Most of us in the Bay Area realize how important Silicon Valley is to the region’s health and wellbeing. The Valley has spawned many successful startups over the years, attracting highly skilled, highly paid workers, venture capital, and strong demand for housing. But just how dominant Silicon Valley is in the tech sector is surprising even the experts. And it bodes well for the long-term future of our Bay Area housing market.

Entrepreneur and former MIT research director Branko Gerovac examined the S&P Technology 1500 – the largest public technology companies in America – that have been created over the past 20 years to find out where and when they were launched. What he discovered was that every year, the Bay Area and the west coast are becoming more and more successful in spawning meaningful startups that grow into large companies – and the east coast tech hubs of Boston, New Jersey, Raleigh-Durham, and New York City less so every year.

In the past 20 years, Boston has added one company to the S&P-1500 technology sector companies, while Silicon Valley has added 19 companies. Our local startup list reads like a who’s who of publicly traded tech – Google, eBay, Yahoo!, Juniper Networks, McAfee, Palm…the list goes on.

Of course this doesn’t even take into account those burgeoning private tech concerns like Facebook that will become public one day soon. And then there’s Twitter, the company that could stake a rightful claim into leading the social networking revolution. Twitter just announced plans to lease headquarters space on Market Street in San Francisco as the company works to expand its workforce from 400 to close to 3,000 employees, as this story discusses.

Success breeds success. The Valley’s dominance in launching and growing tech companies will attract even more of the world’s top engineering minds, more creative entrepreneurs, more venture capitalists, and the cycle will repeat itself.

(Please see Gerovac’s chart below and note that “CA-SF” refers to Silicon Valley as well as San Francisco area startups. You can click here for the story.  And I’m doing further research on what the chart looks like beyond 2005)

In a recent article entitled, Where the World’s Brains Are, best-selling author and urban studies expert Richard Florida said part of our formula for success comes from proximity to top-flight research universities (in our case, Stanford and U.C. Berkeley). Florida writes that these universities “increasingly function as a key hub institution of the knowledge economy” for Silicon Valley and the financial and biotech sectors of San Francisco and the East Bay.

All other things equal, Florida writes, “it is both easier for and more likely that leading scientists and researchers will move within these clusters” of local universities and remain in the general area to live and work. “This kind of proximity creates considerable short- and long-run advantages both for the universities and research centers within the cluster” as well as the region itself, he argues. “Established mega-clusters are likely to enjoy significant advantages into the foreseeable future.”

All of this could explain that while the overall Bay Area housing market has been holding steady in most areas, the high-end Previews market has seen strong activity in recent weeks in Silicon Valley, the Peninsula, and San Francisco. Just a few recent examples:

  • A $17.5 million Atherton home on market for just 30 days sold with two offers;
  • Another Atherton home listed for $6.9 million, sold for over $7 million, also with two offers;
  • A $8.9 million Palo Alto property recently sold;
  • And a $5.9 million Palo Alto home just sold for over $6 million with six offers;
  • Our Burlingame office is in escrow now with a $16 million Hillsborough sale;
  • Six San Francisco properties over $5M have closed in MLS since Jan.1, and at least one other off-market.
  • Eight of the Oakland/Piedmont office’s pending sales are in the upper end of the market.

My sources tell me a lot of the buyers in Silicon Valley and the Peninsula are coming from our fast-growing social media companies. Stay tuned for more on the impact of this hot new economic sector.

Below is a market-by-market report from our local offices:

North Bay – Sales activity seems to be increasing, our Santa Rosa office says. New open escrows are holding strong. Open house attendance has been high, even in the rain. However, we are starting to feel the squeeze of not enough inventory. The Greenbrae office says local listing inventory has been steady and sales increasing with 17 recent ratified offers, including one multiple offer. Of the eight ratified offers in Northern Marin, four have been multiple offers. In Southern Marin, our local manager says that there are a number of quality listings in the area. But the market seemed to come to a halt after a flurry of activity last month.   Several sellers are reducing list prices, from prices that originally seemed to be a good value. The total number of units sold in Southern Marin is overall fairly consistent with last year.  Open houses are seeing good numbers but buyers are still hesitant to step up to the plate with solid offers.  The REOs are getting tremendous activity as buyers feel they are seeing good value at the price listed by the banks.

San Francisco – The Lakeside office says sales are on the rise, but negotiations are the order of the day. Sellers are reluctantly pricing closer to sale price.  Buyers are frightened about paying too much but are stepping into the market to try to put an end to their home search. Pending sales are on the rise, our Sunset office reports.  Half of the ratified sales during this period were in multiple offer situations.  Open houses are very well attended, but the local market is still lacking inventory. Both inventory and sales are increasing, according to our Van Ness office. Five of the 41 recent sales were multiple offers.

SF Peninsula — Our Burlingame offices report a steady to improving market. The Hillsborough market over $2 million is “robust” as long as the price is reasonable and the home is well staged. Hillsborough is often perceived as a bargain compared to other high-end markets on the Peninsula.

Across the hill in Half Moon Bay, our local manager says there has been a noticeable drop in activity on the coast these past couple of weeks. Buyers continue looking but are not writing offers. Our Menlo Park offices say they are seeing strong sales in the over $2.5 mil market – a $3.85 million listing in Menlo Park is getting three offers today!  Buyers are exhibiting even more discretion as the ratio of houses sitting while others go multiple is rising.  Houses sit until the price is reduced and then the buyers jump. The “off-the-market” high-end properties continue to attract buyers. With all the technology we have, word of mouth networking continues to be a factor. One recent off-market sale went for $7.9 million in Atherton. The Redwood City office says inventory is still low.  Open houses, particularly first time opens, are extremely well attended.  The attitude of the buyers seems to be positive. Palo Alto remains a very strong market with more than half of the transactions getting multiple offers. Finally, the San Mateo and the Woodside markets are holding steady. The over $3 million market is doing well with three sales over this price in the last couple of weeks. Woodside is slowly waking up. Portola Valley has been much stronger the last couple of weeks – brisk sales of $1.3 million to $4 million.

East Bay – Our Castro Valley office says if the market activity continues at its current pace, it will surpass its forecast for the month of March.  Closings for the month remain unpredictable due to the high number of REO’s and short sales taking longer than anticipated to close. In Danville, sales activity has been steady with four sales over $1 million in recent weeks. The Fremont office reports that inventory is still low.  The market is seeing more REO & short sales rather than traditional listings. Buyers seem to be waiting to see what interest rates are going to do as well as waiting on other economic news. In Livermore, both sales and inventory are on the rise. Total pending sales in the Tri-Valley area have increased dramatically in 2011.  Pending sales are up 38% in Livermore, 56 percent in Pleasanton, and 32 percent in Dublin since the first of the year. Additionally, there are lots of multiple offers. Our Orinda office reports inventory and sales are holding steady. Buyers are continuing to take their time and are in no hurry to make offers. Finally in Walnut Creek, our office says the market is picking up. More listings are coming on the market, and not necessarily distressed properties. But buyers are nervous regarding world news.


Silicon Valley – Listings are on the rise and sales are steady, according to our Cupertino office. The Los Gatos manager says sales activity is increasing. The office just put a $5 million dollar home into contract and closed on $2.4 million dollar home from a walk-in client. The San Jose Almaden office reports sales activity is increasing, although it’s slow over $1.2 million. The San Jose Main manager says the local market is holding steady with excellent activity at open houses over the weekend. Low rates are keeping buyer interest in all price ranges. That story is echoed in Willow Glen, where the office reports they’re also seeing more multiple offers again. Both sales and listings are climbing, according to our Saratoga office. Not only has the office seen a spike in the number of new transactions, but agents are very actively working on additional deals.

South County – In Gilroy, agents report buyers have a cautious mindset and seem to have no sense of urgency. Many feel prices are still falling. Two large builders, DR Horton and Hovnanian, just reduced their prices and increased upgrade packages due to slow sales after their launch two weeks ago. Properties in certain Morgan Hill neighborhoods are experiencing huge buyer interest and often are garnering offers almost immediately after they are placed on the MLS.  This phenomenon occurs despite the condition of the property, according to our Morgan Hill office.  Listings in other areas languish on the market.  Overall, however, the market is sputtering its way to a recovery.  Agents continue to report a steady stream of potential buyers at open houses and interest and demand remain high.

Monterey Peninsula – The Monterey Peninsula market continues at a steady pace. Our local office says they seem to list and sell a similar number of properties each week, though down a bit from a month ago.  While properties at the lower-price ranges are selling quite readily, many with multiple offers, we’ve seen an increase in sales of higher-price properties, so that properties across the board are going into escrow.  In the past few weeks out of the 35 properties we closed, sales prices started at $195,000 and 10 were over $1 million, including one at $4 million and one at $6.5 million.

We continue to see a mixed market throughout the Bay.  The common thread seems to be low inventory at the entry level and generally more multiple offers in the entry level. The mid-price market is probably the most perplexing with a lack of move-up buyers.  The increased activity at the Luxury end is certainly a strong sign, but common thread here is that this sector remains very price sensitive; luxury buyers are pulling the trigger when they perceive value.

That’s it for now. Have a good week!