What parts of Oakland, CA are best to settle in?
November 28, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

What parts of Oakland, CA are best to settle in?

My little sister is moving to Oakland and thinking of buying a house there on the cheap: 100k, max 200k. She would like to be within reach of BART and have a stand alone house with some outdoor space. The place can be small, doesn't need to be fancy at all.

What neighborhoods are up and coming? What neighborhoods to avoid? Any other advice on buying a place in Oakland?
posted by yoz420 to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How close is "witithn reach of BART"? For that price, she'd have to look near the West Oakland, Fruitvale, and Coliseum BART stations most likely. West Oakland has some really nice old Victorians.

Right now the real estate market in Oakland is still sort of crazy. Lost of competition and over bidding in neighborhoods the gentrified/gentrifying neighborhoods. Usually well above $200k. If she's willing to look in San Leandro and further south, it could work? Definitely start looking at Redfin or Zillow to get an idea. (The real estate bubble hasn't quite burst yet.)
posted by kendrak at 1:44 PM on November 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you. Zillow does show that price range of places mostly around Fruitvale and Coliseum. Within reach of BART would be within one mile of a BART station or even a bit more. I guess that leaves a lot of Oakland open.
posted by yoz420 at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2012

A bazillion years ago I loved living near Lake Merritt, off of Grand Ave.

I had a flat in an old mansion and it was a freaking slice of heaven.

Lots of neat shops nearby, gorgeous view and I felt safe there.

That said, I don't know where she might find a house so inexpensively in the Bay Area. Not in a terrible neighborhood.

I'm not sure she could even get a condo. It would be the hunt of a lifetime though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:50 PM on November 28, 2012

Fruitvale is sketchy. The Pizza Hut has bulletproof glass at the counter and no business has public restrooms. If your sister is from Detroit or one of the more run down parts of Philly, she'll feel right at home, otherwise not so much. I do know a woman who bought a house there, on the fringes, many years ago. She's an artist, got it for a song but probably more than 100k to be honest,and afaik, she's still there. But she doesn't have kids and its not like she can walk to her friendly neighborhood pub or anything. It hasn't gentrified like she hoped.
posted by fshgrl at 2:00 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The area around the Fruitvale BART station is a train wreck - some of worst urban poverty I've ever seen I've seen in that neighborhood. If your sister is up for some serious "Urban pioneering" it might be a good bet, but she should really think hard about what she's getting herself into. Really, cheap and Bay Area just aren't compatible concepts.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:01 PM on November 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think the big problem is that if anyone can actually predict that a neighborhood is going to rise, real estate prices will have already accounted for that.

So either you have more information than the market (ie: you and a bunch of friends are going to buy the better part of a block and homestead the hell out of that plot of land), or you're buying a home in a poor neighborhood and taking a gamble on that.
posted by straw at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm coming back with commentary.

If your sister has such a small budget for a home, she needs to keep saving and keep renting.

California is a dreadful market in which to own real estate. The state is perpetually teetering on bankruptcy and city, county and state services are cut back so much that the title of "service" is a misnomer.

The deductable on Earthquake insurance is 30% of the home's value, and I was there in 1989 for the Loma Prieta Earthquake that toppled the old Nimitz Freeway.

I'm a homeowner and let me tell you, every month you're coming out of pocket for some absolutely necessary and unsexy home repair (I had to do a roof vent last month. $125.) I mean EVERY month.

If your sister has lots of discretionary income and an adventurous spirit, then perhaps she's ready to own a home in California. But I doubt it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Jesus christ it's depressing to see some of these comments. The area around Fruitvale BART is most certainly not a train wreck, and the positive effects of gentrification that the woman in fshgirl's anecdote hoped for tend to solely benefit people with economic and social mobility; if it's making things nicer for white Liberals "on the fringes," chances are it's squeezing out or criminalizing the people for whom your so-called fringes are the center.

All this said, the housing market in the East Bay is becoming a little bit crazy now--houses routinely going for $5-10k above asking price, &/or often paid for all cash by investors. House-hunting on a sub-$150k budget demands some incredible tenacity, or the ability to put in a lot of heavy lifting doing extensive remodeling & even structural work. It's tough.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, "really cheap" means something very different in the Bay Area than the rest of the country.

Fruitvale is sketchy and has been trying to combat crime for a while. Where they are on the road to progress, it's uncertain. There are some nice old areas near the Coliseum, but I wouldn't classify it as up and coming.

I know West Oakland is going through a bit of a revival. I have several friends who bought houses there relatively cheap, and there have been a lot of community happenings. I've toyed with house hunting there even (but I'm also selfish about minimizing my commute.)

(We've been house hunting in Berkeley and Oakland for a year, which colors my opinion.)

I agree with Ruhtless Bunny about your sister renting a bit longer. It's also a crazy market, but not quite the same risks. Also if she wants some California Adventure, there are other cool places to live which are considerably cheaper.
posted by kendrak at 2:12 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

nothing up and coming is going to be nearly that cheap. my neighborhood is definitely very up and coming and we are seeing houses go for $50k over asking in a matter of days. (from $250k on up)
posted by supermedusa at 2:55 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Oakland and still live in the Bay Area. Believe me, there is nothing (or effectively nothing) your sister is going to find for $100K or even $200K that is at all livable just about anywhere in the Bay Area. The housing market here has always been insane.

She may be able to find a small condo in an East Bay city like Concord but not in Oakland.

Is there any reason your sister can't rent? Many Bay Area residents rent for their whole lives - it's considered pretty normal (at least in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley). Does your sister have good income prospects? Can she rent for a few years and save money for a down payment?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:06 PM on November 28, 2012

I live in Oakland, and have been house hunting casually for the last 5 years, more seriously for the last six months. I've lived in East Oakland, West Oakland, and currently Downtown. I don't have a car. If she wants BART proximity, I think that reasonably that's within one mile. That's a twenty minute walk or <10 minutes by bike. However, the only BART stations where she has a chance of finding a house in her price range is by West Oakland BART or Fruitvale or Coliseum (as others have said). Even then they will likely be fixers, and they will definitely be old. That can mean stuff like brick foundations, which have to be replaced because you can't bolt to them for the required earthquake codes. So 1) she needs to be good with knowing the pitfalls of older home purchase and ownership in this area. 2) there are some really bad blocks in those neighborhoods. Coliseum I wouldn't recommend. West Oakland I like, but you can live on a great block and around the corner is a gang house and all kinds of crap goes down. East Oakland has more nasty places by BART, but I really enjoyed living a couple miles away in Maxwell Park. I like the Fruitvale- I grew up in neighborhoods with large hispanic populations, so it's very familiar- but buying houses around there is extra dicey, IMO. There's lots of increased gang activity, so you'd really want to take the time to be choosy about the street you live on. I think the smartest thing she could do is rent here for at least a year and learn her way around the places she wants to live. I pesonally wouldn't want to move down to East Oakland (which is really south) because the BART ride is long and people never go out that way, so friends don't drop by. West Oakland means you can take any trains into or out of the city and is a lot more vibrant, plus proximity to downtown is easy on a bike or BART.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:07 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Actually, I don't know if it's right to say that around West Oakland BART is more "vibrant" than around Fruitvale. I meant something more like changeable. There's always art or chickens or murals or gardens or who knows what popping up in West Oakland. Fruitvale has more families and less open space, but lots of activity on International. Neighborhoods in both areas can be very tight knit and friendly. It's a block-by-block thing though, as far as good places to invest in a house.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2012

Best answer: Stand alone house with a small yard? How flexible are her standards? Honestly, that's going to be a major project of a house anywhere in Oakland if she can find one at all. Is she handy? Does she have a cash account which will allow her to pay for repairs each month. Because houses in that price range are going to need work, a lot of it and not little stuff. This is a new furnace, rewiring, new roof, foundation repairs not paint and new granite counter tops.

Most of my coworkers are based in Oakland. The search for a house there is a long one - even if she has 20% down and excellent credit. There are enough people making cash offers and sellers greatly prefer that. I have one friend who's been looking for nearly 2 years in Berkeley. He's got 50% down and he's come close to having his offer accepted a few times, but he's just narrowly missed out when another seller drove up the price in a bidding war.

California real estate is it's own slice of crazy. Full price offers are standard and many houses in prime locations go for over the asking price. We just sold our bungalow in San Diego for a full cash offer that was over the asking price. Had an offer our first day on the market and had 5 offers in 5 days. It's not a seller's market like it was in 2005, but there's still a huge number of buyers for homes in decent locations.

The neighborhoods that are in her price range are iffy from a crime and safety perspective. A mile walk to the BART in a safe neighborhood is awesome; in a dodgy place it's much, much less awesome.

My suggestion would be to move to Oakland and rent for a year. Spend that time making friends and looking at neighborhoods. She needs some time to find out if there's any place she'd really like to purchase a home.

As a bunch of people noted, Oakland has a lot of block by block variation. I've been going to Oakland a few times a month for the last 8 years. Mr. 26.2 lived there for 8 years. If we moved there, we'd rent for a year and get the lay of the land as it is today.
posted by 26.2 at 3:48 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife and I bought a house in Oakland about a year ago.

Nth to all of the above. You're not going to find a house for $200k in any acceptable neighborhood. Maybe a small condo in a middling neighborhood. I know someone who got a small condo in a crappy neighborhood for less than $100k, but he had to completely build it out (put in the kitchen, bathroom, floors, drywall, etc.) for another $40k or so.

Re up and coming neighborhoods, Temescal is real hot right now; if I was going to rent in Oakland, I'd rent there. I live nearby in NOBE (North Oakland / Berkeley / Emeryville) and it's OK.

(One correction to a post above: Earthquake insurance can be purchased with a 15% deductible.)
posted by mikeand1 at 4:17 PM on November 28, 2012

I would definitely recommend renting. I like Rockridge, near Berkeley.
posted by three_red_balloons at 5:51 PM on November 28, 2012

I think 26.2 has it. Rent first; areas where houses are that cheap either 1) aren't near BART or 2) are in sketchy areas. You (probably) can't have both. She'd do better to look in El Cerrito, which while not lush or anything, is marginally safer and has much cheaper buying options near BART. Plus, there are some nice cafes!
posted by smirkette at 6:33 PM on November 28, 2012

I don't know, Oakland burglaries are up almost 50% this year, and Oakland has 1/3 as many murders as NYC with only 1/20 of the population. Even at that real estate pricing is brutal. By February they will have lost almost 25% of their police force since 2008 so things are going to likely get worse before they get better. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to like about Oakland. In some ways it is the most East Coast of the left bank metropoli - gritty, multicultural, working class, interesting. Oakland people are tougher than most on the left coast (in a good way) I lived there many years.

I lived in a better than average neighborhood and even at that I SAW two murders occur. ( One died from knife wound, one from automatic weapon) . I think it is quite a bit worse now than it was then. I would really prefer my sister would not live there. If I was able, I would be willing to help her financially to avoid doing so, especially if the option was a 100k+ house. I am sorry if I sound harsh, but that is just my experience.
posted by jcworth at 8:34 PM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: $200K? Not gonna happen. The only houses for sale in Oakland for $200K or less are in neighborhoods that are open-air drug markets with regular gunfire.

I live (and have lived for the past 10 years) a few blocks away from 14th Ave and International Blvd. Census tract 4054. A few stats from the 2012 Census:
Median income: $26,766 — down 27%
Median home value: $352,900 — up 71%
Median rent: $942 — up 22%
We have prostitutes (sometimes underage) walking up and down International, often near elementary schools, day and night. There's a methadone clinic a block away from a WIC storefront. If you have a car in this neighborhood, you need to budget for at least one broken window a year, even if you have no car stereo and never leave anything visible in it while parked. If you leave a bike parked outdoors one or more nights (depending on your luck), it will get components jacked from it.

And y'know what? This is one of the better neighborhoods in the 'hood. We ain't even close to the Murder Dubs or the Dirty Thirties or the Shady Eighties or West O or anything like that.

$200K? Not gonna happen.
posted by Lexica at 10:20 PM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine was being shown houses in Oakland by an agent that had talked to her dad, who wanted the agent to show her cheap properties (cheap meaning $150K plus). They had looked at 2 or 3, which were in deep East Oakland and were all run-down and in very poor neighborhoods when the agent asked her if the house was actually for HER. She said yes, and the agent apologized and said that she had assumed she was looking for investment properties. The agent immediately threw away the list she had made up and took her to better neighborhoods.

I think my friend ended up with a 2 bedroom stand-alone house in an up-and-coming neighborhood for $350K, not far from BART, but I wouldn't walk to the station from her house. Of note, she has had a car stolen and car windows broken multiple times in her first year there.

If you are going to buy in Oakland, you have to know what you are dealing with. Your sister should definitely rent for a year first.
posted by artdesk at 10:12 PM on November 30, 2012

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