use - the Cal My Hazards Awareness map is a wonderful first step for researching natural hazards in California. Map showing San Jose with liquefaction zone.

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. (The info for the very high fire hazard severity zone has not been updated, so use the Cal Fire map for that info.)
  • Cal Fire map for all of California with the high fire severity zones shown – zoom in to find the areas of concern
  • 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: Research Tools You Can Use

  • Local concerns also include environmental ones, such as Superfund 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. It can be found in other creeks and rivers, too, but primarily in Almaden. 
  • 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.
  • Flooding from dam failure (dams are human made, hence it’s not a “natural” hazard ) is a risk in a large part of Silicon Valley. Most of the areas at risk from flooding due to dam failure are listed on this site. 
  • Noise pollution: use either How Loud or Noise-Map. We discussed the pros, cons, and shortcomings of these on our main blog: Measuring Noise Pollution

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 to Tools You Can Use:

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)

Smoke and air quality

Silicon Valley liquefaction zones (on SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com, our Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Elevation map – learn your home’s elevation (on SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com, our Valley of Heart’s Delight blog)

Do you  have a high water table? (on our Live in Los Gatos blog)

Are fire seasons new?

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

How is Silicon Valley Different?Every so often I am asked how the San Jose – 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?

Silicon Valley Differences

This is a great question, and the answer to it could fill a book! But here are some of the major differences that most relocating buyers, especially those from out-of-state, should be aware of.

Natural Differences

    1. Earthquakes (of course) and everything related: selling requirements, insurance questions, related natural hazard zones (liquifaction 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 Valley
      What 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. Fire / Water: more destructive fire seasons have brought about new, stronger safety regulations including mapped fire zones, higher insurance premiums, and construction limitations. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bay Area has tsunami hazard zones (you can spot the evacuation signs around the bayfront) in addition to the usual flood and dam inundation hazard zones. And expect drought to impact water prices plus restrictions on water useage.
      Are Fire Seasons New?

Structural Differences (Houses)

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Suburban sprawl – Silicon Valley was built for cars. While BART and VTA are expanding access to some public transit routes, it’s still a very car-dependant area. The median lot size for homes sold in San Jose over the last 2 weeks (as of this writing) was 6,310 SqFt, and the median home size was 1,568 SqFt. Depending on where in the world you are coming from that can sound quite small, but it’s a relatively typical suburban home in this area.

These are perhaps the most salient differences home buyers relocating to Silicon Valley might want to be aware of. Each of these topics could be a blog post of its own, and I have written about all of them! Our blogs offer information on the local market and home buyer, owner, and seller concerns, and we also provide insight into some of the resources and Tools You Can Use When Relocating to the San Jose Area, but an experienced professional Realtor will be your most useful resource for navigating real estate in Silicon Valley. If you’re ready to move to Silicon Valley, we would love to hear from you!

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

Can You Get the Same Home Relocating to Silicon Valley?“Can I buy the same home in Silicon Valley?”

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, or ocasionally outsisde of the country. They want to move here because Silicon Valley is the hub of innovation, a center for jobs in high-tech, our weather’s great, crime’s low, and there’s so much to do in this region. The housing costs here are extraordinarily high here, but often these professionals hope that the salaries are commensurately high such that they can replicate the home and lifestyle they are accustom to elsewhere, but in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t work that way.

Unless you’re relocating here from New York, Tokyo, or Paris (or somewhere equally astronomically priced), don’t expect the salary offered in Silicon Valley will to go as far here as it would elsewhere in the world. I’m sorry.

Relocation & Silicon Valley: Downgrade to Upgrade

Downgrade the House, Upgrade the Price…

Most relocating homeowners can expect a home downgrade and a higher price compared to what they are leaving behind. Yes, incomes are a little higher but not nearly enough to match the discrepancy in real estate prices. This is even more true with the astronomical acceleration of the market that we’ve seen in 2021 and in early 2022. Even without a wild seller’s market I tell people, as a rule of thumb, that when you move here you will pay twice as much and get half as much. (While salaries might be a little higher, they are not usually double what you’d make elsewhere.)

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 the housing. They do it for the location and the style of living that this area offers.

… to Upgrade the Location and Lifestyle!

We have the Pacific Ocean an hour or less away, San Francisco an hour away, dozens of wineries, theatre, museums, professional sports (go Sharks!), and world-reknown parks and trails. Shoveling snow? Never! San Jose enjoys 300 sunny days a year on average. If you love to be outdoors, you can make the most of it all year long here where the weather is subtropical. Our population is highly diverse and highly educated, crime is low, not to mention it’s the center of the global tech industry! There are a thousand reasons why the South Bay is probably a major upgrade… but it’s not an upgrade if you equivocate your house with your lifestyle.

So if you are considering a move to Silicon Valley, expect to pay more, get less home, and move into an amazing community in a beautiful pocket of the world.

Related Reading from this and my other blogs:

Market Reports for Three Silicon Valley Counties

What can you buy for $1 million in Silicon Valley?

Comparing cost of housing in West Valley communities from Palo Alto to Los Gatos to Blossom Valley: what will a 4 bedroom home cost?