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. Very few properties here have basements – we tell ourselves that the weather is so good, we don’t need them! A large number of houses which were built in San Jose and nearby areas in the 50s and 60s were put on prime land (the best areas) but were not large. It is not uncommon to find a 3 bedroom, 2 bath “starter house” in Santa Clara County with about 1200 square feet on a 6500 SF lot. What that house costs will depend on a lot of factors, including school scores. Right now the average list price in the county for such a house is just under $1 million. With the very best schools, it could be well over a $1.5 million dollars. Good to better schools, such as in the Cambrian district of San Jose, perhaps $950,000 to $1,350,000. Longer commutes, less desirable areas and places with lower school scores will bring that price down quite a lot. If you go as far as “south county” (Morgan Hill or Gilroy), you may be able to get it for about $800,000.
This same story is also true for the luxury market. In many cases, you’ll pay twice as much and get half as much.
One last note – it’s not just the mortgage that’s hard to swallow, it’s getting together the down payment. Some companies (and universities) have programs which assist employees with that as well. Be sure to ask your HR department.
The commute times, traffic and sprawl are the # 2 issue for many who move here
A very distant second, but related to #1, the commute distance, traffic and overall sprawl of Silicon Valley is often the next biggest challenge for new arrivals to the San Jose – Santa Clara – Palo Alto – Sunnyvale area. In a nutshell, the commute time is connected to housing costs because for many people, driving further means getting more home for the money. A short commute to Palo Alto (or San Francisco, for that matter) will mean paying a huge amount for your lease or purchase.
Everything else is relatively minor by comparison…
Once you surmount #1 and #2, you’re through the toughest part! The “next hardest” things will depend on you, your experiences and your expectations. For some, it may be how poor our public transit here is. (Odds are that you will need a car to get around. Very few people can get by without one.) For others, it may be a “culture shock” that Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and nearby areas are truly global melting pots. I love it…but if you are from a very homogeneous area, it may be an adjustment! Politically, Silicon Valley tends to be mostly progressive to liberal. So if you are from a conservative part of the state or country, and are accustomed to a climate largely in sync with your political framework, you may feel like this is uncomfortable, at least at first. You will find you’re not alone – there is diversity in all things here, including politics!