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Buying a Home in the Highly Competitive East Bay Housing Market

Over the past few years, the East Bay portion of the San Francisco Bay Area has evolved into one of the most competitive real estate markets in the United States.

Living in the East Bay offers many benefits. Its proximity to San Francisco provides access to a diverse range of cultural and recreational opportunities, while maintaining a distinct suburban atmosphere.

Add in a moderate climate, a strong economy, and an abundance of natural beauty, and you have all of the ingredients of a premier destination.

In this guide, we will offer some proven strategies for success when buying a home in the highly competitive East Bay real estate market.

Where and What Is the East Bay?

The East Bay includes the cities along the eastern shores of the San Francisco and San Pablo bays. The Suisun Bay marks its northern border, while the Silicon Valley region lies to the south.

Bay Area map with color-coded regions

It includes the two counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, which have a combined population of nearly 2.8 million people. Together, these counties cover a total land area of roughly 1,600 miles. It’s a large and densely populated region of California.

Major Cities Located in the East Bay

There are more than 60 cities located within the East Bay counties of Contra Costa and Alameda. The shoreline area, in particular, is a heavily populated urban corridor with several cities exceeding 100,000 residents.

Here are some of the major cities located within the East Bay region:

  • Oakland (population around 400,000): Oakland is the most populous city in Alameda County, and the third-largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area region. It’s a major port city with a thriving cultural scene and diverse neighborhoods.
  • Fremont (population over 230,000): Fremont is a family-friendly city known for having excellent schools, diverse neighborhoods, and proximity to major tech companies in Silicon Valley.
  • Berkeley (population around 120,000): Home to the renowned University of California, Berkeley, this city is celebrated for its progressive culture, historic architecture, and eclectic dining scene. Check out our Berkeley buyer’s guide.
  • Concord (population over 120,000): Located about 30 miles east of San Francisco, Concord offers a historic downtown area and housing options that range from urban condos to detached suburban homes.
  • Richmond (population around 110,000): A waterfront city with a rich industrial history and a growing arts scene. Located along the northeastern shores of the San Francisco Bay, Richmond is considered by some to be an up-and-coming destination in the East Bay. Check out our Richmond buyer’s guide.
  • Antioch (population over 110,000): A diverse and affordable city in the East Bay’s northeastern corner, offering a suburban feel with easy access to nature along the Delta shoreline.
  • San Leandro (population around 90,000): Positioned between Oakland and Hayward, San Leandro features a mix of residential neighborhoods, commercial districts, and recreational facilities, making it an attractive place to live and work in the East Bay.

Tips for Buying a Home in This Housing Market

If you’re planning to buy a home in the East Bay in the near future, you should know that it’s a highly competitive real estate market. In fact, portions of Alameda and Contra Costa counties are among the most competitive housing markets in the U.S.

Housing market inventory in the East Bay has been hovering near a historic low for several years now. When this guide was published, in the spring of 2024, both Alameda and Contra Costa counties had about a 1.5-month supply of homes for sale, which is very low.

There’s also a lot of demand for homes in the East Bay housing market, particularly in the coastal cities near the San Francisco Bay’s eastern shore.

When you combine these two factors—strong inventory and tight supply conditions—you have end up with a highly competitive real estate market. And that’s exactly what you’ll find when buying a home in the East Bay.

Here are some ways to increase your chance for success when buying a home in the East Bay real estate market:

1. Conduct extensive price research for your target areas.

Research recent sale prices in the specific area where you want to buy. When it comes to prices, there’s a pretty broad price spectrum across the individual cities and communities in the East Bay. So a bit of advanced reconnaissance is warranted.

Fortunately, you can find this kind of information online. Start by looking at websites like Zillow and Focus on sale prices rather than list prices. Sale prices will give you better insight into what you can actually afford, based on current market conditions.

2. Look into jumbo mortgage financing.

A conforming loan is a mortgage that meets the guidelines set by government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These loans have maximum size limits that can vary based on the county.

A jumbo mortgage loan, on the other hand, exceeds these conforming limits and offers more financing range for expensive markets like the East Bay.

If you’re buying a pricier home, you might need a jumbo loan to finance your purchase. These “oversized” loans often require a higher credit score and a larger down payment. But if you can check those boxes and have sufficient income, you can probably qualify for a jumbo loan.

Not all properties in the East Bay require jumbo mortgage financing. For example, the median home value within Contra Costa County falls below the conforming loan limit. So it’s possible to use a conforming loan to buy a house in the area. Just know that there is a higher level of financing available, if you need it.

3. Understand your negotiating limitations.

In the East Bay, the real estate supply-and-demand situation is skewed in a way that gives sellers more negotiating leverage.

Sellers in Alameda and Contra Costa County can be pretty picky, when it comes to choosing the best offer. That’s because they often receive multiple offers within the first week of listing their homes for sale.

When house hunting in the East Bay, home buyers need to understand this unique dynamic and negotiate accordingly.

4. Make the strongest offer possible.

Make your initial offer as strong as possible, using recent sales data to determine the amount. With other buyers lining up to make offers, you might not get a second chance.

5. Be ready to pounce when the right home comes along.

According to a recent report from the California Association of Realtors, the median “time on market” for the East Bay real estate market was around 11 days. That was lower than the statewide median for the same time period, and much lower than the national median.

This shows that homes tend to sell very quickly within the East Bay real estate market. And it’s easy to understand why, when you consider the lopsided supply and demand situation mentioned earlier.

These statistics send a clear message to home buyers:

If you’re planning to buy a home in the East Bay area, you need to be ready to “pounce” when the right property comes along. This might even mean submitting an offer on the spot, while you’re actually visiting a property.

Need financing? We’ve been located in the East Bay for many years and look forward to helping you buy a home in the area. We offer a variety of mortgage options, including jumbo loans that are well-suited for this market. Please contact us with your financing questions!

Mike Trejo is a Bay Area mortgage broker with 20+ years of knowledge and experience.

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