Often overlooked due to their flashy Bay Area neighbor to the west, Oakland, Berkeley, Fremont, and the whole of East Bay real estate is finally having its moment in the spotlight
San Francisco has long dominated Bay Area real estate headlines, and for a good reason. High-end properties in some of the nation's most recognizable neighborhoods tend to generate plenty of attention. Often lost in the multi-million dollar transactions on the peninsula is the highly attractive marketplace that lies to the east across San Francisco Bay. Alameda County and Contra Costa County may not be household names, but the region's blend of urban, suburban, and rural lifestyles and its relative affordability is transforming it into a significant new real estate hotspot. If you've contemplated making a move across the Bay, transitioning from East Bay renter to East Bay homeowner, or looking for an investment, now is the time.
For those that require a little extra convincing, here are five reasons why East Bay real estate is a good investment.
For many years, job growth in the Bay Area was the domain of San Francisco and Silicon Valley since both are tech centers and hubs of considerable commercial activity. The East Bay, however, has made significant ground over the past decade. Oakland, which has long been stagnant with regards to market development, is now being embraced as the "it" place to do business. A new downtown highrise—the first in many years— is set to start attracting new tenants. High-profile firms that have already made a move or plan to expand into Oakland's downtown core include Oracle, Pandora Media, and Uber Technologies.
Health provider Blue Shield recently moved its headquarters to Oakland after more than 75 years in San Francisco. This is in addition to Clorox and Kaiser Permanente already calling Oakland home.
Head to the southern portion of Alameda County and it's a similar story. Fremont is already home to Tesla's original production factory. Facebook has broken ground on a new campus, which will add over a million square feet of office space to the city.Further east, Dublin serves as a major suburban economic hub and is home to a number of corporate headquarters, including Ross Stores and PatelCo Credit Union.
Development and Access
Similar to job growth, for most of the past 25 years, notable new development stayed to the west of San Francisco Bay. Sure, you had pockets of new builds and revitalization projects in known commodities such as Berkely—home of the University of California-Berkeley—and the established urban suburb of Walnut Creek, but most communities saw a shortage of new projects.
Now, with real estate prices continuing to soar in San Francisco, the East Bay region is a center of activity. As previously noted, new office development is spurring growth in Downtown Oakland and its nearby neighbors.
Once depressed areas in cities like Richmond and communities like West Oakland, Bushrod, and Berkely are attracting new residents in droves. The latter, whose northern, hilltop reaches are a popular haven for the well-heeled and well-educated, are seeing similar demographics move into its historically underserved and overlooked flatland areas. This influx can be attributed to a number of shops, restaurants, and highly-walkable neighborhoods all within close proximity to public transit. Another notable transformation is the former naval community of Alameda. The island city has turned into a trendy burg with a collection of bonafides that include well-regarded schools, green spaces, historic charm, and easy access to San Francisco. Additionally, what is fueling this booming expansion is the improving access of the East Bay region to its western neighbors. Once a nightmarish commute, transportation is less of an issue than it was at the turn of the century.
Alameda County's urban-suburban footprint and Contra Costa County's suburban-rural outposts are now directly tied to the core of San Francisco's most popular commercial and entertainment districts. BART light rail extends well into both counties, with stations reaching Antioch in the northernmost point in Contra Costa and Dublin/Pleasanton and Warm Springs/South Fremont in Alameda's southernmost stretches.
There’s a real estate paradox in San Francisco, where the job market remains strong—particularly in tech and tourism—but property values price out many workers, forcing those individuals to look elsewhere. Neighborhoods throughout Alameda and Contra Costa—in particular, those within the Inner East Bay—are filling the void. Make no mistake, as much as we and many others in the Bay Area love San Francisco, your dollar doesn't stretch as far as it does in the East Bay. And that's taking into consideration that the East Bay region has seen median home prices skyrocket upwards of 150% in the past decade.
Another difference with how your dollar spends on either side of the Bay has to do with variety. The property options—and associated lifestyles—are pretty narrow in San Francisco. In contrast, the East Bay appeals to a broad swath of tastes and styles. Urban, suburban, or rural—every lifestyle is on offer in the East Bay at reasonable price points.
The added development of historically low-interest rates has made entry into the East Bay far more attractive. Even if you account for home values continuing to rise and the competition for these homes becoming fiercer, the East Bay remains a strong play regardless of your investment or homeownership goals.
Add it all together, and you have a mini population boom. But the attractiveness of the East Bay isn't solely based on the combination of new jobs and cheaper housing—although both are certainly significant driving forces behind the migration. The area still has to be a place where people want to live, and transplants are discovering a highly-desirable lifestyle when they arrive.
In addition to the aforementioned community development, and many of the most popular areas being easily walkable, people are finding excellent schools and vast amounts of outdoor activity. Parks, recreational areas, hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, and open preserves are abundant throughout both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Along with the waterfront activity afforded by the San Francisco Bay shoreline and the handful of recreational reservoirs, there is an endless array of outdoor pursuits for residents to enjoy.
The individual cities all offer their own lifestyle, some of which we noted earlier—the rebirth of big city Oakland urbanism and neighboring Alameda's blossoming into a quaint bayside city. Richmond and El Cerrito to the north are attracting those seeking a tight-knit community vibe, while Berkeley has repurposed itself into more than just a college town. Head east and Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Orinda hit that sweet spot of a slower pace of life while keeping the bright lights of the big city within arm’s reach. Further south, the popular enclaves of Moraga, Danville, Dublin, and Pleasanton offer a mix of modern comforts and laid-back atmosphere with great schools and a high quality of life.
Another selling point comes in light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the growing prevalence of those working from home. As a result, more individuals are expected to look to the East Bay where they can get more house for their dollar, including dwellings that feature offices, dens, or separate workspaces.
An Alternative to San Francisco
While San Francisco has few equals as it relates to world-class cities, it can be a volatile and unforgiving real estate market. Whether your investment is a short-term play, a long-term hold, or an actual home, the constraints of buying on the peninsula can leave you little room to maneuver elsewhere in your finances.
Thankfully, there is an attractive alternative for those looking to maximize their real estate investment dollars. But it's not just dollars and jobs and housing that's drawing folks to the East Bay. It has a personality all of its own that people are quickly falling in love with—San Francisco lite it is not.
The East Bay is a diverse melting pot of personalities and lifestyles that serves as the backbone for the whole Bay Area. It possesses a colorful history—some would say more so than its Golden Gate neighbor—and a number of charming and quaint neighborhoods. There's also excellent dining, shopping, and a varied nightlife scene depending on which city you choose to frequent. Whether its an urban, suburban, or rural setting, the East Bay provides more room to roam than its sibling to the west. It may not be as flashy or as well-known, but the communities and neighborhoods that make the East Bay a highly-desirable place to live reinforce its status as the perfect home for real estate investment.
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