Best Bay Area Neighborhoods: Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Published on August 22, 2017

– 4 min read

From Silicon Valley to the East Bay and San Francisco, real estate in the Bay Area is hot—very hot, according to Zillow. Home values have gone up 5.7% over the past year, and they’re predicted to rise 1.3% in the next year.

Population: 7 Million (Greater San Francisco Bay Area)
What it’s known for: Tech Industry, Stanford University, and landmarks including the Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and Alcatraz.

If you’re one of the many first-time buyers jumping into the market, check out our experts’ tips on the best Bay Area neighborhoods, including which areas are up-and-coming.

Panel of Bay Area Real Estate Experts

Holly Barr, Sereno Group
Diana George, Century 21
Rosie Nysaether, Highland Partners
Remy Weinstein, Compass Inc

Best Neighborhoods in Bay Area for Affordability

“Hidden gems don’t remain hidden for long. There are certainly less expensive areas in San Jose, including Berryessa, Blossom Valley, and Santa Theresa.” – Holly Barr


“The East Bay offers a variety of benefits that Bay Area buyers are looking for, and at a lower price point than what can be found in San Francisco, the Peninsula, and Silicon Valley. Great opportunities can be found in Oakland at reasonable prices in the neighborhoods of West Oakland, Maxwell Park, Millsmont, Sequoyah, Chabot Park, Redwood Heights, Laurel, Diamond, Claremont, and Skyline Hillcrest Estates. The city of El Cerrito, as well as the Estudillo Estates and Bayo Vista neighborhoods of San Leandro also offer excellent value. San Leandro has recently taken off with tech industry commuters who are priced out of the areas near their employers.” – Remy Weinstein


“Currently, the most affordable places to live in the Bay Area are Vallejo, Richmond, East Oakland, Concord, Pittsburg, and Antioch.” – Diana George


Best Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods in Bay Area

“In the Oakland/Piedmont areas, I love the Laurel District. This is truly a hidden gem, with charming bungalows, close to freeways and shops, and very affordable. The other area I think is worth considering is Sequoyah Heights. While it’s located a little further out, near the Oakland Zoo, the homes are lovely mid-century houses on larger lots. And with the new development soon to break ground at the old Naval Hospital, the area will soon be discovered.” – Rosie Nysaether


“One of the most up-and-coming areas starting to see major movement is Vallejo. Vallejo may not have the best reputation—but buyers should always keep an eye on where the investors are headed and follow suit. Vallejo has some of the most gorgeous views with the most affordable pricing.” – Diana George


Bay Area Neighborhoods: What Makes the Real Estate Market Unique

“The tech industry sets us apart—it has undoubtedly shifted our economy. Plus, we have the lowest inventory we have seen in over a decade, and foreign investment is booming. These combined ingredients have made Bay Area real estate prices surge to the point of becoming the among most expensive areas to live in the country.” – Diana George


“We are experiencing a strong seller’s market right now, with low inventory and high demand. As a result, we see multiple competitive offers and homes selling substantially above their list prices. Homes sell quickly in the Bay Area, with an average of 10 to 12 days on the market. The escrow period is also aggressive, with sales closing between 21 and 30 days. While the minimum down payment is 20%, many buyers will compete by providing a larger down payment, sometimes paying all cash.” – Rosie Nysaether

“Most properties in the Bay Area sell very quickly, and for significantly more than their list price. In some of the Bay Area’s hotter micro-markets, sellers set an offer date two weeks out from the listing date, and don’t entertain any offers until that date. Most homes in these areas end up receiving multiple offers well above the listing price. The majority of offers that are accepted in the hotter Bay Area micro-markets are non-contingent or have very limited contingencies. In fact, homes for sale in the Bay Area almost always offer a full disclosure package up front to facilitate the solicitation of non-contingent offers. Homes in the Bay Area are typically sold vacant with professional staging and extensive preparation. Additionally, homes in the Bay Area are commonly marketed using more advanced marketing techniques such as 3D walkthrough tours, professional photography, and aerial footage.” Remy Weinstein

Bay Area Neighborhoods: What First-Time Buyers Need to Know

“The Bay Area market is highly competitive. Most first-time buyers do well coming in aiming for the top end of their budget, and planning to work on the house over time. There is disappointment when first-time buyers want it all—location, schools, and already remodeled. Aim for location and update the house over time.” – Holly Barr

“Working with a slow-moving traditional lending institution can put buyers at a significant disadvantage in the fast-paced and highly competitive Bay Area housing market. First-time homebuyers in the Bay Area should be aware that in order to compete, they will need to be aggressive and well-prepared. Often, they will be competing with all-cash buyers and will need to take advantage of every opportunity to strengthen their offer by putting forth a strong offer price and competitive terms.” Remy Weinstein

“Buyers should educate themselves before going out to open houses. While all buyers will start their home search online, they should work with a local Realtor. These professionals are their team, and will guide them through the buying process. The buyers should review disclosures carefully and their agents should have a thorough knowledge of period home construction. Buyers should also work with their Realtor in learning about the various neighborhoods—each community has its own culture and amenities.” – Rosie Nysaether

“The buyers’ expectation must be set to come in anywhere between 10-30% over asking price depending on the area, and they must be prepared to have a hefty down payment. Buyers should also be aggressive out of the gate: The competition is fierce and many buyers do not listen or understand how competitive the market is until they lose three to five (or more) offers. Stubborn buyers can end up wasting five to six months, which means chasing the market up another 10%. Additionally, many buyers are going non-contingent to be competitive. This means they do not expect the seller to make any repairs—they are buying the home ‘as is.’ Appraisal and loan contingencies are also being removed.” – Diana George


Bay Area Neighborhoods: What Current Residents Love

“Perfect weather, diverse neighborhoods, diversity in landscape with ocean, mountains, Redwood forest, vineyards all around us. And most of all…great restaurants!” – Rosie Nysaether

“Most of my clients move here for the variety of activities, incredible weather, and proximity to family, Tahoe, and San Francisco—but mostly the high-paying jobs.” – Holly Barr

“Bay Area residents love the climate, city lifestyle, culturally diversity, some of the best restaurants in the country, and excellent universities. Bay Area residents can have the best of both worlds: Either drive to beautiful beaches or drive to snow-capped mountains all within three hours. As a city, San Francisco is visually stunning with its unique landscape.” Diana George

“The Bay Area really has the perfect combination of beautiful scenery, amazing weather, great employment opportunities, and cultural diversity. Add to that an excellent public transportation system, huge variety of fabulous restaurants, and easy access to tasty locally sourced fresh produce, and you can see why so many people consider the Bay Area to be the ultimate place to live.” – Remy Weinstein

What do you think about Bay Area neighborhoods and the real estate market? Send your ideas to Ready to shop for a home in great neighborhood? Apply for pre-approval now completely online and check out our 15-day close guarantee to compete in the competitive Bay Area. Our licensed Loan Specialists are here to chat if you have any questions.

Steven Fung
Steven Fung is a licensed Loan Specialist at Clara with over 17 years of experience. When he doesn’t have his mortgage hat on, he enjoys repairing old cars and working on home improvement projects.
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