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Real estate location research onlineInterested in a home or area? Location research is something you can do upfront, before seeing a home or neighborhood. Researching the commute time, crime, hazards, convenience, and more before visiting a property before seeing it can prevent wasting a lot of time.

Realtors can provide valuable insight into homes, areas, disclosure package red flags, and more. There are many things that consumers can check on their own, though. I thought it would be helpful to provide some online resources to help. This is not an exhaustive list – think of it as a starting point.

Some location research information will be included in the seller’s pre-sale disclosure package via the Natural & Environmental Disclosure Reports. Normally in Silicon Valley those disclosures are available upfront, before buyers submit offers on a house or condo. If you have that NHD report, you may not need to use the links I’m sharing below. Not everything is disclosed, though. In some cases, buyers are given links to do their own research. That’s the case with the Megan’s Law Database, for instance.

Links to start your location research

Below are the promised links. I’d welcome your feedback! 

  1. First start your location research with a look at Google, Bing, Apple, or other maps – see if it’s next to a busy road, something undesirable (something negative that you cannot fix).
    • Check a street view program on one of those maps to see if the neighborhood is ok, if there are 2 story homes towering over a one story, and so on
    • Check the satellite view also: are the neighbor’s backyards an eyesore, full of broken down RVs or something else you would not accept as a home buyer?
  2. If there’s a freeway, expressway, major road, train track, or airport nearby, use Google Earth to measure the distance. The area near Reid-Hillview Airport has a problem with lead, apparently due to leaded gasoline that was used in planes. (I cannot advise you on how far you’d want to be from there.)
  3. Learn about natural and environmental hazards
    • You can check the state mapped natural hazards for anywhere in California by inputting an address into this link: https://myhazards.caloes.ca.gov/
    • There are also county mapped hazards that will not be covered by that site, but will be noted in the NHD report, if they exist in that area
    • Near open space and the hills, you’ll want to check the Cal Fire map for the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones (your insurer has its own map which may be different)
    • Learn about Federal Superfund sites, leaking underground storage tanks, and related items on EnviroStore and read about SuperFund sites in reuse (especially in Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and nearby – but good to check the whole area)
    • Keep in mind that not every environmental concern is mapped, even in the NHD reports.
      • For instance, some creeks have high levels of mercury and there are some rural areas with abandoned mines, but the locations of these are not specified even in the NHD reports. (Locals know that the creeks flowing from the areas near the Guadalupe and Almaden Quicksilver mines are polluted with mercury – but these are not the only ones.)
      • Also not reported, or easily findable, is where cremation takes place, or how often, or the impact on air pollution. These seem to happen at mortuaries and cemeteries, but I cannot find a list and the only one I’m sure about is one I read about on Nextdoor!
  4. PG& E has info / maps online for things like the high volume gas transmission lines, and high voltage power lines (often visible in Google street view)
  5. What about the high capacity water lines? I haven’t found a map of them, but I’ve done my own location research and found that they seem to follow the high voltage power lines. You can sometimes see circular cement structures that are 2-3′ tall with a blue and white Valley Water sign next to them. If you’re able to get close to them, they are vents. It makes sense that they would make use of the large utility easement. But they may not be in all of those PE&E easements, and they may be in other areas (underground or otherwise). Personally I’d like to know where they are, but when I called San Jose Water and Valley Water, I got nowhere.
  6. Most consumers care about crime, and depending where you live there may be different crime maps.
  7. What about noise levels? It’s not perfect, but How Loud measures predictable sound levels from planes, trains, and automobiles. It does not appear to factor in school noise (I checked next to a high school football field and it appeared to be only moderate)
  8. Public school scores are important for many reasons. The discussions all seem to be around whatever Great Schools has to say, but I’m not sure that everyone is reading beyond the summary score, and to me that is concerning. The best research will be in person, talking with parents and students at the schools that interest you. Here are a few resources, but please take all of them with a grain of salt:
    • SchoolAndHousing is best used for identifying which schools are assigned to a particular address (I’ve seen errors a couple of times, to be absolutely sure, which with the school district in question). For scoring, it relies on the now very outdated API test scores from appx 2012. It does not factor in clubs, equity, percentage of students going on to 4 year universities, AP classes available, or anything else.
    • California School Ratings – Santa Clara County uses 2016 test scores to rank schools from 1 (worst) to 10 (best)
    • Great Schools has a broad range of factors considered
    • Read more on our Move2SiliconValley site: Understanding School Scores in Silicon Valley
  9. We have done a lot of general location research on neighborhoods and subdivisions, and we’ve written about many (not all)  Los Gatos neighborhoods on our Live in Los Gatos blog (and Monte Sereno), and many for Santa Clara County on this blog (visit the menu bar).

There are more considerations you may want to include in your location research, such as the distance to a house of worship or social club,  time it takes to get to a particular exercise venue, whether something is within a particular length to a corporate bus stop, or anything else of importance. One client of ours stated that if something (other than work) isn’t within a 20 minute drive, it’s probably not going to be visited, and that seems about right.

More buyer tips beyond location research:

Open house tips for home buyers (this site)
Price mirage (this site)
Choosing a home inspector (this site)
Can you buy a Silicon Valley home with ten percent down? (popehandy.com)
Home warranty (popehandy.com)
Market reports for 3 Silicon Valley counties (Move2SiliconValley.com)
Home prices by high school district (Move2SiliconValley.com)
High Voltage Power Lines and Public School Proximity in Los Gatos, Cambrian and Almaden (this site)

Location research: more posts by Mary & Clair on natural hazards

Silicon Valley liquefaction zones (this site)
Where are Santa Clara County’s Earthquake Faults and Flood Plains? (this site)

Where are the Earthquake Fault Zones & Other Natural Hazards in Los Gatos? – Live in Los Gatos blog
Is Your Home in a Dam Failure Inundation Area? – Live in Los Gatos blog

Defensible Space for Fire Resistance – Live in Los Gatos blog
Los Gatos fire risk – Live in Los Gatos blog

 

Author

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