Real Estate

What $9 million won't get you in Old Palo Alto: A house on a lot

Vacant property listed for sale after sitting undisturbed for decades

The vacant lot at 1628 Bryant St., once part of the grounds of the adjoining historic 1920s Wickett estate, has sat vacant for decades. On April 11, 2019, it was listed on the market for $9 million. Photo by Christian Trujano.

A quarter-acre property for sale in Palo Alto is turning heads for what's not included in its $9-million price tag: a house.

The vacant lot at 1628 Bryant St. went on the market on April 11 for double Palo Alto's $3-million median home value, or about the price of what it would cost for three single-family homes in the city.

The Old Palo Alto property, once part of the grounds of the adjoining historic 1920s Wickett estate, has sat virtually undisturbed behind a stucco wall serving as a home for a giant oak tree and a grove of redwoods since being split off from the main estate in 1972. The longtime owners reportedly had planned to build a home on the site decades ago, but nothing was ever constructed, and the property remained in their hands unchanged. There have been no improvements, no permits and — until last week — not even an address assigned to the undeveloped land, which had a tax assessment of $69,012 in June 2018, according to the Santa Clara County assessor's office.

Adam Touni, broker-associate and listing agent from The reSolve Group at Compass, said the 11,375-square-foot lot is a rare find in Old Palo Alto that provides buyers the ability to build whatever home they want, especially in an area with many historic homes whose facades can't be changed.

"This is a blank space for a prospective buyer," Touni said. "There's value in that. Buyers have the ability to build a modern home or a Craftsman or whatever they want."

He said the value of property in Palo Alto is in the location of the land and what a buyer can build on it. On this site, that means a 4,000-square-foot house with another 2,000 feet of basement space, Touni said. An architect has created conceptual drawings to show what can be built there, he added.

The median home values of homes in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood range between $7.73 million for a five-bedroom home to $4.1 million for a three-bedroom home, according to online real estate database Zillow. But sales prices can vary widely.

Next door to the Bryant lot, the 6,625-square-foot Wickett house at 1600 Bryant St. went on the market last month with a list price of $19.8 million. (Touni said the sale of the two properties is a coincidence. They are not linked in any way.)

Another nearby property on Coleridge Street is listed for $17.5 million.

Touni said he estimates that the Bryant lot could be worth between $15 million and $20 million once a home is added to the site.

"The properties in this area of Palo Alto are all unique," he said.

While only a half dozen empty lots go up for sale in Palo Alto during any given year, according to anecdotal information from local realtors, the Bryant lot isn't the first vacant property in Old Palo Alto that raised some eyebrows in recent years when it went on the market. In 2016, a vacant 5,250-square-foot lot at 2257 Bryant St. made local headlines when it sold for $2.7 million — more than $200,000 over asking price. (The lot, now with an estimated value of $3.4 million, is still vacant.) Another empty lot in the neighborhood at 2051 Waverley St. sold for $11.4 million in 2014 after a historic home on the site was demolished. That property also is still vacant.

According to Zillow, two vacant Palo Alto lots were on the market near Gunn High School earlier this week: A 1.03-acre site off Arastradero Road advertised as "the only flat vacant acre parcel in Palo Alto" was listed for $15 million. The other lot, a 9,896-square-foot parcel on Arastradero Road, was listed at $2.58 million.

Xin Jiang, a Realtor at Alain Pinel Realtors in Palo Alto, said vacant lots are often preferred by buyers looking to build a new home.

"It's a cleaner cut versus lots with old homes, as not all homes can be torn down easily," she said. "The fact that some old homes are on Palo Alto's historic registry or potentially eligible for historical status always makes buyers who intend to re-build hesitate."

She said the uncertainties associated with whether an existing home can be easily demolished, normally bring down the price of a property. Many local and foreign buyers are waiting for the lot at 2051 Waverley to come back on the market because a 26,344-square-foot lot is a rare opportunity in the heart of Old Palo Alto, Jiang said.

There are drawbacks, however, to purchasing vacant lots, she said. It's difficult for buyers to acquire traditional financing because a piece of dirt without a dwelling normally won't appraise, she said. In these purchases, she said buyers typically have to use all cash or more expensive non-traditional financing.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton

on May 9, 2019 at 8:43 pm


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22 people like this
Posted by Housing Crisis
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 9:02 am

The ultra-rich, hoarding vacant lots, in an area with an acute housing crisis and skyrocketing homelessness.... If you want such exceptional levels of privacy, maybe just move to Atherton and let the rest of us peasants live in a real community?


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 12, 2019 at 1:15 pm

I suspect the lot will be bought up by the regular Palo Alto builders (i.e. Greg Xiong) who has enough capital to buy homes in Palo Alto and build new homes and sell it at a lucrative profit. The newly built home will be bought up by a newly minted tech hippie for 15 to 20 million. We have enough IPOs happening... this will sell. And round and round it goes.. when it'll stop.. nobody knows.


6 people like this
Posted by Jason
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 12, 2019 at 11:14 pm

Nothing surprises me anymore in the bayarea housing market and I won’t be surprised when it sells for over the asking price too.


18 people like this
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 14, 2019 at 10:41 am

that;s a beauty of a lot -- I hope they build something that uses aspects from the properties past - like keep the wall/ gate. as for anyone whos is offended by a lot being vacant for all these years, it;s really not any of your business. Housing crisis has nothing to do with their lot. We live in a capitalist society, people can own what they want and how they want - a vacant lot all these years is a great asset to the environment actually, so there!


Like this comment
Posted by Xiao Deng
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2019 at 3:05 pm

"Xin Jiang, a Realtor at Alain Pinel Realtors in Palo Alto, said vacant lots are often preferred by buyers looking to build a new home."

"It's difficult for buyers to acquire traditional financing because a piece of dirt without a dwelling normally won't appraise, she said. In these purchases, she said buyers typically have to use all cash or more expensive non-traditional financing."


Money not major problem. Getting building design permit is.

We looked at lot and it is expensive but workable.

Large multi-level 5000 square foot house is our preference. No need for big front or backyard.

No need for existing front gate or older trees either. Just house.


6 people like this
Posted by reSources54
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2019 at 8:33 pm

Everyone seems to be complaining about the expense of homes, but I don't see any discussion about the fact that Palo Alto is only INCHES above sea level. Unless you live in the hills, anyone anywhere in Palo Alto will be underwater. And even if it's only inches of water, that's enough to ruin homes, dangerous to drive in (big holes you can't see) and breeding grounds for mosquitoes. No bike riding for the same reasons. As for those making money, if it's underwater, you won't be able to sell it. Time's almost up, folks. How about putting some of those remarkable minds to work on options and solutions. Just sayin'. I am sad to see the consequences of our poor choices over the years now showing effects. Palo Alto is unique in all the world. Old Oaks and Redwoods and all manner of trees that turn wonderful colors in the Fall. Good schools, access to good healthcare and research... but you seem to pay more attn to, and squander time and effort on will-there-be-a-train-tunnel-or-not... come on, people. Time to make ready... time to do the right thing. We could be an example... show what works and doesn't work for other communities. Or not.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 15, 2019 at 9:29 pm

> if it's underwater, you won't be able to sell it. Time's almost up

You'll see prices drop as the time approaches. Apparently the time is still quite distant. $9M could drop $10,000 a month for the rest of the century. Sometimes I wonder whether the climate change people are just trying to bargain for cheap real estate.


17 people like this
Posted by It's Not That Big A Deal
a resident of Downtown North
on May 15, 2019 at 9:43 pm

I think Palo Alto is about 10 meters above sea level so I'm estimating that's about 3.5 feet or so.

Some say the baylands will be flooded by around 2040 but to what extent, no one is quite sure. Global warming might be an influencing factor but that is purely speculative.

This consideration should be a major concern for many of the wealthy Chinese and East Indians expatriates who are paying premium home prices to reside in Palo Alto.

If I were them I'd situate further inland towards Los Altos as some already have.

That way the home prices might level off in Palo Alto with less bidding offers pushing the prices skyward. Real estate agents probably won't be receptive to this as their commisions will be lower.

One advantage of extreme bayland flooding would be with proper dredging, Palo Alto could have its own deep water harbor and along with EPA, establish a maritime industry with shipping docks, ferries and of course ships.

Caltrans should probably begin plans for raising the 101 by about 75 feet to accomodate the eventual increase in sea level. This could be accomplished creating an overpass style of freeway which would also allow the homeless to reside below the structure...until advancing water levels became restrictive.

On the other hand, a canal system could divert the water from the baylands and below the freeway providing an alternative transportation waterway into the city.

Another possible consideration would be for the city to establish an ordinance requiring that all PA house at a certain sea level have sump pumps to divert storm and tidal water into the various canals.

The area near Louis Road is essentially the lowlands of Palo Alto and might require dikes as a pre-emptive measure to avoid flooding.

In many ways, Palo Alto might take on an interesting appearance 50 years from now.

Perhaps a cross between a suburban Venice or a small-scale Netherlands. In any event, humans have the technology and engineering capabilities to adapt to these changing conditions so it's no big deal providing the various retrofits and structural modifications are completed before 2050.


6 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 10:42 am

"The ultra-rich, hoarding vacant lots, in an area with an acute housing crisis and skyrocketing homelessness.... If you want such exceptional levels of privacy, maybe just move to Atherton and let the rest of us peasants live in a real community?"

But isn't this what the residentialists want? Also, anyone with a Crescent Park address claiming to be a member of the peasants is hilarious, unless you're trying to be ironic.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 12:58 pm

The 2.49 acre lot on Maybell at Coulomb sold for $22 million which amounts to $8.83 million/acre. The 4 small houses on the lot along Maybell were demolished and are being replaced by 5 much larger houses, plus 16 or 17 new houses on the vacant interior of the lot. The price of $9 million for a lot that needs nothing spent to demolish old houses is in line with what was paid several years ago for the Maybell lot. Buying smaller older houses for high prices and then replacing them with big houses is becoming a bit common. For example, on Baker 2 of the 8 homes have been bought, demolished or partly demolished, and are being replaced by bigger houses.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob Moss
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 1:08 pm

Separate topic - sea level rise. EPA put out a map showing where a 3 foot rise in sea level would flood areas in Mountain View and Palo Alto. In Palo Alto the flooding would stop before Ross. The area from Ross to the Bay lands could be flooded to some extent. Nothing past Ross as far as they can predict.


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on May 16, 2019 at 2:08 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

A small correction on the Maybell property: The total number of R-1-like properties being developed is 16. Construction of the 5 on Maybell is well along, with framing essentially complete and finishing touches coming into view so you can make your initial judgements about how the development will look when completed. Another 5 or so will soon be ready for framing to start. Work hasn't yet started on the remaining units, at the Tan Apartments side of the property.

When PAHC bought the property in 2012 it paid $15.6M. Following the Measure D referendum cancelling the 60-unit low-income senior affordable housing project, PAHC sold the 2.4 acres to Golden Gate Homes for $22M. This enabled PAHC to pay off loans used to buy the property, with $6M left over for future projects. Rebranded as Palo Alto Housing, the non-profit corporation is only now, after five years of building affordable housing in neighboring communities, attempting again to build in Palo Alto, on land it has owned for several years at in the Ventura neighborhood.


13 people like this
Posted by SusanB
a resident of Professorville
on May 16, 2019 at 2:20 pm

SusanB is a registered user.


"Large multi-level 5000 square foot house is our preference. No need for big front or backyard.
No need for existing front gate or older trees either. Just house."

Attitude such as above seems all too prevalent now and is quite disturbing to me. Palo Alto is noted for it's trees and green over-story, not to mention the importance for our air quality. No backyard? Places for kids? Just schlep them to a park, if in fact they even go outdoors? I had heard an expression describing two Peninsula towns as one being "show and tell" and the other being "hide and seek". We now know which description will apply to Palo Alto!


10 people like this
Posted by Free To Do As They Please
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 16, 2019 at 7:44 pm

> Large multi-level 5000 square foot house is our preference. No need for big front or backyard.
> No need for existing front gate or older trees either. Just house.
-Xiao Deng

>> Attitude such as above seems all too prevalent now and is quite disturbing to me. Palo Alto is noted for it's trees and green over-story, not to mention the importance for our air quality. No backyard? Places for kids? Just schlep them to a park, if in fact they even go outdoors?
- SusanB


I'm not Chinese but I imagine that if one pays $9M CASH for a quarter-acre lot, they should be able to do whatever they damn well please with the property providing it doesn't create a health or safety hazard.

Beauty and practicality are in the eye of the beholder including the one footing the bill.

Aesthetics don't mean anything as this concept is purely subjective.


Like this comment
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on May 17, 2019 at 7:10 pm

The high prices are just nature's way of telling us that single family houses in a somewhat pastoral setting are no longer a proper use of the land and houses. Palo Alto is urbanizing and that's that. Manhattan used to have a lot of farms. People can make a battle of it mainly to themselves extract as much profit as they can from it. I realize that's putting it harshly but it's realistic.

The city could make sure that older people aren't scammed out of their houses and get connected with somewhere to go if necessary, or continue living on the property. The city, of course, can make sure it isn't stuck with a big bill stemming from development - like housing sliding downhill, etc.

People from the farming economy from surprisingly recently around here would consider neighborhoods of single family homes everywhere an intrusion. Were orchards replaced by Eichlers? People who had Spanish land grants and ranches in the area would consider being simply overrun by Anglos an intrusion.

When I came to this area it was the practice of towns along the peninsula to encourage industrial/commercial development, especially with freeway access and to rely on the taxes from such development. They paid no mind to where the workers came from. Money from the taxes was good and house prices went up and up with limited supply. Obviously that's a game that has to end though it was a good deal for a while.

We can note that in an area without a stock of old buildings as a buffer, rents quickly increase to soak up the income available. That's the way economics works.

It's unrealistic for anyone to think they can buy a house and the world around them won't change for 50 years or they choose to leave. Unfortunate, perhaps, but life.

ps - Can't seem to log in?


2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 17, 2019 at 9:32 pm

It's not that big a deal: 10m is almost 33 ft


Like this comment
Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on May 18, 2019 at 4:24 am

"It's not that big a deal: 10m is almost 33 ft"

Well, 33 feet is kind of high. However, Neolithic people in Switzerland built houses on stilts in lakes and over bogs. Aren't we as clever as the Neolithic people? Maybe not....................

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by The H20 Factor
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2019 at 7:37 am

> I don't see any discussion about the fact that Palo Alto is only INCHES above sea level.

>> I think Palo Alto is about 10 meters above sea level so I'm estimating that's about 3.5 feet or so.

>>> It's not that big a deal: 10m is almost 33 ft

Now that we've gotten the metric conversion correct and it's not about INCHES, what's the big deal?

Being 33 feet above sea level should be adequatefor for the next 25+ years or so unless the doomsday prophesies of the global warming alarmists take full effect.

And if Palo Alto does become waterlogged, previous poster 'It's Not That Big A Deal' has seemingly provided some viable albeit abstract solutions.

To envision parts of Palo Alto as a saltwater bayou is fascinating and could in turn create a new industry...aquaculture, as the price of seafood continues to rise.





2 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 18, 2019 at 8:41 am

"Not that big a deal" was the writer who described 10m as 3ft. It was not a comment on whether or not 10m is a big deal... The last IPPC report (Web Link) estimates 0.58 - 0.98 m for the sea level rise by 2100.


2 people like this
Posted by The H20 Factor
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 18, 2019 at 9:06 am

>>"Not that big a deal" was the writer who described 10m as 3ft.

Well all things considered, that metric miscalculation wasn't as misleading or paranoid as 'resources54' comment..."the fact that Palo Alto is only INCHES above sea level".

So according to your reportage, we're looking at about a 1-2/3 foot to 3-1/3 foot sea level increase in approximately 80 years.

That averages out to be about 2 feet...impactful at the baylands but not so much for inland areas, especially at the higher elevations.

By that time I'll be deceased and could care less. Besides, in this short a timeframe, no one is going to be adequately making enough of a difference to address what the global alarmists are ranting about. People today do not want to give up the conveniences of modern day life.



Like this comment
Posted by rising ground water
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 18, 2019 at 12:22 pm

rising ground water is a registered user.

The report and discussion at council was most informative. One of the problems with our low lying areas is that the ground level water will keep go up. Especially during king tides. Don't know how much pumping they have to do in Holland but I don't believe they have to contend with huge amounts of storm water run-off draining down from a mountain range directly above. Especially when back-to-back storms coincide with King tides.


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