Which Neighborhood for Buying an Affordable House?
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- Affordable area (low $300k's) with good school district
- Buying in the 650-700K range in a good school district
- Schools, commutable,urban for under $500k?
- Cheaper but safe enough neighborhoods
- Affordable place for single mom to buy a house
Hello, Has anyone buying a single family house in the low $300k's found a wonderful public elementary/middle/high school? We are thinking of moving, but basically can afford to buy a 1-2 bedroom condo in Berkeley, a fixer upper on a busy street in Berkeley or a small nice house in Oakland (Maxwell Park, etc.), maybe Point Richmond or Richmond Hills. The question about schools is where should we buy? Living in a small condo for 18 years to be in a good school district seems like it could be (relatively) tough. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
I would suggest the Richmond area ... So many wonderful things happening here! And you can still get great housing at reasonable costs! We live in the Bella Flora Community right off of the Richmond Parkway. Only about 5 years old we got our 5 Bdrm 2.5 bath home for a little over $300,000. It's a very diverse community. My children play outside, ride their bikes to our neighborhood park, have made friends and we genuinely love where we live. There are several homes up for sale in our development unfortunately, lost due to foreclosure. I would suggest Washington Elementary Schools Spanish Dual-Immersion which is doing Very Well. After that for Middle School I suggest Manzanita Middle School which is a charter, then for High School Middle College High located on the Campus of Contra Costa College. My Babysitter who is an entering Junior this year will graduate with both a High School Diploma as well as an A.A. Entering college as a Junior! We are very proud of her and we hope to make the same educational plan for our children Mama of 3
I live in Albany . The school district has a good reputation. Other school districts with good reputations and without risk of a lottery system (for elementary, middle and high school) include (but are not limited to) Piedmont and Orinda. One of my neighbors rented a house and said the only reason he was renting was so that his children could attend schools in Albany. I have a colleague that rents in Piedmont, so his children can attend Piedmont schools. If it's possible, look into renting. It may open up possibilities of expensive (to buy) school districts and take the pressure off of needing to buy into a desirable school district. There is also flexibility in renting. You could rent in a great elementary school district in one town and move when middle school comes along, if needed. Best wishes! anon
I'm sorry I didn't see your original question, so I don't know what your other criteria were - such as commute distance, or diversity of various types. Also, what's affordable to one family may be out of reach for another. That said, I will mention that when browsing around, Castro Valley seems to have highly rated schools and is much cheaper for what you get than Berkeley.
My husband and I hope to buy our first home in the 650-700K range--a three bedroom 2 bath with yard. We have a one year old and hope to land in a good school district, at least through elementary. We have bid on five properties focusing on North/Central Berkeley and Albany and we're now realizing we prob can't afford these primo neighborhoods in what is quickly becoming a very competitive market.
My question is how to extend our home search to other neighborhoods, specifically comparing North Oakland vs. El Cerrito, focusing on home values and school quality. We want to live in a walkable neighborhood, ideally close to Bart or easy public transportation to SF, so the El Cerrito hills are not an option (this also rules out Kensington). Which school districts in North Oakland are worth considering? How are the El Cerrito elementary schools? (All the reviews on BPN are older). How do these districts compare? We're both public school grads and hope to use public schools, but we've heard terrible things about the middle and high schools in both El C and Oakland, so we'd want to preserve our exit strategy and be able to sell our house in 10 years and move to a better district by the time our son is middle school age if need be. Comparing El C and Oakland, which neighborhoods would be most likely to retain their value?
Our final concern is safety. We hate the idea of spending so much on our home and ending up in a dicey neighborhood. Any and all advice is appreciated. Discouraged by Bay Area home prices
Your questions make a lot of sense, considering how expensive both real estate and education are in the Bay Area. Threading the needle of buying a home in a great elementary school district with the intention of moving on in search of a better high school is tricky but possible if you keep a few things in mind.
Let me back up a little and give you a few numbers to start with. As a real estate agent, it was easy to pull up recent sold homes as well as current active homes in the the areas and price range you mentioned. Since March 1st of this year, the three bedroom/two bath homes that sold in Albany were 4, currently Albany has 4 available; Berkeley 16 sold with 2 available; North Oakland 19 sold, with 0 available; El Cerrito 14 sold, and 2 for sale. While Albany has the lowest inventory, oddly enough, right now Albany has the most for sale.
This year has proven to be a very difficult one in regards to inventory. But what you are looking for IS achievable. The fact that you require a home near public transit is sort of a built-in price protection. Being close to transit is going to become more and more valuable, so buying now close to transit will only enhance your long-term value.
As far as the schools, have you done any research on http://www.greatschools.org? It's useful, as well ashttp://www.ousd.k12.ca.us, which is a great site for finding your school district in Oakland. My daughter went to preschool in North Berkeley and we had quite a few families from El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley. I was one of the few families from Oakland. Schools were a constant topic of conversation and I heard a lot of good things about Albany, Berkeley, AND El Cerrito public schools. I ended up choosing to stay in Oakland for elementary (Peralta), and have been enjoying it. The level of involvement required is pretty intense, but it really helps create community.
Right now, you can get a little more house for your money in El Cerrito, directly comparing El Cerrito to North Oakland. I would say the school piece would be a little trickier - there are some North Oakland schools that do not rate as well as El Cerrito. The final concern you mention, safety -- if you go to http://spotcrime.com and plug in some addresses, you can see for yourself that generally El Cerrito is a safe area. I hope this information helps; the bottom line is that what you are looking for is achievable, you just need to keep at it in this market. Please let me know if I can be of any further help, Robin
We have been renting in Berkeley for the past 5 years and are now looking to buy. Ideally, we would love to stay here but preliminary looking shows that we probably can not afford to, so we are looking for recommendations of other Bay Area neighborhoods. Our considerations (not necessarily in this order) are: 1) quality of schools, child-care options and extra-curricular activities; 2) proximity to San Francisco (where I work) and Emeryville (where my husband works); 3) urban feel - i.e. we want to stick to 1 car and don't want to be dependent on it for everything, would like to be able to walk or bike to parks, restaurants, etc.; 4) diversity; 5) affordability (we would like a 3br/2ba house, about 1500 sq.ft., under $500k). Any ideas or thoughts would be appreciated! Julia
I just bought a house in the Bushrod neighborhood in North Oakland five months ago. It has almost all the things you are looking for: diversity, affordability, close to FWY and emeryville, and we can walk to rockridge, elmwood, temescal, and berkeley. Some of the schools are a little sketchy, but others like Peralta are great. Its a really great area!
We are looking to buy a house to rent out in Albany . It has highly rated schools and is walkable, and has many other features you desire. Look at trulia.com or redfin.com. A friend bought a 3/2 for around $500 last year, although that seems to be the going rate for 2/1 or 3/1 from what we've seen. I'm actually even trying to find an agent to help with a purchase of a foreclosure...there were 29 listed on trulia. happy house hunting
Three words for you - Alameda , Alameda, Alameda.... island momma
Try searching on redfin.com. There are some houses right now under 500K in Berkeley with 3/2--though they will be fixers.
Otherwise, the great value neighborhoods I know where you can find a move-in-ready house are:
1. West Oakland --take Hollis from Emeryville under the freeway and you'll come to some ''gentrifying'' blocks. I have a friend who was going to buy on Hannah and 32nd, that's how I came to know this area. Very ''urban'' with that mix of hipster-ghetto vibe, but nice houses, many fixers, some cool businesses here and there. And walkable/bikable to Emeryville. Some crime here and there but pretty safe.
2. Richmond Annex , more like N. Berkeley/Albany with cute 1930s+ houses(good El Cerrito schools K-12), walk to El Cerrito Bart, EC Natural Foods, etc. 500K. Diverse, friendly, safe. Lots of tiny little playlots--short drive to Bay Trail, Pt. Isabel, etc.
3. Richmond View , high up in the hills and not walkable, definitely suburban, but with larger houses and yards in the 300K-400K range. Good elementary school options both public and private, and the charter alternative high school is now in the area. Safe, diverse, friendly. Tassajara Park and hiking in Wildcat Canyon.
4. El Cerrito near EC Plaza BART. Occasionally you get 3/2 houses in the 400K-500K range. Berkeley expat happily settled north of Berkeley
I am considering, for financial reasons, selling my North Berkeley home and finding a less expensive home in what will, of course, be a less desirable neighborhood. I'm fine with living in a ''lower end'' area, can handle ''rough around the edges'', but don't want to live where I'm going to hear gunshots on a regular basis or be afraid to walk a few blocks.
I would appreciate hearing from people who live in lower-priced communities within reasonably close range to Berkeley about where you live, the pros and cons, etc. I'm thinking about Richmond, San Pablo, Oakland, maybe San Leandro, but am open to all possibilities. Information about specific areas within different communities would be very helpful. If you have any sense of current real estate prices in your immediate area, and/or real estate agents to recommend, that would be useful also. Anon
I grew up in the Richmond Hills on Bernhard Ave, which borders Wild Cat Canyon. That particular area is very nice, but with many of these places, all of Richmond included, the schools are horendous. You may end up paying more for private school that living somewhere where public schools are good enough. Personally I like that area and El Sobrante/Pinole better than San Leandro, but I don't know what your commute looks like. Good luck! Richmond bred mom
We live in what is sometimes referred to as 'Arlington Heights' or sometimes lumped into Richmond View . I prefer our area over Richmond View, as our houses have triple sized lots, thus have more of an open feel. With the housing downturn, homes in the area have gotten really well priced. We feel safe - have only heard gunshots on the fourth and NYE, but they sound like they are from the revelers in the flats of Richmond.
We live on N. Arlington, which borders Alvarado Park. The park is great, Wildcat Canyon is walking distance. We have Raley's for a grocery store (which is fantastic). We unfortunately do have a few bad houses in the 'hood, where obvious drug addicts live and unfortunately, those two or three houses seem noticeable. We have a few odd characters, but generally seem harmless. We have had a few in home burglaries of late, but I have heard of nice areas in Berk / El Cerrito that have that problem, which can be avoided with an alarm system.
As far as safety, I feel very safe. The houses facing the city are more charming than the ranch houses facing the El Sobrante Valley. The neighbors are wonderful and there are lots of outdoor activities. Oh! and the best part - most houses have a million dollar view! lovin' what's known as poor man's marin
As far as ''cheaper and safe enough,'' I think Richmond View has everything you're looking for! The Richmond View is actually unincorporated CC County, and the main thoroughfare is Arlington Blvd (basically between Barrett & McBryde). It is 7 or so miles from Berkeley. Closest BART stop is Del Norte. We've lived here for 8 years (priced out of Berkeley ourselves) and have been very happy. The neighborhood families are a real mix racially, ethnically, and economically, but it seems like many have owned their homes for years and are nice people. It is very quiet and safe -- we walk all the time, including at night. Our neighborhood elementary school is Mira Vista, which is a great little school, and the middle school is Adams. Alvarado park (which connects to Wild Cat Canyon and Tilden) is a beautiful park in the area.
As for the cons, hill living means less amenities within walking distance, though we do have the Arlington Market nearby. I wish there were some better restaurants nearby but if you like El Salvadoran food, La Bamba can't be beat!
There are a lot of good deals in real estate right now, and I think the range around here is in the $400 - 550,000 range. I'd recommend taking a drive down Arlington -- catch it at Marin and head north -- and then meandering in the little side streets once you've passed Barrett. It's worth checking out. Christine
In 2000 we sold our Elmwood area one bedroom and bought a 4 bedroom, 2000 sq. ft. home on Albany Hill for less than we sold our Berkeley house for. The neighborhood is definitely not as great in a lot of respects (mainly in respect to the architecture), but the schools are much better, and it seems to be much more of a community here, almost small town-ish. In 8 years we've gotten to know so many of the locals and can call some business owners by first names, and they in turn know us and our kids. There aren't a lot of wealthy stay at home moms here, but there are tons of moms who are willing to help out with car pooling, etc. I would definitely check out Albany. I think it is safer than Berkeley. There are something like 26 cops in the APD for only a mile and a half square little town. Glad I left Berkeley for Albany
We live in Oakland, in Leona Heights , between Edwards and Seminary - Houses are much less expensive here then in Berkeley, Rockridge, etc. The upside is that it is quiet, sunny and not much happening on the streets -on the downside we don't have many services - no stores, only one bus line that's very infrequent so it's not an area where people hang out - anon
Maxwell Park in Oakland, near Mills College. My family and I have lived here for four years and love it. We know all our neighbors and have made great friends. There is a great sense of community with community run, volunteered, and attended community events. We have wonderful block parties in the area and there are neighborhood yahoo groups for a variety of groups: families, school improvement, community improvement, gay and lesbian group and even one that is working on improving the neighborhood playground. The prices (like everywhere) have dropped significantly and you can now buy a great home in the 400's and 500's. Good luck! Maxwell Park Neighbor
How about Crockett ? It's safe - my 7 year old walks around by herself, and you never hear gunshots! There's a great feeling of community, with lots of community events and meetings. It's a small town where it's easy to get to know people and become part of the community.
Advantages: small, friendly, surrounded by parks (so easy access to hiking and biking), and quite affordable. There is a NICE house down the block, 3 bedroom/2 baths, for $399,000. Oh, many houses have fabulous views, too. The area is pretty staunchly Democratic, too, being an old mill town. Lots of funky, interesting things like the Sunday jazz performances at the local deli, the tiny little weekend farmer's market, and the very nice community pool.
Disadvantages: Lack of public transportation. The nearest big grocery store, as well as the elementary school, are in the next town over, so I end up driving more than I would like. Not many restaurants out here, and not a lot of variety. The nearest truly great pizza is Berkeley (lots of mediocre pizza out here, but it's a long way to Lanesplitter).
Finally, to live out here, you have to have a tolerance for oddity. The houses all have quirks, as do many of the residents. But if you like quirkiness, you might love Crockett. Happy transplant from San Francisco
I have lived in Richmond Annex for 15 years now. Re Safety, I feel safe in my home, I have good neighbors, it is very quiet here. Over the years, I do hear of a few more burglaries, but I believe that is everywhere. Violent crime is rare here. anon
You don't say how much cheaper you need to go, but we love our neighborhood- the Richmond Annex . It's a tentacle of Richmond that extends alongside El Cerrito all the way to the Albany border. Homes here sell for considerably less than in North Berkeley, but we are within walking distance of El Cerrito Plaza BART, Trader Joes, Peets, the Cerrito theater, and the El Cerrito Natural Grocery. It takes about 5 minutes to drive to Solano Avenue. Our public schools are all located in El Cerrito. We also have a strong neighborhood association and a very modest crime rate. Before we lived here, we lived in Albany where we experienced a home break-in and the neighbors were not as friendly. We would, of course, prefer to live in North Berkeley, but we are very pleased with our choice. Happy in the Annex
What about El Cerrito ? Some of the houses there (esp in the hills) are just as expensive. But the ones on the flatlands aren't as bad as Berkeley. You didn't mention just how low you'd go. It's still pricy, but not as pricy as Berkeley. anon
A response to the post about cheaper but nice neighborhoods... We bought a house in Richmond near Barrett and San Pablo Ave. and really really like our neighborhood. It's very quiet, the neighbors are friendly and look after each other, and we can walk to some really great restaurants. A Target just opened up on MacDonald Ave. and we can walk there too. I was initially totally not interested in living in Richmond but after being priced out of Albany, Berkeley and El Cerrito, we decided to expand our search. We've lived here over a year and I feel safer in this neighborhood than I did when we rented in Albany (my car kept getting broken into there).
I'm not so sure about the school district here, my daughter is just 6 months old so we haven't had to deal with schools yet, but I haven't heard the best things. But for now, we're happy here. Tegan
I live in Pinole . It is a lovely community, and there are many price points within our City. Our schools are good, check the STAR stats online. IMHO San Pablo and parts of Richmond would be too rough. There are some great neighborhoods in Richmond, you just have to hunt for them. Good Luck in your house hunt. volvomomma
Come check out San Leandro ! I live on the north end of town (Estudillo Estates) and although it's not North Berkeley, it's a beautiful neighborhood. The homes were built mostly in the 30's and 40's, there are lots of big trees and good community spirit. We have a good elementary school with great parent involvement. We have a coffee shop with a really nice kid's area, a meat market, a produce market and a few restaurants all within walking distance. I don't know current home prices but I'm sure it's less expensive than Berkeley. anon
I would say do your calculations very carefully. Be sure to calculate property taxes, moving expenses, added gas and so forth. My impression is that it wouldn't actually save you that much money to move somewhere that's still IN the bay area. Prices are, let's say, plus or minus 20% of your N Berkeley home, IF you were buying today. But you're not; you already own something and have equity and property taxes at a certain rate. However, if you're downsizing to a smaller home in a less expensive neighborhood, that might make sense. Mom of 2
Hi There! I have to chime in with praise for Richmond ! I grew up here, married moved to both Hercules and Pinole and found my way back to Richmond. Let's face it ... Commuting is awful and with the cost of gas it's just crazy! We have purchased a brand new home and are completely happy, we don't hear gunshots and might I add growing up I never heard them either and I lived in the ''flatlands''! Lots of changes are being made in Richmond ... go to the city website to check it out. You have to also keep in mind that Richmond is a large city most of the stuff that is hyped up on TV is located in a small isolated section. Crime happens EVERYWHERE (and always has) and in this economy we shouldn't be surprised. We moved to the Country Club Vista Area which is a newer community near the Richmond Country Club, off of the Richmond Parkway. We walk our children to the neighborhood park, our neighbors are amazing and we got a really good deal on our home. Definitely worth checking out!
Good Luck to you and your family! Born in the City of Richmond and still love it!
Not sure on real estate prices but I'm guessing you could get a great deal. Back in 2002 when my partner and I started looking we desperately wanted to live in Berkeley (north) or Temescal . Needless to say, we chose the 3 bedroom place with tons of yardspace in ''Mosswood'' park area which some consider ''lower'' temescal. We mostly do not regret our decision aside from the Berkeley public schools thing. We can literally walk to Piedmont ave. shops and restaurants within 10 min. and Temescal yumminess within 10 min. as well. Even better we can jump on bus to downtown or get to SF within 15 minutes. It's an amazing place with lots of resources and diversity. We relish it. Hope you will join us. Downsides - ''motels'' ie prositution havens and liquor stores, freeway noise.... mostly loving the neighborhood
Glen Cove in Vallejo . Next to Benicia. Doesn't even seem like we live in Vallejo. I take the daughter to Benicia for swiming, recreation, etc. Easy commute to San Francisco on the ferry or there is a casual carpool, bus to BART, etc. Take a drive out, we are off of 780 (Glen Cove Exit). Clean, safe neighborhood with good views of the Carquinez Strait and low housing prices. Local elementary school is O.K., but will probably send the daughter to private as she would be out of the neighborhood for middle school. BUT, for what we are saving on housing, we can afford a private school. Glen Cove Fan, Lukewarm on Vallejo
My sister is hoping to move to California with her 1 year old daughter. She would like to find an affordable place to own a home that is near a good hospital (she's a nurse). She's hoping to be outside the metropolitan Bay Area but not in the middle of nowhere. Maybe Santa Rosa area. She can afford to pay about $2000 a month in mortgage etc. Any suggestions?
I'm a single mom who chose San Leandro. You can buy condos and homes cheaply that are near hospitals, doctor's offices, grocery stores, banks and a mall with Target, Macy's, BART etc. It's very convenient and affordable. Lori
My coworker just offered 50% of the asking price on a house in an outlying suburb, and his offer was accepted. Your sister can check out what's available in the Santa Rosa area by going to www.ziprealty.com. In Santa Rosa, there are currently 1,364 homes for sale, many with the price reduced at least once. Waiting for buying opportunity
There is a great book by a local realtor named Tara Nelson - she was a single mom too. The book is The Savvy Woman's homebuying guide. her website is www.rethinkrealestate.com christina