Friday, January 17, 2020

All that darn plastic

Many of us are trying to reduce the single-use plastics in our lives.  There is so much, and it has really crept into many parts of our lives.

I recently started a thread on facebook, asking what folks are doing toward this goal.  There were lots of ideas and plenty of discussion; something like 92 responses.

Different households and lifestyles are different, and we all choose places we can make changes, or not.  This post is NOT meant to be judgmental about the lifestyle or choices made by different households.  Maybe though,  you'll see something here you might try, or you'll have an idea to share.

I find, much of our single use plastics are either about food,  cleaning supplies or personal care products. Here are some of the ideas from that facebook thread.  The included links are for information only, and are not product endorsements.

Food storage: reusable mesh produce bags, reusable grocery bags, beeswax/cloth wraps, glass reusable  storage containers, wrap some vegetables (especially leafy greens) in a dishtowel.  I have included a few links, but I have bought both the mesh produce bags and beeswax wraps at New Season's.

Personal care: switch from liquid soap to bar soap, bar shampoo and conditioner, deodorant in recyclable containers, non-tube toothpaste (powder, tablets), washable cotton face pads, toilet paper wrapped in tissue (not plastic), shave soap.  I've recently started using the tooth powder, and find the test to be pretty medicinal.  The upside is I end up brushing longer in an effort to get rid of the taste.

Cleaning: Powdered laundry detergent from cardboard container, powdered dishwasher detergent from cardboard box, liquid dish soap in recyclable milk-carton style containers.

Getting rid of these single use plastics has become a bit of a game in our house; what can we get rid of next?  Once I decide to make a switch, I'm impatient to use the remainder of the offending product.  Apparently, I had stockpiled quite a bit of Mrs. Meyers liquid hand soaps, as it has taken time to switch over.

If you have additional ideas or products you are using to cut back on single-use plastics, please share them!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Updated 2019 housing report

Leslie’s annual 2019 housing report
Now that RMLS's final numbers are in. for 2019, here is my 2019 housing report.

 What I said last year: I predicted 2019 would bring a slightly slower market, with market times closer to 60 days, and that buyers would have more power, and more houses from which to choose.  That the median price would rise 5%.  That the Portland area would continue to be a desirable place, with folks moving here from out of state, that volatility in the stock market, and slower growth in global markets would reduce the number of cash sales.

How’d I do?: Once again, I was kind of right.  Our market did slow, with the increase in the median price, year to date at 2.5% (so, slower than I had projected).  This left our median price at $410,000.  The year to date market time is at 55 days, up from 46 in 2018. 

Interest rates have stayed consistently low, and the number of properties sold is very close to 2018 (year to date 25,085 in 2019 vs 25,551 in 2018).    Oddly, with the slowing rate of price increases and longer market times, our inventory has remained low, especially in lower price ranges.  This low supply keeps some pressure on demand, and results in some multiple offer and bidding wars here and there.

A few interesting tidbits:  The National Association of Realtors reports that homeowners now stay in their homes for 9-10 years, up from the pre-recession stay of 5-7 years.  Lots of folks are moving over the river, to Clark County.  In Oregon, 34% of owned homes have no mortgages.

Some changes to our real estate landscape: 
Statewide rent control: In February 2019, the state legislature passed SB 608, which got lots of attention as the first state-wide rent control in the nation.  There were some lesser publicized sections of the bill, effecting the owners’ of rental properties ability to sell their property.  The basic premise is, to sell a tenant occupied property, the tenant must be given 90 days-notice, once an offer is accepted, from an owner occupant buyer.  This means the owner cannot move the tenant out and do fix up work in advance of selling.  It also means the seller is looking for an owner occupant buyer willing to wait for 90 days to purchase the property. These state rules are in addition to the City of Portland’s tenant relocation assistance. 

Tenant Screening: Coming, most likely in March of 2020, will be the City of Portland’s tenant screening and security deposit rules, which are pretty complicated, in their own right.  The screening rules offer two screening paths, based on how the owner chooses to screen.  In addition, there are limits on the amount of deposits that can be charged, they must be held in a separate account, and if interest is earned on that account, it must go to the tenants, and the tenant is entitled to an accounting of the interest at regular intervals.  I’m off to find a non-interest-bearing account, as it will cost more to keep track of and account for the interest than the amount of the interest itself. J  I’ll have more information on this as the actual rules are written.

iBuyers: Also, new to our market this last year is the influx of ibuyers, or instant offers.  The prevailing players in the Portland market are OpenDoor and Zillow, though Redfin is also starting a similar program.   While their models vary slightly, all are a good option for folks who need to sell quickly or with a minimum of interference in their lives. Think of these as the “easy button”, used for relocations, busy household, need to sell to buy….  OpenDoor only buys properties built after 1950, under $550,000, no swimming pools, on public sewer and ½ acre or less.  These companies make their money in the fees (they don’t call it commission).  In the Portland area, their fees run around 9%.  They do re-sell the properties, but aren’t flippers.  That is, as a practice, they aren’t fixing their inventory houses up.  Their fee structure does allow for a buyer or seller to have their own real estate representation (me!).  If you’d like more information on these programs, get in touch with me.

The hotspots: Gresham, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Beaverton, Hillsboro.  These areas are seeing above average % price increases.   They all have decent, affordable housing stock.  Some have sweet downtown areas.  Portland’s close-in neighborhoods remain popular, but are less affordable than they used to be.

My 2020 predictions: The Portland real estate market will be very similar to that of 2019; low interest rates, lower rate of price increase (but prices will still go up).  The construction of larger multi-family projects will wane.  Construction of high-end spec homes will also wane.  Buyers, in certain segments will have more power than they have had in recent years; new construction being one of those segments.  The slowed rate of price increase does mean a buyer should plan to stay in their home longer (at least 5 years?), before expecting to sell with any sort of gain.

I remain honored to help folks with some of the biggest decisions of their lives, and humbled by the trust placed in me.  My business is based on referrals.  I will always take good care of anyone you send my way.  Be it selling, buying or just curious, I am always here to help.

ps. I’m moving away from the monthly mailing, to an email newsletter.  I’ll be able to link to handy information, while losing the wasteful paper and envelopes.  Look for the email newsletter early in 2020.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Gresham is a hot spot these days

I started my real estate career with a local company, who's office was in downtown Gresham...thirty years ago.  Gresham had a sleepy, small downtown, a few restaurants and businesses, and some vacant storefronts.  This was before the MAX light-rail, and back when G.I. Joes was still selling us our camping and sporting equipment.

These days, Gresham has a bustling downtown with plenty of shops and restaurants, including a farmer's market and brew pub.  Some old favorites are still around too; M & M Cafe, and The Glass Butterfly, to name a few.

As folks have been priced out of closer in neighborhoods, Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview have caught the attention of buyers and real estate agents alike.  With established neighborhoods and good housing stock, buyers are liking all that, plus larger lots, the downtown area, and better access to Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.

As some of our market is slowing a bit, as seen in lower increases in the average sale price, Gresham/Troutdale, along with a few other outlying or suburban areas, has seen a pretty good increase in the average sale price.  While overall, the Portland area has seen a 1.9% increase in the average sale price in the last twelve months,  Gresham/Troutdale saw 4.3%,  Beaverton/Aloha 5% and Columbia County's average sale price increased 4.5% in the last twelve months.

Similarly, Gresham/Troutdale's average days on market 45, as compared to the overall Portland area's 55 days on market.

And, as you might imagine, I've just listed a great house in Gresham.

2916 NE 26th St, is a three bedroom, two and a half bath split level house on a HUGE lot.  Priced at $359,950, its pretty affordable.  With newer double paned vinyl windows and a high efficiency heat pump/furnace combo it stays pretty cozy.  The .27 of an acre yard has room for all sort of stuff; dog run, garden beds, RV parking, sand box, hot tub hook up etc.

I'll be there for an open house on Saturday, October 26 from 1:00 - 3:00pm.  Come check it out!  And if you have questions about Gresham and east Multnomah County, give me a holler.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What's the deal with Opendoor and Zillow Offers?

These companies are referred to in the industry as ibuyers; instant buyer, internet buyer or investor buyer.   They will make a cash offer on a house, site unseen.  Usually, a homeowner or their agent will request an offer through a website or app.  The offer is then sent to the buyer within 24-48 hours.

While their advertising touts no real estate commissions, Opendoor’s average service fee, in the Portland market has been 7.1%.  Realtor’s aren’t allowed to discuss specific commission rates per the FTC, but trust me, many folks charge fees less than this.  Zillow Offer’s fee is also around 7%.  Once an offer is accepted, the ibuyer will have an inspection done by an employee, not a licensed, third party inspector.  Similar to a “regular” transaction, repairs may be asked for and negotiated.  Close dates are usually set by the seller and can be as soon as 10 days, or up to 60 days.

These quick to close, cash offers can certainly have a place in our market.  While the seller may not get top dollar for their property, they can get certainty, convenience and control.  You’ll know the amount of your proceeds pretty quickly, can control the close date to your needs, and don’t have to be inconvenienced by multiple showings and open houses.  Have a busy family where keeping the house show ready and accommodating showings is hard?  This type of transaction might work for you.  Similarly, if you need to sell your home to buy your next home, working with an ibuyer can make that process easier and less stressful.   Or maybe you’re relocating out of the area on short notice; an ibuyer make things quicker and easier.  

If the idea of possibly leaving money on the table will drive you crazy, an ibuyer may not be for you. 

A few things to know.  Currently, in the Portland market, Opendoor is buying in the area from Forest Grove to Sandy, and the Columbia River to Newberg (they are not yet in Washington).  They’ll only buy homes that were built in 1960 or later, priced from $150,000 - $550,000.  They won’t buy anything behind a locked, shared entry; think condominium or gated community, and they won’t buy anything with a pool.

Once a sale closes, the house will be re-listed for sale through their proprietary systems.  You might see Opendoor’s signs of the 24/7 open house.  Buyer’s can access the house themselves, without an agent, using their app.  Some have security concerns about the public going in houses unaccompanied, and worry about squatters are assault crimes . As far as I know, we haven’t had any of those issues here, but in the Phoenix market (where Opendoor has been for several years), there have been such issues.   

Also to know, when Opendoor buys a property, while they do their own inspection, they usually do not test for radon, do sewer scopes nor oil tank searches.  Buyers should be sure to have these inspections done as part of their purchase.  

In general, the ibuyer model is meant to make money on the transaction fees (that 7% noted on the Portland market).  They are not considered flipper.  That is, the business model isn’t necessarily about buying low and selling high; though I’m sure they endeavor NOT to lose money on the buy/sell. Ibuyers are seen as technology companies, not real estate companies, and have LOTS of financial backing. 

Lastly, in selling to Opendoor, unless you have pre-arranged to engage and pay a Realtor, you will not have your own representation.  Opendoor will, understandably, be acting in their own interests.  Similarly, if you choose to buy an Opendoor property directly from them, you will not have your own representation and counsel through the offer, inspection and closing process.  Buyers can choose to be represented by their own agent.  

Most of this piece focuses on Opendoor as Zillow Offers is quite new to our market and less information is available.  Offer Pad and Redfin Now are active ibuyers in other markets, but  have yet to come to the Portland area. 

If you have more questions on ibuyers, I’d be glad to chat. 503-312-8038.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Historic research in Portland

I had a listing recently,  with two houses on one city lot in an older, close-in neighborhood.  In the buyer's due diligence, she discovered the city did not show building permits for the two structures.  Both were built somewhere between 1895 and 1900, so its not surprising that records might be sketchy.  And, it can be tricky to attach building permits for two address to one property.

This was a concern to the buyer as she would be rehabbing these old houses, and would need permits. If the city didn't recognize the existence of the houses, she would be unable to pull permits for her work.  The Bureau of Development Services did say, if we could prove the houses existed prior to 1928 (when certain zoning and building regulations were codified), we could go through a process to, in a sense, grandfather the houses in.  They provided a list of acceptable evidence:

Utility bills
Income tax records
Business license
Listings in telephone, business or Polk directories
Advertisements in dated publications
Building, land use or development permits
Insurance polices
Dated aerial photos
Insurance maps that identify use or development (Sanborn maps)
Land use and development inventories prepared by a government agency.

Mind you, the zoning allows two houses, so the issue was not about zoning.  And the seller had been paying taxes on two houses. The issue was whether or not these particular houses were allowed to exist.

As the buyer had already been unable to find the permits at the Bureau of Development Services,  I knew we had to look elsewhere.  I plotted a whole day, if necessary, to this project, and set off for downtown; City of Portland Archives and the Oregon Historical Society were to be my first two stops.

Basing my starting point on which office closed sooner than the others, I started at the City of Portland Archives, located at 1800 SW 6th Ave #550 .  I read their policies; no pens, be prepared to put your purse or bag in a locker, no flash for photos, no food or drink.  I found my way to the 5th floor office atop a Portland State University building and was greeted by a locked door. I was let in by a staff member and then buzzed in to the public room; imagine a small library room, with glass windows looking in on the actual archives.  The staff person was super welcoming, helped me get signed in and to stash my bag in a locker.

The staff person who helped me was so helpful, and enthusiastic about her job.  As I described what I was looking for she thought of the various ways we could get at the data.  We ended up finding a variety of data to show they houses both existed prior to 1928.  We found a card catalogue index card of permits for both houses, dated appropriately.  The Multnomah County Library has, on line old maps, which the archivist accessed for me.

There are beautiful old books of hand drawn maps for each tiny section of a neighbourhood.  In these, I found the name of the owner of the subject properties, with which we could then cross reference.  And remember, many of Portland's streets are renamed when the cities of Portland and East Portland were combined.  Luckily, I new the historic name of the street on which the properties are located.  Looking at the old maps can be disorienting; SE Powell wasn't very big. and dead ended in the Brooklyn neighborhood Ross Island Bridge ( it opened in 1926).

From here, there is a process whereby we submit they evidence I found (in the city's own archives), and pay a $1100ish fee for the city to review their own documents and "approve" the two houses.  As part of our negotiations with the buyer, the seller will do this before closing.  Mind you, I'm thankful for the archives and how extremely helpful the staff there were.  I am a bit perplexed at paying a fee for the city to look at their documents I rounded up, so they can, in a sense, correct their own error.  The alternative would have been a huge reduction in the sale price, or losing that buyer.

If you've been in a similar position, or have run into road blocks on property information, remember, the Bureau of Development Services has incomplete files, and, while super helpful and convenient, has limited historic information.  

I'm not an expert (at all) on property research, but if you have questions, I'm glad to help.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Trends in Portland's multi-family housing market

CoStar, a real estate analytics and etc company recently released an article showing a pretty significant drop in out of state investment in our mutli-family housing market.  This decrease is attributed to Oregon's recent rules restricting rent increases, the City of Portland's tenant protection laws and the City of Portland's inclusionary zoning (requiring a percent of larger projects to have affordable units etc).

Given that much of the increase in our rents was driven by out of state investment here, I'm not so sure this is a bad thing.  I'd wager that rental housing owned and managed by folks in our community may better serve our community.

We do though, need investment in rental housing; especially affordable rental housing.  The City of Portland, and Metro both have passed housing bonds in recent years, and we are starting to see housing projects planned and built using those funds.  Some funding requires matching funds from private resources. This can include charitable foundations and trusts, along with money raised from donors.  And, like it or not, actual investors look for a return (profit) on their investment.

Though housing is a human right, it does cost money.  Money, which needs to come from somewhere.  Our current, capitalist system, doesn't provide, in a big way, for housing resources.  Instead, in addition to public/government resources, real estate investors play a role in building and developing housing.

I'm hoping, if its true our various housing regulations and restrictions have discourage out of state investing, that we can foster local investment in rental housing.  How do we do that?  I don't know.  I do know the tenant relocation rules, upcoming restrictions on tenant screening and state restrictions on rent increase and tenant relocation have pushed some small time housing providers to get out of the business.  The rules are complicated enough that most housing providers I know will choose to hire an attorney whenever they need to move a tenant out.   This adds cost  through legal fees and delays, to already thin margins.

Is the future of rental housing completely corporate?  Are there enough local corporate investors to make up the loss of out of state investors? How small of a return is an investor in housing willing to make?

Portland's housing non-profits have been doing a good job of getting new projects approved and built.  The funding provided by the housing bonds bring more projects in the coming years.

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.