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Talk to me about your home in the Bay Area

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I know there are plenty of SF Bay area moving threads, and I'm working on those. I think many are asking from the pov of what neighborhoods are crunchiest or safest or whatever (which I definitely appreciate, and I have a child starting kindergarten, so schools are important too). My problem is that I'm afraid this part of the country is not a good fit for me for two reasons: too dry and too dense. If I wanted to have a house (albeit small, what with prices) where I could grow a reasonable amount of produce without a ton of watering - is that even possible? My fear is that I'm going to end up stuck in an apt forever (how does anyone afford houses there on one income?), or in the case of Silicon Valley, that it's going to resemble the dry hills of Orange County. So...what's your home like where you live? Or where would be a good fit in this area if DH does end up with a Silicon Valley job?
post #2 of 17
Hi! I live in Silicon Valley.

Growing produce without watering is not possible. It doesn't rain at all between say June and October. But most places come with a drip system so its not likely you will have to hand water everything. How much produce are you thinking? You can grow pretty much year-round here because the climate is so mild and that is a real bonus. And you won't have to water in the winter.

There are places around here that one can live on a good parcel of land, but everything is expensive. That said there isn't as much of a culture of home ownership as there is in other places. If you have to rent there is no reason why you can't find something other than a small apartment.

Right now I live (and garden) in a pretty dense area (near Santa Clara University), but I have also lived in the country in Sonoma County (sadly not within commuting distance of Silicon Valley). There are mountains nearby that are not really dry because they get fog moisture during the summer. Properties in the mountains (Santa Cruz Mountains) range from super-cheap (400K) to out of this world pricey (4+ million). Santa Cruz itself is a great town and it is in commuting distance from SV. Most of the towns IN Silicon Valley are super-suburban and have a high population density.

I don't know how much this helps...any other specific questions?
post #3 of 17
I live in the Santa Cruz mountains. It is very different from the rest of the Bay Area. Things seem to go at a different pace, neighbors are friendlier, we have much more land than we could elsewhere and much more privacy as well. The weather is different (a bit cooler and some morning/evening fog) but we still get plenty of sun for our garden. We do have to water the vegetable garden (about twice a week), but the fruit trees and many other plants do fine on their own. We have our own well, septic system, an emergency generator, there is no cell phone service here, we are currently stuck with satellite internet but hopefully there will be some broadband options coming soon.

It is a bit of a drive to almost anywhere, for us it is 15 minutes to the nearest town with shops or restaurants, 30 minutes to a sizeable town with supermarkets, hardware stores, etc. (Half Moon Bay), and an hour to most other places including San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Cruz. On the other hand, we have plenty of hiking and biking right in our backyard, people come out to this area to go camping for the weekend. Although commutes can be long, they aren't stressful - I would rather spend the time on a beautiful scenic road without traffic than the same amount of time in stop and go traffic on the freeway.

We do have to plan ahead...there is no running out to the store for something quick in the middle of the night, we try to run errands on our way home from work etc. Our closest take-out option is a 30-minute round trip drive to get burritos.

We love it here, but it isn't for everyone.
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
I'd like to be able to have fruit and nut trees, and some raised beds with other things. I have no idea what might be the minimal amount of land needed to grow most of what a family of four would eat. I've heard of people doing it on a 1/5 acre (8700 sq ft) lot, but that would definitely feel small to me.

How are the farmers markets there? Where does most of the produce come from?
post #5 of 17
The farmer's markets around here are pretty amazing actually. Most of the produce (at those markets) comes from Gilroy and the Salinas Valley...not too far away. Santa Clara Valley used to be the nation's top producer of prunes (and maybe apricots) so the soil here is very well suited for fruit trees. Its warm enough for citrus too.

I have a very small backyard and I have:

A Lemon tree
Orange tree
Apricot tree
Loquat tree (this one I could do without)
Lime tree

About 15 tomato plants (all different heirlooms)
10 pepper plants
6-ish eggplants
lots and lots of basil
Lazy Housewife runner beans
two kinds of cukes
two summer squash
a bunch of herbs (fennel, chamomile, valerian, comfrey, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram, dill, yarrow, catmint, echinacea).
carrots, chard, beets, radish, cabbage (not happy),
Azaleas, hydrangeas, roses, bougainvillea, dahlias, nasturtiums, jasmine, and a bunch of other stuff.

Everything is doing well at the moment. Its a great climate to garden.

My neighbors have a larger yard than I do, and they have a mini orchard going on. They also grew a ton of fava beans in the spring. There is also a community garden on my block, so if I ever get my act together (and line up some child care) I can go over there and garden some more stuff.

ETA: My neighbors on the other side have an avocado tree! I would love that...

I just looked it up on Zillow and apparently my house sits on .09 acre.
post #6 of 17
I agree the farmers markets are great and this is a great climate for gardening, you can grow more things for a longer season than many other places. Some crops you can do a double season if you like.

In addition to the locations that Chamomile Girl mentioned, there are a fair number of crops grown out by the coast, from Half Moon Bay to the Monterey area (maybe farther), including pumpkins, artichokes, peas, and berries. I live by so many farms I don't go to farmers markets, I go to farmstands.

We live on 1.7 acres but only garden a small portion of that.
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 
Heh, $400K does not equal "super cheap" to me.

Thanks for the info! More opinions welcome.
post #8 of 17
I live in Berkeley. I love it, but honestly, I haven't a clue how people buy houses here, much less if they are single income. We can barely afford to rent a studio (it's just two of us and the cat, and admitedly, we don't make much money). It's a wonderful food culture, with tons of farmers markets, and a lot of people do grow stuff in their backyards, even little urban farms, with chickens and bees. I think the schools are decent, and the weather is lovely, but it's in no way affordable. the santa cruz mountains sound interesting. any chance you could tell a little more about living there? and what the cost of living is like? what are the main things people do for income there?

we're casually scouting for our place to settle down at the moment (with an eye to moving there to rent for a little while and then buy in 2-5 years), so exploring places that sound interesting. thanks.
post #9 of 17
I think I'll chime in. We moved to San Mateo last year, and were floored by paying $1800 for a not-so-great 2 bedroom duplex in a not-so-great neighborhood. Single family homes in that neighborhood with a 3,000 square foot lot cost 400k minimum, and it was a fixer-upper in a crappy school district. So...we moved to Hayward which has a bad reputation and is a cross bridge commute, but was the only city within commuting distance to Foster City that had homes we could afford. And honestly, I love Hayward. It seems to be where all of the people who can't afford to buy anywhere else go. It has its rough neighborhoods and the downtown scene is a little bare-boned...but the Farmer's Market is rockin' and my neighbors are all super sweet and it is just so diverse here. Anyways for 250k we bought a small 2 bedroom house on over a quarter acre with fruit trees and plenty of room for gardening, plus we're zoned to have goats and chickens if we want.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you want to make it work on one income and not live in a crappy duplex or an apartment, you will probably have to commute AND have to move somewhere that has a bad reputation. Now that we're in Hayward I love living in the bay area, the weather is unbeatable and it is great being a short drive away from the city.
post #10 of 17
Originally Posted by goldingoddess View Post
Anyways for 250k we bought a small 2 bedroom house on over a quarter acre with fruit trees and plenty of room for gardening, plus we're zoned to have goats and chickens if we want.
You are my hero. 250K on a quarter acre?? AND you can have chickens?
post #11 of 17
Originally Posted by Chamomile Girl View Post
You are my hero. 250K on a quarter acre?? AND you can have chickens?
LOL! We love it here, though I will say I'm glad we ended up in the Hayward hills rather then the flatter parts...but you should see the look on people's faces when I say I live in Hayward, it's kind of the one eyebrow raised look with a contorted face. In fact when I told some rich snob in SF that I live in Hayward she said, "that's exotic".
post #12 of 17
Originally Posted by Magelet View Post
the santa cruz mountains sound interesting. any chance you could tell a little more about living there? and what the cost of living is like? what are the main things people do for income there?
Happy to try to answer more questions...I think the majority of people do work "over the hill" in the main part of the bay area and commute, but there are some that work locally. In our local town, if you work locally you are probably either a ranger or a contractor of some sort. There are also shops and restuarants in some of the coastal towns such as Pescadero and Half Moon Bay, plus people who work on the farms.

What would buy you a condo or townhouse in most of the rest of the bay area will probably buy you a good-sized house with land here. It will depend a bit on town to town, there are some differences between the towns in the mountains.

Let me know if you have other questions!
post #13 of 17
I don't live there but another vote for Half Moon Bay or the surrounding communities there. (I live "over the hill" on Silicon Valley side.) Depending on where your DH gets a job -- more north or more south -- you would be able to go up or down on the coast to be closer, there are several commute routes over the hill. Other town names there: La Honda, Loma Mar, Pescadero, and to the north, Montara, Moss Beach. The properties around Pescadero, La Honda and Loma Mar tend to be more "rural" and have more open space around them.

There are a lot of farms and open space along the whole coastside. You can get more for your money -- more house, more land -- vs the other side of the hill. It's not as sunny, it's cooler and mistier, but that means it's also not nearly as dry as say, San Jose. If it weren't for the commute I'd be there in a heartbeat. I love it there.

And to answer your other question -- tell you about where we live -- I live in a denser area in San Mateo. Our lot is small -- less than 6000 sq ft. We have a little creek running behind our property so it feels like we have more room than we have. We have some herbs and berries in our yard and also do a lot of container gardening. We have a lot of tomatoes, some peppers, lettuces, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, the herb garden. We used to do potatoes and carrots but have decided it's not worth the amount of water required... we buy those at farmer's market or the grocery store instead. We have several local grocery stores that have pretty good, locally grown produce. We can walk everywhere from where we live so it's definitely more city-like, but that's something we actually want and like.
post #14 of 17
Originally Posted by poppan View Post
Other town names there: La Honda, Loma Mar, Pescadero, and to the north, Montara, Moss Beach. The properties around Pescadero, La Honda and Loma Mar tend to be more "rural" and have more open space around them.
Yeah, that's where we are (Loma Mar).
post #15 of 17
P.S. I know real estate search engines can be kind of particular to a certain area. I like to use www.redfin.com for this area. Enter in some of the city names we gave above and you can set criteria like price range and single family home. So you can get a more concrete idea of what you can get for X amount of dollars in X area.
post #16 of 17
I live in Mountain House which is well, not close to Silicon Valley... but lots of people commute there from here. There's also a commuter train stop relatively close by. Mountain House is a new community - about 6 years old. Master planned. I like it for a bunch of reasons: 1) the houses look more east coast/midwest. 2) the houses are incredibly reasonably priced; most right now are in the 300s, or less. We bought ours (3 yrs old 2K sq ft) late last year for 290K. 3) there are a number of them that have nice sized lots that you can garden in; 4) it's out in the country where you can get to you pick farms, farm stands in ten minutes or so, but it's not horribly far from Berkeley/Oakland/the city (50 min - 1hr). 5) it's a nice community of nice people with its own little online forum. Worth considering
post #17 of 17
I live in Fremont. To be honest, Fremont would not be my first choice of places to move however, it's relatively inexpensive compared to a lot of areas around here which is why my husband bought this house (long before I knew him). It's listed as 1,000 sq ft, but I have measured the house when getting ready to paint and it's really 950ish sq ft. Yay for rounding? We have two on the small side of average bedrooms and one really small bedroom that we use as an office. One tiny bathroom. Our living room is smallish but adequate and our kitchen is a no-more-than-two-butts sorta place. Our particular unit is not as well maintained as a lot of the houses in our general neighborhood because the owners before my husband didn't do a lot of upkeep and my husband did basically nothing. So in the past few years I've been trying to catch up on 10-15 years of home maintenance. Oof. Oh! We have a rather large two car garage that I finished and turned into a playroom/laundry room/pantry storage and we have a storage shed in the back yard. Between those two things we still have a lot of crap but the inside of our house still feels fairly minimalist.

I have grown to really appreciate the size of our house with a little kid. I can let my daughter roam the back yard and house with very minimal supervision because it's hard for her to 'hide'. It's super easy to keep this place clean (when I'm not pregnant ) and I feel like keeping our stuff to a minimum is a good thing in general.

Fremont isn't high on my list of places I would move to on purpose because this is not the crunchy part of the bay area. We do have a Trader Joe's but mostly Safeway/Ralph's is the extent of our grocery shopping. There are some raw milk co-ops in town as well as an awesome farm share so I guess I should be more open minded. I like our farmers market even though it isn't as extensive as many of them in the bay. I have grown to appreciate the 'small town' feel here. I am getting to know my neighbors pretty well. If you avoid the chains there are some fairly good restaurants here where the owners quickly recognize you and you build ongoing relationships. (I'm very sad that our local Lebanese place just closed. But I suppose after 30 something years the owners deserve a retirement. My daughter is already missing them because they were very grandparent-like towards her.)

You will often hear the expression, "The great thing about Fremont is that everything is only 20 minutes away. The bad thing about Fremont is that everything is 20 minutes away." This is not the best town to be carless. (I speak from personal experience.) We are definitely the 'burbs.

I wouldn't have chosen this town, but I've made my peace with it. It's not so bad and given that living here means that our mortgage is low enough that we can have a 15 year mortgage and be done paying off the house by the time I'm in my very early 40's and we can still live in the bay area... it's worth it.
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