If I were you, I think it would be wise to rent first and get an idea of the layout and areas you like best. You can always purchase later once you know more about each city. If you purchase first, it could cost you upwards of $100K if you find out later that you bought in the wrong area.
I usually don't do rentals, but if you need me to send out an email blast to hundreds of agents to see who might have a rental coming up in a nice area, I'm more than happy to do so.
As far as your criteria is concerned;
1. Great schools; You really can't go wrong with the public school system within the cities of San Mateo, Burlingame, San Carlos or Belmont. With the price range you noted, this will keep you in the better areas of all the cities listed.
2. Decent Yard; This can change from area to area within each city. Some properties take advantage of their location and offer a view at the cost of a level yard. Once you start the viewing properties in these cities you'll be able to zero in this aspect.
3. 3 Bedrooms, preferably 4; This should not be a problem as long as you also don't want a fully remodeled or new 3,000 sq/ft home to go with those 4 bedrooms.
4. $1.5 to $1.8 Mil; Your are right in the numbers for what you are asking for.
5. 40 minute commute or less; This is easy with the cities that I've listed.
6. Safe Neighborhood; Born and raised on the Peninsula and living in San Mateo for the last 35 years I can assure you that safety has always been my concern when we raised our children. I would never want to put you anyplace I wouldn't put my own daughter.
Nice to Have List; These are the reasons why so many are moving to this area. What you list as "Nice to Have" is what I refer to as the "Peninsula Lifestyle" and I would love to show it to you.
As you may not be aware, Inventory is way down on the Peninsula (up to 46% in some areas)and because of the pricing it has even pushed buyers to look across the bay for better values. Multiple Offers are again a common occurrence with many properties selling for over the asking price.
Attached is a link to "MLS Listings" that has all the Active Listings in the cities listed above. View them at your convenience and feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.
Click the following URL to see the listings:
Our market here, at the moment, is fast paced. Homes are selling quickly and often with multiple offers. Rentals have also been a strong market and prices have really gone up in the last several months.
I have been selling and renting homes on the Peninsula for 25 years and would be happy to explore and advise on your options available.
Diane Mollison, Realtor