Mountain View

Long overshadowed by Palo Alto, but an attractive and vibrant city coming into its own. Has a little of downtown Palo Alto, a little of Palo Alto’s Barron Park and a lot of Palo Alto’s Midtown—plus a few neighborhoods its northern neighbor can’t match.

Map of Mountain View and environs. Click “view larger map” link below map for an explanation of featured areas. Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective. School district boundaries should be verified with the districts. Boundaries and other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.

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pros and cons

pros
· Great downtown, recently and intelligently revitalized, gives Mountain View the focal point every city needs but not every city has.  See an overview of local downtowns.
· Plenty of attractive old-fashioned neighborhoods offering “walk to downtown” convenience.
· Huge condo and townhouse market, most of it appealing and fairly new.
· Fairly good mix of neighborhoods and architectural styles, from pre-war bungalows to ‘50s tracts to more upscale housing from the ‘60s and ‘70s. You’ll even see the occasional old farmhouse, a survivor of Mountain View’s agricultural past.
· Neighborhoods east (or north) of El Camino are relatively affordable but many still have character. Pockets of quaint pre-war homes and commercial buildings, even outside the charming old downtown district, serve as a welcome contrast to acres of tract housing.
· Neighborhoods east of Grant are newer and have the larger, more upscale homes typical of the late 1960s and 1970s. Some are truly impressive, yet relative bargains. Because Menlo Park and Palo Alto were largely built out by 1958 they can’t offer neighborhoods like this.
· Convenient to Palo Alto and Menlo Park but (usually) not quite as expensive.
· Eichler-haters take note: most tracts are conventional ranchers.
· Eichler-lovers take note: one large neighborhood is entirely Eichlers and similar contemporaries, while a smaller tract is one of his last and most upscale.
· Generally high-scoring schools, both within the Mountain View Whisman district, a recent merging of two K-8 districts, and the high school district. In addition, some neighborhoods have sought-after Los Altos K-8 schools yet are relatively affordable. Much like South Palo Alto, they offer highly-regarded schools for relatively little money, but here you’re more likely to find the conventional ranch-style homes many buyers prefer.
· Mountain View is as far south as you can go and still expect to consistently find the designer finishes not uncommon to the Palo Alto-Menlo Park market even in small “entry-level” homes. South of Mountain View it tends to be more Home Depot than Expo.

cons
· Lots of apartment buildings east of El Camino means higher density, more traffic and noise.
· Most of the housing stock is small and humble, built to be affordable.
· ‘50s tracts are pleasant but, like South Palo Alto, indistinguishable from thousands of other tracts in Santa Clara County.
· Neighborhoods east/north of Middlefield often lack the uniform, homogeneous look preferred by many buyers. Zoning is sometimes erratic.
· Only the area east of Grant has a relatively upscale appearance.
· Schools in the former Whisman district, including most of Mountain View east of Central, have a history of poor test scores.
· Most neighborhoods sell at only a slight discount to South Palo Alto, and those with Los Altos schools sell at no discount. Mid-Peninsulans tend to dismiss Mountain View, but many buyers priced out of Palo Alto gladly compete for this “acceptable substitute”, it’s move-up territory for buyers from the South Bay, and it’s home-sweet-home for many techies working in the area.

Interested in buying a home in Mountain View? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.
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neighborhoods

Downtown: Old Mountain View“. a huge series of neighborhoods located on both sides of Castro, consisting almost entirely of small pre-war homes. If you like old and traditional, this is a great area to walk or drive. I think the blocks between Castro and Calderon are the most consistently appealing and I’m not alone, because this area sells at about a 15% premium. A fine alternative if you’re priced out of downtown Palo Alto, since even the best areas are perhaps 25% cheaper, with the lesser areas a full one-third less. Definitely a “lifestyle” neighborhood. There’s no other downtown this vibrant and attractive until you reach west San Jose’s Willow Glen, although “attractive” needs to be qualified. Study downtown’s architecture or, as I did recently for a nearby listing, photograph it, and you realize that downtown’s total effect is greater than the sum of its rather humdrum parts. Sensitive redevelopment, and the momentum that’s come from that, have transformed an ordinary small-town downtown into a happening place and buyer magnet. Good things happen from good downtowns. The downside is lots of apartment buildings, some deferred maintenance and a few marginal areas. Also, with few exceptions, not a place where you’ll find large homes.

Cuesta Park:  An appealing, sought-after ‘50s tract neighborhood with graceful tree-lined streets. Favored with a great location close to Bubb Elementary, a Mountain View District school with an excellent reputation, and the large and beautiful Cuesta Park itself. Homes were built small but many have been expanded and nicely remodeled, although small lots limit house size. Cuesta Park goes for about a 5-10% discount to the ordinary South Palo Alto stuff, depending on area, and almost 20% less than the typical Midtown rancher neighborhood it resembles. Note that the area between Hans and El Camino, often lumped in with Cuesta Park, sells at a slight discount because it’s a bit older and more humble and has apartment buildings.

Rancho Village: Another pocket of relative affordability west of El Camino, built in the very early 1950s with homes that are small even for an era of small homes. Most are 974 sq.ft. three-bedroom/1-bath homes with one-car garage. They’re interesting designs, conventional outside but with the raised ceiling of the contemporary. The two smallest bedrooms are so small that in several homes I’ve seen they’ve been combined into one average-sized bedroom. Lots are in the 5500 sq.ft. range. There’s also a handful of slightly larger, more conventional homes. A pleasant area that sells much like older Cuesta Park between El Camino and Hans.

Varsity Park: One of several contiguous and relatively affordable tracts west of Miramonte offering highly-regarded Los Altos schools. Mostly similar to Cuesta Park in appearance, with small ‘50s tract homes on small lots, although the neighborhoods south of Cuesta have slightly larger homes and lots. Prices start about 20% higher than Cuesta Park, which proves the appeal of big-reputation schools and puts you squarely in the South Palo Alto and even Midtown price range. And Blossom Valley, an area south of Cuesta identifiable by its “-tree” street names, is about 25% more expensive than Varsity Park. These neighborhoods are viable alternatives to South Palo Alto and relatively affordable, but they’re definitely not affordable alternatives to South Palo Alto. Sought-after schools and attractive ambience keep them from being cheap, and the far more consistent housing stock means you’re less likely to find the occasional oddball house that passes for a bargain in South Palo Alto.

Monta Loma:  Superb location and setting for people wanting South Palo Alto but priced out. Just across the border from it and with a similar ambience. Prices are low not only by South Palo Alto standards but even by Mountain View standards, about where mid-range Sunnyvale sells and about 15% less expensive than even the cheapest South Palo Alto tracts. Homes are quite small but all offer at least three bedrooms and two baths.

Meadow Glenn: Better known as Rex Manor, just south of Monta Loma but about 15-20% more affordable. Homes are older and even smaller, and usually have just one bath. An entry level but improving neighborhood, greatly enhanced by mature street trees.

Mountain Shadows and Sterling Estates:  Two more affordable neighborhoods, on either side of Middlefield near Shoreline, offering very presentable conventional ranchers, some with four or even five bedrooms. Prices are rock-bottom by Mountain View standards, perhaps 15-20% less than Cuesta Park for newer homes, due to what appears to be rather cheap construction and the indifferent reputation of the local elementary schools. Sterling Estates is also a little too close to 101, 85 and an industrial park.

Waverly Park:  South of Grant and next to Los Altos, this is the newest and most upscale Mountain View area, developed in the 1970s and 1980s. Some neighborhoods south of Waverly Park proper have Los Altos schools. One of the few parts of Mountain View built as move-up housing. Pricier than all but a handful of South Palo Alto neighborhoods.

Other east-of-Grant neighborhoods: Close to El Camino this area resembles Palo Alto’s Barron Park with its big lots and lack of curbs and sidewalks. There’s even a few impressive farmhouses to lend character to the ‘40s and ‘50s ranchers that predominate. Baywood Park along Carmelita is typical, from the 1918 farmhouse to the small ‘40s ranchers to the occasional new construction, often on quarter-acre lots, all with a slightly funky semi-rural feel. Further from El Camino the neighborhoods become more tract-like, with handsome larger ranchers from the mid-‘50s into the ‘70s, and still the occasional farmhouse. Infill development was going on here into the ‘80s as the few remaining farms were carved up. Priced about like the better Midtown stuff, although it depends on the area.

Cuernavaca:  An anomaly for Mountain View, an upscale townhouse development with plenty of open space. Units are large and have an interesting if rather florid Mediterranean architecture…at least it’s not generic. Definitely a rare find on the mid-Peninsula are the handful of large single story units with attached two-car garage.

Whisman area west of Whisman Road: An exceptional townhouse market, one of the best on the mid-Peninsula, with a great selection of newer units. Can be funky, but attractive overall and blessed with its own personality. Aside from the townhouses, housing is eclectic: a few small, inexpensive but pleasant rancher tracts, a handful of pre-war homes near 101, plenty of duplexes and even some new construction. A few traces of Mountain View’s agricultural past—farmhouses and at least one old barn—remain.

Whisman Station: East of Whisman Rd., this plus adjacent California Station and Town Square are developments of townhouses and PUD-style detached homes built from the late 1990s through 2001. Detached homes have two-car garage and often have the bells and whistles of larger, more expensive homes: granite, Corian, hardwood, vaulted ceilings. They’re 3- and 4- bedroom, 2.5- to 3-bath homes of 1375 to 2025 sq.ft. Lots are virtually always under 5000 sq.ft. and often in the 2000s and 3000s. Affordable by the standards of local new construction but not cheap, slotting somewhere between Cuesta Park and Varsity Park. Townhouses are 2- or 3-br/2.5-ba units, usually on three levels, from about 1200 to 1400 sq.ft., nicely upgraded and with attached two-car garage.

North Mountain View:  Interesting, unique and a city planner’s nightmare. Zoning ordinances seemingly didn’t exist when this area was developed, particularly to the north of Middlefield and west of Permanente Creek. The mix of uses may be a legacy of laissez-faire county planning and north Mountain View’s agricultural past. Until recently the area was mostly small farms, and a few commercial uses scattered here and there didn’t bother anyone. As development encroached and the city annexed, the large parcels must have looked perfect for big developments like condo and apartment buildings. Whatever the reason, there’s just about every type of use here except a nuclear test site: ’50s ranch-style single-family, old farmhouses and newer PUDs interspersed randomly with apartments, condos and small commercial buildings, often on the same block. Adding to the visual cacophony are some rather edgy townhouse designs, almost as if the unusual ambience encouraged architects to let their hair down. Somehow it all works but the effect is rather surreal and almost disorienting. Not for the mainstream buyer but if you’re looking for something faintly bohemian, there’s no other area on the mid-Peninsula quite like it.
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price performance

Here’s how Mountain View’s two major sub-markets, single-family residences and CID (Common Interest Development) including condos and townhouses, have performed since 1994. 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 the average. In effect, we’re tracking the price of the same single-family residence and condo or townhome through twenty-two 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 Mountain View market peaked in early 2008. The SFR line doesn’t show the relative weakness of the north Mountain View SFR market during the 2008-2011 downturn, and the relative strength of that city’s SFR market west of El Camino during the same period. For an idea of how north Mountain View SFR fared then, see north Sunnyvale SFR.  Note how unusually robust the Mountain View CID market has been.  2015 prices are as of May 2015.

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Part 2:  The chart below is easier to understand than it looks, and it has 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, 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 chart is formatted in eight columns covering seven time periods to illustrate Mountain View home price appreciation in percent since 1994, and the size of its recent real estate peaks and troughs.  In each case, Mountain View 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 eight columns in each chart:

  1. 1994-2013:  Mountain View 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:  Mountain View 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:  Mountain View 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:  Mountain View 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:  Mountain View home price appreciation from 2002 to 2007.  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:  Mountain View home price depreciation from peak (see 5, above) to bottom in 2009 (SFR) and 2011 (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:  Mountain View home price appreciation from 2009 (SFR) or 2011 (CID) through 2013.
  8. Total depreciation 1994-2013:  Total Mountain View 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 Mountain View SFR and, remarkably, CID, have less-than-average volatility, at least by this measure.

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copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014

2 thoughts on “Mountain View

  1. In your opening paragraph you state, “…plus a few neighborhoods its northern neighbor can’t match…” Was curious what MV neighborhoods you are referring to? I think look/feel/ambient of PA’s Crescent Park or Old PA neighborhoods are more upscale than the best of what MV has to offer (e.g., Waverly Park, Blossom Valley, Cuesta). Same with downtown vs. downtown neighborhoods. Thoughts?

    • Yes, you’re right, Mountain View doesn’t have anything that compares with the top-end Palo Alto neighborhoods. I was referring to the “newer” developments near Los Altos such as Waverley Park and Gest Ranch (Golden, Madison etc.). Palo Alto has the occasional pocket of comparable homes, but not block after block, and since these homes are slightly newer than the typical Palo Alto tract, they tend to be larger and more upscale. And there are five Mountain View neighborhoods that don’t have any Palo Alto equivalent: Whisman Station, Cuernavaca, Bentley Square, Runningwood Circle and Sylvan Dale. I don’t mean to imply that these neighborhoods are superior to what you’ll find in Palo Alto, just that they’re different. Whisman Station and Bentley Square are large PUD developments; you’ll also find PUDs in Palo Alto, but not on that scale. You also won’t find a large upscale townhouse development like Cuernavaca in Palo Alto. Runningwood and (particularly) Sylvan Dale are large ’70s MCM (midcentury modern) developments. Aside from the older top-end neighborhoods Mountain View doesn’t have, the two cities differ mostly because builders were still operating in Mountain View when Palo Alto was built out, so Mountain View’s housing stock reflects slightly later trends.

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