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John Fyten's Blog

By John Fyten | Agent in Palo Alto, CA
  • Where to find MCM in Redwood City, California.

    Posted Under: General Area in Redwood City, Home Buying in Redwood City  |  August 2, 2014 10:11 AM  |  73 views  |  No comments

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    Contemporaries ("MCM") are scarce in San Mateo County, and Redwood City is no exception. Although I've speculated that this deficit is due at least in part to weather and age, Redwood City is a fairly young city and its weather perfect for the indoor/outdoor lifestyle. So maybe San Mateo County simply has more conservative taste in housing. Perhaps the closest Redwood City came to embracing contemporary design was the small and inexpensive Sterling home of the early 1950s, ubiquitous to the Woodside Plaza area, unremarkable except for its wall of glass overlooking the back yard.

    But Eichler was in Redwood City with four early projects, all small and similar to his earliest entry-level homes in Palo Alto. Atherwood was his first, built in 1950 around a modified version of the AA-1 that put Joe on the map in Sunnyvale, and at 60 homes it's the largest of his Redwood City tracts. By far the most common model is a 3-bedroom/1-bath of 1140 sq.ft., the single bath a sign of the times (and location), but there were also a number of 3/2s in the 1400s and 1500s. Many Atherwood homes now have a second bath, whether original or added. These houses are small but have a great feel—even now you understand why they were a breath of fresh air in 1950.

    In 1953 Eichler built two very small projects, each just one block long, Grandoak on Grand and Fairwood on Lyons, totaling about 51 homes. Buyers were now more demanding and even Joe’s price leaders offered a second bath. But these are still small 3/2s of as little as 1150 or 1220 sq.ft., although most touch the 1300s and 1400s.

    Joe wrapped up Redwood City in 1954 with another small development, Sequoia Meadow, near Atherwood. Just 21 homes, its most popular model was a very small 3/2 of 1110 sq.ft.; only three homes exceeded 1400 sq.ft.

    Feel free to contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com .

    More from JohnFyten.com, Silicon Valley Real Estate Explained (TM).

    copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

  • Introduction to Redwood City, California.

    Posted Under: General Area in Redwood City, Home Buying in Redwood City  |  June 24, 2014 8:35 PM  |  101 views  |  No comments

    A city people often go to when they’re priced out of Menlo Park and Palo Alto, Redwood City has much to offer if you know where to look. Want an affordable ranch-style home in a pleasant neighborhood? How about something with old-fashioned charm but without an Old Palo Alto price? A cozy cabin away from it all but not out in the boondocks? A huge new house with views? Waterfront living? Investment property? Or just a single-family home at a condo price? It's all here in Redwood City.

    View map.  Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker. Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective. Boundaries and other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.

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    pros and cons

    pros
    · Has the same great weather as Menlo Park, with plenty of sunshine but not too much, and without the fog and wind of the northern Peninsula.
    · Affordable prices let you stay close to the same things Menlo Park and Palo Alto are close to, even if those cities are too rich for your blood.
    · Large real estate market means there’s usually a good selection of single-family homes.
    · Fairly broad variety of neighborhoods: humble ranchers, cute bungalows, “Leave It To Beaver” ‘50s tracts, PUDs, gracious pre-World War II housing and even semi-rural. All are priced at a discount to similar neighborhoods in nearby cities.
    · Fairly wide range of prices, from very affordable to somewhat pricey.
    · Emerald Hills is a great place to get a large new house, perhaps with a view, at a substantial discount.
    · Redwood Shores has an excellent selection of newer single-family homes (usually on small PUD lots) and townhouses, on or near the water.
    · Attractive, old-fashioned downtown.
    · Large, centrally-located park and recreation center, Red Morton Park.
    · Two highly-regarded Redwood City K-8 schools, plus two Belmont-Redwood Shores K-5 schools in the Shores.
    · Eichler-haters take note: virtually all tract housing has conventional rancher architecture.
    · Eichler-lovers take note: four small, early Eichler neighborhoods.
    · Redwood City west of 101 is an excellent place for investors. It's one of the largest markets for small apartment buildings on the mid-Peninsula, and even has a few neighborhoods with that rarity, the duplex designed for the owner-occupant.

    cons
    · Most schools have low test scores, although there have been recent efforts to improve them. Many South Bay neighborhoods in the same price range have higher-scoring schools.
    · Downtown is not completely out of the doldrums, although the restaurant scene has livened up considerably in recent years, the refurbished Fox Theatre offers an entertainment venue, and there's a Farmer's Market.  See an overview of local downtowns.
    · The area surrounding downtown can be marginal, reducing the potential for a “walk to downtown” real estate market.
    · The “buy west of El Camino” truism doesn’t always apply here. The old neighborhoods south of Jefferson and immediately west of El Camino are high-density and not always well preserved. Further west, between Hudson and Valota, are Redwood City's earliest post-war homes and duplexes, modest even when new.
    · With a few notable exceptions, not the place to look if you want a uniformly upscale neighborhood. Most areas were built to be affordable.
    · Emerald Hills has lots of grand new houses but the neighborhoods are inconsistent—and for some people, that's a big part of its charm.
    · Relatively small condo and townhouse market, with the notable exception of Redwood Shores. Redwood City west of 101 is heavily biased toward single-family homes.

    Interested in buying a home in Redwood City? Please contact me at jfyten@cbnorcal.com.

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    neighborhoods

    Affordable Redwood City:

    Friendly Acres:  East of El Camino at Marsh and 101, this is a huge area of small and affordable but usually pleasant tract houses, many of them the well-regarded “King-Built” home. Friendly Acres even has a few clusters of pre-war bungalows to the north. Neighborhood quality is the big variable here, with pockets that are quite nice and pockets that are less so. Good for single-family buyers on a condo budget, only about 15% higher than Menlo Park's Belle Haven east of 101.

    Selby Park:  A notch up from Friendly Acres, a great little pre-war bungalow neighborhood with plenty of charm. Bonus is that it’s convenient to Menlo Park; drawback is that it’s a small area without much sales activity. Maybe 25% more expensive than Menlo Park east of 101.

    Redwood Villa Park: Another affordable neighborhood close to Menlo Park, just west of El Camino and south of Woodside Road. Small homes, usually 2- and 3-bedroom/1-baths, built in the late ‘30s to mid-40s. Doesn’t have the charm of Selby Park but still pleasant, except for a strip of older homes and commercial uses next to Woodside Road, and the larger neighborhood means you have a better chance of finding something. The location west of El Camino is considered a plus, but it still sells in the Friendly Acres range.

    Dumbarton Park: Between El Camino and the tracks, this is a fascinating enclave that’s really a different world. Not the prettiest or best part of Redwood City but certainly the cheapest, about what East Menlo Park sells for. Lots of apartment buildings and tiny sub-standard lots means high density, but the handful of pre-war housing lends some character. East of the tracks things get more rugged, with charm in short supply. Dumbarton was sub-divided around 1915 and the CC&Rs are an interesting insight into the hot neighborhood topics of the day.

    Neighborhoods between El Camino and Hudson, Woodside Road and Jefferson Avenue: This area has its downside—lots of apartment buildings, lots of deferred maintenance, lots of traffic on the main streets—but the upside is pockets of well-preserved '20s bungalow neighborhoods. Good for those on a budget looking for distinctive pre-war architecture, with prices only 15-20% more than Belle Haven. Bonus is that you’re within walking distance of downtown and Sequoia Station.

    “Letter streets”: Shorthand for several tracts north of Whipple and east of El Camino, these are small 2- and 3-bedroom/1-bath homes built during the early-to-mid-‘40s. Typical of the affordable housing of that era, these homes are mostly conventional, unassuming bungalows sprinkled with a handful of flattops for variety. The area is generally pleasant but gets more attractive as you go from south to north, with established street trees adding greatly to the ambience of E, F and G Streets. Sells at a slight (perhaps 5-7%) but well-deserved premium to Friendly Acres, with neighborhood quality that's more consistent and an elementary school, Clifford (always verify school availability with the district) with much higher test scores.

    Midrange Redwood City:

    Woodside Plaza:  One of Redwood City's best-known and most popular neighborhoods, the core of a huge area of attractive "Leave It To Beaver" ranchers extending from Valota to the south side of Farm Hill Blvd. They're typical '50s entry-level homes, small 3-bedroom/1- or 2-bath homes of 1000-1300 sq.ft., although many have been expanded. Neighborhoods are almost always pleasant and often very pleasant. Especially attractive to Palo Alto and Menlo Park renters looking to buy, since it offers the solid ambience of The Willows or South Palo Alto but without the high prices...and without the high-scoring schools. Although much depends on the area and builder, figure that Plaza prices are about what Lower Willows near 101 sells for, and about 20% less than the Upper Willows neighborhoods. Price leader in the Plaza is the Sterling home, typically a 3/1 of 1020 sq.ft. on slab foundation, selling at about a 5% discount to perimeter foundation homes.

    Farm Hill Estates: In the Roy Cloud attendance area (verify with the district), one of the most highly-regarded Redwood City schools. Along Farm Hill Blvd., this neighborhood is a bit newer and more upscale than Woodside Plaza. Homes are bigger, more deluxe and on larger lots. The hillside location makes it “Sharon Heights on a budget” if you're generous. And even if you're not, the homes on the south side of Farm Hill Boulevard really do resemble Sharon Heights in quality, size and location. Some views.

    Between Stockbridge and Selby:  Redwood City’s Barron Park, semi-rural, semi-funky and usually with lots of charm. The housing stock is eclectic, with everything from farmhouses and ranchers to new construction. "Steps to Atherton", as they say, and not far from downtown Menlo Park, so demand is strong. The nearby Oakwood "race track" neighborhood is similar. Prices are all over the map but not cheap for Redwood City, generally comparable to midrange Willows.

    Old Redwood City:

    Mount Carmel:  North of Jefferson and west of El Camino, a largely pre-World War II neighborhood reminiscent of Palo Alto’s Community Center or the better parts of Menlo Park’s Allied Arts. A great choice if you’re looking for distinctive architecture and beautiful established neighborhoods at a discount. Architecture is Mount Carmel’s strong suit, running the gamut from early-century Craftsmen to ‘20s Spanish bungalows to spacious ‘50s ranchers. “Send your Palo Alto buyers” as the listings say, and you might even get a high-scoring school, Clifford, depending on where in Mt. Carmel you buy (verify with the district). Houses tend to be small but lots can be ample, with 7500 sq.ft. common. Prices vary, but core Mount Carmel costs only about 10% more than the small tract homes of Lower Willows near 101, and perhaps 20% less than the Willows' most comparable neighborhood, the North Palo Alto tract along Pope and Laurel.

    Wellesley Park:  North of Whipple and just west of El Camino, this area resembles lower Allied Arts with its mostly small 1920s bungalows on mostly small lots, with a leavening of larger pre-war homes to give it substance. Plenty of apartment buildings just off El Camino, something Allied Arts doesn’t have, but most of this neighborhood is single-family. As of this writing, it’s served by one of Redwood City’s sought-after schools, K-8 Clifford (verify with the district). Sells for about 20-25% less than Allied Arts near El Camino, and about 5-10% less than the Willows' North Palo Alto.

    Edgewood Park:  Realtor shorthand for a number of very impressive tracts west of Wellesley Park to the Alameda. You should be so lucky to live here. Edgewood has an ambience much like Palo Alto’s exclusive Crescent Park, and I should probably leave out the qualifying “much like”. These beautiful neighborhoods are a mix of substantial homes, often exceeding 3000 sq.ft., on lots of an acre or more (try to find that in Crescent Park) and lesser but still-substantial homes in the 2000s usually on quarter-acre lots. Some of the big houses date to before World War I (that’s “I”, as in The Great War) and a few survive from the late 1800s. The lesser homes were built from the mid-1920s through the early 1950s. All have plenty of charm. Streets are usually winding and tree-lined. There isn’t another neighborhood like this between Crescent Park and San Mateo's stately San Mateo Park. As an added bonus, it's served by one of Redwood City’s sought-after schools, Clifford, at least as of this writing (always verify school availability). Prices vary more in this type of neighborhood than in the typical tract, but mainstream Edgewood Park sells for about what Menlo Park's Linfield Oaks goes for.

    On the water:

    Redwood Shores: A huge bayside neighborhood east of Belmont, not contiguous with Redwood City and having little in common with it—it's even served by a different K-8 school district, Belmont-Redwood Shores. Like Foster City, the Shores is built entirely on fill. In the old days this area was home to the city dump and later a theme park, Marine World. The first houses were built in the late ‘60s and look much like Foster City’s earliest efforts. Redwood Shores didn’t really take off until the 1980s, and the most recent construction is only a few years old. The Shores is one of only three mid-Peninsula areas that let you live on or near the water. It’s also a great choice if you’re looking for a newer condo, townhouse or PUD (full-size house on small lot). Renters may like the several large, attractive apartment complexes. Most housing is of mid-range quality and relatively affordable, making Redwood Shores popular with young professionals. After years of having to cross 101 for shopping and schools, Shores residents finally have not one but two elementary schools, and a large attractive shopping center, The Marketplace at Redwood Shores.

    Out in the "country":

    Emerald Hills:  A large, mostly-unincorporated area west of the Alameda and north of Jefferson. Some neighborhoods will have you thinking you drove all the way to La Honda by mistake, while others are slightly newer and more upscale versions of typical Redwood City tracts. The housing stock is nothing if eclectic, from the original tiny summer cabins to grandiose new construction, with just about everything imaginable in between. Pre-war homes usually have some charm, while post-war homes vary widely in appeal. Some are an improvement over what you'd find on the flatlands, and some remind you that Emerald Hills was once a funky, off-beat enclave. Lots can be large, but steep slopes keep some from being completely usable. Many homes have views. Not cheap by Redwood City standards. Even the old cabins sell at a premium, mostly for land value, and the mainstream stuff sells like midrange Willows. A good choice if you want something faintly bohemian without driving all the way to Skyline, or if you're looking for impressive new construction at a discount to more mainstream areas. An added bonus is the local K-8, Roy Cloud (verify with the district), one of the sought-after Redwood City schools.

    Palomar Park:  Much like Emerald Hills and with similar prices, but north of Edgewood and for some reason has fared better with the builders. Like upper Emerald Hills, winding streets ensure that upper Palomar takes a while to get into and out of.

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    price performance

    Here's how Redwood City's three major sub-markets, single-family residences west and east of El Camino and Redwood Shores CID (Common Interest Development) including condos and townhouses, have performed since 1994 (there are no 1994 prices for Shores CID). This graph is based on data from the Multiple Listing Service, corrected to eliminate anomalies at both ends of the price range that skew average sales price. The base year, 1994, was the last year of the post-1989 bust. 2000 was the dot-com peak, Q4 2001 the bottom of the dot-bust. 2005 is often called the recent market's peak, although the more sought-after areas peaked in early 2008. Note how differently these markets have performed through boom and bust. SFRs east of El Camino actually gained value during the dot bust, while SFRs west of El Camino and Redwood Shores CID held their value well into 2008.




    Part 2:  The charts below are easier to understand than they look, and they have great information. Based on the same data as above, all you really need to know is that "peak" means "peak", "trough" means "bottom of the market for this city's SFRs and condos, whenever that was", and that the more negative the number in the last column, the more volatile this city's home prices have been during the period covered.  I recommend that you scan the chart now, then come back for the more detailed explanations below if you need them.

    The charts are formatted in six (Redwood Shores CID) or eight (Redwood City SFR east and west of El Camino) columns covering five (CID) or seven (SFR) time periods to illustrate home price appreciation in percent since 1994 (SFR) and 2000 (CID), and the size of its recent real estate peaks and troughs.  In each case, home appreciation and depreciation is compared to the average of all local submarkets covered by this site.  The last column in each chart is a non-statistician's attempt to quantity volatility by combining home price depreciation over the two most recent downturns and comparing it to the area average.  Here are detailed explanations of the six (or eight) columns in each chart:

    1. 1994-2013:  (SFR only) Redwood City home price appreciation from the beginning of the dotcom boom to present, compared to the average of all local submarkets described on this site.
    2. 2000-2013:  Redwood City SFR and Redwood Shores CID price appreciation from the peak of the dotcom boom to present.  I separate this time period from 1994-2013 because the data I have for some local submarkets goes back only to 2000.
    3.  1994-2000:  (SFR only) Redwood City SFR price appreciation during the first boom with which I had first-hand experience, the dotcom boom, which began as a modest recovery in the mid-1990s, gained considerable momentum in the late 1990s and spiked from late 1999 through the end of 2000, with a sharp but temporary downturn in early 2000.
    4. dotcom peak to dotbust:  Home price depreciation from the peak of the dotcom boom, 2000, to the bottom of its collapse Q4 2001.  Note that not every local submarket lost value then.  The handful of local submarkets driven not by stock market wealth but by wages and interest rates (like much of California) actually gained value during this period.
    5.  dotbust to previous peak:  Home price appreciation from 2002 to 2006 (east of El Camino) or 2007 (west of El Camino, and the Shores), when those area's home prices peaked.  To facilitate comparison between local submarkets, I say "previous peak" rather than give a date, since our submarkets peaked anywhere from 2005 to early 2008, depending on strength of demand ("brand").
    6.  Previous peak to trough:  Home price depreciation from when prices peaked (see 5, above) to when they bottomed in 2011 for all three areas.  To facilitate comparison, I say "trough" rather than give a date, since local submarkets bottomed anywhere from late 2008 to 2011, depending on strength of demand ("brand").
    7. Previous trough through 2013:  Home price appreciation from 2011 through 2013.
    8. Total depreciation 1994-2013:  Total Redwood City home price depreciation by area during the two downturns included in the data, compared to the average for all local submarkets covered by this site. Total depreciation greater than average suggests greater-than-average price volatility--in other words, a bumpy ride. Redwood City SFR both east and west of El Camino have higher-than-average volatility, at least by this measure, while, remarkably, Redwood Shores CID has less.




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