Can you still buy a house for $500k in the Bay Area?

Is there anywhere in the greater Bay Area where you can buy a single-family home (not a condo) for $500,000 or less?

I’m working on finalizing a divorce and trying to figure out the future for me and me 2 kids, of whom I have custody (ages 7 and 10). I had hoped to stay in the house my ex and I bought together, but I can’t afford to buy him out given that the current appraised value is almost triple what we paid for it (bought during the Recession).  My income is very modest, but I expect to have a decent amount for a down payment if we sell the house.  After running some numbers it looks like 500K is about the max I can afford.

I’m a Bay area native, grew up in Berkeley and El Cerrito, and have lived in Oakland for 20 years, but I know I couldn’t buy a shoebox for 500K in any of those cities.  For those of you who have been in the market recently, where should I look?

I’m not looking for anything big or fancy, just a single-family home with a yard, in a relatively safe neighborhood (wouldn’t expect it to be crime free, since crime is a reality in an urban area, just want my kids and I to feel safe walking to the local park, or sitting on the porch after dark, that kind of thing).   I don’t care if it has an updated kitchen or the latest fixtures, but I do need it to be structurally sound, since I won’t have money for a big project like a new roof or foundation anytime soon.

Other things that are important to me: racial diversity, a decent-sized liberal population, and good special education services in the local public schools (one of my kids has learning disabilities). I work primarily in Berkeley but spend 1 or 2 days a week in Hayward, so anything too far north would be too much of a commute.

Leaving the Bay Area entirely isn’t an option for a variety of reasons.

Thank you in advance for any helpful suggestions!  This process has been really hard--soul-draining, to be honest--but I’m hoping for a better life for me and my kids in the future.

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I don't think you can buy a single-family home with a yard in a safe-ish neighborhood in the East Bay within a half-hour commute of Berkeley for $500,000. You might want to consider buying a condo/townhome or renting. Your income level may qualify you for affordable housing developments, and you could get on a waitlist now for family-sized units. OR, consider a bigger move including a new job that you could reasonably commute to from Brentwood/Oakley, where single family homes are pretty affordable (compared to El Cerrito). Finally, perhaps you and the kids could negotiate to stay in the family home and you pay your ex "rent" as part of buying him out - but I'm not a lawyer, so please consult with one on your options. Good luck!
 

At your price point only Richmond and the flats of Oakland between Fruitvale and San Leandro have SFH in "large" numbers.  There are a tiny number in San Leandro, Hercules, Rodeo and El Sobronte.  If I were in your shoes, I'd try to stay in your current home or rent if you want to stay nearby.  I'd also explore trying to buy a duplex for around $1mm with another party.  It'll be tough to buy a 2 br condo on your budget.

If you commute to Berkeley, Crockett is a reasonable option, and there are still houses for sale in the $500,000 range sometimes.  The school district is small, but extremely diverse.  We have had very good luck with the special ed department for our special needs child, and also good experiences for our gifted child.   Crockett has a great small town vibe, and people really do know their neighbors.  Commuting to Hayward might be unpleasant, but if it's only one day a week, it's worth taking a look.  

Definitely suggest renting! Invest the cash in a diversified portfolio!

Regardless of your income, putting that much of your wealth in a single investment this late in the market cycle would not be a great idea.

We moved to El Cerrito last year from Richmond View which we really liked. Looking at some of the homes there, it may be just above your price range. You might be able to find something in Richmond North & East which is pretty nice IMO.

You didn't mention how big a home you were looking for but there appear to be some smaller 2BR homes that went for less than $500k. 

It's a little further north, but you might also consider El Sobrante. Homes there are nice, but it definitely has a more suburban feel and may not have quite the diversity or urban access that Richmond does.

You can absolutely buy a home in the bay area for under $550K. Can you save a few thousand more and stretch to $550K?

Look at Pinole, El Sobrante, and San Pablo. Hercules is nice and super safe, although if you grew up in EC/Berkeley, I think the aesthetics and lifestyle of Hercules might not be your jam.

If you start looking for a home between November and February, the prices soften in those areas. 

I wish you luck. Work with a Realtor, it's at no cost to you as the buyer. YOU CAN DO IT! 

Actually, you can still buy a house in the Bay Area for less than $500k. I bought my house 4 months ago for $450k, three bedrooms and a large yard and it’s really close to the 580 freeway and it doesn’t need a whole lot of work! It’s definitely not Berkeley, (I also grew up there and el Cerrito) but we are hoping that it will change like Oakland did. My son who is two loves the yard and an old high school classmate turns out to be my neighbor. Schools in Richmond as you know are not the greatest, but I’m thinking of investing in private school. If you need the info of a realtor let me know. 

I just bought a small house in Allendale neighbors of Oakland this year for 500k and find that proximity to three good kids’ playgrounds, Farmer Joes, everything going on in the Laurel, and closeness to the freeway has made this the perfect spot. Yes, some crime. Yes, kind of an old house with some issues. Yes, wow crazy fireworks almost all summer long.

But our great neighbors, lots of other little kids around, good size backyard etc have been way more of a pro than a con! 

Hope you find what you’re looking for! 

I'd say Richmond and San Pablo. My understanding is that San Pablo is safe and much of Richmond is.  Good luck with the search!

I am sorry to hear about your divorce. I agree with the other posters that you should consider renting for a while, at least till things settle down. You still need to sell your house, you and your kids still need to settle into your new life. And from the chatter that I hear from my Realtor friends, the market is slowing down. Don't buy now, because the prices are coming down slowly. Take your time and don't rush to buy!

Answer is yes.  Surprised no one mentioned Hayward or San Lorenzo.  I'm seeing 2, 3, 4 bedroom houses in nice shape with yards for $500k.  Not sure how racial diverse or how liberal Hayward is but in general I would consider it safer than Berkeley, Oakland and many other cities.

 

Look in San Leandro. Zip codes 94577 and 94578. I had been living in Montclair when I was married. I ended up renting two houses after my divorce and finally bought a small 2 bedroom house several years later. Good luck!

Probably not for $500K, but if you could stretch to $600K, I'd check Coldwell-Banker California Moves and do a search for Richmond.  Better areas are the Richmond spots weaving in and out of El Sobrante, and the unincorporated section on the side of San Pablo nearest the hills (my neighborhood off the Arlington is lovely with a great community: young families, older families, many cultures, many ethnicities, LGBTQIA+, beautiful views and decent schools).  There is some crime, mostly car burglary.  I'm sure there are other areas, (maybe a condo down by the water) but these are the ones I know, and are some of the most undervalued property in the Bay Area.  I ran a quick search for you, if the link works that might give you some idea.  Here it is: https://www.coldwellbanker.com/for-sale-homes/Richmond-CA-7450c/minprice_500000/maxprice_600000/beds_2/view_map?src=view

Good luck!

I’m in the same boat as you financially. The bay area is brutal. Try looking in Martinez or Benicia. Decent prices, good open-minded and friendly community, and good schools. Sending positive thoughts your way ❤️.

A coworker of mine just closed on a house within the past few weeks for less than $500,000. He got a two bedroom home, yard, all appliances were new as of a year ago, and a lot of work had been done to the home in recent years. It is located in San Pablo just off of the Solano exit, which is an easy commute to Berkeley. Within his first week of being there all the neighbors had come to him and introduced themselves, he feels completely and totally safe in his new home. San Pablo is in the WCCUSD and has a lot of resources for kids with additional needs. However, I'm not sure of what public schools are like in that area.
Best of luck to you during this difficult time.

You could consider buying a condo or townhome in Alameda. Some of them have nice shared yards and most of Alameda is pretty safe. There are a few listings in your price range. Good luck!

Yes - Try El Sobrante, Pinole, or Martinez. El Sobrante is the closest but all have reasonable commutes (by Bay Area standards) to Berkeley.

San Leandro, Hayward, Union City, and Richmond have houses in this price range but are likely to not be in such great neighborhoods or maybe won't be such great properties. Eastward Pleasant Hill looks like it has some. Vallejo seems to have a good amount.

I suppose it is unorthodox, but could you both stay in the house after the divorce? I know some couple issues make this impossible, but with others, it just takes a bi of creativity to make it work. Don't reject this idea until you think about it. Some couples get tiny places for themselves elsewhere, so they are never in the house at the same time. 

https://www.itsovereasy.com/insights/post-divorce-parenting-whats-deal-nesting

If you can stretch your budget a little bit to 600 Richmond Annex seems like a good option for you that I've been looking at lately. It's zoned for El Cerrito schools even though it's Richmond.

e.g.

https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/richmond/6214-sutter-ave-richmond-ca-94804--...

https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/richmond/1676-shasta-st-richmond-ca-94804--2...

https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/richmond/5431-santa-cruz-ave-richmond-ca-948...

Check out El Sobrante. There are houses there going for about $500,000.

I think it's possible - a redfin search just came up with a cute little (576 sq ft) 2/1 house in Hayward - 22748 2nd street listed at 499, sure it will probably go over 500 by a bit, but maybe not much - I also agree you might think about a condo or townhouse that has a small garden/yard. San Leandro, San Lorenzo, Hayward are all areas I think you might want to search in...I think you can do it - I will hope for the best for you!!

Sorry about your situation - sounds very stressful.  I ran a search on Trulia for the Bay Area for all single family homes currently listed for sale under 500k - here is the result  - https://www.trulia.com/for_sale/37.36925,38.20491,-122.84231,-121.55759_xy/300000-500000_price/SINGLE-FAMILY_HOME_type/10_zm/

It's pretty clear one has to focus on some areas of Oakland, San Leandro, Richmond, Vallejo, Pittsburg, Antioch. (To do searches like this in Trulia, pick a central city like Oakland, then on the map, select "move map boundary" so you can enlarge the map to the communities you want to see).

This might be more helpful - this is the map & list of recently SOLD single family homes for under $500,000 - so here you see where the homes are that are actually in your price range and not just the list price - again similar area but appears Antioch, Richmond and Vallejo have a lot that sell under 500k https://www.trulia.com/sold/37.37307,38.20869,-122.87115,-121.58643_xy/0-500000_price/SINGLE-FAMILY_HOME_type/

Lastly I know you specifically want a single family home with a yard. I would encourage you to just look at a few condos and townhomes. First you will probably be able to get a much nicer (more cheerful for the kids) place, in a nicer/safer neighborhood. Many have great amenities the kids love - pool, cabanas, bbq, pingpong or even tennis courts. Lots of families live in these now because housing so unaffordable, the old ideal of a house is way out of reach and you'll find nice hardworking families, often quite educated or high earning living in condos, apartments, townhouses, so lots of nice friends for your kids. We found that when we had to move back to the bay area for a year 2 years ago. We loved it. I was absolutely surprised how much I liked it, and how great the community was. Loved not having maintenance (you might want to consider a house upkeep), loved the pool for my kid right there, loved the friends he made, nice kids from great families. Many have big grassy areas the kids can play in. We had a 800sf 2br/2ba so totally downsized and surprisingly loved it.

So on that note, here is a search for all condos and townhouses listed with 2+ bedrooms https://www.trulia.com/for_sale/37.3573,38.1931,-122.76583,-121.48112_xy/2p_beds/200000-500000_price/APARTMENT,CONDO,COOP,TOWNHOUSE_type/

Of course listing doesn't mean it won't go for over

I wrote before but just did some looking - real estate is my hobby :) but yikes. While there are single family homes somewhat near schools for under $500k, most of these schools were rated a 1 or 2 out of 10 (10/10 being the best) by the Great Schools rating - that seemed to be the case for basically all the houses for sale in Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro, Richmond, Bencia etc. The condos/townhouses were generally far from the schools and not rated much higher than maybe a 4/10. There were a few houses in Concord  under 500k and close to an elementary school rated 5/10 (you'd have to see what the comments are exactly on those schools to determine what you think). For example (and note, must condos are just 2 bedroom, only a few with 3), remember condos have the HOA but it pays for the maintenance, homes get expensive.

- a SFR in Concord  https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/concord/810-oak-grove-rd-92-concord-ca-94518--2083270921 or https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/concord/1943-n-6th-st-concord-ca-94519--2117131376 

- SFR in Richmond close to a 5/10 elementary school (but the middle & high schools drop to 1 or 2/10) https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/richmond/3455-fleetwood-dr-richmond-ca-94803--2083993174

Alameda had one condo a little depressing, but very close to schools rated 9/10 - basically the only place I found close to Hayward/Berkeley with highly rated schools https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/alameda/2209-otis-dr-l-alameda-ca-94501--2083179691?mid=16#lil-schoolsTab

There were a few other place not too far from schools 4/10 or 5/10 that were affordable -

- townhouse in Hercules not too far from a 6/10 elementary school (but requires taking a bike under the freeway overpass) but there are several nice townhouses in this area https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/hercules/178-s-wildwood-hercules-ca-94547--2117134976

- condo in Martinez couple blocks to a 6/10 elementary school https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/martinez/1645-ashwood-dr-martinez-ca-94553--1005817625

- townhouse that looks like a house in Benicia close to 6/10 elementary school https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/benicia/525-military-w-benicia-ca-94510--2117130056

So that gets me to Walnut Creek - have you been lately?  The downtown is charming, actually has a little bit of urban feeling, tons of great cafes and shops. Great schools - through high school. You can also pick up bart - if you are a cyclist, it's not a bad ride. So if you can think about a condo, you could consider these

- this one has been on the market for a while and just dropped it's price, that's good as you're less likely to deal with a bidding war - has a 7/10 elementary school right nearby, a 8/10 middle school and 9/10 high school, small pool and gorgeous views https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/walnut-creek/2101-vanderslice-ct-2-walnut-creek-ca-94596--2083820111

Also Walnut Creek with same schools, cute pool - https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/walnut-creek/1411-creekside-dr-1-walnut-creek-ca-94596--2083818226

Same building but with 2 bathrooms  https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/walnut-creek/1411-creekside-dr-11-walnut-creek-ca-94596--2083818221

There are a few in Walnut Creek north of Ygnacio Valley Rd, closer to BART and close to the middle school but further from elementary schools, but these have tennis courts, multiple pools, gyms, sauna etc - my kid and his friends at the building loved these  https://www.trulia.com/p/ca/walnut-creek/320-n-civic-dr-304-walnut-creek-ca-94596--2117147267

Good luck!

 

I was going to echo the previous reply about Richmond and to look into what affordable housing options there are in the areas you want to live. A good real estate agent should be able to tell you if there are other areas in your budget. I just started looking for housing with a similar budget and have resigned myself to condo-living for now. Perhaps we can combine on a duplex?? Stranger things have happened. Feel free to contact me if you want to talk.  

I don’t know if you can get a house in Hayward for $500Kish, but if you can, I would at least check it out. I have lived in Hayward for the past 17 years (rented in Berkeley before that), and given my modest income I LOVE it. Despite the low ratings, there are several good schools in Hayward. I know tons of kids who have gone through Stonebrae Elem/Bret Harte Middle/Hayward High and have thrived, but there are also other strong schools, so don’t limit yourself to those attendance areas. HHS and Mt Eden HS have lots of AP options and programs for all types of kids, including high achieving ones, musicians and artists. Burbank Elem and Stonebrae Elem have dual immersion programs and higher test scores than other schools. Both buildings are fairly new. I can not vouch for the special ed dept. I fear your child would be underserved, but I really don’t know. There are a bunch of charter schools at the high school level and a very popular Montessori charter that starts at 1st grade. Since you spend time here, you probably know that Hayward is very diverse (majority Latino and many racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups represented) and also very liberal. It’s a union town, sanctuary city and very accepting in general. We have an awesome gay prom every year, just for the record! Like many gentrifying and blue collar cities, homelessness is a problem. The city council is working on it, but not making huge headway. We have a good farmer’s market, brand new library and small downtown with new restaurants and things to do. If I were a millionaire plus, then maybe I would choose to live in N Berkeley (my old hood), but on my income, Iiving in hayward means I have enough cash after paying the mortgage to take a few vacations, do some shopping, go to theater in the city, etc without breaking the bank. Good luck!