What is “West San Jose”, and why should you care? Indulge yourself in fantasy for a moment. Imagine if South Palo Alto sold for about 40% less, or if Old Palo Alto was discounted to half price. What if Palo Alto’s Community Center bungalows could be had for the price of an East Palo Alto rancher, or if South Palo Alto prices got you not Eisenhower-era starter housing but an upscale 2000 sq.ft. home built during the administration of a President you remember?
Trust me, it’s all true and just a short drive away, at least during off-commute hours. And yes, there’s a big catch, or real estate wouldn’t be the efficient market it is. Much of West San Jose does give you the look and feel of South Palo Alto, and sometimes it’s an improvement, especially if you don’t like Eichlers. Most West San Jose neighborhoods offer well-regarded schools at steep discounts. Some of West San Jose does have the Norman Rockwell gentility of a pre-World War II Palo Alto neighborhood, yet sells for less than a South Palo Alto contemporary.
But that catch I mentioned: there’s no free lunch in real estate. An area sells for less because it offers less, even though the decontenting may not be obvious. Go to South Palo Alto: an overview for the intangibles that make an apparently unremarkable neighborhood one of the most sought-after on the Peninsula. If that doesn’t faze you, or if your focus is on the South Bay anyway, then by all means check out West San Jose. I think you’ll be amazed at the bang you get for your buck.
Now that I’ve made a case for West San Jose, here’s the what, where and why. It’s west and southwest of old San Jose, what’s now called Central San Jose and might be called Greater Downtown San Jose. West San Jose borders Santa Clara, Cupertino, Campbell, Saratoga and Los Gatos. With the exception of Willow Glen, which joined San Jose in 1936 after a brief stint as a city, West San Jose is a legacy of San Jose’s post-war policy of aggressive annexation that sometimes swallowed areas with close ties to other cities. That’s why you’ll find Cupertino or Campbell schools in some parts of West San Jose, and why it’s ambience is so often similar to neighboring cities. So if you’ve seen Campbell or mid-range Cupertino or even, for that matter, Mountain View west of El Camino, you’ve seen much of West San Jose. But if West San Jose is often generic Santa Clara County tract housing, it’s a pleasantly mainstream generic with enduring appeal.
Old Willow Glen is the exception, its pre-World War II neighborhoods as charming and distinctive as any you’ll find in Palo Alto. And many of Willow Glen’s post-war tracts are extremely attractive. Almaden Valley is the other exception, newer than most of the West Bay, and that relative newness holds throughout most of its neighborhoods; it’s not limited, as it is further north, to the occasional infill development.
Finally, one of the most compelling reasons to think about West San Jose is that most of the areas described below are as large as a small city. This is a huge market with a multitude of choices.
Map of West San Jose and environs. Boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Click the “view larger map” link below map for an explanation of featured areas. School district boundaries are general guides only, and should be verified with the districts. Boundaries and all other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.
· Tremendous supply of single-family homes, many selling at Palo Alto condo prices.
· Most neighborhoods are reasonably attractive if modest; there are very few genuine bummers. If you’re okay with Mountain View, you’re okay with West San Jose.
· A surprising number of West San Jose neighborhoods have an ambience and quality at least a notch or three above South Palo Alto and Mountain View. That’s particularly true of Willow Glen and of the areas with Cupertino schools.
· And then there’s Almaden Valley’s relatively new and upscale neighborhoods, available at a price and on a scale unavailable to mid-Peninsula buyers.
· Most post-war tracts were built when new-home buyers expected at least two baths. The one-bath homes often found in older communities are relatively rare here.
· Most areas are convenient to a revitalized big-city downtown that retains its period charm.
· Willow Glen offers another downtown, pre-war and suburban, with a relaxed, upscale feel.
· Most neighborhoods are convenient to 280 and/or 85.
· Many areas offer school districts with good-to-great test scores at a substantial discount to mid-Peninsula prices.
· Most San Jose Unified schools have very low test scores.
· Much of post-war San Jose has a somewhat generic ambience, with lots of expressways and strip malls. This condition isn’t unique to West San Jose but the huge scale may exaggerate the visual impact.
· Most neighborhoods built in the ’50s and ’60s are entry-level, with small homes on small lots.
· Not an area known for its distinctive architecture, with the exception of old Willow Glen and the occasional early-1900s farmhouse.
· Very few Eichlers or other contemporaries except for Willow Glen and one tract with Cupertino schools, although this shortage won’t break everyone’s heart.
· Other people have had the same “drive-a-little-save-a-lot” idea. During commute hours, 280 and 85 have heavy traffic in what would be your direction.
Interested in buying a home in West San Jose? Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
San Jose with Cupertino schools: The Cupertino Union Elementary School District is the gold standard for the western side of the South Bay, and a good part of San Jose lies within this district. These neighborhoods stand out above the usual West San Jose fare, solid midrange ranchers often as good as or better than the adjacent neighborhoods of Cupertino itself. Quality improves as you move east from De Anza, the houses getting slightly newer and larger, but prices remain fairly consistent throughout the area. Not cheap by South Bay standards but prices tend to cluster around the low end of South Palo Alto and you get more house and neighborhood. East of Lawrence prices fall, although neighborhood quality remains good, and then drop dramatically for a small tract sandwiched between Lawrence, Stevens Creek and 280. Boundaries are roughly the cities of Cupertino and Saratoga, and Lawrence Expressway-Moorpark. Contact the district for exact boundaries.
San Jose with Moreland schools: This small over-achieving district offers maximum school for the buck—K-8 with test scores this solid just don’t get any cheaper, at least this close to Palo Alto. Moreland homes are small but serviceable, neighborhoods generally good and sometimes great. Because only orchards were here until the middle 1950s, this part of San Jose bypassed the minimalist homes of the early post-war era and went directly to the second, more affluent phase, so they invariably have a second bath to go with their three or four bedrooms. Neighborhood quality is a variable, ranging from quite pleasant to pleasant to decent. As a rule, the “quite pleasant” neighborhoods lie west of Saratoga Avenue, “pleasant” to the east of Saratoga and north of Hamilton, and “decent” south of Hamilton interspersed with pockets of “pleasant”. Mature street trees greatly enhance many of these neighborhoods. Moreland’s jewel is the Happy Valley tract south of Doyle, with its beautiful tree-lined streets and highly-regarded neighborhood elementary school, Country Lane. It’s a sought-after neighborhood and prices are high by area standards, yet it sells at a good 15% discount to South Palo Alto. Also definitely worth a look is nearby Strawberry Park, north of Williams and west of Saratoga. Even the best Moreland neighborhoods have that affordable tract look and there isn’t much architectural distinction here aside from the occasional turn-of-the-century farmhouse, but the ambience can usually hold its own with entry-level Palo Alto or Menlo Park and sometimes exceeds it. Some elementary schools are better than others, so verify which one you’re getting before you buy. The approximate boundaries of the Moreland Elementary School District are 280, 85, San Tomas and Lawrence. Go to the district site or a map with exact boundaries.
San Jose with Campbell schools: While the city of Campbell is small, the Campbell elementary and high school districts are big and San Jose annexed huge chunks of them in the 1950s, enough to surround Campbell on three sides. Campbell schools have generally solid scores, although not usually on a par with the nearby Cupertino district. But neither are home prices, and the neighborhoods are usually at least pleasant and often more than that. Most are the typical late-’50s/early-’60s tracts that blend seamlessly, one into another, throughout the affordable parts of the South Bay. But that’s better than it may sound, since these homes invariably have the third or fourth bedroom and second bath that buyers have been demanding since about 1953. And a few areas stand out. At the northern end of the districts, between Winchester and Bascom, tract homes on big lots sell for a good 25% less than a South Palo Alto rancher on an ordinary lot. The eastern end is a bit more expensive but gets you the comfortable midrange neighborhoods of West Willow Glen. More expensive yet is a section of the beautiful upscale Dry Creek area, but it’s still well within entry-level South Palo Alto territory. At the other end of the price range is Sherman Oaks, with some of the least-expensive ranchers between San Jose and San Mateo, including a handful of early Eichlers.
Willow Glen: One of San Jose’s best neighborhoods, Willow Glen is known for its classic pre-war homes, but they’re only half the story. There wasn’t much to Willow Glen prior to World War II—just a few blocks on either side of Lincoln Avenue—and that’s where you’ll find its beautiful Old-Palo-Alto-on-a-budget neighborhoods. But some of Willow Glen’s best areas are its post-war tracts well to the west of Lincoln. The blocks on both sides of Dry Creek Road are the sort of appealing upscale rancher neighborhoods that are too new to be found in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, and would be priced in the stratosphere if they existed. Another, slightly older post-war neighborhood just west of downtown Willow Glen has relatively modest but handsome homes on tree-lined streets of exceptional charm. There’s also a sizeable and well-maintained Eichler development, quite unusual for west San Jose; contemporaries never caught on here, which will disappoint some buyers and relieve many. There’s a fairly substantial downtown, “the Village“, with a casual, faintly Carmel-esque and relatively upscale feel unusual for the area; there isn’t anything this interesting north of 280 until Mountain View’s fine downtown. A bonus is that two of the San Jose Unified elementary schools in east Willow Glen have good-to-great test scores, and a part of west Willow Glen lies within the well-regarded Cambrian Elementary district. A few neighborhoods are forgettable and not every house is a keeper, but the overall ambience is quite compelling. Old Willow Glen offers north Palo Alto ambience at south Palo Alto prices or less, while appealing post-war neighborhoods sell at a 25% discount to entry-level Palo Alto.
Bascom Gardens (Cory neighborhood): Here’s one for the bargain hunters. If you’re willing to go as far south as Santa Clara, something of a bargain itself, or at least extremely cheap, then why not go a few minutes further for a similar neighborhood that sells for even less? How about prices a good 40% less than entry-level South Palo Alto? Bascom Gardens is a huge tract of small homes, originally with 2 or 3 bedrooms and 1 bath (although some have been expanded) built by Kaiser between 1949 and 1952. The neighborhood has two things going for it besides the low low prices. Most important, Bascom Gardens has a whole lot more charm and better maintenance than the prices suggest. That makes it a great option for buyers on a condo budget who’d rather have a nice single-family home, and Bascom Gardens holds its own with the minimalist houses of entry-level Palo Alto or Menlo Park built during the same period. Second, Bascom Gardens is close to the 280/880 interchange, so it’s fairly convenient to Palo Alto and Menlo Park via 280. And it looks like these homes were architect-designed and have an interesting provenance. Heather M. David, resident of Bascom Gardens, expert on mid-century commercial architecture and author of the fascinating Mid-Century By The Bay (Oddi Printing), tells me that “Kaiser Community Homes was a joint venture between a Southern California-based developer named Fritz B. Burns and our very own Henry J. Kaiser.” She writes that “I have long wondered if the architect Welton Becket had any sort of relationship to my home, since the architectural firm Wurdeman & Becket worked with Fritz Burns on the “Postwar House”, AKA “The House of Tomorrow”, in Los Angeles in 1946. Not to mention the Stevens Creek Shopping Center (1957)…designed by Welton Becket & Associates, Becket’s firm post- Wurdeman…I’ve been able to confirm that my home was indeed designed by Wurdeman & Becket. I recently purchased a 1949 article about Panorama City in Southern California…built at/around the same time as Orchard Park in San Jose. Panorama City was Fritz and Kaiser’s last joint venture in mass housing. The architects are identified as Wurdeman & Becket and one of the architectural renderings is my neighbor’s house, two houses down. The basic floor plan is that of both of our homes.”
Cambrian: A large area with a number of micro-neighborhoods, Cambrian is nuanced enough to defy simple categorization. Like San Jose with Moreland schools, Cambrian is usually an entry-level market of modest neighborhoods and surprisingly high-scoring schools. The resemblance continues with variable neighborhood quality. Baseline Cambrian is the typical, presentable rancher tract found throughout the South Bay, a baseline exceeded by a number of genuinely appealing neighborhoods. So far this could be Sunnyvale or Santa Clara but then there’s Cambrian Park, a large area that does its imitation of Los Altos with quarter-acre lots and new construction on winding, sidewalk-free streets. The most affordable Cambrian neighborhoods sell for about 10-15% less than Moreland homes (and about 40% less than the cheapest South Palo Alto homes), but prices vary among the many Cambrian neighborhoods and a number sell in the Moreland range. Both Moreland and Cambrian were first developed primarily in the late ’50s and early ’60s and the housing stock is similar, although the typical Cambrian home tends to be a bit smaller and more likely to have just one bath. On the other hand, Cambrian also has far more “newer” (’70s or later) homes. If you work on the mid-Peninsula, your enthusiasm for Cambrian may be tempered by its location east of 17, which makes a long commute even longer. 85 is accessible from most of Cambrian but traffic is heavy northbound in the morning and southbound in the evening. But if most of your activities are in the South Bay and you’re having a hard time finding well-regarded schools in your price range, Cambrian is worth a look. The cheapest neighborhoods are ordinary but no more so than neighborhoods to the north costing half again as much, and a few—Hallmark and tree-lined Willowmont, for example, both just south of Hillsdale, Dutch Haven at Blossom Hill and Meridian, Lone Hill and the other tracts west of Camden south of 85, and the neighborhoods between 85 and Los Gatos—are genuinely inviting and extremely affordable by mid-Peninsula standards. North of Hillsdale is one of Cambrian’s few undeniably cheesy neighborhoods, Hacienda Gardens, but as compensation the prices are rock bottom, barely above those of East Palo Alto.
Here’s how west San Jose’s major SFR sub-markets have performed since 1994. These charts are based on data from the Multiple Listing Service that’s been corrected to eliminate the extremes at both ends of the price range that skew average price, and also adjusted for square footage. In effect, we’re tracking the same six houses 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 more sought-after markets peaked in early 2008. Note that the more expensive the area, the less it was impacted by subprime lending, the better it weathered the bust and the more dramatically it’s recovered. 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 area, whenever that was”, and that the more negative the number in the last column, the more volatile this area’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 West San Jose home price appreciation in percent since 1994, and the size of its recent peaks and troughs, in the six main sub-markets. In each case, West San Jose home appreciation and depreciation is compared to the average of all local sub-markets 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: West San Jose 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: West San Jose 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: West San Jose 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: West San Jose 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: West San Jose home price appreciation from 2002 to 2007 (except West San Jose with highly-regarded Cupertino school’s peak in early 2008). 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: West San Jose home price depreciation from peak (see 5, above) to bottom ranging from late 2008 (Cupertino schools) or 2011. 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: West San Jose home price appreciation from trough (see 6, above) through 2013.
- Total depreciation 1994-2013: Total West San Jose 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 most of West San Jose has had less-than-average volatility, at least by this measurement.
copyright © John Fyten 2004-2014