Things are expensive in the Bay Area, especially housing. Finding affordable accommodation in the area is a painful process for expats. The Bay Area is famous for a fierce bidding process with houses going for at least $150k more than the asking price. So when we had to move from the South Bay to the North Bay there was a lot to consider.
My experiences with accommodation in the US in the last ten years has been varied dealing with landlords, company housing services, realtors and banking. We lived in varying situations between 2007-2011 from a month by month place to eventually buying a home in Santa Cruz Mountain (Los Gatos), but always in the South Bay.
Then in 2016, we had to move to the North Bay to be near San Francisco. We researched intensively to find the best possible place to relocate and be near the city but not in the city. We were used to the rural settings and quiet spaces in Los Gatos, we have chickens and chop our own wood for the fireplace.
We considered the East Bay where all new housing developments were springing up like mushrooms, or the North Bay where places were more accessible, or as a last resort somewhere in between.
Requirements for our move to the North Bay
Access to the City
The only public transport that is reliable is probably the BART, Muni, and Caltrain. If your company provides Shuttle Buses, then even better. Most people use their own car or carpool/share rides through apps like Uber/Lyft. My other half wanted to cycle to work. This meant that options for locations had to have good connections with cycle paths (land or sea/ferry). If we stayed where we were it would be 1.5 hours each way with car or Caltrain, it wasn’t rocket science to see we needed to move.
Traffic in the Bay Area is infamous. People complain about the highways being chock-a-block in the peak hours. Even though shuttle and carpool lanes are designed to facilitate HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) the traffic is still horrendous. BART is ok but often maintenance problems leave passengers in disarray. So we wanted to minimize the use of cars for the commute and if possible public transport. The East Bay is probably the worst traffic experience we have encountered as it is connected to the Bay Area by several toll bridges. The new Bay Bridge is great and the prospective new TransBay will probably ease some bottlenecks in Bay Area. But we couldn’t wait. So, the North Bay was the best option for bicycle combined with bus or ferry.
School District and School Requirements
Inevitably the best school sit in the most expensive neighborhoods. That’s how state education in CA works. You will have several options like Chartered Schools, Private Schools, or even Home Schooling. It all depends on your needs and education strategies for your offspring. We chose the North Bay because the school quality is generally good with some being quite exceptional.
Our lifestyle means we prefer the suburbs. We were brought up in rural England and Indonesia and this has influenced our lifestyle and we want our children to have a similar experience. We love outdoor living: hiking, walking, cycling and having pets so we needed a place suitable for all of the family. In the South Bay neighborhoods are typically suburban with rows of housing mixed with commercial buildings. When you are used to living in rural Europe, you miss the village feeling. The South and East Bays are developing new real-estate at an alarming rate. To the contrary, the North Bay limits new development which is good for the environment and from a sustainability point of view.
The (silly) House Prices
As I mentioned above, the Bay Area is notoriously expensive for renting and buying property. Only some cities have rent control, here is a list. There is also a big difference in the price of housing in the major cities like San Francisco compared to the East Bay cities because of the public transport corridor. We managed to buy a house in need of improvement in the economic recession in 2010. The decision to buy property in Los Gatos was based on its location and being relatively cheap (at the time).
The Diversity Issue
Yes, the Bay Area is proud of being multicultural and full of liberal minded people but demographics are not necessarily evenly distributed. San Jose 2010 census shows that Hispanic and Asian populations are about equal (32.2% and 32%). While in San Francisco it is 14.7% and 33.3% and caucasian is the dominant race and ethnicity. As a mixed-race couple, we aren’t really attached to one race more than another. But we’d like to provide diversity and a universal world view for our daughter. The best way to research is by looking at demographics in school districts which you can find at great schools.
Weather and Micro-Climates
The Bay Area divides weather into three categories: Land, Sea, and Bay, differences in each geographic location affects the weather. For example, sea breezes in cities like Pacifica, Santa Cruz or Mill Valley make the temperatures less scorching when it hits triple digit temperatures farther inland. When we lived in Santa Cruz Mountain (Los Gatos) at an altitude of 2000ft, we enjoyed cooler temperatures but sometimes fierce winters. As I live with a Yorkshire man who prefers lovely cold weather with his blue sky, we look for some shelter from the Californian sun. Marin, in the North Bay was a perfect, the breeze is consistent and the fog that brings mild temperatures with moisture in the air.
Marin lets us have different experiences and to explore the vast outdoor places there. It comes with a cost as the house prices here are in the prime spot. But weighing up the benefits vs. the disadvantages, we concluded that this was our best choice.
Not ready to buy in the Bay? Know your renter’s rights!
With real estate prices in the Bay Area continually skyrocketing, buying a home is not an option for many...Hence, most of us turn to renting a home.