Countless families consider making a move to the San Francisco ‘burbs each year. With young kids, skyrocketing rents in the city and a craving for a little more space, the pull is natural — but the Bay Area suburbs come with their own unique considerations when it comes to actually making the move. From balancing costs to considering communities to pulling your family’s own lifestyle into the mix, there is a lot to weigh if suburbia’s on your mind. Besides the basics, here’s what area families should be thinking about when they think, “It’s time to go…”
Can you afford to keep renting?
Bay Area and Silicon Valley housing prices are high right now — no one can dispute that. The average Palo Alto tear down is fetching close to $2 million, which doesn’t take into account the cost to actually build a house to live in afterward. But, at the same time, rents continue to increase year after year — and that means many renters are getting priced out of the market, too.
A good solution? While you might not be able to afford THE house right now, consider a first, or “starter,” home or just to get your feet wet and get your family into the Bay Area market. Not only will you begin building equity, but you’ll dodge the rent hikes and establish a jumping off point for a potentially bigger purchase down the road.
Remember, it’s about more than just the home price
When home prices are high, it can sometimes be hard to see past the dollars and cents. But remember, this is a long-term purchase and it’s important that you and your family focus on the town’s lifestyle, too. Certain that Los Altos, Palo Alto or Menlo Park, for example, are the perfect spots? You might even find different personalities within neighborhoods, believe it or not. Maybe one is more walkable or bike-friendly than another, or has a different personality or reputation. Or maybe one corner of the community tends to send their kids to a local private school versus the area public school, or has a higher concentration of stay-at-home versus working moms. It’s important to navigate individual communities and, through hands-on exploration, engage with locals for a more authentic experience, so that you can learn what a town is really like. Weigh it all and make sure you aren’t just picking for price but, instead, for the community experience as a whole.
Dig into the schools
Just like a town can have a variety of personalities from area to area, one school district can have even dozens of schools feeding in, each with a distinct vibe. Before jumping into a home purchase, take a look at the schools your kids will attend and see if they align with your family’s needs and expectations. Are test scores important? API scores? Would seeing CAASPP (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress) reports be helpful? Do you want a school with top scores, or is the culture of the school more important? What is the likelihood of getting into a charter or choice/lottery school with a Spanish or Mandarin immersion program? Or are you heading the private school route? You can look online, contact the school district or talk with local experts who can help you understand school populations, test scores or specializations. And remember, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to your school priorities — but it is important that where you decide to settle down aligns.
The upside to all of this? The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are incredible places to live. The weather is fantastic — even warmer and sunnier than San Francisco. You’re a few hours from Lake Tahoe if you want to hit the slopes. And, from a business perspective, you’re never far from many major corporations like Google, Facebook and venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road (no more taking the company commuter bus!), plus Stanford University, among other elite institutions. The schools — both public and private — are strong, and there are countless cultural offerings right around the corner. What’s not to love?
Alison Bernstein is the founder of The Suburban Jungle Realty Group, a real estate firm exclusively focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. When she’s not helping families in their suburban explorations, Alison enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and four children.