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
Please click to enlarge:
For condominiums and townhouses, of course, it is a more affordable.
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…)
If 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.
If 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 (5000+ 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.
You’ve heard that prices are bad here, but how much worse could they really be? Surely you could downsize a bit to a 3000 to 3500 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 $2,000,000. But guess what? Here, in a nice area, that’s a 2000 SF house on a 10,000 lot in a good area that’s a tear down. And in traffic, it’s a 40 minute commute. Want an acre in an area with really good public schools at all levels? Think $3 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.)
Why make the sacrifice to live in Silicon Valley?
Why on earth should you move here to the San Jose area when real estate prices are so insanely high? Santa Clara County is bad, and San Mateo County is worse. Why would anyone make that kind of sacrifice in living space and prestige?
First, because this is a great place to live because of who’s here. Great minds have coalesced here. From the heavy hitters like Google and Intel to the many fresh startups, the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well and imbues much of the culture here. Diversity reigns – fabulous people have converged here from all corners of the earth, bringing with them a richness and vibrancy that is appreciated across the area. Want Ethiopian food? No problem. Thai? Easy. Korean, French, Honduran? Check, check, check. You name it, we seem to have it, whether it’s Middle Eastern, African, Asian, Pacific Islands, or European, there’s something for everyone. (OK I haven’t yet seen an Australian restaurant, but I also don’t know what counts as classic Australian cuisine other than Vegemite sandwiches and barbecues.)
Additionally, there are a number of great universities in the region: Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCSF (for medical), Santa Clara University, San Jose State, UC Santa Cruz (math, marine biology, astronomy and more).
Second, this is a fantastic place to live because the weather encourages a life where you’re not confined to your house and dependent on a big basement. We’re talking 300 sunny days a year. This January we hit 70F one day, which is not unusual. Back in the midwest or northeast, they have beautiful snow. Snow for months and months and months. Yes, it’s lovely, but doesn’t it get old? Here people are golfing, sailing, biking, hiking year round. There are weekend farmers markets open all year! Want snow? No problem, drive to Yosemite, Bear Valley or Tahoe. Enjoy the snow for the weekend – then drive home to the land of palm trees!
Third, this is an exceptional place to live because of what’s nearby. Within an hour or two we have San Francisco, the Monterey Peninsula and Carmel, Napa and Sonoma Valleys (wine country). Within 3-5 hours we enjoy Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara and much of the California Coast. (California has an incredible array of climates and a diversity of agriculture and economy seldom seen anywhere.) Minutes away, take a little trek around the valley’s mountains and hills, which are full of open space preserves, county, and local parks which make for a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the valley floor.
Moving might mean giving up the palatial house and garden and realizing that your accomplishments are simply not going to be reflected in a ginormous house and yard. The house and yard are often more reflective of when you bought rather than how you were able to buy.
The good news for those who buy here is that Silicon Valley continues to expand and be in demand. Hiring is strong. Economically, tech is leading the way and this area was one of the first to emerge from the Great Recession. Prices are tough to swallow, now more than ever, but as long as huge companies continue to hire, there’s no reason to think that real estate won’t be a wise investment.
The Silicon Valley and San Jose areas are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of “urban living” neighborhoods. If you are looking to rent or buy a home in one of these areas, you may wonder where you can find them.
For those not familiar with the “urban living” name, it refers to areas where homes and shops are close together, so that residents are not so dependent upon cars. Some sites refer to them as “walk to town,” though that phrase is used less now to be inclusive of non-ambulatory citizens.
Here’s a quick list of areas to consider if you want the urban living experience:
(1) Downtown San Jose
In the downtown district of San Jose, you will find both new high rise condos (several were built all at once), ranging from nice to extremely upscale & elegant. Additionally, there are some neighborhood in or near downtown with houses full of character and architectural charm as they were built in about the 1920s. Once such neighborhood is Japan Town, where many of the homes are Spanish or Mediterranean style, and there’s a little “downtown” area (apart from the more congested, sky scraper area) with wonderful shops and restaurants. San Jose’s Japantown, by the way, is one of only 3 in the country – all of which are in California. The others are in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Read more about San Jose’s Japantown in my blog through the link.
Find my San Jose Real Estate Market Update through the link.
(2) The Willow Glen area of San Jose
Willow Glen was once its own town but has been incorporated with San Jose for nearly a hundred years. Downtown Willow Glen is found along Lincoln Avenue between Bird and Minnesota. The area is old (some homes are Victorian and date back to the late 1800s) and many of the houses there are from the early part of the 20th century. There are some newer places, though, including apartments, condos and townhouses.
Find my Willow Glen Real Estate Market Update through the link.
The city of Campbell is south of San Jose and borders it. It enjoys a lovely and popular downtown area along Campbell Avenue, clo
se to the Los Gatos Creek trail, parks and a par course, and also within a short jaunt to the Pruneyard Shopping Center. This part of the valley has both older homes (again dating back to the Victorian home era) as well as newer, and an added bonus is that the metro area’s light rail comes right into Campbell.
Find my Campbell Real Estate Market Update through the link.
(4) Los Gatos
A bit closer to the hills from Campbell is the town of Los Gatos, snuggling up to the base of the foothills. I have written about Los Gatos extensively on my Live in Los Gatos blog, as this is where I live. The downtown area is extremely beautiful and vibrant – and costly! As with most “urban living” areas, it’s much less expensive the further out you get.
View a slideshow of Los Gatos (and links to more slideshows from there) courtesy of Mary Pope-Handy.
Find my Los Gatos Real Estate Market Update and the Market Trends by Price Point and High School District through the links.
A little north of Los Gatos, Saratoga is also up against the coastal range so is very scenic. Saratoga is smaller and quieter, and many would say also more upscale. The schools in Saratoga are fantastic so most people moving there today do so for the schools. Prices are extremely high by Silicon Valley standards, but those who live in Saratoga will insist it’s worth it! The downtown area is lovely and full of wonderful places to dine as well as three for wine tasting.
Enjoy a slideshow of downtown Saratoga Village (photos and show by Mary Pope-Handy, link will open in a new window)
Find my Saratoga Real Estate Market Trends by Price Point and High School District through the link.
(6) Mountain View
If you love to dine out, you will find your way to Mountain View sooner or later! Like Los Gatos, the downtown Mountain View area is very vibrant and not terribly small. It’s right along the Cal Train route too so is a fabulous commute location for anyone going up the peninsula or to San Francisco.
Find my Mountain View Real Estate Market Update through the link.
(7) Palo Alto
Adjacent to Mountain View, and immensely expensive, is the very impressive city of Palo Alto. Home to Stanford University and some of the best schools in the nation, the downtown area also boasts wonderful eateries, shops, a classic movie theater, and much more. Everyone loves Palo Alto. The only trick is affording it!
I don’t do regular market updates for Palo Alto, but occasionally I will compare it to other South Bay markets. See Comparing cost of housing in West Valley communities from Palo Alto to Los Gatos to Blossom Valley: what will a 4 bedroom home cost?
(8) Santa Clara’s Rivermark Area
The city of Santa Clara destroyed its original downtown many decades ago, so the main part of that fine city unfortunately has a “generic American” look to it now, though there are some lovely residential areas with beautiful older homes. A few years back, a new neighborhood was designed and built at the northern part of Santa Clara near the bay (on the land formerly housing the Agnews Developmental Center): Rivermark (just off River Oaks Parkway). The area includes a big retail area with a grocery store, banks, shops and restaurants, a park, several types of housing (apartments, condos, townhomes and houses). There is a private school in the neighborhood, too. (The local public schools are not noted for high scores.) Most of the homes in the area were built between 2005 and 2009, so the neighborhood is very popular with those who strongly desire to buy new construction.
Find my Santa Clara Real Estate Market Update through the link.
(9) Santana Row
Like Rivermark, Santana Row is a newer development but this one is in a well-established area at the intersection of Winchester Blvd and Stevens Creek Blvd, right where the cities of Santa Clara and San Jose meet. This is San Jose’s answer to Rodeo Drive – it’s where you’ll find the Gucci, Brooks Brothers, Coach and other similar stores. The complex is mixed use with shops below and apartments, townhouses and condos above. It’s young, it’s lavish, it’s European feeling – so as you might expect, this upscale area is not inexpensive! Whether you buy or rent a home there or just spend a weekend (there is a hotel) or an evening, it’s a great place to hang out, dine, stroll, shop and people watch. A grocery store is a mere block away and a movie theater tops off the attractions here, so this neighborhood truly seems to have it all.
A description of Santana Row with Slideshow (will open in a new window) by Mary Pope-Handy.
Find my San Jose Real Estate Market Update through the link.
Moving across the state, country, or globe always presents opportunities – but also challenges. What are the biggest hurdles for people moving to Silicon Valley?
The cost of housing is the # 1 challenge for newcomers to Silicon Valley
For most people, the hardest issue is the cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether buying or renting, it’s extremely costly here. Depending on where you’re coming from, it could be man, many times more expensive. Finding affordable housing is the # 1 challenge for people relocating to Silicon Valley.
How does it compare to other places? It is close to on par with New York City, about 50% more expensive than Austin, TX, and about 1/3 more than Chicago, IL. Check Sperling’s Cost of Living comparison to get a good sense of how it relates to your current home town.
Not only are the houses, condominiums, townhouses and apartments more expensive, but most of our homes are smaller too. (more…)