Seeking Affordable Bay Area Neighborhoods

Parent Q&A

  • Diverse, "affordable" areas with good schools? HELP!

    (22 replies)

    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!!!

    Kira 

    San Leandro all the way.  Several neighborhoods that have more affordable homes in your price range and are safe, family-friendly, diverse.  Roosevelt Elementary is a great school and there's a LGBTQ family group I believe.

    Another plug for Oakland! We live in what I think is called the upper Laurel (it's between the Dimond and Laurel districts) and it is known for having a really great LGBT community (really mostly lesbian families with young children). You can definitely find houses here for under 850K, although if you want 3 bedrooms you will get close to that. And you just never know what school you will be assigned- I think Sequoia Elem also has a good LGBT community. Good Luck!

    Check out Alameda. Although you can certainly spend more than your budget, you should be able to find something for less than $850K, particularly on the west end. The schools are generally good, and there are also some excellent charter school options. We have many LGBTQ families in our schools, along with a high degree of diversity in general. Good luck with your move! 

    Hi,

    We were looking for the same thing (we are a diverse couple), and ended up buying in Albany.  We considered Berkeley as well, but did not end up with a house we liked there, and the housing market there is much more competitive.  Another option we considered very heavily is the (Island Republic of) Alameda.  Alameda is great, probably our favorite in many ways, but did not have good commute options for us.  For all of those, you probably can find a house in your price range, but that is the lower end of the price range in any of the cities.  Based on a quick search, out of the 10 houses recently sold in Albany, only 3 sold for $850k or less.  Not that I put tremendous stock in it, but Albany's schools are always rated 9/10 or 10/10.  Much more important to me, Albany has immersion after-school programs in Spanish or Chinese (based on which elementary school you go to).   In terms of diversity, looking at the school numbers on Great Schools, Albany is less diverse than Berkeley, more middling in terms of diversity.  Walking around the streets, Albany appears more diverse that the school numbers would led me to believe - likely because it is a tiny town smack between Berkeley and El Cerrito, both of which might be considered more diverse.

    Speaking of which, I have not checked in a while, but El Cerrito was considerably cheaper when we were looking.  It also has two BART stops.  

    Good luck!

    We live in El Cerrito and really love the neighborhood and our school.  El Cerrito is close enough to Berkeley and Oakland to still be able to easily access all the fun those cities have to offer.  We have awesome parks, a rec center with pool, libraries, natural food store, brewing company, movie theater, local cafes and shops and largers chains like Trader Joes and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  El Cerrito is also BART accessible with two stations stopping here.  The homes are somewhat affordable (prices are going up currently but a few yrs ago you could definitely buy a 3 bedroom house with a yard for that amount).  We send our kids to Crestmont School in the El Cerrito/Richmond Hills (https://www.crestmontschool.org/).  It provides a wonderful, diverse, nurturing environment.  It is a co-op so the tuition is much less than other private schools and the community is tight-knit and conscientious about diversity and family differences. It is small and has a community school house feel.  Check it out!

    Don't discount Oakland schools. Oakland gets a bad rap in so many ways, yet there is so much to love. It is extremely diverse, family friendly, amazing food, LGBTQ friendly, and yes, have great schools. Like previous poster said, don't rely on test scores or great schools.org to be the only data in your school research. When we applied to K, we had more than the 6 allowed schools you can apply for that I would send my kids to. She is now in 1st grade and extremely happy in an Oakland public school.

    As for buying a home within your budget, that may be more challenging, but there are still some diverse, affordable areas. Some areas to look are Maxwell Park, Dimond District, Santa Fe, Longfellow, Laurel, Golden Gate...

    Good luck!

    We just moved to the El sobrante section of Richmond and love it so far! Our 12m old will likely attend Valley View elementary which parents seem to like. The neighborhood is diverse but a little light on the LGBT families as far as we have seen so far but we are queer and recruiting;)

    I like to tell parents the best determining factor for a child's success has little to do with the school they attend and more to do with the family environment they come from. Parents (caregivers) who care and are involved in their child's education both at school and at home make the difference no matter where their child attends school. They also make the difference at the schools their children attend. Schools with not-great test scores but great parent involvement should not be ruled out. We attend a fantastic school in Pinole (Ellerhorst) after moving here two years ago. It is very diverse in every way you can imagine- we have socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, ability diversity (we have 3 classrooms for severely and non-severely handicapped children) and political diversity. We have a strong and committed PTA and a very active Dads Club. I'm so happy to be part of this community. Some other pluses of this particular area (Pinole Valley-the community that begins at the east side of the freeway off the Pinole Valley Road exit) are the lush rolling hills with hiking trails, the wildlife, the better summer weather and safety. My big kid can ride his bike freely throughout the valley with the other neighborhood kids. But hurry before home prices get crazy- prices here are starting to take off! 

    Loving Pinole

    Oakland is really wonderful but it's also blown up, price-wise. And there's no such thing as an affordable private school. You have to come look at Richmond. I'm in Each Richmond Heights, but there are many really fantastic neighborhoods here. You can contact me off-line. We have an amazing LGBTQ community and a diverse elementary school. Same-same about test scores, that's often a reflection of how many English-language-learners there are, which = diversity. Talk to parents at the schools you are thinking of and come look at them. 

    I agree with the first poster. School ratings correspond to test scores, which correspond to the socioeconomic status of the children’s parents, which of course often correlates with race. People say they want diversity, but then they don’t tolerate it in their schools, except in very small amounts. Sorry to be blunt, but places like Oakland don’t need more gentrifiers who don’t want to be part of the community.

    Take a look at Alameda. There are lots of LGBTQ families. Housing is not affordable overall, but there are still nice smaller homes available in the price range you mentioned. Public schools are good K - 12, with regular and charter options at every level. Very family friendly community, lots of parks, access to the beach. Easy access to BART, SF, etc. We've never regretted moving there!

    Another vote here for considering more than test scores (which might as well be a proxy for housing costs, it's so closely related to local average income) when considering local public school districts!  School quality is about a lot more than numeric "ratings".

    For whatever it's worth, even in school districts with an overall poorer reputation, such as Oakland and West Contra Costa, involved parents tend to like the elementary schools very much.  Your children are so young that a lot can change between now and when they are ready to graduate from high school, and you don't know yet whether they may have any special needs in school (even well-rated schools often don't do a great job of supporting kids who are exceptionally gifted or who have learning disabilities or other particular challenges).  So if you find an area that's a good fit for your family, you may want to start your kids in the neighborhood school and revisit the private school decision when they reach middle or high school age.

    All that said: Besides Oakland, and El Sobrante/Pinole/Hercules as suggested by the previous person, consider Albany (there are condos selling in your price range; the town is very white but is adjacent to more racially diverse neighborhoods, and there's a substantial LGBTQ+ presence) and El Cerrito, and also San Leandro and Castro Valley (I have a few friends who've bought homes in that area after being priced out of Berkeley/Albany, and they are very happy with their neighborhoods and grade schools; none of them happen to be LGBTQ but in general, those cities are a lot more diverse than anything east of the hills). 

    Hello, and welcome to the area! We bought in Oakland in December 2017 for 750K (I still feel my heart rate jump when I say that) and we are really happy with our neighborhood. My daughter is finishing up the school year in Berkeley and will be starting at a public school in Oakland in the fall. It's not our neighborhood school but it is a diverse public school not too far and we're hopeful about it. I would echo the words of other parents that test scores reflect little more than the socioeconomic status of the families, not the dedication and strength of the teachers. BPN is actually a great forum for parent feedback about specific schools, so you can search old posts when it comes time to make your school selections. So I wouldn't write off Oakland just yet. We live in Fairfax, close to Maxwell Park, and I think you can still buy for under $800K there. Happy to talk more - and recommend a great realtor! - if you want to message me :)

    I'd second previous poster's glowing recommendations of Pinole. I can't speak personally to the experience of LGBT families, but can say that there does appear to be a lot of diversity here (ethnic, economic, generational, etc). My 20-month daughter and I go to our local playground almost every day and see kids there from all different backgrounds. Our neighborhood has a lot of empty-nesters but also a LOT of new families moving in. We're probably going to send our daughter to the East Bay Waldorf School for at least her preschool education, which would not be everyone's choice, but have also heard wonderful things about Ellerhorst and are still thinking seriously about going the public route for grade school. I'm happy to talk in more detail if it would help -- feel free to PM me :)

    We recently decided to relocate to Davis for better home prices (yes, you can buy for under 850 there) and strong schools.

    I know a couple families in Oakland who weren't happy with their public school assignments this year (mostly because the assigned school was very far from their homes) that have been looking at St. Theresa school in Oakland. It is a Catholic school but according to the families I know, it is very welcoming to non-Catholic families. It is significantly cheaper than ordinary private school, although obviously more than public. Might be worth a look. 

    Hi, welcome to the Bay Area!  I’m sure you’ll hear a lot of this, and you probably know this already if you’ve looked around much, but even a 2-ber will be impossible to find in Oakland, and even more so in Berkeley/Albany / other parts of Alameda County. You could try the Richmond Annex, but from what I understand your kids will pretty much have to go to private schools if you go that route. I wish your family the best of luck; housing is a real problem here, though other aspects of living here are nice. 

    Check out the Grass Valley neighborhood in Oakland. It’s diverse, quiet and can fit in your 850k budget. We bought here a year ago and couldn’t be happier. We anticipated going with private school when our child reached school age and now we are hearing such great things about our local elementary school that were considering it when our son starts K in another year. I’m happy to answer questions you have about the neighborhood. 

    Just here to echo what previous posters have said - you should definitely have a look at West Contra Costa. I grew up in Oakland and went through the city's public school system but when I moved back to the Bay Area two years ago and started looking to buy a home, I was deterred by how poorly the public schools were rated. Granted, one shouldn't entirely judge the system on these ratings, but with friends who actually teach in some of these Oakland public schools who shared some not so great stories with me, we figured it was worth widening our house-hunting options (and who knows, perhaps in a few years' time, Oakland public schools will be doing better with the shift in demographics/continued gentrification of the city...as another poster pointed out, parental involvement is critical). In any event, we were pleasantly surprised when we ended up buying in El Cerrito. This city also seems to be going through a demographic shift, with a mix of an older generation who've probably lived here all their lives and younger families/couples moving in. Our kids are still young so haven't entered the public schools yet, thus, I can't speak to that, but we're also liking its proximity to Berkeley/SF/Oakland in case we need to head to any of those spots. Overall, we've been really happy with our decision to move out this way.

    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. 

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  • Family of 4 relocating from Midwest to East Bay....

    (4 replies)

    Hi Everyone, We are a family of 4 moving from southwest Michigan to East Bay Area, we have money saved and still waiting to hear back from jobs. We will be permanently moving in June 2018 and looking for a rental house for around 1600 to 2500. We like to live in Walnut Creek, Orinda, Moraga, El Cerritos,San Leandro area, with nice areas for our kids to grow up around( ages 2 years old and 1 years old). Looking for a diverse, long term community for our family to join. Thanks to all in advance! 

    Hi there, if you're looking for ethnic and income diversity, El Cerrito or San Leandro is your best bet. Moraga, Orinda, and Walnut Creek are very white and affluent. I've lived in both El Cerrito and Moraga as a child and an adult, and while Moraga is a safer place (less serious crime), I much prefer El Cerrito. My neighbors are friendlier and genuine,and I feel much more of a sense of community than I ever did in Moraga. As for rent, you will have a very hard time finding a house in your price range in Moraga, Orinda, Walnut Creek, or El Cerrito. I don't know much about the San Leandro market. A 2 bedroom 2.5 bath 1800 sq ft townhome in my old neighborhood in Moraga rented for $3,500/month. A 2 bedroom 1.5 bath house on my street in El Cerrito is renting for $4,100/month. You may be able to find a 2 bedroom apartment in your price range in El Cerrito, but it will be pretty minimal and won't be in a great neighborhood. I hope other people have more helpiful advice for you, good luck!

    You'll be lucky to find a studio apartment in most of those areas at the top of your price range. San Leandro is probably your best bet of those areas, but you can also look into Hayward to the south, Hercules, El Sobrante, and Pinole to the north. Clayton maybe to the east. Craigslist tends to have most of the available options, so check on there. I live in Fairview (unincorporated Hayward), our rent is near the top of your range with enough bedrooms for your family to be comfortable, we like our elementary school (even though the ratings/test scores are low), it's definitely diverse, and there's lots of kid-friendly and often free places to go. BUT, if we were to try to move now, I'm not sure we'd find an available house in your price range- though our rent increases each year, the market rates are sky high and increasing. Prepare for the price of living shock- it's a different world than West Michigan!

     To see what rentals cost in the markets you are interested in, you should peruse Craigslist. Single family homes in Moraga rent for $3500 and up.  A 2 Bedroom condo (850 sq ft) in Moraga is available right now on Craigslist for $2500.  El Cerrito, Castro Valley, San Leandro may have options for larger single family homes in your price range.   Good luck with your move!

    Please don't move here unless the job situation is settled. I know that you've heard about how expensive it is here, and about how horrible driving is here, but you really have no idea just how difficult it is. You need to know where your jobs are going to be before you consider where to live. Your quality of life is going to change moving out here, and you don't want to worsen it even further by choosing a place to live that requires a 3-4 hour commute (it may not look so far on a map, but that's the reality of the drive). Your budget may not be realistic, depending upon what you want. I'm assuming a house with at least 3 bedrooms and a yard in a safe, nice neighborhood? You are going to need to spend a lot more than 1600-2500. 

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  • 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? ()

    Hi

    We LOVE El Cerrito.  We have kids in El Cerrito schools too.  Don't look only at test scores. These are highly correlated to poverty and don't tell a whole story.  Go and visit and tour. We absolutely love their diversity and believe it will take our kids far.  Also, Mira Vista area as well. Great principal and staff.   Also look at North and East Richmond.   

    See you around the neighborhood!

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Wow, that's crazy. I have lived in hayward for 15 years now, and I love it. It took a major attitude adjustment on my part, because Berkeley was pretty much the center of my universe back then. I'm a single mom, public school teacher - trust me, you can make this work. 

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Thank you all for your comments to date. 

    It's comforting to know that we're not alone. It's helpful to be reminded of great things we have (good jobs, healthy kids, our health, amazing rental home in one of the best neighborhoods in Oakland at below market price, happy marriage, etc.)

    We'll look into Alameda, El Ceritto, Richmond Annex, Dimond, Laurel. Walkability is important for us, but we are beginning to accept that we probably will need to give up walkability We might not be able to walk to shops but we still want to take a neighborhood stroll, so we'd like a safe area. We are a bit afraid of condo's and townhomes, because my husband and I are both musicians. We used to live in an apartment before we had kids and our neighbors complained a lot. I don't think our music is horrible. We used to play paid gigs regularly before we had kids, but I guess some people didn't enjoy hearing us play string and horn instruments. Speaking with different realtors may be helpful. I commute by BART to Civic Center and my husband's work is not near BART, so he drives into San Francisco. We're hoping to keep the commute within 1 hour door-to-door. Our jobs are not flexible and due to the highly specialized area of work, there aren't a lot of employment options out there. In addition, work-from-home arrangement at our companies is rare. [No one works from home at our companies.]

    We have one child in Kindergarten and one child in preschool. We were paying $4000/month childcare until last year when our older child started kindergarten. It was terribly expensive to pay $7500 on rent and childcare every month. We are very happy that we now pay preschool tuition for one kid. We have a babysitter who does after school pick-up, because neither of us can get out of work in time to make the 6 pm pick-up time, which adds expense. We knew we couldn't afford 2 kids and weren't planning to have 2 kids but kid #2 happened miraculously and completely by surprise. Both my husband's and my bosses have commented that we seemed to be missing too many days (2 kids = double the sickness) or aren't in the office long enough, because we want to come home and see our kids before bedtime AND want to limit the childcare expense, as the longer we stay at work, the more money we have to pay the babysitter. Of course, we are exempt employees, so we don't get paid more if we stay longer in the office. 

    One person told us to look at our expenses and save more. We are really trying and are meeting with a financial planner to help us trim the fat even more. I haven't bought new clothes for myself in 2 years, and we try to get hand-me-downs from friends for our kids' clothes as much as possible. It's not easy to save when in addition to rent and childcare, we also have to send money to our parents and grandparents. In 2 years, our younger child will go to elementary school, and hopefully we can speed up the saving. We had never head of SoFi before, but it seems like a great platform for us. 

    We have thought about the possibility of moving closer to my husband's family. Unfortunately, he's from a small rural town in Arkansas. We will not have the job opportunities that we have here. I don't think living 2 hours away (nearest city from his hometown) from the in-laws will be much help in terms of childcare support. 

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Just wanted to say that I can absolutely relate to your frustration. My husband and I make a decent salary, similar to yours, and are stuck in our 1 br condo with 2 kids because we can't afford to rent or buy anywhere else. What we've come to realize is that it doesn't matter what your salary is, it's the quality of life and cost of living that matter... what you have in your bank account at the end of the day... which for us... despite making the most money we ever have, is close to nil. So, that's fantastic that you've been able to save that much money so far!

    I understand your frustration with not getting help from parents. I never cared if our parents helped us financially but found myself feeling resentful that despite being retired and living less than 20 minutes away, they did not help us with our kids, not even for a few hours a week, when other friends' parents watch their preschool aged kids full time. It's cost us an arm and a leg to pay for childcare but I try to remind myself to stop having a pity party and comparing my situation to others. It was our choice to have two kids and it's our responsibility to care for them. We have to take ownership of the choices we make. We can't change the housing market, so we can be angry and dejected or we can do something about it. I hear many families, especially with 2+ kids, are leaving the Bay Area and that's probably what we will end up doing too. Yes, this will require a job change for my husband with a greatly reduced salary. But what's the point of a big salary if you're still broke?

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    You might want to think about this in steps -- start with a two bedroom house and then move to something bigger after you've built up some equity. The other thing is that with a house your children will have outdoor space, so they don't need as much indoor space. Sharing a room works for many, and there are fairly creative ways to subdivide one if you need to. There are some decent neighborhoods in N. West Berkeley and El Cerrito where you could do buy a 2-bedroom in your price range. One big advantage of a closer-in housing unit is that when your children get older they can be more independent -- in the suburbs they will need you to drive them everywhere.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Perhaps I'm giving away one of the best kept secrets in the East Bay..  We moved to Hayward about a year ago and we are very happy with our decision.  My husband works in SOMA and if he takes Bart, he can be in the city in about an hour.  If he takes the ferry, he can be there in a little over an hour but it's a very relaxing ride.

    There are still areas in Hayward that are affordable if you have $140k down payment.  And having lived in Oakland as a home owner and now the same in Hayward, I can say that we much prefer Hayward as far as governance, taxes, level of public service, amenities, safety, etc compared to Oakland.  It doesn't have much of a night life, good eats, shopping, etc. so if you think you'll miss those big city activities, then Hayward might seem a little too quaint.  

    Judy

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Hello,

    I understand your frustration. I'm a Realtor and at your price point, you may still have some options.Don't give up until you have tried!

    I would suggest Laurel District, Maxwell Park El Cerrito, some areas of the Richmond Hills. Of course it is very personal. You should go see this areas, talk to the neighbors. Feel free to contact me and I can send you listings. Or call me and we can chat., and for sure I can drive you around, take you to see some homes.

    Just interview different Realtors, you can choose someone who understands your needs and wants. It won't take too long for you to see if you like this alternatives and then you can make a decision on leaving the Bay Area.

    Best of lucks,

    Mariedda Grynbal

    Mgrynbal [at] aol.com

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Hello,

    Richmond Annex or parts of El Cerrito. We live in the Annex. Make sure when you make your move that you are in a part of El Cerrito or the Richmond Annex where you are Zoned for El Cerrito High School,Not Kennedy or Richmond. We are within that zone but we know of some people who aren't (thought they were) and the current Principal has hinted that the district may try and re-zone such that ECHS will have a smaller area to draw from in the future. This is due to the fact that ECHS has "recovered" its earlier not-so-hotso reputation (the administration of ECHS drives me nuts sometimes but that's a different story, and it's a good school). Fairmont, the elementary used to be kind of ugh, but has recovered over the last several years and is considered a desirable school. 

    . We've lived in the Annex for close to twenty years. Driving into the city never takes more than an hour, BART is a ten minute walk from our house, the transbay bus is about 7 minutes walk. Walk scores around here are high- there are a lot of places we walk to and children can walk to on their own. There are a lot of "regular people" in our neighborhood, though prices have gone up enough (from less than 300K to more like 750K); that may change. 

    I would recommend Albany but even with your funds, you may have missed the boat for that one, especially if you want 3 bedrooms. It's pretty safe here. Kensington might also be a bit of a reach but is pretty nice. At any rate I would move on things soon b/c when I got to open houses in my neighborhood, I again and again hear the refrain of "We live in the city and our agent says this (Richmond Annex) is a hot neighborhood (Still affordable).

    -Chillin' in the RA.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    You aren't chasing the impossible. It just likely that your standards of "decent school" and "safe to walk around with kids" are distorted. You want caviar on a Jiffy peanut butter budget. I'm in 94606. There's a 3 bedroom/2 bath house around the corner listed for $525,000 right now. Even with a bidding war, it's in your price range.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    I've mentioned it before, there is the Richmond Annex. As our son-in-law says, "El Cerrito living at Richmond prices".

    When our daughter there had a child, a neighbor on the next block brought over a large flag of a stork, embroidered with the names of all the children born within a couple of blocks in the last 20 years. For our daughter and son-in-law to embroider next.

    Is there any other neighborhood in the Bay area with a tradition like that? Seems at times the Richmond Annex is frozen in time, like a 1950's neighborhood, where parents embroider a shared stork flag with names of their new children. Most neighborhoods today far more sophisticated than that, perhaps their loss.

    Richmond Annex has El Cerrito Natural Foods too, and the Annex deli next door, both on the Richmond side of the San Pablo sidewalk. And both as sophisticated and as up to date as you might want. Also BART on the other side of San Pablo. Richmond Annex is quite a stimulating combination. And lower home prices.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    It's not the sexiest place to live, especially if you are used to Oakland/Berkeley, but have you considered living further out, like Castro Valley?  The community is safe, good schools, parks, not much else (no real shopping and very few decent restaurants), but still semi-affordable.  It's probably more than an hour's drive to SF, but does have a BART station. 
     

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Dear Frustrated:

    I feel for you. We were able to buy years ago and I do wonder how people do it now. The situation you describe is part of why I believe we are near another peak and are in for a correction. It happens regularly. However, there are no guarantees. If you want to buy now, I would suggest looking at El Cerrito. You mention kids but not schools. If public schools are an issue, than El Cerrito might be preferable to West Oakland. I think Emeryville schools are pretty good. 

    Best of luck.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    I would consider El Cerrito.  You can get a 2-3 bedroom for that price; however, it is very competitive.  They have two BART stations and it will get you to the city in about half hour.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Check out El Cerrito, especially around Harding Elementary. It's cute, flat and walkable (including to the Plaza Bart station).

    problems: not a lot of inventory. Also, houses tend to be on the small side.

    best of luck!

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    I can imagine how frustrating it is. We are one of the lucky ones who just moved back to the Bay Area because my mother is giving us her house.  We live in the Richmond annex and love it. My son is only 2 and will be starting preschool at the Berkeley School in the fall, but we may consider sending him to El Cerrito Public school when he is old enough. If he loves the Berkeley school and we can afford it/get enough assistance we will continue there. I think it would be good to expand your search beyond Berkeley and Oakland. You may need to look into areas that are "up and coming" like Maxwell Park or the Richmond annex. Homes in the Richmond  annex seem to go for between 500-700k and in el Cerrito are probably more around 6-850k.  

    I can only speak for the Richmond Annex/ El Cerrito since that is where we are now and where I have the most experience. In the annex most of the homes are on the smaller side, but there is a home down the street that recently sold and was closer to 2000 sf. there are larger options in El Cerrito. The annex is located in between El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito del Norte Bart station, and the area is zoned for El cerrito public schools which are fine. In fact I know a lot of people that are very happy with them.  Despite Richmond's very negative reputation, the annex is extremely safe. Lately ive heard of people having packages stolen off of there porches and occasional car break ins, but when I lived in Berkeley near the campus, the crime was much worse.  I feel safe walking around at all hours. If you live in the southern part of the Richmond annex you will be within walking distance to EC plaza, Albany bowl, the farmers market, etc. We live in the central annex and are a 10 minute walk from the EC pool, the library, some small shops on San Pablo and two great parks. There is a lot of development along San Pablo in our area and I have high hopes that with all the building they are doing, even more amenities will come into the area.  In the hilly part of the annex, many houses have breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. I feel very, very lucky to live here. I love Berkeley, but there are other great places to live in the area.  This is one of them. 

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Look in El Cerrito or parts of Emryville, Fremont?

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    I know your frustration. You need to look a little farther north.

    El Cerrito has safe neighborhoods, good schools, nice people, and two BART stations. You can still buy what you want in your price range.

    If you don't have an agent, contact Karen Sanders Moss at Marvin Gardens on Fairmont Ave. in El Cerrito. She is an El Cerrito native and knows the area well.

    Former extremeley frustrated North Oaklander

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Have you looked at Albany? That may conform to some of your criteria (decent schools, and prices in your range, maybe).

    I am not a financial advisor, and you may not want to hear this but:

    Financially, it may make more sense to continue to rent. 3500 for rent sounds like a decent deal if you are in a place you like that meets most of your criteria.  The money you spend owning (property tax, insurance, earthquake insurance, maintenance, renovations, interest and more) adds up very, very quickly, more quickly than you can really imagine, and this could all be going into a nice diversified portfolio without the single concentrated risk of a house. I would not count on real estate going up the way it has for the last 20 years; it could but it also might not. Historically, equity markets have done better than real estate; the key is diversification and low transaction costs (index funds, for instance, or a service like wealthfront). 

    I understand the emotional attachment to owning one's home, but from a rational, realistic point of view I would really look critically at whether or not it is worth it. The interest tax deduction probably won't even cover the property tax. And you may get hit with AMT trying to deduct local taxes. Even as a long term investment, it may not make sense. I know what I'm saying goes against the american home ownership dream, but I have been advised caution on home ownership by many a savvy financial advisor (not TV talking heads). It took reams of excel spreadsheets to convince me, but we chose to be happy in a decent rental and not rush until the time was right while we watched our savings grow. We rented for years before buying during the crash. Sure, I wasn't able to nest as much as I would have liked but it was one of the best decisions we ever made. I know plenty of people who lost their homes by over-extending themselves. There will probably be another crash.

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    That is depressing. The Bay Area is really expensive and it is hard to get ahead. I don't want my kids to move back here - too difficult to make a decent living and have a comfortable life. I moved away from Oakland a few years ago, but I wish I'd kept my house with what you are saying about home prices. We spend ten years in Redwood Heights in Oakland. It was our first home (when we were in our 30s) and was a great place to start or even to stay longer term. If that area is too bid up, what about The Laurel, an adjacent neighborhood? How about considering San Leandro? Again, I may be out of touch as I left a few years ago, but those may be options. Also, if you can take Bart to your jobs, how about looking in Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek? There are also townhomes in Moraga and Lafayette that are below a million and should be big enough for a family of four. Just today a realtor friend of mine was talking about a townhome that was $900,000 in Lamorinda. If you land in a good school district, then you won't have to pay for private school - bonus! Good luck!

    RE: Are we chasing the impossible? ()

    Thats really tough. Have you considered moving a little away and taking Bart to the City? That may open up more areas for you. I hear that Dublin and San Ramon areas have great schools and nice housing.. best wishes.

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  • Next great *affordable* city/town/neighborhood?

    (9 replies)

    Hello BPN Community,

    I'm in a situation that I'm guessing many of us are finding ourselves in.  I and my 4-year old son currently live in Oakland but the cost of living/housing in the area is so daunting that I am thinking of moving in the next year to be able to put down some roots in a more economically feasible area and avoid changing schools down the road. I'm wistful for the days when Oakland was the hidden gem of the Bay Area. Does anyone know of any up-and-coming places to live? I would love to find a place where rent isn't so insane that I could eventually save enough to purchase a house in the same area, but I'm not sure that place exists. Off the top of my head I'm wondering about San Leandro and El Cerrito (rents there seem a little less than what I'm seeing in Alameda/Berkeley/Oakland right now).  Any feedback would be greatly appreciated!

    I wanted to chime in and give my vote for Hercules too. We moved here from Albany and have been extremely happy. We have a five year old and have met other young families. We've done lots of classes at the Park and Rec and there are wonderful programs at the library. It is peaceful and pretty. Having grown up in the inner Bay Area it was hard for us to accept being priced out of everything from Oakland to Richmond Annex but now I'm glad: Hercules has turned it to be a real gem. Pinole is lovely too.

    West Contra Costa County! We moved to Pinole in 2013 and are now very happily settled in with our 8-month-old daughter, planning to stay here for a long while. We feel like it's perfectly situated on the line between semi-rural (we have hiking trails in the hills behind our development, and neighbors with horses) and semi-urban (there's an independent coffeeshop downtown, a commuter bus that runs to Del Norte BART, a Saturday farmer's market, and very talented community theater). My husband commutes to Berkeley for work, which has good days and bad days, but is generally manageable. And when we are craving more culture, Berkeley and San Francisco are easy to get to. I can definitely feel the place shifting as more young professionals get priced out of Berkeley/Oakland -- the elementary schools are OK, middle and high school are by report not-so-great, but I would not be surprised if they look very different in 10 years.

    Hope this helps. Happy to answer any more questions if you've got them!

    We love El Cerrito and there are definitely many young families moving here from Berkeley and Oakland in order to get larger homes and access to the public schools. However housing inventory is low and prices have gone up as a result so affordable is relative. Our neighbors across the street just sold their home for $140k over list price! If you get the right location you have access to some great public schools and the town is small enough that it has a community feel - my kids are always running into kids they know at classes and summer camps. 

    One hidden gem if you are willing to go further North is Hercules. We just bought a relatively affordable condo out there for my mother-in-law and they are adjacent to   a highly ranked elementary school (both her neighbors have young children and moved out there for affordable housing and decent schools). They feel very safe and find the area beautiful and friendly. Our next door neighbors in El Cerrito who had been renting their home but just had a baby also elected to leave and buy a place in Hercules, and I have heard of others doing the same. So I think that is a city that is up and coming for families. 

    We live in Pinole after ten years in Oakland and are very happy here.  It was a big culture shock at first, we accidentally called the police on the paper boy because a decade in Oakland told us that a man going slowly from house to house at 4 am was up to no good.  I don't know about your price point, but I think you can rent a nice 3 bedroom house around here for $2600 and a 2 bedroom apartment for around $1900.  Small houses like ours seem to be selling for around $500-550k.  It's cheaper because the commute to the city is awful, but my husband commutes to Berkeley and it's not bad.  I have a reverse commute to Solano County and that is smooth as butter.  Pinole is a great place for kids.  There are awesome parks and a lot of nature and in general it's just very chill and safe.  We have a newly built Sprouts, a Trader Joe's, a third wave coffee place, a weekly farmer's market, and a bunch of mom and pop restaurants.  There are not a lot of cultural opportunities though, and we still head into Berkeley/Oakland at least once a week.  As far as schools, I toured Ellerhorst Elementary (a 7 on Great Schools) and talked to a lot of people in the neighborhood and people raved about it.  I have no idea what we'll do for middle/high school since their reputations aren't great, but they are both newly rebuilt and who knows what they will be like by then.  In general, I think that Pinole is a "hidden gem" in the Bay Area because driving through on the freeway makes it look like just a bunch of big-box stores, but it's so much more. When we wanted to buy we just kept driving up 80 until we could afford something, but now that we're here I've turned into a Pinole booster! Good luck with your search!    

    Dear JC5,

    My husband and I were in the same boat as you about a year ago. We had been living in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Oakland's Lake Merritt and loved it, but was not affordable for us to grow our family there. We ended up moving to San Leandro's Old Downtown neighborhood which is definitely more affordable than our old Oakland neighborhood and still has a lot of charm.  I really feel like this is the next hidden spot that is still affordable. We live walking distance to the downtown shops, restaurants and a weekly farmers market.  We have met several of our neighbors that have moved into this area from Oakland in the past 5 years on average. So, I get the feeling that it is slowly becoming discovered.  By writing this post I risk making it more discoverable, but at the same time we are always excited to meet new neighbors here that are like minded. One word of caution would be to avoid the Bayfair District of San Leandro which tends to be the sketchier part of town. Good luck!

    I would check out San Ramon.  The community is diverse, the public schools are fantastic, it is safe and a family oriented community.  San Ramon has apartments but they also have very affordable townhouses and free standing homes.  The town houses are much less expensive than the free standing homes.  El Cerrito and San Leandro do not have as good public schools and are not as safe as San Ramon.  San Ramon is only 25 minutes from Oakland.

    I am a homeowner in El Cerrito, and what I hear from my local renter friends is that it is not affordable (any more). I'd suggest looking to Richmond (maybe Marina Bay), Pinole, or Hercules. Also investigate if you qualify for affordable housing developments in the various cities you're considering (income limits vary by county). Some of them are very nice and well situated.

    The answer is Richmond! 

    We've lived in the Richmond Annex for almost ten years, and own a house there that is much more affordable than similar places in the East Bay.  And we love it.  Richmond has a reputation of being dangerous, but crime has gone way down in the last decade -- I personally had more problems when we lived in Temescal.  Our neighborhood is very friendly, progressive, and truly diverse (including economically diverse).  The shopping isn't great, and there's not much fine-dining (amazing casual Latin American and Asian places though), but as long as you have a car or live close to one of the three Bart stations in the area (EC Plaza, EC Del Norte, Richmond), you'll be fine.  Richmond is also amazingly progressive: we're a sanctuary city, elected a Green mayor, had the first openly gay police chief, pioneered community policing programs, and so on. 

    Check out Point Richmond (though that part is quite expensive), the Annex, the North and East neighborhood, and the Marina (lots of rental housing there).  Message me if you have questions!

    El Cerrito for sure in my mind. Much more affordable but still close to all the great things in the area. Also check out the Richmond Annex area-it is pretty small but because of the Richmond address the prices are lower but very little crime and still close to all that is great about the Bay Area. Also the Richmond Annex area goes to El Cerrito schools which are rated middle of the road but I have friends that have kids in the schools there and love it. 

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  • Housing under $1700 near Brisbane and French Program

    (17 replies)

    Hello,

    My husband is being transferred to the Bay Area in July. Moving from Brooklyn. I've been reading about the unaffordable housing market in San Francisco and am slightly worried... Our rental budget is max $1700 (ideally less). Anyone moving to Brooklyn? Maybe we can swap apartments? Or can anyone recommend an area or neighborhood that's affordable with low crime? How far out should we be looking? 

    If we can't find a public school we may homeschool. My son is in a French language program and really likes it, are there any French programs in the Bay Area (free, public or charter)?

    Thank you very much!

    M.

    Hi there, closer to Brisbane for more (on a relative scale) affordable housing you can look at Brisbane proper, South San Francisco, Daly City, and San Bruno.  We just moved from Millbrae (referenced by previous poster) because we were priced out of the housing purchase market there, and bought in Berkeley instead.  I don't know what the going rate is for apartment rentals now but the schools are very highly rated so I'd expect to pay rent accordingly (and I would expect far above $1700).  

    Think about someplace closer to Brisbane -- Daly City (a very multi-cultural place, mostly different Asian cultures), Brisbane, Millbrae. You also would be near the Outer Mission/Sunset in SF. I don't know what rents are like there now. 

    Thank you for the helpful advice. My husband will be working in Brisbane, we are flexible and willing to make sacrifices. I'm sure we can squeeze into a tiny apartment for a year or so. 

    I grew up in San Diego and have been waiting for the chance to move back to California. We've been very lucky, we live in a great neighborhood in Brooklyn, rent controlled apartment, way under market rate. (Been here nearly 20 years). Nice school with a French program, progressive community. But we are ready for change! 

    I will check out the recommended neighborhoods. As for schools, I'm happy to homeschool, we just need to be close to an excellent public library. 

    Thank you everyone!

    I think $1700 for a family may be tough unless you're willing to squeeze in a 1 bedroom. SF has a lottery school system, but here's a link for school districts: https://www.niche.com/k12/rankings/public-school-districts/best-overall/...

    Good luck

    Charter French school in Oakland: http://francophoneschool.org/

    With a budget of $1700 look in Martinez, parts of Concord or Hayward.

    Hi, I'm pretty sure you'll hear this from others, and I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not possible to find housing here in your price range.  Studio apts may occasionally appear at $1700, but not 1 bedroom (and I'm not sure if even a 1 bdr would work for 3 of you?). There are private schools in both SF and the East Bay that are bilingual French; private school costs $20,000 -$30,000/year or higher, though partial scholarships are sometimes available. If you do find an apt listed at $1700, check the neighborhood carefully. I wish you the best and wish I had better news (or some advice!) for you, it's just really tough here now. A room in someone's house can go for $1300-$1400 month. Best of luck. 

    When people say there's a housing crisis in the bay area, it's not a lie. For that price, you may be able to find a studio, maybe 1 bedroom, apartment in an area about 1.5 hours commute to the city. If you just want a room in someone else's apartment, you could get closer to the city and/or be in a safer neighborhood. You could look in the Vallejo (north) to Hayward (south) area in the East Bay, and point in between, and have a reasonable commute, but beware there are some really sketchy areas, especially in parts of Vallejo, Richmond, and Oakland- but some nice (though correspondingly expensive) areas too. If you're up for a longer commute, you could look into Tracy, Stockton, and Mountain House, but if you're traveling during rush "hour", you'd count your commute time in hours.

    I'd advise that you carefully consider how much money you'd be making here to judge if it's really worth it to move, or how much lower your standard of living will need to be, even with an objective salary increase.

    The housing is indeed crazy expensive here. I suggest that you look into Zillow and Craigslist to get a gauge. Price is also determined on the school rating. 

    Outside SF, Peninsula area is generally more expensive than the east bay.  And also depend on how long/ far you are willing to commute to work.

    Hello!  and soon welcome to the bay!  We just relocated from Indianapolis about a month ago.  In truth, I fear your "rent-spectations' might be unrealistic... We were hard pressed to find a place that would suit our families needs (family of 4) for under 3000.00/mo (we were searching in San Rafael, SF, Albany and Berkeley).  We now have a 2 bed 1 bath 1000 sq ft duplex with as small yard, and minimal amenities in the 3000.00/mo price range (read: outdated appliances, non renovated for at least 40yrs interior, good neighborhood in Berkeley).  Perhaps if you looked further out, you may find something less expensive... or if you can live in a 1bed apartment, you may find something nice... 
    I'm unfortunately not familiar with much outside of the areas we were searching, though depending where your husband will work, Sonoma is reasonable, as are, likely, further out parts of the east bay and some areas south of SF.  

    We are just entering school world (First is in Kindergarten), though know that in Berkeley anyway, public schools are on a lottery system, so you order the ones in your district by preference and get what they give you in the end.  One of the schools in our district has a Spanish program, though my son did not get into that one. Perhaps some more seasoned parents can speak to the French Language schooling opportunities...

    Best of luck and I do hope you get all you are looking for!!!! You will love the Bay Area!  It truly is an incredible place to live!!!

    There's a French-language charter school in the Oakland hills (by the zoo, I believe.) Our neighbors send their kids there: http://francophoneschool.org/

    If you have rock solid references and can act very, very quickly, $1700 *MIGHT* cover the rent for one single bedroom within a home or apartment in San Francisco city limits. If you can look further out, you might be able to find some 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartments out in Concord, Antioch or Pittsburg for that price range. This would work best for people whose jobs in the city are close to a BART station, and would mean commutes of 90 minutes each way.

    If I'm being honest, I do not recommend the move if that is absolutely the maximum amount of rent you can afford. As a young couple, it might be more doable, but with kids I just don't see a home conducive to a family with kids in that budget. Yes, rents are cooling, but not that quickly.

    As to the French schools, how old is your son? There are a couple of French language preschool programs and private schools, but my Haitian friends weren't able to find a French language elementary or middle school that met their needs. Doesn't mean they don't exist, just means with a bit more information about age, requirements (immersion, one school period a day, after school, etc) we might be able to help identify any that would keep him happy.

    There's a new-ish French charter school in Oakland: francophoneschool.org.

    There is a French immersion charter school (Francophone Charter School of Oakland) that may be able to accommodate you depending on your son's age; the lottery for next year has already run but things always shift over the summer and spots may open up, especially if he is in grades 1-4 and already proficient in French. That housing budget is going to be extremely tough, however. There's not much in Oakland/Berkeley/surrounds in that price range (and what is there will generally be a 1BR). If you don't need to be close to San Francisco you could look further out in Contra Costa County or even Vallejo if you're hoping for a 2+BR at that price point. You might also consider looking to share a house with another family if you want to be closer in. Good luck!

    I think that you're going to have a difficult time finding a decent rental with that budget. Where is your husband's job going to be? There's definitely more affordable housing the farther away you go but you should be choosing areas to look at based upon where his job will be. Certain commutes are much harder than others. For example, the commute from Berkeley to Silicon Valley is hideous and not something that you'd want to voluntarily sign up for. But the commute from Berkeley to a job that's close to BART isn't bad at all (most days!).

    I can't speak to your apartment search but there is a French charter school in Oakland called Francophone Charter School of Oakland. If your son speaks French he should have a good chance to get in. There's also a private school called Ecole Bilingue but it's pretty pricey.

    Hi and welcome!

    The Berkeley-based ecole bilingue goes k-8 but is pricey. There is a charter French school (free!) that opened last year in Oakland.

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  • Household Salary of $140k a year, how far will it go in The Peninsula?

    (13 replies)

    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?

    If you want to have any money leftover on the $140K year salary, Id say drop the private school idea until your child is older. I really dont think sending a young elementary aged child to a private school is worth it, but thats just my opinion for what its worth. Wouldn't you rather have money for fun weekends to explore the Bay Area? Summer vacations? And until you go back to work, it would be cheaper to rent house, especially since you're not even sure what town/what area you want to live in. And Fremont has the kind of things you seem to be looking for, but like other posters said, it will definitely be an hour commute on BART (which I think would be kind of relaxing frankly) but it is 40 miles from SF. San Leandro is a nice family community and you get good bang for your buck in terms of housing costs, but I have a feeling it has more crime than other suburbs around the SF area and might not be the kind of chi chi I think you're describing. If you're willing to rent, look in the San Mateo area. 

    Hi, and welcome to the Bay Area!

    As some people have mentioned San Leandro, as a very happy resident and home owner (4+ years) in San Leandro, it's a great town. Very down to earth, friendly, and it's a great place to live. Our next door neighbors send their kids to St Leander's Catholic school and love it. Their two sons are great - friendly, polite, and engaging. The school is about a mile from their house. Their oldest now goes to Moreau Catholic High School (13 miles from us, he chose it over St John's in Alameda, which is about 7 miles from us) in Hayward and he loves it and his parents also really like the high school. (he wanted more sports and drama opportunities which is why he chose Moreau). If I remember right, Catholic school tuition is about $6000 per year per student and scholarships are available. We really like St Leander's church. 

    We currently live on $115k, have no debt except for our house, own our cars, and yes, we can absolutely make it financially. We live without cable tv (not interested in it nor the expense), but buy organic (mostly at costco because it's so convenient and nearby), BART is nearby (1 mile) and if you're smart with your money (as it sounds like you are), then you can definitely live comfortably. But I would recommend that you avoid lengthy commutes as traffic here is formidable, and most people avoid being on the road during commute times if at all possible. Live and go to school locally, especially if you can use BART for commuting to work. 

    I'm happy to tell you more about San Leandro if you want to send a message through the moderator. 

    Hi!

    I agree with others that $140K is low for your wishes, particularly the school in Atherton. Atherton is a very, very, very wealthy town. Admission into such a desirable school would be a lottery for anyone (many applicants, few spots), and a financial aid pool of $5m for a K-12 school is by no means a particularly large amount. You would not likely qualify for much financial aid if any on $140k (and both parents would be required to work, so your income will be higher). Honestly, you should be looking at your current child care/housing needs, not four years away, we have so many wonderful private & public & parochial schools. 

    Walnut Creek, Concord, Dublin, Pleasonton, Livermore, WCC, Fremont appear to be better matches if you want a newer house (not a cute older bungalow), more conservative folks around you (if that's what you mean by Christian), and don't mind commuting to work.

    Another poster said Fremont is predominantly immigrant Indians -- true -- but that means strong family values emphasizing good schools, safe streets, conservative morals, financially ambitious -- and the schools are excellent. People will be of several different religions including Christians, but there will be more actively practicing religious people in Fremont than in many other areas around here -- so you will not be out of place if you attend church weekly, speak about God, etc. I'm sad that the other poster didn't like being the only white person in the mall, that's how people of color feel in pretty much every single other place in the US and we just have to deal with it, so why can't white folks deal with it too? And religion = loving God, so why should a religious person care if folks pray at a Catholic church, protestant church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc.? India has freedom of religion, and millions of Christians are accepted & welcome there. 

    I'm one of the earlier posters, and based on your updated info I'd suggest looking at places on the Peninsula, like Redwood City (traditionally cheaper than its more upper-middle class neighbor, San Carlos, but easy access to Caltrain to SF and lots of good restaurants, community, etc.). You might want to check out Atherton and the school before setting your heart on it; there is no shortage of good schools in the Bay Area, and depending on your child's emerging personality you might change your mind in a few years. In other words, I'd suggest keeping your options open, rather than basing a life on a school that your child may not end up attending or, in the worst case, be admitted to. Walnut Creek, in my opinion, isn't a good place to bide your time over the next 3 years. The commute to SF from Walnut Creek isn't great (riding a crowded, unpleasant BART train everyday, especially all the way to Walnut Creek, takes a psychological toll even if your husband is used to commuting). Instead I suggest moving directly to the Peninsula; there are lots of communities there, all with a bit of their own flavor/culture, and only living there will give you a good sense of the place. The East Bay has a very different feel overall (even Walnut Creek, which has always seemed to be more Peninsula-like than most other places in the East Bay), but if you're set on it and don't mind a BART commute to SF, then you could also look further east -- Castro Valley, Dublin, and Pleasanton are safe and (relatively) more affordable than places closer to SF. 

    To be honest $140k might not be enough if you want to send you kid to a $40k a year private school, eat organic and rent or even buy in the peninsula/bay area. You can buy your groceries from farmer's markets, whole foods, ethnic grocery stores, safeway, there is no lack of restaurant and variety of grocery stores here. 

    I greatly appreciate all your detailed posts!

    The school is called Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA. It's exactly what I want for my child : runs from K-12, is Catholic, and independent (not under the diocese ).

    We could rent in Walnut Creek and possibly move somewhere else in the Bay Area near the school in 3-4 years. I'll try find a private -own place. I still wish to move near the school this early to build relationships, a strong sense of community and social skills for both child and myself. I'm a stay at home mom with no friends in the US and it is bad for me too.

    Husband's company give bonuses and stocks.

    I'm using trulia to search for housing because it also gives me a crime heat map of the area.

    If you would mention the city in the Peninsula where the school is, it would be very helpful.  There is a big commute difference between SF and Palo Alto vs SF and Millbrae.  Honestly if it were me, I would focus on living in the same town as you want your kid to go to school, if you don't, you'll soon find as they grow a little older that they will be isolated.  You will have built a community of friends whom you can never easily see, play dates and school events will all be a hassle.  People will think twice including you knowing you have to drive there and then wait around to drive back.  All the spontaneity of your relationships will not exist.  Part of a community feeling (in my eyes anyway) is running into people in the grocery store, at the library, having people you can call in a moments notice to watch the kids if you have an emergency.  These relationships usually come through the school your kids go to.  This is just my opinion but I would rethink how great you think this private school is, there a lots of good ones and trust me lots of good public schools to avoid the cost.  Also check with them to see if you would really get financial help BEFORE you base your whole life around it. 

    Renting is great.  We rented last year after being away for many years, lots of nice families live in rentals, lots of tech families.  Keep this in mind though - most rental management companies have become predatory about money. They WILL raise your rent the next year by $200-400 on average.  Most WILL make you sign another one year lease - no month to month.  If you want to live there only another 6 months, most will charge you a LOT more.  For example, we had a 2br/2ba semi-nice semi-run down apt in Mountain View last year with a top ranked elementary school near by, nice pool, not close to anything but still had lots of google or linked in tech families.  We paid $3000 a month.  That did NOT include water and garbage (which used to be included in the rent but no longer are) which added about $125 per month so our rent was really $3125.  When the end of one year lease was coming up, they wanted us to sign a new one for $3300 per mo or $3425 if you throw in the Water/Garbage and that is at the 12 month rate. A 3 month lease at something like $8000 PER MONTH - or just one extra month would be $12,000 PER MONTH!!   So you must take that into account.  The other thing is the rents fluctuate not just seasonally but daily, however generally you will pay 15-25% more per month if you sign you lease in the summer when there is most demand.  

    To avoid this you could consider renting a condo/house from a private owner, I don't think they try to squeeze so much.

    But despite the above, we loved renting and at one year we had to move out anyway for other reasons.  I would have liked to stay another 2 months but instead we crashed at my mom's house.  We were only in the area for one year on sabbatical but had we planned to stay longer we definitely would have bought a condo or townhome which the mortgage would be about the same - I am not taking about a new one or a big one but you may find that you can adjust just fine, there are LOTS of people in the Bay Area who live in homes that aren't as nice as where they lived before.

    I totally agree with the other poster who said that Fremont would be a crazy commute. 

    140k sounds low for this area. I would say you'd need closer to 180-220k for house savings, private school, organic food, etc. It's really hard to save here and most people I meet have financial support from wealthy parents. I'm assuming your husband wasn't offered big bonuses and stock options. If you have a lucrative career you can get back into in 5 years without having to work your way up and your husband is willing to switch to a job with more benifits I think you could consider this 5 years as a holding period.

    Thanks for the posts so far! I want to update that the company will allow husband to work from home two days per week, and they also provide free breakfast, lunch and dinner for the employees (and snacks). The private school in mind offers financial aid (they gave 5 million in financial aid for one academic year), so we are hoping we could get some. The commute to the school is what makes me unsure about Fremont (since husband doesn't mind 1 hour commute because he has done it before in another country for 2 years). I'm looking as far as San Bruno (the last station of the BART for the Peninsula) and Fremont (last station in the south of the East bay). Both cities are 45 minutes away from this school, but I can't find anything cheaper than $3,000 (for a 2 bath) near the school.

    Maybe church attendee connections could help us find a cheaper place, but we don't know anyone.

    Maybe we won't be buying a house, because we are open to other far future opportunities, and renting sounds like a better option for us, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    It's all going to depend what you want out of life.  Driving from Fremont to the Peninsula is in the heart of the commute will easily take well over an hour each way in the morning.  And if the afternoon hour and a half if you are lucky.   I've lived in the Bay Area all my life.  Not sure if you are aware but there is a very large Indian population in Fremont.  I recently went to the mall there and what a culture shock.  I'm white, but out of the thousands there I was the only while person there.  I mentioned that it a friend and he said guess you haven't been to Fremont in a while.  The restaurants, stores,  clothing stores all cater to the Indian population.  You mention you are Christin, you might be in the minority as I know there are several mosques and other non-christens in that part of the Bay.

    Seems strange the company is not providing any money towards housing for a move to the Bay Area.  My son right out of college was being offered $10,000 to $20,000.  Not sure if you've looked at housing prices but doubt you would want to live anywhere for under $1.5M unless you are into micro-housing..  I've have to say $140K, may sound like a lot, but I think you will find in the Bay Area it won't go far.  Most companies have a cost of living salary adjustment and I was surprised to learn Bay Area is even high than New York/Manhattan.

    You didn't mention where your husband will be working but that should be a factor.  Rush hour traffic is from 5:30am until 10:30 and from 2:30 until 7:30 at night.  (And can be just as bad on weekends.)  Depending on where you live his commute will easily take an hour if not 2 or more each way.  We keep building high density housing and no new freeways.  I know from Oakland I can fly to LA and get to the Santa Monica office faster than I can get to our San Jose office.

    What makes the Bay Area wonderful is what has attracted so many people here.  If you scrimp and make sacrifices you'll be able to do it.

    You might want to consider looking in Concord, Walnut Creek, Livermore, Modesto, Brentwood, San Leandro, Hayward, Castro Valley  were prices are a bit more affordable.

    Best of luck.

    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

    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 

    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!

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  • HELP! Looking for gay-friendly, diverse, low crime, affordable area near Berkeley

    (15 replies)

    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??

     The neighborhood public school, Fairmont, is just fine. We go there; it is zoned for Richmond Annex and part of El Cerrito, very diverse demographics (and some gay families, since you note you are looking for gay-friendly). Fairmont is in fact the most racially diverse school in the West Contra Costa school district. And as other posters noted, Richmond Annex is a nice little neighborhood with some very cute houses.

    We live in West Contra Costa County (Pinole) and love it! While I don't know specifically about LGBT resources here, our area definitely meets your other criteria (diverse, low crime and affordable). We moved here 3 years ago and when we moved in, our neighbor across the street told my husband about how he and his wife had had their house broken into! ...in 1975. A big change from where we were living in Oakland.

    We are a white family; our neighbors are white, black, Hispanic, East and South Asian. El Sobrante (the next municipality over) has a huge Punjabi-speaking community because it is the home of the only Sikh house of worship in the East Bay. The elementary school around the corner from our house is 40% white, 40% Hispanic, 10% Asian and 10% black. If I walk in one direction from the bottom of our street, I can get to the library, Trader Joe's and Peet's Coffee within a mile; in the other direction, I pass horses and cows.

    There isn't a whole lot of "culture" here yet, but that is changing rapidly (gentrification, for better and worse, as people get priced out of Berkeley/Oakland) -- and we are only 20 minutes from downtown Berkeley outside of rush hour. I'd definitely encourage you to look at West County -- am happy to give more info if you want to contact me directly.

    I'm reading the responses and seeing the one that says that you'll have to pay for private school if you buy in the Richmond Annex. That's not true. The Annex is zoned for WCCUSD schools, exactly the same schools as the kids in Kensington and the El Cerrito Hills go. Fairmont has a very strong parent community and the kids really like going there. Then all kids in the district go to Korematsu middle school and El Cerrito high school. I love the Annex. It's really walkable and friendly. I would definitely choose the part of the Annex that's on the east side of highway 80 though. The other side is much more sketchy with parking issues. Plus it's a lot harder to walk anywhere. My friend who lives in the Annex walks her kids to Fairmont in the morning and then walks to BART to go to work. She really likes it.

    Hi there!

    It's great you're posting here as hopefully you will learn more about the area to help you make your decision. From your question, you can tell you aren't very familiar yet with the Bay Area.

    First off, you can't buy a house in Berkeley for that price range. The cheapest house you could probably find in Berkeley right now is maybe $850k if you are lucky. And it would be a fixer. You can potentially find that price range as you move further out into certain suburbs (El Sobrante, San Pablo) but you won't really find what you are looking for in terms of the diversity of Berkeley or lower crime.

    Yes Berkeley is gay friendly and diverse. Crime is not high here although looking at crime maps could potentially freak you out if you don't know it I suppose. There is some crime but if you want little to no crime, you need to move to the whiter, wealthier suburbs of Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Danville, much of Marin, etc. Most of the Bay Area is gay friendly, you just might not get racial/ethnic diversity in those places. Personally, diversity is important to me as I would not raise my kids somewhere not diverse. For that reason, Berkeley and Oakland are the only places I would consider.

    Also, there are no charter schools in Berkeley. Berkeley public schools are great and the majority of people I know send their kids to them.

    Yep, I suggest Hayward. Diverse, welcoming, and cheap. 30 minutes from Berkeley if you live near 580. The crime rates might look bad on paper (I live here, but I don't look), but there are many safe neighborhoods, so you can get a better feel for that by asking neighbors when you househunt. Check us out!

    San Leandro! 

    Affordable, up and coming (new technology growth), centrally located, BART stations handy, great library, great city which really pays off if/when you need to get a permit or help (we took the awesome seismic retrofit class at the city and then retrofitted our home), gay friendly, diverse (http://www.sanleandro.org/about/demographics.asp), safe with a fabulous police force that is fast, responsive, and positive (https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ca/san-leandro/crime/) if/when you need them, quiet, friendly, and more. We were looking for a town where people smiled and said hello when you walk by, and found it in San Leandro. Loving it here. 

    You won't be able to find a house in Berkeley for under 750K. But Berkeley is definitely not the only gay-friendly city here.  The entire Bay Area is the most gay-friendly area in the country, maybe even the world. I think most cities within an hour's drive of Berkeley are going to be equally welcoming of same-sex parents. So you should expand your search beyond Berkeley.  

    Regarding diversity, it depends on what you mean. The Bay Area is very diverse with many different cultures and skin colors and languages, much more diverse than the rest of the US. Yes, there are suburbs here that are mostly white, and there are neighborhoods in the bigger cities that have a majority of this culture or that one. But in general it's pretty diverse. 

    Not sure why you are only interested in a charter school. Some cities like Berkeley and Albany have zero charter schools. Other cities like Oakland have a lot.  Some charter schools have a great reputation, some don't. There are quite a few good public schools in most all of the East Bay cities so you should keep your options open on that.

    HERCULES, CA, no question about it! I've lived in Hercules for over 25 years. My kids were born here and grew up here. Hercules is 10 minutes from Berkeley and very centrally located. About 24 miles from San Francisco and on the corner of Hwy 80 and Hwy 4 that leads to Hwy 680, so very close to Concord, Walnut Creek etc.

    Hercules is very diverse and family friendly. It's affordable with lots of young families moving in. There is no crime and a great community feel. I lived in Marin before and had never heard of Hercules. Once I checked it out, I've never left.

    You are going to be very hard pressed to find a house in your price range in the Berkeley/Oakland area with lower crime rates (condo options may exist however). Single family homes at those prices don't exist here. It's hard to tell from your post how big your family is, but if you have children and 2 working parents, want diversity (not sure if you mean cultural or economic), lowish crime rates (the perception of what "lowish" is varies by person), and can only afford a $500-$750K house (and you really want a house) you're going to have a hard time checking all those boxes in Berkeley or Oakland. Either start thinking condos (maybe you can get a 2BR condo for $750K) or consider other parts of the country. 

    Redwood Heights Neighborhood in Oakland is very LGBTQ friendly, although home prices are always going up.  Great elementary school and acceptable middle school.  

    If you want affordable, forget Berkeley. Take a look at East Richmond Heights, which is gay-friendly, has homes in your price range, and doesn't have high crime rates.

    I'm a little taken aback, however, that you are specifically and exclusively looking for charter schools, however. Our public schools are very, very good, and our district (West Contra County) as well as the districts in Oakland and Berkeley are suffering greatly from an influx of charter schools with poor oversight and no transparency. I would enthusiastically encourage you to look at the public schools in the area, taking tours and talking to parents, before writing them off. There is zero reason for you to reject the great schools we have for you.

    I recommend Alameda or San Leandro!  Alameda isn't exactly affordable, but it's very safe.  San Leandro is more affordable, diverse and lower crime in general than Berkeley and Oakland.  Feel free to contact me with any questions as I've lived in both places and I'm happy to share my experiences.

    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!

    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.

    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. 

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions See Also

Where in the Bay Area we can afford?

June 2013

I have a 2yo boy and 6mo girl. We moved to SF 3 months ago. We currently live in a condo but need to move out in 2 wks. We nearly got sued because of noise (my son runs, jumps, & hops a LOT). We don't know anything about the Bay Area other than it's expensive. I want to find a place where we can settle in for at least the next 5-10 years. We've been moving way too much -- average twice a year -- not b/c of my son. There are so many factors to consider in finding a permanent home that's suitable for my family and frankly I am overwhelmed. We are looking for a 2-bedroom place around $2000/mo. Their father wants them to go to Murdock Portal and said we have to live in that district. Since it's a lottery school I don't have high hopes that we could get in but he said we have to try. Where in the Bay Area we can afford, is family- friendly, and have good schools? We're also on Medi-Cal right now (their father lost the job he moved us here for). I met a great pediatrician who accepts Medi-Cal from Daly City -- she was very proactive in getting my son help for his delayed development -- we are in the process of getting him ABA. I probably need more advice than on just moving...so I welcome any advice BPN can offer. TYIA Overwhelmed Mom


I would recommend Alameda as very family friendly. Craig's List has a few 2- bedroom apts for less than $2000/month, but you should definitely drive through as well to look for vacancy signs. loved it when I was there!


Check out San Leandro ! It's about 15 miles south of Berkeley, just south of Oakland. Cost of housing is 50% that of Berkeley with better safety ratings and adorable neighborhoods. Excellent public library, friendly people, and a great city overall. We've lived here a year and love it. For really good medical care that accepts medi-cal, check out Lifelong Medical Care. They have several locations, Berkeley's location is very good. K M


Affordable, safe neighborhood with kids?

March 2013

We are currently living in a rental house in an East Richmond neighborhood that is very quiet, but there are no other kids here for my kids to play with. Previously we lived in the Marina Bay neighborhood, which had a similar issue. We know that Berkeley has a lot of kids, but it is out of our price range. We also looked at Alameda but had the same issue. We currently pay $1800 per month for a 3/2 house, and would like to spend about the same amount, but be in an area with other children. I looked at the archives and couldn't find much recent information about neighborhoods other than ones that are also quite expensive like Moraga, Rockridge, etc. I am starting to think we will have to leave the Bay Area (again - we did so for 7 years but came back due to the weather and other issues). Are there any neighborhoods with kids that aren't super expensive but also not full of gangs and drugs? Schools aren't really that important since we homeschool, but good libraries would be nice. Is San Leandro still a nice area? seeking a new neighborhood


You might want to check out the Maxwell Park neighborhood in Oakland. It has lots of kids, a sweet little park, and lots of folks who are active in their community -and desire to improve it. Yes, it's on the edge of some sketchy areas and does get crime. But it's a good place to raise kids and have shops (somewhat) close by. I'm not sure what rents are like, but I imagine it's a bit better than Berkeley/Alameda. Good luck! ~~Wanting the same things for our family, too!


If you are happy with your house overall I would suggest you try other avenues (homeschool groups, enrichment programs) for finding friends for your kids to play with. The housing market is tight right now and you might find it difficult to do better, rent wise.

The issue of kid-friendly neighborhoods is complicated. We live very close to East Richmond Heights and are fortunate to have lots of children on our block. However, my kids (6 and 8) only play with some neighbors, mostly younger. The older kids are busy with sports and afterschool programs and free time is spent with friends from private school.

If you're looking for cul-de-sac culture where kids roam more unattended, perhaps you should look in Pleasant Hill or Martinez. neighbor


We moved to San Leandro last May and *love* it here. We live in the Farrelly Pond neighborhood and have friendly neighbors and lots of kids from two sets of twin babies on our street to school aged kids who play in the street. I go walking in our neighborhood and people actually smile and say hello and often strike up friendly conversations. There are two great parks within walking distance with great play structures. The public library is great - they have an excellent selection of books and it is open a lot, more than most libraries in the bay area. Plus they have great programs - movies for families, puppet shows, science days where kids can try out experiments, and more. (I helped last summer in Children's Services and I was very impressed with all the library had to offer). Running errands in town is very easy, I'm only hoping for a Trader Joe's store one day, but for now, there are 2 within 7 miles of my home so it's not too far away. I checked Padmapper for rentals in the area and they definitely fit your price range. Cost of living here is excellent (half of Berkeley's). We would come to town and pick up the San Leandro Times to get a feel for the community, as well as walking around different neighborhoods. found our Mayberry


Yes, San Leandro is a nice area - particularly Estudillo Estates and Broadmoor. Drive over and check it out. I live in Estudillo Estates - fabulous for families with children. It's pretty and friendly. There are some rental houses scattered around. There is a nice libary downtown. SL could be an affordable alternative to Berkeley and Alameda. We do have some crime - home break-ins etc. but that happens all around... SL resident


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


Single mom seeking a more affordable neighborhood

May 2007

Hi, I am a single mom to a 12 yo son. I have lived in Berkeley for the past 7 years. I am looking to move to the North Bay, as I have been unhappy with the public school system here, also.. the neighborhood I live is not the best, and I can not afford to live in a nicer area, even semi-nicer area. (and by that I mean safe.. I live on the Oakland/Berkeley border) I can't even walk around my block without meeting some kind of 'confrontation' be it small or large. I have individuals knocking on my door at night asking for money... that sort of thing... I don't open the door, but I talk to them through the door. My son has some great friendships from kids he has known from Kindergarten.... and some he has just met. They are a great group of kids... he is getting straight A's (but considering the over all study-ethics of the majority of his classmates, I don't know if this is 'in-spit-of' or his actual grades)and he is an overall happy kid... he does complain on a daily basis about the disruptions he faces in class, he is sometimes harrassed after school. There seems to be utter chaos everytime I go to the school... I have talked to the principle, his teachers.... and I get the same answer, ''every student has a right to an education.'' I agree... but at what costs to those that WANT to learn and can't? I could change schools.. but which is the lessor of two evils... and being his friends are at this school.... Also, he started playing baseball for NOLL-SOLL and we LOVE it. I would like to find a compariable league in the North Bay.... and the public school system... what is your opinion?

I would continue to work in Berkeley, commuting for at least the next 2 years. I was looking at Fairfax, Novato, San Rafael..... would consider other areas... Again, I would love to stay in Berkeley if I could move to a relatively safer neighborhood... but there is no way. The diffrence in price is $500 and up a month. I have found comparible apartments in other areas of the north bay for the same if not less than what I am paying now. I am just tired of always being on edge.... and I am hoping that a 'smaller' community will benefit my needs more.

Please be nice with your answers, but brutal honesty about how I am looking at things is appreciated also.... I am confused and just want the best for my child. Confused


Friends of ours just bought a home in Lagunitas, Marin Co. They moved there from the East Bay, because they also were disgusted by the public school system. Lagunitas apparently still has fairly affordable housing (for Marin) and incredible (public) school choices. Here is a link to the Lagunitas School District's website: http://lagunitas.marin.k12.ca.us/ You are able to choose from a public Montessori school, Open School or a Waldorf Inspired school. Our friends almost cried when they went to their first informational meeting and learned of all these wonderful school choices for their children. And they will both also commute to UC Berkeley. Good luck in your search! Hope this helps. JOJ


Have you considered Alameda? Generally rent is lower there than Berkeley for nice apartments, and there is a lot of new housing there and move in specials.Your son would be close enough to stay in touch with his friends and your commute would be shorter. I am not familiar with their schools but haven't heard negatives. Remember to calculate bridge toll and gas if you move to the North Bay but work in Berkeley. Good Luck anon


Hi, I feel your plight and I would like to give a shout out to my new neighborhood in Green Valley. I moved here for the schools which are all top ranked, very diverse and almost new. The community is small and there are a lot of East and North Bay transplants like us. It is a lot more convenient and affordable plus the commute is OK if you drive or carpool. There are a lot of fun and safe sports and activities for kids and the parents are very involved in the schools. All places have problems but we can fly kites in the park, buy ice cream from the Ice Cream Man, jog by horses and beavers after dinner, leave our windows open all night long, jump to Napa for pizza, and sit on the front porch afterschool. Little mundane things like that make the rural suburbs heaven to us. The major drawback is the lack of diversity amongst the teaching staff and a lack of large regional parks. Those are the things we miss most about Berkeley. Urban Single Mom in the Burbs