Thursday, June 13, 2019

The suburbs are hopping!

RMLS just released the stats for May 2019,  and boy did we have a busy May.  Our closed sales were up 5.9% over May 2018, and 23.2% over April 2019.  It was our busiest May since 2006. I wonder what that is about.

Pending sales are up a bit, and the year to date median price increased a tad 0.7% over the same time period in 2018.

The most active areas (% increase in pending sales and price increase %) were Southeast Portland (with a lot of that activity in outer Southeast), Gresham/Troutdale, Oregon City/Canby, Beaverton Aloha, Columbia County and Yamhill County.   Notice anything?  These are primarily suburban or rural areas.

We often tell buyers frustrated at prices and competition close-in, to drive until they can afford it.  I think that is what is happening here.  The increased activity, but very slight increase in prices can mean that more buyers are buying reasonably priced properties.

Click here to see the complete RMLS report.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Thinking about an accessory dwelling unit?

ADU's are a big topic these days.  They can be a way to add a rental unit to your property, add a guest house for your own use, or even a unit to be used as a short term rental (Airbnb, Vacasa etc).

Different municipalities have different regulations, so be sure to research your specific location. For instance, in the City of Portland, some system development charges will be waived IF you agree not to use the ADU as a short term rental .

Because, by definition, ADU's are added to an existing property, they are very situational.  The City of Portland has different rules, depending on the existing structure, size,  lot size, orientation on the lot, and so on.   For this reason it is helpful, and important to work with an architect and builder who have experience in designing, permitting and building ADU's.

Kol Petersen wrote Backdoor Revolution, A Definitive Guide to ADU Development, which can be a good place to start.  His website also has a bunch of resources, and he is organizing the upcoming ADU tour, for which you can register here.

And here are a few more resources. Folks who will do consults, plans and such.

Schuler Smith, Polyphon Architecture and Design:  503-208-5678

Aram Irwin  503-544-5971   Their website has a form to fill out, and they’ll schedule a “conversation” with you within three days.

The City of Portland has a nice document about converting attics and basements to living space.  And a bunch of information about ADU's. 

Does an ADU add value to a property?  Yes (unless it eats up the whole yard).  We are seeing lots of multi-generational households, where a separate living space is welcome.  In addition, folks like the ability to supplement their income with either a short or long term rental. 

Adding an ADU should be done mindfully, taking into account the lot, neighborhood and setting.  Projects with site work incorporating the ADU into the property, while giving each dwelling some private outdoor space, are best.

Don and I will be taking the toour on June 22nd.  Are you?  And in the coming months we'll be researching and planning to build an ADU ourselves.  If you've got questions, or ar just ADU curious, get in touch.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Those buried oil tanks...still

It has been years, I mean years, that we've been dealing with the fallout, or seepage, if you will, of buried oil tanks.

At this point, many tanks have been decommissioned, by someone, using some method.  There may, or may not have been some sort of paperwork may have been generated.  And the homeowner may, or may not have kept that paperwork somewhere.

I can't tell you how many houses I have sold (representing the buyer or seller) where the seller is pretty sure the tank was done at some time.  They have no paperwork, but are sure its fine.  Enter the buyer, who wants proof that the tank was decommissioned DEQ standards, and registered with DEQ.

That last step of registration with DEQ can be a lifesaver.  Once its registered with DEQ, even if the paperwork is misplaced, all is good, and proof of decommission can be provided.  Registration is usually done as a part of a decommission, and is handled by the company completing the decommission.  The fee for registering with DEQ has varied over the years, but has generally been below $200. We just did one which was $195.  Don't cheap out!

In the absence of paperwork, the oil tank decommission needs to be verified by searching for the tank and actually looking at it.  This means sampling the soil beneath the tank looking for leakage, digging down and opening the tank to verify the work was done, and done properly.  Allowing for scheduling, lab results, and so on, this process can take a few weeks, adding costs and delays to the transaction. Then the invoice and certification letter (from the company performing the work) will be generated, and the decommission (if it is agreed upon) submitted to DEQ.  It can take weeks to months for DEQ to issue the actual certification.

Not all decommissions involve removal

The cost of such a verification will vary with the conditions.  Where is the tank? Was the soil tested before, or maybe not, in which case there could actually be something to clean up.  Is the tank under a deck, patio or in some other location that will prove challenging?   Who restores the patio, landscape after the work is done?

In a recent transaction, we lucked out, with the tank being under a fairly high deck, so we weren't disturbing the deck. We got clean soil samples, and when they opened the tank, they could see it had been properly decommissioned!  Hooray!  The cost was $1290 to the seller, and we delayed our normal close date by ten days.

If you are thinking of selling, and think you had a tank at one time, but can't find the paperwork,  get in touch,  If I represented you on the purchase, I'll most likely have the information in my files.  If there was an actual leak, and clean up/decommission, I can usually find that information on one of the DEQ databases.  And if the decommission was registered with DEQ I can track that down.  Sometimes I can track down the company that did the work and get paperwork that way.  And maybe you'll have the paperwork in an old email or in the cloud.  If not...its best to get the decommission verification done before marketing the property.  This avoids delays in closing, getting the buyer involved in the process and we'll have that invoice and cost.  In some cases, the cost can be paid from your proceeds at closing, so you don't have to write the big check now.

If you are in the City of Portland, Portland Maps may show a permit for an oil tank; buried in the yard, or in the basement.  The lack of a permit doesn't mean there is no tank, it just means there is no permit.  And yes, plenty of properties had not one, but two buried tanks. Double bonus points for that (not really).

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has some good information for home buyers and sellers.    If I represented you in your purchase, and you have questions, I'm glad to see what I have in my files.  If you bouhgt trough someone else, I'm glad to see what I can find in the various databases. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Like a Broken Record

We've got to talk about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  Really.  Almost to a T, every property we sell needs updated alarms/detectors.  And almost to a T, the sellers truly believe their property has up to date devices.  If this is the case for folks who are paying attention (or think they're paying attention),  imagine the state of detectors in properties where folks aren't thinking of selling.

Please, please, please check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  These devices are relatively inexpensive, and save lives.  If you are in a rental either check, or ask the property owner/manager to check and provide proof of up to date devices.

Here are the State of Oregon requirements.  The City of Portland has more rigorous requirements (I believe Eugene may have the same requirements as the City of Portland).

Carbon monoxide detectors are required if: there is a combustion device in the property, or an attached garage.  Think of combustion devices as anything that burns, or has a flame; gas appliances (including gas clothes dryers), gas hot water heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves etc.  Properties that are all electric, without attached garages, do not need carbon monoxide detectors.  

The smoke detector/alarm rules are too specific for me to summarize.  But here are a few tips.  If your home has devices that are hard wired, meaning they draw electricity from your electric service, not from a battery, replacements should also be hard wired.  And hard wired devices should have a battery back-up in case your electricity is off. Non-hard wired detectors/alarms must have a 10 year battery.  All smoke alarms/detectors should be replaced at least every 10 years.  All of them. They have a life span, and can be ineffective after ten years.  

I know you think yours are in order.  I know you are sure you just replaced those a few years ago.  Humor me.  Please check.  And get in touch with me if you have questions.  I won't know all the answers, but I can sure help find them!

Friday, April 5, 2019

A different kind of landscape wall

I've been watching this wall come together while on our daily dog walks.  The workers have been filling these bags with soil, and carefully placing them.  What the heck?  I've seen walls I think were made this way on highways and freeways (maybe those were just bags of concrete?), but hadn't seen a smaller scale wall up close.

These bags are called earthbags.  They are used for a variety of construction projects, from retaining walls, to houses.  Depending on the use, and height of the structure, the filling of the bags can vary; rocks, gravel, soil etc.  In general, the structure is then coated with a think layer of a plaster-like substance to protect the earthbags from damaging ultra-violet light.

In doing a bit of research (thank you google), I found a whole building method and community, reminiscent of the earth ships of yesteryear.  Earthbag construction is kind of like cob construction.

These folks in my neighborhood don't plan to coat the wall; its not that high, and while doing some retaining, isn't bearing a lot of weight.

The earth bag system, while kind of cool in the city, is a great idea for remote projects, where delivery of other building materials could be tricky and expensive.  Filling earth bags with material found near or produced at a remote site, is far more sustainable than trucking materials in.

The California Institute of Earth Architecture seems to be an authority on this type of construction, and does sell materials, along with books, online classes and workshops.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Instant offers! The easy button has a price.

You may have seen some buzz around a few real estate "disruptors", offering instant, or easy sales.  There are a few different business models out there.  But basically, they are offering to save you the hassles (and expense) of marketing your home.  Instead, they'll "bring" you an offer to purchase.

Some companies will actually buy your house, and then take on the hassle of preparing and marketing the home. And they'll pocket the difference.  Others have a posse of investors set to buy houses.  Or, maybe you're getting the old fashioned letters in the mail from folks who either have a buyer, or offering to buy your home, in an easy, quick, no hassles transaction.

There are times, and situations, where prepping and marketing a property is indeed too much of a hassle, and for extenuating reasons, owners just need to get the house sold and move on.  I had a client a few years back, who, through a job transfer, had two weeks to show up in another state, at work.  They'd found a place to buy in their destination city.  But here in Portland, had a VERY busy household, with a few boys, several pets and lots of unfinished projects.   Getting the place sold quickly was the goal.  Once I educated them to how much they might be leaving on the table, and was sure they wanted to for go the hassle, I was able to connect them to a cash buyer, and get their home sold, as is (without all that prep work) and quickly.  You don't have to forgo representation to have a quick, easy transaction.

Of course most sellers want top dollar for their property,  but that does come at a cost.  Getting and keeping your home show ready, scheduling showings around your family coming and goings, and not having a date certain, nor an amount certain for an offer can be stressful.  There is nothing wrong with prioritizing quick, easy and known dollar amounts and timeliness over the most long as you have an idea of how much money you are forgoing.  And as long as the "easy button" really is as easy as it sounds.

In general, folks making these instant offers are very astute buyers.  Many have access to lots of capital, and big data to help them make their buying decisions.  No offense, but most certainly, they know way more than you do.  And, most of these instant offers don't provide for you, the homeowner, having your own representation in the transaction.  Don't worry your pretty little head, they'll take care of everything.

But sometimes, these offers are crazy low, as in criminally low.  We just got one on our house.  The sender obviously doesn't know I am a real estate agent.  The offer to buy is for $300,000, all cash at closing or the proceeds from private financing.  Note.  This is not an actual cash offer. They don't have the cash on hand, and will be getting some kind of financing, it just may not involve an appraisal on the property.  But back to the price.  Zillow thinks our house is worth $655,998, and Multnomah County shows the market value at $609,440.  This offer is WAY off.  Other terms of the offer include a 60 day closing, and no realtor fees.  No realtor fees also means the seller would be selling to very astute buyers, with no representation themselves.

This "offer" came with a letter of intent, which if signed, commits the seller to working with these folks for 60 days.  That is that the seller, " will not directly or indirectly, solicit, entertain, discuss or accept any offers in connection with or enter into any agreements with respect to the sale, or other conveyance of any interest in the Property with any person or entity other than buyer".  Wow.  So if I got all excited and signed this letter, to "see where it goes", I'd be stuck with these folks for 60 days.  Oh, and the paperwork also says..."we hope you consider us as a trustworthy resource to obtain fair and flexible terms for a clean and straightforward transaction,"  I'm not sure offering 50% of value is fair or trustworthy.

Please please please, if you are wanting to avoid the hassle of selling and just want a quick easy deal, don't sign this stuff right away.  Take time to do some research, ask a realtor.  For heavens sake, at least look at County's opinion of market value and zillow.  I don't love zillow, but they're at least an independent data point!

Yes, I get the attraction of an easy sale, but sure don't think its worth $300,000!  I worry about less astute owners, especially the elderly, who could really lose out.  Oh, and when I do some digging on with the Construction Contractor's Board of the underlying developer, I do find some complaints filed.  hmm

If you are approached about an instant offer, and want a reality check, please get in touch.  I'd be glad to give you a market analysis so you can compare.  But, get in touch before signing anything!  503-312-8038

Monday, March 11, 2019

Portland's Ladd's Addition

Way back when, Portland was actually three separate cities; Portland, East Portland and Albina.  In 1891 the three cities aware combined into a single city, and that same year, the Madison Street Bridge (now Hawthorne Bridge) opened.  These two events led to an eastside boom.

Also in 1891 , William Ladd and his wife Caroline Ladd filed the plat of Ladd's Addition, dividing the land into 32 blocks with 716 lots.    Bounded by SE Hawthorne and SE Division, SE 20th and SE 12th, Ladd's Addition remains one of Portland's closest neighborhoods to downtown and the central east side.

Photo courtesy of Oregon Historical Society.
Circa 1915
The neighborhood is distinct for its street layout, which was Ladd's own idea (against the advice of his surveyor).  Some say it was based on the layout of Washington DC, though there is no real evidence of that.  Aside from the layout, Ladd's Addition is unique for its five parks that interrupt the street layout, and for the service alleys.  The neighborhood is considered a monument to the City Beautiful movement.

The five parks were part of Portland's 1903 Olmstead Parks Plan (Olmstead, of New York's Central Park fame).  These parks are lushly gardened with roses (Portland is the Rose City after all), rhododendrons and azaleas.

As the neighborhood was built out, street tress were planted, (mostly elms, maples and lindens), making Ladd's Addition one of America's most treed neighborhoods.  Dutch elm disease has hit Ladd's Addition hard.  There is a community based tree inoculation program, and volunteers regularly plant trees to maintain the neighborhood's lush tree canopy.

It was thought the alleys of Ladd's Addition would lend it a tone of affluence.  There are few curb cuts on the main streets of Ladd's Addition, and many houses have garages accessed from the alley.  In addition, most utilities were run down the alleys, giving the streets a clean look.  Today, most residents park their cars in front of their houses, on the street.  The garages are most often used for storage.

As with many neighborhoods in Portland, Ladd's Addition originally had deed restrictions, excluding racial minorities (except as servants).  As those restrictions expired, some Asian American families moved in to the neighborhood, and in 1939 the Portland Realty Board informally designated Ladd's Addition as suitable for "oriental" families.  Seemingly African Americans and other minorities continued to be excluded by zoning or deed restrictions until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Other tactics continued racial discrimination in housing well past 1968.

Referenced above, the City Beautiful movement was an effort to introduce beautification and monumental grandeur in cities.  It was thought such beauty would lead to civic and moral virtue, creating social order through beautification.  Read more about that movement here.

Ladd's Addition was Portland's first residential historic district (1977), and in 1988 the Ladd's Addition Conservation District Guidelines were adopted, with rules and restrictions on changes to the street/garden system, new buildings and exterior rehabilitation of existing buildings.  These guidelines address preservation of sidewalk details and horse rings, park use, front and side yard visibility, parking strips, trees, and many restrictions on remodeling and new construction to keep properties consistent with the historic character of the neighborhood.

Horse ring in a Portland curb

Today, Ladd's Addition remains a very sought after neighborhood.  The combination of architecture, close-in proximity, superior access to public transportation and bike routes, and nearby amenities of the surrounding neighborhoods have Ladd's Addition at the top of many lists.

I'll soon have a listing in this fab neighborhood.  The house I'm listing is shown in the photograph above! Check back in about a week.

Thanks to the Oregon Encyclopedia ( a Project of the Oregon Historical Society) and the American Planning Association for their excellent information).