Menlo Park

Lane Woods Menlo Park

Lane Woods

Lane Woods, by builder Summerhill Homes, is opening a new community of 32 residences in Menlo Park targeting the active, outdoorsy family of four. 

The model homes will be opening for tours in mid-April and move in will be mid-to-late summer.  There have already been many inquiries into this community, with the majority of the curious home-buyers being families with small children and babies. 

The Lane Woods development takes its name from the Lane Family, a family of publishers dating back to the 1920s; The Lane Family put their heritage on the map with the popular Sunset Magazine.  Within this beautiful community will be the 2008 Sunset Magazine "Idea House", where the concept is to build a home with exciting new ideas and smart products in mind.  The very first idea house was built in Menlo Park in 1998, and for the 10 year anniversary of this project they are returning to the roots where the idea emerged.

Each year since 1998, Sunset Magazine has partnered with local builders and architects to create innovative, futuristic, high-end homes with the vision of being ecologically and environmentally conscious.   These "?idea houses' have come a long way over the past 10 years, using green standards, being eco-friendly and energy efficient.  Another feature of the idea house is the harmonious way that the home transitions from the interior to the exterior and incorporates the natural beauty of its surroundings.

Not all the houses will be an idea home, just one:  Residence 6 - an astonishing 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath home with nearly 3,000 feet of living space.  There are a total of 6 floor plans in the community to choose from, varying from a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath to 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths; all homes have a 2-car garage and many options and upgrades.  The interior living spaces are generous, sized between 1,750 and 3,000 square feet.  The exterior yards are decent-sized and provide plenty of privacy.  Each home has a porch and patios that encourage indoor / outdoor living and entertaining.   Some of the many standard features include clad wood windows, granite slab countertops, stainless steel appliances; the amenities are endless.  Sunset's original courtyard has become the neighborhood park that is easily within strolling distance.

Because of the desirable location, pricing for these single family homes will be between $1.5 Million and $2.5 Million.  The location of Lane Woods in close by Sunset Publishing Corporation headquarters located at 80 Willow Road in Menlo Park.

A big bonus for these homes is the private road where they are located.  A lot of the new developments today are being built next to freeways and busy intersections; however Lane Woods is located in a private circle that gets very little traffic.  Menlo Park is a safe and prestigious place to live and it is conveniently located midway between San Francisco and San Jose ; access to highways 101, 280, and CalTrain is easy.  It is also within walking-distance to the neighborhood park and the charming downtown Menlo Park .  Using the Waverley Footbridge, Lane Woods residents will be able to walk to Palo Alto's Johnson Park in five minutes, and downtown Palo Alto in ten minutes.  Also, within easy distance are Standford University, Stanford shopping center, restaurants, groceries and major places of employment. 

The highly-regarded schools of Menlo Park are a great aspect considering these homes are being targeted towards families with school age children.  Laurel & Encinal Elementary School are the two primary elementary schools; K-2 children with attend Laurel, and grade 3-5 will go to Encinal.  Hillview Middle School and Menlo Atherton High will complete their grade school education.

With all the great features and amenities that these homes encompass it my best guess to say that with the low inventory of only 32 homes, that these won't be available for very long. 

Menlo Park Housing Market Update - October 2007

There's an interesting opportunity in Menlo Park when you take into account that the city has multiple personalities.  I want to illustrate this using the median home chart below and a couple facts.  First, if you look at the homes that are available, there are just as many single-family houses available between $400K and $800K as there are between $1.5M and $2.5M. Second, the ones at the low end of the range are closer to Redwood City and East Palo Alto, and use Redwood City and Ravenswood Elementary School Districts, respectively.  The more expensive ones are closer to Atherton and Palo Alto and are part of the Menlo Park Elementary School District --- and its 907 district API score --- or the Las Lomitas Elementary School District --- and its two schools with a 948 district API score.

So, with that in mind, the median value of homes in Menlo Park can be somewhat of a tug-of-war.  For September 2007, there were two transactions for low-income housing which closed at about $330,000 each.  If you threw those two out, the median single-family home in Menlo Park was $1,220,000.  That's a realistic 6% decrease year-over-year.

It's important to look beyond what the numbers are and understand the story behind them.  In this case, there's been some softness in Menlo Park given increasing CDOM numbers, from 19 to 38 year-over-year.  (The average CDOM over 10 years is 34.)  But, from on the ground experience, there wasn't anything to indicate a decrease as dramatic as the median value chart would indicate.

Median Home 2007 - $1,220,000 ($1,000,000)

As the median value chart shows, $1,000,000 was the actual median in Menlo Park.  That Median Home was 208 Oakhurst Place, a 57-year old, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home in Menlo's Flood Park region that measures 1,800 square feet on a 6,421 square foot lot.

The more representative properties are the two $1.22M homes.  The first is 596 Hopkins St., which is a revised Craftsman-style home that takes considerable advantage of natural light.  This 3 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home measures in at 1,493 square feet (on a 4,195 square foot lot) according to the subdivision reports, and its location just feet away from Burgess Park puts it near a number of outdoor activities --- from swimming to softball and skating --- as well as Kepler's and downtown.

From many, that proximity makes the smaller yard an acceptable trade-off.  The interior is modern and its kitchen relatively spacious considering the limited square footage.

This property was originally listed at $1,350,000 on July 30 and underwent a reduction to $1,275,000 before selling after 40 days-on-market.  Hopkins is in a strong location in Menlo Park and the sellers understandably wanted to maximize their revenue given a comparable close by that sold off-market for $1,450,000.

But assuming the homes were the same (the off-market one is actually larger by a couple hundred squares), the market in the spring and the one in August are two very different stories --- especially this year with a nationwide mortgage crisis.

The other "almost" Median Home, 2108 Manzanita Ave., fared better.  Originally listed August 20 for $1,265,000, it sold in 9 days for $1,220,000.  That's a 3.6% reduction.  At 1,150 square feet, this home at Manzanita is smaller than the other "almost" Median Home at Hopkins but its 6,500 square foot lot is considerably larger.  This 52-year old home was recently refreshed with new double-pane windows, a gas fireplace, and a new furnace.

Students split their early years between the exceptional Las Lomitas Elementary School then La Entrada Middle for elementary school, after which they go to  Hillview Middle and Menlo-Atherton High.

Compared With Last Year - $1,297,500

Last year's first Median Home at 1077 Tehama Ave. is comparatively large at 2,310 square feet and has a 5,928 square foot lot.  It's in the Menlo Park Elementary School District and is close to Flood Park which has everything from baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, horseshoes and petanque --- which I had to look up --- to a vast picnic area.  The trade-off is that this home is also relatively close to 101.

Listed at 99-years old, Tehama is completely redone with a new roof, custom driveway, and modern interior.  The modernized kitchen has all of the stainless steel touches that buyers looking for a plug-and-play home would expect and the unheralded essentials like furnace and water heater are new as well.  This home 4 bedroom, 2.5 bathroom home sold in 12 days at $1,325,000, slightly over the asking of $1,299,000.

The second Median Home was 874 Cambridge Ave. in the downtown region of Menlo Park between Santa Cruz Ave. and the Stanford Shopping Center, and walking distance to both.

This 47-year old home is also completely remodeled on the inside but the exterior still has the feel of ranches of that period, complete with an aerial antenna.  Among the additions were French doors, skylights, a new granite kitchen and hardwood floors.  3 bedrooms with 3 bathrooms, this home sits 1,750 square feet on a 4,800 square foot lot and sold in 36 days for $1,270,000, just under the asking of $1,295,000.

Market Snapshot - October 16, 2007 

There are 82 single-family homes and 17 townhomes and condos available today.  22, or 27%, of these homes have undergone a published reduction, which isn't too high, but something to watch moving forward.  The reduced homes have an Active CDOM average of 116 days: one of the homes has been on the market for a whopping 407 days, which outpaces the second highest CDOM number at 209.

It's interesting that at a couple points over the past decade, the medians for homes and townhomes  in Menlo Park have either come close or overlapped.  There are a number of townhomes with large footprints, particularly around Sharon Heights and the Stanford Hills (towards Silicon Valley's famous Sand Hill Road) which are well over $1 million.

The Active CDOM for all Menlo Park single-family homes is 70.  One home (not on the reduction list) has a CDOM of 465 days and 17 over 100 days.  A number of sellers subscribe to a wait strategy where they believe they can get the number they want if they leave their property on the market long enough.

If the sellers don't have a pressing need to move, this may be the route they decide to take.  Otherwise, maintenance and ownership costs (including taxes) make this strategy more costly each month and there's a balance between getting a target number and maximizing gains (or minimizing losses) in a transaction.  Sometimes getting the number is an expensive proposition.

Silicon Valley School System Bang-for-the-Buck

Image of California Academic Performance Index Sample

The California Department of Education (CDE) has released the updated 2006 Academic Performance Index (API) scores for California schools, including data for San Mateo County and Santa Clara County.  The API is a statewide benchmark based on standardized achievement tests which is primarily used to rank schools relative to one another and relative to schools with similar demographics.  Here's an example of what the statistics look like.

We'll take a look at how school rankings and Silicon Valley real estate prices are related, but first let's look at how to read the information.

Number of Students. In the first column, you'll find the number of students whose results were included from that school.  It's pretty close to the total number of students, less any excluded students.  The rules for excluding students are listed in the API Base Documentation Information Guide found on the CDE API page.  Surprisingly, the number of students has little to do with how well the school did in its API scores (almost, see epilogue).

Base API, Statewide Rank, Similar Schools Rank. The Base API score is like an SAT score except it's from 200 to 1000.  Higher is better.  To make comparing schools easier, the CDE provides a statewide rank from 1 to 10 (ten is best) and a similar schools rank that rates schools (again from 1 to 10, ten being best) that have similar demographics and characteristicsApples-to-apples in a way.

Growth Target, API Target. The growth target is the number of points California wants the school to improve in the next year.  That added with the current base API score equals the API target.  The CDE doesn't set a target for schools above the current statewide performance target of 800.

Silicon Valley School District Scores

I've assembled information from the CDE site and the Palo Alto Daily News to provide a table of school district API averages for Silicon Valley and Bay Area elementary and middle schools.

Comparing School Districts and Housing Prices

Remember the chart of median Silicon Valley single-family home prices in February 2007 from my article Determining Your Must-Haves When Buying a House?

Combining the chart for Silicon Valley school district rankings with the one for Silicon Valley median single-family real estate prices brings up some surprises.  (I used a simple ratio between how far the API score was above 700 and the median single-family home price.  The resulting number isn't really that relevant, it's the visual comparison I was looking for.)

Regarding Schools and Value in Pricing

First, while Cupertino and Foster City housing prices are very similar, there is a vast difference between the performance index of their school districts.  On school rankings, compared to Foster City, Cupertino represents a much better value based on the median sale price of single-family homes.

Second, while Los Altos has the highest API scores, it also had a much higher median price putting it on-par with other elite school districts like Palo Alto and Los Gatos, but well-below Saratoga which had both higher test scores and a lower median home price.

Third, it is possible to cherry-pick good schools in average school districts.  For example,  you can search around Sunnyvale's Cherry Chase Elementary, which has a base API score of 941, if you're looking for a good elementary school.  Stay tuned.

[ed.  This is the CYA: The data in the report is considered accurate but not guaranteed.]

Epilogue

There's a quirk in the ratings system where only test scores for "statistically significant" groups (read: ethnicities) are counted.  Some schools, none that I can find documentation on, were accused of reclassifying lesser performing students into groups that weren't statistically significant to prop up their overall test scores.

There is a measure of transparency, though, because if you drill down on the individual schools, it will show which groups were counted, which weren't, and how many were in each.

Any Tour of Menlo Park Starts at Keplers and Ends in Xanadu

Menlo Park is a Tree USA city, adhering to four national standards for tree management and budgeting on forestry maintenance. Nestled into the lush greenery is a bustling area in central Menlo Park where hundreds of people will gather on a typically bright summer afternoon in Northern California, enjoying a glass of wine and walking the local scene.

Image of House in Menlo Park
Image of House in Menlo Park

This walking tour of Menlo Park starts at its cultural epicenter, the Kepler's Bookstore on the cross of El Camino Real and Ravenswood Ave.

  1. Kepler's
  2. Cafe Boronne
  3. The BBC
  4. Menlo Park Railroad Station
  5. Xanadu Gallery

1.  Kepler's

Any trip to Menlo Park should start at Kepler's Books and Magazines, the premiere independent bookstore in Silicon Valley. A place for literati, Kepler's fosters a community atmosphere where people are encouraged to read, debate, and generate ideas.

They run an impressive array of author events where you can speak directly with the people who've written your favorite books and while you'll never confuse it with a discount bookstore, you will find many titles that no mainstream bookstore would carry.

It's this non-mainstream mentality that keeps Kepler's on the border of going out of business. In recent years, they've announced their closure only to be bailed out at the last minute by passionate customers turned investors.

Customers love Kepler's that much and that's worthy of a starting point. It's at the intersection of Ravenswood and El Camino Real. There is underground parking beneath the building.

Next stop: Next door at Cafe Borrone.

Image of Keplers Menlo Park
Image of Keplers Menlo Park

2.   Cafe Barrone

Cafe Borrone is a European-style cafe in Silicon Valley. It's a great place to get a glass of wine and a small snack, sitting outside in the expansive courtyard with a friend or a good book from Kepler's next door.

And when the sun is out, you'll find the area completely packed with a wide variety of people enjoying Northern California weather. There's something about the atmosphere that draws not only locals, but people from all over the Peninsula.  If you decide to play hooky at Cafe Barrone, just remember that your boss might be there too!

Next stop: The BBC. Right next door.

Image of Cafe Barrone Menlo Park
Image of Cafe Barrone Menlo Park

3.  The BBC

The British Bankers Club is an English pub complete with the bright red telephone booth. While not as popular as Cafe Boronne, the BBC offers it's own brand of atmosphere and a good selection of beers to match. You can get traditional British dishes like bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) or sit outside and enjoy a Guinness and a cigar from the tobacco shop next door.

Next stop: The Menlo Park Train Station.  Walk a block Northwest, behind the BBC.

Image of BBC Menlo Park
Image of BBC Menlo Park

4.  The Menlo Park Railroad Station

The Menlo Park Railroad Station is the oldest passenger train station in California. The building pictured was built in 1867 and hasn't changed that much since the 1890s when the station was remodeled with Victorian ornamentation to serve the newly-opened Stanford University. It is still operational and serves to connect Menlo Park with the rest of Silicon Valley by CalTrain.

Next stop: Xanadu. Go to El Camino Real and walk up Santa Cruz Ave.

Image of Train Station Menlo Park
Image of Train Station Menlo Park

5.  Xanadu Gallery

The walk up Santa Cruz Avenue brings you through Downtown Menlo Park which has great eating at the Left Bank and strong specialty stores like The Runners High.

Xanadu Gallery, which sits on the southwestern end of Santa Cruz Avenue, is home to ancient artifacts and folk art from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Almost all of the pieces in the gallery are for sale and many date back for centuries. One of the priced pieces in the collection is an andesite figure of Buddha from 9th-century Java selling for $650,000. But take heart, that's less than the price of a house in Menlo Park!

Image of Xanadu Menlo Park
Image of Xanadu Menlo Park