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This tiny East Bay town is where home prices are inflating fastest

Bethel Island is one of the most affordable places to find housing in the Bay Area—for now

A marina photographed from the air, with white buildings on the left and green, verdant sandbars on the right.
Bethel Island
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Real estate site Property Shark published figures revealing how housing prices have changed across the Bay Area between 2014 and 2018.

While the consensus that prices rose should stun few, what is surprising is where the greatest increase happened during that period—not in San Francisco or in San Jose or on the Peninsula, but instead in Bethel Island.

Bethel Island—a town measuring 5.6 square miles, located just past Oakley near the San Joaquin River—is one of the Bay Area’s smallest and most obscure communities. In 2017, the U.S. Census estimated that this Contra Costa County town had a population of fewer than 2,400 people, up from barely more than 1,900 five years prior.

Bethel Island is also one of the cheapest places to find housing in all of the Bay Area—real estate site Trulia even cited it as having the absolute most affordable regional market rents in 2016.

According to Property Shark, the average Bethel Island house averaged a mere $499,000 in 2018. And yet, it’s also the place where prices are soaring the fastest: between 2014 and 2018, the cost of buying here increased 117 percent.

For comparison, in the same period prices rose 80 percent in East Palo Alto, 75 percent in Stinson Beach, and 68 percent in Emeryville.

In all, more than one-third of Bay Area cities saw average price inflation of more than 40 percent during this period, including San Francisco, which climbed 43 percent since 2014.

Why so much activity in one little town? It makes sense that an East Bay locale with cheaper housing would become more attractive over the past few years, due to skyrocketing home prices elsewhere, and thus agitate prices as more people sought real estate refuge in the formerly remote area.

It’s also important to remember that small sample sizes can lead to big statistical swings. Per the census, Bethel Island only had 1,479 homes in 2017, and only 1,046 of those units were occupied. The community is composed entirely of single-unit homes and mobile homes.

Those same census figures estimate that the town had just 83 homes worth between $500,000 and $999,999 in 2012.

By 2017 that figure had increased to 112. No figures are yet available for 2018. Note that there are no homes on Bethel Island valued at seven figures.

Curiously, the gross median rent in the town went down from $1,160 in 2012 to $1,153 in 2017.