If you’re focused on the southern end of the mid-Peninsula or on the South Bay, Santa Clara is a good bang-for-the-buck option. If you like the conventional, well-maintained neighborhoods of Mountain View or Sunnyvale, you’ll also like Santa Clara—especially its prices. And if you’re looking for very affordable pre-war housing, Santa Clara’s Old Quad has it. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve mentioned low prices in each of the first three sentences. Prices decline as you move city by city down the Peninsula, and Santa Clara is no exception. In the past not known for its high-scoring schools, but this is gradually changing, and a part of Santa Clara offers highly-regarded Cupertino schools at—yes—very reasonable prices. And is it just my imagination, or is Santa Clara slowly turning into the next Sunnyvale—good living near good jobs, on a budget.
pros and cons
· Housing is bargain-priced by Palo Alto and Menlo Park standards. Santa Clara offers lots of house and neighborhood for the money.
· Post-war tract neighborhoods are of uniformly pleasant quality, as is their level of maintenance. If Santa Clara’s low prices give you low expectations, you may be surprised.
· This uniformity extends to both sides of El Camino, at least to a point. In most cities neighborhood quality goes down sharply east (or north) of El Camino. This is less true of Santa Clara. The area north of El Camino does have some of the city’s least-appealing neighborhoods, but it also offers the sort of comfortable mid-range neighborhoods found south of El Camino.
· Most homes are conventional ranchers, not “flattops”.
· But aficionados of contemporary architecture will find that Santa Clara has a number of very affordable flattop neighborhoods. Eichler’s presence is limited to two townhouse developments but John Mackay, who built many of South Palo Alto’s contemporaries, was very active here.
· The Old Quad, next to Santa Clara University, is an interesting yet low-cost area of pre-World War II and even pre-World War I housing. Site of the Spanish mission Santa Clara de Asis founded in 1777, the town itself dates from the 1850s and is one of the oldest in the area.
· Northside (north of 101) is an interesting area with both pre-war housing, Agnew’s Village, in the shadow of Great America and a newer housing and shopping project, Rivermark, on land formerly a part of Agnews State Hospital. Even I, a relative newcomer, can remember when there was virtually nothing in this area except Agnews and small farms.
· Some neighborhoods have highly-regarded Cupertino schools.
· Electricity, water and sewer services are owned by the city, which has kept prices down.
· Strong city parks and recreation program.
· A check of Santa Clara University’s web site suggests that it offers the public a good variety of cultural and intellectual activities.
· First-time buyer assistance program.
· Convenient to San Jose International Airport and a revitalized downtown San Jose.
· No local downtown to speak of, an early-’60s casualty of redevelopment and Santa Clara University expansion. Eight blocks of downtown were lost, and and by 1967 Santa Clara was left with a pleasant but unassuming mall—you can drive past it and not know it’s “downtown”—called Franklin Square. A reader who was there tells me that “although not nestled against the mountains like downtown Los Gatos, downtown Santa Clara was about the same length and every bit as charming, and could have been so to this day. The loss of the downtown area is still a sore spot for many people.” I’ll bet.
· The appearance of Santa Clara’s stretch of El Camino, one of the city’s gateways, is unassuming, and either pleasantly retro or badly in need of redevelopment.
· Excluding the Old Quad, homes tend to be almost exclusively post-war ranchers, often pleasant but generally small and modest.
· Again with the exception of the Old Quad, Santa Clara neighborhoods tend to be uniform. The architecture and age may change slightly from one tract to the next but as a rule the quality does not. Put another way, Santa Clara has many pleasant neighborhoods but only a few distinctive ones, at least by Menlo Park or Palo Alto standards.
· Santa Clara resembles Palo Alto and Menlo Park in that by 1960 Santa Clara was largely built out, and its tract homes are generally the economy-class ranchers typical of that era. The more spacious, upscale homes of the ‘60s and ‘70s are found mostly in neighboring Sunnyvale and Cupertino, although Santa Clara has a few such enclaves along Pruneridge.
· Lots tend to be small, following the usual affordable post-war pattern.
· Not an area where you’ll find expensive remodels.
· Old Quad neighborhoods can look worn, perhaps due to years of use as student housing, and the many apartment buildings increase noise and traffic.
· Most of Santa Clara is served by the Santa Clara Unified School District, a district previously known for generally low test scores, although they’ve improved in many cases. Bright spots include two alternative schools, one a “back-to-basics” (Millikin), the other a “teach-them-how-to-think” (Washington).
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Santa Clara with Cupertino schools: A sizeable corner of Santa Clara, until the mid-1950s a part of unincorporated Cupertino and blessed with that sought-after elementary school district because of it. The Maywood tract has a number of small 3-bedroom/2-bath Mackay contemporaries similar to those of South Palo Alto and dating from the same period, as well as small conventional 3- and 4-bedroom/2-bath ranchers. Highly-regarded schools don’t come much cheaper than a Maywood contemporary. Virtually identical to South Palo Alto Mackays, the Santa Clara version sells for about 35% less. They’re even 10-15% less than Mackay’s Monta Loma homes in Mountain View with so-so test scores. Location, location, location. Westwood Oaks is a little more upscale, built by David Bohannon in the late ‘50s, with small and conventional 3- and 4-bedroom/2-bath ranchers set in attractive, even manicured neighborhoods. No matter what the architecture, Santa Clara with Cupertino schools sells at a substantial discount to all but Cupertino’s most affordable areas, and even to Sunnyvale with Cupertino schools, yet offers the same school district.
Santa Clara with Campbell schools: An interesting and, with its quarter-acre lots, definitely un-Santa Clara-like corner of Santa Clara. Small homes built from 1940 into the early ‘50s with the clean, sober lines of early ranchers. This, plus the generous space between homes that the large lots allow, gives this neighborhood a relaxed charm not often found in tract housing. Certainly cheap by Palo Alto standards, it sells for about 35% less than the most comparable part of South Palo Alto, Barron Park.
Old Quad: Pre-war Santa Clara, and not just pre-World War II but often pre-World War I. A neighborhood that’s often interesting and sometimes charming, but not always consistent or well-preserved. Like many old “downtown” neighborhoods (but the downtown disappeared years ago) it’s been hit hard by high density zoning that favored apartment buildings over single-family homes. Some homes have been restored or remodeled but, like any old neighborhood, there’s also a number that have gone years without obvious maintenance. Recently the city seems to have had second thoughts about green-lighting multi-family development, and is considering a historical district to encourage neighborhood preservation. The Old Quad is about as affordable as Santa Clara gets, perhaps 25% cheaper than even the lesser downtown Mountain View neighborhoods, and light years more accessible than anything in downtown Palo Alto (which has some of the same baggage).
Neighborhoods south of El Camino and immediately west of the Old Quad: Some of Santa Clara’s most attractive and homiest post-war neighborhoods, built just after World War II. Houses tend to be small and most have just one bath, but they have the simple charm and character of early ranchers. Think of Palo Alto’s old Green Gables (Iris-Heather-Primrose) and you won’t be far wrong. Two particularly appealing neighborhoods are Bohannon’s Westwood and Peter Pasetta’s Sunnybrae. Not expensive despite the understated charm, and about 35% less than that most humble of South Palo Alto homes, the Sterling Gardens rancher.
Mackay contemporary neighborhoods: Besides Maywood in the Cupertino school district, budget-minded devotees of the contemporary may want to check out three large tracts south of El Camino. Nice contemporary neighborhoods just don’t get cheaper than this—about 35% less than even entry-level South Palo Alto. There’s also a large tract north of El Camino that’s even more affordable, and flattops are scattered throughout Santa Clara. See Eichler City for more details. Enjoy.
University Square: Southeast of the university, a small, inviting neighborhood with a character more defined than that of most Santa Clara tracts. Homes are either relatively upscale ‘50s ranchers on large lots, or handsome Colonials. It’s Santa Clara’s Professorville, although the ambience leans more toward Menlo Park’s Linfield Oaks or some of Palo Alto’s nicer Green Gables neighborhoods. About as expensive as Santa Clara gets, yet 15-20% less than entry-level South Palo Alto.
El Camino Park: Also southeast of the university but dating from the ‘20s and ‘30s and with a picturesque pre-war look. Houses and lots are very small, in the affordable pre-war mode. Better preserved and with less traffic than Santa Clara’s other pre-war neighborhood, the Old Quad. El Camino Park transitions seamlessly into the appealing pre-war Chapman and Davis tract, which in turn segues into next-door San Jose’s highly-regarded Rose Garden and pretty soon you’re in revitalized downtown San Jose. Maybe 20% cheaper than even the less assuming parts of downtown Mountain View, and about the price of a small Palo Alto condo.
Forest Park: A little newer and more upscale than most Santa Clara tracts, these attractive homes were built in the early ’60s and range from 1400 to over 2000 sq.ft., with 2.5 baths common. Lots are ample, usually in the 7000-8000 sq.ft. range but sometimes larger. Quality is definitely several notches above the usual South Palo Alto fare, and the neighborhood has a great feel, yet it sells for a good 10% less than even entry-level South Palo Alto. Between Forbes, Pruneridge, Kiely and Woodhams.
San Tomas Woods: Built in the early 1970s and one of Santa Clara’s last large-scale developments, these homes are spacious, usually between 2000 and 2500 sq.ft., and virtually all have three or four bedrooms and at least 2.5 baths. Lots are usually a quarter-acre or close to it. One of Santa Clara’s best neighborhoods, but about the price of a small South Palo Alto rancher from the ’50s.
Laurel Park East: Across Pruneridge from San Tomas Woods and another anomaly for Santa Clara, spacious ranchers built in the mid-‘70s. Sells for a bit more than San Tomas Woods.
Briarwood: Along with neighboring Killarney Farms and Lawrence Meadows, these three large subdivisions north of El Camino between Lawrence and Calabazas offer great bang for the buck even by Santa Clara standards. I’ve heard this vast neighborhood, totaling over 1000 homes, described as “the part of Santa Clara that looks like Sunnyvale” and while this might sound like faint praise if you’re not attuned to local real estate’s pecking order, the area is definitely a notch or three above just about everything else surrounding it. Built in the mid-1950s with mostly very small 3-bedroom/2-bath homes, the architecture is conservative and comfortable, the streets often pleasantly tree-lined, and the overall feel modest but usually homey.
Green Vale Manor: Very small, very inexpensive, mostly three-bedroom/one-bath homes. Located north of Monroe on streets named after rocks. Priced just a little higher than East Palo Alto and about as affordable as Santa Clara gets.
Here’s how Santa Clara’s three major sub-markets, single-family residences (SFR) in the Santa Clara and Cupertino school districts and CID (Common Interest Development) including condos and townhouses throughout the city, 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 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 like other markets with highly-regarded schools, Santa Clara SFRs with Cupertino schools peaked later. Santa Clara is a good example of how different market drivers have affected the various Silicon Valley neighborhoods and housing types differently through boom and bust. Note that the dot-com boom and bust impacted the two lower-priced markets relatively insignificantly, since highly-paid techies with stock options weren’t necessarily attracted to them, while the mortgage crisis and subsequent recession impacted Santa Clara with Cupertino schools far less since, as a rule, areas with highly-regarded schools were already too expensive by the mid-2000s for highly-leveraged buyers with risky financing. 2015 prices are as of May 2015.
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 Santa Clara home price appreciation in percent since 1994, and the size of its recent real estate peaks and troughs. In each case, Santa Clara 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:
- 1994-2013: Santa Clara (with either Santa Clara or Cupertino schools) home price appreciation from the beginning of the dotcom boom to present, compared to the average of all local submarkets described on this site.
- 2000-2013: Santa Clara 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.
- 1994-2000: Santa Clara 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.
- dotcom peak to dotbust: Santa Clara 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.
- dotbust to previous peak: Santa Clara 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”).
- Previous peak to trough: Santa Clara home price depreciation from peak (see 5, above) to bottom in either late 2008 (SFR) or 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”).
- Previous trough through 2013: Santa Clara home price appreciation from 2009 (SFR) and 2011 (CID) through 2013.
- Total depreciation 1994-2013: Total Santa Clara 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. Note that Santa Clara with Santa Clara schools has had average volatility, but much less volatility with highly-regarded Cupertino schools, at least but this measure.
copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014