County top in state for lowest unemployment, highest home cost

San Mateo County's combined property assessment rolls have increased incrementally over the past decade. (Source: San Mateo County Assessor-County Clerk-Record Mark Church.)

San Mateo County holds two statewide superlatives: the lowest unemployment rate and the highest median cost for a home, according to statistics recently released by county assessor Mark Church.

The county had the lowest unemployment rate in the state for the fourth year running, at 1.9 percent, the California Employment Development Department reports.

Meanwhile, the median price of an existing single-family home in San Mateo County was the highest in the state for the second year in a row; as of April of this year, the median price was $1.77 million. That puts the county ahead of San Francisco County for the second year in a row and represents an increase of 18 percent over the previous year. The 18 percent increase ranks fourth among counties across the state, after Yolo County (up 28 percent), Mariposa County (up 26.3 percent) and Santa Clara County (up 22.8 percent).

Assessed value trends

Church told The Almanac that the two statistics are connected. The unemployment rate is so low, he said, partly because the county produces many tech-sector jobs that require a high level of education and pay well. Nearby higher education institutions, like Stanford, USF, Santa Clara University, UCSF, UC Berkeley, San Jose State, San Francisco State and Hayward State, help produce a highly educated labor market, all making this area a high-demand location to be.

Meanwhile, he said, geography and land use policy limit the places where housing can be built and increase commute times, since people have to live far from job centers.

"High demand from high-income wage earners, coupled with low housing supply, have resulted in the very high housing price levels," he said.

Property values up countywide

Countywide, Church reported, the property assessment roll has increased by more than 8 percent, or $16.5 billion, over last year. Now, the county's assessed value totals $222.5 billion – a new milestone.

The "property assessment roll" is essentially a directory of all the assessed property within the county. It is broken into a "secured" roll, which typically includes real estate values, and the "unsecured" roll, which includes personal property, and then a combined one. The combined roll, Church said in a statement, reflects "changes in ownership, new construction, value declines and value restorations from the previous January 1."

In the last eight years, Church said, the county's combined assessment roll has increased nearly 60 percent.

“As has been the case for several years now, the high demand and the inventory shortage in every sector of real estate are the driving forces behind escalating real estate values and rents throughout the county, resulting in another record-breaking assessment roll for the county,” he said.

He noted that about 45 percent of the growth came from property sales and ownership change reassessments, which typically happen on residential properties. But he noted that commercial development is also escalating, boosting commercial property values too.

While the assessed property roll has increased substantially, Church said, the increases have been proportionally far more stable than before the passage of Proposition 13 40 years ago this year. Still, the increase over the past year was greater than the county's entire assessed property roll in 1978, which was $14.3 billion, he said.

Menlo Park

Menlo Park rose to the top tier of two lists ranking jurisdictions in the county: The city ranked second in commercial growth and fourth in the percent-increase in assessed property value.

Menlo Park currently has 9.7 million square feet of commercial development pending, approved or under construction, second only to Redwood City's 12.9 million square feet. In Menlo Park, the assessor's office reported, development of offices owned and leased by Facebook accounted for more than $700 million in new construction and drove the increases in the combined roll values in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

Menlo Park's assessed property value increased by 11.06 percent from last year, and the city was among the five in the county that grew most, percentage-wise. It ranked fourth, following East Palo Alto (up 11.4 percent), Daly City (up 11.3 percent), South San Francisco (up 11.1 percent); the fifth city on the list is Brisbane (up 10.8 percent).


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