During my last trip to the USA, I made a road trip from Portland to San Francisco. In the bay area, I visited two friends who had just moved to silicon valley less than a year ago, just about the same time I moved to Taipei.
My friends Who Bought a US$1.5 million Home in the Bay Area
The first family we visited has bought a home very close to the Apple Park headquarters at Cupertino. Housing prices have skyrocketed over the years. Let’s call my friend Lim. Lim bought his house for a whopping US$1.5 million. The size is like the common double-storey terrace house we have in Malaysia. They called that townhouse as it is connected to the adjacent neighbours. My friend works for Apple. So his house is at a very strategic location for him to commute to the office. He can actually walk 2 miles to the office if he wants to.
The next day, together with Lim, we visited another friend who bought a home in Fremont. The location is somewhere about 30 miles away from the major campuses of Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel etc. When the traffic is smooth, the travelling time is less than 20 minutes. However, it can easily take 40 minutes or more to get to the office during peak hours.
Let’s call this other friend Tan. When we arrived at Tan’s new house in Fremont, we were very impressed with the area. It is a penthouse inside a condo. Unlike the Malaysia condos with 15 storeys or more, this neighbourhood’s condo has only 6 units per building.
When we entered the house, I saw a grand open space about 8 metres up to the ceiling. It gives you a feeling of living in a mansion indeed. We also toured the condo facilities, including the garden, swimming pool, gym and community halls. All these put Desa Park City to shame. Those are even better than some 5-star hotels.
When asked Tan the price he paid for the property.
“$1.5 million”, he said.
That’s the same price my first friend Lim paid for his property at Cupertino.
Same price, but quite a big difference in terms of space and quality of the building. One is a smaller, older property but very close to the workplace. Another is brand new, more spacious and comes with very high-end community spaces and amenities.
Apparently, these two friends bought their homes for different reasons.
Lim has a toddler. When there is an emergency, he can rush back in minutes to his house located just next to Apple Park. Although the new development in Fremont is attractive, it comes with a sacrifice in commuting time. Furthermore, he wants a short response time to his family, which I totally understand because I used to worry about my toddler son a decade ago. I also want to be back home as soon as possible if my family needs me. Therefore, the Lim family values proximity over space.
On the other hand, Tan actually works from home most of the time. He is in the business unit, and when required, he travels out of town more than commuting to the office. Furthermore, he likes new houses because he doesn’t enjoy doing the handyman work. In America, the labour cost is so high that usually, we try to fix things ourselves with a Youtube guide first. In Tan’s situation, he has the flexibility to opt for a new house, although the location is a little bit farther away. Therefore, the Tan family values spaces over proximity.
How about you? How do you choose the location of your home sweet home?
Here are some important factors to look at.
Whenever I look for a place to stay, the most crucial factor I evaluate first and foremost is proximity. How far, how long, and HOW can I commute to the places I frequently visit?
The usual places are your offices, your children’s schools, amenities nearby, and how close it is to your family and friends.
And then, we will also look at the mode of transportation. What’s more applicable in your situation – highways, MRT, public buses, etc.?
For example, my current place in Taipei is close enough for my wife to walk to her office in 7 minutes. We can walk to the nearest MRT station in 6 minutes. My son can get to his school in 20 mins via MRTs or buses. And we can find plenty of food, retails, pharmacies, convenience stores, and supermarkets, all within 10 mins walking distance. Therefore, that removes the need to even own a car.
After you pinpoint the location you want to stay in, we only evaluate the other factors.
The second most important factor is the people. You can then check on the neighbourhood. Who are the people already staying there? In Malaysia, it is prominent that people want to stay in areas predominantly occupied by the same race and age group. For example, Chinese will naturally prefer a Chinese community where it is easy to get Chinese food. Malay will opt for the Muslim neighbourhoods. However, I think that living in a setting that offers a little bit of everything is more interesting. You get to experience more cultures, food and diversity. Isn’t that a unique thing about Malaysia?
3. Future Needs
It is more flexible to move in a few years if you are renting. But when you buy a home, you better consider the needs for a longer-term. Will the place serve your needs for the next 5-10 years?
For example, your children might go to different schools as they progress academically. When you no longer want to stay at the location, will it be easy to find tenants or sell the house when you move in the future?
After thinking through the above factors, you would have narrowed down the areas you want to live in. If you are still unsure about the site, I suggest you try living in that area for a few nights through a homestay. Test the commute time during peak hours. Experience day-to-day living. If there is something that turns you off, it is not too late to reconsider.
For example, before I rented our current condo, we stayed at a nearby Airbnb for a month. Most foreigners don’t realise a unique phenomenon in Taiwan- the garbage collection system. The Airbnb we stayed in is an older building. So there is no centralised community area for garbage collection. To get rid of the garbage, we had to time the arrival of the garbage trucks. It comes at a predetermined time a day. Unlike Malaysia where you just leave your garbage bins out there, and it will be taken care of, in Taiwan, residents need to throw the garbage manually into the trucks. As you can imagine, I would have to run down the stairs with trash bags whenever I heard the trucks coming! If not, I would miss it and have to wait for another time.
Obviously, I don’t enjoy chasing garbage trucks. The alternatives are condominiums. There is a centralised garbage collection centre in the building. So residents can throw trash and recyclable items whenever convenient for them, instead of waiting for the garbage collecting trucks. After the experience, we knew that we had to narrow our search only to the serviced condo, which is way more expensive per square foot.
After you are sure about the location you want to stay in, the next step is to find the best property option within your budget. I would typically view as many properties as I can before finalising the top few options and signing up for the best offer.
How about you? What are the most essential aspects you consider when choosing a location to stay? Is it the proximity, people or other factors?
Share your thoughts in the comment section. Hear from you soon!