smaller post-World War II tract homes, usually entry-level
County (unincorporated Menlo Park)
Look here if you want highly-regarded schools at affordable prices.
Overview: Much like The Willows, the County includes a number of distinct neighborhoods. Some are ordinary, some have considerable charm, but the constant and main attraction is sought-after Las Lomitas schools.
NOTE: This area is governed directly by San Mateo County, not the City of Menlo Park. Menlo Park's police and public works services are not available to County residents. Contact the Menlo Park City Clerk's office at (650) 858-3380 for city services that may be available to County residents for a non-resident fee, such as library and recreation programs. If you think you might be remodeling or expanding your home, contact the County Planning & Building Division at (650) 363-4161 for guidelines before you buy.
Housing stock: The typical County house is a small rancher built from the late '40s to the early '50s. Those of you who dislike contemporaries will be glad to learn that the vast majority of County homes are conventional pitched roof ranchers. Most are found in two large tracts, Menlo Heights and University Heights, extending from the Atherton border south to Avy (west of Alameda) and Sharon Road (east of Alameda). Like many affordable areas, homes built here immediately after World War II are small and minimalist, while those built just a few years later are a bit larger and more comfortable. Many of the earliest homes still have only one bath, but some have been expanded and updated…or torn down—there’s a fair amount of newer construction drawn by the schools and relatively reasonable land prices. Connoisseurs of pre-war construction will find a generous sprinkling of homes from the 'teens through the '30s, particularly just south of Valparaiso, but like most County homes they’re small and modest. Relatively rare here is the comfortable '50s and '60s rancher that's the backbone of most affordable Peninsula and South Bay neighborhoods. Two small neighborhood stores round out this part of the County, as well as two sizeable apartment buildings. Newer townhouses between Avy and Harkins add another aspect to this area's housing mix.
The northeast corner of the County area is a bit (and sometimes a lot) more upscale. Heading east across Barney into Linda Vista you'll notice the neighborhood changing. First you'll see pleasant, slightly more upscale ranchers. Worthy of note is Vasilikos Court with its rather impressive homes built around 1969-71. Keep heading east and you'll enter an area somewhat similar to neighboring Atherton. Here there's a pleasing mixture of often-sizeable homes from the '20s and '30s as well as ranchers from the '40s and '50s.
Along the western fringe of the Heights and further south, you'll find the slightly newer and larger ranchers of Menlo Estates on Bel Air and the parallel stretch of nearby Altschul. These attractive homes are a transition between the small University Heights ranchers and the larger homes of nearby Sharon Heights. Slightly newer ranchers circa 1955-60 can also be found further south on Harkins, Prospect and Harrison.
We begin a new phase of County at Sharon Road west of Alameda, one with more substantial homes dating from the '30s through '50s. This area extends south to Oak Hollow, a short street of 3000-plus sq.ft. homes built in '89-90. South of that are two condominium projects, Menlo Commons (for adults 55 or older) and the recently-built Pacific Hill.
Across Santa Cruz Avenue on its east side is University Park, a small attractive neighborhood that transitions into the larger homes of Central Menlo. Although most University Park homes are small ranchers built in 1947, the blocks just north of Sand Hill have many older dwellings dating from the '20 and '30s. Some are fairly substantial, others just cabins including two relics dating from 1890.
Lot sizes: The standard lot throughout Menlo and University Heights is 50x120 feet but there are variations. This narrow, deep shape is typical of pre-World War II subdivisions.
Part of Linda Vista's charm is its quarter- and even half-acres, many of them flag lots. It's obvious that at one time this area had huge 1.5-acre lots much like adjoining Atherton. Unfortunately the county doesn't have Atherton's minimum one-acre lot requirement and all the County lots have been subdivided.
Further south, lots in Menlo Estates are generally 7200 sq.ft. and of typical post-war configuration, wider and shallower. This allows the home to be wider and thus appear more spacious. From Sharon Road south to Oak Hollow, lots are wide and often a quarter acre or more.
University Park lots are narrow and usually smaller, often 5650 sq.ft.
Affordability: Affordability here is good for Menlo Park, especially in most of the central County area from Avy north. Slightly more expensive than The Willows because it’s west of El Camino and the schools have an even better reputation.
County homes sell in an extremely broad range, but within that broad market are several sub-markets.
One way to distinguish County sub-markets is by neighborhood quality. Another is by geography. Affordability lessens at the northern and southern ends, with neighborhoods that are always at least pleasant and sometimes great. Their attraction is that they're older or have some rural charm, and sometimes they offer slightly larger homes.
One final way to dissect the County is by housing stock. Lesser homes are very small, old and generally on small lots. Better homes are at least a bit bigger, perhaps comparable to a Central Menlo rancher, and perhaps on a lot that’s close to a quarter acre. At the top is new construction.
I'd like to mention here that I recently ran across the idea that homes west of the Alameda sell at a premium to those located east of it. This might seem plausible, since the Alameda usually divides mid-Peninsula neighborhoods (just like El Camino and 101), and neighborhoods west of the Alameda are often slightly newer and more upscale. But that's not true of the County from Avy north, where the Alameda simply bisects one neighborhood that looks the same on either side and dates from the same time period. It is true that neighborhood quality can vary from block to block within the County, but I don't see a consistent difference in this respect between the 2100 blocks west of the Alameda and the 2000 blocks to the east, and neither do the statistics.
This information is based on district and other sources but may be obsolete by the time you read this. Verify district boundaries and school availability with district offices.
Amenities: There are no parks in the immediate area. However, Menlo Park's Tinker's Park on Valparaiso is convenient (tennis court, picnic area, playground). Check with the city to see if County residents can use this park.
Shopping: A small shopping district is located at the intersection of Alameda and Avy. Stores include Starbucks, a post office, gas station, many dry cleaners, a tennis shop and an upscale restaurant. The crown jewel is a local favorite for many years, the Dutch Goose, with its bar and "casual dining". You may notice that this shopping district is a little light on charm, but tree planting and sidewalks have improved its appearance. You're also a short drive to downtown Menlo Park and to Sharon Heights Center.
Neighborhoods with similar ambience: An area this large and diverse is hard to pigeonhole. Much of the County can be compared to that other unincorporated Menlo Park neighborhood, Fair Oaks. For example, Linda Vista reminds me of Barney Park, also adjacent to Atherton and with Atherton overtones. University and Menlo Heights are similar to the rest of Fair Oaks with its lack of sidewalks, smaller lots and eclectic mix of generally modest pre- and post-war homes. The oldest part of University Park has that ‘20s summer cabin atmosphere redolent of Los Trancos Woods, Woodside Glens or even La Honda. In the past it attracted the same counter culture types including Ken Keesey’s Merry Pranksters, but for better or worse the neighborhood is slowly and grudgingly going upscale. Palo Alto's Barron Park and Monroe tract are also similar to the Heights neighborhoods, as are parts of Cupertino.
Neighborhoods with similar prices (5% +/-): Heights neighborhoods sell like many midrange Palo Alto neighborhoods: South Palo Alto contemporaries and conventional ranchers east of Midtown; much of Barron Park; College Terrace, an older but also eclectic neighborhood; and entry-level Green Gables. The better parts of Menlo Park's Willows also sell in this range. Once outside the Menlo Park-Palo Alto area you begin to appreciate the premium buyers pay for our climate and Las Lomitas schools, because the competition includes some very attractive neighborhoods. To the north, there’s the hillside ranchers of San Mateo's Baywood Park and Laurelwood, and the San Carlos hills. To the south, there’s the small ranchers of Mountain View with Los Altos schools, the larger ranchers of midrange Cupertino and entry-level (but still upscale) Saratoga with Cupertino schools.
The more expensive County neighborhoods are a much smaller part of that market, but prices are roughly comparable to midrange Green Gables; the manicured neighborhoods of south Los Altos with Cupertino schools; San Mateo's beautiful pre-war Aragon and El Cerrito Park; and Cupertino's upper midrange, often on quarter acres in charming neighborhoods.
See an important qualification regarding price comparisons.
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