Town of Los Gatos
Have you always dreamed of buying a hillside home, one close to, or in, the western foothills in Santa Clara County, such as Almaden, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga? Some of the prettiest parts of Silicon Valley are snuggled into the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. With views of downtown San Jose and the southern San Francisco Bay Area on one side, and rolling, grassy and redwood & oak filled hills on the other, its certainly scenic. Additionally, these areas all tend to have lower crime and good schools.
Hillside homes may be subject to insurance difficulties if they are deemed to be in a high fire risk zone, and property owners need to plan for how to escape in case of emergency. Trees may fall and block ingress or egress, so many mountain residents carry chainsaws. There can be wildlife living nearby, munching on carefully installed landscaping, or threatening household pets or small children in some cases (mountain lions – never leave your children unattended in hillside areas!). In terms of the structure of the hillside home, or the home near the base of the foothills, water is perhaps the risk that is least appreciated but impacts many more homes than most people realize.
Hillside home and water challenges
As a savvy foothill-area buyer, you will want to understand some of the unique issues that this geography may present. The most important of these hillside issues may well be that of water control and drainage.
The Santa Clara Valley, and most of the neighboring Silicon Valley areas, is composed of mostly expansive clay soil. This is an extremely strong substance – so much so that settlers used it, mixed only with a little straw and water, to form adobe bricks for building.
The caveat with clay soil is that when it becomes wet, it expands, and when dry, it contracts. (Hence “expansive clay soil”.) The amazing thing is that the clay is more powerful than concrete. And that is the problem for houses and other buildings if the ground is expanding, contracting, or alternating between the two.
What can a homeowner do? Its imperative to try to control the amount of water near (or under) the home as much as possible.
The Los Gatos real estate market is mostly a warm seller’s market, though some segments are hot and others cool.
This post will include info from both Altos Research, which uses LIST prices, and the RE Report, which uses listing and closed sale data, for the “in town” areas of Los Gatos (95030 and 95032).
From ALTOS – a view of LG 95030 (they are updated automatically a few times a month):
A Los Gatos neighborhood which is “close to town” but feels further out is the highly sought after Surrey Farms area, located off Kennedy Road less than a mile from Los Gatos Boulevard, and less than 1.5 miles to all the local public schools: Van Meter or Blossom Hill Elementary, Fisher Middle, Los Gatos High. Adjacent to Surrey Farms is the independent Hillbrook School.
About Surrey Farms
There are about 70 single family homes or houses in Surrey Farms, most of them on quarter-acre to half-acre lots, but a handful are on over half an acre, and four are over one acre. The houses were mostly constructed from the mid 1950s into the mid 1960s, though development has continued since with over 30% of homes built between the 1970s and 2010s. Original construction was all done in the “ranch style” and consisted of about 2,000 to 3,000 SF in most cases. Today many have been remodeled, enlarged or even fully rebuilt, and the home sizes are bigger, currently with 50% of them over 3,000 SF and more than 15% over 4,000 SF. Continue reading
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 County / Silicon Valley area versus another.
Today I compared several areas and cities using this criteria: single family homes of 1800 – 2200 SF, 3-5 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms, on lot sizes of 6000 SF to 10,000 SF. Normally I would chart this over the last 2 months, or 60 days, but because of the low inventory causing the sellers market I have expanded the search to the last 3 months, or 90 days, for a better range. Because some areas have had a scarcity of inventory, I’ve added an addition to the chart titled NoS for Number of Sales within the given range.
Here’s how it shakes out in the “west valley areas” along the Highway 85 corridor, most of which are known to have good to great public schools. What areas are most affordable? One way of analyzing this is the “price per square foot” figure. Whenever I update the chart, I re-arrange the order of the cities from high to low based on the price per square foot, although there’s usually minimal movement.
Within this range, Campbell only had one sale over the last 90 days, so data for that segment may or may not be a good average. Both Los Altos and Saratoga had no sales within the last 90 days within these criteria, so their searches have been expanded to 0-180 days (or 6 months / half a year) and 0-120 days (or 4 months / a quarter year) respectively to provide data for comparison for this chart. Now that we have the data, let’s analyze it!
Today we’re looking at the real estate market for houses in some of the “west valley” communities along the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains – areas where schools are good, crime is low, residents enjoy scenic views of the hills (or of the valley from the hills, depending on the location) and overall, a highly educated population not too far from Highway 85. This will be a real estate market comparison for Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, and Los Altos.
Of the four municipalities, three are really very similar to each other in several regards. Cupertino has the largest population – about 61,000 people – but Los Altos, Los Gatos and Saratoga are all similarly sized, somewhere between 31,000 residents. The latter three also enjoy a traditional “downtown” area which is popular with pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike. (Monte Sereno has under 4,000 residents, which is so small that the statistics are very easily thrown from month to month, so it is omitted in this quick study.) Of the four, Cupertino, then, is the least similar due to size and lack of a central downtown area for now. This may feel different once the Vallco Mall is redeveloped.
We’ll take a quick look at these areas now in terms of the real estate market trends and statistics for each area, considering just “class 1” (houses and duet homes). The charts used below are from Altos Research, to which I have a subscription, and they will be automatically updated each week.
Please note: the Los Gatos data is probably a little artificially low as it will include all 3 zip codes, meaning also the Los Gatos Mountains, which are quite a bit more affordable than the areas “in town”.
(1) Median List Price (per Altos Research):
Locals to the San Jose area (Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County) know, and newcomers often do not, that we have micro-climates here. Our weather is mild everywhere, of course – we enjoy a “sub tropical climate” where citrus grows and palm trees thrive – but it varies a lot nonetheless.
What kind of variation exists in Santa Clara County’s weather?
Consider that our terrain is shaped somewhat like a funnel with the San Francisco Bay on the wide end, and the two mountain ranges making up the sides of the funnel, narrowing at its base (near Morgan Hill).
Together with our funnel shaped valley, the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay are the major influences on our climate. The Santa Cruz Mountains are warmer and wetter than the eastern foothills. The Pacific Ocean brings in the rain, fog and winds pulling storms in from the ocean to the valley. Much of the weather stops at or near the coastal mountains, though, and the influence lessens as you go east such that the east foothills are very, very different from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The areas close to the bay get more breezes than those sheltered by smaller valleys or nooks.
So what are Silicon Valley’s Micro-Climates?
Here are a few basic notes for newcomers:
The scenic Strathmore neighborhood of Los Gatos lies close to the foothills, including both Blossom Hill and the coastal range rising behind it. Homes here in east Los Gatos enjoy that very beautiful backdrop and access to the park and trails, but many other benefits too.
It’s a pedestrian friendly area with sidewalks and tree lined streets, so it is not uncommon to see people out enjoying a stroll, a jog, a bike ride or otherwise taking in the peaceful region.
Additionally, Strathmore residents share a community pool (or cabana) with a neighborhood swim team. As of 2019, dues for the HOA are approximately $400 per year.
One of the biggest draws of all is that on top of these features, kids in Strathmore get to attend highly rated public schools too. The profile on this neighborhood is overwhelmingly positive!