Tips for Silicon Valley Home Buyers
My Cambrian area of San Jose Real Estate Report was recently published with the updated numbers from the closed sales last month for this part of San Jose (95124 and 95118 with a little of 95008 too). Please click on the link above to see much more information there. Those charts are below.
Cambrian is MIXED at the moment, and the determining factor appears to be the school district. Overall, the Cambrian real estate market is a seller’s market, but one that has been softening over the last 6 months with prices coming down, the days on market going up, and conditions becoming more favorable for buyers with the passage of time.
Now, though, there seems to be an uptick in at least part of the Cambrian housing market. If we break it into different segments, we can see that it is not moving as one unified market, but rather as some micro markets moving somewhat independently. Next, I’ll share some charts I’ve pulled from the MLS this morning to point to that fact, using the Days On Market (DOM) and Sale Price to List Price Ratio.
1 – All of Cambrian (MLS area 14, which includes 95124, most of 95118, and a little of 95008) – days on market and sale price to list price ratio by month, including October so far. Notice that the decline has softened and the market is almost now flat.
2 – Cambrian with the Campbell Union High School District (95124 with some 95118) – same criteria as above
It’s interesting that the days on market are steeper so far this month in the CUHSD part of Cambrian. Could it be that homes are more expensive, and price is a factor? We’ll have to continue to check – see below.
3 – Cambrian with San Jose Unified School District
Here we see a clear indicator that the school district is a major driver in home values. (In fairness, it could also be a commute issue, as this area is farther from Sunnyvale / Mountain View, etc., or that could be a contributing factor.)
What about the impact on price and home size? Continue reading
The schedule for when property taxes are due in Santa Clara County is not intuitive and confuses most people, at least initially. The tax calendar is as follows:
- Beginning of fiscal year: July 1st
- First installment of taxes due covers July 1 – December 31st
- Second installment of taxes due covers Jan 1 – June 30
Although you might expect the two bills to be due & payable 6 months apart, that’s not how it works!
Installment # 1 is due November 1 and is delinquent December 10th
Installment # 2 is due February 1 and is delinquent April 10th
Please note that the April deadline is very, very close to that for personal income taxes (April 15) and many homeowners accidentally send in their property taxes on the latter day. This results in a costly penalty, so don’t be confused!! (Also, do not count on mailing your payments by 11:59pm on the deadlines either – the tax assessor’s office does not work like the IRS! Payments are due by 5pm that day!) Make sure you don’t cut it too close or you’ll find yourself paying 10% plus $20 more than necessary.
It is possible to pay your bill for your property taxes online, but the cost is significantly more than a postage stamp, so I don’t recommend it unless you are out of the area and cannot make your payment the normal way. (It’s 2.5% via credit or card – minimum $2.50 convenience charge.) You can also pay by eCheck for free, so that’s another good option if you are in a hurry.
Other articles of interest:
This week I had two readers email me to say that they read and appreciate my blogs, and then added that they wondered how much they should offer on a particular home for sale.
They didn’t say “I’m looking for a Realtor, wondering if you have any openings” or anything like that. They simply wanted me to provide an opinion on what a home in Santa Clara County should sell for…. So they could write it up with another real estate professional.
It’s not the first time this has happened, so I’m realizing that perhaps it would be helpful for me to address that. People don’t understand how Realtors make a living, or what’s risky for them, or just not appropriate.
What I do includes the following:
- I’m a Realtor, and I earn a living by helping nice folks to buy and sell homes.
- I have a business based on referrals, repeat clients, and meeting new people from my websites, newsletter, and social media interactions.
- I do populate my sites / blogs with articles about market conditions and trends in the areas where I sell homes. These articles and my monthly newsletter are part of my business marketing. You can read them for free. And I love hearing from my readers.
- When working with buyers (or sellers), I will spend a lot of time crunching numbers for them, doing research, and then advising on what the probable buyer’s value will be. We strategize together. It is too important to shoot from the hip.
- I love meeting new people and am open to taking on new clients at any given time.
- I am very happy to answer general questions, especially when people are relocating, aren’t working with another Realtor, and trying to get their bearings. Sometimes people who are thinking of buying or selling in a year or two want to talk with me by phone or in person to go over the basics. I’m delighted to do that, and will offer anyone a free, no-obligation 1 hour consultation.
What I do not do (not an exhaustive list):
- I do not tell people I don’t know, and am not working with, how much they should bid on a house or provide offer input.
- I do not know every house on the market automatically. I have to research them and their local market conditions 99% of the time.
- I do not meddle in other agents’ relationships with their buyers or sellers. If someone is about to offer on a house with Randy the Realtor, I am not supposed to be butting in with my opinion of value, their contract terms, or anything else. That’s against our National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics.
- I do not want to get into the bad practice of advising people on specific real estate matters when they aren’t my clients. For me, that is risky, as it is “implied agency“. With implied agency, I get all of the risk and none of the pay.
If you are looking to find a Realtor who will take the time to crunch the numbers for you, whether you are buying or selling, I hope you will consider me on your short list of possible candidates. I do not work with everyone, but most of the time, if someone finds me from this site or any of my others, we’re already off to a good start. Want more info on me? Check out the “about” section here. And have a look at my clients’ reviews of me on Zillow.
The idea of buying a home, especially a first one, is both exhilarating and overwhelming. Where do you begin if you want to buy a home in 2018? If you want to purchase real estate in Silicon Valley before the year is over, you’ll need to get a number of things in order, including hiring professionals to help you.
Purchasing now, in this multiple offer market requires strong credit, a healthy down payment with set aside for reserves and improvements after closing, time and energy, and no small amount of courage. Looking halfheartedly means you will see properties, but not buy. After the down payment, probably the most important element you’ll need to have is commitment, and further, you’ll need a strong team of professionals to assist you. Let’s talk about a solid home buying strategy. Continue reading
When it’s a hot seller’s market, like it is right now in Silicon Valley, it is challenging to be a home buyer. That means it’s also hard to be a buyer’s agent, since it may require writing many, many offers (and a lot of time and energy) before the clients get into contract. Since Realtors are usually only paid when a property closes, that means it’s not too hard to go broke if a real estate professional focuses a lot of time with buyers. In other words, in a market like this, most agents would prefer to work with sellers rather than buyers, because it’s more likely that they’ll make a living.
What can you do to increase the odds of finding a great Realtor who will take you seriously, work with you and for you, and give it a good effort even if it’s an uphill battle? First, let’s understand what a real estate licensee is looking for a client – at least in most cases. Usually, the savvy agent doesn’t want to waste time with people who are not serious, not ready, or who will not be loyal. The smart Realtor knows that without these three things, it’s unlikely that they will be able to sell that person a home, or at least not in a reasonable period of time.
Serious home buyers:
Only about half of all home buyers will likely buy in the year they think they might, so it’s important for real estate professionals to try to make sure that they don’t spend months on someone only to have him or her remain permanent renters. The agent must qualify the client to make sure it’s worth the risk of spending time with him or her.
Clues that the buyer isn’t serious include these:
(1) Comments like “I may have to look at homes for a year or two” or “I may need to write a hundred offers to get the right deal” or “I’m in no rush” indicate that this isn’t a big priority for the buyer (so maybe it shouldn’t be for the agent, either). This buyer is able, ready and probably also loyal – but not serious. Some, though, will clarify with a time frame and this is a game changer. “My lease is up in July, so ideally, I’d like to get into contract in March, close in April and move in May. But if I find the right house sooner, I’ll buy sooner.” That works!
(2) If there are two decision makers, having only one do most of the house hunting and the other showing up at distant intervals often indicates that it’s a priority for one but not both. Sometimes that’s not the case, but it is a red flag. Both need to be serious. Continue reading
You may have heard that the Silicon Valley real estate market is slightly softer now than it was a a few months ago. That’s true – at least for most of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and nearby. In many cases there are now half as many offers as there were in February, March, or April. But it’s still a hot seller’s market, and that means that often there are multiple offers, overbids, and sales with no contingencies.
For my last few listings – which have been in San Jose, Saratoga, Los Gatos, the Cambrian area of San Jose and the Campbell area of San Jose – there’s been a consistent “spread” of offers. If there were 6 offers, it might look like this:
- Best offer frequently the highest price and best terms. It is 10-20% over list price, 25-30% down at least, and has no contingencies for inspection, loan, and most of all, appraisal (the percentage over has to do with whether the home was priced spot on the value or strategically under). These offers come with all disclosures signed, and the buyer’s agent has even done her or his Agent Visual Inspection Disclosure. They include the proof of funds and usually also write a nice letter to the sellers about why they want to purchase that home.
- The best offer is also someone who’s been SURE that he or she or they wanted the home from the very beginning and looks ROCK SOLID. NO WAVERING, not a “last minute” offer. Any hesitation on your side will cause the seller to not feel good about your odds of closing the sale. Be consistently interested if you want the sale. A shaky looking buyer may not include their proof of funds. Perhaps they would not sign the disclosures yet or otherwise submit an incomplete package. They don’t come across as certain about buying this property and need a few days to see the property again, or show it to their parents, or otherwise confirm the decision to buy. Their agent is not so thorough. If the TDS is not fully signed off, is the buyers’ agent trying to sneak a 3 day right of cancellation into the contract? The best buyer’s offer doesn’t look shaky – it looks dead set on buying the home and has done everything possible to convince the seller of their conviction.
- The second best or next runner up is usually strong on terms (at least 25% down, few or no contingencies) but perhaps made an offer price a little under the top value. Sometimes the next runner up has a good price and mostly good terms, but something is not quite as solid. If the offers are tied but one buyer has no contingencies and the other has any, that will be the tie-breaker.
- Middle of the pack is usually a combination of a price where the home should appraise, a solid down payment, and few or no contingencies. It may be a price that seems “reasonable”. Buyers may feel that it is “a fair offer” or a win-win. Often the fair offers aren’t good enough to take the prize in multiple offers. If you can project what most buyers think a home will be worth, maybe you might want to consider getting ahead of that pack and seeing where the pricing trajectory will take you.
- Bottom offers are under, at, or barely over list price, and include an appraisal contingency as well as others (one for loan or one for property condition). If there’s a rent back, they want their PITI covered.
If you’ve been writing offers and not succeeding, try to see your own pattern in this spread. Is there one thing, or perhaps are there two or more things, you’re just not ready to do?
Why it is so hard
If you are tired of paying $3,000 per month in rent for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment and have decided that you want to buy a Silicon Valley home, you may find that it’s complicated and scary as the San Jose area is in a very deep seller’s market. Let’s take a quick look at the major challenges and decisions you’ll face as a potential Silicon Valley home buyer.
Silicon Valley home buyer challenges
Affordability – or the lack of it
Challenge # 1: the cost of housing is staggering, whether you are renting or buying, whether you are a first time home buyer or you’ve just relocated from somewhere else less expensive (meaning almost anywhere). Homes under a half million dollars are few and far between, as the newspapers and media have recently announced, and the median price of houses in Santa Clara County is about $1.1 million (and closer to $1.3 million in San Mateo County, less in Santa Cruz County), with the average price being higher still. Of course, condos and townhomes are less pricey, but they will have Home Owner Association or HOA dues to factor in. Same with mobile homes, which nearly always have space rents of $1,000 or more in Silicon Valley. If you want to buy a Silicon Valley home, figuring out “how much house” you can afford when purchasing can be a painful exercise. (Hint: your success in life is not reflected in the size or remodeling of your home here. The odds are good that you will be disappointed when you see how little you can buy.)
How much can you afford in this hyper expensive real estate market?
The old rule of thumb is that a consumer can qualify for a mortgage for 3-4 times his or her annual income. Translation: if you make $200,000 per year, and don’t have other debt (student loans, car payment, etc.), you may get a mortgage of $600,000 to $800,000 (and then you need the down payment on top of that). In most parts of Silicon Valley, that means buying a condo or a townhouse, not a single family home. In addition to the down payment, there will be closing costs, and most likely repairs to the property since in the current market sellers usually aren’t providing section 1 pest clearances or doing other repairs. Cash is crucial.
Challenge #2 if you want to buy a Silicon Valley home: money for the down payment, closing costs, repairs, and reserves – it’s more than you might think. Pulling together the hefty down payment and other needed money is always hard. In this crazy area, though, most people who want to buy a Silicon Valley home need not just 20% down, but additional funds in order to be competitive with multiple offers. So you may need to be able to throw $200,000 to $400,000 down on that normal, non-luxury house or townhouse. Saving that much money is a trick, and many first time home buyers either get help from parents or are cashing in on stock options to pull it off. Most of the time, home prices seem to appreciate faster than buyers can save, so having some sort of boost beyond your own saving power is critical for most. This has been true for many decades here – both the relatively high cost of housing and the difficulty in pulling together 20% or more for the down payment. (It was true in the late 1980s when my husband and I were trying to buy our first home, too.) It’s even harder now, though, as 25% is often the bottom amount that will get your offer seriously considered if there are multiple bidders on a home for sale. Continue reading
What makes Almaden so highly desireable a place in which to live? Real estate prices are among the highest in San Jose (and Silicon Valley). For much of Santa Clara County, its a little remote; the commute might be a little too far for some, or so its thought. But that may be a misconception.
Where is Almaden Valley?
Almaden sits nestled between the Santa Teresa foothills and the Santa Cruz Mountains in a southwest corner of Santa Clara County. It touches the Los Gatos and Cambrian Park borders on one side, Blossom Valley on another and stretches toward Morgan Hill at the base of the valley. The major roads winding through Almaden are Camden Avenue, Almaden Expressway, and Coleman Avenue. The local landmark, viewable from much of Almaden Valley, is the famous Mount Umunhum, perched at a high point of the coastal foothills and recently opened to the public as park land.
Why Choose Almaden Valley?
Great living: Almaden boasts low crime, great schools, and strong community involvement. With nice public facilities such as a rec center and library, and some neighborhood communities with cabanas and busy swim teams, its family oriented and kid friendly.
An appraisal is an opinion of real estate value by a licensed appraiser, employed when a house or condo is under contract or sale pending with a mortgage, so that the lender does not over-invest. In other words, when an appraisal is used in escrow, it is to protect the bank which is lending money on the property. Appraisals may be used at other times, too.
Market value is what home buyers and sellers will agree on as the sale price of a property. When Realtors work up a comparative market analysis or competitive market analysis, they try to figure out where the home will sell in the future, or what the market value will be. They will also strive to bring that sale price to the top of the possible range of likely values – or go beyond it.
Put another way, appraisals attempt to determine the most precise value for what a home should be worth. Home buyers may or may not agree with an appraisal’s results, though. The appraisal value does not equal market value. The market may find the property to be worth more or less than what an official appraisal states as the worth of the real estate.
With an appraisal, there is a subjective element to the opinion of value. For instance, if a brand new kitchen sink is tangerine in color but in great condition, will the appraiser ding it for being unpopular, or value it higher for being new? I can tell you that most Realtors would take off projected value for that poor color choice – but I doubt that an appraiser would. How about a flag lot? Is that worth more or less than a standard lot on the street? Most buyers would prefer a home on the street, and that may impact the sale price, but will an appraiser devalue a flag lot? Maybe.
Or with a view, how much is it worth? Recently I sold a Saratoga home with a fantastic, once in a lifetime view. The appraiser who came out for the bank downplayed the view as not having much value at all. The home buyers who bid on the property, though, thought it was all about the view.
Fair market value is when there is just one buyer (or couple) and one seller (or couple) and the property is purchased with no undue pressure on either side. It’s not a fire sale for the seller. The buyer isn’t competing in a crazy multiple offer situation. The appraisal will have the best odds of matching market value in this circumstance, but even then, it’s no guarantee. In the San Jose area, if there’s only one buyer for the residence and it’s a moderately priced piece of real estate, there may be something wrong that makes buyers somewhat devalue the home. (This is because we have perpetually low inventory – at least as of this writing in 2017.)
In a rapidly appreciating market, appraisal values often lag the probable buyer’s value (or market value). This is because appraisals are always backwards looking in time. They consider the closed sales. If a property closed escrow 3 months ago, that purchase price was probably agreed upon 4 months ago, since most escrows run about 30 days. With multiple offer situations, we may get 6 offers on a Silicon Valley home and four of them can be at a certain number – but the appraisal comes in lower.
Home buyers decide on their pricing based on sold homes which are similar as well as the current competition and the trajectory of the market. In spots, they say “run to where the ball is going“. If you run to where the ball is now, you will miss it. So too with an actively changing market.
Sometimes the market gets soft, either generally or in certain pockets or pricing tiers. When that happens, home sellers can find themselves frustrated if there was a recent appraisal but home buyers don’t agree with the stated value. “But the appraisal said it’s worth MORE!” Buyers don’t care about the appraisal. If the buyers who step up to the plate with an offer are the only ones bidding, there’s a good chance that the ultimate sale price negotiated will be the true market value. That does not make the appraisal wrong, it only means that either prices have gone down a bit since the appraisal or that market conditions have created a lower sale price.
Why is it so hard to buy a home in Silicon Valley? Most of it has to do with our ongoing and severe inventory shortage.
I initially wrote the article below on Feb 9, 2012. I thought it was bad then – and I suppose that relatively speaking, it was. But it’s much worse now!
Today is May 1, 2017, and I ran the numbers of available single family homes in Santa Clara County in a chart comparing since January of 2012. Have a look, and please note the year over year numbers:
The situation has only intensified since I first wrote this article in early 2012. There are many reasons for the problem: older people won’t sell for tax reasons (mostly capital gains). move up buyers who elect to stay and add on rather than deal with hugely increased property taxes. In general, home owners are opting to “buy and hold”.
Is it hard to buy a house in the San Jose area? You bet. And unfortunately, I don’t see an end in sight anytime soon.
Original article: Feb 9, 2012
Right now I’m working with a number of very frustrated home buyers. Silicon Valley real estate inventory is painfully low, and in the lower price ranges especially, that means multiple offers are fairly common. FHA home buyers, in particular, are getting out bid and out negotiated by all cash buyers, many of whom are investors.
How low is the inventory? Let’s have a look at January’s inventory for houses & duet homes (“class 1” or single family homes) over the last ten years in Santa Clara County (San Jose, Los Gatos, Campbell, etc.):
The average January inventory of available houses over the last 10 years is 2,636. At 1,382, January 2012’s available inventory of houses for sale in the San Jose area was just 52% of normal. Continue reading