Moving back and priced out of Alameda - West CC or Solano County?

We are planning on returning to the Bay area this summer 2018 after we finish out our year here in Portland, OR. We used to live in Alameda which we loved but feel like we are priced out of there now. Plus from what I have heard, it is not really the "best kept secret" that it used to be. We bring in over 200K in family income, and we have a 3 year old daughter with special needs (primarily speech). We want to rent for at least a year as we will probably need to locate somewhere further out due to current housing prices. We would like to eventually buy after a year or so (so probably around summer/fall 2019). We are considering El Cerrito, Richmond Annex, Pinole, Hercules, and Benicia. We would like to stay below $700K range for housing.

We want good schools, of course, but also to be near schools/preschools which would serve my daughter well in regards to her speech delay. Has anyone had experience in dealing with special education services for their kid/kids in West Contra Costa County or Solano County? I am familiar with services in Alameda County but not so much with with WCCC or Solano's.

Also, how are the neighborhoods in the above towns mentioned? Safe, family-friendly, walkable, diverse? Alameda really spoiled us. Is $700K realistic for El Cerrito/Richmond Annex (which is our 1st preference due to proximity to Oakland which is where we will both be working).

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Hi, welcome back to the area. I can't speak to the education issue since we're still at preschool age but I can recommend living in El Cerrito. We squeaked in at just under $700k last year (don't know about rental prices) and really like it. We're on the "flats" so there's more foot traffic, litter and property crime than in the hills, but it is also extremely walkable with excellent proximity to public transportation, shopping and parks. We couldn't afford Kensington or Albany but are close enough to enjoy the farmers market and restaurants. There's a big mix of income levels, ethnicity, social views, etc. so no one need feel out of place (I hope). The schools are decently rated and seem to be improving in terms of "scores" and the people I know who have kids in EC schools have all said they're happy at the grade school level (mixed reviews of the junior high and high schools). I've heard great things from people living in the Annex though that is definitely less walkable. If you end up in EC you are very welcome to message me with questions. Good luck!

Having looked for a long, long time (and eventually giving up) in El Cerrito on a higher budget, I'd say under $700k is unrealistic unless you can do a very small 2 bedroom in Richmond Annex or Richmond Hills. Prices have increased a lot over the past two years, especially in the El Cerrito area. The neighborhoods there are fine--thus the crazy increase in prices. Pinole, Hercules, or Benicia might be a better bet. You might also consider San Leandro or Pleasant Hill/Concord/Martinez. Can't speak to special education services, but you might start there and then pick a neighborhood after. 

I think you can buy a two bedroom townhouse in Bayfarm within your budget. If you are willing to stretch a bit more three bedroom town homes are possible.

I live in El Cerrito and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it.  My kids are in public schools and are doing great.  My daughter had speech issues as well and was diagnosed and entered into a program at Cameron School, which is in El Cerrito (NOTE: public schools take do not need to be of school age....wish I'd known that with my son).  I think it would be hard to get something here for $700K, but could be possible. I also lived in Benicia, which is rather idyllic, but the commute drove us to El Cerrito. I think you could get something for $700K in Benicia.    I think it would also be hard to get something for $700 in Richmond Heights, but could be possible.  Mira Vista school is extremely diverse and the school and staff are dedicated.  I would choose Pinole over Hercules, personally, and you could get something for $700.  

I can highly recommend Pinole.  I have heard very good things about the Cameron School, in El Cerrito, which offers speech therapy and preschool style classes for students who qualify in WCCUSD.  If you choose the back part of Pinole Valley, you get to send your daughter to Ellerhorst, which is a very good school.  I think you are priced out of El Cerrito if you want to keep it under $700k, but should be able to get something nice in Pinole if you move quickly when you see a house you like.  Pinole Valley is safe, family-friendly, and diverse.  You can walk to the local park, but everything else is about 1.5 miles away.  We have a Trader Joe's, Sprouts, Peet's etc. plus a bunch of chains and a handful of mom and pops.  

I know some folks who live in Benicia and have spent a good bit of time there.  I like it a lot and it is definitely walkable and has a lot of charming small businesses on 1st street.  It doesn't feel very diverse and it doesn't really feel like it's part of the Bay Area proper.  Most of the people we know here in Pinole go into the city or Oakland/Berkeley pretty regularly, whereas most of the people we know in Benicia don't really seem to like to cross the bridge.  

I really feel like Pinole is one of the "best kept secrets" here in the Bay, and my husband and I joke that it must have a cloaking device on it or something.  We feel close to everything but also far away, if that makes any sense.  It also feels much less crowded here than it does everywhere else.  Good luck with your search!  

I think you could easily rent for a year in Marina Bay (Richmond), which puts you in the zone for services at Cameron (as recommended by other posters), and gives you time to look around the area. We are in EC which does seem like it's exploded in price lately. I'd look in the Annex to buy, although who knows if $700K will get you in there in a year's time. Pinole has a tougher commute to Oakland/SF (although is a nice town overall), those extra exits on 80 cost you lots of time on the road.

I can recommend the Richmond Annex, although the prices here have gone through the roof recently.  You may be able to do a two bedroom but the three bedroom houses are going for between 725-$800k.  I have an almost three year old who is at a great preschool in a berkeley, although we may consider sending him to EC public schools. We walk regularly to our three neighborhood parks in the annex and El Cerrito and also to the prepared food annex at EC natural grocery. Today as we walked up the hill on the way home, I thought as I do every time how lucky I feel to live here. There are incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and I just love the neighbors and feel of community. We are also a few blocks from city hall where a 24 hour fitness will be opening soon.  We also walk to the EC library and pool. I grew up here and it has changed quite a bit. There are so many more kids now then when I was my sons age.  I really can’t say enough good things about it.