Affordable Bay Area Neighborhoods
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Affordable Bay Area Neighborhoods
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
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!
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.
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
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,
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!
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....
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
Mom of 2
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Hi, I feel your plight and I would like to give a shout out to my new
Green Valley. I moved here for the schools which are all top ranked, very
and almost new. The community is small and there are a lot of East and
transplants like us. It is a lot more convenient and affordable plus the
OK if you drive or carpool. There are a lot of fun and safe sports and
kids and the parents are very involved in the schools. All places have
we can fly kites in the park, buy ice cream from the Ice Cream Man, jog by
and beavers after dinner, leave our windows open all night long, jump to
pizza, and sit on the front porch afterschool. Little mundane things like
the rural suburbs heaven to us. The major drawback is the lack of
amongst the teaching staff and a lack of large regional parks. Those are
we miss most about Berkeley.
Urban Single Mom in the Burbs
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