Planning to purchase your first home is very exciting (if a little scary).  There are so many things you may want: a low price, a good and quiet neighborhood, and turnkey condition.  Before looking, you may be positive that what you want for the price you can pay is doable.

The first time or two out and really looking at homes for sale can be very disturbing.  After reading how cheap everything is in Silicon Valley, why are the homes you are looking at still so terrible for the money?

This is all that I can afford This is the adjustment to reality period, and it’s depressing for most first time home buyers in Santa Clara County. (It is just as bad, if not worse, for people thinking of relocating here from far less expensive areas like the midwest.)

Not so long ago I began to work with a fabulous young couple.  They described what they wanted and what they would pay for it, and I could tell that what they expected was off by about 25%.  That is, what they wanted to buy would actually cost about 25% more than they were willing or able to pay for it.  Since they’d seen listings online, it seemed doable.

I explained that the market is so much less expensive than it used to be, but San Jose, Santa Clara and Campbell is still a pricey area and the places where they wanted to live were not the most affordable parts of the valley.  It didn’t seem to sink in, which makes sense because seeing online and seeing in person are two totally different things.  Soon we went to view 5 homes which they picked out online.

Those first five showings were a total bust and was a painful delve into what money can or cannot buy in the south bay area.  But it wasn’t a bad experience because it caused my buyer couple to look at their home buying priorities and, just as importantly, put them in order.

Priorities for home buyingHow do you do this?  Start asking yourself (or yourselves) some either-or questions. Which is more important to you, home size or home condition? (Smaller house in great shape or larger house that needs work?)   Which really is more important: having 3 bedrooms and 2 baths close to work, or on a better street with a further commute?  Is it better for you to get a low price and put in the “sweat equity” later, or would you prefer to buy a turnkey home but pay top dollar for it? Do you have to have a formal dining room or would you give that up to be on a better street?

Often the choice comes down to location – you may be able to get what you want for your budget, but not where you want it.  The tradeoff may come in the way of a longer commute, lesser school district, higher crime area or some other factor.  Or, if location is a non-negotiable, your choice may be to get into a certain area with fabulous schools or a great little downtown area, but instead of a house, you’ll be purchasing a condo or townhouse. Or a house which needs a whole lot of work.

So write down everything that you want, but start with two categories: the must have list and the want to have list.

home buying priorities  Now pare down your must have list as much as possible (whether it’s budget, amenities, geography or anything else) to what you believe is your true, top priorities – only allow yourself five or ten items on this list.

Next, choose the top 30% from that group.  If you could only pick 1 item as your #1 priority, what would it be?  (Safety, schools, location, space, land, condition, house – vs. condo or townhome?)  What would your second and third priorities be?

If you are a couple or group buying together, this is the hardest part: your priorities need to be closely aligned with each other’s.  When a couple wants to buy a home but cannot agree on their priorities or order of priorities, it becomes immensely harder to find a home that will meet both of their expectations, likes and dislikes.  It can even make home buying futile if their ideas are vastly different.

Visiting open houses can raise issues for you of things you do and don’t like, but it’s not going to be quite the same thing as going through homes with a Realtor whom you’ve hired to represent you as a fiduciary.  Your agent should “problem spot” for you, point out things which you may not have either noticed or understood the ramifications of on your own.  Most first time home buyers never give thought to issues which real estate agents regularly encounter in home inspections, for instance.

With a little experience in the market, and a little education from your buyer’s agent and from reading presale inspections and reports, you may find that you need to juggle your home buying priorities a time or two before they completely settle in place.  That’s ok.  There is no substitute for the education & experience you get from going out and looking at the homes (and possibly bidding on them).

Please keep this in mind as you are home buying because many well intentioned friends, relatives and co-workers may give you loads of advice when you bid on a home or get into escrow.  It is important to remember how much you have learned since you started this process, and that many of them know as little about the market you’re now in as you did at the very beginning of the journey.  Their well-intentioned “help” can cause you to second guess your choices, feel uncertain and upset.

For that reason, if there are big “influencers” in your life who will weigh in when you buy a home, it’s probably good to get them involved at the very, very beginning. Let them come with you to open houses and in seeing homes, let them know that what is asserted in the media may not be, in reality, exactly what they might think.  That way, they will understand intimately the choices you have had to make, the priorities you decided upon, and why a particular home is the best fit for your budget and priorities right now. They cannot understand your experience with the market or the way you have prioritized if they haven’t walked with you through all the homes and analyzed the vast number of issues together with you.

If you’d like to get started on buying your first home, please give me a call or shoot me an email to discuss the first steps.

  1. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 896 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,100 sqft
  2. 5 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,937 sq ft
    Lot size: 6.33 ac
  3. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 2,648 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,875 sqft
  4. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 4,500 sq ft
    Lot size: 21,819 sqft
  5. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,134 sq ft
    Lot size: 43,560 sqft
  6. 7 beds, 7 baths
    Home size: 5,834 sq ft
    Lot size: 37.67 ac
  7. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,840 sq ft
    Lot size: 16,117 sqft
  8. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 2,663 sq ft
    Lot size: 4.18 ac
  9. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 3,474 sq ft
    Lot size: 9.79 ac
  10. 8 beds, 8 baths
    Home size: 7,140 sq ft
    Lot size: 3.29 ac

See all Real estate in the Los Gatos Mountains community.
(all data current as of 10/20/2018)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.


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Mary Pope-Handy
Sereno Group Real Estate
214 Los Gatos-Saratoga Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95030
408 204-7673
Mary (at)
License# 01153805

Selling homes in
Silicon Valley:
Santa Clara County,
San Mateo County, and
Santa Cruz County.
Special focus on:
San Jose, Los Gatos,
Saratoga, Campbell,
Almaden Valley,
Cambrian Park.
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with an interest in history
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Mary’s Blog Awards
Top 25 real estate blogs of 2018 by RentPrep2018's list of top 25 real estate blogs to follow

Top 25 real estate blogs 2016
2016: Personal Income's list of top 25 real estate blogs.

Best Realtor blog award
2016: Coastal Group OC's list of best Realtor blogs

The 2009 Sellsius list of top 12 women real estate bloggers
2009: Sellsius list of top
12 women real estate bloggers

Mary Pope-Handy's Live in Los Gatos blog won the 2007 Project Blogger contest, sponsored by Inman News and Active Rain

2007: Mary Pope-Handy and Frances Flynn Thorsen win the Project Blogger Contest for Mary's Live in Los Gatos blog. The contest was sponsored by
Active Rain and Inman News.

Non blog award

Best real estate agent in Silicon Valley from the San Jose Mercury News poll of readers in 2011
"Best real estate agent
in Silicon Valley"

2011 readers' poll,
San Jose Mercury News