"We Don't Belong Here Anymore" - Even Landlords Are Fleeing The Bay Area

Peter Thiel and his band of libertarian-leaning Silicon Valley-types aren't the only ones scrambling to leave the Bay Area: As we've noted time and time again, staggering economic inequality is a daily fact of life in the area surrounding San Francisco - largely because rapidly growing home valuations have left couples earning as much as $500,00 a year feeling like they're being steadily priced out.

And while we've previously covered the exodus of renters to low-cost states like Texas, in a report published Saturday, the East Bay Times explores an even more troubling trend: Landlords are increasingly taking the cue from their tenants and joining in the exodus.

After all, with one in four US homes sold during 2017 going for more than $500,000 above their asking - particularly in hot real-estate markets like San Francisco, where buyers battling for the highest bid have begun relying on clauses that will automatically - and incrementally  - raise their bids until they either emerge victorious,  or reach a predetermined ceiling.

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For at least the last nine months, the Bay Area has led the country in the number of departing residents, as everybody who isn't a tech worker - including essential civil servants like police and fire fighters - begins to feel like a secondary servile class. One landlord said several of his tenants asked if they could move with him when he announced he was selling the building and departing for Colorado

Tony Hicks moved to San Jose in 1981, but he’s had enough.

Hicks told his 11 tenants he would soon place the three homes he owns on the market. He expected disappointment. Instead, most wanted to move with him to Colorado.

"It didn’t take them long," Hicks said. "I was surprised."

Hicks first bonded with many of his tenants over their shared appreciation for conservative politics in an environment that is openly hostile to views that don't conform to the dominant neoliberal ideology.

"I’ve been thinking about this for a long time," said Dan Harvey, 60, a retiree in one of Hicks’ rentals who is concerned about the traffic he fights on his Harley Davidson and the high cost of living. "A fresh start."

Rising prices, high taxes and his suspicion that the next big earthquake is just a few tremors away convinced the retired engineer to put his South San Jose properties up for sale.

The groundswell to leave Silicon Valley — the place of fortunes, world-changing tech and $2,500 a-month-garage apartments — has been building. For at least the last nine months, the San Francisco metro area has led the nation in the number of residents moving out, according to a survey by online brokerage Redfin.

San Jose real estate agent Sandy Jamison has seen many long-time residents and natives leave the state recently. The lack of available housing, leading to some of the priciest real estate in the country, is driving many from the region, she said.

The landlord and tenants came together through Hick’s rental ads on Craigslist and in the newspaper over the last two decades. They grew close with common bonds of conservative politics, religious faith and motorcycles.

It’s an unlikely collection of 10 men and one woman — a retired engineer, a few military veterans, blue collar workers and others on fixed incomes. Few say they could afford to go it alone in the sky-high housing market in San Jose, where a typical two bedroom rents for about $2,500 a month, far more than what they pay Hicks.

Most of the men are divorced, widowed or never married, and many suffer from health ailments and a crankiness exacerbated by Bay Area traffic, crowding and the state’s liberal policies on crime and immigration.

Hicks, 58, was an engineer and marketing executive at IBM, Xerox and other companies before retiring in his early 40s to raise his daughter from his first marriage.

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He bought a few investment properties in South San Jose, and looked for long-term returns when he sold them. He kept rents low — between $500 to $1,200 a month for one bedroom — and never raised prices once a tenant signed a lease.

Many of his tenants have been with him for more than a decade.

"We became brothers," said Mike Leyva. The 64-year-old Army veteran and retiree signed a lease in 2004 and never left.

 

And Hicks and his compatriots aren't alone - not by a long shot: A five-county poll conducted for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the East Bay Times found that more than one-third of Bay Area apartment renters and one-quarter of residents in their 20s and 30s say they are struggling to afford their housing.

 

Many longtime residents also describe a feeling of alienation that seemed to accompany the tech boom.

According to one real estate agent, the top reasons people leave the Bay Area are as follows: high taxes, cost of living, quality of life from traffic to homelessness, politics and high housing prices. For many long-time residents, she said, "they feel like they don’t belong here any more."

For Hicks, lofty real estate valuations were the last incentive he needed.

In recent years, Hicks began to believe there was a better life outside the valley.

Vaulting real estate prices added incentive. He kept up on tax laws that could maximize the returns on his property. Selling his San Jose rental houses and buying new properties with the proceeds would allow him to defer taxes. “It’s a great financial move,” he said.

Hicks was also moved by discussions with his pastor and sermons at his church, the Vietnamese Living Word Community Church, about Biblical journeys.  His spiritual beliefs guided him to his decision to move with his new wife, Fidessa, 31, and her 8-year-old daughter.  

Cautiously, he broke the news to his friends.

"I was totally shocked," Leyva said. "I thought he was joking me. I had a lot of questions about it."

The tenants who are accompanying Hicks expect to save hundreds of dollars a month in rent when they relocated to Colorado...

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Levya spent two days researching the move and became convinced. He expects to slash his rent from $1,200 to about $800 a month, with more room in a newer home bought by Hicks. “I’m excited,” Leyva said. “It’s going to be a new journey in my life.”

Ed Blomgren, 70, pays $495 a month for one bedroom and a shared bathroom. The retired machinist, a Navy veteran, lives on a fixed income and couldn’t afford market-rate rent.

Blomgren grew up in Colorado, and he welcomes a chance to return to his home state, where he still has family. "At my age," he said, "I think it might be a good thing."

After he finishes selling off his portfolio of Bay Area propterties, Hicks expects to get a much bigger bang for his buck when he buys a new home in Colorado. The median home value in Colorado Springs is $263,000, compared with $1 million for a single family home in San Jose, according to real estate website Zillow.

Hicks' plan, as it stands, is to sell all three homes and buy a half-dozen newer, bigger and cheaper homes in the smaller, mountain town that's home to the US Air Force Academy.

Within a day of listing his Raposa Court home, Hicks had two offers in hand that - like most sales in the area - were well above his $1 million asking price...