Not everyone is familiar with the term “patio home” or “zero lot line” house when searching for Silicon Valley real estate.  Awhile back, a listing agent of such a property called me for feedback and when I told her that my clients did not want a zero lot line home, she didn’t know what I was talking about. She had no idea that this term applied to her listing!

So I thought maybe this topic deserved a little more attention.


Patio home or zero lot line diagram


What does zero lot line mean?

With most houses, the structure is set into the lot or land such that the property boundaries are at least a few feet away on all sides – often 5 or 8 feet.  One common exception is garages in older parts of Willow Glen, Los Gatos, downtown San Jose, etc., where often these buildings were set directly against the property line on one or two sides.

When a house is right up against the property line, directly on the line, that’s referred to as a zero lot line and is usually referred to as a patio home.  To view that wall, you’d literally have to go onto your neighbor’s lot to have a look.  Although this is not terribly uncommon in dense, urban areas, it’s fairly infrequent in Silicon Valley.

Why are homes designed on zero lot line properties?  The main reason is to increase the density while providing more yard to the home owner.  Rather than having two 8′ side yards, perhaps you’ll have one much larger 16′ yard.

Interestingly, these houses do not always sell for less with the zero lot line – at least not that I have been able to discern. (That’s counter-intuitive….)

How can you tell if it’s a zero lot line house?

It should be disclosed in the MLS as such, but often isn’t (sometimes the listing agent doesn’t even know), so you’ll have to look carefully at the neighborhood and the property to see.  Here are some clues:

  • you’re most likely to find patio homes where the houses sit on very small lots
  • most of the time, there are no windows on the side built against the property boundary
  • sometimes, there are windows, but they are either glass block or high clerestory style windows that you couldn’t look out without a ladder so that the neighbor does not have a loss of privacy
  • try to walk all the way around the property without going into a neighbor’s yard – if you can’t, that’s your red flag
  • when you step into the back yard, a fence is attached to the house and goes straight back (no side yard there)
  • most of the time, patio homes are part of a home owner’s association and are located on private roads

Where are these patio homes located?

They are really all over Santa Clara County as a good alternative between having super small lots vs a townhouse.  We are seeing more and more of these in younger construction especially.

  • in Almaden Valley, the Glencrest Patio Homes development (by Shapell, a great builder, with top rated schools there: Williams, Bret Harte and Leland) – very popular!
  • in Silver Creek, there are condos and single family homes, but some of the houses further down into the valley are patio homes
  • in Cambrian, along the Almaden border, there are patio homes in 2 of the 3 subdivisions of the Almaden Winery neighborhood (Tresor and Vineland) the Vintage subdivision is not zero lot line) (See one such home I sold on Le Fevre Drive in 2010 by clicking on the link)
  • and many other places throughout the San Jose area!

One caution: sometimes there are townhome communities where a unit is sold as if it is a “duet home” or “patio home”.  Be sure to read the preliminary title report carefully to note the type of ownership in the common areas as well as the unit itself. You might be surprised!


Related Reading:

What Is A Plat Map, And What Can You Learn From It?

What Is the Difference Between CID Ownership in a Condo, Townhouse or PUD?

What is the difference between a duplex and a duet home?

Is that Los Gatos house or townhouse actually a condo? (from the Live in Los Gatos blog)

How is home buying in Silicon Valley different from other places? (from the Move2SiliconValley blog)





  • 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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