It can be really challenging for people moving to Silicon Valley to get a sense of real estate prices, and perhaps more, to compare housing costs from one town or district to another.
One question I get a lot is this: what does it cost to buy a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house of about 2000 square feet?
So to answer this question, let’s see what houses like this are selling for (4 bed, 2 bath, appx 2000 SF or 185 square meters) and see how the cost looks in one Santa Clara Count y / Silicon Valley area versus another.
Please read the post and view the chart at my Valley of Hearts Delight blog:
San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States, and it’s quite sprawling, too. As an introduction, it’s helpful to know a bit about each of the major districts or areas. Within them, of course, there are smaller sections which have their own distinct style. If you are interested in learning more about them, please visit my site for San Jose: http://SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com and either click on the neighborhoods menu item or find the area listed in the right sidebar.
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.
Mt. Hamilton & the Lick Observatory
On the east side, if you scan the crest, you will see a white blip or two. That is the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.
Here’s a closer view (aerial):
On the southwest side, in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose, we have Mount Umunhum (which I’ve blogged about previously on my SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com site – see http://sanjoserealestatelosgatoshomes.com/tag/mt-umunhum/ ). It looks like a big, white box sitting on a flat part of the mountaintop.
Sometimes all you see is a little snippet of it poking out over some other hill – this is especially true if you are far north of it.
And here’s an aerial view of it from the Santa Cruz side of “the hill”:
If you are too far north, you will not see it at all – but if you can see it, you are likely to be fairly close by, on the southern end of Silicon Valley (unless you’re in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or nearby and another hill is obscuring the view).
My next, and last, tip is to look for “the pass” for highway 17 from Los Gatos and running through the Santa Cruz Mountains. This is easier to spot than you might think – just remember that any mountain pass is going to come in a natural gap of some kind and in a low point on the hills. That happens here, too. The image below was taken from a medical center’s parking garage on Samaritan Drive in San Jose, just on the Los Gatos border. That low point where you see two hills going way down – that’s it, that’s the pass. And that’s where you’ll find downtown Los Gatos (or very close to it).
Almaden would be to the left of this, by the way – but visible from this spot.
If you can find at least 2 of these landmarks – Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, or the Santa Cruz Mountains pass at Los Gatos, you can likely figure out your approximate location. Hope this helps!
First there is disbelief or denial. “It cannot be that bad – people are exaggerating.” That’s followed quickly by “I thought it was bad where I used to live!”
Then there may be outrage (anger is too mild a word): “Why would anyone pay that to live there?”
Next, a little bargaining: “What’s the work around? Are there any bank owned homes? How about something older – I don’t mind a 15 year old house…” (To us, that’s a young house, by the way.) “What about buying a lot and building?” Or the commute negotiation “I thought I had to be within 15 minutes, but I could go 30.” A typical commute might be 30 minutes in the morning, but 45 in the evening. Many people have worse than typical, though, as they want a bigger, nicer home, better schools, quieter location, etc.
Depression soon follows suit. This may be accompanied by “We just cannot do it” or “We are not willing to do that” (until they see that rents are $4000 for a smallish house in an only OK area and $6000 per month for a decent sized home in a good area.)
Acceptance comes at last. It may lead people to decide to go all in, bite the bullet, and buy locally. It may lead them to move way out of the immediate area and embrace an hourlong commute – or to take the Apple or Google bus to work, if applicable. It could lead them to move to Seattle, Orange County or somewhere a little less overwhelming in terms of housing costs.
Sometimes people think they are at “acceptance” as they write offers which are habitually 5-15% too low. In reality, they are actually still in the “bargaining” phase, hoping for a good deal amidst our raging seller’s market. That doesn’t usually happen, so writing a lot of unsuccessful offers frequently leads to depression (and sometimes blaming their agent for their offers not going through, even when it’s clear at closing that their offer price or terms were the issue).
How fast can you get to acceptance and write a realistic purchase offer? For people who could have bought 12 months ago but are still shopping now, that wait has cost them about 10% of their home price in many cases. For those looking 2 years, it’s easily double that, and in some cases prices are up a full 30%. That’s like setting a match to your entire down payment.
If you want to be a successful home buyer in this crazy Silicon Valley real estate market, you will need to get onboard quickly, because the longer you take to get to acceptance, the more expensive your final home will cost when the market isappreciating, as it has been for about 3 years now. Time is money and nowhere is that more true than in the San Jose, Silicon Valley, or South Bay real estate market.
Looking for more Silicon Valley real estate resources? Here are a few of my other sites, blogs, and market stats tooks:
popehandy.rereport.com – real estate statics for San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, and Santa Cruz County
popehandy.com – Silicon Valley real estate, Los Gatos real estate, info on many areas of the realty market in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com – Santa Clara County real estate, special focus on San Jose areas of Almaden & Cambrian and also Los Gatos with info on the real estate market, neighborhoods, and more
LiveInLosGatosBlog – Los Gatos real estate, neighborhoods, events, businesses, parks. Many photos and neighborhood or subdivision profiles.
- 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
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.)
What does it really cost to buy a house in Silicon Valley? In Santa Clara County, the median sale price of houses is $1 million (May 2015) and the average sale price is just about $1,300,000. So you know it can’t be easy – these are for the whole county, not the areas with the best commutes, best schools, most charm, etc. And it’s worse if you go north, and into San Mateo County, where the median sale price is $1,325,000 and the average sale price is $1,660,000? (Please visit my RE REPORT for information on Silicon Valley real estate statistics. It is automatically updated each month.)
Today I’ll use the Altos Research charts to show the median LIST PRICES (sales prices often a little higher) of homes for sale in several Silicon Valley communities – just a sampling, not all of them, and then we’ll look at the median list price of just the lowest priced homes – those in the bottom 25% of pricing. Please note that the charts will be AUTOMATICALLY UPDATED each week, so this article should remain current.
The high tech epicenters: Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Cupertino
Below please note the median list price of homes in the super highly desirable areas of technology intensity. These areas are always “sky high” relative to the rest of Santa Clara County (Palo Alto and Cupertino are noted for their exceptionally high scoring public schools, and Palo Alto has a very bustling, fun downtown area).
Next, what is the least you might expect to pay for houses in these same areas? Here’s a glance at the least expensive single family home segments. Palo Alto is just a hair under $1.95 million (these are likely mostly “fixers”), Cupertino comes in at $1.3 million, Mountain View again close behind at just barely under $1.3 million and Sunnyvale offers its most affordable homes at about $775 – $800k.
Please also see this article on another of my sites for more detailed information on the Cupertino real estate market:
For more information on the Sunnyvale real estate market specifically, please read this article:
Los Altos and Los Altos Hills
It can be really 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 are versus another.
Yesterday I compared several areas and cities using the same formula: homes of 1800 – 2200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 6000 SF to 10,000 SF. Here’s how it shakes out in the “west valley areas” along the Highway 85 corridor. What areas are most affordable? One way of analysing this is the “price per square foot” figure. How competitive is it? Have a look at the DOM or “Days on Market” figure. All of these days on market are short, but they range from low to heart-skippingly fast.
How much have prices changed? That really depends on where you live, or where you want to live. Here’s a flashback to fall 2013. Do you notice the difference in ordering? Campbell has moved up a notch or two, which is reflective of what we are seeing: Campbell is HOT!
This next chart was from November 3, 2013. No, it was never cheap in Palo Alto…
In most cases, the most expensive and desirable places have either the best schools or shortest commute location. Had I ranked these for school scores, you’d find that Cambrian is fairly high up and 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). Continue reading
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: