Cambrian Park Home, built by LeepMost homes in Silicon Valley come with some type of parking space for cars beyond street parking.  Home buyers want to know that there will be a place for their vehicles (and often their “stuff” too).   Garages and parking are sometimes under-appreciated aspects of evaluating real estate, and sometimes there are parking surprises after the close of escrow, so it will be the focus of today’s topic.

Parking and resale value

Because a real estate purchase is a big ticket item, it is always important to consider the ability to sell it later.  (Always buy with selling in mind!)  Will the property you have or are considering buying be hard to sell  in the future if it is not a red-hot sellers market?  Parking can greatly impact “resale value and overall desirability to a large portion of consumers, who may look at that space as protection for a beloved vehicle, a safety feature, a future hobby room, or many other possibilities.

If you are evaluating a Common Interest Development (CID) condominium, townhouse, or planned unit development home with private roads and parking, there will be some special concerns that may be a little different than if you were purchasing a single family home. We’ll consider both.

General principle:  In all types of housing in the San Jose area, usually the most highly desired type of parking arrangement is an attached garage with direct access into the home and with side by side parking provided (not tandem).  This is not true in all cases but is generally true.  You would not find home buyers interested in historic homes (Victorian, Spanish, Craftsman) wanting a prominent two car garage at the front of the house, commanding the lion’s share of the view from the street. (So don’t expect to see that in Japantown, Naglee Park, or the the Rose Garden areas of San Jose.) But for the typical buyer of the more common ranch style house, the attached garage is expected and appreciated, and if it’s missing it may be a challenge to sell the property later because the property will be appealing to a smaller pool of buyers.

Regarding direct access: garages are not allowed to have a door entering into a bedroom. This is for safety reasons since bedrooms are where residents are most vulnerable, and garages are an area of increased safety risk.

Parking at Townhouse and Condominium Homes in Silicon Valley

For condo and townhouse purchasers there’s often a parking wish list with some ranking attached to it.  What do condo buyers want? Many would cite all or many of these items:

  • assigned parking for two vehicles (their unit has certain spots)
  • enough guest parking (which residents do not use), a huge problem in many HOAs
  • preferably not tandem parking – if the unit will have a roommate, it can be a headache to juggle cars
  • covered parking
  • a sense of security – a quiet area to park away from a public road, perhaps gating
  • some storage space – a cabinet or closet which can be locked

Depending on location and buyer preferences, some condo buyers in Silicon Valley will not buy unless the parking situation is exceptionally good. These consumers may demand:

  • a secure garage – either a large communal garage under the building or, preferably
  • a private garage for only that unit’s car or cars and also for the owners’ belongings

Many complexes or communities have storage facilities for residents, and this can be a huge help when there’s no private garage.

Having a private garage does not always mean it’s attached, though. I’ve sold a few condos in Sunnyvale which offered garages, but they were fairly remote from the homeowner’s units. So for security conscious people or those concerned about lugging things into the home from the car in bad weather, simply having a private garage may not be enough. These folks will be looking for a townhouse or condo which offers at attached garage, private or communal, which offers shelter from the elements and a higher sense of safety.

Buying a home and you drive an extra large vehicle? Be sure to measure out the space, or even arrange to try out the parking with that vehicle, as part of your due diligence.

Planned Unit Developments and Parking

In planned unit developments (the ownership includes the land under the unit – not always the case with townhouses), often the houses and townhomes are situated on private roads with no “street parking” but instead provide parking stalls for guests and sometimes residents (if not all have garages).  In these communities, one of the most important things to watch for is overcrowding and the general availability of parking.

Sometimes the guest parking will look sufficient by day, when most likely everyone’s at work.  Check back on evenings and weekends to see if there’s still enough so that it’s not an issue. (And if you do purchase a home in a condo complex, townhouse development or PUD, be sure to read that large stack of homeowner documents to understand the rules. Read the newsletters and the meeting minutes to see if there are any problems with parking. )

One final word on vehicle related concerns for condo, TH and PUD home buyers in Silicon Valley: if there’s an HOA, please read and understand what the requirements are upfront. There may be rules relating to many aspects of parking, storage, and garages and related activities that may catch you by surprise. There may be strict requirements regarding where you can park (some HOAs require all cars to be in the garage overnight, no driveway parking allowed),  if or where you can wash your car, and anything else related to the use of outside storage or a garage or assigned parking area.  There are some developments with strict rules about garage doors remaining closed except when vehicles are entering or leaving.  At least one HOA for a development of houses has regulations that the garages may never be converted to living space. If there is an HOA, be sure to read the CCRs, rules, regulations, minutes, and newsletters to make sure you fully understand what may and may not be done in regard to parking.

Garages, Parking and Storage – general questions and concerns

For Silicon Valley single family home buyers, here are a few parking related concepts to consider:

  • how important is a two car garage? will one be enough?
  • how important is it to have the garage be attached? usable?
  • how’s the storage situation?
  • is the garage “finished”?
  • is there room for a workbench?
  • if the laundry area is in the garage, is there a sink nearby?
  • often the water heater and furnace are located in the garage, if it’s attached: are they safely positioned so that cars won’t hit them? (do they need a bollard to protect them?)
  • is the water heater on a raised platform, 18″ above the floor? Is it blocked and strapped for earthquake safety (one in the top third, one in the bottom third, and the lower one at least 4″ from the controls?)
  • have the current owners put too much storage onto the garage rafters? This will cause sagging, which is visible from the street – look for the garage door frame to sink a little in the middle
  • is this “soft story” construction with a living space over a garage? if so, has it been retrofitted for earthquake safety?

What is the Impact of a Garage Conversion on a Silicon Valley Home?

Sometimes the buyers of Silicon Valley homes consider converting their garage to living space – sometimes an accessory dwelling unit, a family room, or bedrooms.   Homes with garage conversions can and do sell, but they are more difficult to sell because most buyers want (or even need) a garage.

If, however, you really do need to convert your garage to interior living space, please make sure that you work with a licensed contractor and get all permits and finals on this project. Make sure that you, as a homeowner, understand the rules and do not rely on a contractor to tell you if a permit is or is not required. You are ultimately responsible, so check this out with your city, town or county – whatever jurisdiction your home is in.  Not getting the permits and finals can cause innumerable headaches.

Also, if you elect to convert your garage to living space, plan in a place for vehicles – preferably at least a carport.  It would be most ideal to locate a potential spot for a future garage if so desired.  When selling your home, even if you do not have a garage now, showing that one can be built will be a big help.

Storage is an issue for Californians too. Since most of us do not have basements, the garage tends to be the place for gardening tools, holiday and seasonal decorations, old records, and much more.  If you convert your garage to a family room or other living space, factor in either some room for all of this “stuff” in the former garage space or consider getting an outdoors shed, if allowed (you may also need permits and finals for that) to take up the slack with storage.

Depending on where you live, a major remodel may kick in new requirements and upgrades to other elements of your home, so do a lot of research before undertaking this type of project.

Historic Homes and Garages

Historic homes sometimes have garage issues not seen with other properties, so I want to give a few words of caution on this topic.  When many of the lovely older homes were built 80 or more years ago, we did not have the same “setback” requirements that we do now. Typically in Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell, and in most parts of Santa Clara County, there’s a requirement of a certain amount of open space between structures on the property and the property line (unless it’s a zero lot line or patio home).  It is usually different on the sides of the home vs the back of the home.  In many areas the setback on the side of the house is between five and eight feet, depending on how wide or narrow the lot is.

With historic properties, garages were sometimes built either right on the property line or extremely close to it.  They are now “grandfathered in” so that they may remain for now.  There’s a big, big “gotcha”, though.  If such a garage is destroyed (fire, wind, termites), most often it cannot be rebuilt in the same location, but would have to be rebuilt to accommodate the current setback laws (or possibly not be allowed to be rebuilt at all, depending on the configuration of the lot and home).

High End, Super Garages

Partial view of 5 car garage in San JoseOn the other end of the spectrum, there are a few rare homes in which the garage is clearly a palace of sorts. One of the most interesting properties I ever sold was a Cambrian Park house with 1200 square feet of “living area” and a massively expanded garage that started as a typical two car garage but ended up being a 5 car garage with lots of bells and whistles. Not only was it a “finished garage” but it had skylights, compressed air, a bathroom, a studio, and amazing space.  Outside, there was room for several more vehicles.   The house was not bad, but the garage was a jaw-dropper.

These homes are special and cannot be marketed like other homes because the MLS simply doesn’t have a way to showcase them.  There are buyers, though, who are looking for a property with room for a recreational vehicle, historic cars, dirt bikes, motorcycles, trucks – and a welcoming space to care for these vehicles.

Although I do not suggest dropping a disproportionate amount of improvement money into the garage (I have seen homes where they’ve gone too far, putting slate flooring into the garage in one luxury home, for instance), having it be finished, with additional storage, and a comfortable place to spend time will be appreciated by many hobbyists who will use the garage for any number of projects.  Getting ready to sell your home? Make sure that the garage is clean and inviting.  Staging it to sell is a good idea.

Generally, having a safe, functional two car garage will be very important to most home buyers and it will be helpful to your home’s desirability when it is time to sell it.  (A three car garage is often viewed as a wonderful luxury – more than three is usually too much for the vast majority of consumers.)  Making the garage a pleasant place to work (as a garage, not as a conversion) will be a plus for many home buyers and is likely to be an enhancement with rewards in your real estate’s resale value down the road.





  • Mary Pope-Handy

    Silicon Valley Realtor, selling homes in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and nearby since 1993. Prolific blogger with a network of sites.

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