Which Neighborhood for Buying an Affordable House?

Parent Q&A

Buying a house under 750K Jun 14, 2020 (19 responses below)
Can you still buy a house for $500k in the Bay Area? Sep 6, 2019 (26 responses below)
Diverse areas with good schools under $850K? HELP! May 7, 2018 (22 responses below)
Are we chasing the impossible? May 10, 2017 (68 responses below)
Household Salary of $140k a year, new house in The Peninsula? Oct 7, 2016 (13 responses below)
Gay-friendly, diverse, low crime, under $750k near Berkeley Sep 30, 2016 (15 responses below)
  • Buying a house under 750K

    (19 replies)

    Hi all

    I've found looking through threads here very helpful, but wanted to pose some other questions.  We have moments when we are feeling great about our search, and other moments when we feel like we are losing our mind.  We are in contract right now, but think we have to pull out - our inspections revealed over 100K in extra work that wasn't part of the seller's disclosures.

    Here's what I'm wondering - any advice on what neighborhood where we can find an attractive 3/2 or 2/1 with bonus space house in an attractive neighborhood?  Meaning - when you walk around houses and lawns look cared for, neighbors are friendly, kids can play.  For under 750K.  This seems like so much money yet we are having trouble finding a home and wonder if we should just give up and move out of the bay.  At first we were also trying to take public schools into account, but with our daughter still just a baby, it seemed like that added a whole other dimension to the search that we just couldn't fathom.

    We've been considering: Richmond annex, various neighborhoods around the Laurel and Dimond ( tho so far nothing close to Dimond has been affordable) and areas around Mills College.  My husband really wants a walkable neighborhood and I really want a house over 1000 sq feet on a lot of at least 4000 sq feet.

    There is so much that varies so quickly in neighborhoods.  Any tips appreciated!


    RE: Buying a house under 750K ()

    Redwood Heights.  Just up the hill from the Laurel. 

    RE: Buying a house under 750K ()

    Look into Hercules. Have lived her for thirty years. Close to San Francisco and also easy access to Hwy 4 and Hwy 680. Culturally diverse and safe neighborhood. Elementary schools are fine. Good luck. 

    RE: Buying a house under 750K ()

    There's so many pros and cons to all neighborhoods. Richmond Annex, Point Richmond, Marina Bay (Richmond), Pinole, Hercules all might be options for SF homes in that price range, maybe. You might also want to consider condos/townhomes, and maybe that leads you to Walnut Creek or Pleasant Hill, where a very small condo might be in that price range.

    As someone who bought a house when we had a one year old and were expecting #2, I am very happy we bought a 4/2. It has been great to have that extra room (now my home office, thanks to shelter in place). All our school friends in the neighborhood who have 3/1s or 2/1s say they feel like they're cramped as the kid or kids have gotten bigger. #firstworldproblems for sure, just a data point for your consideration.

  • 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.

    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.  

  • Hello all,

    My wife and I have recently moved from Boston to the Bay Area for my job. We are currently renting in Danville and aside from it being totally untouchable to us price-wise, we are not connecting with the community and would really prefer an area with more diversity and more of an LGBTQ presence. It seems like Oakland is the best option for that sort of area but the schools as a whole are not rated well. We have a 3 and 1/2 year old son and an 11 month old daughter and we are hoping to buy within the next year (trying to stay under $850K if we can). Are there areas we are overlooking? Affordable private schools that we should look into to make Oakland work? Any advice would be much appreciated! Thank you!!!


    I have two pieces of advice for you.  One is to not make your determination about what schools are good based on the test scores.  Generally, really high test scores correlate with really high incomes among the parents and/or and intense testing focus by the school.  I would think about the kind of climate you'd like for your children to go to school in, and try to find that, with the understanding that in elementary school at least any "gaps" in instruction tend to be easily and almost effortlessly closed by engaged  parents who read to their kids and take them to museums, etc.  I myself went to high school in Danville and was absolutely miserable there and at my elementary school in San Ramon.  The quality of teaching was mediocre at best, but everyone was affluent so the scores looked good.  My daughter, in contrast, goes to Ellerhorst elementary in Pinole, and although I was very nervous at the start of the year because the test scores aren't very good (and in fact almost panicked and moved to private school), we are very happy there and her own test scores are showing remarkable progress.  The school is extremely diverse, and we have been blown away by the kind, supportive, family-like atmosphere of the school.  Some schools achieve good test scores by sacrificing many of the things we value in our children's education: PE, music and movement, science, art, imaginative play, and it was a game changer for us to realize that while we valued quality education, that did not always mean picking the school with the best test scores.

    My second piece of advice would be to check out West Contra Costa County.  I lived in Oakland for a decade and will always love Oakland, but it is pretty much out of reach for under $850k in the kind of family friendly neighborhood I'm imagining you would want (especially when you consider that the listing prices tend to be $100k or more under the eventual sale price).  El Sobrante, Pinole, and Hercules are the hidden gems of the East Bay, and although the WCCUSD schools often are not super highly ranked, we know many, many families who are extremely happy with their neighborhood schools.  I can only speak to Pinole, but it offers a lot of the good parts of growing up in the TriValley area (amenities, greenery, safety) without the competition and snobbery and intense social pressure that made it so awful as a child that didn't fit in in Danville and San Ramon.  The area has been filled with a lot of older folks for a long time, but in the last two years or so, we've seen a huge wave of older folks moving out and young families and couples moving in from Berkeley/Oakland etc.  Check it out! 

    I agree with the previous poster! Schools in West Contra Costa and San Leandro/Hayward may not have great test scores, but many of the students do very well and the schools are very diverse. In fact, Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito is the 4th most ethnically diverse middle school in the entire US. The basic curriculum is the same at every public school in California.

    I'd highly recommend Alameda. It's an island town outside of Oakland that feels like a close-knit community, yet is close to everything. The housing market is competitive, so you'd probably be looking at a 2 bedroom home in your price range, but it's definitely more affordable than Oakland.  The schools are all excellent and the community is extremely welcoming. In particular, I've found it to be super family friendly with lots of events, resources and parent groups. 

  • Are we chasing the impossible?

    (68 replies)

    We did what we were supposed to do.

    We worked hard and saved diligently for the last 8 years and have saved up $140,000 for a down payment, despite the crazy expensive living cost of SF Bay Area. But, we are completely priced out of our or nearby neighborhood in Oakland and can't afford to buy our first home. We are 41 years old and still renting. Our household income is over $250,000 and we can't afford to buy a home that can reasonably accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids! People tell us to move somewhere else but San Francisco is where our kind of jobs are. We work 9 - 10 hours a day and the thought of buying a house farther away and commuting 3 - 4 hours a day feels like a death sentence. We'll never get to see our kids! I'm so sick of paying $3500/month rent plus $2000/month childcare.

    We see our friends buying houses around us with the help of their parents. Really, unless you win the startup lottery or the actual lottery, the only people we know who can afford to buy a house around us are people whose parents help with the down payment or childcare or both. Our parents are poor. In addition to living in this crazy expensive place, we have to support our own kids, save for our retirement, pay off our own student loan, save for the kids' college, AND have to send money to support our parents from time to time. Our elderly neighbors who own these lovely homes were not doctors or lawyers or investment bankers. They are regular people -- retired mailman, teachers, firefighter, etc. How the heck were they able to afford a house? Their kids will inherit a goldmine. I am so envious of people who were born in the SF bay area with parents who own a house. I'm so envious of people whose parents provide $100 - $200k for the down payment. From the govt perspective, we're considered "wealthy" because we make over $250k. We get taxed at the same rate as people who make $450k!!! Because we can't afford to buy a house, we have nothing to deduct from our taxes. We don't feel wealthy, we are not wealthy and we don't live luxuriously. We bargain shop, we don't go on fancy vacations, we drive a 15 year old beat-up Honda and we feel like we're barely making it. We limit the number of steaks we eat a month to save food cost, despite my husband being a red meat lover. I'm getting really depressed.

    Is there a neighborhood that is within 1 hour commute to San Francisco, safe for us to walk around with kids, with decent school, close to shops, where we can buy a 3 bedroom house (1600+ square foot) with a nice yard for the kids to run around and play for $850k - a million dollars? (At this point, we're willing to take a 401k loan to increase our house buying power.) Or have we completely missed the window on buying this type of house because we weren't able to buy back in 2009 - 2012 and now we're dreaming the impossible?

    We spoke with a real estate agent and were told that for a million dollars, we can only get a 2 bedroom (1100 square foot) in a transitional neighborhood in Oakland or Berkeley. We were told to look in Gaskill, Bushrod, Berkeley/Emeryville/Oakland border or go way down near Fruitvale Bart station or Mills College. 

    -- Extremely frustrated North Oaklander

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    You can absolutely find a great house in that price range in my neighborhood, East Richmond Heights. Very near the Del Norte Bart, easy commute to the city, really great area -- I call it the next Oakland. I know Oakland is wonderful and I would be sad to leave it too, but I promise you we have scrappy charm over here, and I love the schools (I am in the Mira Vista district). Feel free to HMU if you want me to look at particular houses and advise you. 

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Have you thought about looking in El Cerrito or the flats of Richmond. There you could buy a home in your price bracket and be about an hour or less by Bart to the city.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    I live in El Sobrante. You can get a great home in your price range. We have easy access (excluding rush hour) all over the area. There's a Trader Joe's, Peets, people with chickens that sell organic eggs, nice neighbors, a Waldorf school. Check it out.

  • Hello, Husband got a job offer of $140k before taxes in San Francisco (and I don't plan to work until after 5 years), but we are reluctant to accept and move because of the cost of living. My husband likes this company very much and we believe this will open many doors for him in the future. Here are our plans and wishes and what we have: We own a car. We have no debts. We want to send our 19 months child to a particular private school in the Peninsula in about 4 years from now (tuition is almost 40k for upper schol). We eat mostly paleo and organic. We want to save from zero for a newly made house. We want a community full of families for the sake of our child's social skills. And we are Christians (if it means anything ). So, where should we live? (I was thinking Fremont ). Where should we buy our groceries? What are the pros and cons of whatever you may think? Is 140k before taxes enough?

    Congratulations on your husband's job offer. Our family (I am also a stay at home mom) makes about $140k before taxes, too, and we bought a 1920s house in San Leandro because we were priced out of the more "desirable" parts of the East Bay. I have friends on the Peninsula who have much, much higher incomes (both spouses working) and they are comfortable (homeowners, no consumer debt, do most of their shopping at Whole Foods/farmers markets, etc), but they send their kids to public school and it would be a stretch for them to do private school. So first, I suggest thinking very carefully about how wedded you are to each of your "wants" (Paleo, saving for a new-construction house, 40k/year private school). I'm sorry to say that I think trying to do all of those things on a $140k salary would be stressful. Second, I suggest looking at schools wherever you end up; it's easiest to become part of your neighborhood community when your kid goes to school in that community. And commuting to the peninsula in time for school every morning (even if it's just from Fremont) would, to me, really negatively impact my family's quality of life. These decisions are always challenging. Good luck to you!

    If I were in your shoes, I would be very hesitant to make a move to the Bay Area if you want to check all of the boxes you list.  It will be impossible to buy a house on the Peninsula on a salary of $140K.  Even if you end up in the East Bay, you still need to consider the commuting times, both for your husband and for your child's school.  You mention Fremont, but that is a 50 minute commute on Bart for your husband just to get to downtown SF, not even factoring in the walk or drive on the front or back end.  Moreover, the drive to and from the Peninsula to school with your child would pretty awful, in my view. You should check out the Waze app every morning to see how long it would take to drive from Fremont to the school during rush hour.  If you are willing to do without the private school on the Peninsula, I would check out Alameda or Albany.  Those town are full of families and have good public schools (especially in Albany).  You would not find new home construction, and you may need to settle for a condo or small older house, but your husband's commute would be a lot more sane.  If you are deadset buying a newly-constructed house and sending your child to any private school, especially on the Peninsula, I would advise against moving here as you will be facing lots of commuting and financial stress.

    All in all, you should evaluate the 

    We are also a one-income household in the same income ballpark, and I agree with the previous poster that private school + a brand new house might be a challenge. My husband works for a tech company in Berkeley, and we opted to take our house search north (West Contra Costa County/Pinole) rather than south or east because it seemed most likely to give us something affordable -- we are in a 40-year-old house that we're slowly upgrading, have a new baby, and are very happy with our neighborhood. We also have friends and neighbors who commute from our area to the city (there's casual carpool and an express bus as well as public transit to BART). There are churches of every stripe in this area, more so I believe than in many other parts of the East Bay. We can walk to the library, the grocery store and a coffeeshop; in the other direction, there are neighbors with horses. The area is definitely changing (gentrifying) as more families are priced out of Berkeley and Oakland -- there is a brand new plaza w/a Trader Joe's and Peet's Coffee, and a Sprouts organic grocery store is being built downtown right now. Elementary schools are pretty good and I suspect the middle and high school will look very different by the time our kids are ready to go there as well. I know it's some distance from the area you originally had your eye on, but I'd encourage you to think about broadening your scope a little if you can. ~loving life in WCC

  • Me and my family are relocating to California, July of 2017. We are both business graduates, so we're looking to find work within three months of moving. We plan on buying a house (500k to 750k) and finding a wonderful charter school near Berkeley. We were told is Berkeley is gay friendly. We have been searching but several places that many be affordable, are showing high crime. We are also SERIOUSLY looking for diversity. Any suggestions??

    Diversity?  Absolutely NOT a problem. Housing for $500,00 - $750,000, not so much, especially in Berkeley. Housing near (above) the upper end of your price bracket will likely get you a house in a rather "meh" neighborhood, both crime and school-wise. The Richmond Annex just possibly, but you'd then have to be able to afford private school ($20,00 - $35,000 / year). Best of luck. 

    Hi there, when you are moving to such a highly populated area there is always going to be crime issues. While Oakland is known to be one of the worse cities for crime in the US, there are VERY nice areas of Oakland. We lived in El Cerrito and we loved it. "The hills" are really nice and the area is really safe. It gets looked over because it's close to Richmond but we never had any issues there. I suggest renting before buying so you can get an idea of the areas if you are completely new to SFBA.

    Please consider checking out Alameda! The west end in particular is more affordable, and you will get a great neighborhood, low crime, and wonderful, diverse charter schools. We commute from the opposite end of Alameda to one of them - Nea. The school is great, the administration is great, and you will not find a more accepting community of kids and adults from as many backgrounds as you can think of. Good luck with your move!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Affordable area (low $300k's) with good school district

Aug 2012

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.

Buying in the 650-700K range in a good school district

July 2012

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

Schools, commutable,urban for under $500k?

Jan 2010

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


Cheaper but safe enough neighborhoods

Sept 2008

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

Affordable place for single mom to buy a house

Jan 2008

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