It’s so easy to get lost when you’re new to an area and don’t know what’s where! Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in large landmarks such as the Bay, the coastal range and the east foothills. At first, the mountains might seem like they all look the same. But if you know what to look for, you’ll soon get your bearings – assuming that it’s daytime and the weather is cooperative!
Here are my Silicon Valley landmarks and mental tricks or visioning – the ones I use to know where I am or where I am going. First, imagine that the Santa Clara Valley is a bit like a funnel with mountains that narrow at the bottom on two sides and the San Francisco Bay on top. OK, it’s not quite straight, but it’s not a bad analogy otherwise. Next, consider how to tell the two sets of hills apart. The ones closest to the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains (aka the coastal range) are full of redwood trees and another conifers and they stay green year round. These hills are nearly always a deep, dark green or blue-green. The eastern foothills, on the other hand, are mostly grassy but dotted with oak tree clusters in the nooks and crannies of the hills where the rain catches. Those hills are a bright, lighter green in winter (when it rains!) but for much of summer and fall they are blanketed with a yellow-gold grass.
Now that you have the basic East – West (or actually South to Soutwest, depending) direction sorted out, it’s time to learn what to look for in each of the mountains to get your location sorted out a little better. Fortunately, each of them has a large structure perched on a high peak, so as long as the weather is clear and it’s daytime, they tend to stand out from almost anywhere in Santa Clara County.
Realtor Magazine ran an article declaring that many global home buyers consider U.S. real estate prices a bargain. (Related article that was the basis for this piece can be seen here.) Get into these articles just a little bit, though, and you can see that San Francisco and San Jose are exceptions, as are Los Angeles and San Diego:
The study found the following major markets were the most unaffordable:
- Hong Kong
- San Francisco
- San Jose
- San Diego
- Los Angeles
This study included medium and large cities. But what do you think would happen if they looked at the most desirable cities and towns nearby, the suburbs with low crime and great schools (or the areas of those 2 cities with the same)? That’s right, it’s worse – much worse.
Nicer suburbs will really cost you, especially those on “The Peninsula” or San Mateo County. Here’s a glance at the median and average sale price of houses sold last month (June 2015). Countywide it is $1,300,000 with homes selling at about 110% of list price.
Heading south does help. Just as San Jose is a little less expensive than San Francisco, so, too, is Santa Clara County a bit less than San Mateo County. San Jose considers itself the Capital of Silicon Valley – a big suburban, sprawling city of 1 million people reaching out to meet cities like Cupertino, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, and Santa Clara all here in the South Bay’s Santa Clara County. It’s not cheap here, of course. But compare the $1 million median sale price of a home here compared to $1.3 million a little north of here, and you’ll understand why it’s not just the better weather than brings people a little further south (the Peninsula gets more wind and fog than the South Bay does, generally).
These are tough realities for newcomers to the area, whether buying or renting (rents are possibly harder to swallow than purchases). I’d be doing you no favors to sugar coat the situation. Some companies will help by improving your relocation benefits package. None of them will enable you to move here and get as nice a house as what you’ve got elsewhere for a reasonable amount of money. They cannot and will not pay you enough for that to happen.
Even so, it’s worth it to make the leap. There’s so much to love about this vibrant area: great minds, fabulous international flavor, excellent education, wonderful weather with 300 sunny days a year in a subtropical climate, access to nearby beaches, San Francisco, the Monterey Bay, Wine Country and so much more. (And you don’t need to go to Napa or Sonoma for wine – there are about 2 dozen wineries in Santa Clara County alone! See A visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino as one example.)
On another of my websites, I wrote about congestion and traffic patterns on Silicon Valley highways and roads. For many transplants to the San Francisco Bay Area and especially the Peninsula and South Bay areas, traffic is an enormous consideration on where to live and how much to pay for real estate.
If this is a topic that interests you, please take a look:
If you’re moving to pricey Silicon Valley, your goal may not be to find the very most expensive places to live. However, if you are coming here and looking for great schools, it’s very likely that the list of places with fantastic public schools will overlap considerably with that of expensive real estate.
A couple of weeks ago, the Business Insider compiled a list of the 20 most expensive zip codes in the area, and also compared the median sale price in 2014 with that of the same zips in 2013 so you can see how much prices are rising. These are the median sale price and does not reflect cost per square foot. If you want a 2,000 SF house, you may not easily find it in the toniest areas!
Their 2014 Silicon Valley areas include zip codes within Atherton (94027 median sale price $3.9 million in 2014) , Los Altos Hills, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Hillsborough, Saratoga, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Redwood City, Belmont, San Carlos, and the Almaden Valley area of San Jose (95120, median sale price $1.177 mil in 2014). Since it’s by zip code, some towns or cities show up twice, for more and less costly parts of that community.
Surprising omissions are Woodside and Los Altos.
Not sure how Almaden could be more costly than those two areas, but this is the list they compiled. Read the whole article with the specifics here:
How do home prices compare between Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, and areas of San Jose such as Cambrian, Almaden and West San Jose?
Yesterday on my Live in Los Gatos blog, I compared a number of “west valley” areas in Santa Clara County, or southern Silicon Valley, to provide a sense of how much home you can get for your money in Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Campbell, and areas of San Jose such as Cambrian, Almaden and West San Jose. I used my Altos Research weekly newsletters, which provide a snapshot view of four real estate pricing tiers for various cities or areas. In these, you see the median list price per quartile with the type of square footage, lots size, beds and baths found for each one.
Let’s look at Cupertino first, since I get a lot of folks wanting to relocate to Silicon Valley for Apple employment, and many of the new recruits have heard about the wonderful public schools in that city – a major draw. A few years ago, it was very possible to purchase a small house in Cupertino for under a million dollars. But have a look at the chart below and check out the days on market as well as the other data….
In many areas, the most affordable homes are the ones that get gobbled up fastest. Why is it that in Cupertino, the lowest priced listings are on the market the longest? It’s not their size – I can tell you this from two decades of experience selling homes in the Bay Area. It is very likely that these properties are not too livable as a group. They probably need serious remodeling or rebuilding (and perhaps expansion as well). Most buyers do not have the cash to totally “rehab” a house, especially if they are starting at over $1,000,000. If you want to live in Cupertino and not throw a ton of money into the existing house, or tear down and rebuild, you’re most likely to need a budget closer to $1.3 or $1.4 million as a starting point. Want to be able to walk to Infinity Loop? Make that $1.5 or more – and you will still need to do some remodeling unless it’s very small!
What about other nearby Silicon Valley communities and neighborhoods? Please have a look at the full article with charts for a number of areas (plus one for all of San Jose).
What does it cost to buy a house in Santa Clara County? And San Mateo County? Both are home to “Silicon Valley”!
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.
A few days ago I read the article below in the San Jose Mercury News, penned by Vivek Ranadivé, on the topic of discrimination in Silicon Valley. I loved his striking analogy to Florence, Italy, during the Renaissance – a place where I studied in college – and thought that this piece had a lot of merit. The one caveat, though, is that in my experience there is certainly a very pronounced, impossible to miss age discrimination in Silicon Valley among the high tech companies. Anyone more than 50 or 55 years old may feel that his or her job may be cut at any time and handed to a younger, less expensive employee. Once this last holdout of bias is gone, then perhaps the correlation with exquisite Florence will be exact. The article below is republished with permission. – MPH
Discrimination in Silicon Valley is a Myth, by Vivek Ranadivé
Lately, I’ve been hearing criticism about diversity in Silicon Valley that deeply saddens me. Some people seem to think that gender and race discrimination in the Valley are still roadblocks to career advancement, preventing some people from pursuing opportunities given to others.
I disagree with this completely.
It’s no secret why scores of foreigners flock to Silicon Valley each year. It’s home to some of the best universities, some of the world’s most innovative companies and some of the brightest minds in history. It’s a region that prides itself on disrupting the status quo and pushing the envelope.
What I’ve witnessed in my 30 years in the valley contrasts starkly with recent criticisms.
Since day one, it has welcomed me, and many other Indians, with open arms. And not just Indians — any ethnic group willing to pour their hearts and minds into developing the “next big thing.” Take a walk through the hallways of any business in Silicon Valley and you’re likely to witness a melting pot of young intellectuals from every corner of the world. Silicon Valley not only embraces ethnic diversity, it highly encourages it. That’s what has made this region so successful.
I like to compare Silicon Valley to Florence during the Renaissance. Led by some of history’s brightest and most progressive minds, Florence was the world’s epicenter for art, music, politics and technology. If you wanted to make a name for yourself in the early Renaissance, Florence was where you had to be. The parallels to Silicon Valley are clear — from the Traitorous Eight to the late Steve Jobs to the Google and Facebook guys, so many of the most innovative and intelligent people of the past half-decade have lived and flourished here. As a result, the valley continues to attract the best and brightest from all over the world. Continue reading
If you are new to Silicon Valley, you may wonder what the customs are around Halloween, which is always October 31st. It’s pretty simple. Kids get to dress up in costumes and go door-to-door in residential areas (houses, usually, but also condos, townhouses and apartments) and say “Trick or Treat” and receive the treat, which normally is candy.
People in homes are expected to have candy of some sort to give away if they have their lights on, a jack-o-lantern burning or any Halloween decor. If the house is dark or unlit, it should be skipped. Most houses will have a jack-o-lantern, meaning a carved pumpkin with a candlelight (or something similar) in it.
In some areas, such as the Almond Grove area of Los Gatos, homes may get as many as 200 kids in an evening! In other areas, where homes are spread out or for some other reason it’s not so popular, there may be 20 or less.
Finally, parents should accompany children as they go door to door. Candy is not given to adults – it is tacky for grownups to come with a bag or even in costume to collect sweets. Don’t do it, you’ll appear greedy and uncouth. It is also uncool for trick-or-treaters to expect candy if not in costume.
Have fun and be safe!