Abandoned Homes in Portland: How to Report or Buy Them

One of the best parts of being a Portland real estate agent is seeing solid homes go to new excited home owners. It can be frustrating to drive through town and see so many abandoned homes with no one living in them, maintaining them, and enjoying them.

But every city has abandoned homes. Owners move on or refuse responsibility, and the city places liens against the property, which makes it even more difficult for the owner to recover the property.

While foreclosure rates have soared (from previous almost zero levels to low levels) nationwide, Oregon has faired relatively well this year in that regard, coming in 49th in overall foreclosures, thanks to the moratorium Governor Brown put into effect.

This doesn’t mean Portland is without foreclosures, though, and they often lead to abandoned homes, also called derelict or zombie homes. Coupling the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing foreclosures with Oregon’s traditionally high homelessness rates, we can begin to get a picture of what Portland faces with abandoned home problems.

How to Report a Derelict, Abandoned Home in Portland

If you live in a neighborhood with an abandoned or neglected home, you can take steps to help the city intervene with due process and take care of the situation. For any of the following issues, contact the Property Compliance Help Line Development Services at codec@portlandoregon.gov / 503-823-2633, Monday through Friday from 8 am – 4 pm. Leave a message with detailed information.

  • Safety issues—collapsing retaining walls or buildings
  • Residential structure maintenance—peeling paint, leaking roof
  • Illegal occupants
  • Empty structure open to entry
  • Trash or other debris on a property’s exterior
  • Tall weeds or grass
  • Vegetation blocking right of way
  • Mosquito larvae or pupae in standing water

If you see graffiti on a vacant structure, call the Office of Neighborhood Involvement at 503-823-4824.

Four Ways to Purchase a Foreclosure or Abandoned Portland Home

There are four ways to buy a foreclosed or abandoned home in Portland.

1. Portland Real Estate Market Foreclosures

The first and easiest way to buy a foreclosed home in the Portland metro area is to search for all foreclosed homes for sale listed by banks on the public market. Check this link to the full map of all Portland homes for sale, and bookmark it for future reference. Once on the map, click on the “Filters” tab and select “Foreclosure.” You won’t find many available right now (but there are some). The Portland foreclosure rate has been low for the last few years and especially with the COVID-19 foreclosure moratorium in place through the end of 2021.

With the moratorium now over, as of January 1, 2022, we will likely start to see more foreclosed homes for sale in the Portland metro area. As opb.org cautions, though, if you are a homeowner in a position to potentially face foreclosure, be aware of scams if you receive calls offering assistance. Be sure to only work with certified housing counselors.

See the list of certified housing counselors in Oregon.

2. Sheriff or Portland Courthouse Steps Foreclosures

The second way to buy a foreclosed home is through an Oregon Sheriff Sale. It’s not as easy as the public market sale. The buyer bids for the property, sight unseen, usually because there is no access to the property. Also, all the sales are cash and final, as-is, with no inspection contingencies. And the buyer must be present in the courthouse, cash or cashier’s check on hand, at the right time to bid on the property. Another complication to Sheriff or Courthouse Steps foreclosure sales is the “right of redemption,” which means that if the previous owner pays the money owed within a set timeframe, the buyer will lose the sale. This only applies to this type of foreclosure sale and not public market foreclosure sales.

Find all the upcoming listed Oregon Sheriff Foreclosures for Sale here.

3. False Foreclosures, or Pre-foreclosure Homes Listed for Sale

While false foreclosures or pre-foreclosure homes are not another type of foreclosure for purchase, they’re worth a mention. These occur when a homeowner misses a few mortgage payments and the address is automatically added a national database of pre-foreclosure properties. Real estate websites buy that list and put them on their public website for sale. However, 99% of these homes will never go to foreclosure because the owners catch up on arrears. So, be aware that putting in effort on pre-foreclosure searches is generally a waste of time.

4. Write a letter to purchase an abandoned Portland home

This works more often than you’d think. I’ve been selling homes in Portland since 2003 and we’ve helped numerous buyers write letters to the owners of abandoned homes (we can often find their alternative mailing address) offering to purchase their derelict home. We’ve helped make this connection many times and have helped turned abandoned homes around with excited home buyers.

Portland Foreclosure Rates

In 2021 there were 11,174 sold detached residential homes in the Portland real estate market. Of those 22 were foreclosures. That means the current foreclosure rate in Portland is 0.001%.

The Portland foreclosure chart below uses the same criteria as above, all detached residential Portland, Oregon (city proper) homes sold in the given year.

YearSold AllForeclosures SoldForeclosure Rate
2021 11174220.001%

2022 Portland Real Estate Foreclosure Forecast

To forecast upcoming Portland foreclosure rates, we can look at the current mortgage forbearance rate, which occurs when a lender allows a homeowner to reduce or pause their payments for a limited time. Many homes that go into forbearance bounce back, but the higher the national forbearance rate, the higher the next year’s foreclosure rate is likely to be.

The current national 2022 mortgage forbearance rate is 3.5%, a slight drop from July, 2021, when it was 3.91%. Based on this, we can expect that the 2022 Portland foreclosure rate will remain low, we predict a 1% rate. Foreclosures can take a long time to processes and don’t take effect the moment the moratorium ended.

As we’ve mentioned, the process to move a home to foreclosure is lengthy, generally 1–3 years on average from the time the homeowner stops paying. Even if the Portland forbearance rate matches the national of 3.5% (it won’t), most homeowners in forbearance will not end up as foreclosures. As Portland housing prices have continued to rise throughout 2021, homeowners who have missed numerous payments will likely still have gained enough market equity over time to pay off their mortgage when selling their property.

How to Find a Deal when Searching for Investment Properties

If buying a foreclosed home interests you, here are a few ways to get things moving.

  1. Keep an eye out for current public market foreclosures for sale.
  2. Sheriff’s sales can be very risky, but with that risk comes a decent investment opportunity.
  3. Look for short sales for sale.
  4. Use our Smart Fixer List to look for Portland rehab opportunities. When you’re ready, contact our top 1% Portland buyer’s team. We’d love to help you through the process!

How Does the City of Portland Deal with Abandoned Homes?

To help address the problems associated of squatting, vandalism, and structural deterioration inherent in abandoned homes, the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) focused their efforts on these issues at their 2010 annual summit.

Attorneys, bank loss mitigation professionals, insurance agents, real estate brokers, and the city’s code compliance officer met at the summit. They created a plan to address Portland’s abandoned homes situation and the following steps to remedy them.

Abandoned Home Problems in Portland

The problems that arise from abandoned homes can be many and oftentimes overlap each other, creating a web of issues for residents in the neighborhood and authorities to contend with. They are:

  • Squatting in the home and/or camping in the yard and accompanying bodily wastes, which lead to health concerns
  • Looting, including plumbing and electrical wire, which leads to safety concerns
  • Break ins out of curiosity by children and young adults, and other crime
  • Fire hazards as the building falls into disrepair
  • Location becoming an eyesore from broken windows, graffiti, and overgrown vegetation

Challenges Faced when Dealing with Abandoned Homes

Just as the problems with abandoned homes are complex, so can be finding remedies to foreclose on the property and move it toward some kind of renovation or upkeep by a responsible owner. The top two are:

  • Establishing ownership. In many cases, the owner (person with the loan) had abandoned the home but the loan holder (lender) had not yet claimed property rights, leaving the home in a kind of legal limbo.
  • Home seizure time. It can take more than a year to get through the process so the city can seize the home because even lenders are unable to fully cooperate due to a backlog of properties.

Let us know if we can help.

Our top 1% team has been advising Portlanders on their real estate goals since 2003. Give us a call today at 503-714-1111 or chat with our bot on this site. We’d love to talk!

January 14, 2022

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

4% max to sell a home in Portland and SW Washington.
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Over 2,000 homes sold.