Portland Real Estate Blog


A Portland Real Estate Blog written from the perspective of a top Portland Real Estate Agent, Stephen FitzMaurice, REALTOR®. Visit these categories: Home Selling Tips in Portland, Home Buying Tips in Portland, Portland Short Sale and Foreclosure News, Portland Real Estate Market News, and Articles on Portland Realtors. I think you’ll find this to be one of the very best Portland real estate blogs.
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5 Steps to Get Cash for Making your Portland Home Green

Portland Green HomeAugust 29th, 2014

Are you putting your home up for sale on the Portland real estate market this fall? You may be looking around for low-cost improvements you can make to boost your home’s value. Or maybe you’re a new Portland home owner who felt the cold air seeping through your single-pane windows last winter and thought “Ouch, this is definitely hurting my heating bill.”

You’re not alone. Ninety percent of home buyers these days are looking for energy-efficient homes, with features like good insulation and efficient appliances. Even in Portland’s relatively temperate climate, energy costs can be high. 

Unfortunately, measures to reduce the amount of energy it takes to run your home can often be costly. Don’t let that stop you, though. Tax credits and rebates allow homeowners to make energy-efficient improvements for a lot less. Follow these steps to learn how to get cash back for greening your home:

    1. Do an energy audit to get an idea of where your home needs the most help. It’s free through Energy Trust of Oregon and you can do it online or over the phone. You can also start watching your electric bill through Portland General Electric’s Energy Tracker to monitor your energy use over the year.
    2. Let’s say that the energy audit confirms your suspicions about those windows and recommends replacing them with double-paned glass. The next place to go is to PMAR’s (Portland Metro Association of Realtors) client resource page for a list of cash incentives and state and federal tax credits for energy efficiency home improvements. They also link to assistance opportunities for those with low to moderate incomes.
    3. State and federal tax credits are always changing, so it wouldn’t hurt to check these lists also to see if your windows (or other improvements) are eligible: Oregon residential energy tax credits and federal tax credits for consumer energy efficiency

    4. Find a licensed independent contractor to install your new windows through Energy Trust of Oregon’s database.
    5. See Portland General Electric’s list of low-cost improvements you can do yourself to see if there is anything else you can do to make your home more efficient. Don’t forget to check for tax credits and rebates for any of these (you can even get money back for planting trees!)

Don’t forget, you can not only get money back for greening your home through cash incentives and tax credits, your home’s value will reflect energy efficient improvements as well. Talk to your  Portland real estate agent to find out more!

How many real estate agents are there in Portland, Oregon?

Portland Realtors

Ever wondered how many real estate agents there are in the fine city of Portland, Oregon?

When you type “real estate agent Portland” into Google, you get over 9 million results. Although it may seem like there are 9 million real estate agents’ faces popping out from Portland’s bus stops, billboards and newspapers, in a metro area of only 2 million, there really can’t be that many.

So how many, then? The short answer is – not as interesting as the long answer, so here it goes.

One way to figure out how many real estate agents there are in Portland is to figure out how many licenses there are. Real estate license? Yes. To be a real estate agent in Portland, one must first take classes and pass an exam to obtain an official license from the state of Oregon. This says you are allowed to act as an agent on the behalf of clients buying and selling real estate, and guide them through the process.

When it comes to counting the number of licensed real estate agents in Portland, it’s not as easy as it seems. The Oregon Real Estate Agency doesn’t keep track of where a person hangs their license and conducts business, they just have a list of names and addresses of license holders. Technically, someone living outside the Portland metro area could work as a real estate agent in Portland, as long as they have that Oregon license. However, if we look at that list, we do learn that there are just over 5,800 individuals with active real estate licenses in Washington and Multnomah counties (the two major counties that Portland inhabits).

A better way to know how many real estate agents consider themselves Portland agents is to ask the Realtors. A REALTOR® is a member of a professional trade association governed by the Oregon Association of Realtors (OAR). We’ll cover the OAR in a future post, as well as its local incarnations, Portland Metro Association of Realtors and East Metro Association of Realtors.

Drumroll, please: There are around 6,400 members of the Portland Metro Association of Realtors, and 500 in the East Metro Association of Realtors. Roughly 10% of these members are “affiliate” members – those who are in real estate-related industries and services but are not real estate licensed (title companies, inspectors, banks, etc.) That brings the total number to 6,800 Realtors in Portland.

With so many agents in the Portland Metro area, it’s a competitive environment for those Realtors who want to succeed. Although mobile technologies and fewer job options are making it easier and more tempting for new agents to enter this field, successful agents must do more than show properties and accept listings.

In July 2014 there were only 1,127 closed sales in Portland proper and only 2,457 closed sales from Hillsboro to Oregon City to Gresham. So for the 6,400 Realtors working the Portland metro area, each one would get less than a half of a sale for the month of July! So a good Portland real estate agent really has to differentiate themselves in order to be successful.

Give me a call and you’ll find out why, out of all 6,800 real estate agents in Portland, I’m one of the best. Top 1% listing agent in Portland, Top 5% of all real estate agents in the United States. I do more to sell your home, for less. See my listing package here.

Real Estate Agent Review Sites – Top List

real estate agent reviews

There are a number of places you can search for real estate agent and Realtor reviews. Below is a top list of places to check:

Zillow.com. This is the number one real estate website in terms of online traffic and so a lot of real estate agents post their reviews on there. What is unusual about Zillow’s list of agent reviews is that the first page is randomly generated. So you can’t filter the search results by “most reviewed” or “highest rated” agents. You can search their real estate agent directory by most listings and by the most sales. However, the most sales category is deceiving, because there are some agents, for instance, in Eugene, OR, posting all their sales under the Portland, OR real estate agent directory. (I even submitted a ticket to Zillow to ask them to correct this, but it was ignored.) In other words, it doesn’t matter where the sale takes place, if the Realtor lists themselves as a Portland agent it will show all their sales under the Portland, OR directory results. You can trust the reviews on Zillow.com because they actively verify the sales.

Trulia.com. This is generally considered to be the second largest real estate portal and a lot of real estate agents post their reviews here. The real estate agent directory is set to first display the most active Realtors on the site (here called “best match”) who are actively answering real estate questions on Trulia.com. After that you can change your search criteria in such a way that I find to be very helpful. You can filter by “most” reviews (here called recommendations). You can filter by “most” sales and it actually works (unlike Zillow). Trulia.com will accurately share with you the number of sales an agent has under any given city you’re search in. Keep in mind this record of sales only goes back so far, but it is still a useful criteria. You can also filter by “featured” which does the least amount of good, this only reveals agents who are paying Trulia.com money. You can trust the reviews on Trulia.com because they actively verify the sales.

Yelp.com. This is probably the most active review site out there in general. What you might not be able to see on Yelp.com is how successful the agent is (actual sales in an area) or reviews that are specifically real estate related (in other words, Trulia and Zillow’s reviews grade the agent based on important criteria pertinent to the industry). Yelp.com is a place to check to see how many people “like” that real estate agent, but it is hard to say if those people are friends or relatives, where as Trulia.com and Zillow.com work to show you that these are actual clients and sales records.

Realtor.com is considered to be the third most active real estate portal and is the worst place to find real estate agent reviews. Their agent directory is an alphabetical list and for an agent to be featured on it, it simply means the agent is paying them money. Since the platform for this isn’t very user friendly, even though there is a place for “recommendations” on each agent’s profile, very few agents bother to list their reviews here.

Real estate agent reviews are important. I place most of my reviews on Trulia.com and Zillow.com because I feel they are the most trustworthy and accurate options. Of course, I also list my many reviews on my site. If you are considering interviewing a Portland area real estate agent, give me a call.

Portland Real Estate Market: Economic growth drives home sales

Portland Home Sales June 2014

July 30th, 2014

Good news from the RMLS across the data fields for the month of June: The number of closed sales in the Portland real estate market is up over 4% from last year, the number of days on market continues to fall, and the average and median sales prices in Portland for June 2014 were both up nearly 9% from June 2013.

In terms of pending sales, months of inventory and new listings, things are pretty much the same as last year, says the RMLS report. Nobody’s complaining: Portland’s real estate market is stronger than other metros across the country, and we remain a popular place to relocate to. Meanwhile, locals are moving up to bigger homes or building new.

The Oregon Measure of Economic Activity report, released last week by University of Oregon economists, helps explain why the real estate market in Portland is weathering the summer so well.

The report takes an overall reading of the economy, taking into account dozens of metrics, from new home construction to the number of hours workers are getting at their jobs. It found that unemployment claims fell in major metros across Oregon, including Portland. In fact, hiring actually increased in Portland, especially in the fields of finance and manufacturing.
Because this growth is based on the labor force beginning to grow again, the report concludes that that economic growth in Oregon will not only continue, it will keep up its above-average pace.

What is it about a strong economy that drives people to buy and sell homes? Real estate is always a good investment, for Portland residents of all ages and income levels. Owning a home instead of renting one makes sense for many reasons – personal, financial, and logistical. And summertime is always a great time to shop for or sell a home.
For more data from the RMLS, check out the June Market Action Report (the report always covers the last full month of data, with useful comparisons to the same month the year before, as well as year-over-year comparisons). You can subscribe to receive these reports by email every month through the form available here.

And, as always, if you’re not sure what the numbers mean or how to interpret them, I’m always a phone call or an email away. Market information is important, but so is accurate representation by an experienced Portland real estate agent – whether you’ve bought and sold a dozen homes or none.

Portland Home Tests: Oil Tank Sweep

Portland home oil tank

Portland homes are heated in many ways. Some use electricity, some natural gas, and there are even a few homes that just use a wood stove or fireplace (not to mention Geo-thermal, heat pumps, and a variety of alternative methods!). Oil heat is not as common but it has been in use since the 1940s, heating about 10% of all homes in the United States.
Oil heating systems are different in that oil must be delivered to the property and stored for use, much like you store gasoline in your car’s gas tank. The life span on Portland heating oil tanks is about 20 years, after which they pose an environmental hazard because of leaks.

Unfortunately, once a tank is buried, it tends to be forgotten about as homes pass from owner to owner. The result is that there are tanks buried in backyards across Portland that many homeowners have no idea about. If you’re selling a home that once had oil heating, it’s your responsibility to make sure the tank is decommissioned. Buying a home in Portland? Add “check for oil tank” to the list of things you do before putting in an offer for older Portland homes.

Let the search begin! The first thing you should do is determine whether an oil tank has already been removed from the property. Sometimes, these removals are registered with the DEQ, so look up your property on their online database.

If nothing turns up, the next thing is to check to see if there were any permits issued for oil tanks on the property in question. You can do so on portlandmaps.com. However, just because there wasn’t a permit issued doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear. To be sure, look for an oil fill pipe going into your home near the foundation, usually near where the furnace is located. There will also be a small vent pipe on the side of the house, 2-8 feet above ground. If all else fails, call your local Portland real estate agent and they can recommend a professional to come out and take a look.

If you see either of these pipes, the next step is to get a “tank sweep”. A professional contractor will come in and find exactly where underground the tank is located. Once it’s dug up, they can tell you whether or not the tank has been decommissioned (the DEQ defines - and regulates – decommissioning as “taking a tank out of service by cleaning it, then removing it or filling it in place with an inert material”).

Decommissioning is required for Portland heating oil tanks that are no longer in use. Why? Leaking oil from a tank or lines leading into the tank can contaminate the soil and eventually leach into ground water. Buyers will want to be sure these issues aren’t going to crop up for them after they purchase their home.

In other words, it’s not a bad idea to get a tank sweep and decommission old heating oil tanks before your home even goes on the market. Otherwise, taking care of it later can add weeks to the closing time. Buyers, be sure to check out any oil tanks before purchasing a home. After it’s all been signed over, it can be difficult to obtain compensation for problems that occur.

Your Portland real estate agent can help you determine the best course of action. It’s one of the many reasons to have a qualified buyers’ agent or seller’s agent on your side – the more you know, the safer your home will be and the less likely you are to incur expensive repairs after you’ve purchased the Portland home of your dreams.

Portland Pocket Listings – Bad for the real estate market

Portland Pocket Listings

The phenomenon has been around for as long as real estate agents: When inventory is low and buyers aren’t finding what they’re looking for on the market, some Realtors will go door to door in the target neighborhood to find a home that the owners are willing to sell, or they will make a “secret” pact with home sellers they know. The practice is known as “pocket listing”, because the seller never lists their home on the public MLS. Instead, they sell to the buyer that the real estate agent has in mind, often for less than they might have if they had advertised to the entire public market.

In the Portland real estate market last month, according to the most recent RMLS Market Action Report, inventory dipped to 2.8 months, and it will probably go lower before the summer’s over (by comparison, Portland started out the year in January with 4.1 months of inventory). That means the pocket listers are out, calling on home owners who might be on the verge of putting their home up for sale but hadn’t quite gotten around to it. In fact, Oregonlive.com ran a feel-good story on Portland pocket listings at this time last year.

This year, things have gone more digital than ever before, and pocket listing has caught on with the mega-national real estate site, Zillow. They call it the “coming-soon” feature, and while it doesn’t replace the MLS, it does put homes up on the site 30 days before they are listed on the MLS.

What’s wrong with that? The National Association of Realtors explains: “Some ‘coming soon’ advertisements involve unlisted properties that may or will be listed with a real estate agent in the near future, while others relate to properties that are subject to listing agreements where property is available to potential purchasers only through the listing broker and not available, temporarily or indefinitely, for showing or purchase through other MLS participants. In either case, ‘coming soon’ properties are commonly withheld from the MLS” (emphasis added). http://www.realtor.org/articles/coming-soon-is-it-in-the-seller-s-best-interest

As a home buyer, you want a buyer’s real estate agent working on your behalf. If the pocket listing you find on Zillow is not yet listed on the MLS, you may have to work through the listing broker instead of with your own agent. When that agent is receiving both the buyers’ and the sellers’ agent commission and setting the price (instead of the public market setting the price), how can you be sure the transaction is a fair one?

As a home seller, you want the best price possible for your home and believe me, that is the market price. In Portland our internet marketing program is reaching 1,000 buyers or more per day on average! When you have that sort of exposure, doesn’t it make sense that you can be confident you will receive top market dollar? (FYI Zillow alone does not have that kind of marketing power, there are thousands of real estate websites that I list your home on.) It makes no sense for a Portland real estate agent to reach out to the few hundred potential buyers he or she might have access to, when I can reach 1,000 buyers each and every day in Portland.

In certain states, pocket listings and especially the “coming-soon” feature have gained the attention of real estate regulators, and agents could face fines for using it. Oregon has no laws in place yet preventing use of the feature, but maybe that’s because the market is not so tight this year to bring out online-pocket listers in mass. In the Portland real estate market, while inventory may be low, there are still plenty of properties out there. The RMLS reported that nearly 4200 new homes came on the market this May 2014, making it the strongest May since 2008.

Hopefully, this means that the “coming-soon” feature won’t catch on among Portland’s real estate buyers, and that real estate agents won’t pressure home owners who aren’t ready to sell into offering an “exclusive” deal to their buyer. Buyer be aware – and always have a Portland real estate agent on your side! Seller be aware – the public market will sell your home faster and for more!

Portland Real Estate Danger: Asbestos

Portland Asbestos

It’s not a mold or a metal; a fungus or a gas. It’s not a chemical from a lab or something beamed in from space – in fact, this household hazard has been in use for 4,000 years! Asbestos is actually a mineral that forms long fibers with a wide array of uses. Unfortunately, its dangers were not recognized until the early 1900’s, and the Environmental Protection Agency still hasn’t completely banned it. That’s right, we’re one of the few developed countries where cancer-causing asbestos can still be found in everything from brake pads to oven mitts!

In home construction prior to 1990, asbestos was a common material for floor tiles, siding, insulation and ceilings because of its ability to block sound and resist fire. While most asbestos in your pre-1990 home is probably safely locked away in tiles or siding, popcorn ceilings are where asbestos exposure becomes a real issue. When chunks of the ceiling fall, asbestos fibers enter the air, and breathing them in can cause severe lung irritation and lung cancer. Also crawling children can pick it up and eat it.

As a Portland real estate agent, I know what it’s like to have a potential buyer walk into a home, see a particular feature, and immediately want to leave. Popcorn ceilings are one of those features. Not only do they look dated and often dirty (they’re one of those impossible-to-clean surfaces), buyers are often aware that they may contain asbestos.

If your Portland home has popcorn ceilings and you’re looking to sell, at the very least get the material tested for asbestos. That way you can inform buyers if the ceiling is just dated, or dangerously dated. You can take a sample yourself – using caution to contain the disturbed material – and send it to a laboratory for quick results.

No popcorn ceilings? You’re not in the clear yet. Luckily, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has a great page on their website with information, including details on where asbestos might be lurking in your home or in the Portland home you’re considering buying. Portland seems to have more of a problem with asbestos siding than other municipalities, but it’s safe to say that if you see any material on the home that looks like it might be degrading or coming apart, and the home was built before 1990, you might have an asbestos problem.

A licensed contractor can take care of that problem. Removing a popcorn ceiling yourself is relatively simple but labor-intensive and messy (not recommended, can be dangerous to your health). Asbestos in other areas (like siding) will require more work, and may not be worth the while of a potential home seller. Instead, the cost of replacing the asbestos-containing building material will probably be simply be reflected in the home’s asking price.

It may seem like home hazards are everywhere in older homes, but being an informed buyer (or seller) beats the alternative of exposing yourself or others to health risks. A knowledgeable real estate agent can help you navigate the waters of Portland home sales, and it’s never too early to start asking questions. By phone or email, let me put my experience to work for you!

Portland Home Tests: Sewer Scope!

Portland sewer scope

5/29/14

Continuing our series on home tests Portland real estate agents recommend on older Portland homes, let’s talk about everybody’s favorite subject: Sewage.

Okay, most of us would rather not think about what happens when we flush the toilet or run the garbage disposal, but just as you wouldn’t buy a home with fraying electrical lines or rusted-out water pipes, you should look into the condition of your potential home’s sewer system before you commit.

In case you weren’t aware, all of the drains in your home’s kitchen, bathroom, laundry, etc., are connected to a sewer pipe that you become responsible for when you buy the home. Your sewer pipe runs under your front or back yard to connect to a main pipe in the street, which is owned by the city. These lines direct wastewater from every home in Portland to either a central treatment facility in Portland or a smaller one in Lake Oswego.

It’s the sewer pipe – or line – buried in the yard that most often causes problems for Portland homeowners. Luckily, there’s an easy way to check out that pipe without digging it up. It’s called a sewer scope, and it actually takes a video of the inside of the sewer pipe. The best part is, you don’t have to be the one to send a snake with a camera attached down the sewer line and peer at the ultrasound-like images. There are plumbing professionals who do it for a hundred bucks or so in the Portland area.

If your Portland home is more than 30 years old, you should consider getting a sewer scope to be able to disclose to buyers what the sewer line looks like. If it has been replaced relatively recently, that can be a good selling point. If there are problems, it’s good to know about them before the buyer has agreed to purchase the home.

If you’re shopping with a Portland real estate agent for a Portland home that’s older, definitely order a sewer scope. It will find breaks or bellies in the line and discover what type of material was used to make the pipe. Before PVC, they used a kind of tarpaper, so you can guess what that line will look like after a couple of decades under the ground, collecting hair, grease, and other items (and you thought Portland real estate home shopping was a treasure hunt). Also, in the urban forest we call Portland, tree roots have a tendency to take advantage of the vacant space found in sewer lines, growing into and eventually blocking them.

Your plumber can advise on how best to handle whatever they find in the sewer scope. They often can replace sewer lines using a trenchless method, so your home’s landscaping need not be disturbed. If the sewer pipe needs to be replaced, the cost can be significant, and the expense should be reflected in the sellers’ asking price. Even if the closing process has begun, the costs of these repairs can and should be credited back to you if they weren’t disclosed before the transaction took place (consult with your Portland real estate agent).

Although a general home inspection typically occurs before a home sale takes place, home inspectors don’t inspect the sewer lines, although they may recommend that this be done. Even if they don’t, on older homes it’s a good idea anyway. It’s up to astute home buyers, sellers and Portland real estate agents to make sure this little detail – no matter how unpleasant – is looked into. By spending a little up front, you can save yourself a lot of headache and money down the line.

Portland Home Sales, Acquisition Statistics, First Half 2014

Portland Home Sales 2014

May 20th, 2014.

Okay, so the 2014 Portland real estate market is not quite half over yet, but we are close and I find the acquisition numbers fascinating so far. In the last six months, 3734 Portland homes have sold and 961 Portland townhomes and condos. Of the regular Portland home sales, 762 or 20% were cash sales. A whopping 2533, or 67%, were conventional loan sales. 344, or 9% were FHA loan sales, and finally 95 or 3% were VA loans. The remaining 1% of sales were “other” financed, either seller financed, lease option, trade, or a rehab loan.

In regards to townhomes and condos in Portland, 961 sold in the last six month. An amazing number of those sales were cash, 349, or 36% of the sales. The majority were still conventional loan sales, 553, or 58%. FHA loans came in at 39, or 4%, and VA loans at 10, or 1%. The remaining 1% of sales were also “other” financed.

What do we take away from this 2014 Portland Home Sales Report (first half)? Cash buyers are out in force for any type of property, but conventional loans are still the bread and butter of the Portland real estate market. Also, alternative methods of purchasing a home are still VERY alternative. I was absolutely amazed to discover that out of the nearly 5,000 real estate sales in Portland in the last six months a total of two, let me say that again, two sales were due to a rehab loan. This speaks volumes about the difficulty in obtaining a rehab loan and the fact that most sellers will pick cash offers over rehab loan offers any day of the week. Worst of all, lease options came in at zero. Now perhaps some lease options were not recorded in RMLS (our main database for the Portland real estate market), but they often are, so we can be sure VERY few if any Portland lease options occurred. Generally, it is never in the seller’s interest to take on a lease option, but sometimes in a bad real estate market they will, since we are in a good (appreciating and fast moving) real estate market, virtually no one is accepting lease option offers.

Have any other questions about the Portland real estate market? Let me know.

Portland Home Tests: Radon Gas

Portland Radon Home

May 14th, 2014

WWhat’s invisible, odorless, creeps in your basement, and kills 21,000 people a year in the US alone according to the EPA?

The answer is radon gas, and to be more specific, it comes from naturally occurring uranium in the rocks and soil underneath homes, including many in the Portland, Oregon area. And homes without basements can have a radon problem, although it is less likely.

Pro tip: If your Portland home is on a crawlspace, be sure that all the crawlspace vents are open and not blocked with debris. If the crawlspace is open and well ventilated the chances of failing a Radon test drop to nearly zero in the Portland area.

Here’s what you need to know: Radon gas entering your home – or the Portland home you’re thinking of buying – is a serious concern, but it is easy to test and relatively easy to mitigate if detected.

Most home inspectors in Portland will test a home for radon as part of their inspection, but this is just to protect home buyers. If you’re a homeowner, you should test your home for radon now if it hasn’t been done in the last few years. That’s because radon tests themselves can take some time, and you’ll definitely want to deal with the problem if the test comes back with higher than the accepted safe level of radon in your home.

How does the radon level in the average Portland home compare to the rest of the country? Technically speaking, each home is different – a high-radon-tested home can be next to one with no radon detected at all. But in general, the soil beneath Portland is more likely to contain uranium because it comes from granite sediment washed down from Montana at the end of the last ice age (the scientist’s best guess anyway). As uranium breaks down, it emits radioactive radon gas. This radioactivity is what causes health effects – chiefly lung cancer – among those who are exposed. A study by Portland Sate University last year showed that 79% of zip codes in the Portland metro area have high or moderate levels of radon gas. See a good Portland Radon zip code map here.

What do you do if your Portland home doesn’t pass the radon test? Several fixes (usually called mitigation solutions) are available, but one thing to check is your basement or crawlspace’s vents. Many homeowners block or cover these to improve heating efficiency, but they in doing so you may be inadvertently trapping radon that would otherwise escape harmlessly into the atmosphere.

If your home still has higher-than-acceptable radon levels, it’s important to arrange for mitigation by a professional right away. Not only is your health at risk, but your home value will suffer. Because radon gas can enter your home through gaps around service pipes, cracks in the floor and even construction joints, mitigation focuses on venting the radon from its source underneath the house, to somewhere away from doors or windows. In the Portland area, a contractor will charge anywhere from $1,000 to $6,000 for radon mitigation, depending on how the gas is getting in.

If your Portland home does need this kind of work, be sure to use a certified radon mitigation contractor.

The good news is, if your home was built with a radon barrier or had a mitigation system installed after construction, you have an advantage in the Portland real estate market! Knowing that they’re safe from this toxic basement creeper will give home buyers another reason to love your home.

Portland Real Estate Market March 2014: Fresher than ever

Fresh Portland Real Estate

Things that aren’t very good stale: Crackers, beer and the Portland real estate market.

Luckily, Portlanders can fear no more this spring about stale real estate because the real estate market is fresh as a newly hatched chick (besides, here in the rainy Northwest, soggyness is a greater danger than staleness). According to a recent Trulia report, relative to the rest of the country, the Portland real estate market sells homes at one of the fastest rates in the nation.

This month’s RMLS numbers back up the report. Inventory, an important marker of how quickly homes are passing from the hands of sellers to buyers, fell to 3.1 months in March. Average total time on the market was 85 days.

Although the average number of days it takes a Portland home to sell is 85, the Trulia report found that half of the homes listed in the area in mid-February were sold by mid-April. (A “stale” market is one where the majority of the homes on the market are the same month after month.)
Is this a new phenomenon? Not really, according to Trulia: The same study done last year showed pretty much the same breakdown.
Comparing the data from the RMLS to last year is a little bit discouraging, until you realize that Portland is still a strong market compared to a lot of metro areas. For example, in March 2013, there were slightly more pending real estate sales and more transactions closed than it March of 2014. Still, the number of new listings coming on the market is on pace with the last couple of years, and median and average sales prices are both above where they were last year.

As of this month, according to Trulia, Portland is the 18th fastest-moving market among the nation’s 100 biggest metros. The fastest market was in Oakland, California, where only 29 percent of listings were still on the market after two months (in the Portland market, 50 percent stayed on the market after two months). In the slowest market, Richmond, Virginia, a whopping 72 percent of houses listed at the beginning of the study period were still on the market two months later.

Which homes are staying on the market longest in Portland? In general, homes in the higher price ranges spend a longer time on the market than do lower-priced homes. Again, this is relative, and there are buyers out there looking in every price range. The bottom line is, if you list it now, there’s a very good chance your Portland home will sell this summer, if priced and represented right with an experienced Portland real estate agent. What are you waiting for?

Appraisal FAQ – Need to know info. for Portland Home Appraisals

April 22nd, 2014.

A home appraisal is part of nearly 95% of Portland real estate home sales. It is not 100% because around 5% of sales in Portland, Oregon are cash and do not require an appraisal. (Pro Tip: A cash buyer can hire an independent appraiser to evaluate the home and make their offer contingent on their satisfaction of that independent appraisal. This is not common, but also not a bad idea.) Also appraisals are used for home refinances, but in this article we will focus on an appraisal for a real estate transaction in Portland.

Here is what you need to know about Portland home appraisals:

Who pays for the appraisal? The buyer pays for it and it is not included in their down payment, nor in their closing costs for the loan. Typically this is an out-of-pocket expense for the buyer, similar to the buyer’s home inspection cost.

What happens if the appraiser gives a lower value than the offer? All bets are off. The default offer contract in Portland specifies that the whole offer is contingent on an appraised value meeting the sales price. If the buyer wants to walk away at this point they can and get their earnest money back. There are a few possible solutions to move forward if the buyer still wants to. The buyer can make up the difference in cash at closing. The seller can reduce the price. Or the buyer and seller can work out a compromise between the two options.

How long does an appraisal take? An appraisal in Portland for a regular single family home (under 4,000 SF) takes between 15 min. to one hour, in my experience.

Should I stay home while the appraisal is taking place? You can if you’d like, but it is best to take a walk or let the appraisal visit themselves. They often have access to the same lock box your Portland real estate agent hung on your door. If they don’t have access to that lock box, one of the real estate agents in the transaction can let them in.

What is an appraisal? I’ll let the Appraisal Foundation answer this one. They have created a nice and informative info-graphic. Click below to enlarge the picture.

Portland Appraisal Questions

Portland Home Buyer Tests: Lead Based Paint, Lead in Pipes

Portland Lead Based Paint Lead Pipes

April 15th, 2014

Many home buyers come to their Portland real estate agent with concerns about potential hazards and unseen risks in the Portland home they have their eye on.

And well they should! Just because a home looks perfect on the surface doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dig a little deeper, especially if it’s an older home.

Based on the experience of a Portland real estate agent, I’ll be doing a series of blog posts on home buyer tests – simple ways for you, the home buyer, to know if materials like lead, asbestos and radon are a problem for a given Portland home.

Let’s start with lead. Once considered a great base for paints and water pipes because of its corrosion-resisting properties, lead has been found to cause abdominal pain, headaches, cognitive difficulty, and a variety of other health issues in humans and animals. Although lead was banned from use in paints and pipes in the United States in the 1970’s, many older homes still contain lead, and it’s important for home buyers in Portland and anywhere to know whether they could be exposed.

Recently, lead in the water pipes of Portland homes made the news when the Portland Water Bureau noticed a spike in lead levels in some homes. Although Portland has some of the tastiest and best drinking water in the country, when it sits in lead pipes, it can pose a danger. This February, the Bureau issued a warning after a round of tests of drinking water in Portland homes found more than 15 parts per billion of lead. It also published a list of steps to reduce lead exposure from water. This is most worrisome with infants who are drinking formula, it is a high water ratio, high level of potential lead exposure in relation to their tiny body mass.

Lead-based paint is a more visible concern to Portland home owners and buyers – unless, of course, it’s buried under years of new paint coats. Still, home remodeling projects could exposed contaminated paint, sending dust into the air and into your lungs. If the paint on an older home is chipping and it contains lead, the paint chips can pose a hazard to children and pets, and you definitely don’t want to be eating any plants grown in soil near the house!

How do you know if the Portland home you’re considering buying contains lead? First, check on the year it was built by looking at the title or checking in with the home appraiser if you’re to that point in the home-buying process. (A good home appraisal will also red-flag potential lead exposure.) If it was built 1978, the EPA recommends testing house paint and soil for lead contamination from lead-based paint. The EPA has a list of approved lead testing kits. Your Portland real estate agent can also provide you with the official EPA pamphlet on Lead Based Paint for new homeowners.

If your home was built between 1970 and 1985, the Portland Water Bureau does free drinking water testing to test for lead contamination from pipes. To find out more, see their website.

I hope this blog post will help Portland home buyers and owners feel safer and more knowledgable about one of the most common risks with older homes! When it’s all said and done, most sources of lead around Portland homes and buildings have been identified, and there are easy ways to protect yourself once you know. Don’t let fear of lead keep you from buying the Portland home you’ve always wanted – contact me today to get started!

Best time to sell a house in the Portland real estate market.

Best time to sell home Portland

There is a lot of debate in the Portland real estate industry surrounding the best time of the year to sell a Portland home. What I’ve found listening to the debate is that most Portland real estate agents are talking about it based on their experience. Experience can be useful, but when you’re considering broad questions, a bigger data picture is much more useful than one agent’s experience. So I will share my experience as a top Portland real estate agent, but I will also use the official Portland real estate market data as obtained from RMLS. (You can also sign up here to get it for free.)

Big data picture for the Portland real estate market.

Take a look at the above photo. You’ll notice the big trend in every year is the small numbers cluster around the summer months and the big numbers cluster around the Portland winter months. (Jan. and Feb. 2014 numbers are also out and are in the 4′s. – fitting the trend from 2013 summer and fall.) The numbers represented are simply this: the number of months it would take to sell through the current active listing inventory. Bottom line, Portland homes sell faster in the summer months – a lot faster, regardless of what your Portland real estate agent might say. The argument for listing in the fall or winter months usually goes along the lines of reduced inventory, but the facts are clear – even though the inventory is much lower in the fall and winter months, it STILL takes a whole lot longer to sell through that lower inventory. Can you sell a home in the Portland fall or winter successfully and at a great price? Yes, you can with the right Portland real estate agent to help you. However, if you are not in a hurry and can pick and choose when you would list your home, I would always recommend April or May (read on to find out why).

Top Portland real estate agent experience for the Portland real estate market.

Portland folk love the sun shine. Give me any sunny weekend and I’ll probably end up getting offers on some of my active listings. Give me a weekend filled with rain and the foot traffic to my listings decreases by half or more. This is true in any part of the year, but as we all know, the summer months have the most sun filled weekends available. Also, there is a huge amount of activity the first and second week of June. The reason for this is simple, school is out. June is most often the best month of the year to have your home on the market. Funny enough, August is most often the second best month of the year to have your home on the market (with July coming in 3rd place). This is because all of those families who were searching for a Portland home all summer know they need to make a decision in August before school starts back up again. So why did I say (above) that April or May is the best time of year to list your home? It is because you want time to work for you and not against you. It helps to plan to list your home for 90 days or more. Let’s say you live in a hot Portland neighborhood where all the home sell in a couple days, that is a great thing. But you have to keep in mind that for any number of random reasons you could have a sale fail. Maybe the buyer got cold feet, maybe the inspections turned up a surprise, anything can happen. Now you have to find a buyer all over again weeks into the listing process. So it helps if the Portland real estate market is trending in your favor, getting better each month you are listed. This protect you and keeps you from having to drop the price, especially if prices (and activity level) is rising up to meet you where you started. So there you have it, the answer might be expected, the best time to sell a home in Portland is in the spring and summer months. Now if that is not an option for you, just make sure that you are working with an agent that can leverage the market conditions to fit your situation. You can try a higher price in the spring and summer, but a (slightly) lower price in the fall or winter can still bring buyers knocking down your door in a hurry to purchase your home. Let me know if you have any other questions, or would like a top real estate agent in town to give a free price analysis on your Portland home.

Six Strategies for First-Time Portland Homebuyers

Portland, Oregon Home

March 30th, 2014

Once in a while I try to stop, take a step back and ask myself: If I were a first-time homebuyer, how would I dive into the complex and exciting task of buying real estate in Portland, Oregon?

Portland home buyers today are inundated with choices and information, from the ubiquitous real-estate-agent-ad-on-a-bench, to 3D tours that launch from craigslist ads. With so much at your fingertips, here’s a quick rundown on what to do – and who to listen to – first.

1. Nail down your price range. It’s not just about getting pre-approved for a mortgage, although you’ll want to do that, too. But banks and lenders are good at luring home buyers into spending more than they intended. Being able to borrow $400,000 doesn’t mean you need a $400,000 home.

2. Get the scoop on the Portland real estate market. Savvy real estate investors watch the numbers — time on market, months of inventory, median sales price, and more — for the Portland market and a specific neighborhoods before they buy. Portland took a hit in 2008 when the housing market crashed, but we’ve been recovering ever since. That’s the big picture – the smaller picture is available through the monthly RMLS report, which you can subscribe to here.

3. Know your Portland neighborhoods. A condo in Northeast Portland may not be as swanky as that one in the Pearl District, but have you look at the neighborhoods’ walkability scores? Where’s the nearest hospital? The internet can tell you a lot, but the best way to get to know the neighborhood where you’re thinking of buying a home is to drive and walk around yourself.

4. Ask questions. There are no stupid questions when it comes to making a commitment to buy your first home. Real estate agents are great because we don’t mind being bothered by your phone calls and emails, whether you’re confused about the escrow process or have a question about the house you looked at last week. You should also ask as many questions as possible of the sellers’ agent, your mortgage lender, and the home inspector!

5. Be realistic about home improvement. You might be talked into buying a home (either by yourself or by the do-it-yourself-er in the family) that needs some repair to be perfect. Ask yourselves: Do you have experience completing the needed tasks? Does your schedule allow time for these projects? I’m not saying that fixer-uppers can’t offer great deals that allow you to put your own personal touches on your home. Just think it through first. If you need sobering up, bring a contractor you trust through the Portland home with you.

6. Use a Portland real estate agent. When you buy a home in Portland or anywhere, you want an experienced professional on your side. While there are plenty of online tools to help you find everything from home values to aerial photographs, you can’t beat the friendly, knowledgable support of a Portland real estate agent when it comes to finding the right home and negotiating the deal. Contact me if you’re ready to get started!

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