What can you get for your housing budget? What are you able to afford to buy in Silicon Valley?
Below, please find a simple chart which provides a pretty good sense of what homes actually cost – not what they are listed for, but where they sell, here in the Valley of Heart’s Delight.
Often when people relocate to the San Jose area, they are interested in communities with good schools, like Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos, and Los Gatos. It can be a real shock to the system to find out that buying power isn’t what was hoped.
This data is courtesy of Sereno Group – thought it would be helpful to folks relocating here as a snapshot on the Silicon Valley real estate market Disclaimer: in many of these cities, there are different school districts within a city’s borders, and they are their own “markets”. Consider this as general information only.
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 are searching for Silicon Valley real estate, or Silicon Valley homes for sale, you may discover that you get overwhelmed with choices and housing results.
The biggest problem is that the area is simply enormous. Most agree that Silicon Valley is an area covering Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, part of Santa Cruz County (Scotts Valley) and part of Alameda County (Fremont – and some also add Union City and Newark). It’s a lot of territory – 1,854 square miles. As of last year, this much territory was home to between just over 3 million people.
So if you are in house hunting mode, the very first thing you need to do is to understand your anchor point. The anchor point is the thing which you want to be near. For most people, that’s a work location (and in many cases, it may be 2 work locations). Sometimes it’s proximity to family members, a place of worship, a particular school or any number of things. Most of the time, the main anchor point is the place of employment and desired commute time, tempered by things like good schools, shopping, parks, things to do, and quality of life.
Narrowing the home search geographically
Moving here to work in Scotts Valley? Much of Santa Cruz County may work – but so could living in Los Gatos, Campbell or nearby, where you’d have a reverse commute.
Relocating for a job in Mountain View? Most likely, you’ll eliminate Santa Cruz County due to distance and commute challenges with Highway 17 going over the Santa Cruz Mountains.
If good public schools matter, that will help to refine your search, as not all parts of the southern San Francisco Bay Area have equally good education.
Below I’ll post sample listings from communities noted for better public schools in Santa Clara County up to 1.2 million, which seems to be a very hot price point that many relocating home buyers can afford. I do also serve San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties, but most of my clients are looking at Santa Clara Co., so limiting this search here. Unfortunately, Alameda County (Fremont, Union City, and Newark are there) has a totally different MLS so usually I don’t work there – but am happy to introduce you to a great Realtor who does (please just email me and I will connect you).
Current Santa Clara County homes for sale in areas with good schools
This week, the San Jose Mercury News ran an article with a starling statistic: the median list price of 2 bedroom apartments in and near Silicon Valley. Here’s a look at the numbers:
- San Mateo County $2884
- Santa Clara County $2552
- The San Francisco Bay Area as a whole (all 9 counties) $2451
- Alameda County $2172
- Contra Costa County $1825
These numbers are the median for the whole county in question – so in Santa Clara County, it will be a lot more if you are in Cupertino or Palo Alto or Los Gatos as opposed to the Alum Rock area of San Jose or Morgan Hill or Gilroy.
Houses are worse still. Small homes may be found for $2500 to $3000 in many areas. Places with better schools may run $4000 to $6000 per month for a home with better schools. Want the best? It’s likely to be $7000 – $8000 for a good sized, comfortable (do not read “elegant”) house with better schools – or more.
Update on August 25: I’m hearing that 1 bedroom apartments in Cupertino are running at around $2300 per month and a 2 bedroom at around $3000 per month.
Read the article in the Merc:
Bay Area rental crisis squeezing out middle class
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:
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:
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.