Tips for Renters
Several times a year, people want to find rental housing phone me (or sometimes email me), asking for help with rentals of various sorts. When I explain that most Santa Clara County real estate agents do not work with rentals, myself included, only buyers or sellers, the reaction runs from surprise or even disbelief to anger. In many areas of the U.S., real estate agents routinely handle leases or month to month rentals. Why not here?
In the Silicon Valley or San Jose area, most leases or rentals are offered “by owner”. The owners choose not to hire realty professionals to represent them, and they elect not to want to pay commissions. So while in many areas of the country, landlords employ real estate licensees to help them to rent properties, here that is seldom the case – at least in terms of offerings made available to the public. (Owners may hire agents to manage properties, but don’t want to pay commissions to the Realtors or sales people working with people trying to locate rental housing.)
Most homes for rent can be found on Craigslist, but there are a very, very few offered on our local MLS (MLSListings.com). How few is few? Just now I ran ALL of the rentals available in all of Santa Clara County – apartments, condos, townhouses, attached homes, detached houses. In a population of 1.8 million people, can you guess how many rental homes are on the MLS this moment? It’s 64. Just houses = 46.
Why this problem? With our inventory shortage, most landlords feel that they don’t have to pay $500 or whatever the fee would be to locate a tenant. Not only that, but many full time agents wouldn’t be too excited about spending weeks with a rental client only to get $500 and then split that with their company! It’s just not worthwhile.
So when you call your local real estate licensee asking about rentals available, please understand that this isn’t part of what is usually done in the Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Saratoga or nearby areas in general. Yes, there are some exceptions. But for the most part, the owners of those properties don’t want us involved.
For related reading:
What do Silicon Valley Real Estate Agents Do? (how their time is spent)
If you arrived into Silicon Valley via Highway 101, driving south from San Francisco, you might believe that the Santa Clara Valley, the San Jose area and Silicon Valley as a whole has got to seem to be the ugliest place on earth. Although heavily traveled, that is not the “scenic route”.
So, too, if you are looking for a place to live and are groping to find a place that is reasonably priced, fairly safe and not a terrible commute distance. You might not even have “is nice looking” on your wish list. You might not think it’s possible if all you ever see are the ugly concrete tilt-up buildings in north San Jose, Santa Clara, Alviso, or anywhere along the 237 corridor. That area is an architectural wasteland.
Let me assure you: there are a lot of beautiful places in Silicon Valley where you can rent or buy a home. But how do you find them? It helps a lot to have a local give you a few pointers. I’ll give you some tips today on finding a scenic place to live.
Hills – An easy way to find a scenic location to make your home is to settle near the hills, especially those in the west valley (the Santa Cruz Mountains or the Coastal Range) as they are green year-round. Communities at the base of the west valley foothills include, in Santa Clara County, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, and the Almaden Valley area of San Jose. All of these areas are adjacent to the hills or mountains and offer far better than average schools (many of them qualify as great – compare costs between these areas). Continue reading
Got a dog? Many Los Gatos residents do – which is ironic when you consider that the town is named for cats (Los Gatos = The Cats). The household pooch can, for many, make a house a home. But if you’re a renter in Los Gatos or anywhere in Silicon Valley, it can also make it a challenge to find a place to live.
Why the fuss about dogs?
Landlords always worry that tenants will destroy their property, causing the need for loads of repairs later. Having either smokers or pets increases the risk of property damage. Additionally, dogs tend to be noisy, most with barking at strangers but some howling, too. For townhouse or condo residents, this is cause for complaint from neighbors and the HOA.
Of course, not all canine situations are the same. If you own a small, quiet dog, it will be much different than if you have a pair of Great Dane or Beagle puppies. Some places may have restrictions on the animal’s weight, others on the breed (with certain types of dogs such as pit bulls, rottweilers or dobermans prohibited).
Cats are a little easier, in part because they’re smaller, quieter, don’t need to be let out to relieve themselves, and often can inhabit a property with little annoyance to those nearby. But some felines spray, scratch curtains and can be destructive, so while the restrictions on dogs are pretty common, there’s often a bit more flexibility with cats, but it’s far from absolutely easy to rent with cats.
The Humane Society has tips for pet owners who are looking for a rental. Great advice here:
Right now, the Silicon Valley housing market is very tight, with limited supply of inventory both to rent and to purchase. For people with multiple pets especially, though, it may be easier to buy a home than rent one (if the down payment is available) since landlords can have all sorts of animal restrictions, and if you are able to rent with them, the cost will undoubtedly be higher each month. When buying, many prospective purchasers include personal letters and sometimes photos. A friendly looking pooch may be a help in your securing that next home, too.
This morning I read an Action Line column in the San Jose Mercury News which got my attention: a house was burglarized during a fumigation and many valuable items were lost. “The burglar tore through the tent and took some very valuable and deeply sentimental items, important documents, and our Social Security cards as well as a lot of credit cards.” This surprised me as the structure was full of poison. Apparently with gas masks donned, the thieves had no fear and helped themselves to the unguarded goodies within.
I wondered if this was a fluke or if it was a growing trend. After all, the economy has been rough for years. Perhaps criminals all over California and the U.S. as a whole have had to get creative and take more risks. So I went to Google to see what kind of response I’d get with a search for “burglary during fumigation“. Indeed, it’s a nationwide problem of theft during tenting for termites and this incident in Silicon Valley does not appear to be an oddity, but rather part of a growing trend.
Until a few years ago, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, security guards were required to be on hand when a property was fumigated. I don’t recall when or why this changed, but today guards are not routinely on site for fumigations in the San Jose area – at least not to my knowledge.
What to do? It is a real pain to live in a townhouse, house or other home and have it tented. You not only need to move out for a few days, but also you must generally move out all food (some exceptions). Many people also want to clear out bedding and other goods, including valuables. But most folks won’t completely empty a house and then move right back in again. That’s costly in terms of time and money. Even in a vacant house, some items could still be stolen such as thermostats, potted plants in the back yard, and light fixtures. (That happened to one of my clients in Cambrian a number of years ago.)
The presence of a security guard is likely your best bet for improving the odds that your property won’t be targeted by thieves. Your fumigator or pest control company can probably suggest a reliable firm with trustworthy employees who have all the necessary requirements (licensed, bonded, insured?). If your property is vacant (between owners or tenants), you may not feel that this cost is warranted and be willing to take your chances. But if you fumigate your home and it’s got valuables within, I would suggest investigating some security. It’s not a secret when a building is fumigated, and apparently too many bad guys consider it “open season” on your possessions.
Related reading on termites and pest control issues:
Some nasty folks are copying ads or online fliers from houses for sale on Trulia and Craigslist and reposting them as rentals at a below market price.
Then when consumers phone the number on the “rental property”, they are told that they have to pay a couple of hundred bucks to fill out the application – sight unseen.
Two of my listings have been scraped in the last year (once on Trulia and once on Craigslist). Confused consumers drive over to check out the place and are surprised to see the Sereno Group sign in the yard, call and ask me if it’s really both for rent and for sale. Nope, it’s not.
If it sounds too good to be true, of course it is. Google the address of any property offered for rent and see if the home is offered for sale, especially if the rent is on the low side or if the person posing as a property manager requires money upfront to see the house. If you run into one of these creeps who’s committing fraud, please call your local police department and turn ’em in.