House Hunting Journal – hidden meaning in real estate listings

Any serious time spent looking for homes for sale in the Bay Area, and you begin to learn some key codewords. You begin to think like Alan Turing deciphering the Enigma.

In the way back time, when I was first hunting, in the pre-internet era, the code words were clumsy. For example, “A Mountain View” didn’t refer to being close to the now-Google headquarters, but instead was East Side San Jose (Gang land).

Now, there are these gems:

  • Good Bones – This is a wreck. You will need to do significant work to make it livable. It probably was a rental for a decade or more, and the tenants probably crapped in the corners. Seriously, appliances will be straight out of the 50’s, and the carpets will likely be removed as they were health hazards. Yuck. These will be bought by contractors, tarted up, and flipped for a $250K profit.
  • Some TLC needed – A little less dire than the “Good bones” house. You can probably live there, but it will be like your first crash pad out of college.
  • Low Crime – the fact that they feel the need to mention this in the description is an indication that it is a crime infested hell-hole. Go to the SJPD crime map, and expect the neighborhood to be lit up like a Christmas tree.
  • Good Starter Home – Meaning that it is in a mediocre neighborhood, and the current owners didn’t want to tart up the place. Expect to spend $20K to make it comfortable.

Of course, you learn the gradations of the neighborhoods. Often just moving across the street will greatly increase the pleasantness of your living experience. Where we are currently renting an apartment, just east of Blossom Hill road, spitting distance from Oak Grove High School. Not a terrible neighborhood, but a lot of crime, and gang activity.

Cross Blossom Hill to the west, and the neighborhood is better. Yes, it is a high traffic area (3 schools within 1/4 mile) but you fear a little less for your life. There is still graffiti, but much less prominent.

Going further west, you cross the 85 freeway. Neighborhoods get a little better. Less traffic, the houses and yards are better kept. Schools are “meets expectations” and property values are a bit higher. Cross to the west of Santa Teresa, and you again get a bump.

And, if you are wealthy, bump over the hill to Almaden Valley, drop at least $1M and you get Willow Glen schools.

The further west you go, and the further north of Monterey Highway you go, the better the neighborhood.

Of course, even some cities with great reputations have bad areas. Check out the crime map of Sunnyvale to be shocked.

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