Today we’ll provide a few quick graphics to give you a Silicon Valley pricing snapshot on the 4 counties where we sell homes. These will be ranked by order of housing cost, from highest to lowest. After that, we’ll provide more resources from our other sites and blogs with a deeper dive on our main Silicon Valley real estate markets. We don’t cover all 9 of the San Francisco Bay Area counties, but here you’ll find 3 of them covered, and it’s a pretty good primer on the Bay Area housing market analysis.
Silicon Valley Pricing Snapshots
San Mateo County
San Mateo County is “The Peninsula”, the county just south of San Francisco and north of Santa Clara County and Santa Cruz County. About a quarter of Silicon Valley is in this area, generally.
Santa Clara County
Santa Clara County, our home base, is the second priciest area in this region and is the heart of Silicon Valley:
We also do monthly market updates on communities within the Santa Clara County and more on our other blogs. Check out some of those market reports through the link.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
“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?
Which cities are a a part of Silicon Valley? When people are considering a move to the San Francisco Bay Area, that’s one of the first questions asked.
Silicon Valley is not really a valley, though it did originally harken back to the Santa Clara Valley’s geography. The towns and cities which are included in Silicon Valley are primarily in Santa Clara County (by far the largest Silicon Valley city is San Jose), with San Mateo County also having a number of areas, with little snippets of Santa Cruz County and Alameda County.
While San Jose is the largest city in Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the region is probably Palo Alto – Mountain View – Sunnyvale.
This is an amorphous area. If you asked 10 different real estate agents, you might get 5 or 6 different answers, but I believe the list below would be agreed upon by most.
It is important to note that San Francisco is NOT in Silicon Valley. Many reporters get this wrong and report on Silicon Valley with stories out of SF. The regions are certainly related, and there are high tech companies in The City but they are distinct.
A list of which cities are part of Silicon Valley
In Santa Clara County (most of the county) – also known as the South Bay
- Gilroy – possibly
- Los Altos
- Los Altos Hills
- Los Gatos
- Los Gatos Mountains (not incorporated) – possibly
- Monte Sereno
- Morgan Hill
- Mountain View
- Palo Alto
- San Jose
- Santa Clara
In San Mateo County (bayside areas) – on The Peninsula
- East Palo Alto
- Foster city
- Menlo Park
- Portola Valley
- Redwood City
- Redwood Shores
- San Carlos
- San Mateo
In Alameda County – in the East Bay
- Possibly Newark, Hayward
In Santa Cruz County – not part of the San Francisco Bay Area (9 counties), but part of the Monterey Bay Area and the Central Coast
- Scotts Valley
- possibly Santa Cruz & Santa Cruz Mountains
Where is Silicon Valley?
It can be challenging for people moving to Silicon Valley to get a sense of pricing for home buying. So to compare “apples to apples,” let’s take a hypothetical case of a 4 bedroom, 2 bath home of approximately 2,000 SF house (appx 185 square meters) and see how the cost looks in one area versus another.
Today I compared several cities and areas using the formula: single family homes of 1,800 – 2,200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 5,000 SF – 10,000 SF that have sold within the last 60 days. The prices listed are the average from sales in this criteria, so areas with a higher volume of sales will have more stable averages than those with less sales to analyze. DOM means “Days on Market”, the number of days a home was listed as available before pending.
Please note that this is a rough sketch of home prices based on averages taken across large, diverse residential communities. There are many factors that will affect market value beyond these boundaries.
Now, on to the charts.
The Cost To Buy A 4 Bedroom 2 Bath Home In…
I have arranged this chart in descending order by Sales Price. This is usually how I organize the data, and you can see certain markets shifting position, moving up or down the order depending on what’s hot. Occasionally one of these markets will have no sales within the timeframe, so those will be left in place from where they were when we last checked, but will show “n/a” in place of any pricing or statistics. Once you’ve reviewed the most recent data, scroll down farther to compare today’s market against past years!
Please use the list below as a way to get your bearings on nearby areas in the South Bay (southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area). This is not an exhaustive list – it’s just most of the areas closest to Highway 85 or the West Valley Freeway. You can study various cities, downs, and districts within the region at my stats site, popehandy.rereport.com. (Free and you do not have to register unless you want email updates.)
Want to do a deep dive on any of these areas? Please visit my Valley of Heart’s Delight Blog to learn about them.
There have been a number of changes to the order since the last time we checked in December 2020. Campbell, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View have all moved down the list. Their prices are higher than last time we checked, they just haven’t gone up this spring as much as some of the other markets. Saratoga has climbed much higher on the chart, but with so few sales it’s normal to see broad fluctuations in the charts for this community.
What we see across the entire chart is sky high spring pricing and extremely low days on market – under 2 weeks in all but two areas! Looking more closely, the Cambrian (San Jose) market had one highly unusual sale where the MLS listing shows a whopping 496 days on market. Discounting that sale, the average becomes a lighting fast 10 DOM! So while there are still the occasional slow sales the majority are selling at breakneck speeds! As for pricing, communities are showing increases from roughly 3% all the way up to 31%! Averaging it out, the West Valley average home is selling 16%-18% above where they were early last winter.
In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location or both. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian would be fairly high up as it is a good “bang for the buck” location – though not a super short commute for folks who work in Mountain View (though not so bad for people working in Cupertino). None of these is especially close to North San Jose (Cisco).
Also, it should be noted that one of the main drivers of home values is school districts. In the San Jose / Silicon Valley area, the school district boundaries do NOT follow the city or town boundaries. Los Gatos, for example, has 3 different elementary school districts, with varying scores which impact home values. So too with Saratoga and many other areas, San Jose especially! All this to say that the figures above are only ROUGH GUIDES. When you break it down to micro-markets, the picture changes more. But as a starter guide, I think you’ll find the above info helpful to give you a general idea of how far your money can go in home buying for areas in Santa Clara County from Palo Alto to Blossom Valley.
Palo Alto is a gorgeous, exciting area with all kinds of wonderful features – beautiful neighborhoods, lower crime, great schools, short commute. It is usually the most expensive area on this list. But unless you found a successful startup company or inherit a couple of million bucks, it can be hard to buy a single family home there. Many people would like to live in the shadow of Stanford University, but the budget just won’t allow it.
Now let’s have a look at that December 2020 chart I’ve been referencing. Los Altos had no sales during this time, although overall it was an active market in the West Valley.
Historical Comparisons of Home Prices in the Same (or Similar) Areas
We’ll start off with something fairly recent, a report from October 29th, 2019.
October 29th, 2019: