Belmont

A city unique among mid-Peninsula communities for its quaint hillside setting and winding streets, much of Belmont has an appealingly casual ambience. And if faintly bohemian isn’t what you want, Belmont also offers an upscale neighborhood and several pleasant tracts.

Map of Belmont and environs. Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Boundaries and other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.

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pros and cons

pros
· Perhaps more than any community between San Mateo and San Jose, Belmont has a small-town feel. It is a small town, but the hilly, intimate terrain and often eclectic neighborhoods enhance that feel. Belmont isn’t always block after block of the same tract homes.
· Much of Belmont will appeal to those looking for something a little different from the usual mid-Peninsula bedroom community. In particular, the neighborhoods north of Ralston are distinctive, with no two blocks alike. The best of these neighborhoods have a picturesque ambience, with small attractive homes set on narrow winding streets.
· Great area for larger (2000 sq.ft. +/-) and newer homes at reasonable prices, but don’t expect much of a back yard.
·  Schools usually achieve high test scores.
· A multitude of views: bay, city, unspoiled canyon, developed canyon, even views of the beautiful University of Notre Dame de Namur campus.
· Scenic Twin Pines Park is minutes from El Camino yet its lush creek-side setting must be what the mid-Peninsula once was like, one hundred years ago.
· Lots of open space.
· Carlmont Village Shopping Center is an attractive, early-California-style development along the lines of Palo Alto’s Town & Country.
· Farmer’s Market.

cons
· Shopping district is too small to be called a downtown, although the new Safeway and the Belmont Village Center are a great improvement.
· Has a reputation for wind. Some areas are relatively sheltered but it seems to depend more on your location within the neighborhood rather than on the neighborhood’s location itself. But as a rule, the higher and more westerly the location, the greater the wind exposure.
· Not an area of large usable lots.
· Not an area of impressive homes, with the notable exception of Hallmark, a relatively new and upscale development. Most of Belmont’s architecture is casual.
· There’s not much left of the earliest, pre-World War I part of the town, but that’s not unique to Belmont. Part of Belmont’s early history was recently lost to a railroad grade separation project.

Interested in buying a home in Belmont? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

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neighborhoods

Old-fashioned Belmont:

Bay View Heights: Just west of El Camino and south of Ralston, this hillside neighborhood has genuine character. It and neighboring Brookhaven are two of Belmont’s oldest neighborhoods, with many homes from the ‘20s and ‘30s. While most are modest, what really gives this area some punch is the sprinkling of large, even majestic Spanish Revival homes along Sunnyslope, not a common sight in Belmont or for that matter in any other city between San Mateo and Palo Alto. These stately homes have excellent bay views. Although the neighborhood is favored by nature in one respect—it’s not directly in the path of the ocean wind blowing in through the Highway 92 gap—it seems to act as a sort of natural amphitheater for traffic noise from Highway 101. Prices vary, but even the Spanish Revival homes are surprisingly affordable, about like the better Menlo Park Willows neighborhoods.

Belburn Village: Another anomaly, a Belmont tract that’s entirely flat, and in a great, relatively sheltered location close to town. Homes are usually small and from the early post-World War II era but a handful go back to the ‘20s and some of these are substantial.  Avon is a particularly nice street, not unlike something in Old Palo Alto. Sells at a slight premium, but still well within Willows territory.

Funky-in-a-nice-way Belmont:

Belmont Country Club:  A large tract north of Ralston on both sides of the Alameda, this is typical Belmont with its casual hillside setting and eclectic mix of small ‘20s and ‘30s bungalows and post-war ranchers. Construction was still going strong here well into the ‘60s and produced some fairly sizeable homes, especially in the western half of the tract. Architectural is surprisingly varied, and this inconsistency will please some people and displease others. Contemporaries show up regularly, hinting that the faintly off-beat setting attracts people with non-traditional tastes. Country Club at its best (streets like Fairway, Pine Knoll and Oak Knoll) has a funky but compelling charm, but Country Club can also be more funky than compelling. Views can be spectacular. Terrain varies from fairly flat to steep cliffs, and the oldest houses seem to have claimed the most usable lots. How did Country Club get its name? Don’t look for one now, but during the ‘20s and ‘30s the Belle Monti Country Club and 18-hole Hillcrest Golf Course were the centerpiece of this development. The clubhouse still stands on the Alameda but is now a Congregational Church. The medieval turret across the street looks suspiciously like some developer’s marketing brainstorm. The golf course was gone by 1940 although Fairway may mark its approximate location. Low-end Country Club can be quite affordable, and even the mainstream homes sell about like the midrange of Menlo Park’s affordable Willows or less.

Tract Belmont:

Carlmont:  Behind the attractive Carlmont Village Shopping Center, this neighborhood is unusually consistent for Belmont. The setting is quite pretty, even serene, with tree-lined streets running over gently rolling hills. The view west is memorable: Carlmont High School’s massive yet handsome architecture, and looming over it a steep, largely unspoiled hillside. Homes were built in the mid-1950s and are quite pleasant. Almost all are 3-bedroom/2-baths of 1200-1700 sq.ft. Typical of Belmont, Carlmont is priced like midrange Willows.

Skymount:  Between 280 and Country Club at the top of the hill, this is a development of small 3- and 4-bedroom/2-bath ranchers from the early 1960s. The feel is very tract-like for the most part but with canyon views. Lots are mostly flat, a real plus in Belmont. Priced much like Carlmont.

Belcrest Gardens: Another rancher development of mostly small 3- and 4-bedroom/2-bath homes, next to Ralston Middle School. Lots are mostly flat and some have canyon or city views. Architecture has the gingerbread typical of the late ’50s.

Sterling Downs: East of El Camino, an affordable yet surprisingly pleasant neighborhood of early-‘50s ranchers. Homes are small, usually only 1010 sq.ft. and have 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. They’re not fancy, with slab foundation and wall heaters, but the unassuming architecture has worn well and the neighborhood is generally well-maintained. This same house is also found in large numbers in Redwood City’s popular Woodside Plaza and in South Palo Alto’s Sterling Gardens, so you’re in good company. Priced about midway between Menlo Park’s Belle Haven and the more affordable parts of the Willows.

Upscale Belmont:

Hallmark: The neighborhood in Belmont, with large upscale homes built from 1966 to 1976. Hallmark is similar to San Carlos’ hillside neighborhoods of the same era, but Hallmark’s blend of size, newness and relative affordability make it unusual by Menlo Park and Palo Alto standards. Earlier homes are always close to 2000 sq.ft. and often exceed it, while later homes are usually in the mid-2000 sq.ft. range. Lots are at least one-fifth acre and often a quarter-acre, with one-third acre lots not uncommon. Some homes offer great Bay views. On average, Hallmark homes sell for less than Linfield Oaks, one of Menlo Park’s midrange neighborhoods. This area also has two upscale townhouse developments. Further down the hill are a number of PUD (small lot) detached homes and attached single-family homes, priced like midrange Willows.

Peninsula Foothills: Another of Belmont’s unique neighborhoods, this one is so small that your chances of buying a house here are regrettably remote, but I’ll throw it in anyway. Set in the hills just south of Belmont Creek, Escondido is a short, winding street with a country feel and no curbs or sidewalks. Homes are understated traditionals often over 2000 sq.ft., most from the early ‘50s although a few go back to 1941. Lots are usually level, wide and quite large, often at least a quarter acre, with a number of half- or even two thirds-acre lots. Peninsula Foothills is an unusually appealing neighborhood, not just by Belmont but by mid-Peninsula standards.

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price performance

Here’s how Belmont SFR (single-family residences) and CID (Common Interest Developments) have performed since 1994 (2000 for CID). This graph is based on data from the Multiple Listing Service, corrected to eliminate anomalies at both ends of the price range that skew average sales price. The data has also been adjusted to compensate for the often substantial differences in average property size from year to year that can also skew averages. In effect, we’re tracking the same condo and SFR through twenty-two (or in the case of CID, fifteen) years of boom and bust. The base year, 1994, was the last year of the post-1989 bust. 2000 was the dot-com peak, Q4 2001 the bottom of the dot-bust. 2005 is often called the recent market’s peak, although the more sought-after areas peaked in early 2008.  Note that Belmont’s prior peak was 2007.  2015 prices are as of May 2015.

19942015BelmontSFR
20002015BelmontCID2

Part 2:  The charts below are easier to understand than they look, and they have great information. Based on the same data as above, all you really need to know is that “peak” means “peak”, “trough” means “bottom of the market for this city’s SFRs and condos, whenever that was”, and that the more negative the number in the last column, the more volatile this city’s home prices have been during the period covered.  I recommend that you scan the chart now, then come back for the more detailed explanations below if you need them.

The charts are formatted in six (Belmont CID) or eight (Belmont SFR) columns covering five (CID) or seven (SFR) time periods to illustrate Belmont home price appreciation in percent since 1994 (SFR) and 2000 (CID), and the size of its recent real estate peaks and troughs.  In each case, Belmont home appreciation and depreciation is compared to the average of all local submarkets covered by this site.  The last column in each chart is a non-statistician’s attempt to quantity volatility by combining home price depreciation over the two most recent downturns and comparing it to the area average.  Here are detailed explanations of the six (or eight) columns in each chart:

  1. 1994-2013:  (SFR only) Belmont home price appreciation from the beginning of the dotcom boom to present, compared to the average of all local submarkets described on this site.
  2. 2000-2013:  Belmont home price appreciation from the peak of the dotcom boom to present.  I separate this time period from 1994-2013 because the data I have for some local submarkets goes back only to 2000.
  3.  1994-2000:  (SFR only) Belmont home price appreciation during the first boom with which I had first-hand experience, the dotcom boom, which began as a modest recovery in the mid-1990s, gained considerable momentum in the late 1990s and spiked from late 1999 through the end of 2000, with a sharp but temporary downturn in early 2000.
  4. dotcom peak to dotbust:  Belmont home price depreciation from the peak of the dotcom boom, 2000, to the bottom of its collapse Q4 2001.  Note that not every local submarket lost value then (see Belmont CID, below).  The handful of local submarkets driven not by stock market wealth but by wages and interest rates (like much of California) actually gained value during this period.
  5.  dotbust to previous peak:  Belmont home price appreciation from 2002 to 2007, when that city’s home prices peaked.  To facilitate comparison between local submarkets, I say “previous peak” rather than give a date, since our submarkets peaked anywhere from 2005 to early 2008, depending on strength of demand (“brand”).
  6.  Previous peak to trough:  Belmont home price depreciation from when they peaked in 2007 (see 5, above) to when they bottomed:  2009 (SFR), and 2010 (CID).  To facilitate comparison, I say “trough” rather than give a date, since local submarkets bottomed anywhere from late 2008 to 2011, depending on strength of demand (“brand”).
  7. Previous trough through 2013:  Belmont home price appreciation from either late 2009 (SFR) or 2010 (CID) through 2013.
  8. Total depreciation 1994-2013:  Total Belmont home price depreciation during the two downturns included in the data, compared to the average for all local submarkets covered by this site. Total depreciation greater than average suggests greater-than-average price volatility–in other words, a bumpy ride. Both Belmont SFR and CID have less-than-average volatility, at least by this measure.

riseandfallchartBelmontSFR

riseandfallchartBelmontCID

copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014

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