Sunday, February 3, 2013

Apartment hunting in Mountain View

Welcome to my fourth try at blogging; the last fell stagnant in 2006. In fact, I meant to start this one a year ago when I first moved here to Silicon Valley, but, better late than never...

I recently sent a friend some advice on apartment hunting in Mountain View, shortly after completing my second housing search here. First things first: it's not cheap. As of this writing, a decent 1br in this area will run $1500-$2000/mo, and a 2br will go for $2000-$2500. It's a bit more expensive in nearby Palo Alto, and a helluva lot worse in San Francisco!

A lot of high-density apartment housing developed in Mountain View in the 60's and 70's, presumably during the initial rise of Silicon Valley. As a result, most of the stock is of that vintage. They get renovated from time to time of course, but this only helps so much. Some warning signs to look for in an apparently nice unit: ungrounded (two-prong) electrical outlets, gravity wall heaters that make a lot of noise warming up and cooling down, lack of kitchen exhaust fan, several layered coats of paint (usually detectable around doorjambs and windowsills), superficial bathroom renovations involving acrylic slapped on the existing tile and tub, adjacency to noise sources such as Caltrain/Central Expwy and freeways (101/85).

Most of the new or recently-renovated units are found in large complexes owned by corporations such as Archstone, Avalon, Prometheus, UDR, etc. These are pretty good, but tend to be somewhat overpriced, as you're paying for amenities you may not want (pool, spa, gym, etc.), and you can also count on aggressive rent increases in the future.

The real gems are condos and cottages being rented by individual owners who maintain them well, and to whom a problem-free tenant is as important as revenue maximization. These move quickly - we applied for one a few hours after seeing it, and got beaten to it. Another open house we visited was mobbed by dozens of people! (It was underpriced.)

The market for decent one-bedroom apartments is especially tight because of the multitudes of single, introverted, well-paid engineers who work in the area. We visited a couple apartment complexes with zero studio/1br availability, but multiple vacant 2br units. In that sense, having a roommate can make things a lot easier, as well as less expensive.

My first apartment here was a ~600 sq. ft. 1br near Latham & Rengstorff. It was fine for just me, and basically across the street from work, but once my girlfriend moved in it was quite cramped.  We visited more than 20 places in Mountain View, which helped me solidify the above impressions, but ultimately ended up just across the border in the Charleston Meadow neighborhood of Palo Alto, with a 1000 sq. ft. townhouse-style 2br.

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Lastly, some general impressions of living and working in Mountain View: having grown up in a New Jersey suburb, then lived in urban areas of Boston and Cambridge for 10 years, I very much like living in a more suburban area again, where you can park anywhere you want and packages don't get stolen off your doorstep. At the same time, the area is dense enough that you can still walk or bike to restaurants and shopping. The weather's nice, of course. It's not easy to meet people, though, so I wouldn't necessarily want to live here if I were single. For then I'd likely fall in with one of the numerous packs of 4-6 male engineers roving about Castro St. any given evening.