If you live in, or plan on moving to, the San Francisco Bay Area, you might want to consider house hunting in the East Bay. The vibrant communities of Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Walnut Creek and other neighborhoods combine the benefits of a big city — including a plethora of dining, nightlife, shopping, sports and entertainment opportunities — with the ability, in some circumstances, to get more house for your money.
For these reasons and more, the East Bay housing market is definitely “hot.” Median home prices range between just under $700,000 to more than $1 million, depending on the location, and sellers usually have their pick of buyers. But if you want to call the East Bay home, then a little pre-home-buying preparation and some local knowledge can help transform that dream into reality.
Something for everyone
The East Bay encompasses the large geographic area on the east side of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. The region includes a range of urban centers, as well as more suburban cities and neighborhoods, which means there are attractive options for almost every type of buyer.
Younger buyers and those who enjoy an urban lifestyle are typically drawn to Oakland, which is the East Bay’s largest city, as well as Berkeley. Both are in close proximity to San Francisco and offer great restaurants, fun nightlife and cool coffee shops. In fact, Oakland was voted as one of the country’s top 10 walkable cities last year.
Growing families and home buyers interested in having a bit more space should explore Walnut Creek, Piedmont and some of the East Bay’s smaller communities. Compared to buying a home in San Francisco, many of these areas have more single family homes with yards and decks, as well as high-performing school districts and access to sports facilities and parks.
The home prices in these areas are still relatively high: $844,000 is the average in Walnut Creek, according to Zillow. But if you’re working with a real estate agent and lender who know the areas really well, they can often point out neighborhoods that are possibly undervalued — as well as neighborhoods where you might get a bit more for your money.
Get ready to buy
Before you start driving around neighborhoods, you want to determine exactly what you can afford and establish your upper limit for a loan. Buying a home can sometimes be an emotional process; having clear spending boundaries can ensure that the house you fall in love with also makes good financial sense.
In addition, you'll want to talk with your lender about the details of your down payment, including how much you can put down and where those funds are coming from. This is important because that information will impact the size and terms of your loan. For example, some mortgages don’t permit buyers to borrow their down payment.
With that key information sorted out, you can then start the prequalification or preapproval* process. It’s always a good idea to get your finances in order before you buy a home, but getting prequalified or preapproved for a loan can give you an edge over other buyers in a competitive market like the East Bay. Not only do preapproved or prequalified loans give sellers more confidence in your offer, but they also mean that you provide a shorter closing time — a perk that can help move your offer to the top of the pile.
Be flexible, but also smart
In the hot East Bay housing market, there are other ways to sweeten your offer. For example, if you have a prequalified or preapproved loan, then you may be able to remove the standard loan contingency, which many sellers appreciate. Again, talk to your lender to determine whether this is a possibility.
However, you want to be wary of some other tactics. For instance, you may hear about East Bay buyers offering to forgo appraisals or inspections in order to get a home. But remember, these contingencies exist to protect buyers, and they can prevent you from buying a home that’s dramatically overvalued or hiding some flaw that will cost you far more money. Appraisals and inspections may also be required by your lender before you close on a home.
If you’re home shopping in the Bay Area, then the East Bay certainly deserves your attention. With a little financial planning and local expertise on your side, you may just find a home that fits all of your needs.