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Renting in Palo Alto (coming form UK)

Original post made by sue Margetson, another community, on Jul 13, 2008

hello there,
I currently live in England and will be moving to Palo ALto in November. I have read with interest many of the comments on renting etc.

I currently own a home in the UK and am looking to rent in Palo Alto (initially). The main reason we are renting and not buying is because we do not know the area and renting is a good way to figure out where everything is in relation to everything else. We are hoping to buy eventually.

Not all renters are bad! WE do not want to make a very costly mistake and buy a house when we know very little about the area and want to establish ourselves first. You cannot buy a home when you live thousands of miles away - you need to be in the town. Can I also say to all those who want to rent out there homes that your ads should be more specific and contain photographs. Its not just locals who are looking at them:-)
Looking forward to mpving into your community and hoping that it will be seen as an addition not a drain on your resources..

Sue M

Comments (5)

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Posted by Resident (also from Britain)
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2008 at 10:39 am



Having lived in Palo Alto since the early 90s and rented before buying, I can understand where you are coming from.

Palo Alto is a City (in American terms, but what we would call a town) that has been built up around Stanford University. There is a north/south divide where historically the houses in the north were the areas where the Stanford big wigs lived and the south was for the service workers to live in reasonably nice homes. As time has passed, the north is still more affluent on the surface, but the south is catching up fast and the homes are lived in by high tech, often immigrant from all over the world, families who move here for the schools. Schools are the big draw in both north and south for those moving into the area.

Now to your move, if you are working in Palo Alto and have a family you may want to move here because of our schools. If you do not have a family, you may want to consider some of the surrounding communities which are very close and may suit you better. Palo Alto tends to be an expensive place to live either by renting or buying and there are nice areas of Mountain View and Sunnyvale to the south or Redwood City, Menlo Park or other communities to the north which are not far away and can provide you with a nicer home for your money.

I agree that advertising for homes, either to buy or rent, is poor compared to Britain, but it is a completely different way of doing things. My advice to you would be to get a realtor from one of the bigger companies (Estate Agent to you) to help you. They charge bigger fees for selling a home and do a lot more than the average British estate agent, and you can get one who will take you around the area and help you with your needs, showing you properties and it is all done on the sellers expense rather than yours. For this reason realtors here advertise themselves a lot more than their homes available.

If you have any more specific questions ask away. We are a very vocal bunch on this forum and you will get all sorts of answers and hopefully some of it will be positive and helpful.

Like this comment
Posted by homeowner
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 13, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Mountain View may be cheaper than Palo Alto but I would avoid Menlo Park and Atherton as houses there are more expensive in general.

Like this comment
Posted by mmmmMom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

For the same amount of money, you should also look into Los Altos. Equally good schools, but less congested than P.A. Not as many rentals, however.

Personally, if you have children, I would skip Sunnyvale & Mt. View - not what you're looking for. Ditto for Redwood City. Parts of Menlo Park are great - but best explored after you are living here; you'll see what I mean.

Be prepared for sticker shock - rents are outrageous! Pollution & seasonal environmental allergens are also a problem, so if you have a family member with asthma, take that into consideration.

Good luck to you......

Like this comment
Posted by opalset
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 22, 2008 at 12:38 pm

opalset is a registered user.

Thank you everyone for the help. I have 2 teenage daughters (15 and 15) so we need to be in Palo Alto for the schools. I have discovered that you really do need a realtor to work on your behalf. Do you pay them if they find you a property or do they get commission/payment from the person selling. I have no idea whatsoever where anything is so will need all the help I can get to find shops/hairdressers/dentists/vets and much more. WE are bringing our hungarian Vizsla (toby) who will be 11 months old with us - any other vizsla owners out there (look at his blog Web Link for pictures of the handsome boy!)
Trying to find a rental house when you are only in Palo Alto for 1 week at a time every couple of months is HARD. Also does everyone call is Palo Alto or Paly HELP!!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident (also from Britain)
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2008 at 1:11 pm

Very brave of you to come with two 15 year olds.

They will find US school system very different. The biggest shock is the culture, but academics will be very different too. Their English school may be able to help, but I suggest you do plenty of research before you come as to what will happen and get au fait with phrases like SATs, APs, GPAs, graduation requirements, UC requirements, as everyone here talks about them as if everyone in the world understands the phrase and when you ask for more details, you get more similar phrases as answers.

Basically, there are no equivalents of O and A levels. To graduate high school there is a very easy exit exam known as CAHSEE which most students here pass in 10th grade (with two more years of school still to go). On top of that there are school requirements which I expect a school counsellor will walk you through as you register your students. These requirements will be so many years of this and so many units (a period of study) of others. Some classes are year long and some half year long (semester). There are class exams in January and June (called finals but are not really the final exam) and these carry some of the marks for the year, but what is more important is keeping up to date with homework and handing it in on time and class tests (or sometimes called quizes) which all carry points for the final grade. It is possible to do really well during the year and do badly in the exam and still pass, or the other way round, but obviously you want to try and do well in both. Generally, the teachers here use InClass, a system whereby you and the students can check on the grade progression during the year and also check in to see homework assignments, etc.

Freshman year in the first year in high school and then they all go by names, 2nd year is sophomore, 3rd year junior and 4th year senior. The label senior is only attached to 4th year high school. Freshman year is often a big transition for students, sophomore has the distinction of the year when everyone starts driving, junior year is SATs (college entrance exams which can be taken multiple times) and senior year is college application year, which has to start straight away as deadlines for application are usually due in December. Acceptances start coming out in March and accepting the acceptance has to be done May/June so by the end of the year, everyone knows where they are going.

In Palo Alto we have two high schools, Gunn and Palo Alto High School (known as Paly). These are generally dependent on residential boundaries, but typically Gunn is full for new residents so it is likely that in November, you will be assigned to Paly. Both schools are good, but there is always the discussion of which is better, but since we are talking about very little difference in point value on scores which are excellent, the point is moot. Paly has a reputation for being more sports orientated and possibly liberal arts and journalism, with Gunn being the math/science school, but as I said the differences are really nothing to be worried about.

Realtors for buyers get a commission from the selling realtor, so sometimes you can do very well if you find a home you like and get the selling realtor to work on your behalf. They do the conveyancing and help with getting loans. Some take on renters too, so you need to do some research on which one to use, but most will happily help you with what you need.

There is a very useful system here in that every Sunday afternoon, most of the houses for sale will have "open House" and you can go round on your own looking at all the property. If you are here over a weekend before you move, do this round of open houses and you will see what is available for what amount of money even if you are only planning to rent.

Rentals here vary enormously. Sometimes a rental property is owned by a company doing rentals and sometimes you will find a rental owned by grown children of a deceased parent who may want to return to this area in the future or sometimes the property may be owned by an elderly person moved into a retirement home and needs the rental income for the payment for the retirement home. In any case, my recommendation is to rent in an area where there are many people who own their own home rather than a typical rental neighborhood.

Condos or townhomes, are nice sounding rentals and will probably have neighbors who own. Apartment rentals tend to be not quite as nice and you will probably find your neighbors all rent also. There are many people who rent in Palo Alto and there is no snob value attached to renting or not renting.

Shopping, and the other things you mention are reasonably easy but you will need to drive to get to them. The downtown (highstreet) area of Palo Alto is more restaurants than shopping. Stanford Shopping Centre is mainly high end department stores and chains. Mervyns, Target and Costco are all places you will find are good value (Costco is the same as the UK - you need a membership). We have several supermarkets in Palo Alto, but the bigger selections are available in Mountain View or Menlo Park. There are two British Foods stores, one in Campbell and one in San Mateo, where you can get your fix of HP sauce, Heinz Beans, proper sausages (known as Bangers) and bacon (for some reason usually Irish).

Hope this is enough to give you for now.

Good Luck.

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