Help: Benicia or Walnut Creek

Asked by A2, Benicia, CA Sun Sep 7, 2008

My spouse works in Vallejo and needs to be within 30 minutes max driving distance from work. Alas, we moved to Benicia and are currently renting. We have a child in elementary school, and the school is great. However, I have been unhappy here in terms of overall culture, the lack of entertainment options and so forth. At this time, we can get a new MacMansion in Benicia for 700-800K. However, we are still going to be surrounded by refineries, bridges and the like. And I worry about my mental health so to speak. I really don't belong here and the more we live here, the more I want to get out of here. But let's talk about prices. As mentioned, I hate it here but it is close to work, with excellent schools and new houses for around 700-800K. Is it worth leaving Benicia and commuting to Walnut Creek? What would 800K get me in Walnut Creek? I am a city girl.... Is Walnut Creek really going to be a significant step up from Benicia? Thanks.

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Dave Sutton, Agent, Portland, OR
Fri Oct 31, 2008
If you're still looking, let me add a little to your deliberations.
Let's start with 23 Cedarbrook Court. It's still for sale, (171 days now) and still at the original $799,000. Two observations:
1) unless there's something weird about the house or the neighborhood (which doesn't appear to be the case here), any home that hasn't sold in 171 days is overpriced.
2) This listing has two hurdles besides price. The first is that because it's a short sale, it will probably take 60-90 days to get a response to any offer, which of course may be "no".. Many buyers want an answer in 3 days, which is reasonable for homes that are not short sales. The second is that it's shown by appointment only. People who really want to sell make the home available whenever an agent can bring a qualified buyer.

Today there are 58 3-BR homes for sale in WC for less than $750,000. I'd be happy to work with you.
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A2, Home Buyer, Benicia, CA
Wed Oct 1, 2008
Also, I noticed that you can get much more for your money in Pleasant Hill. How is it there? I am sure you get what you pay for...but who knows...
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A2, Home Buyer, Benicia, CA
Wed Oct 1, 2008
Thank you all.

I have been taking my time thinking about it. Again, my daughter likes the school here in Benicia, but I am really not happy being isolated from civilization to such an extent. I took a ferry to the city the other day and it took about 4 hours for transportation total that day (yes, 4 hours to drive to Vallejo, park, get on the ferry, arrive at the city, take a cab where I need to go, and then do it all over again....).

I think I am just about ready to start looking at Walnut Creek.

As mentioned, I want to be close to BART/downtown and want to stay within 700-850K range for a 4 bedroom house with a back yard and in good condition.

How is Diablo Hills as a neighborhood?
There is a house for sale at 23 Cedarbrook Court for 799K but it has been on the market for over 120 days. Would you recommend exploring that neighborhood---that house? Any other suggestions appreciated.
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A.D., Home Buyer, Walnut Creek, CA
Tue Sep 23, 2008
Hello A2!

Good luck as you work through this decision.

I am a Walnut Creek resident, and I'd be happy to share my experiences with you, hopefully it will help.

I love it here. I have lived everywhere from places as urban as Boston to good ol' Shasta County, CA which is very rural. In terms of diversity and amenities, Walnut Creek has a decent amount to offer. No, it is not a major city, but for being a "suburb" it has a lot going for it, and all the amenities of the city a short BART ride away.

I don't personally feel as if everyone looks the same here, and have seen a lot more diversity here than I have in most places, and I have the pleasure of working with and living near folks of all backgrounds and walks of life. I think diversity IS what makes a place nice and livable, and after spending several years in a rural area, I wanted all the diversity, culture, and progress I could possibly get, plus I also wanted some space for my dog, and my own pool and garage. That said, I am very satisfied with Walnut Creek. I am a "city girl" at heart as well, but I don't miss the city so much because it is still very close by.

Walnut Creek has great food/shopping/dining and is also close enough to the city that if I want a little more of an urban feel I get on Bart and I'm in the city in 25 - 30 minutes. When I'm all shopped out, so to speak, I return to my backyard, swim in the pool, frolic with my dog, enjoy my backyard and garden. I really couldn't ask for more.

When we decided to buy this summer, we were looking in the Lamorinda/Walnut Creek area for an older home that had some original character. Cosmetic fixers were ok, because we are both really good at doing that work ourselves and wanted to be able to customize our home. We found exactly what we wanted, in excellent shape, with all the important upgrades (kitchen and bathrooms) but still with the mid-century appeal we did not want to compromise on, and structurally sound. We stayed in our price range, in the neighborhood we sought. Only a little work was needed (paint, flooring, etc,) and we have throughly enjoyed doing that work, and watching it pay off in a lovely home that is truly *us.*

Your preferences may be different from ours - but there is something here for everyone.

Somebody mentioned the "sulfur pits" near John Muir/Heather farms. As it happens, that area is exactly where we wanted to live, though we were familiar with the sulfur pits. I have a ridiculously acute sense of smell, and the only time/place I can notice it is driving down Ygnacio, right in front of the hospital. It's about a block long stretch, and while not the best aroma in the world, it's harmless. Don't let that steer you away from this area if you find something you like. The smell is not noticeable in most areas, and it's merely unpleasant to some, not harmful to your health like the refineries you have mentioned that you don't want to live near. We can smell nothing from our house, and we're close to all the things we love, so we weren't going to let that that dissuade us. Also,we are in the Northgate school district which is great for resale.

There are some really good deals in WC right now, many between 700-800. We saw some great houses in that price range in our search. We just bought our place a couple of months ago, and there's still a lot out there, in many different neighborhoods.

Personally, I can't say enough good things about Walnut Creek, and I recommend it if you want to get out of Benicia. It's really very nice, with good schools for your daughter.

Good luck!
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Robert Mijan…, Home Seller, 94597
Thu Sep 11, 2008
I've lived Walnut Creek for almost 15 years in the area just north of the WC BART (around Buena Vista elementary). It is not as expensive as the rest of WC while only being 5 minutes from downtown. The commute to Vallejo is about 20-25 minutes around 6pm.
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Andrew, Home Buyer, Walnut Creek, CA
Wed Sep 10, 2008
I think perhaps you have answered your own questions. You said everyone looks alike in Walnut Creek. That isn't very diverse. My neighborhood is quite diverse from European to Asian immigrants, but you can't tell from driving around the communities. It all looks alike. I lived in San Jose for two years and you could tell which communities you were in from how they looked. Granted, Walnut Creek is very upscale, for the most part, but my point was as simple as your comment on how it all looks the same. It is a vastly different from the communities of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, etc...clean, well-kept and highly sought after.

It also appears you've answered if you like Walnut Creek. It sounds like it is the least of many bad option for you. I still suggest before moving here to just spend more time on evenings and weekends exploring the area. It isn't a long drive, so you can experience it first. Only then will you know if it is worth the expense. And, I think you've already found it is a step up since we have shops, theatre, etc. But, it comes with a price tag.

Hope all that helps...
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A2, Home Buyer, Benicia, CA
Wed Sep 10, 2008

A couple of points here.

I have been to Benicia a few times and actually spent a weekend here once prior to moving here. No, I did not have any unreasonable expectations that I would fall in love with this town. I hoped that the things acutally mentioned in your response i.e. good schools, space, safety, etc would outweigh the lack of amenities that are important to me personally. I also went to Walnut Creek quite a few times. I did not like it, either. It seemed that everyone sort of looked alike (no offense to anyone -- I mean it), a lot of generic shopping options and older houses with some areas pretty much rural. Thus, I figured that I might as well go to Benicia, which would at least shorten the commute for my spouse. But now that I live here, I have increasing doubts about my decision. Now that I go to Walnut Creek it almost seems like a city, considering that I live in a village 27 minutes away. Now I appreciate the availability of Macy's, etc and a few boutiques. Now I really appreciate a movie theater and a European grocery store. But it does not mean that I like Walnut Creek. And that is why I wanted to ask whether a move to Walnut Creek would be a major step up and worth yet another move, expenses, additional commute time and the like. We all have our preferences and our own comfort zone.

Yes, you are absolutely right. I LOVED living in the city. But it is not an option at this point. Therefore, we are back to square one.

Finally, I am not sure what you meant by "Walnut Creek, compared to the rest of the Bay Area, is not diverse. This is why it is nice".
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Andrew, Home Buyer, Walnut Creek, CA
Wed Sep 10, 2008
Hmmm...I think you pose a tough situation. Moving schools, hardwood floors, nice kitchen, diversity, no driving...have you ever been to Walnut Creek? Did you ever go to Benicia before you moved there? Doesn't sound like you get out much except for maybe a Starbucks? I might suggest before taking the advice of others, you come down to Walnut Creek and spend the afternoon, then maybe another evening, then maybe a weekend. Experience it for yourself. Most of what you are asking you can answer for yourself with a few days here.

I have moved a lot. From cities such as Chicago and San Francisco to rural America and suburbs and I think you are experiencing a change. Not good or bad, just different. You might want to give Benicia more time. You aren't going to be able to replace living in San Francisco. Life is different in the suburbs, but it offers other benefits when living outside the city...such as nice schools, clean neighborhoods, less crime, more space for your children to run around. If those are not important, then perhaps a move back to the city is in order. It doesn't sound like a suburb is going to keep your sanity. Have you tried Berkeley?

Walnut Creek, compared to the rest of the Bay Area, is not diverse. This is why it is nice. You do have a diverse group of residence, but nothing compared to San Francisco or the South Bay. Budget $500/sq. ft. for a non-fixer in Walnut Creek, including any changes you want to make before moving in. I am not a realtor, but I have discovered in my research this is a good rule of thumb for the WC area.

Good luck to you and your daughter.
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A2, Home Buyer, Benicia, CA
Wed Sep 10, 2008
My child had changed schools quite a few times already, which is obviously very difficult on any child. I want to be 100% sure that Walnut Creek IS indeed that much better than Benicia before I have to tell my daughter that she will have to face yet another new school, especially since she really liked her new school in Benicia, and asked not to move ever again to a new school district...

Having said that, it does not change my reality. Every day that I spend in Benicia is like serving time for a good cause (?) of some kind. And I don't view Benicia as home. So it appears I will have to make a move sooner rather than later. We would either purchase one of those boxes in Benicia close to a refinery in Waters End or relocate to Walnut Creek altogether. I am not sure whether buying in Walnut Creek right away, however, would be the way to go.

In terms of my real estate needs --a house, not a condo, 4 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, at least 2,000sf in good condition (I will not live with carpet -- like hardwood floors, nice kitchen, etc). It does not appear that 800K will achieve that in Walnut Creek. Would 900K be enough?

Moreover, the most important thing for me is to live in an area that is within walking distance to at least Starbucks, restaurants, etc. I am not a fan of driving, and used to rely solely on cabs/public transportation in San Francisco. Naturally, I would need to do some driving anywhere other than San Francisco, but I have seen a few areas of Walnut Creek that looked rural and I don't want to be there at all. Moreover, diversity is very important to me. I heard that Walnut Creek lacks diversity even more than Benicia, which does not seem diverse at all, and is one of the main reasons I want to run out of here as soon as possible...

I appreciate your help in this matter. Your responses are very helpful.
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Katie O'Shea, Agent, Oakland, CA
Tue Sep 9, 2008
Hi City Girl...
#1 Vallejo is not that far from Walnut Creek, If you are going to spend 7 to 8 K I would buy where you want to live. And Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, are lovely...they ARE more like towns. But if you live in WC or PH, the commute to Vallejo is the counter commute direction. Everyone else is going the other way. Plus, jobs change. Live where you have peace. Driving directions to Walnut Creek, CA
20.6 mi – about 27 mins
Vallejo, CA

#2 What can 700 - 800 buy? Depends. I would first find the school you want your child to go to and then try move into that district. Ask Trulia parents to respond to the great school choices and see what comes up. Your wonderful school communities will be your source of fun (for you ... and your child)

#3 If you want help, I am a Sotheby's Realtor and would be happy to assist you in your search.
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Andrew, Home Buyer, Walnut Creek, CA
Tue Sep 9, 2008
Over the past 8 years I've lived all over the Bay Area, from peninsula to South Bay to East Bay, and Walnut Creek is by far the best (including San Francisco) if you value overall quality of life. The problem is everyone in the world knows it and if entry level is not the type of house you're looking for then the odds are you won't find something in Walnut Creek for your $700-800K in the preferred areas. Now, I'm talking a single family home; not condo or towhhouse or 700 sq ft cottage. But rather a non-fixer upper, single family home on its own land in the nice areas.

The best area is South, between downtown and Rudgear. Close to downtown, good schools, neighborhoods, etc. The next best, in my opinion, is west Walnut Creek, north and south of 24 and west of 680. Great location to everything. Can't beat it.

Now, you're going to have people tell you Northwoods, but I say DO NOT look at anything down Ygnacio Blvd. It will instantly blow your 30 minute commute rule. You have to avoid anything around Heather Farms (John Muir hospital) because of sulfur pits. A realtor will tell you the smell isn't so bad and take you to see a house on a good day, but don't listen to them. Avoid the area. Anything east of Walnut, while they are great schools and wonderful neighborhoods, the commute ouf of the area at rush hour and back again is enough to ruin all the goods. I did it for six months on a motorcycle and couldn't take it anymore.

Bottom line is your $700-800K won't buy you much in the preferred areas of Walnut Creek. If you're fine with a townhouse or a fixer-upper, you can probably deal something in that range. I've been looking for 18 months and am probably a bit picky, but I known what I like and apparently it is the same as the rest of the world and why they are in Walnut Creek and why prices are so high. If you make the move, don't let a realtor sell you on how nice an area is because it isn't hard to say Walnut Creek is nice. That speaks for itself is you just do a bit of research on your own and visit here. Make them work for you and find you a house in one of those two areas I mentioned at a good price. Don't pay asking and don't settle for your first choice. I'm preaching and rambling now...good luck!!
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A2, Home Buyer, Benicia, CA
Mon Sep 8, 2008
Which neighborhood in Walnut Creek would you recommend? I'd like to be as close as possible to downtown -- BART/boutiques, etc, but also close enough to a good elementary school. Thank you.
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The Harper T…, Agent, Danville, CA
Mon Sep 8, 2008
There is no comparison between Benecia and Walnut Creek (at least favorable). It's night and day. Yes you can have a MacMansion - most likely your neighbors are looking in your windows - or you can have a life.

Walnut Creek is is a true community - (okay, I'm prejudiced - I live in Walnut Creek). Good shopping, cafes, entertainment, schools, neighborhoods, freeway access, hospitals, etc. Low crime and hassles.

Think quality of life. The link below is not to a MacMansion, but to a good, well kept family home in a great, quiet neighborhood where children can play and adults can entertain.
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The Hagley G…, Agent, Pleasanton, CA
Sun Sep 7, 2008
Yes! Walnut Creek is much better in terms of arts, culture, theater, restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and more! I just sold a bbeuatiful 4BR/3BA home in a great neighborhood for $800,000. It was not new, but it had a nice lot which backed to open space, the community had a pool and parks, walking trails...and the home was large, bright, airy and in great shape.

Resale/appreciation should also be better in Walnut Creek. But more sounds like more of a community that you would enjoy. It's a great area!
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