Fremont homebuyers face stiff competition and soaring home prices, but the perfect house is in reach. Here’s how to buy your next home on the East Bay. —-
The perfect Fremont home is so close you can almost smell the whiff of takeout from De Afghanan and feel the breeze off the Quarry Lakes. You’ve already mapped your first hike up Mission Peak, and you’re ready to buy a house in Fremont and make the move to America’s happiest city.
But, if you want to buy a house in Fremont, the hard part is still ahead of you: getting in. You’ll have to fight soaring home prices, and a high housing shortage in the area means you’ll have to stand out amongst the crowded field of homebuyers. That’s where we come in.
With the help of local experts with decades of experience, we’ve sifted through local guides and pages of research to build the go-to plan on buying the perfect Fremont home. You’ll learn the ins and outs of the housing stock, navigate the city like a local, and learn tips to make a competitive bid. Let’s dig in.
Setting up your budget in Fremont
No matter where you are looking to buy, the best place to start is figuring out how much you can afford. The median Fremont home price for a single-family home hovered around $1.2 million at the end of 2020, while the median sales price for a condo/townhome wasn’t much better at around $800,000. That’s far higher than the California and national median home prices and is mostly due to a shortage of homes.
According to top Fremont real estate agent Nicole Causey, who has 17 years of experience and has completed over 600 transactions, Fremont had just 1.9 months worth of inventory at its peak in 2020. That’s far below the peak of 4.8 the U.S. saw in the same year.
“When you have almost no options to buy, it gets incredibly competitive, and that’s where the prices get driven up considerably,” Causey says.
But that doesn’t mean buying a house in Fremont is out of reach. In fact, the median household income in the city is $114,000. So if you can stretch your budget wisely, you can get the best bang for your buck in Fremont compared with other Bay Area cities (across the bay in Palo Alto the median home price in 2019 was a whopping $2.9 million).
Other Fremont costs to consider
Of course, the price of your future home isn’t the only consideration when setting your budget. The cost of living is 88% higher in Fremont compared with the national average and 34% higher than the state average.
What makes that number so much higher in Fremont? There are big-ticket items like healthcare (a dentist visit can be 34% more expensive in Fremont versus the U.S. average). But there are daily items that add up, too. Since most of Fremont is car-dependent, those trips in your vehicle can cost you. Gas prices in town are more than a dollar higher than the national average (unless you opt for a Tesla, which has its flagship automotive plant in Fremont). And those Netflix binges can get to you as well: electricity rates are 31% higher in Fremont versus the rest of the country.
California is, of course, known for its hefty taxes. And while it’s not as bad as you may initially think (California is ranked No. 13 in the U.S. among states with the highest tax burden), state and local taxes can be tough to handle if you aren’t aware of them. California holds the highest income tax rate in the country, and the sales tax in Fremont is 9.25% (that’s slightly higher than the average sales tax in the rest of the state). The average effective property tax rate in 2020 was 0.78% (lower than the 1.07% average across the nation). That means, at that rate, you can expect a Fremont home valued at $800,000 to cost you $6,420 in property taxes per year.
Earthquake and landslide hazards
Fremont has one of the state’s most attractive climates, reaching an average of just 78 degrees in its hottest month (August) and a low of just 42 degrees in its coldest (January). The area receives only 16 inches of rainfall annually. That means you won’t have to deal with many of the pesky maintenance issues caused by extreme weather. But you will have to consider a few other acts of nature when it comes to insurance.
Earthquakes are a fact of life in California, and Fremont is no exception (the Hayward fault line runs right through the city). And another additional risk is landslides. Several neighborhoods along the city’s eastern border are marked in a landslide hazard area since they sit at the base of Mission Peak mountain. A standard homeowners insurance policy doesn’t cover either of these conditions, but it might be wise to add them despite the high premiums. According to FEMA, Alameda county is at a “relatively high” risk for natural disaster damage and “very high” for expected annual losses.
Getting to know Fremont
On the surface, Fremont’s biggest advantage versus other nearby cities is its proximity to Bay Area and Silicon Valley hubs. The city is just a 50-minute drive to downtown San Francisco and less than 30 minutes to San Jose’s center (it’s also only 27 miles from the Port of Oakland, which makes it attractive to many manufacturing businesses). But its advantages (and disadvantages) go deeper than that.
The housing stock in Fremont
Unlike many of its Bay Area companions, Fremont isn’t famous for its turn-of-the-century homes. The city didn’t incorporate until 1956, when five separate towns were annexed to create the Fremont you know today. So, much of its housing stock comes from those post-war years when developments sprouted up along the town’s major boulevards. That means most of the houses you see were built predominantly in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, and are single-family homes (of the city’s 76,000 housing units, 73% are detached houses). That also means most of the homes follow a ranch or minimal traditional style.
So while you won’t have to deal with houses built before in-home electricity was widespread, you’ll still have to deal with numerous issues from that era, like old plumbing, older sewer systems, and faulty wiring. To confront that, Causey says most sellers conduct a pre-sale inspection and put together a disclosure package to give to potential buyers. While that is helpful during the home search, it doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable with everything you get in it.
A+ Home Inspectors owner Spencer Short, a local home inspector who conducts hundreds of inspections a year and a Platinum Affiliate of the Bay East Association of Realtors, highly recommends conducting your own inspection or at the very least asking the sellers to talk with the pre-sale inspector during the transaction process.
“You really don’t know what you’re getting until you’ve had it done yourself,” Short says.
Buyer beware: Common Fremont problems
Your home inspection will cover the major issues your potential new home has, and it’s comprehensive (don’t be frightened if it’s 40 or even 50 pages long). But it won’t cover all the minor details, and it won’t find all future problems in a home.
One of the most common issues that pops up in Fremont homes is termites, according to Causey. Since many California homes don’t have basements (your best storage space will be the attic), many homes have crawl spaces instead. If humidity builds up in these small, mostly forgotten about areas, it can easily attract termites. Another potential issue is settlement problems due to small earthquakes and fault line “creeping.” While Fremont hasn’t had a major quake since 1989, the area can get several small earthquakes a year, which, over time, can lead to cracks in the pavement or even shift windows and doors in your home. You’ll know if that happens if they stop shutting correctly.
So what’s the best way to prevent these issues from plaguing your new investment? Short recommends investing in secondary home inspections, including pest, septic, or even seismic inspections. It’s also always smart to keep mindful watch over your home and stay on top of any potential issues. Just because the transaction is done doesn’t mean the home inspection process is over, Causey says.
Getting around in Fremont
If you’re moving to Fremont, you’ll need at least some sort of vehicle for your errand runs. The city has a Walk Score of 43 (which lands it in the car-dependent range), and public transportation, while improving and a priority for the city, isn’t as efficient for commuters (only 9% of residents use public transit).
Fremont connects to its surrounding areas via Interstate 880, which will take you to Oakland and San Jose, and Interstate 680, which runs parallel to I-880 but is farther east. Mission Boulevard connects the two freeways, but prepare to sit in traffic (Fremont was ranked the 27th worst U.S. city to drive in in 2020).
Fortunately, there are public transportation options that can come in handy in a pinch. The Alameda-Contra Costa Transportation District (AC Transit) and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) buses have stops throughout the city, and the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) has a stop in Centerville. Of course, there’s the Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART, which runs to San Francisco. (A Clipper card will give you access to almost all of those.) There are now two BART stations in Fremont, with the Warm Springs stop being one of the system’s southernmost stations. Eventually, the BART will extend through Downtown San Jose and into Santa Clara, but that’s not expected to finish for some time.
Getting the lay of the land in Fremont
When the five Washington Township cities (Niles, Centerville, Irvington, Warm Springs, and Mission San Jose) merged in 1956 to create Fremont, they became the basis for the city’s neighborhood layout. Eventually, with new developments and more planning, the city split into 28 different neighborhoods, and each offers something unique for homebuyers. Here’s what you’ll find:
If you want the most space…
Since most Fremont homes are single-family, you can find adequate space in almost any neighborhood. But if you want a good amount of land to spread out, look toward Mission Hills. It has some of the best views and most luxurious homes in the city, and you’ll have easy access to Mission Peak. However, home prices here are 99% higher than the average in Fremont.
If you want a more affordable option that’s still spacious, Glenmoor is popular. Causey says the homes here are more set back, and you get the picturesque look of tree-lined streets.
If you’re on a tighter budget…
We’ve already established Fremont is expensive, but if you’re looking for a little more affordability relative to the rest of the city, the central neighborhoods will be your best bet.
Cabrillo and Sundale both offer older, smaller single-family homes with more entry-level price points, Causey says. In Cabrillo, you can find homes 16% cheaper than the city average, and in Sundale, houses are on average 33% more affordable than surrounding areas. Another plus to these neighborhoods is their proximity to I-880, also known as Nimitz Freeway, so hopping on the highway should be a breeze.
If you’re looking for charming and historic…
While Fremont only dates back to 1956, several areas of the city have a deeper history. The Niles district began around the Vallejo Flour Mills before becoming a railroad town in the 1870s when Central Pacific built the Transcontinental Railroad through Niles Canyon and onto San Francisco. Eventually, the area became a hub for the silent film industry when “Broncho Billy” Anderson opened an Essanay Studios lot here in 1912. For several years, he filmed some of the most famous silent films in Niles, including several with Charlie Chaplin.
Today, you’ll find a charming main street and historic buildings that resemble the district’s history. The homes are far from cookie cutter, and they are more affordable (the average home price is 10% lower than the Fremont average). The Niles Canyon Railway and several parks also make the neighborhood popular for families.
If you’re looking for excellent schools…
The Fremont Unified School District is ranked among the top 60 school districts in the state, and GreatSchools classifies over 70% of its schools as above average, so it’s hard to go wrong in almost any neighborhood. But Mission San Jose is one of Fremont’s best neighborhoods if you have children in a range of ages. Mission San Jose High School is a three-time California Distinguished School, and Mission San Jose Elementary landed on the list in 2020.
If you’re looking for an area that’s more affordable and located near well-performing schools, it’s Ardenwood, Fremont’s largest neighborhood. The area’s two elementary schools rank above average, according to GreatSchools, and families make up the majority of residents here.
Another plus to Fremont schools? Many students come from diverse backgrounds since 48% of residents are foreign-born.
If you’re looking for the best commute…
Fremont may be one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. to work from home, but there are still plenty of residents commuting to the surrounding tech hubs. If you’re using BART, the Downtown neighborhood provides easy access to the city’s central station. There you can also pick up the AC Transit or even the Stanford Marguerite shuttle if you’re headed to Palo Alto.
Warm Springs holds the only other BART station, and there you can pick up the AC Transit or VTA as well, providing quick access to San Jose. The city is quickly building up the area and hopes to make it an innovation district with more clean technology companies, more residential complexes, and mixed-use buildings.
If you’re headed to the other side of the bay, Ardenwood is located right next to the Dumbarton Bridge for a quicker commute to some of the area’s biggest tech companies like Google and Facebook.
Building a competitive offer in Fremont
Things can move fast in Fremont (the average days on market for the last three months of 2020 was 14 days), so it’s best to have a competitive offer ready when you find the perfect home. These tips will help:
Know the seller in Fremont
While most buyers coming into Fremont are young, college-educated couples, most of those selling are older, longtime owners, Causey says. The typical seller usually doesn’t have to stay in Fremont anymore for a job or the schools, so they move on to pursue retirement.
It can help to write an offer letter to the sellers and pull at the heartstrings a bit, building on a shared connection. Adding that to your package, in addition to the pre-approval letter and proof of funds (which are required about 80% of the time, Causey says), can help make your bid pop amongst a crowded field.
Best time to buy a house in Fremont
The best time to sell in Fremont is between March and April, when sale prices are about 4% above average. So that means the best time to buy would be in December, also the worst time to sell.
However, Causey recommends focusing on inventory when examining the numbers. Fremont usually has its peak of homes available in the summer months, which means more options and less competition. That should give buyers the best experience in their home search.
Finding a top buyer’s agent in Fremont
In today’s digital age, you might think you have all the information and education available to make an informed home-buying decision without an agent. But in a competitive market like Fremont, where Causey says sellers are sometimes getting up to 15 offers, an agent can be invaluable.
Agents are aware of inventory before they come on the market and already have formed connections with many listing agents. A top buyer’s agent can help you save, on average, $100,438 on a home and places, on average, 1.7 times the number of transactions than an average agent. And once you have an agent, make sure he or she takes the initiative.
“The best thing a home buyer in Fremont can do to position themselves for success is to make sure that the agents they are working with are very proactive and build rapport with the seller’s agent,” Causey says.
With the help of a top buyer’s agent and a wealth of Fremont real estate knowledge, you can edge out any competition to find your perfect home in no time.
Header Image Source: (Sundry Photography / Shutterstock)
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