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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Record-setting September for Pending Sales in Portland 2014

Portland Fall real estate market

September brought cooler weather to the Portland area but it didn’t cool down the real estate market! Yes, this is a time of seasonal quieting for home buyers and sellers, but the year overall is proving to be a bright one for Portland real estate agents and their clients. A look at the latest RMLS Market Action Report shows why.

Pending sales were the highlight of the report this month, rising a whopping 15% over last year’s. A pending sale is just that – pending. So what percentage of those sales make it to closing? When you compare the number of pending sales in September 2014, 2,551, to the number of closed sales that month, 2,378, you find that 93% of home buyers were able to successfully make it to closing.

When does a sale become “pending”? As you probably know already, there are many steps to get through from the buyer’s reaching out to their Portland real estate agent, deciding to buy a home, and then actually making the transaction final. Once an offer has been accepted, the buyer must secure financing and draw up a contract with their real estate agent. The buyer’s agent must then present that contract to the seller’s agent and negotiate over the various terms it entails – what is included with the property, what kind of inspections will be performed, and so on. When the contract is accepted, the sale is “pending” until all of the inspections are over and the money is in the seller’s hands.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot that can go wrong here, which is why deals occasionally “fall through” or fail to transition from “pending” to “sold”. So what’s average? Last September (2013) saw fewer pending sales overall (2,219), but 97% of them turned into closed sales. In August this year, we had 2,704 pending sales in Portland, and 95% made it to closing.
It seems that the success rate for Portland real estate agents (and all of the other parties involved) to move a home from “pending” to “sold” is variable, but I think as long as we’re over 90%, we’re doing pretty well.

What can you, the home buyer or seller, do to help encourage the process? Pick a reliable lender who won’t change the terms of the loan at the last minute – your real estate agent can make a few recommendations. Likewise, the title company, home inspectors, etc. you use should be trusted, reliable, and experienced. The most important thing is probably to work with a real estate agent who can help you navigate all of these terms, one who has already closed hundreds of deals in the Portland area. I’d love to help. Call me anytime: 503-975-6853.

Five Little Known Facts About Real Estate Agent Commission

Real Estate Commission Portland

October 16th, 2014

Real estate agent commissions – an unavoidable, fixed cost of buying or selling a home, valuable only as incentive to real estate agents. Right? Wrong. Here are five little known facts about real estate agent commissions.

1. Real estate agent commissions come out of the actual cost of the home. Some people think of their real estate agent’s commission as a fee. It’s not. Because most homes in the Portland real estate market and around the world are bought and sold using a real estate agent, market prices reflect the value of the home, real estate agent commission included. It’s not tacked on above and beyond the price the home eventually sells for.

2. Real estate agent commissions keep the market moving. The agent commission system is set up the way it is — in Portland, Oregon, the US and most developed countries — because it works. Real estate agents are motivated to sell homes because otherwise they don’t get paid (no bimonthly paychecks!) This keeps market inventory at a reasonable level, and in a sense keeps homes values high. Real estate agent competition creates powerful marketing platforms and systems to get the job done.

3. Real estate agent commissions are a good deal. Some real estate agents work as “limited representation” agents, charging a flat fee or hourly rate instead of a commission. This arrangement might work for some home buyers or sellers, but because limited representation agents don’t do everything a traditional agent does, they can end up costing more or working less efficiently than an agent earning a commission. Limited representation does not provide legal protection in case of a buyer seller dispute and provides very “limited” marketing opportunities. Also buyers agents tend to avoid “limited representation” listings because they know it is more liability and work for them.

4. Real estate agent commissions are not fixed by anything but tradition. Typically, 2.5% of the sales price of the home goes to the buyer’s agent, and 3.3 – 3.5% goes to the seller’s agent. In Portland, the average total commission is 5-6% (agents who represent both the buyer and the seller reduce their commission slightly). But there’s no law that says commissions have to total 6%! In fact, I offer my services to Portland home sellers for a 2% commission (and offer the standard 2.5% to the buyer’s agent). If I represent both the home seller and the buyer, my total commission never exceeds 3%.

5. Real estate agent commissions pay for themselves. Yes, it’s technically possible to pocket more of your home’s sales price by listing it yourself. On average, however, homes that are sold by their owners don’t fetch their full market worth (See NAR research stats), or they take so long to sell that the homeowner negated any potential savings by continuing to pay out on the mortgage for those additional months. Real estate agents do their work (namely, marketing your home) in order to generate a greater number of offers, which translates to a better sales price for your home. We typically get over 100,000 online views per listing! This often translates into as many as 2,000 online buyer views a day. That is STRONG marketing you can’t obtain by yourself. Once that offer is in, your real estate agent will continue to work on your behalf to insure the deal doesn’t fall through.

Still have questions about Portland real estate agent commissions? Feel free to contact me. For 4.5% to 2% commission, I offer one of the best listing packages (if not the very best) in Portland, and work fast to put your home in the hands of a 100% satisfied buyer for a fantastic price!

Sell Your Portland Home Fast – Stage it!

Portland Home Staging

October 7th, 2014

Maybe you’re just putting your Portland home on the market and can’t wait to get it sold, or maybe your home has been sitting on the Portland real estate market too long. Hopefully, your Portland listing is in the hands of a good real estate agent with a great marketing plan (see ours here). But even then, there are things you can be doing to help move it along into the waiting hands of the right buyer.

You might read a lot of things online about how to get your home sold, but they all boil down to two things: Lower the price or improve the value. If your home is priced fairly for your market (and your Portland real estate agent should be honest with you about whether it is), improving the value is what you should focus on.

Value has a lot to do with the buyer’s perception of the home. Look at it this way: You could have all new appliances, a new roof, good floor plan and beautiful landscaping, but if your potential home buyer can’t see all that because they’re distracted by what’s going on inside your home, they’re missing all of that value.

Yes, I’m talking about home staging, and it really works. Some sellers like to do their own staging, but I usually recommend a professional home staging service that can really help your home looks its best through the buyer’s eyes. You don’t have to spend thousands to have your home staged right. The best stagers in the North West typically only charge around $200 for a full consultation on how to use your own furniture and decorations to create tremendous buyer appeal. The Portland stagers (I have great recommendations) can tell you what should go and what should stay, and if you are painting or remodeling for the market, what colors and materials you should pick.

The next strategy is to get professional photographs to capture your home’s makeover for buyers anywhere to admire. These days, buyers don’t find homes by driving around neighborhoods or going to open houses – they search Zillow or the RMLS! And if the photos of your home are poorly lit, blurry, or just too few, they might pass right on by. On the other hand, great photos will have them emailing their Portland real estate agent to set up a time to view your home!

The evidence is in that home staging and professional photography really work. According to the Real Estate Staging Association, homes that are staged sell seven times faster in Oregon, and homes on average spend 80 – 90% less time on market when they are well staged. The real estate website Redfin published a report last year about the advantages of professional photography when it comes to selling your home. Homes that were photographed using a high-quality DSLR camera (that doesn’t even factor in the eye and skill of a professional photographer!) sold for between $3,400 to $11,200 more relative to their list prices.

If you’re thinking of selling your Portland home, you’ve come to the right place because as a Full Service REALTOR, my listing package comes with professional home staging recommendations, professional photography, and more. I believe in showing off your home’s best qualities to get it sold faster, for the price you want! Contact me to get started today.

Portland Real Estate and the RMLS

September 29th, 2014

RMLS Portland Book

You hear us mention the RMLS every other month on this blog, when we cover the Portland Market Action report. But what is RMLS, and what can they do for you, the Portland area real estate buyer or seller?

RMLS stands for Regional Multiple Listing Service. Every region across the US has one, but RMLS is specific to Oregon and Southern Washington – and it’s the largest REALTOR®-owned multiple listing service in the Pacific Northwest.

Multiple listing services were created so that real estate agents could quickly look up properties for sale in their area. Before Zillow, Craigslist and even the internet, the MLS was the original source for accurate information on listed homes. Before RMLS in Portland, this information was only available through individual brokerages, and there was nowhere to go for a complete directory of all the homes on the Portland market.

Then came “The Book”, which replaced word-of-mouth and newspaper ads as the primary way that real estate buyers and sellers heard about homes for sale. It listed every home being sold in the state of Oregon and Southern Washington. In the 1990s, these books came out twice a week – that’s a lot of paper!

Today, the RMLS™ database is all digital. It archives over 1.4 million listings – around 26,000 of which are active listings. 10,200 REALTORs have access to the RMLS, and most of the information listed there is also available to the public through the RMLS website as well as agent-developed tools such as PortlandRealEstateMapSearch.com. This data is what is given exclusively to REALTORs by home sellers and appraisers, and it is not necessarily available through Zillow, Trulia, or other real estate search tools. The data starts here, starts with RMLS, before someone sees a home for sale on any number of third party real estate websites.

RMLS used to be a REALTOR-only service, but it’s getting more and more geared toward the DIY-homebuyer or seller. In my opinion, the more informed about the market you are, the better. That’s why I write about the RMLS’ monthly Market Action Report every other month on this blog. The report talks about everything from how many months of housing inventory we have to what the average sales prices was for homes in various Portland neighborhoods.

For those who want to dig a little deeper, the RMLS publishes weekly data on lockbox activity, which is an interesting way to keep tabs on the market. Lockboxes are the little devices Portland real estate agents use to access homes without a key. Every time one is unlocked, it means the home was shown to a potential buyer. You can watch lockbox activity fluctuate with the seasons on the RMLS blog.

Don’t forget to talk to someone with real-world expertise and insight that gets beyond the data – contact your Portland Real Estate Agent today (and consider yourself lucky that “The Book” will not be making an appearance).

REALTOR® – A Title You Can Trust

REALTOR Portland

September 17th, 2014

A few weeks ago, this blog covered the often-asked question, “How many real estate agents are there in Portland, Oregon”? The answer came from our local REALTOR® associations, whose memberships total nearly 7,000 – real estate agents as well as affiliates who work for title companies, home inspection agencies, banks, etc.

But what is a REALTOR® association, and why is the term capitalized and used with the register symbol? The best definition is that REALTOR® associations create the difference between a licensed real estate agent and a REALTOR®. According to the Oregon Association of REALTORS® (OAR) website, “The Association is the REALTORS®’ real estate business advocate, a force for education, and a legislative advocate for free enterprise and private property rights in Oregon.”

A REALTOR® is a real estate agent who has become a member of their local REALTOR® association, which not only requires adherence to a Code of Ethics, but also offers additional training and legal protection to members.

REALTORS® don’t join the Oregon Association of REALTORS directly – they join a local real estate association which gives them the benefit of membership in both their state and national realtor associations. In Portland, real estate agents are a part of either the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors (PMAR) or the East Metro Association of Realtors (EMAR).

Membership in one of these two local Portland REALTOR® association also gives your real estate agent the benefits of membership in the Oregon Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

The NAR is no small organization. It calls itself “The Voice for Real Estate,” and with 1 million members, it is America’s largest trade association! The NAR takes on a political role and advocates for homeownership at a national level. The NAR is the reason that the term REALTOR® is actually trademarked, and can only be used to refer to a member of the National Association of REALTORS®.

What’s the bottom line for the Portland real estate buyer or seller? REALTOR® associations add another layer of protection for you, the consumer. Professionalism is of ultimate importance in the real estate business – after all, this is your home we’re talking about! The REALTOR® symbol on your real estate agent’s business card, website and yard signs says that this person can be trusted, is experienced, and is backed by a well established national organization.

As the Portland Metropolitan Association of REALTORS® states on its website, “The more than 6,000 members of PMAR are committed to protecting and promoting homeownership, establishing and maintaining high professional standards of practice, and creating unity in the real estate profession.”

Looking for a REALTOR® with reasonable commission rates in Portland, hundreds of successfully closed sales, an amazing marketing strategy, and the knowledge to help you navigate the Portland real estate market, call me, Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor at 503-975-6853. Customer service is my top priority!

The Best Real Estate Map Search for Portland Homes

Portland Real Estate Map

September 9th, 2014

When you go for a road trip, you always bring a map, whether on paper or on your smartphone. You want a map that’s both easy to use and accurate, so that you arrive at your destination without getting lost or driving into a lake.

Setting off on a journey to buy or sell a home in Portland? Maps are becoming a key online tool to not only find homes for sale but also to learn about market trends and neighborhood statistics. They display information visually and in layers, instead of as a list or block of text, so that it’s fast and easy to understand. Good maps make it easy to click-through to learn more information about a given home for sale, get an idea of how reasonably it’s priced for the area, and get in touch with a Portland real estate agent to schedule a tour. And, just like you wouldn’t use a road map that shows non-existent roads, a good real estate map search should give you the most recent information available.

Which is the best real estate map search tool for Portland real estate? To find out, I took off my Portland Real Estate Agent hat and went into home-buyer mode to do a little testing. Read on to learn how the top online real estate maps compare.

Zillow, the most popular real estate search website, has by far the least useful real estate map. You can search for homes for sale by basic parameters such as listing price and the number of bedrooms. There is a “layer” you can add to the map that shows where schools are. (Layers are map features that can be turned on and off to show different information.) Data for this map could be anywhere from a few days to a few MONTHS old.

Recently acquired by Zillow, Trulia remains a distinct website with a mapping feature that is more comprehensive than Zillow’s. In addition to schools, you can add businesses to the map (to find, for example, homes that are near both a top-rated elementary school and a grocery store). Other useful layers include demographic information and hazards (did you know that Vancouver, WA has a higher tornado risk than Portland?) Trulia makes an app for you to take the map with you on your smartphone. Like Zillow Trulia’s data is old, at least a few days if not longer. This makes it tough on Portland home buyers who need to “jump” on homes in fast moving markets. You’d miss out entirely!

Portland Real Estate Map Search
Not to toot my own horn too loudly, but this is the best Portland real estate map, hands down. It gives users a one-stop shop for Portland real estate and neighborhood data in an easy-to-use format. There is a wealth of information in the layers – choose from the “lifestyle” menu to make Portland hospitals, shops, schools and custom locations appear on the map. You can also view real estate market trends for any given address, useful for home buyers and sellers to see what similar homes have sold for in the area and where prices are going. You can search for Portland homes by neighborhood (very important feature in Portland!) and / or by school! You can see a ton of demographic information in each distinct Portland neighborhood and even weather differences! Of course you can also save your favorite searches and get automatic updates. It is also automatically refreshed multiple times a day for near perfect accuracy. For more detailed home value information, you can request a custom valuation report from a local Portland real estate agent (much more accurate than Zillow’s “Zestimates”).

The most important factor that makes Portland Real Estate Map Search the best overall mapping tool is that its data comes live from the local Multiple Listing Service. That means, for example, that you won’t miss getting a home in your search results because it was out of your price range, but the seller just lowered the price yesterday. So try out my Portland real estate map, or at least try to find another local source with more update information. Realtor.com is the best “national” real estate site in terms of data accuracy if you can’t find a local website you like.

The bottom line is, online Portland real estate maps make it easier to find and organize information about the Portland housing market and find a home to buy. Find one that works for you, or use multiple – just make sure that when it’s time to close the deal, you have an experienced, local Portland real estate agent on your side. No map can replace that!

Premiere Property Group is now #2 – Oregon Realty Company!

Premiere Property Group Realty

In 2014 Premiere Property Group has risen to the second largest Realty company in Oregon with 5 offices in Oregon (4 in Portland) and over 350 real estate agents. It is the largest locally owned and operated Realty company in Oregon. If you look closely at the chart you’ll notice that some of the franchise model Realty companies are on there more than once, but they have separate ownership, branding, and levels of cooperation. Premiere Property Group is one company with one set of owners and 100% cooperation! Premiere Property Group is locally owned and operated by Portland real estate agents from its inception. We have first class office space, a fantastic support system, with full use of the office space across the state as needed. In house marketing of our listings reaches every agent at Premiere Property Group. In 11 years as a licensed real estate agent in Oregon, this has been the best Realty company experience I have had so far.

If you are looking for a Portland Oregon Realty company to help you buy or sell a home, look no further. If you are a real estate agent looking for a new home, give me a call and let me share my testimony with you. See a list of the Premiere Property Group Portland, OR office locations here.

In 2013 I was the number one selling real estate agent at Premiere Property Group (looking good to repeat that in 2014). Take a look at my home selling package here. Let me know if I can help today.

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.

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