Los Altos

One of the mid-Peninsula’s most sought-after cities, Los Altos offers highly-rated schools and gracious suburban living.

Map of Los Altos and environs, including unincorporated areas with Los Altos address. 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
· One of the most appealing cities in the area, not because of its grand neighborhoods—Palo Alto’s Crescent Park and Old Palo Alto and San Jose’s Rose Garden and old Willow Glen offer far more traditional elegance—but because of the relaxed, welcoming ambience that comes of attractive ranchers on ample lots in a carefully-nurtured semi-rural setting.
· A pretty downtown (“the Village”) that’s comfortably low-key yet often quietly upscale, very much in keeping with the understated Los Altos ambience.
· Has more neighborhood variety than is generally recognized, more nuanced than it might appear at first glance.
· Offers the mid-Peninsula’s best selection of relatively large, well-built ranchers, typically on a lot of around a quarter-acre.
· Large inventory means you’re likely to get more for your money in Los Altos than in comparable areas such as Central Menlo and Sharon Heights, although in fact there aren’t many comparable areas.
· Much new construction, as well as extensively expanded and remodeled older ranchers.
· Most neighborhoods are attractive, manicured and prosperous-looking.
· Elementary and high school districts have some of the highest test scores on the mid-Peninsula.  There are two highly-regarded elementary districts, Los Altos and Cupertino, and high schools districts, Mountain View-Los  Altos and Fremont Union.
· Old Los Altos is a small but interesting neighborhood of mostly pre-war homes, some quite substantial.
· Also has a few clusters of pre-war homes throughout the city, old farmhouses or former summer homes for the wealthy.
· Graced with some of the most pleasant and upscale condo developments on the mid-Peninsula. Three of them offer spacious single-story designs, unusual for the area and perfect for down-sizers.

cons
· The Village might be called “the downtown that time forgot”. The ’50s mom-and-pop ambience appeals to old-time Los Altans but frustrates newer, younger residents who’d like the option of shopping at larger chain stores.
· Homes and neighborhoods are sometimes accused of being generic. Whether this is true or not depends on how mainstream your tastes are. Although Los Altos has a few areas of pre-war or offbeat charm, it’s not known for them.
· Some neighborhoods seem a bit ordinary to support the prices they command, proving that in this area “the value is in the land”. No matter what’s on it, a quarter acre with a prestigious address and sought-after schools is worth big money.
· Condos and apartments have apparently never been a priority with the city. Almost all of Los Altos’ residential areas are single-family.
· There isn’t much else to say against Los Altos. It’s what most people want, and with good reason.

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

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neighborhoods

North Los Altos:  The word “micro-neighborhood” may have been coined just to describe North Los Altos. Some neighborhoods are carefully laid-out, upscale suburban tracts circa 1955, while others seem to have just happened. Small farmhouses, reminders of bygone rural Los Altos, are scattered among rows of ranchers. Curbs and sidewalks are optional. Perhaps it’s this casualness that gives North Los Altos much of its charm and remarkable market appeal. Here are a few of my favorite areas:
· Old Los Altos: As the name implies, the original town of Los Altos. A relatively small neighborhood in a beautiful creek-side setting, with a smorgasbord of architectural styles. Some homes date back to the very early 1900s and in at least one case, well before 1900. The full range of Northern California vernacular styles is represented, from Queen Anne on. Most homes are relatively modest but there are also a number of imposing homes on large lots.
· Bowers Tract: Along with the neighboring Portola tract, a compelling, semi-rural neighborhood at the end of W. Portola, initially developed just before World War II with a handful of beautiful, relatively large homes. Early post-war homes were often small unassuming ranchers, but recent new construction takes full advantage of the huge lots. And unlike other pre-WWII Los Altos neighborhoods with large lots, these lots have generous frontages that show new construction to its best advantage.
· Dos Palos: One of the larger rancher tracts, located near Pine and Los Altos Avenue. Prosperous-looking homes usually well over 2000 sq.ft., built from the mid 1960s into the early 1970s. Quarter-acre lots and manicured front yards. Big ranchers and lots are typical of North Los Altos, but the consistent look of this neighborhood isn’t.
· Los Altos Park: “Un-Los Altos”, the antithesis of everything Los Altos is known for. An enclave not of sprawling ranchers but of tiny ‘20s bungalows. Lots aren’t the usual shallow and wide quarter acres but instead are small and narrow in the pre-war configuration. This isn’t the only part of Los Altos where you’ll consistently find pre-war homes—San Antonio Road is lined with them—but it’s the only tract of pre-war bungalows.
· Los Altos Square: One of the first large townhouse developments, built in the mid-1960s, but don’t let the age scare you. Unlike newer developments, older developments offer more landscaping than asphalt, and this one is remarkably well-maintained. One of the few developments that offers fairly spacious single-story townhouses, perfect for downsizers. As an added bonus Los Altos Square is relatively affordable, and convenient to the huge San Antonio Shopping Center.

This is by no means a complete overview. North Los Altos is a large area, and price and quality varies even among the tract neighborhoods. For instance, the neighborhoods just north and east of the Village are highly desirable and quite expensive, but some of the streets south of El Camino can be as “affordable” as South Los Altos.

South Los Altos:  South of El Monte it’s mostly a continuation of North Los Altos—comfortable ranchers on quarter acres—although with less of the gracious pre-war stuff to lighten the ‘50s suburbia look. But cross Fremont or Grant and you’ll find another ambience (and usually Cupertino schools). Homes are still ‘50s ranchers but they’re smaller and on lots that also are smaller but still ample. This is perhaps the largest neighborhood in Los Altos with a uniform and consistent character, and one of the finer tract neighborhoods on the mid-Peninsula.

The Highlands:  Still more ranchers, but the hillside setting might remind you of Sharon Heights or Ladera. Usually a very pretty, manicured neighborhood with homes apparently built to a high standard. It’s bisected by Woodland Acres, an unincorporated neighborhood along Arboretum, with half- and full-acre lots lending it the rural, casually upscale appearance characteristic of “exurbia”.

Toyon Farm:  Perhaps the lowest density townhouse development on the Peninsula, dominated by huge greenbelts. A very private, attractive setting in the hills just west of Foothill that blends well with the beautiful scenery. An added bonus is a number of fairly sizeable single-story townhouses.

Country Club:  Los Altos’ Barron Park, a mix of old funkiness and big new homes. Most are humble ranchers and the lots are relatively small, at least at the base of the hill. Go further up, however, around and behind Los Altos Golf & Country Club, and things get a little more grand. It’s still mostly post-war housing but with a few large pre-war homes at the very top that must have offered wonderful views and ambience before Highway 280 and urban sprawl.

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price performance

Here’s how the Los Altos SFR (single-family residence) and Common Interest Development (condos and townhouses) markets have performed since 2005. 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 either fifteen (condo) or twenty-two (SFR) years of boom and bust. The base year, 1994, was the last year of the post-1989 bust (note that there is no 1994 data for CID, and that there were virtually no CID sales in Q4 2008). 2000 was the dot-com peak, Q4 2001 the bottom of the dot-bust. 2005 is often called the previous market’s peak, although the Los Altos market, like other middle-class mid-Peninsula markets, peaked in early 2008.  2015 prices are as of May 2015.

19942015LosAltosSFR

19942015LosAltosCID

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 (Los Altos CID) or eight (Los Altos SFR) columns covering five (CID) or seven (SFR) time periods to illustrate Los Altos 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, Los Altos 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) Los Altos 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:  Los Altos 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) Los Altos 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:  Los Altos 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.  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:  Los Altos home price appreciation from 2002 to 2007 (CID) and early 2008 (SFR) 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:  Los Altos home price depreciation from when they peaked (see 5, above) to when they bottomed in 2009.  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:  Los Altos home price appreciation from either 2009 through 2013.
  8. Total depreciation 1994-2013:  Total Los Altos 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 Los Altos SFR and CID have average volatility, at least by this measure.

chart19942013LosAltosSFR2

chart20002014LosAltosCID

copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014

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