Optimizing where to live (with kids) around the Bay Area

Sam Collins • Sep 16th, 2020

My wife and I have two young kids so we wanted to optimize our property search for:

  • Homes in our price range
  • With good schools nearby
  • That are not too far from the office

I made a few small tools to help us do that, and I’m sharing them here for any other parents or families new to the area who may have similar questions.

Context and Caveats

Previously finding where to live was a fairly straightforward in my case: my job would link me to a given city and I’d find an affordable apartment near the best coffee shops (which, anecdotally, tended to be a leading indicator of trendy neighborhoods). Now that we have a couple of miniature humans depending on us, we found ourselves with different criteria. We wanted to prioritize quality of local schools, access to good daycares and playgrounds. We wanted more space than our old studio apartments and ideally more green space. And as we looked for these things, we had to consider locations that were further away, trading off against our commute time to work! Lastly, it has become more important for us to get this decision right since the cost of change is now higher. Uprooting and changing locations will now also involve kids changing schools, potentially losing friends and local familiarity and so on. So I nerded out on some data to help us figure this out.

While there is an abundance of websites/apps/tools for finding homes, most of these work well after you know which neighborhood/area you care about. But our use case was different: we were happy to vary the location, and consider unusual/unpopular locations, to find the location that met our criteria.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis. These maps are a subset of all our research and were most valuable right at the beginning of our process. They were intended to help us get our bearings on the Bay Area and identify locations we may not have known to consider in our search.

This will likely not work well for people with color vision deficiency, sorry. I can go back and adjust colors to something more universal if this becomes a serious issue.

Map of Home Prices

This is a heat map of home prices in the Bay Area. Move the slider to set your budget. The cost of an area is generated by the average sale price of a home in that area:

  • Pink: average price is beyond your budget
  • Red: high end of your budget
  • Green: easily affordable

This lets you know where you could afford on your ideal budget, and how that would change if you stretch your budget.

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Data Notes
  • Home Prices are from Zillow Research and use the Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) for single family and condo properties which represents the typical value for homes in the 35th to 65th percentile range. Dataset.
  • Zip boundaries from Open Data Delaware. Dataset.
  • This is ZIP code level because neighbourhood boundary data doesn’t seem to be freely available. Zip boundaries are heavily compressed (simplified to ~2%) using mapshaper.org to reduce data size which distorts the shapes slightly.

Map of Schools

This map distinguishes areas based on school quality. It identifies areas with decent public and public-charter schools, while also distinguishing areas with almost entirely lower-quality public schools (that suggests private schools may be necessary if you live there).

(A note on colors: Distinguishable colors are necessary for this view, but also using a single score to represent a school quality is obviously imperfect and fallible, so this is intended to only be coarsely illustrative).

  • Green = GreatSchools score 7 and higher
  • Yellow = 6
  • Orange = 5
  • Red = 4 and lower

Data Notes
  • School data is based on GreatSchools.org. The score reflects the single aggregate score for that school. Here you can read about GS scoring methodology. GreatSchools has more detailed metrics for each school, and clicking the link in the popup on any school marker will take you to the GreatSchools page to read more. Dataset not publicly available (thanks to GreatSchools team for letting me use their API and data for this non-commercial use).
  • This does not include Private or Private-Charter schools, as I couldn’t find a dataset scoring these schools.
  • Another tool you may want to look at is Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project, which visualizes test scores and learning rates across the whole country and is far more comprehensive than this.

Table of Commute Times

This table shows the commute times to a some of the main tech hubs in the area. It also shows how much the commute time will vary if you leave earlier/later.

Change the Home Location to yours, and the table will update with commute times. Change the morning and evening departure times in the dropdowns to see how much your commute changes by leaving earlier/later.

Work Location
San Francisco

510 Townsend St, San Francisco
Oakland

2100 Franklin St, Oakland
Menlo Park

1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park
Palo Alto

156 University Ave, Palo Alto
Mountain View

1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View
Cupertino

1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino
Change Home Location
Data Notes
  • This uses Google Maps Directions API to calculate the driving time with traffic between these points. It calculates for Monday next week, assuming usual traffic for that time.
  • Per their terms I should also include this…
  • Because I have to pay per API request after a limited free volume, I’ve limited it to a few of the common work locations and you can only adjust the home location.
  • This is admittedly very incomplete, and obviously doesn’t consider things like public transport, cycling, flights. I think much more could be done here but as a v1, it helps give a quick general view and let’s see what’s most needed from here.

Extra Consideration: Earthquakes

My wife is terrified of earthquakes, and we wanted to understand if some locations were better or worse than others. This is a simplified visualization that shows the fault lines and where the epicenters of magnitude 5+ quakes have historically occurred.

The thickness of the line represents the slip rate of the faults (how much it moves each year, which correlates with earthquake frequency). The circles are the historic quakes, fainter circles were longer ago, colored by magnitude on Richter scale.

  • Red = Magnitude 7 and higher
  • Orange = 6
  • Yellow = 5 (less than 5 not shown)
Data Notes

Let me know what you think

I’m curious if other people also find these helpful or are working on anything more comprehensive.

Please feel free to message me over email or on twitter @smcllns if these helped you or you have any feedback.

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