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How were you able to become a Palo Alto homeowner

Original post made by PAresident, College Terrace, on Aug 19, 2016

I thought it would be helpful to start a thread where Palo Alto homeowners explained how they got here. There seems to be a perception that Palo Alto homeowners are all seniors who bought homes at bargain prices. This is certainly not the case.

Comments (33)

75 people like this
Posted by PAresident
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:07 pm

My story: My wife and I moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest 20 years ago when we were in our early 30s and were shocked at the high housing prices. We rented a small 1 BR/1 BA apartment in Oakland for several years. Eventually we were able to buy a 2 BR/2 BA condo in SF despite our low salaries ($65K combined) 18 years ago because we had saved enough to put 20% down. (We both worked every summer since junior year in HS, saved money every year, and had almost no outstanding student loans because of scholarships.) The mortgage was a struggle for us, particularly when our kids were not yet in school. Eventually, as our salaries increased and our kids entered public school, things became easier financially. When our oldest was ready for middle school in 2011, we sold our SF condo and bought an even smaller 2 BR/2 BA condo in Palo Alto. (It was one of the most affordable homes for sale in Palo Alto that year.) Our current mortgage is much higher than our previous one, but it's (barely) doable as our salaries are also higher.


72 people like this
Posted by Native That Worked To Come Back
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:38 pm

I like this idea to discuss how we all got here, since the perception that only the ultra-rich can live here is just false.

I was born in Palo Alto in the 1960s in a lower middle class family who valued neighborhood and education, and "living in a little bit better neighborhood than we could really afford." There were 6 kids in our family, so with parents that made 8 people in our family. We lived in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath home of 1000 sq. ft in south Palo Alto. 8 people in a 2 bedroom 1 bath house!

Over time, my parents scrimped and saved (both worked full time) and were able to buy a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home that was a whopping 1500 sq. ft. And that is where we lived and grew up until my parents divorced when only two of us kids were left at home. Eventually my mom decided she could no longer afford to live in Palo Alto and we moved to San Jose.

My dream was always to find a way to live in my home town again, but in the late 80s it was out of reach for me as a twenty-something earning $16K per year in high-tech. I married and with two incomes we bought a house in Milpitas. At $225K it was a stretch for us and we drove old cars, didn't eat out much, and didn't have much of a discretionary income. We also had a kid.

After 5 years our salaries had grown with increasing experience, and based on our existing investment in the housing market and the savings we had scrimped to put away, we made the leap to a small, all original, 50 year-old house in Palo Alto for $550K. It was for the environment and schools, and to come back to my beloved home town. The house was 1300 sq. ft. with metal kitchen cabinets, pink and yellow tile, and no built-in dishwasher. Laundry was in the garage. Tiny yard. Slab floor, no A/C - but at least forced air instead of the wall heaters I grew up with!

We've had more kids and over the course of time finances have been quite challenging at times since we "moved up" when our incomes increased and we stretched further for a larger home.

When things have been tight, including right now, we rent out part of our home so we can off-set the costs and stay in the place we love and are committed to.

Ms. Downing's characterization of typical Palo Alto residents is so far removed from reality is is extremely offensive that she is even being given air time.




61 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 19, 2016 at 11:56 pm

Eileen is a registered user.

My husband and I rented a small 2br house in College Terrace for 7yrs until the landlord doubled the rent forcing us to move. It was 1983 and we were in our early thirties with our first baby due within weeks. We bought our first house (two bedrooms and a small nursery) in East Palo Alto on Donohoe Street. We spent 5 happy years in that first house. Both my husband and I had to work full time to be able to afford that house. We had a German Au Pair live with us to take care of our two little children and cut down on childcare costs. In 1988 we sold that house and were able to put enough of a down payment to buy in Palo Alto. Fast forward to 2016 and we still have a sizable mortgage because of many improvements to our 1893 Victorian. In the early days we could never afford expensive vacations, meals, cars etc but we were so happy to raise our kids in a wonderful neighborhood and city.


70 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2016 at 1:13 am

I graduated from Paly, moved to the midwest, then returned in 2005. Meanwhile, my mom was astonished that the homes around her in Palo Alto were selling for $150,000. I should have returned then! But my husband's career didn't bring us back until 2005, when prices were high and there were several overbids per house. We bought an Eichler for its price point, having lived in a new 7000sf house in the midwest, which sold for $500,000 less than our Eichler (which we overbid for at $1.5 million). With the help of the mortgage agent, the sale of the prior house, and our savings, we were able to purchase our house in Palo Alto on my husband's six-figure income. The first 4 years were lean, as I wore nearly the same thing everyday and shopped at Sears and the like. We are careful spenders anyway. My husband was also working hard to prove himself to his company while I stayed at home and raised the kids. We couldn't afford to remodel the 1950s house but have done so little by little. I miss that 7000sf of living space, but we are more comfortable in this community and fine weather. It's certainly not as easy to keep the house clean with little storage space.

While my husband's income has nearly doubled, the house prices have too. It's a tough time to move to Palo Alto. I love the people and the convenient location, but I wish people wouldn't think it's the best place on Earth. There are many other good places to live in the Bay Area. If we knew we would continually be struggling with finances and unable to save money, we surely would have bought elsewhere.

There are a lot of housepoor families here. I ask, is it worth it when there is no disposable income leftover? When your kids can't have extracurriculars or go to camps? When your teens can't even afford to go out and do things like a movie? When your kids need tutors to stay sane but you can't afford it? I don't think so, but to each his own.


69 people like this
Posted by It was simple really
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2016 at 5:32 am

We rented for years, bought a cheap condo and lived in it for years as it appreciated and continued to save.
we didn't go to a lot of concerts,clubs or fancy restaurants and we bought cars for cash. We didn't spent 2K per year on frivolous electronics and subscriptions to use them. We didn't lease a Mercedes to pretend we had more than we did.
We sacrificed for over 15 years and when we sold our condo that ha appreciated over that time, we had enough savings and profit to put a nice chunk don on a home.


61 people like this
Posted by jayches
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:40 am

In the mid 80s, I was a freshly minted engineering grad student renting rooms about the peninsula, working full time while going to grad school. Frugality and lack of leisure time left me with sufficient savings to put 20% down on a rare vacant piece of land in PA (with contested zoning at the time) when interest rates were 12%. I thought PA real estate prices were insane at the time, and extreme sweat equity to afford the unaffordable seemed like a good idea. But when I announced to my co-workers that I bought a lot with a demolished quanset hut and was going to build a house (as a first-timer), they all thought I'd lost my mind and said I should have used the down payment to buy an actual house elsewhere since then, as now, surrounding areas and condos were more affordable. But I spent the next 3 years building the house on evenings and weekends. I'd not recommend this approach for the feint of heart, and Sunday is no longer a permissible construction workday in PA, so it would have taken 6 years if done that way today, but I probably still would have done it.


77 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:49 am

I arrived in the Bay Area as a young engineer, and rented an efficency in a Sunnyvale apartment ghetto. I could barely afford to make ends meet. My future spouse lived in a small apartment with several other people in Mtn Vw. Eventually the perpetual pain of renting (because you have no control) led to borrowing a small downpayment from different family members, buying the cheapest home sold in that town that year in a pretty rundown neighborhood and having to make it habitable while living there (living in a tent outside would have been nicer), living there for years with two or three roommates once it was sort of habitable. After many years and earning an advanced degree, sold the house for a downpayment on a nicer house in the East Bay, but also a big fixer. After 8 years, moved back, renting in Palo Alto for about 7 years while looking the whole time all up and down the Peninsula to buy. More than a dozen real estate agents later, we happened to be able to get a house in Palo Alto because of some fluke circumstances that newbies would never have been able to anticipate. We had been offering on homes from Cupertino to San Carlos. Spent much of that year after buying in an apartment in Sunnyvale which making the PA home habitable, still doing most of the work ourselves. It's still a big fixer. But it was nice to be in a home that wouldn't be sold out from under us, as happened twice when we were renting in PA. We love the people here, but wish there was some provision to transfer our tax basis and move somewhere we could have a nicer home. After decades of being our own builder/handymen, I'd just like to live somewhere comfortable. This house is hard to keep up, as the other poster mentioned, because of no storage space. I pine for a room the teens could have to themselves, for friends to stop by on the way home from Gunn. We are borrowed to the hilt, though, with no funds for luxuries or even traveling to see family. Certainly no funds to put a room on the back and too tired to DIY now. I have often given up on prescribed medical care because we could not afford it.

I, too, resent being told we are all rich billionaires, and therefore it's okay to ruin our homes or the quality of life we sacrificed so much for, for decades, such as it is. I don't know anyone in the neighborhood who fits the billionaire description or even close. Figuring out how to buy here was really hard and took years of sacrifice, and I should probably add, years of being underwater on the mortgage because things tanked after we bought the 2nd time. The difficulty with housing here is nothing new, just the ferocity of newcomers who think they should be entitled. Even as they talk about affordable housing, their developer-centric views ignore the needs of existing low-income residents who get priced out and displaced *because of* all the new building. There has always been a lot of demand in the Bay Area, it has always been hard. It does the young a disservice to tell them to expect some kind of intervention that will suddenly make it better. Heard those things when I was young, too, it is a perpetual tactic by developers in a high-demand area. Thankfully we were able to see from friends how important buying was if we wanted to stay in the Bay Area and that we had no illusions about living anywhere nice.

I see the discussions about helping other municipalities with desirability factors so that more companies will move to places now losing jobs, and wish cities and companies and government would do that so we could move to one while we still have time to get used to a new community while we are young enough...


55 people like this
Posted by No Name for this
a resident of Triple El
on Aug 20, 2016 at 6:26 pm

Came here for grad school in the mid-80s. Had a good rent deal and liked PA, so I stayed. My eventual-spouse and I moved in together in the early 90s and found a small house in PA near the freeway and for the next 13 years rented month-to-month being the best tenants ever. We also saved money, drove old cars, took cheap vacations, got married, had a kid and, finally, took a dive into the housing market. At that point, we'd been around long enough to know that it would be tough--that there would be multiple bids no matter what--if the house was doable at all, we bid on it. We were lucky in that we got a yes on the fifth house we bid on. It's small, on a busy street and struck me as laughably overpriced when we bought it. It's now even more so. So, I suppose it's a good investment, but I don't think I'd have done it if I hadn't lived here for so long in the first place. A lot of what I like about Palo Alto is under siege because far too many people think they have to live here. You don't, you really don't. There are plenty of beautiful places with less traffic. I don't know why people think they're entitled to buy here to the point of making it more miserable for those of who actually live here. That goes for both the urban-density crowd and the DeLeon crowd. To the former, put your energy into the many towns that could use it (particularly the schools); to the latter, buy your vacation home/investments in places that aren't needed by the people who actually work and live there.


26 people like this
Posted by Stop the self-serving narratives please
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 20, 2016 at 9:37 pm

I feel this whole column is catering to people who want to justify how they should not help others live in this community. "It was tough for me, so I won't be sympathetic" and "like it or leave it." That's not the point. The point is there is room to plan for a future that is friendly to newcomers and to those, like teachers, police and firemen and we should try much harder than we are..

Enough anger. Ms. Downing was not attacking you personally. She was pointing out that she and her husband are high income and can't afford to live here so what about those on lesser incomes who live and work here? Empathy is what is requested and needed.


62 people like this
Posted by Native That Worked To Come Back
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 20, 2016 at 11:06 pm

@Stop the self-serving,

I'm sorry if the truth doesn't fit with some people's view of how it ought to be. I don't think any of us are unsympathetic - quite the contrary. We understand very well how hard it is to buy a home in Palo Alto and the sacrifices that are required, now as well as in the past.

Palo Alto is not unfriendly to newcomers. One need only glance around to see how many newcomers we have embraced in our community.

The point is that there is NOT room to keep cramming more people into Palo Alto without destroying the quality of life so many of us have worked and sacrificed for. Particularly for people like Ms. Downing, who seem to think that, unlike previous generations, they are owed their ideal home without the hard work and sacrifice the previous generations made.

Stop the anger? I see no anger in the posts on this thread. I see real people telling real stories of how they came to own a small home in Palo Alto. And I believe every one of them - they are my neighbors and friends.

Ms. Downing and her husband can absolutely afford to live in Palo Alto, just perhaps not in the style they want to, because they choose not to make the sacrifices so many others did and still do. That is a far cry from saying they can't afford to live here. MANY families live here on less than $300K salaries! Per the posts above, they either built equity elsewhere and transferred to Palo Alto, and/or bought the smallest, cheapest thing they could in Palo Alto and slowly gained equity and remodeled.

Yes, Ms. Downing's generalizations about existing residents are very personal and very insulting. [Portion removed] Congrats on her "parting shot." IMHO, it made her look bad, not Palo Alto.


Posted by entitlement-palooza
a resident of another community

on Aug 20, 2016 at 11:25 pm


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65 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 12:27 am

@Self-serving,
I don't see any anger by anyone except the foot-stomping GMYBYs (pronounced "gimme bees", for Give Me Your Back Yard).

People are trying to tell you how you can make it here if you are not rich. That's not anger, that's people trying to pass along their hard-won wisdom. People who could never even dream about having the kind of income Kate Downing has are trying to tell you how you can get a home here. You can decide to face reality or not, but you seem no matter what they say to keep up the abuse towards anyone who owns a home here. I didn't even tell you the hard parts in our journey. These same development conversations happened when we got here, too, developers using the young naive newcomers to help them get their way but it somehow never does anything for the newcomers.

Kate Downing makes twice what we live on as a family with children. The majority of teachers here make more than $100,000/year, which means they make considerably more than the median, and in a two-person household, they too make considerably more than we do. Firefighters, too. She could afford to buy a nice home in East Palo Alto, near her work, tomorrow if she wished. That's how numerous people I know got into Palo Alto, and EPA is a wonderful diverse place where you can even own larger lots (a friend - who makes considerably less than the Downings singly - owned a "farm" there until she retired). It's not dangerous like it used to be.

Based on her income, Downing can also afford to buy a home in Palo Alto, probably with a shorter mortgage than we have (building better equity), With her high income, it just takes persistence, time, and a willingness to accept a standard of living far below what Downing seems to require. In fact, one thing others mention that is really key is getting to know the market here well enough that you are willing to accept something way below the worst thing you ever thought you could accept. More than one person above (including us) took the cheapest home sold in a town that year -- when you go to that end of the scale, you get way less for your money than the almost cheapest. Like I said, a tent pitched in the backyard would have been more habitable.

I live next door to two teachers. Catty corner to me is a local retired teacher. Two doors down, a professor. A few doors down still, another teacher. I don't know how they got through their kids' early childhood with that closet of a kitchen they had. I'll bet the one Downing had in her rental right out of college was bigger and nicer.

Santa Cruz, by the way, is really not that much cheaper than Palo Alto for the kind of home Downing wants, and it's probably more expensive than East Palo Alto. No, like everything else Downing says, there's a lot of self-serving and very little factual accuracy. It's hilarious that anyone associated with PAF would talk about caring for their neighbors, when they go completely mute when you talk about how all the development they push is pushing out the low-income residents who also made the sacrifices to live here. You never hear Downing talking about saving BV, much less doing anything hersel to help, much less living there herself (which she could absolutely afford with money to spare).


5 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2016 at 9:52 am

Well, lots of stories that sound the same ... in fact that sound fake to me.
A lot of scrimping and saving going on which we all know is not typical or
all of our Palo Alto stores and restaurants would not be charging more than
neighboring cities.

The issue in Palo Alto is risk. If you spend all that money, so far it has been
a good investment, particularly in the last 10 years, but in terms of real estate
most of what we hear is from realtors or real estate companies, that is practically
the sole purpose of Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Daily ... real estate.

No one here is talking about how they inherited their houses, or how they
bought them with money from China, or how they got a windfall from being in
a tech firm or investing in a tech firm ... this is easily (don't misconstrue that term)
won money and when the easy won money slows down or disappears or
Silicon Valley finally starts to branch out of the area when the quality of life
parking, traffic, gets impossible, prices will slowly seek a new level.

I am not sure it is a great idea for someone to put their all into a house in
Palo Alto unless they do not "need" the money, the market here is solid
so far, and very high, so it's one thing to scrimp and save for an appreciating
asset and quite another to be paying for a house that is underwater for some
time that might include an economic or job downturn.


12 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of University South
on Aug 21, 2016 at 10:10 am

Those of us who are homeowner would do well to remember that this market is different. Prices have doubled in just the last five years. Even if you bought only five years ago - and how many of us bought long before that - you might not be able to afford Palo Alto today, even with that nest egg from your previous home.

Also, in Ms. Downing's letter - which I encourage you to read yourself - she made it clear she is not concerned on behalf of herself, but on behalf of teachers, firefighters, and low-income workers who can't just afford to move to a nice home in Santa Cruz.


54 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2016 at 10:47 am

The "teachers, firefighters and police" meme that Ms. Downing and Palo Alto Forward are throwing around is a total red herring.

First, the pack and stack housing PAF is advocating is meant to house the young Palantir techies, not mid career public servants who have families and want (like most people with families) to live in a suburban community in a SFR. So they do what many people in the bay area do: they make the tradeoff between commute and residential life style: and many choose to commute from a larger house with a lawn over a smaller condo in town.

Second, there is no practical way for the City to build or subsidize enough housing for teachers etc. in a meaningful way. We already subsidize our city managers' housing, and so far its turned out to be expensive windfalls for the people we hire in that position. Does anyone really think we could do that for hundreds of teachers and police?

I would really like it if more teachers and firefighters could live locally. But the reality is that they can't. And no amount of wishing by well intentioned residents and no false Crocodile tears from entitled millennial lawyers is going to change that.


62 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 10:53 am

Not only is the experience I shared true, I didn't even share the hard parts, like major medical that someimes took 30% of income those years, and even that wasn't the worst. Because of circumstances, we understood and were a part of the Bay Area housing market for decades. The experiences people are sharing are what you have to do. You betray your naivete about the market in thus area with every sentence in your post.

As for buying at the peak, it is possible to lose money here if you stay only a few years, I've seen that happen. But the only way to stabilize your household expenses in the long run is to buy, which us why people sacrifice so much to do it. We have even encouraged friends to stop trying to gage the bottom and just get on the moving train if they are on for the long term. Every one is now better off because if it. These shirt-term runuos during booms are the norm. When my to-be spouse bought the first home, people saud it was crazy to spend that kind if money on a lousy home in a dangerous neighborhood. The equity that came from going through at least one run up was what got us into the next level of fixer in the East Bay.

You can choose to ignore advice, but I hope the Weekly deletes the slur against people. The best advice if you want to get a home is to stop being a jerk and listen. Kate Downing is hardly showing concern for any of the homeowner teachers on my block who worked really hard for their homes and will never make what she does.

Downing is unable to get a house that she wants, as easily as she expects, she is not unable to get a house, she is more able than we are, she is far more able than anyone with a median income here. She has always been able to get an apartment rental for far less than a house, that has ALWAYS been the case here, especially if she is willing to live in a small old apartment and spend more than a weekend or two looking. If you do not believe she and her husband make twice what we do, perhaps you will get her to make a binding promise here to swap incomes with my family for the next four years. We could arrange it through the Weekly office. It would make a huge difference in what we can do for our family through high school to have double the income for awhile. (I have kept date stamped copies of my posts, they can verify who I am.) How about it, Kate?

And how about the media being a little less biased toward PAF, at least looking a little harder at steaming BS (yes, she can make it on $300k), she denigrates everyone who makes less and struggled for their stability here with her spurious claims, and she hurts people who expect to get things handed to them instead of doing what it takes - which people are trying to tell you.


19 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck School
on Aug 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Stop the Self-Serving - This is capitalism, not socialism, and we all know socialism fails. Why should there be discounted prices for teachers and policemen (who do earn $$$,$$$) when there are gardeners and housekeepers who earn less? Palo Alto simply cannot house everyone and it's the whiners who are self-serving. Many Palo Altans have long commutes to work. You think all Palo Altans work in Palo Alto? Really?

Plane Speaker - No mention of inherited homes because most don't, and Chinese investors are unlikely to be reading this thread. Plus, if you've ever attended any PAUSD Open House/event/graduation or other Palo Alto events, you'd know that Palo Altans are not sustaining the upscale businesses by the clothes they wear.


43 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I'm not going to tell you my story as I have typed out a lot of it on other threads.

I will go back to what I consider is an important part of the conversation and that is attitude.

If a young couple value home ownership, they can do it although maybe not by starting in Palo Alto. What they have to value is home ownership and make that a priority. It may mean only having one car which isn't flashy, having second hand furniture - hand me downs or borrowing from family or friends, cutting out the Starbucks and expensive meals out, and camping or visiting family or friends for vacations.

There are choices in life and very few, if any, can start with a modern house and filling it with all the latest styles of furniture, as well as driving nice cars, and having the type of lifestyle where buying designer coffees and multiple expensive meals out each week is the norm. Unfortunately I see many people putting so much value on their need for all the latest gizmos and forgetting some of the simple things in life such as a walk on a beach with a picnic to watch the sun go down or a potluck meal with friends where everyone brings something they made from scratch as being great memories and fun for all.


13 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2016 at 5:40 pm

> If a young couple value home ownership, they can do it although maybe not by starting in Palo Alto.

I really do not think that is very likely any longer.
First prices are rising at such a speed that even if wherever you buy and build
equity appreciates, when you sell to buy a new place taxes will eat up a huge
chunk of your appreciation.

It used to be that if you bought another house within a year you would not have
to pay taxes on your appreciation/profit on your old place. but that is no longer
the case.

Taxes go up, although you can transfer your tax basis in CA and that does help
prices are rising so fast and volatility is increasing that even if you can make it
the question is, is it a wise investment move. I don't think many would say it
is a wise investment move, except that rents are going up so much that people
are frightened into buying.

Plus, if you want to enjoy things like a walk on the beach, or bay in this case,
or around your neighborhood and local park there is so much construction,
train and airplane noise even that is difficult.

Palo Alto is among the worst of the nicer communities in this area, such as Los
Altos, Atherton, Menlo Park and even Mountain View now. We are the first city
to lose our soul to development, and that is a shame and it will eventually
factor into our real estate prices.


26 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 12:03 am

I am still waiting for Downing to take me up on my offer to swap her $300,000/year income for mine that is half of hers for a family but am accused of misrepresenting because we have a home. Only happy to help you understand that you can in fact own a home for less than half what you make. [Portion removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 12:24 am

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by @CA Native
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 9:29 am

[Post removed.]


57 people like this
Posted by Slow Process
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Our first house was in Cambrian Park in San Jose. Very no-frills and full of toxic mold. The water gave us all eczema, it was so polluted and hard. Sold it for a rather small profit, considering how much we put into this fixer-upper. But that allowed us to buy a nice, new house in the East Bay....

....we thought. Four bedroom house on a huge lot, creek running behind it. However, the neighborhood had a LOT of crime: murder-suicides, child and domestic abuse, home invasions, drug deals, drug dealers, the local parks filled with empty whiskey bottles and used hypidermics!
Elementary schools were good, middle and high schools bad.

Took three years to sell the East Bay house: the neighborhood's reputation preceded it! In spite of the fact that the builder was a so-called " move-up" builder!

Rented a tiny house in Palo Alto after getting out of the East Bay. Prices were getting lower by the week, due to the financial crisis. We had a large cash down payment, and after a year of renting, we were able to find a small house on a postage stamp of a lot that we could afford. Still, that meant I had to work one full-time and two part-time jobs, because the payments were rather large. We didn't want to starve like we did, literally, with the first two houses.

However, the previous owners of the Palo Alto house, and their agent, failed to disclose some important facts about the house: no insulation! Our inspector didn't find this, either! Noise: railroad and jet plane! Turns out it took the previous owners two years to sell this house, and they lowered the price drastically.

Unfortunately, our son did not get to attend PAUSD elementary schools, but the middle school was certainly not worth it! Paly is a little better, but I NEVER in my wildest dreams expected the racial and national discrimination that European American kids suffer in schools here! By kids who aren't citizens themselves!

If we didn't work nearby, I think we would have been happier in Danville or San Ramon!

Palo Alto is no longer worth the money. Sadly, we thought we were doing what was best for our son-- but that hasNOT been the reality.


47 people like this
Posted by Good Riddance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 3:51 pm

As others have already pointed out, the path to buying a house in Palo Alto for professional working people is relatively simple. Sacrifice, save, invest, buy a house in an outlying area and then trade up.

It will take many years depending on career luck and the ups and downs of the market. However, it should not be short circuited or subsidized by crony capitalism and favoritism.

Maybe Ms. Downing should have spent more time investing and less time lobbying via PAF. As the old saying goes, business people create wealth and lawyers spend most of their time trying to take it away from them.

It didn't work for her this time and I frankly won't miss her entitled and self-absorbed attitude.


46 people like this
Posted by Not worth the sacrifice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2016 at 4:41 pm

Engineering graduate in 1978.
Had a room mate to split apartment rent for five years.
Room mate moved away in '82 so I got my own apartment and rented till 1998, saving money where I could.
Rents kept going up and I got fed up with that.
Had saved enough to put 15% down and buy a place for $189K in Manteca in 1998.
Commuted to Bay Area using the ACE.
Manteca house appreciated so in 2004 I took an equity Loan to put down payment on a house in Palo Alto on Park near the RR tracks.
Took interest only loans to afford the payments.
Manteca house value rapidly dropped underwater so couldn't sell.
Palo Alto house dropped in value too.
Hung in there till now making both payments - good thing interest rates keep dropping.
Palo Alto has recovered plus enough to cover my selling costs and a few hundred K profit - not a very good return on my principal though, should have bought Tesla! (actually a mutual fund would have done better).
Manteca hasn't really recovered yet so would loose net $ if I sold that.

So, in summary: rented and saved, bought cheap house out of area, traded up to PA, now house rich and cash poor.

regrets? sure.
I really hate living in Palo Alto.
I take a lot of crap from my neighbor about my "Prop 13 Give-away". He makes me feel like a free loader.
The Measure D thing and Maybell really turned me off to the broader community.
Nothing but complaints about airplanes and crowding.
I will sell as soon as I can afford to and go out of state.



37 people like this
Posted by No Name for this
a resident of Triple El
on Aug 22, 2016 at 6:10 pm

Plane Speaker,

You're overlooking something very basic, which is that the people who actually own in Palo Alto are older. Go to any school meeting and you'll see older parents. People hold off on having kids until they can afford a home in an area with good schools. Thanks to Prop. 13, California has a severe shortage of good districts--people do a *lot* to get into a Basic Aid district.

So, yes, non-rich people do live and own in Palo Alto and they've been telling you how they did it. If you look at my story, you'll see I lived here for 20 years before I could buy. Other people work their way up through starter homes, building equity over the decades.

Other than a few trophy wives, you see very few parents under 40 at the elementary schools (and many of those are renting) and you'll see a number in their 50s, even 60s. I knew preschool mothers in their 50s.

There are a some struck-it-rich types who cashed in their IPOs and bought, but a lot of us had to wait and just put things off. Of course, the other thing about Palo Alto is that the prices can rise so quickly that you can't afford to move from whatever small home you bought here to a bigger one in Palo Alto. I sure can't.


43 people like this
Posted by tt
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2016 at 8:55 pm

We bought our entry condo near the railroad in South Palo Alto back in 1998 after renting in Cupertino and Mtn. View for several years, had to outbid 10 other offers to get it. We poured 90% of our savings into the condo and couldn't afford to do any renovation for 3 years. We were so happy nevertheless because we believed it was the right investment for our future and kids education.

We eventually were able to upgrade to a 50 year old SFR in midtown after 5 years with the appreciation money the condo generated. It wasn't easy either as we had to beat 7 other offers to get it. We took it as is with a broken wall furnace and single pane windows that couldn't close completely. We slept with double comforters winters for 3 cold winters before we were able to get double pane windows and have the wall furnace fixed.

We were making way less than Ms Downing and were still able to get a Palo Alto zip code by constant sacrificing for what we believed was more important. I believe Ms Downing can also make it if she is willing to do.


21 people like this
Posted by California Native
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 12:55 pm

I find it interesting that the Weekly reporting has been so biased in favor of the development interests, including using euphemistic language like "options" and "progress" which are so clearly inapplicable, and on the other side, accepting the framing of "backwards" " "staying the same" ". (Instead of "prioritizing quality of life" we get "slowgrowth" and instead of "prioritizing high-density development" we get the euphemistic and largely inaccurate "housing options".

I also find it interesting that these rare posts that actually tell the real story of what is going on here have to be posted by resudents, but the Weekly keeps posting opinion piece after opinion piece by PAF types spinning the usual, often inconsistent, unsupported, and blatantly wrong justifications for pushing overdevelopment here, it seems, mainly so Palantir can own downtown and treat it like their own little fiefdom.

As for the stories above, Palo Alto benefits infinitely more from citizens willing to do the hard work to put down roots than it does bullying hypocrites who push in and misrepresent everything about here for their own selfish interests, then leave (with their obligations to the town unfulfilled) for greener pasteurs when it suits them. We should not be uglifying and destroying what is good about this place for that.


23 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2016 at 1:06 pm

What is interesting to me is that so many of the advocates for more pack and stack housing don't really look to the future of what will happen when these younger people become families and older people. When someone says that they and their daughter are happy to have no yard and walking everywhere is important to them have obviously not raised boys, have not had more than one child who needs to be half way across town while the other needs to be the other side of town. They have obviously not had to buy school supplies for a project due tomorrow. They have obviously not had to replace a swimsuit that got caught and torn in time for swimming at PE tomorrow. They have obviously not had a boy throwing a ball and breaking a window because he was bored stuck inside or in a tiny patio. They have obviously not had one child practicing piano while the baby in the next apartment the other side of the wall is trying to nap. They have obviously never had to provide guest accommodation for in laws who want to "do" San Francisco and rent a car for the duration. They have never had to store 15 soccer balls since Dad is the AYSO soccer coach. They have never had to transport all the equipment for the local softball/baseball team from one field to another.

In other words, life in a pack and stack home may be fine for a couple. Not so fine for an active family who wants to join in to the local activities. It doesn't matter how many bedrooms a unit may have, we don't have useful retail in Palo Alto anywhere, let alone in walking distance to downtown, and they don't have space to provide the cumbersome bits and pieces that make joining in way of life of an average family with children who want to be involved in what their friends are involved with.


18 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2016 at 5:55 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

When the young, mostly techies who now want live in dense pack&stack start having families, they will want to move to larger houses with backyards and several bedrooms and bathrooms. Then they will demand them from long term residents, and will use the same arguments to demand that residents provide them with houses that fit their income and budget. Why wouldn't they,tThe precedent has already been set. Complain long enough about NIMBY, about older residents benefiting from Prop 13 and from huge home appreciation and trying to keep young families from moving in, organize and coordinate many appearances before a timid city council, and you get your wish.


20 people like this
Posted by OPer
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Let's try to keep the focus on the original topic: explaining how you were able to become a homeowner in Palo Alto. I'd like this to continue to be a positive thread with useful advice for young people seeking to eventually own a home in Palo Alto. Please focus on your own experience. Thank you.


17 people like this
Posted by Not worth the sacrifice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Along with my story above, its probably worth noting that growing up in the late 50's and 60's, we didn't have or depend on a lot of stuff and learned to fix things ourselves. This seems to be confused by some readers as "suffering". It is definitely NOT suffering.

Things we did and still do (and again, this is NOT suffering)
- Our own car work (short of engine rebuilds) changed our own engine trans and diff. oil, tune ups, filters, washing, cleaning, basic repairs (bulbs, dents and dings, hoses, belts, etc.)
- Take care of all the house and yard work ourselves (Gardening, pruning, mowing, weeding, painting, cleaning, windows, etc.)
- Antennae for our single TV (no Dish, Comcast, etc.).
- fix broken appliances ourselves (refrigerators, ovens, washing machines etc.)
- Landline for phone (no "Smart Phone" and service contracts)
- If I need a computer and internet, I use the connection at work or the library.
- Our furniture is all hand-me downs.
- Resurfaced the driveway myself. Repair plumbing myself.
- We have no video games or "electronics" to speak of. Our folks raised us to be outdoors, not sitting in front of a TV all day.

Doing the things we learned above save us literally tens of thousands of dollars a year. They are not hard and again,...none of them are "suffering" or "doing without". They are just the way an average person lives.

To @Plane Speaker - I know nobody that inherited their house. Do you actually know anyone that got their house in Palo Alto from their parents ?



13 people like this
Posted by Not worth the sacrifice
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I left out family meals ....
like casseroles, and pot coked dishes that make nice leftovers meals and fill containers for days for sack lunches. There are big cost savings there. Skip the restaurants - those are a big money wasters.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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