Rent: Apartment Hunting in Silicon Valley

Looking for an apartment in the valley proved to be the most fun and nerve wrecking experience (at the same time) for me thus far. It is also the time when I learnt about the major roads in the valley, purchased my 1st ever iPhone app and the ropes of renting in America. In those initial 2 months I ended up living in 4 places. 4th being the one I finally settled in for good. Here is how it all went down.

1st – Friend’s place (2 weeks)

When I arrived in the valley a friend (who at the time only knew me by name and my voice on the phone) was kind enough to offer me a place in his large house while I hunted for an apartment. This friend is also the hiring manager for the company I work at now hence how I met him during the USA planning phase of my trip back in Australia.

My wife arrived in the valley with me for 3 days in March 2009. She needed to be here to sort out legal paperwork and kick start her process of getting a labor card sorted. So we took this opportunity to hunt together for a place for me to live long-term.

We had no idea where to go or what to do. We hired a car with a GPS and set out to explore the valley. There was alot to see – everything from scrappy paper walled looking apartments to nice fresh cement apartments. Prices varied between USD 1,200 to 1,900. At that time this translated to AUD 1680 to 2660 – a lot of money to live in the burbs (40 mins away from San Francisco).

We finally found something reasonable with 2 months free rent and a 30 day change-your-mind option.

2nd – Renting at Avalon – Mountain View (45 days)

Renting at Avalon - Mountain View (45 days)
Renting at Avalon – Mountain View (45 days)

The place was 10 minutes walk from downtown Mountain View area, a place called Avalon Community. We visited this place on a Saturday. This place looked beautiful, it was quiet and my apartment was on the 2nd floor out of the 3 stories in the back away from the main street facing the back gardens. This should be good, or so I thought.

I had nothing when I moved in here. Just a sleeping bag, my suitcase full of clothes, some books and my laptop. To get to work I needed to walk for 15 minutes to VTA local train and then train it from Mountain View downtown to Middlefield Station – a 5 minute ride and $2 each way.

Upon moving in I learnt the most about these communities and houses in California:

  • Houses & apartments are made out of wood, paper and more wood. So the walls and floors are thin and noise travels easily through them. This is to make the dwelling “quake proof”. California being on the San Andreas Fault is prone to regular earthquakes inc. one that leveled San Francisco in 1906. During an earth quake the dwelling is made to move side to side and all is good for the occupants inside. If it was made of brick (like most houses in Australia) then the walls and floors would crack (and collapse) and all wouldn’t be good for the occupants inside. So without sound proofing I could hear my neighbors above me. It sounded like they were moving furniture till midnight and as if they had hoofs for feet. That taught me a lesson, no more renting in lower floors ever again, ever.
  • My unit faced that lovely backyard garden with lovely trees and a large wall. That should have been enough sign to question it. Behind those walls was the Caltrain line. So a diesel locomotive passes by every 30 minutes. Sometimes it was such a violent pass that the floor in my apartment would shake.
  • I also took the opportunity to buy my 1st ever iPhone app called WideNoise to find out what the noise levels were when the train passed by. At 11pm I registered 80db in my bedroom with my bedroom window open – that’s the sound of a vacuum cleaner next to your head for around 30 seconds. Caltrain kept going till 1am and started again at 6am. Next lesson, make sure no major transport lines are present. If in doubt spend an afternoon there – at least 2 hours.. measuring noise levels with WideNoise.
    WideNoise - iPhone Application
    WideNoise

    WideNoise - WideTag, Inc. or check out other 99 cent iPhone Apps here which can help you.

  • Most rental contracts are 1 year. Lucky for me there was a 30 day cooling period on this move in. This is still the only community I know which has this cool off period. This proved to be a life saver. However to move out I still had to give them a 30 day notice.
  • I visited this community on a Saturday. On the weekend Caltrain’s run every 1 hour and my inspection time slipped within the quiet window when no trains were running. The person showing us the property did not mention any Caltrain when I asked about noise levels. All he said was there is a highway in the distance and you hardly ever heard it. Wasn’t that a joke.

After exercising my cooling off period I had to wait 30 days before I could move out. So I spent around 45 days here in total. I don’t know how I survived with all that noise.

3rd – Renting Oakwood Corporate Apartments (30 days)

After moving out of Avalon Community I decided to move into Oakwood Corporate Apartments for 30 days while I exercised my new-found knowledge into finding the “right apartment” to live in with my wife.

Oakwood was great. It was all made out of concrete so it was super quiet and hidden away from all major roads. I finally found peace and could sleep well at night… with my window open! The apartment was fully furnished so it felt more homey and livable. It was also a 20 minute walk to work so this proved to be a big bonus since I didn’t need to catch public transport.

I had peace, I had a good location, I felt relaxed and now I had 30 days to find the right apartment to live in with my wife once she arrives in the USA. I used Google to narrow down to the following apartment finder sites:

Craigslist proved to be the true winner here. It had the most comprehensive list of apartments with pictures. Apartment Ratings being a people driven apartment rating website also helped me identify what people thought of the apartments I narrowed down to.

I searched Craigslist and used every day as an opportunity to inspect local communities to gain a perspective where I want to live. I found a few and even hanged out there for an hour or two with my trusty WideNoise iPhone decibel reader during different times of the day measuring noise levels.

The end of my stay came quick and in the last week I managed to secure an apartment.

4th – Renting at Central Park @ Whisman Station (now)

Renting at Central Park @ Whisman Station (now)
Renting at Central Park @ Whisman Station (now)

Central Park at Whisman Station was the winner. I moved into the top floor unit which was just renovated. This place rocked. It recorded 30db at night in my bedroom with the window open. 30db is crystal quiet. Like no sound at all. The complex is also made up of wood like the previous communities but is super quiet because it’s away from all the major roads, surrounded by plenty of trees and I am now on the top floor deep inside the massive complex. Best of all:

Other great things on site include:

  • Super friendly & resourceful staff,
  • Fitness center,
  • Two resort-style pools (and spa),
  • Covered parking (+ plenty of parking outside your unit),
  • Walk-in closets – the wife loves that one and
  • A very clean neighborhood!

What more could I have asked for. Click here if you want more information about this beautiful place.

The rent journey

I found out that persistence pays off and that the journey is most important here because without it I would not have been in a position to share with you what I have learnt. Of course it wasn’t easy and stressful not knowing where I will live the next month or whether I will find the right place for me and my wife to live in but in the end things worked out well.

AirBnB – find a place to stay

If you need a short-term stay there is nothing like the service AirBnB provides. My wife and I have used their service a number of times in New York & Los Angeles and loved the experience. Their online service is “wife proof” meaning that it’s so friendly and easy to use that I didn’t have to get involved when my wife used their service. Check them out by clicking here to visit Air Bed and Breakfast (AirBnB).

priceonomics on rent in 2013 – with graphs!

~ Ernest

Airbnb

Author: Ernest W. Semerda

IQBOXY cofounder, GSDfaster founder and The Road To Silicon Valley founder/editor. Follow me on Twitter: @ernestsemerda or Google+.

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  • Kats

    This is so useful, my husband and I are looking to move to Mountain View and I’m super picky about noise – thanks!

    • You’re Welcome. Mountain View is definitely a great place to live! Good luck with the move.

  • Choosing an apartment is hard because there are many adorable apartment and it’s hard to decide which one to choose. Well, in looking for an apartment there are many considerations to think of. We just moved and we choose an apartment which is near in my new job.

  • Belucky

    We are planning a move to SV next Summer with two small kids.  I did a quick rental search only to be shown apartments of two bedrooms for $4k a month and was dreading moving and feeling quite low about.  Thanks to your fabulous guide I have now found lots of houses in all different areas and we are now very excited at the thought of moving across the pond and cant wait.  If you ever have to search for Kindergartens and Preparatory (I think the US calls these Elementary) schools please let me know your findings

    • Hi Belucky, great to hear you found value in this blog post. Re Elementary schools, what specifically are you looking for? My wife works in various schools in the Cupertino district as an OT (Occupational Therapist). She did a guest post on this blog if you search for her.

    • Belucky

      Hi Ernest,

      Thank you for the reply and Happy New Year to you.  Ill be looking at co-educational private schools that start from 3 years (they call it Kindergarten here not sure what its called at that age there) for a few days a week but for a 4 1/2 year old I will need a full time place thats far more structured as in a proper school day (its called Reception here).  Hope that all makes sense.  I still need to find some time to read your wifes blog and will very soon.  Once again many thanks for your great blog and all your help.

  • Jeff

    Hey Ernest,

    Awesome post! I just got a job in Mountain View and my wife and I are currently looking for apartments in the area. We were going to visit the Avalon apartments tomorrow, but after reading your post, it looks like we can cross that one off our list. The company I work for is providing us with temporary housing at the Oakwood apartments. This place is nice and we would consider staying here long-term, but unfortunately, none of the unfurnished apartments are available until November! 

    We started apartment hunting today, and are getting a feel for the areas. We love downtown Mountain View and are actively looking for places in this area. Are there any other areas in SV you could recommend?

  • Amber

    This is exactly what I wanted to find! We are moving to Silicon Valley next month and, after an exhausting apartment search, we still have not decided. In addition to my husband and I, we have two toddlers and two very small dogs. Noise level is a major concern since we have nap times and early bed times for our young daughters. Thanks for your insight!

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  • My wife and I are moving to the valley on nov 1 and we have 2 kids. The corporate apartment option for temp. housing sounds like a nice option for 2 months while we find a place – can you recommend options for temp. housing and what the cost would be?

    • Hi Seth, which area in SV are you looking to move into? Mountain View & Palo Alto are expensive when compared to say San Jose (further south). Prices fluctuate all over the valley pending on where the internet giants (companies) are based. People like to work close to work. Demand vs Supply kicks in.

      I would recommend you look into Oakwood Apartments ( http://www.oakwood.com/ ). Minimum stay is 30 days I believe. 1 bedroom fully furnished apartment cost me $3K (4 years ago). Check out their website for location and rooms and grab a quote.

      All the best with the move!

      • Hi Ernest – I’ll be working at Intel so we are looking around the Santa Clara area and south – near the university would be cool. I’m going to check out the Oakwood apartments as a temp option to see if that could work.

  • Rasyid

    Hi, thanks for this post, very informative..
    Why did you try several place before settling? Wasn’t it troublesome to keep moving your stuff? DId they have penalty for leaving the place very early?

    Also do the price fluctuate predictably over a year? is there a best time of year to find housing?

  • forsale

    why only apartment complexes? The nicest places to live are in mature neighborhoods, Mountain View has some great duplexes, with a garden, garage and space.