Sunnyvale – 2, Cupertino – 1

1 04 2009

OK, so I’m getting a little concerned about this “Cupertino Schools” thing.  I only blogged a few weeks ago about the fact that the most important criteria these days for buying a home is the school district it’s in.

But now, it’s getting personal.

Yesterday I was walking down a street in my beautiful Sunnyvale neighborhood when I came across a home for sale with the following particulars :

This is indeed a lovely home, I don’t think anyone would dispute that.  But honestly, in Cupertino School Area?   The house is in  Sunnyvale, the Elementary and Middle Schools are in the Sunnyvale School District, the high school is Homestead High School, located in Cupertino but in the Fremont Union High School District.  But what does that have to do with anything?

Well, everything apparently.  Even though this house is located in the Cherry Chase Elementary School‘s boundaries and even though Cherry Chase is the top-performing elementary school in the Sunnyvale School District, and even though 2 out of the three public schools that this family’s kids would attend are in Sunnyvale, it’s the Cupertino name that supposedly makes the sale.

And that’s all because of test scores.  Which is what’s important.  For house buyers anyway.  Apparently.

Is it just me, or do I feel I have to defend my city against test scores?

PS I did call the realtor’s cell phone voicemail to ask about this but so far no word and it’s been 24 hours…….

Sign of the Times?

25 02 2009

cimg3601They do say a picture tells a thousand words, and in the relocation world, this one says it all!

You would be forgiven for thinking at first glance that a bunch of Cupertino Schools were being built behind this sign, but actually another community of new homes is sprouting up in Silicon Valley!  So look at this sign again and let’s find out more about these new homes :

Do we know how much they cost ?   No!

Do we know the square footage?   No!

Do we know how many bedrooms they have?    No!

Do we know the size of the yard?     No!

Do we know whether they have granite countertops?   No!

Do we know how many are sold already?   No!

SO – what do we know?  They are in the CUPERTINO SCHOOL DISTRICT! Yeah!!  And why are Cupertino schools so sought after?  Is it :

Low teacher to student ratio?   No!

Small, intimate environment?   No!

Great sports teams?   No!

Exceptional art and music curriculae?   No!

Modern facilities?   No!

Involved parents?   No!

High test scores?   YES!!!

House sellers today know what’s important to house buyers.   SCHOOLS!  and high test scores in those schools!  If you’re a family with school-age kids looking to buy or rent a home, it is assumed the school district is the most important criteria on your list.   And as relocation specialists for Silicon Valley, we know this is nearly always the case.

I have to admit, it was really refreshing (and easier!) for us to relocate a wonderful family last week from Boston who did not have school age children. We found a beautiful home for a family of 4 to rent – Mom, Dad and their 2 year old and a 1 month old baby.  They did not need to know about the schools.  They just wanted a friendly, family-oriented community where they could rent for a year or so and spend some time looking to see where they would like to eventually buy a home.  I’m sure that’s how it used to be years ago, well before I moved here in ’95 – when finding a home meant a family community, local parks, quiet streets, friendly neighbors, you get the picture!

But even this family will be looking at school districts before long.  And when they do, I hope they come back to California Concierges for advice on the right schools for their kids. Yes, test scores are important but so are all the other aforementioned criteria.

And we never forget that.

If you want to know more about how we can help you successfully relocate to Silicon Valley, email me at

#1 on your list – Find a home!

11 10 2008

Without a doubt, the hardest part about relocating to a new area is finding a home.  Once that is checked off the list, everything else will fall into place.  As Pliny the Elder once said (a LONG time ago) :

“Home is where the heart is”

and no more is that true than when you have to leave yours.

There are many homes for rent and for sale in Silicon Valley. The real problem lies in which areas to search for it.  Without any help or guidance on the huge variety of neighborhoods here, all of which may seem suitable – good commuting distance from work, decent schools, affordable prices – it is extremely difficult to know where to look and ultimately where to live.

When I think back to the homes we nearly bought in other neighborhoods, I feel so grateful that by some amazing luck we ended up in a neighborhood which we really liked and which we can now easily call home.

So how do you find these lovely neighborhoods?

Research, research, research. Talk to people, ask your new colleagues before you move here, visit schools if you have kids, ask for parents’ references from the principal so you can contact them, drive around and check out the streets and homes and ask yourself -

Are the houses being looked after?

Is the yard in front just dead grass or well landscaped?

Are there old cars lying around waiting to be worked on or do people keep their vehicles in good shape?

Is there a good park nearby where we can walk to?

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get a “gut” feeling about an area.  Get out of your car and walk around, ask anyone you see about their neighborhood, people are generally very open to chatting and giving you information about where they live, positively or negatively.

You can also use a relocation service whose job it is to find you your new home, and will take your specific criteria into account.  Their job isn’t done until you’re happy. And they’ve done this before – many times.

We moved a family recently into Sunnyvale with four kids and a dog and cut their searching time down to a totally manageable amount.  With ample preparation, conversation and research beforehand we were able to pinpoint 6 homes for them to look at in the perfect area – one day to find a home!  The priceless look from the grateful Mom is still etched in my brain!

But if you want to go it alone, check out these websites for ideas on homes, rentals and purchases, neighborhoods and prices.

For rentals:

And f you want to buy a home straight away, or just get a feel for the market here, go to – a great way to find out what homes are on the market, what they look like, where they are and how much they want for them.

And if you have any stories about moving to this area and finding your home, let me know!

Good luck!

API – Are Parents Interested?

17 09 2008

It’s September. Our kids have just returned to school and we’ve just found out how well – or not – our schools did last year according to the API (Academic Performance Index) scores printed in the San Jose Mercury News last week.

Do we feel proud? Or disappointed? DId we check the neighborhood schools to see if we came out on top? Or did we glance over at our friend’s school in a different school district to see if they did better than ours? Does it really matter? How important are these API scores?

What are they anyway? And why do we care? Steve Leung on his Silicon Valley Real Estate Blog gives an excellent summary :

The API (Academic Performance Index) scores are considered the cornerstone of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, and measure the academic performance and growth of the state’s schools according to a range of academic factors.

API scores were introduced in California in 1999 to provide a means of measuring a public school’s academic success from year to year. Those of us who already have children in these public schools may be mildly interested in how our schools are doing and take a certain pride if those numbers have gone up from last year. We may even feel a little smug at the realisation that our house prices may have increased at some corresponding percentage.

But consider those who are moving into Silicon Valley with children of school age – how do they decide – how would YOU decide? Purely on API scores? Remember the Wall Street Journal article “The New White Flight” of November 2005 which talked about Monte Vista High School in Cupertino? Now there’s a school for you which continues to reach the 900+mark every year and where the growing Asian American student population is the main factor in these high scores – but also where several white parents decided to withdraw their children from the school and move them to a high school with lower scores. They did not want their child to be 100% focussed on academics or feel slighted or even stupid that they did not get an A, only an A- in that test.

At the end of the day, it’s all about YOUR child. Where would he or she thrive? Do you want him/her sitting next to a high achiever? Maybe so – maybe that competitive edge will keep her on her toes and strive to do better. Or maybe that A+ student sitting next to her will only make her feel stupid and fairly worthless. Is your child more interested in sports and extra curricular activities or does he do best on a balance of both?

The Great Schools website which is a wonderful resource for checking out particular schools has an interesting page on how to choose your school. Factors from extra curricular activities to student diversity to technology should all come into play when making that choice.

So yes, check out your school’s API scores, feel proud that your child has contributed to that success, if success it is. But if you’re relocating to Silicon Valley, don’t let API be your only guide.

The real cost of relocation

1 06 2008

Caption credit khz

So how much does it really cost to relocate? And is the cost worth the move – financially and emotionally?

Interesting figures, from Ruth Mantell’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal, have been submitted on this subject by Worldwide ERC, a relocation-services industry trade group, on the financial burden companies undertake who agree to bear the whole cost of a family’s relocation within the US:

$62,000 if you’re a homeowner

$16-18,000 if you’re renting

$10,300 for the average for shipping costs (2006 data)

But beware, even if the company agrees to give you full relocation benefits. There are many other hidden costs that you yourself will have to pay that you may not have thought of until it’s time to move.

If you’re coming from an international location, for example, you’ll probably sell all your electronic and electrical goods as they won’t work over here. You’re going to have to spend quite a bit of money when you get here on replacing the multitude of electrical gadgets that you didn’t know you had until you were forced to get rid of them! And what about all the little repairs and carpet cleaning you’re going to have to do before you put your house on the market – that’s out of your own pocket. And the yard – that really needs a quick professional touch to make the house look perfect, don’t you think?

Many people relocating opt for the “cash up front” option. Instead of the company paying all the relocation costs, the individual accepts a check from the company in anticipation of finding just as effective a way to manage his relocation needs and keeping the extra cash for out-of-pocket expenses. But take care with this that the company doesn’t have conditions on that amount – ie certain third party contractors you have to use to ship your car, your belongings, even your family – where you could have found your own suppliers to do the same job for much cheaper. It happens. Get all the finer details about your relocation package before committing, making sure you get just what you’re getting.

And understand the real financial cost of taking a position in another part of the country – or world. Make sure the move for your career is worth it. Check out the taxes, state, federal and property, the costs of your temporary housing (will the company put you up for a certain time period – is it a justifiable time for you to find a home in that market? If not, negotiate). Are you going to have to pay more or less for your home than the one you currently own/rent – check out Zillow and Craigslist to find home values in your new location. How are the schools? Are you going to put your kids through public or private education? How far will you have to commute? Gas prices are ever soaring and eat up an increasing portion of the family budget now. Is it realistic to take public transport – and how much will it cost?

And make sure you know where you’re moving to. Take the whole family on a tour of the area before you commit to the new position. Spend as much time as you think necessary, not just a day, to show them all the advantages there will be to making a new home. Find a reputable relocation services company who will be able to show you around. It’s worth it to have someone answer all your questions and give you peace of mind. Bob Portale, president and chief executive for RELO Direct, a mobility-management company agrees. He says personal issues often weigh the most heavily on a family after relocation.

You may know this is the right move for your career, but you also need to know it’s the right move for your family’s life ahead.

Thoughts, experiences? Advice? Let’s help our relocating bloggers have the most stress-free move ever!!

2008′s Best Cities for Relocating Families

11 05 2008

Worldwide ERC and Primacy Relocation announced on Thursday the findings of their fourth annual study which determines the best cities to move to for a successful relocation based on certain criteria for quality of life.  This year new categories were added :

” ……including recent job growth for 2007, percentage of nearby top-ranked colleges, average in-state tuition for four-year public colleges, percentage of population growth since 2000, amount of pediatricians per 100,000 population, and separate sales and income tax categories. Another new category is the green living index, which measures environmental incentives and policies, the availability of biofuel, wind power generation, and the amount of energy-efficient buildings.”

Interestingly, the metropolitan area of San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara which falls under the category of over 1,300,000 population (the largest of 3 categories), comes quite far down the chart at 40th, meaning that there are 39 cities more favorable to a successful relocation than Silicon Valley. Top of the list in order are Pittsburgh, Indianapolis/Carmel, Austin/Round Rock and Fort Worth/Arlington. So chances are, if you relocate to any of these places, you’ll stay put. Who’d have thought?

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve been under the impression for a long while (pretty much all of the 12+ years I’ve lived here in Silicon Valley) that once you move here, you won’t want to leave either. But it seems that’s not always the case and I guess it can depend on how you move here.

Being in the relocation business, I’m constantly studying and re-evaluating what makes a successful relocation – it benefits our clients and the companies transferring them if the families we relocate here, stay here. But although I’m biased :) there is no doubt in my mind that using the expertise of a well-established relocation company considerably raises the odds of a successful relocation. Consider the issues that we take care of with your average relocation ( well documented on our website) :

Personal Profile Development (we find out all about you and your family before you visit)

Area orientation tour (we drive you round the communities which we think would best suit your living requirements and answer ALL your questions about living here)

Finding a home (rentals or purchase – we put you in touch with realty experts to find your perfect home)

School visits (kids need to see where they’re going to school, let’s go visit the principal and get a tour)

Banking, shopping, drivers license (we get you situated with all that paperwork)

Spousal assistance (your spouse wants to work as well or take an adult education class? – we help you find those opportunities)

Networking (finding your home from home – that truly is one of the key elements in relocation – getting involved with other families like yourself, making friends with the same interests – we help you connect)

Cross Cultural Training (coming from a different country and culture can be very daunting – we take you step by step through the integration process to help you feel comfortable and knowledgeable in your new community)

Ongoing Assistance (we stay in touch with you for the first six months after you’ve moved here so you’ll always have a friendly and helpful voice at the end of the phone)

Because we look after our clients with such a personalized service and don’t let go of them until we’re sure they’re well settled into their new community, our relocation success rate is veryhigh.

And I do know, that not getting the relocation service treatment when I moved here with my family in 1995, made it much harder and took much longer for me to feel happy in my new home.

How about you?  Have you relocated to where you are now?  Did you use a relocation service?  Or did you have to settle here, find a home and schools, friends and community, by yourself?  What made the relocation successful or not, for you?

I’d love to hear your stories.

They WILL grow up!

4 04 2008

stockxpertcom_id2032471_size0.jpgI recently read a blog from a local Silicon Valley realtor about how schools in Sunnyvale affect house prices. Interesting article, nothing earth shattering, as we do know that the higher the API scores of a school, the higher the house prices are likely to be. Whether we believe this to be fair or right and what we classify as a “good school” is for another discussion. And if you need some help knowing what to look for in a school, look here.

What I want to point out is how short-sighted we can be when it comes to buying a home in an area based on the “quality” of the local elementary school. What about the middle and high school?

Your kids may be pre-schoolers or not yet even born but they will grow older – hard to believe, but true! Mine were 5, 3 and 20 weeks till birth when we moved here from the UK, and now my oldest is 18, a senior in high school. When we looked at houses way back, we found one we loved, the price was OK, didn’t know anything about the area and we didn’t look past the local elementary school, and even then with just a cursory glance at the building and a meeting with the Kindergarten teacher – lovely lady. So we bought our house and left the schools in the lap of the gods.

But we were just lucky, I guess. We ended up in a school district which we’re very happy with and have never thought about moving. However, the same story isn’t true for some of my friends. When their kids got to 8th grade, they had to move house, as they weren’t happy with the local high school. One family I know, even moved house during her daughter’s elementary school years and then moved again during middle school to avoid the local high school!

Moving home just because of the school can be avoided if they’d been advised to look at all 3 schools before they bought. It’s an expensive affair to move house, what with realtor fees, likely increased property taxes etc.

So my advice to you if you’re relocating to Silicon Valley and have school age children is :

Information is power – look ahead and stay put!

Moving out – to Maui

7 03 2008

I met a woman yesterday who is shortly moving to Maui with her family to get away from the pressure of life here in Silicon Valley.  She turned my thought process around, though, as I’m always harping on about reasons to relocate to Silicon Valley, and here was a family relocating out – voluntarily.

I found her story intriguing, especially when she said that neithershe nor her husband had any job to go to.  She does have a father-in-law living there, though he can’t support them and they won’t be living with him. They have two kids, 8 and 3 years old and feel that life is going to be much better away from the “rat race”, the expensive houses, the commute, the stressful job, the pressures of school…. need I go on?  We’ve heard it all before, maybe dreamed it too.  But Maui?

I envy her on the one hand, her idealism turned into reality, but I would be scared in her situation, aware that the schools are not so great over there, and private school is probably the main option, but without the incoming funds to cover that option – yet – that’s scary.

And life on an island?  I’ve heard about island fever.  My brother-in-law lasted 18 months over there, same idea, moved his family over after having spent 2 weeks on vacation in  Kanapali.  Now they’re back.

Much as I love Maui, I’ve been there twice, and 10 days was plenty of time to enjoy its pleasures -  beautiful sandy beaches, blue waters, warm sunshine, etc etc.  I was quite happy to come home having recharged my batteries -  coming home of course to sunny, dry California, not some humid, scorching area out west.  What’s not to like about our weather??

I’m sure they’re not alone, although I wonder how many people end up in one of the Hawaiian islands.  Most, I imagine, move to another, less expensive, less stressful, US state.

Have you moved away?  Did it work?  Where did you go?  Would you ever come back?  Humor me and let me know.

Moving with kids in tow

4 01 2008

I just read a blog on a Single Parent’s site about when, if ever, is the best time to relocate kids to a new home. The writer correctly stated, in my opinion, that every kid is different as far as readjusting is concerned, but sometimes it can get harder as they move into their teens and have established strong roots of friendship and familiarity.

Many of us have moved with kids in tow and have encountered all types of problems – new schools, making new friendships, finding new interests, or just being plain sullen and miserable at having left their friends behind and blaming it all on Mom and Dad.

A couple of thoughts to anyone who is thinking of relocating with their kids :

Read the rest of this entry »

Senior High School Parent’s top 10 list of college thoughts…

11 11 2007

We’ve come to another milestone in our daughter’s educational path – college applications! Besides the stress for her of application deadlines, college choices, essays for applications AND scholarships not to mention all the senior high school homework thrown in, there’s also my feelings of stress, inadequacy, helplessness, because she’s my first one going to college AND I’m English, moved to Silicon Valley 12 years ago, and haven’t been through this system before. (My husband has, but he says everything has changed since he applied ions ago and I can believe that from what I hear about applying to California colleges nowadays).

So for the last few months, I’ve been trying to absorb as much information about this whole process as I can – without bothering my daughter too much – as heaven knows, she doesn’t need MY help, after all. What do I know?

That is why Thursday evening last week found me at Lynbrook High School, San Jose , in search of a talk being given by Don MacKenzie for parents of kids going off to college next year. I know nothing about this guy, having arrived late so missed the introduction, and all I was told about him on the Homestead High School bulletin was this little blurb :

LYNBROOK HIGH SCHOOL PTSA IS SPONSORING A PRESENTATION BY DON MACKENZIE ON COLLEGE FOR PARENTS ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 8TH AT 7PM IN ROOM 72. Mr. Mackenzie will address parent concerns regarding helping your child choose the “best” college, how to prepare him (and yourself) to live apart, as well as how to continue support your child financially and emotionally from a distance.

A little aside to Lynbrook High School – saying in ROOM 72 on a pitch black night is like saying the car in the Valley Fair Mall Car Park. Either get your room numbers illuminated, or put a BIG sign up pointing to the room. I met at least 20 other parents wandering around the campus that evening not having a clue…. It was pure luck we eventually found the room.

Now I have that off my chest, I shall continue… Having squeezed into the room and parked myself on a desk at the back (it was not a big room, and this topic had attracted a lot of people, some of whom were still fumbling around the campus in the dark), I listened carefully as Don elaborated with a Powerpoint presentation on the financial, practical and emotional concerns of being a parent of a senior high school student applying to college. As I only had my 6″x3″ notebook with me, it was a case of jotting down a few words to remind me of the topics, so I thought I’d list my top 10 (yes, I noted down 10!)

  1. Don’t diss private colleges, if they want your son/daughter they will negotiate cost.
  2. Apply for scholarships, someone has to get them.
  3. Can’t visit the college? – check out this website , where you can buy videos of over 350 tours of colleges in USA, Canada and Europe. Helps, but doesn’t replace going there.
  4. Visit colleges as soon as your kid’s a high school freshman, whenever you happen to be on vacation in the US, may as well get a feel for the local college while you’re there.
  5. Don’t think about college rankings – find the one that’s right for your kid. The “top” school isn’t necessarily the best one for him/her.
  6. But think big if your kid wants to – college education is a product – they need to fill places.
  7. Talk budgeting with your student the summer before – work out how much it’s going to cost for the year (check out the college website for that info), figure out where it’s all coming from and, if possible, get that amount into his/her account in August and tell him/her – “That covers everything, don’t come back to me for any more until next August.” They will learn very quickly how to budget and will much more appreciate the cost of their education.
  8. Make them a buddy on your AIM, but don’t let them know that you’re watching what time they’re getting up and going to bed (ie whenever they switch on and off their computer). That’s called interfering and they won’t appreciate you for it.
  9. If they want to come home for a weekend, YOU pay for it. That’s the only thing you’re funding, and it’s worth it!
  10. And the last one is my own little tip – hang out with them when they’re applying for college on their computer. They may know a lot more than you about what they’re doing but just being in the same room and watching them shows them you really care and want to help.

That’s what I’ve got. Hope it’s of help. Would love to hear anyone else’s tips for getting through this whole college thing!


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