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.
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).
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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:
Cambrian Park, or more broadly, Cambrian, is a west San Jose neighborhood or district and is one of the more affordable, high-value areas in Silicon Valley. The schools are good, the crime is low, and the commute is not too bad. For people relocating to Santa Clara County, this is a place to know about since quality education and affordability are often high priorities! Most Silicon Valley home buyers would say that Cambrian Park real estate offers a very good value.
What’s the compromise for the more reasonable prices of homes for sale? Well, Cambrian doesn’t have an interesting, upscale downtown area like Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga, or Willow Glen.
But it does have tons of shopping & restaurants and even a Farmer’s Market. It also enjoys a top notch hospital (Good Samaritan) and plenty of parks as well as a fantastic rec center with a large park adjacent to it, the Camden Community Center, which has tons of programs (including an after school program for youth), classes, and a fabulous pool. (My family and I lived in Cambrian in the “Cambrian Gardens” neighborhood for 10 years and loved it – our kids made great use of the community center too.)
Altogether, there are about 75,000 to 80,000 residents in Cambrian, spread throughout the three zip codes of 95124, 95118 and a little tiny bit of 95008.
If there is a “central Cambrian Park”, it would have to be near the original Cambrian Park Shopping Center, which was the first actual mall in San Jose! That area is sometimes known as Cambrian Village. People sometimes use the three names interchangeably: Cambrian, Cambrian Park, Cambrian Village.:
Where is Cambrian Park? Map of approximate Cambrian Boundaries:
View Cambrian Area of San Jose in a larger map
In Santa Clara County, as in much of California, we have adobe clay soil and it’s expansive. That is, when the dirt gets wet, it expands, and when it dries out, it contracts. Hence it’s sometimes referred to as “shrink-swell” soils. (Every state in the union has areas with this problem – a color-coded map on geology.com shows areas with more and less expansive soils.)
Why is expansive soil an issue for homeowners and would-be homeowners in Silicon Valley?
The trouble is that the expanding and contracting soil is far stronger than concrete and the foundations upon which a home sits. A well written and illustrated six page paper can be found online explaining the mechanics involved for those interested in more detail on the hows and whys of expansive soils. (It states that the ground can life as much as 5,500 pounds per square inch!)
What I’d like to focus on here is mitigating the risks and preventing the problems associated with expansive soils.
The trouble is not so much that the soil is wet or dry. The problem is in the back and forth, the movement. When the soil is kept at an even amount of moisture, it does not expand and contract.
Obviously, rain is seasonal and we cannot control all moisture on or near the house. We can, though, work to move water away from the house and away from the foundation.
Keep rain away from foundations on adobe clay soil!
Winter storms can bring an enormous amount of water onto a home’s roof, and when it channels down gutters and downspouts, there can be a large amount of water exiting in just a few places. Where does that water go?
Saratoga trails map
A few years back, while touring homes for sale in Saratoga, I saw a sign for a hiking trail in a residential area that I did not know had trails. After a bit of research, I found a list of trails on the city’s website and thought my readers might enjoy some of this info, too.
The city’s website includes a page with links to ALL available Saratoga trail maps which are all pdf files (so be prepared for loading). It offers both a map with all of the trails (shown above) and more.
Love hiking? Here are some other resources and info on nearby trails in Santa Clara County:
Los Gatos parks and trails – see especially the Los Gatos Creek Trail and Belgatos Park (which connects to the Santa Rosa open space, Heinz open space and more), and the Novitiate Park, which connects to a huge long trail that goes to or near Lexington Reservoir
Link to the Heinz Open Space and Santa Rosa Open Space trail maps
Mt Umunhum (often called Mount Um)
Santa Clara County Parks
Selling and buying homes can be exhausting and emotional, even overwhelming. This level of stress can rise when children are involved as parents also “run interference” to a degree to help make the transition smooth for their kids. Another added stresser is relocation to a new community far away.
What can parents and their real estate agents do to help the youngest members of the family to move as peacefully and contentedly as possible?
Communication about the moving process is key
Few of us like surprises that come on a big scale and change the way our lives are lived on a day-to-day basis. This is also true for our offspring, for whom routine can be a comfort. Just as you wouldn’t begin a vacation without explaining to your three year old that it’s only a trip and that you will later return home, so too it helps to explain to your child that the family is staying together, the toys, furniture and pets are coming along, but that the house or condo will be “new”. Providing a sense of security and reassurance first can enable the process to be possibly even fun. (Young kids will think that the furniture and toys go with the house so will likely vocalize their preference for a new place with the most fun stuff unless they understand that their toys will move with them.) (more…)
What does it cost to buy a home with really good schools in Silicon Valley? Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino and Palo Alto are all areas with highly regarding public schools. These aren’t the only areas with good schools but they are popular “west valley” areas that people may consider if working for Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook or any number of high tech employers.
Los Gatos and Saratoga both have multiple school districts, running from good to very good or excellent. The cost of housing tends to follow the popularity of the district, so for those areas I’m showing the breakdown not just for the whole town of Los Gatos but also by the high school district (Los Gatos-Saratoga or Campbell Union High School District). Same with Saratoga. (The Monte Sereno real estate market is very similar to Los Gatos, but slightly more expensive. Most of Monte Sereno has Los Gatos schools, but a small number of homes are in the Campbell area.)
Here are the average numbers for single family homes sold in the last 60 days ranging from 1500 – 2500 square feet, on a lot between 5000 and 10,000 SF, with 3-5 bedrooms and 2-3 bathrooms to give a sense of what it would cost to purchase a typical house in these areas. Please note that right now it’s a strong seller’s market, so many (if not most or all) homes are selling for more than the list price. DOM stands for days on the market.
If you are new to Santa Clara County, you may be wondering if this is correct. The cost to buy a home in these areas is what?
- Los Gatos: approximately $1,500,000 to $2,150,000 depending on the school district
- Saratoga: approximately $1,700,000 to about $2,500,000 depending on the schools
- Cupertino: approx $2,000,000 (some high schools will bring in higher prices and others lower)
- Palo Alto: approx $2,700,000 – $3,000,000
Remember, these prices do not mean that the houses being sold are perfect. Because it is a strong seller’s market, many properties are being sold which need new roofing, extensive pest work, remodeling, perhaps updating of electrical or plumbing systems or more. Many home buyers will need to spend 1-2% on things like termite fumigation, dry rot or roof repairs, carpets, paint, windows and more, and usually this will be done before they move in. So whatever the budget is, buffer it a little bit for both money and time to make it turnkey.
For people relocating to Silicon Valley from out of the San Jose or Peninsula area, this real estate market can be daunting. There are other areas with good schools which are a bit further from most employment areas which can be an alternative, too. They include the Cambrian 95124 and Almaden 95120 (especially the southern area with Bret Harte Middle School and Leland High School) areas within San Jose.
Finally, in some cases, it may be more affordable to make use of private schools, which are plentiful in the San Francisco Bay area. In some situations it can be financially more affordable to buy outside of the highly competitive areas with the best schools and utilize the private school system. Some of the private schools are religious, some secular, and some with a language focus (bilingual in French, German, Chinese, etc.).
Interested in purchasing a home in one of these fantastic communities? Please call or email me! 408 204-7673 or mary (at) popehandy.com
How do you choose where you’d like to live in Silicon Valley? Especially if you’re relocating here from out of the area, this can be a huge question (for more relocation-specific posts, check out my blog Move2SiliconValley.com). Most Santa Clara County home buyers have strong preferences for low crime, good schools, and pleasant looking, quiet neighborhoods.
My clients often ask me to compare for them areas which are somewhat similar, such as Los Gatos & Los Altos. Off the top of my head, I can give general answers, such as this: Compared to Los Gatos, Los Altos is a more expensive (perhaps 20 or 25% more?), has a very slightly smaller population, is a little more spread out, has slightly milder weather and is overall “quieter” in terms of the downtown night life. Los Altos is more convenient if you want to go to Palo Alto or San Francisco. Los Gatos is more convenient if you like to visit Santa Cruz, Monterey and the coast. Los Gatos is more mixed in terms of housing types (it still has many beautiful historic districts with nicely renovated Victorian homes, but also newer construction). Both are “nice looking” but Los Gatos has more varied terrain as it is nestled into the Santa Cruz Mountains. Both enjoy pleasant neighborhoods, good schools, lower than normal crime and community involvement.
That’s the kind of “ballpark” info I can tell people about various areas of the Santa Clara Valley, whether it’s comparing one part of San Jose to another (Cambrian Park vs Almaden Valley vs Willow Glen) or one city to another (Cupertino vs Saratoga). I can give general info on schools.
What I can’t do (and most agents can’t) is recite from memory school API scores, median household income, housing density, crime statistics, etc. For that we have the web! Here are some very helpful links which can assist you in your search to find the part of Santa Clara County that’s the best fit for you, your wants, needs, and budget:
Want to compare areas in and near San Jose? A great tool for some basic and broad information by zip code is Zip Lookup. Input a zip code and get an easy to read map of population information like density, age, and income. For more official documentation, census data is easily searchable online through Fact Finder – just search by county, city, town, or zipcode. A good overall source for research is Melissa Data.
Today consumers have a lot of choices as to where to search for properties for sale in Silicon Valley (the South Bay area, Santa Clara County, San Jose, Los Gatos, Almaden etc.). But not all “find a home” sites are equally accurate. Some websites display listings that are sale pending, sold & closed or even withdrawn.
The very best, most accurate and most often updated site is the public branch of our agent-supported Multiple Listing Service or MLS, which is MLSListings.com. You can find it at www.MLSListings.com. (If sending your own agent info a house, it is helpful if you provide both the street address and the MLS #. By the way, the first few digits of the number imply the year that the listing was put into the system. 811 = 2011. 810 = 2010.)
Why is MLSListings.com the best source for finding Silicon Valley homes for sale?
It is updated constantly. Within a few minutes of whenever a real estate agent or broker changes the listing status, comments, photos, showing instructions, open house information,etc., the new information is displayed on MLSListings. While it’s not instantaneous, most changes appear within 5-10 minutes (photos being the slowest to load).
MLSListings is syndicated out to some other sites, but some don’t update often (or at all). Other sites rely upon the listing agent to go to that one site and update the status. Realtors and other licensees get busy and this task may slip through the cracks, making you believe that a home is available when it’s not. MLSListings.com is the source.
You don’t have to register. Some of the portals that you might consider visiting to view the MLS info may not include the virtual tour or all pics – or might show them to you only if you register. You do not need to register to view houses, condos, townhouses, multi units etc. on MLSListings.com. (more…)
MSN real estate tends to feature real estate news in bite-sized slide shares with images (and links for home buyers to search properties listed for sale on Realtor.com). A new study, more complicated and comprehensive than would normally be published for consumers to digest,was summarized there from Gallup and Healthways Well-Being Index, known as The American State of Well Being study, a poll of 178,000 people in 2013 across the country. The distilled info is broken down by state, metro area or city and also by congressional district. San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara (the metro area in Santa Clara County, what we would call Silicon Valley) came in quite strong! MSN picked it up, condensed the info and provided a list displaying a sample of homes for sale in the 10 happiest cities in the U.S., which you can read online here.
Not surprisingly for residents of The Golden State, California landed three of the ten spots. Cites or areas named as where people are the happiest ones in the United States are:
- Provo, Utah
- Boulder, Colorado
- Fort Collins, Colorado
- Honolulu, Hawaii
- San Jose, California
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- Naples, Florida
- San Luis Obispo, California
- San Francisco, California
- Lincoln, Nebraska
Silicon Valley, Santa Clara County and the San Jose area still are “The Valley of Heart’s Delight“, at least that’s how it seems when the locals are polled!
Because the San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara area is a “metro” area, it would seem to include these nearby towns and cities: Los Altos, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga, Cupertino, Mountain View, Campbell, Los Altos Hills and other parts of Santa Clara County. Congrats to the whole South Bay region!
To learn more about this study and its results, please click on the Gallup-Healthways link above.