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!

Silicon Valley: A Word About the Climate

Silicon Valley Climate - sub-tropical tempsPeople coming from out of the area to relocate to Silicon Valley might not know what to expect from the weather in the San Jose, Santa Clara County, or Silicon Valley Area.  Does this part of California ever rain? How hot is the summer? What is the climate like?

In a nutshell, this is a “sub-tropical” area, or a place that enjoys a mild “Mediterranean climate” that is most heavily influenced by the close proximity of the shoreline and the Pacific Ocean.  Temps are mild, we get little rainfall compared to many parts of the country.

More specifically, we usually get about 10-20 inches of rainfall a year (less on the east and more on the west) and enjoy as many as 300 sunny days a year. Winters seldom see many hard freezes (but they can happen).

A typical summer day has highs in the mid to upper eighties but very low humidity – so it feels much cooler. Heat waves and heat inversions can run the temps up to the low to mid 100s in the hottest parts of the valley. Luckily it doesn’t happen much, or stay for long! Once in awhile, a rare storm in summer will bring high humidity and thundershowers, but for the most part, summers are dry. The hottest month is typically August.

The coldest month, usually, is December. A January day will often have a high in the 60s or 50s, depending. A cold day here is when it does not get into the 50s (not too common). By February, though, the worst is usually over and it’s even possible to have freak warm days that hit 80 degrees!

Our weather varies from year to year. Some years we get drought conditions and may require water rationing . Other years we get lots of wet weather from the Pacific – temps are warmer but there’s much too much rain: those are the El Niño years. Most often, though, winters aren’t that bad – evenings can be nippy as temps drop into the 20s on the worst nights in December or January. It will make the news that people should cover their citrus trees so they aren’t damaged by the freezing temps. (more…)

Linguistic Quirks in Silicon Valley

Every area has its linguistic quirks or slang, and the San Jose – Silicon Valley – Santa Clara County region is no exception. Some of it is in the words we use, some of it’s the way we pronounce things, and some of it is just the way we think. If you relocate to the South Bay, you may want to know what some of these mean!

Silicon Valley linguistic quirksPlaces:

The Hill – refers to the Santa Cruz Mountains. Going “over the hill” means going to Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, or somewhere along the coast.p>

The City – means San Francisco, even though it’s smaller in population than San Jose.

South County – areas such as Gilroy, Morgan Hill, San Martin and Coyote Valley (and outlying areas)

The Bay – is the San Francisco Bay, not the Monterey Bay.

The Airplane Park – this is Oak Meadow Park in the Town of Los Gatos

Read the rest of the post on the Valley of Heart’s Delight blog post, Silicon Valley Local-Speak: A Guide to Understanding Folks in the South Bay

 

 

How’s the Silicon Valley real estate market?

Aerial vew over San Jose looking east - photo by Mary Pope-Handy

Aerial vew over San Jose looking east – photo by Mary Pope-Handy

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
http://rereport.com/scc/print/Mary.PopeHandySCC.pdf

Please click to enlarge:

Santa Clara County trends at a glance

 

For condominiums and townhouses, of course, it is a more affordable.

Santa Clara County condo trends at a glance

 

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. (more…)

How is home buying in Silicon Valley different from other places?

Home buying in Silicon ValleyIf you want to buy a Silicon Valley home and you’re coming from outside of the area, a few things are done differently here. Rather than give a lengthy explanation, I’ll just provide a quick list of things which are different from other parts of California, the U.S. or perhaps the world.

1.) The escrow account, where money is held and disbursed by a neutral third party, is ordinarily with a title company in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area generally. In CA it’s legal for real estate brokers to have the escrow account, but that is not the custom here. By contrast, in southern Calif., there are separate companies which often do the escrow work or a real estate broker may handle the funds, called trust funds.

2.) Santa Clara County is a “seller pay county” by tradition when it comes to the escrow fee and who pays the owner’s policy of title insurance.  (Most of California is either buyer pay or split 50/50. Also, SCC is where San Jose and much of Silicon Valley is located.)

3.) Because it’s a “seller pay” county, the seller or the listing agent (the seller’s real estate agent) normally chooses the title company. Most of the time, the home owners do not have a preference and don’t  know anyone working at the nearby title companies, so usually the listing agent suggests which one to utilize. If you purchase the property with a loan, you will need to buy lender’s insurance, too – and that’s a buyer cost.

4.) While in many east coast states an attorney is involved with the home buying and selling process, here lawyers are seldom involved with real estate sales – unless there is a big problem.

5.) Surveys are not usually part of the transaction here, with exceptions if there are serious doubts about the property boundaries.

6.) Buyers are provided information on natural hazards, and usually also known environmental hazards and area tax liabilities, in most cases via a professional disclosure company such as JCP Disclosures. Things such as 100 year flood plains, liquifaction zones, earthquake fault lines, underground water contamination will be revealed, if known, in most cases.

7.) In some parts of the world, buyers do not have their own real estate professionals for guidance and advocacy, but here they do. Most of the time, in the San Jose and Peninsula area buyers have their own real estate agent working on their behalf. Usually the buyers’ agents are paid by the sellers – but they do not represent the sellers. Dual agency is legal in California as long as it is disclosed (and dual agency can mean either the same person or brokerage).

8.) In recent years, it has become the norm to get pre-approved with a lender or bank prior to writing a purchase offer on a house, condo or other home. (If you meet with a Realtor, getting you set up with a reputable lender will be one of the first things he or she asks you to do.) Also it’s pretty normal to have to provide “proof of funds” to demonstrate that you have the down payment available. Sometimes our international clients are surprised at the documentation required here, so it’s good if you are aware of it upfront.

9.) It usually takes 30-45 days to close escrow on a property here (from the time the sellers accept your contract to the time you actually own it).

 

Finally, it should be noted that the cost of housing in Silicon Valley is truly exorbitant. Most people know that Silicon Valley houses are very expensive, but until they get out and see what things cost, they really don’t understand how extreme it is. Often I tell people to expect to pay twice as much and to get half as much. Unless you are coming from a pricey locale, such as London, Tokyo, Paris, Manhattan or Boston, you may still find yourself in “sticker shock.” A half million dollars buys a fairly small, modest home here, in an average area. A million dollars is better – you can get into a better area and better house.  The “luxury market” starts somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million, depending on which area you’re considering.