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 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.

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

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.

Is it better to rent for awhile, or purchase a home when you first move to Silicon Valley?

Buy or rent firstIs it a good idea for newcomers to Silicon Valley to rent for a year, or smarter for them to purchase right away? There are many factors to consider, and even more if you are coming from another state or country.

Normally, I would suggest deciding where you want to live generally (example, Almaden area of San Jose 95120) and renting there for a bit first just to make sure it’s where you want to be. This is especially true if you have children who will be in public schools, as it can be rough on them if they change again once you’ve been here for awhile. Renting first enables you to learn the area and takes some pressure off. Also, it can take some time to move money from overseas for your down payment, so the little extra time can help there, too.

However, many people want to buy immediately and will make several trips here before the move to find and purchase a home. Often this is because they see the value in owning (tax benefits, getting kids into certain schools). I’ve had many people tell me that it helps them to establish themselves in their new community faster if they buy rather than rent.

The current market remains an impacted, strong seller’s market which has refused to let up over the last few years. With home prices trending on a seemingly endless climb, some buyers are clamoring to purchase before prices rise higher. Other potential buyers sometimes try to rent with the plan to sit out the storm until the market has cooled, but high demand has raised rental costs as well, and there’s no knowing how long it will take for the market to correct, or if it will ever correct below the current trend. For this reason, trying to wait-out the market involves a huge risk.

Back in 2013, when I originally published this post, there was a lot of focus on mortgage interest rates, which were very favorable at the time, hovering between 4.125 and 4.25%. Since most buyers use mortgage loans, the interest rate can be a big factor in budgeting the purchase. To understand the impact, let’s compare the 2013 numbers with the predicted rise that was given for 2014 to 5.4% interest.

What does this rise in interest rates mean in terms of housing affordability?

$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 4.25% = monthly payment of $2459

$500,000 mortgage, 30 year fixed at 5.4% = monthly payment of $2807

Difference = $348, or a 14% increase in the monthly payment

Or, let’s look at it in terms of buying power.

$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 4.25% = loan amount of $508,192

$2500 mortgage payment, 30 year term at 5.4% = loan amount of $445,211

To summarize, a rise of interest from 4.25% to 5.4% cuts into the buying power of a $2,500 payment to the tune of almost $63,000.

For most people, the cost of waiting is a significant factor in this buy vs rent decision. My concern is that many people who elect to lease or rent for a year do not understand the risk that may accompany waiting. For most folks relocating to the San Jose or Peninsula area, the hardest thing to manage is the cost of housing. This could become substantially worse by putting off the purchase for a year, so right now I cannot recommend doing that.

Want more info?  Please see my Valley of Heart’s Delight blog, with the related article
How will rising interest rates impact your home buying power?