small homes with semi-rural ambience, usually entry-level
North Fair Oaks
Look here if you want an affordable, offbeat neighborhood with funky charm.
Overview: When I first saw North Fair Oaks I remember thinking, “I like this area but I thought Menlo Park was more upscale.” That’s Fair Oaks in a nutshell, and it may be your first impression too.
Strictly speaking, North Fair Oaks doesn’t belong in an overview of Menlo Park. I include it because many North Fair Oaks listings have Menlo Park addresses, but that’s just for the benefit of the folks who deliver your mail. North Fair Oaks is unincorporated, governed directly by San Mateo County. Bordered on two sides by Redwood City, Fair Oaks kids go to a Redwood City school, not a Menlo Park school. So why is this part of Fair Oaks labeled “Menlo Park” instead of the more logical Redwood City? My guess is that Fair Oaks has long been part of “greater Menlo Park”, much as the adjacent town of Atherton was once part of the first city of Menlo Park. It seems that before mid-Peninsula cities expanded to their present boundaries it wasn’t unusual for a town’s unofficial “sphere of influence” to extend into neighboring unincorporated areas. Often you see traces of this in school district boundaries, although in Fair Oaks’ case the pertinent boundaries are those of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.
Whatever the history, North Fair Oaks' lack of sidewalks and housing tracts (except one mentioned below) make for a somewhat rural and definitely eclectic neighborhood. Usually the "North" in North Fair Oaks is left out, since its original purpose, to distinguish it from neighboring just-plain Fair Oaks, hasn’t been necessary since just-plain Fair Oaks incorporated as Atherton in 1923. Today’s (North) Fair Oaks has an active homeowners association, which recently built a park with volunteer labor and donations.
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 Fair Oaks residents. Contact the Menlo Park City Clerk's office at (650) 858-3380 for city services that may be available to Fair Oaks 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: An eclectic group of homes—mostly small and humble—gives this area its relaxed charm. Many were built from the mid-'20s to mid-'50s although some date back to the 'teens and there's some new construction. The earliest homes are very small, often well under 1000 sq.ft. There are a few apartments along Marsh. No condos. Commercial buildings can be found along Edison Way.
Two areas merit special attention: Athlone Terrace is a very pleasant tract of mostly small ranchers put up in 1949 and 1950, very similar to nearby Friendly Acres but with better ambience. I've heard it was built by well-known local developer David Bohannon, and while I haven't confirmed this, the extra dose of charm is characteristic of his work, and there's a subdivision in Santa Clara with the same name that's definitely his. Then there’s Barney Park, east of Middlefield from 15th to Encina, a very pretty semi-rural area dating from the '20s. Unlike the rest of Fair Oaks, Barney Park is graced with many fairly substantial homes, sometimes of over 2000 sq.ft. Similar in feel to the area of Atherton adjoining it, Barney Park isn’t as well preserved—many of the big lots have been sub-divided.
Although it’s not a separate part of Fair Oaks, 8th and 9th Avenues are perhaps Fair Oaks’ two most consistently attractive streets and consequently sell at a noticeable premium. Oddly enough, the neighborhood declines remarkably just north of these premium streets, on 6th and 7th. From 5th Avenue north the neighborhood gets really funky although once past the commercial strip it still has some of that Fair Oaks “rural-ness”. Since these streets have Redwood City addresses they aren’t covered here.
Lot sizes: The standard Fair Oaks lot is 5350 sq.ft. There's some variation to this but most lots are still below 6000 sq.ft. The exception is Barney Park, where lots are routinely one quarter to one third acre, sometimes a half acre. Some flag lots were carved out of these half-acres in the '50s.
NOTE: There's an easement deeded to the City and County of San Francisco Public Works Department (415-554-6926) that cuts a large swath through Fair Oaks. This easement overlies the underground pipe that brings water from Hetch Hetchy Dam in the Sierra to Crystal Spring Reservoir on the Peninsula. It cuts through a number of lots and in some cases takes up much of the lot. A few years ago the water district started rigorously enforcing restrictions against building permanent structures, including fences, over their easement. They've backed off a bit since then but these folks are still extremely serious about preventing encroachments. If you see this easement on a title report, do a thorough investigation of its location and verify the district's current restrictions.
Affordability: (Although this section is based on 2002 data, the relative rankings of the mid-Peninsula's midrange and top-end neighborhoods, all of them around for at least fifty years, haven't changed significantly since then. In fact, 2002, a seller's market the first half of the year, a buyer's market the second, and prior to the loose underwriting that pumped up values at the low end, may be the most representative of whatever a normal market looks like in this area.)
Fair Oaks is inexpensive compared to Menlo Park, but then you don't get the high test scores or city services. In 2002 Fair Oaks homes sold in the 3rd through 76th percentiles, with 80% clustering in the 3rd through 38th percentiles. That 80% are what we'll call average Fair Oaks. Approximately 10% of mid-Peninsula neighborhoods were less expensive than these homes during the period 1998-2000.
A range extending from the 3rd to the 76th percentiles says that Fair Oaks homes and neighborhoods vary widely in price and quality. This area can be broken down into several sub-markets.
I mentioned that two streets sell for more than average, 8th and 9th Avenues. In 2002 these homes sold in the 7th through 65th percentiles compared to other Menlo Park homes. This broad range indicates that even on the best streets, Fair Oaks prices vary widely. Older, smaller homes on 8th and 9th sold in the 7th through 40th percentiles, larger and newer homes in the 48th through 65th percentiles. On average, approximately 50% of mid-Peninsula neighborhoods are less expensive than these two streets.
Another aspect of better Fair Oaks is the new or newer construction lured by the ambience and reasonable prices for tear-down homes. In 2002 these homes sold in the 49th through 63rd percentiles compared to other Menlo Park homes. Approximately 60% of mid-Peninsula neighborhoods are less expensive.
Finally, in 2002 Barney Park homes sold in the 21st through 76th percentiles compared to other Menlo Park homes. Approximately 70% of mid-Peninsula neighborhoods are less expensive.
The affordability factor ranges from 4.3 to 7.8.
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: North Fair Oaks Park, Edison Way (playground, benches, basketball court).
Shopping: There was one neighborhood convenience store but its seems to have closed as of this writing. You’ll find shopping centers at Marsh and Florence, at Bay and 5th and at El Camino and 5th.
Neighborhoods with similar ambience: In the flatlands, Barron Park in Palo Alto and the County area of Menlo Park have some of the same ambience although they’re perhaps a notch more upscale. Monta Vista near the Blackberry Farm in Cupertino is remarkably similar, although the old funky homes are rapidly disappearing. For a hilly version look at Devonshire Canyon in unincorporated San Carlos, Los Trancos Woods in unincorporated Portola Valley, Woodside Glens in Woodside and the Russell-Santa Maria tract in the town of Portola Valley.
Neighborhoods with similar prices (5% +/-): It depends on which part of Fair Oaks.
Average Fair Oaks locations sell like nothing in Menlo Park proper, but like a multitude of neighborhoods elsewhere including some of the more affordable areas of Redwood City west of El Camino; several San Mateo areas including pre-war East San Mateo, charming Sunnybrae and the ranchers of Fiesta Gardens; entry-level Cupertino with its highly-regarded schools; and hundreds of presentable rancher neighborhoods in West San Jose, many with good schools, and in Santa Clara, often with indifferent schools.
Barney Park is too eclectic and doesn’t sell often enough to make blanket categorizations but as a rule prices seem comparable to a number of mid-range areas with less charm and smaller lots but more sought-after schools, in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Mateo, Sunnyvale and Cupertino.
It’s also hard to categorize Fair Oaks’ new construction but broadly speaking you can get a new or newer house here for the cost of a nice updated rancher elsewhere with better schools.
Homes along 6th and 7th sell in the same range as Redwood City’s neighboring Friendly Acres and San Mateo’s North Shoreview but share a more relaxed ambience with comparably-priced East Palo Alto west of 101.
Cross 5th and you’ll find some of the most affordable housing on the mid-Peninsula.
See an important qualification regarding price comparisons.
Interested in buying a home in Fair Oaks or in a similar area? Please contact me at email@example.com.