Notes from Shannon & Jeanne

Notes from Shannon and Jeanne

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

August 9, 2017

Dear Portland Housing Market –Long May You Run?  Portland-area home prices climbed 8.9 percent during the year ending in May, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index, an increase second only to Seattle’s 13.3 percent rise.  And bronze medal finisher Denver rounded out the podium with a 7.9 percent increase, meeting late-2016 forecasts that the three would lead the nation in price appreciation this year.  (Read our Portland Market Update for the latest statistics and a Portland area-by-area appreciation report.)

Portland’s price appreciation has slowed since a year ago, when prices were up 12.5 percent, and, reporting sluggish market activity in July and August, area agents are asking each other today, “Is these just a typical summer’s market doldrums, or is a protracted slow-down shaping up ahead of us?”

Our market has been on a long march upward, with steady growth since the market recovery began in late 2012. Most observers point out the leading forces driving this market have been low inventories of homes and low mortgage rates; recently we’re reading more reports that new home buildings starts have stalled, which will exacerbate matters in the future.

But that little business about interest rates. . . .

There’s growing interest (pun) in what effect the rising Fed Reserve rate may be having on home sales.  In June the Fed raised short-term interest rates by a quarter point, marking the Fed’s third rate hike since December 2016.  That’s not at all what economists foresaw; the consensus among them late last year was we’d only see two, or, at most, three rate hikes this year.  In fact though, with reports from the Federal Reserve Board that its members are steadfastly optimistic about the health of the economy, and less and less worried about creeping inflation, there’s a strong likelihood the Fed will raise rates once or even – gulp – twice again before the end of the year.

It’s like that adage about boiling a frog, there’s going to be a point where raising the temperature on interest rates is going to kill off some buyers.  Remember, the factors that have spurred on this hot market have been limited inventories and affordable mortgages.  We’re keeping a close watch on the market this month, and, going into September, we’re expecting to see our customary bump in sales activity between Labor Day and late October.  If we don’t get the bump, and interest rates continue to rise, will consumer sentiment falter?  Will buyers take a rain check on moving until next spring?

Portland Poised to Lead the Nation Again in 2017.

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Portland Poised to Lead the Nation Again in 2017.  As we near the end of the second month of 2017, we see a strong consensus among all market forecasters that Portland housing prices will be among the nationwide leaders again.  Look to Portland, Seattle, and Denver, as last year, to lead the pack.

How Much of a Good Thing?   Industry experts predict that Portland home values won’t rise as fast as they have over the past two years, but Portland will still outpace the national average.   The drumbeat – strong demand and limited supply –  will produce anywhere from 5.5% home appreciation in our Portland market, according to Zillow (https://www.zillow.com/portland-or/home-values/), to as much as 11.1%, according to Veros Real Estate Solutions, a company that specializes in property valuations and analytics.  The National Association of Realtors is hanging with Zillow and forecasts that the Portland market will see 6.6% price appreciation this year.  It’ll be fun to see whose prediction wins out when we review the numbers next February.

Just What’s Pushing Our Market Ahead of the Pack?  The Portland and Seattle markets are benefiting from robust economies, growing populations, and continuing low inventories of for-sale homes.

Here in Portland the economy is in full swing.  The unemployment rate, at 4.6%, is the lowest we’ve seen here since those halcyon dot com days back at the end of the last century.  The job market’s strong and growing at 3.5%.  Take note: economic growth is no longer limited to just high tech industry; instead, it’s spread across a wide spectrum of different industries.  Our economy is more diversified than at any time in the State’s history, and with broad diversity there’s greater economic stability.

And people are continuing to stream into the Metro area: the most recent data from the US Census Bureau shows we added 40,621 new residents from 2014 to 2015. That’s 4.6 people per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Housing supply on the other hand has not kept its pace with our growing population.  Doh.  We’ve not seen more than two months’ inventory of for-sale homes since March 2015, and even with all the multi-family housing starts we’re seeing here, we’re not likely to see any significant improvement in housing inventories for at least another two years.

Anything Scary Further On Down the Road?  Well, no, apparently not in the short term.  Interest rates are predicted to remain well within reason for the year, with most analysists putting the year-end mark at 4.75 – 5.0% for the conventional 30-year fixed rate mortgage.  Pat Stone, Chairman and CEO of Williston Financial Group (WFG) and WFG National Title Insurance Co., spoke before a group of Realtors last week and said the outlook for the Northwest, regardless of whatever may come down from Washington this year, points to a robust market “at least” all the way through the first half of 2018.  We’re on board with Pat.

Is Portland Fighting Climate Change through Home Sales?

Monday, February 6th, 2017

In December 2016, the Portland City council voted to require home energy audits as a part of the home sales process.  The requirement will take effect in January 2018.  We’ve yet to see how it will play out. Advocates say it’s a step toward meeting our 2050 City action plan for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions; opponents say it is an undue burden on sellers.  The audit would give a home an energy efficiency rating between one and ten by which buyers could compare one property to another.  Voluntary audits have been around since 2009, but the rating did not get much attention during a home sale.  Very few homes obtained voluntary ratings, less than 2%, so many homes coming to market did not have scores.  Therefore, energy efficient homes with score rarely had other homes to compare with.

It turns out Portland’s commercial buildings have been subject to this requirement since 2015.  Since about half of all carbon emissions from buildings come from residential housing, rolling in single family residences helps a great deal with the overall reduction goal.

The Realtor associations have opposed this requirement as one more unnecessary burden on a home’s sale.  Critics say the audit could be used against a seller, or used to negotiate improvements to a home during a sale.  Note: we typically negotiate repairs rather than improvements during the process.

Ready for the inside scoop?  We’ve been in favor of this for a long time.  This has not been a popular stance among colleagues. Disclaimer: no doubt we’ll have bumps along the way.  It will make the process more complicated.  It is already quite complicated, but that’s why professional assistance is needed.  There are a small number of environmentally-minded realtors in Portland that have been proponents of this policy all along.  We have consulted with home buyers for years on home improvements, it has been disheartening to discourage a potential homeowner/seller to forgo energy improvements, and opt for an Ikea kitchen instead (no dis meant to Ikea).  We believe this requirement will balance Portland values with more flashy cosmetic upgrades – with an energy score, both home investments will have a way to be visible to buyers.  R-38 insulation as sexy as a farmhouse sink?  Coming your way.

Notes From Shannon and Jeanne

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

September 29, 2016

Strong sales cap off a busy summer.  Average and median sales prices continued to rise in the Portland metro area through August, and while sales volume is starting show signs of slowing, prices are likely to hold steady through the last quarter of the year.  As we’ve noted earlier this year, Election Jitters, the persistent-but-never-realized threat that the Fed will raise rates, and the customary seasonal slowdown will put some drag on this year’s market rocket ship.  [Tip: if you’re thinking about buying, or know someone who is planning a move – the last part of the year is often the best time to buy.  Put off selling now until February or March, but if a “buy” is in the works, think to call us for advice.]

You can get all the latest statistics, including price appreciation figures, by clicking on our Portland Market Update.

Now not one, but two websites devoted to Portland’s building boom.  When we reported in June that Portland’s growing so fast that there’s a web site devoted to tracking new projects we thought to ourselves, “Holy cow!  Boom town!”  Imagine our surprise when we learned that a second website had been launched by the Portland Business Journal.  Called “Project Watch,” the interactive site covers new hotel, industrial, mixed-use, office, multi-family residential, and retail startups – and the site reports a ton of them.  Check it out here

In the mix:

  • Eleven big downtown building projects are on the books for development on properties owned by the Goodman family’s Downtown Development Group. Watch the first one, a 425-unit apartment building with a grocery store anchor, coming out of the ground now at Harrison and SW 4th.
  • The City has applications from various big developers for construction of eleven new hotels in downtown and close-in Portland.
  • Macadam Ridge, a proposed subdivision of around 46 new single-family homes in the hills above the intersection of SW Macadam Avenue and Taylors Ferry Road is working its way through the city planning process. If approved, it will be the first traditional subdivision built in Portland in many years. Neighborhood and conservationist interests are strongly opposed to the project, which will, among making other environmentally controversial changes, take out 480 trees.
  • “Freeway capping.” Former mayor Vera Katz’s 1998 idea for covering the sunken portion of I-405 that runs along the west side of Portland has been revived again.  The plan would build caps over the sunken interstate that would reconnect neighborhoods and add back 28 of the 36 blocks that were destroyed by building the freeway back between 1969 and 1973.  An example of this idea in action is Seattle’s Freeway Park over I-5.

Summer’s fading. Enjoy the rest of it in the company of your family and friends, and as much of it as you can outside.  Happy fall!

Shannon and Jeanne

In this issue: A controversial housing proposal could save neighborhoods and increase density. Also- dare we say it – signs that real estate sales are cooling?

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

In the News:  On June 10th, The Oregonian reported that Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) is preparing a set of regulations to govern infill development to meet the city’s needs for more housing in the face of its recent rapid growth.   The proposal seeks to:

  • Limit the size of single-family homes and end developer’s practice of taking down small houses and replacing them with large, expensive “McMansions.”
  • Encourage more multifamily housing options. The proposal would allow developers to build more accessory dwelling units (ADU’s), duplexes, triplexes and even four-plexes on as-yet undesignated housing lots.
  • Allow more houses on some lots. The proposal would make it easier, in some cases, to re-establish historic narrow lot lines that lie under larger, consolidated parcels where there is currently only a single home.
  • Permit development without provisions for on-site parking.
  • Prohibit “snout houses” (front loaded garages).

 

An on-line survey of around 7,000 participants conducted by the BPS this past winter revealed that the public’s greatest concerns are housing affordability; demolition of existing viable homes and the consequential loss of neighborhood character and history; parking and congestion; and loss of tree canopy.

 

While the proposal to adopt more “middle housing” alternatives in Portland’s single-family residential zones may not wholly allay all the public’s concerns, we endorse a course change to Portland’s housing regulations.

 

The project summary and timeline are available by going to http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/533961.  The public is invited to a series of open houses throughout June and July.   (For a schedule, click here: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/67728.)

Timeline

Can’t make it to a meeting?   In addition to open houses, an online open house and questionnaire will offer community members another chance to learn about the project and give staff feedback.   As of this writing the open house and questionnaire haven’t appeared on the internet.

 

Want a Bird’s-Eye View of How Portland is Growing?  Coolest web site ever!  Click on http://www.nextportland.com/ for an interactive aerial map of Portland – zoom into your neighborhood! – and keep tabs on all the growth that’s happening here.  “Next Portland” covers all “multi-family residential, retail, cultural buildings, educational buildings, hotels and other large projects happening in the City of Portland. [They] cover both new buildings and major alterations or additions to old buildings. [Their] blog posts are exclusively written about projects that are either still in the design phase, or are under construction.”   Take a look!  Do you want to know more about the construction at NE 7th, between Russell and Knott?  That’s going to be a 6-story, 68-unit apartment building.  And that’s a 4-story, 40-apartment complex going in at 2330 NW Raleigh, in case you were wondering.   We find ourselves referencing information off this site two or three times a week – it’s a terrific way to stay informed about growth and development in the city.  Check it out!

NextPortland tool

Seeing a Slowdown?  The current seller’s market kicked off in January 2013, which was 42 months ago.  The chart looks impressive:

Pages from PortlandMetroArea

In those 42 months the average price of home in the Metro area has risen 28%, from $287,700 back in January 2013 to $402,500 at the end of the May 2016 reporting period.  While sales remain robust, we’re seeing a decrease in the numbers of participants in bidding wars and even a slight increase in inventories in certain market segments (among more expensive, $600,000-plus homes; in outlying suburbs).  With school getting out and summer vacations cropping up in the calendar, June sales often soften, certainly, but a three-and-a-half-year old market is getting a little long in the tooth. . .  and there’s the fall election and attendant uncertainty surrounding it just ahead.  Going into the summer market we’ll simply note there’s a faint warning light on the dashboard, and leave it at that.   We remain unveeringly, cheerily optimistic about the health of the market in the long run.

 

The 2016 Housing Outlook

Monday, February 8th, 2016

For the third year in a row we’re bringing you the same market forecast: “Low mortgage interest rates and low housing inventories will push the cost of [Portland residential] housing higher as opportunity-seeking buyers bid up prices for limited quantities of available homes.”  Last year we called that statement a catechism; this year we’ll call it a mantra.  Come fall though, maybe we’ll be calling it a prayer.  Read on.  But here, at the year’s onset, all the past two years’ market conditions are still in place and set to propel the first half of the year along at a breakneck pace.

Recapping on 2015, last week the highly-regarded S&P/Case-Schiller Home Price Index reported that Portland housing prices gained more than any other in its 20-city composite index, topping the list with a reported one-year 11.1% gain.  Along with Portland, four other cities – San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, and Dallas – either matched or exceeded their pre-Recession all-time highs.   Our own Realtors Multiple Listing Service, while less sanguine than Case-Schiller, reported that average price appreciation in the metro area last year was 6.5%.  That’s on top of 2014’s 7.2% gain, which was in turn heaped on 2013’s 12.9% rise: in the aggregate we’re looking at a post-recession gain of 26.5% over three years.   (As usual, last year’s market stats, including a breakdown of Portland metro appreciation by area, are tabulated in our most recent “Portland Market Update.”)

If predictions hold, 2016 market activity will show continuing, albeit slower, gains.  CoreLogic, a leading provider of real estate analytics, reported in November that Oregon will see a 5.4% increase in home prices in 2016.  We’ll add this to that sunny optimism: almost every one of the factors that we cited would influence the 2015 market – low interest rates; low inventories; steady in-migration; strong Boomer and Gen-Y demand; and high rents – is still in place as we move into the 2016 market.

Nothing lasts forever, and we note a few things on the horizon that could moderate growth in the housing sector later this year:

  1. Many more international / Chinese economic woes could undermine the US equities markets. That could lead to economic woes of our own, which may stifle housing gains.
  2. Wage growth needs to keep pace with rising home prices. If the gap widens, the housing market, fed from below by first-time buyers, will falter.  Good news here though: last year Portland metro area job growth increased 3.3%, added 35,600 new jobs. That outperformed the state job growth of 3.1% and the national rate of 1.9%.  (Source: The Oregonian, 1/27/2016)
  3. Short of a China-inspired recession (see #1), there’s little doubt that interest rates, which are hovering around 4.0 – 4.25% now, are going to rise this year, albeit slowly. While the rise may not appear to mean much, the slightest shiver in mortgage interest rates could rattle many marginal buyers out of the market.  And again, first-time home buyers will feel it hardest.
  4. The uncertainty that usually surrounds a presidential election will add a note of caution to the market as the spectacle unfolds in the months leading up to the November vote. Look for a slow-down in activity starting in August and persisting into mid-November.  Beyond that, bets are off for the year.

The housing market is like that old adage about the weather in Portland.  If you don’t like it, stick around awhile, ‘cause it’ll change!

(Belated) Happy New Year!

Shannon and Jeanne

We wonder how we’ll look back on 2015 a few years from now

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Remember?  Everybody was talking about the Really Big One.  Drought affected every county in the state.  There were big fires in Eastern Oregon.  Cannabis was legalized.  Apartment buildings were springing up everywhere.  Traffic, the traffic got bad.   Lots of people were moving up from California and other parts of the nation.  The Force Awakens was going to come out in December.

It was the year that real estate got really tight in Portland.  The Oregonian, Willamette Week and the Mercury headlined the story every week with eye-catching headlines like, “Metro Area Sees 10-Year Housing High Again,” and “Laid Low By High Rents (A wave of rent hikes and evictions grips Portland as investors swoop in to profit from a tight market),” and “A Summer of Evictions,” and  “Rental Prices Skyrocketing.”  While much of the focus was on a very tough rental market, and the City’s ongoing struggle to provide adequate affordable housing to its low-income citizens, the pinch on houses for sale attracted lots of notice as well.

A good illustration of the tight real estate market can be seen in the chart from this month’s Portland Market Update, reproduced here:

1-151117 Notes from Shannon and Jeanne for JPG_Page_2_Page_1

As a reminder to long-time readers of our Notes. . . and as an explanation for the benefit of recent arrivals to this page, Inventory in Months is a common measurement of market demand.  It’s a hypothetical model that measures housing supply vs housing demand by calculating the rate that inventories of homes are being absorbed by buyers.  Based on the rate homes were taken out of the inventory in October 2015, we only have 1.8 months’ supply of homes left to meet buyer demand.  A market is considered to be in balance between supply and demand, or sellers and buyers if you will, when there is something in the range of 5-to-8 months’ housing supply.  Remember the winters of 2009, 2010, and 2011, when the market was flooded with houses for sale, and there were hardly any buyers?  Back then there were times we had more than a year of inventory languishing on the market.

Time’s change, and we have plenty of buyers who’d like to buy a home now.  The market – and prices – are soaring past the old market highs from the 2006 / 2007 boom years.   New housing starts can’t keep pace with demand, and demand is unabated.

And Portland’s growing.  Metro’s August 2015 “Comprehensive Plan Recommended Draft” says it expects Portland’s population to increase by 260,000 residents by 2035.  (The introductory sections report are quite readable, and worth the read: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/541677.) The Census Bureau’s most recent (2014) estimate for the Portland Metro area was 619,360 inhabitants.  Adding 260,000 more people to the region will increase our population by 42%.  It’ll be a long time before housing can catch up.

Where are all those people going to come from?  While everyone has California in the cross hairs, the truth is a little more nuanced.  About 137,000 people moved to Oregon from outside the state in 2014.  Of those, just 57,000 came from Washington State and California.   Another 23,000 came from overseas.  The rest came from all over the country.  A couple of months ago we wrote, “In-migration is the principal reason prices have kept moving up, and it’s not likely to slow.”  That trend [in-migration] is becoming better established now and, again, according to Metro, it’ll persist for many years to come.

Bringing the light to shine on California though, can we ask if there’s any similarity between the California drought and the 1997 transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China?   Back in 1997, in the face of distressing economic uncertainty, a tsunami of Hong Kong immigrants (and wealth) flooded Vancouver BC; the resulting prosperity made Vancouver the most expensive city in North America.  Will Californians, in the face of distressing climatic uncertainty, make an exodus from their state on par with Hong Kong’s?

Is in-migration bad for Oregon?  Just 51% of people who live in Oregon were born here. The rest have come from somewhere else – so consider that in the light of the remarkable quality of life we have here.  From coffee giants like Stumptown’s Duane Sorensen, a Tacoma-born transplant, to James Beard Award-Winning master chef Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Pok Pok NY, Sen Yai, et al.) (North Carolina), Oregon owes a lot of “What’s Oregon” to out-of-state transplantees.

And in a September 2015 post titled “Migration (In Defense of Californians)” by Josh Lehner, a senior economist with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Lehner writes that “Americans have been moving to Oregon in droves since Lewis and Clark and are likely to continue to do so.”  Lehner says migration is vital to Oregon’s economic health, stating, “It [migration] brings both skilled, young households who will set down roots . . . and a strong influx of retirees with a lifetime of experience and some wealth. . .  Our state’s ability to attract skilled, young working-age households is a huge economic benefit.”

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, here come the Holidays!

The 2015 Housing Outlook 

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Staying on Top: Nine Trends that Will Shape the 2015 Housing Market. Regular readers of our “Notes. . .” can recite the current market dynamic like a catechism: “Low mortgage interest rates and low housing inventories will push the cost of housing higher as opportunity-seeking buyers bid up prices for limited quantities of available homes.”  Amen.  We, your daring prognosticators, believe that this dynamic will persist for another 18 months, at least. Join us here for a look at the top influences that will affect the dynamic in our 2015 Portland market.

Let’s begin with a recap.  We finished 2014 on a high note – the RMLS of Oregon reported that housing prices rose another 7.2% last year, that is, we added 7.2% appreciation to 2013’s stellar 12.9% rise, moving total appreciation up 20.1% in 24 months.  And the 2015 real estate market holds the promise of sustaining the past two years’ performances.  (For last year’s market stats, including a breakdown of Portland metro appreciation by area, check out our most recent “Portland Market Update.”)

 Looking ahead Here then is a look at the strongest trends we’ll see in the 2015 Portland metro market:

  1. Appreciation will slow in 2015.  The 2015 market should bring the market into better balance, with modest appreciation – say 3% – to – 4% this year – and a return of more negotiating power to buyers.
  2. Investors are getting pushed out of the market. Starting in 2012 and 2013, ultra-fast price appreciation and the lure of foreclosures created a feeding frenzy for real estate investors willing to pay cash for bargain properties. Traditional buyers found it hard to compete against cash and many were sidelined.  2015 will be the year investors back off and we see more opportunities for buyers with regular jobs and, ideally, 20% down.  But this year there’s more room for buyers with limited cash to close too, read on.
  3. Developers will continue to compete with first-time buyers for inexpensive close-in properties. For the past two years developers have been tromping all over first-time buyers in the stampede for affordable buildable lots.  The developers’ cash wins every time, the cute rag-tag fixer-upper is “scraped,” and one or two big new homes go up in its place.  In some instances the act is justifiable: some tear-downs are simply beyond their functional lives and should be replaced.  The merits of replacing those small affordable homes with expensive McMansions are debatable however, and worth a whole issue of our “Notes. . .” that’s devoted to that question.  Let’s leave it for now with this: we applaud the efforts of some architects and developers to replace obsolete housing with affordable and architecturally pleasing alternatives.
  4. Oregon is where it’s at. Katie Lobosco, writing for the Jan. 8, 2015 issue of CNN Money, reports that “Everybody is Moving to Oregon.” Citing data from United Van Lines’ 38th annual National Movers Study, which tracks customers’ migration patterns state-to-state during the course of the past year, it found that Oregon is the top moving destination of 2014, with 66 percent of moves to and from the state being inbound.  Oh, we almost forgot:  Oregon was United Van Line’s top moving destination in 2013 as well.
  5. Baby boomers and Gen-Yers will continue to push growth in Portland. The principal destination for people moving into the state is Portland, and boomers and Gen-Yers make up a good proportion of those who plan to make Portland “home.”  Both demographics are competing for the same kind of housing now: smaller units near the urban core.  (An unanswered question: as the Gen Yers start to form families, will they follow the decades-old path back into the suburbs to raise them?)
  6. Portland’s still relatively inexpensive. Compared to its big sister Seattle to the north (which had a median sales price of $485,000 versus Portland’s $333,000 average), and the California behemoth to the south, Portland remains an affordable destination, by West Coast standards at least.
  7. Rents are sky-high. Ask anyone who’s renting around here: rentals are hard to find, and expensive.  The rent-vs-buy proposition seems easier to answer when rents rival mortgage payments.  And in December major lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced programs that will allow first-time buyers to get a mortgage with a low, three percent down payment instead of the previously stated five percent down.  That’ll open more doors for lots of young buyers with high debt and low savings.  Welcome Home, Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers!
  8. New Frontiers. We’re putting our bets on a few up-and-coming neighborhoods.  Montavilla, Lents, Woodstock all the way east as far as 82nd, and the Foster Blvd. alignment ripe for pioneering. There are great transportation alternatives in those neighborhoods and the grocery / dining / entertainment amenities are filling in nicely.  And it’s still not too late to be part of the “St. John’s Renaissance!”
  9. Nothing last forever. Rising consumer confidence, low interest rates, low unemployment rates, and less-restrictive mortgage requirements are among the principal reasons the housing recovery has been so successful.  A change in these factors could inhibit the market’s recovery, and, frankly, it won’t be long before we’ll need to see stronger wage growth just to keep up with rising house prices.   Stand by!

Untold Secrets –A Look Inside a Real Estate Agent’s Computer!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

We’re taking a break from our ordinary commentary to share the best real estate web resources that we and our Realtor colleagues have on our desktops.  Put these powerful tools to use when you’re dreaming about your next home, when you’re advising a friend who’s thinking about moving, when you’re planning a vacation (really!), or if you’re just a real estate nut and want to know more about how the pros do it. There’s no particular order to our list (but it’s no coincidence portlandmaps.com comes first)!

  • portlandmaps.com. (Web only)  A Gem!  No city in the nation has a resource like portlandmap.com.  Fundamentally it’s an aggregator of information from a dozen City and Metro databases, a one-stop web site where you can get everything from crime statistics, tax information, building permit history, sewer and water connections, demographic data – you can find out if there ever was an oil tank in a property’s front yard, and how many gallons it held!  Simply said, portlandmaps.com is the most data-rich source of information for a specific property you can find on the web.  It’s nearly always the first resource we turn to when we’re studying a new property.
  • Google Earth (Web, Android, iOS)  Meet the dynamic duo: portlandmaps.com and Google Earth.  Why hop in the car to see what that great new listing on NE 24th looks like when you can “drive” on over on Google Earth and see it, and its neighbors, from right out in the street.  The biggest fuel saver in our business.
  • HomeQuest  (Web)  HomeQuest functions as a robust, easy-to-use interface between you and the Realtors Multiple Listing Service (RMLS).  Every day you’re delivered an email link to all homes currently on the market in the Metro area that meet your tailored search specifications.  You set the price criteria, you pick the neighborhoods you’re interested in, you can even specify things like number of bedrooms, baths, schools, and tons more.  The software is map-based and easy – even fun – to use.   Importantly, HomeQuest updates its site every few minutes so the data feed from the RMLS to you is super-fast and accurate.   You can set up searches, change your criteria, save properties to a “favorites” folder, and share notes between you and your real estate agent about properties that catch your fancy.  If you’re in the market to buy a home or you want to study housing trends in your own neighborhood, HomeQuest has to be in your tool kit.  HomeQuest delivers quality listing information because it can afford to: agents pay a monthly subscription fee for the service, which we pass along to our clients for free.  Sign up here from our website.
  • Zillow and Trulia. (Web, Android, iOS) are full-featured, powerful house hunting tools.  We’ve lumped them together, and actually, they’re in the process of lumping themselves together:  in July the two announced plans to merge into one online real estate resource. Zillow is the more powerful tool in our opinion, but both are good “one-stop” resources, with “pretty good” search filters and lots of extra features like mortgage calculators, school information, transportation maps, access to “hidden” inventory, property estimates, etc.  The sites are notorious for outdated / incomplete data; we’ll frequently find homes still posted on these sites which sold days, even weeks ago.  Use HomeQuest for dependable, up-to-date data.   And please, don’t depend on the “Zestimate®” for an accurate determination of property value!   Zillow’s price projections can be off as much as 40% from a home’s actual value.  Zestimates® work well in homogeneous neighborhoods – for example, newer subdivisions – but they’re woefully inaccurate at hitting the right mark in mature neighborhoods with a strong mix of housing styles, sizes, and vintages.
  • Redfin (Web , iOS, Android)  Redfin’s doing a good job, it’s doing a great job, and that’s saying something: fundamentally RedFin is a real estate sales company, and in that sense it’s one of our competitors.  It’s in 25 domestic markets now, including Portland, and many of our buyer clients favor it over Zillow and Trulia.  You can use their app to save searches, add notes to property listings, tag favorites, have new listings automatically delivered to you, and so forth.  Pretty good for a Seattle-based real estate company, if we don’t mind saying so ourselves.
  • Karl’s Mortgage Calculator (Android only)  This is the best free mortgage calculator we know about.  Do it all: Calculate mortgage payments given principal, interest and term. Reverse calculate any one variable given the other three. Enter a down payment amount or percentage and let the calculator show how large a mortgage you require.  See how the monthly payment changes when you factor in additional monthly or annual loan costs such as PMI, HOA, taxes and insurance.  Information can be represented numerically or graphically – Karl’s is a great place to visit when you want to run your “what-if” scenarios.  If you don’t have an Android device the calculators on our website are just as good, they just take a few more keystrokes.
  • greatschools.org  (Web) Find reviews, test scores and directions for schools across the street or across the country including public, public charter, and private schools.  Filter schools by district info, public or private, grade level, distance, enrollment size and the site’s “GreatSchools” rating.  Browse parent reviews, recent test scores, and save schools to your personal list of favorites for quick retrieval later.  This is the best initial go-to resource for schools information on the Web.
  • WalkScore/BikeScore  (Web) Use WalkScore / BikeScore to find the walk-ablity / bike-ablity of any location in the US.   While a number of sites offer WalkScore data, the WalkScore site is the only place that allows you to use their excellent Travel Time Map  to calculate how far you can travel by car, bus, bike and foot from your location.  WalkScore’s really handy for getting to know a city, and while the Travel Time Map alone is worth visiting the site, the heat map feature is very cool indeed.  Check out WalkScore, and think to use it the next time you’re making travel plans.

Do you want even more information about specific properties, market trends, mortgage resources, schools, parks, or the best place to fly a kite / get a decent bagel / buy a used bike?  Turn to us, your dependable one-stop source for “candid, informed advice!”  And have a wonderful holiday season; it’s just around the corner!

Growing Pains: One Housing Trend that is Reshaping Our City.

Friday, June 20th, 2014

New apartment construction promises to change Portland, for better or for worse.   Here’s a story, reduced to a few snappy talking points you can share with your friends and colleagues the next time you feel a compulsion to “be the expert.”

But first, a little background.

Few sectors of the past years’ economic recession were harder hit than new home construction.   While new home formation grew (marriages, families, immigration), housing starts dropped dramatically.  Now that we’re climbing out of the recession, housing starts are moving up, but the nation has a long way to go to meet demand.

Building Starts

Source: US Census Bureau

The chart shows new single family home starts.  The nation was averaging 1.3 million home starts in the years leading up to the recession.  Starts fell to 27% of pre-recession levels between ’07 and ’09, and today they’re only near 45% of the pre-recession levels.  It will take years for new home construction to catch up with demand.

Meanwhile, here in Portland:

(June 2014)  “Rent.com, one of the largest apartment listing services on the internet, announced Portland was No. 8 on its list of best cities for singles to live.  Twenty-four percent of Portland’s adults are single.”

“2013: Portland voted Number One City in America: the nerdiest, smartest, hardest working, most exciting, and downright best city in the country.” (Movoto blog)

“Oregon was the number one destination among people who moved from one state to another last year according to United Van Lines’ annual migration study, which tracked 129,000 moves in the United States in 2013.”

In Portland there’s more demand for housing than there are housing units to meet it.  The laws of supply and demand are grinding away at renters:  limited supply has brought the vacancy rate down among the lowest rates in the US and rent rates have soared.  Building out into the countryside is not an option.  The Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) was designed to contain urban sprawl, and it has done a good job of protecting agricultural and forest lands from unregulated growth.  But at a price: the lid is on the pressure cooker.  There’s tremendous demand for buildable land inside the UGB because the current inventory of housing stock is insufficient to meet the demands of a growing population.  We need more housing.

At first glance, new apartment construction would seem a good solution for meeting Portland’s dual aspirations to remain livable while increasing density.  And therein lies a story.

A decade ago, the City Council approved rules allowing developers to forgo onsite parking for new housing close to transit lines. The idea was to encourage more density and help developers keep costs down.  The rules didn’t meet much opposition at the time; in fact, the rules were congruent with the ethos of the bike culture which then, as now, was viewed as a key element in the makeup of Portland’s distinctive, environmentally-responsible character.   Fewer cars, more bikes.

In 2012 applications and apartment building starts began to spring up all around Portland’s close-in-‘n-cozy traditional neighborhoods.  With zoning rules that didn’t require developers to add parking places – but provide for bike parking – neighbors began to protest.  The focus of their ire was concern about increased traffic and an inability to find parking in front of their homes. And though the new apartments were designed to attract those with a bike-first mentality, not all of the new tenants had chosen a car-free existence.

Nowhere then, as now, was the effect of the apartment boom more apparent than along SE Division, where a 13-block strip was becoming home to as many as eleven new 3-and-4 story apartment buildings. That’s 224 new rental units in 13 blocks.  Seven of the 11 new buildings didn’t have provisions for on-site parking, owing to the rule that exempted developers from having to provide it.  Pressure on Division’s adjacent neighborhoods buckled tempers as more and more residents (and patrons of the streets’ booming restaurant trade) fought for a handful of parking spots.  (A Willamette Week article quoted a neighborhood resident who called the new strip of apartments “a dormitory without a college.”)  Last March a late-night fire was started in a partially completed apartment, to date no one has been held accountable.  Old-time Portland residents however were reminded of the arson fires that burned Lake Oswego developer’s Phil Morford’s Nob Hill townhouses back in the early 1980’s.

The Portland City Council responded to neighbors’ concerns last April.  They changed the rules to require that new apartment construction with more than 30 units must provide parking on a tiered basis:  buildings with 31 to 40 units will have to provide one parking stall for every five units. Buildings with 41 to 50 units will need one stall for every four units, and buildings with more than 50 units will need one stall for every three units. (Source, Elliot Njus, The Oregonian, April 10, 2013)  Applications awarded permits prior to the adoption of the new rules were exempt; as a consequence, parking remains a stubborn problem along Division.

Portland’s growing up, and with growth comes growing pains. But the long-term prospect of higher density housing looks favorable: car sharing, peer-to-peer car sharing, trollies, mass transit, biking, micro-groceries, neighborhood bakeries, wine shops, and host of other innovations and life-style choices are beneficial fallout from increasing urbanization.  We say, bring it on Portland!

That’s a little history, but the tale’s not yet told.  Meanwhile, let’s get outside and enjoy all the bounty that a Portland summer has to offer us!