Thursday, December 15, 2011

How's the Market?

Our Regional Multiple Listing Service released the market stats for November 2011 this afternoon.  In general, it is a bit more good news.

Both our closed and pending sales are up when compared with November 2010.  Closed sales increased by 18.9% from November 2010 to November 2011.  Pending sales increased 18.1% for the same time period.  In addition, the number of newly listed properties decreased by 18.1%.

When comparing October 2011 to November 2011, closed sales rose, pending sales fell and new listings decreased.  This is consistent with the usual seasonal slowing we see in November and December. 

In looking at average the average sales price, we saw a decrease of 4.6% from November 2010 to November 2011 for an average sales price of $259,400.  It should be noted that this is a slight increase (0.3%) from October 2011.

Read the full report here.

We are seeing more positive than negative market factors, which could mean we are starting to get a bit of "lift off" after bumping along at the bottom. The inconsistenices in how foreclosed properties are processed and put back on the market cloud efforts to classify the current real estate market.  The market we have today is what we know...

If you'd like to know more about your specific home or neighborhood, give me a call.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things that make you go hmmm.

I sat down this morning to write a blog referencing an article in yesterday's Oregonian that said Oregon incomes, during the recession, didn't fall as fast and nor as far as incomes in the rest of the country.  I liked this seemingly positive nugget in what can sometimes be a downer of a subject.  As I always do when referencing an article, I went on line to read it again and link to it.

Imagine my surprise when I found the article had been "amended" to say the complete opposite;

"Portland-area incomes fell faster and farther during the recession than national per capita income. And as Oregon takes longer to recover, incomes here continue to lag the national average as well as similar cities such as Seattle, Denver and Minneapolis." 

You can read the full article here.  And if you scroll down from the top, you'll see Tuesday's article below.

Wow.  I know how we interpret data can vary greatly. I can't though, help but be struck by this absolute switcheroo.  Had I not been looking into the article, I'd be walking around a bit more optimistic than usual at the thought that Oregonians haven't faired all that poorly.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

This condominium seems like such a good deal, don't you think?

A client of mine is looking for a condominium for his aging mother.  She is still quite independent and wants to live on her own, but is moving to Portland to be closer to her son and the support he and his family can offer.

We're looking for two bedrooms, over 1000 square feet, close in, one level and under $300,000.  As you might imagine, it is the one level that is the challenge.  So many condominium projects with larger units are on more than one level. 

Last weekend we looked at a condominium in Sellwood that really caught my eye.  The neighborhood wasn't quite right for my client's mother, but I keep thinking about that place.  Hence this blog.

8401 SE 23rd is located deep in the south end of Sellwood, sort of that unincorporatedish part.  It is an easy block and a half south of Umatilla, and about three blocks east of 17th.  The street is very quiet and does not go through to McLaughlin.

What really struck me about this condominium was how pleasant and spacious the 1027 square feet felt.  The spacious rooms really make the place feel like a home.  In addition, this unit has a very generous back yard and patio with room for gardening and entertaining.

The homeowners' association dues are $305, per the listing, which covers water, sewer, garbage, commons and exterior maintenance.  You can see the RMLS listing herePortland Maps does show this in a flood zone, so flood insurance would be needed. The grounds are lovely.  You don't see many close-in complexes with this.

All this for $179,900.  If you think of who needs this, please send them my way.  This is not my listing, but I'd be glad to show it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fine Homebuilding's Remodeling Blunders (to avoid)

Sometimes Fine Homebuilding magazine is a bit too lofty for me.  We can't all afford the perfect setting, materials, timeline and all.  But every once in awhile I do find a feature, building material or approach that resonates.  Mind you, the majority of my 22 year real estate career has been selling old houses in Portland's close-in neighborhoods.  There are countless atrocities once can bestow on old houses.  I have seen many of them. 

The November 2011 issue of Fine Homebuilding cover article is, " 12 Restoration Blunders, Don't let poor planning and unrealistic expectations destroy a great old house".  

#1 Proceeding without a plan.  Now Fine Homebuilding may expect quite the elaborate plan, and maybe you can't quite afford that.  But do plan.

#2. Don't expect to flip.  Enough said.  Just don't.

#3. Assuming an unrealistic budget.  Yes, we all know remodel budgets and timelines expand exponentially.  Plan for that.

#4 Failing to coordinate your team.  We have found the intersection between trades one of the more challenging tasks of remodel work.  There is both timing to coordinate, order of projects and what I call "the edges".  While you do want to put  together your own team, contractors who often work together can alleviate a lot of unnecessary hassle and delay.

#5 Mishandling Environmental Hazards.  Asbestos, lead based paint, heating oil, freon etc.  With good reason, these hazards are regulated and have stipulated methods for remediation.  Follow the guidelines.   No excuses.

#6 Leaving it leaky.  This is about air intrusion and energy efficiency.  Great strides have been made in tightening up old drafty houses.  Seal attics and crawl spaces, consider a blower door test to find elusive leaks and insulate, insulate, insulate.

#7 Installing new windows.  Fine Homebuilding says to forget the spendy window replacements, we don't lose that much energy through windows anyway.  I beg to differ.  Window replacements aren't just about energy loss.  New windows can alleviate some of the more hazardous lead based paint, provide sound attenuation (from a gal who lives on a busy street).  And new windows that open and close more smoothly certainly provide a quality of life improvement.

#8 Replacing rather than repairing.   I agree.  From a conservation standpoint, why dispose and buy new when you don't have to.  Hardware, moulding and trim, old growth lumber; these things are what give an old home the class and patina we like.  So when you can, avoid gutting and stripping.

#9 Ignoring historic tax credits.  You don't hear much about these, and for smaller projects the administration hassle may over shadow the benefit.  Check out this link for more information.

#10 Forgetting to document.  Pictures are invaluable, as are accurate plans...not how you planned to build it, but how it ended up.  This kind of information is especially valuable with regard to what is behind the walls and where it is.

#11 Ignoring an old home's assets.  I think this could be #1.   Take a good hard look at the assets of that old house before you start planning the job.  What do you have to work with?  Are there some hidden assets?

#12 Blowing the chance to leave behind a better house.  Be sure what you put in is quality.  We all know building materials won't last forever, but using stuff and practices to lengthen the life will make a huge difference.

While you are thinking about all there is to consider when planning a house project, keep these twelve more things in mind.  If you have questions about what features sell in Portland's market, feel free to contact me for a bit of advice.  Happy remodeling!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Market Update for October

Not much new here. As with the past few months, when compared with last year, the number of closed and pending sales are up while the number of properties on the market has continued to decrease.  Similarly,  looking month to month, we are seeing the expected seasonal decline in sales activity.

So, closed sales increased 14.1% from October 2010 to October 2011, while pending sales saw an increase of 15.1% in that same period.  There were 22% fewer new listings in October 2011 than October 2010.  Some of this decrease in inventory may be, in part, due to a slow down in foreclosures, which in turn has fewer bank owned properties on the market.  The average sales price fell 6.5% when compared with October 2010, to a current average sales price of $258,700.

From September 2011 to October 2011, we see 7.1% fewer closed sales.  We always have a funny, "before the holidays" blip, shown by a slight increase in pending sales from September 2011 to October 2011, of 0.9%.  These are sale folks are planning to have closed prior to the holidays. 

I am still describing this market as bumping along at the bottom.  The sales volume increase can show an improving market, while declining prices are, well, declining.  I don't expect some incredible "lift off", but can imagine, with enough months of increased sales activity, that we'll start to see slight upward movement in prices.  Several cities around the country are seeing some price increases.  I'll save that for another blog.  Read the complete Regional Multiple Listing report.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's Going On With the Old Waverly School?

 We walk the dogs by this place most every weekend.  It is a beautiful old building on a large piece of ground in a nice residential neighborhood in close-in Southeast Portland.  The grounds are a haven for squirrels, and thus remain quite popular with our dogs. 

Originally a Portland Public School, the property has had a variety of social service uses over the past 20 years.    Vacant for about the past two years, the property's highest and best use clearly no longer includes a large dated brick building.  Yes, we all bemoan the loss of these old buildings, but really now, how many can be made in brew pubs, condominiums and community centers.  The McMenamins can't restore every old building.

So in comes some pretty cool plans for a residential community.  It looks like co-housing, only everyone has their own house.  The plat shows about 10,000 square feet of common space including a fire pit and community gardens; all surrounded by single family homes ranging from 1600 to 2600 square feet.  Waverly Commons, as the project is called, is brought to us by developer Mark Desbrow and his development team. Also incorporated into the project will be sustainable architecture, options for solar or geothermal heating, and a  tool lending library.  You can see proposed plans and more about the project here.

I don't see prices posted yet, but the "How this Works" tab lays out some deposit and financing guidelines that bode for some pretty pricey homes.  This neighborhood easily supports home prices in the high $400,000's.  I'd expect new construction, with high end and sustainable features and the luxury of the "commons" will be priced upwards of there, perhaps considerably.

The Southeast Examiner's November issue reports that demolition of the old building will begin in December, with construction expected to start in February 2012.  While the dogs won't appreciate the construction and will mourn the loss of "squirrel haven" as we call it, I'm sure Don and I will look forward to dog walks allowing us to keep an eye on the project.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Petroleum Puppy? Hydrocarbon Hound? Diesel Dog?

I posted a ditty about this gal the other day, but here is a bit more information.  Meet Terra.  Terra is a petroleum sniffing dog, quite possibly the only such dog in the country.  Terra belongs to Don Francis, of Eco-Tech.  Eco-Tech is a multi-faceted company providing a variety of environmental services including radon testing and mitigation, buried oil tank search and decommissioning services  I have known Don for several years as his company has provided services for clients and he occasionally conducts continuing education classes for at our office.

Don started the search for a petroleum sniffing dog several years ago.  In addition to being able to be trained to sniff out fuel, he wanted a good family dog to fit in with their family; including their twin human children.  Not all working dogs make good family dogs as some are so focused and serious about their work, they don't have much patience for fun and snuggles.  After quite a search, along came Terra.  She was trained by Puget Sound Detection dogs, and started work with Eco-Tech last summer. 

As with many search tools, Terra is not fool proof.  She brings though, an additional set of skills and information to the oil (and oil tank) search process.  Terra doesn't find tanks, she finds oil, even traces of it.  In residential circumstances, she might find an existing buried oil tank (with oil), or locate where a tank had been, and oil still exists.  Terra has been known to find contaminated soil from a tank that had been buried under a drive way; one of the more challenging residential situations.

Terra came out to help with a tank search at a four plex a client of mine is in the process of purchasing.  She is a very businesslike gal, eager to get about her work.  While I was glad she didn't find a tank, or oil traces, I had hoped to see her locate something just for my curiosity.  I am told she signals a find by sitting, a definitive sit.  I imagine it is a sit much like Mollie's when she is telling me she doesn't want to go outside in the rain.  Kerplop.

Not only has Terra found tanks, she has found oil where no tanks are, and most interesting of all she found fuel in soil that had been thought to have been cleaned up.  Through Terra's detection, the soil was sent for further lab (laboratory, not Labrador) testing and the fuel was confirmed!

So keep you eyes out for Terra as you may see her around town.

In researching this, I came across a completely unrelated, but cool website for Pit Bulls used in law enforcement.  Check it out:  Pit Bull Detection Dogs

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wood Composite Sewer Pipes? Are you kidding me?

I love my job, partially because I truly do learn something new every day.  Some days I learn really big things.  Today was one of those days.

A client is buying a four plex in the Brroklyn neighborhood of Southeast Portland.  The plex was built in 1961.  Today, we did the sewer scope, which involved going in through three different cleanouts in order to inspect all the sewer lines servicing the four plex. 

All of the lines, until the city sewer main, are made of a product called Orangeburg Pipe.  These pipes are made of  a wood fiber impregnated with coal tar, buried in the wet ground to carry water.  Made of wood?  In the ground? To carry water?  What, is this the sewer pipe version of Louisiana Pacific Siding (wood fiber and glue)?

From what I read, this material was first made in the elate 1800's as electrical conduit in Orangeburg, NY.  It started being used for a variety of liquid transmissions in the early 1900's.  Experience though, showed it did not hold up well to liquids under pressure, but did work for flowing or gravity liquids.  So starting  in the 1940's  up until about 1970, Orangeburg pipe was used for sewer waste lines. 

I have been selling old houses in Portland since 1989.  Either I've never seen this stuff, or have and didn't know what I was seeing.  As you might imagine, Orangeburg pipe hasn't held up so well against some of the more widely used products that include cast iron, terra cotta, concrete and now pvc products.

 I really thought by the second World War we'd have figured out a wood fiber might not be best for a water pipe.  I guess the pressures of building all those subdivisions after the war, combined with the savings this product could bring kept this product alive a bit longer necessary. 

Orangeburg pipe can continue to perform.  I wouldn't yank it out of it is working (this is my advice in most things), repairs don't particularly work on this stuff, so when it goes it is gone.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Listening To My Husband, Kind Of

I'm always on the look out for cool, simple calculators that can give  a quick, gut check on data.  My husband, Mr. Finance Calculation Guy, came across this tool to use in deciding whether or not to refinance one's home: Optimal Mortgage Refinancing .  With a few rentals, along with our home, we seem to have an ongoing discussion around refinancing this or that.  Don does all sorts of mind numbing calculations in which I express some modicum of interest.  Most often our method is to make additional payments to principal, which, over the life of the loan, decreases the interest paid.  And it seem easier to do this, than endure the now painstaking process of refinancing.

I'm not sure if this tool is enough for Don to actually cease the incessant calculating.  I have a strong suspicion he enjoys all that number crunching.  It will probably be somehow factored into the calculations and will serve as a focus for me while I nod at Don's presentation,

Your household might not be quite so exciting as ours.  This little tool could be all you need.  Pop a few numbers in, press the button and voila!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trees and Money!

Many of Portland's older neighborhoods have some lovely, really old trees. Some seem to live on in perpetuity, while others reach that "old age" place, where, for safety, removal becomes a necessity.  It is a sad day when a big old tree has to come down.  Friends of Trees has long been helping Portlanders replant the urban canopy for so long now that some Friends of Trees trees have become part of the mature tree inventory.  Thank you Friends of Trees!

Forest Service researcher, Geoffrey Donovan, along with a few others, has been researching the value of trees in addition to the obvious; shade, air cleaners etc.  A few years ago, we saw results of his study showing trees adding to home values.  In that 2010 study, his research showed that mature street trees add an average of $7020 to a home's value.  Mr. Donovan is a busy guy.  In 2010 he also he published a study about the effect of urban trees on crime rates.  In that study he found that houses with street trees are less prone to crime, houses with large yard trees are less prone to crime and houses with smaller street trees are more prone to crime. Then in early 2011 Donovan published a paper on urban trees and birth outcomes;  showing that "canopy cover within 50 meters of a house reduced the risk of a baby being born under weight".

Donovan's most recent study, referenced in today's Oregonian finds just as trees increase real estate property values, they also increase residential rental values.  This recent study showed "trees planted on a rental house lot increased average asking rent by $5.62 per month, and trees planted along the street increased the monthly rent by $21". 

Wow.  With less crime, healthier babies, higher home sale values and higher rental values, trees seem like a pretty good idea.  There are some hard and no so hard costs to urban trees.  Planting a tree in your parkway, through Friends of Trees costs from $35 to $75, slightly higher if it is in your yard.  Friends of Trees does a great job helping you choose the right tree for the spot in which you are planting.  But maintaining a tree over the years can cost some money.  Some view leaf raking and disposal as a cost while other see it as a belovedd fall ritual.  And of course, way down the line, you may have to pay to remove the tree.  Way down the line.

If you are put off by the responsibility of owning trees, Friends of Trees has a variety of ways to support Portland area trees through gift trees and their Green Space Initiative.  And of course you can always donate, or help out on a tree planting crew.

Friday, October 14, 2011

How's the Market?

As you might imagine, I get asked that question A LOT.

The market is mixed, and has been for a few months.  I think we must be bumping along the bottom, sort of like a plane trying to take off.  Some factors in the market are giving us some "lift", where as others pull us down. 

In comparing September 2011 to September 2010, things are looking up.  Both closed and pending sales are up, 13.4% and 17.5 % respectively.  Month to month, August 2011 to September 2011, both closed and pending sales are down, 12.1% and 14.9% respectively.  This month to month decrease in sales activity is to be expected due to seasonal changes.

Prices though, are down both when we look from last year to this year, with the average price at $268,200 down from $284,000 in September 2010, and when we look to last month, with the average sales price at $268,200 down from $271,800 last month.

Inventory, how many houses we have to sell, is measured by how long it would take, at our current rate of sales, to sell the properties currently on the market.  We're at 6.7 months now, and have bumped along between 6.0 and 7.2 months since March.  This level of inventory is considered to be low.

Market time, the average of how long it is taking properties to sell, is at 131 days, exactly what it was last year.  Hmm.

So how is the market?  Well, that depends.  If you are buying right now, it is pretty good.  Prices and interest rates are down, but so is inventory, so finding what you want is the trick.  If you are a seller, prices are actually fairly stable, market times not TOO long and the low interest rates do have a fair number of buyers in the market.  If you are an investor, now is a great time to buy, see above about low prices and interest rates.  If you are a renter...good luck.  Rents are on the rise and landlords of desirable properties are being overwhelmed with applications.

Read the Portland area report here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Shadow Inventory; no, we aren't counting your shadows

If you listen to media on the real estate market, especially the distressed part of the market that includes short sales and foreclosures, you'll probably hear the phrase "shadow inventory".  Shadow inventory means all the properties not currently on the market that are expected to come on soon.

 These properties are being held off the market until the market improves or other conditions change.  Such properties can be those that are eligible for foreclosure, but lenders are worried about the pitfalls of foreclosing or don't want to hold too many properties in inventory, (remember, it costs lenders money to hold houses while they prepare them for sale).   While statisticians can identify properties not yet delinquent, but likely to become so, these are not included in estimates of shadow inventory.  Also not included are properties being held off the market by individuals waiting for the market to improve; retirees wanting to sell the family home in favor of a smaller place, owners that became involuntary landlords when they were unable to sell, but had to move, landlords ready to convert their properties to cash and so on.

CoreLogic is a data and analytics company that tracks shadow inventory of residential properties.  CoreLogic's recent report  shows a slight decline from July 2010 ( 1.9 million units) to July 2011 (1.6 million units).  This is is big decline of 22% from the peak in January of 2010.  These units are broken down into three categories; seriously delinquent, in some stage of foreclosure, and those already foreclosed on but not yet on the market. 

CoreLogic estimates " the aggregate current mortgage debt outstanding of the shadow inventory was $336 billion in July 2011, down 18 percent from $411 billion a year ago".  Holy Cow, $336 billion in outstanding mortgage debt?!  No wonder Bank of America is looking to their debit cards as a profit center.  And while it is great that these numbers are down from last year, there are still 1.6 million (!) properties tumbling toward foreclosure.  Set aside the sterilization and depersonalization of calling these "units" instead of "homes", and you've got 1.6 million folks about to be out of a home.  :(

I am an optimist though; glass half full and all that.  So I take solace in the improving numbers as an indication that things may be improving, if ever so slowly.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Thank You vs. Self-Help

I love seeing different folks' take on the world, and their different theories of "the way', or "the better way" or some such.  So I've recently paid attention to two popular, and I might say, loud voices in business and culture today. 

I was introduced to the first voice at the RE/MAX Convention this past spring; Gary Vaynerchuk.  Gary has written a few marketing books, Crush It and most recently, The Thank You Economy.  Gary is also "the wine library guy", so maybe you have heard of him.  Gary has built his business upon and his marketing theory touts the personalization of business.  He is a champion of reaching out and truly touching the client, and says social media gives us a way to touch clients like we haven't been able to since the corner grocery store disappeared.  For Gary, business and life are about connecting with, recognizing and thanking those around us.  Business will come from that.  "Don't sell like a 19 year old boy".  I love that line.  Establish the relationship first and then earn the business.

I find this in huge contrast to Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and more recently The 4-Hour Body.  Just as Ferriss went out on a limb positing that we should all farm out most tasks to remote personal assistants and basically stop reading news, in The 4-Hour Body he has experimented with and recommends a variety of therapies, working toward the"minimal effective dose". A recent article in The New Yorker by Rebecca Mead says Ferriss's goal, whether it be about the body or business, "is to determine how much can be achieved with how little". 

But while Ferris is in search of the minimal effective dose, he lives a very full and busy life.  Is there a disconnect between his passion and his message?

Both these guys are visionaries.  They both are on the edge of and leading the way in their fields.  I'd bet they know each other, and may even hang out.  Gary, there doing his high touch connecting and appreciating, and Timothy touting his "just getting by" approach, while going all out.  If you have a minute, check out their work.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Those Micro-Houses on SE Division

So I stopped in those micro houses at Southeast 43rd and Division the other day,  as I've been curious.  In general, I have thought the development a good thing, and quite an improvement on the run down houses and such that occupied that space before.  And it is quite interesting that DR Horton, who usually builds larger suburban projects like Sandy Bluff or Windswept Waters, would take on such a different product in a close-in neighborhood.  This is not DR Horton's first close-in project.  They also built the Trolley Barn Condominiums in Sellwood eight or so years ago.

Anyway, back to the Micro-Housing project, and a bit on its marketing.  Division 43, as the project is officially called, consists of 29 units varying in size from 364 sq ft to 687 sq ft, as taken from the DR Horton project website.  Though the same website does not cite prices, a flyer I picked up from the model,  quotes prices from $129,000 for the studios to $179,000 for the two bedroom, two bath units.  The project has appealing community space with locking bike storage and comfortable grounds.  It IS Southeast Portland afterall, and the project is intended for those with a bike/public transportation lifestyle, so there is no on site parking.

Here is the area map from the DR Horton website:

The units are quite aesthetic, with interesting and durable finishes and nice use of light and windows.  There is little, if any space, wasted on entry ways and halls, though some units do have stairs, which eat up a bit of floor space.  The units are certainly energy efficient and I thought I remembered hearing they were seeking a LEED certification, but see nothing of that on the DR Horton website.  Storage, as you might imagine, is at a minimum, or below.  Yes, this is micro-housing, but I think the folks that live here might have a tennis racket or skis, camping equipment, winter clothes and the like.  I get building small, but would at least be marketing these with a small storage unit nearby, prepaid for the first year. 

And a bit more on marketing.  The folks who showed me around were knowledgeable about their product, but came off like they were selling McMansions in a suburb.  Having salespeople a bit more in tune with the neighborhood might be beneficial.

These units do represent some great values (that means I think the prices are good), in a great location with good access to public transportation. In general, I counsel my buyer clients to buy space that allows for a life change; you lose your job and take in a roommate, you meet the person of your dreams and shack up, your out of work sister comes to live with you etc.  I think it risky to buy place, that if your life changes, won't work for you.  If you can fit what you need; both stuff and lifestyle, in one of these units, go for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Re-Run on the Vaux Swifts at Chapman School

Often the meeting of nature and human development puts nature at a disadvantage; such as the case of car meets squirrel.  But every so often we are treated to a nice meeting of the two.  The annual visit from the Vaux's Swifts to Portland's Chapman School is one of these rare, win win meetings.  The Chapman School roost is thought to be the largest known Vaux's Swift roost in the world.
Vaux's Swifts, small migratory birds, visit Oregon in the warm months; from May to late September or early October.  They winter in Mexico.  In years past, Swifts roosted in hollow trunks of old growth trees.  Over time, we have less old growth and more chimneys.  Many folks end up with small nests of them in their chimneys and such.  But in the 1980's, the Swifts started nesting in the large chimney at Chapman School.  At that time the chimney serviced the boiler system at the school, and often, heating of the school was delayed until the Swifts had started on their way south.  About 15 years ago, through a joint project  between Portland Public Schools, The Audubon Society, the Collins Foundation and the Metro Central Enhancement Grant Committee installed a new heating system for Chapman School and reinforced the aging chimney.  The $60,000 project provided a safe roosting spot for the swifts and heat (even in September) for the school.
Most evenings, the Swifts, when returning to their roost,  perform an elaborate "dance", circling the chimney as a large group, flying into the chimney at some seemingly agreed upon moment. Many evenings the folks from Audubon conduct a count.  Last time I was there, they estimated 18,000 swifts entered the chimney that night. To see the Swifts and the show they put on most evenings in September, head to Chapman School in Northwest Portland.  The grassy hill above the school is best.  Aim for Northwest 26th and Pettygrove.  Most evenings over 1000 people gather to watch the show so parking is scarce.  Consider public transportation or bike.  Montgomery Park  also offers parking.  Otherwise, go early and please park courteously.
Bring a picnic, blankets, beach or stadium chairs and binoculars.  Good friends are an asset too.  Remember no alcohol is allowed on school grounds.  It is best to arrive about an hour before sunset and expect to stay about a half an hour after sunset. Click here for sunset times.  .  This is a great family event and aside from the $60,000 community investment some years ago, is cost free.  Some make an adult evening of it and walk down to NW 23rd to stop in at a pub
For more information, check out the Audubon Society about the Vaux's Swifts and their Chapman School layover.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Market Update - new stats out

The Regional Multiple Listing Service just released their stats for August 2011.  I think we are still in that transitional market...moving from the bottom, ever so slowly.

As I predicted last month, we did see some positive growth in August.  Closed sales grew a whopping 30.7% from August 2010 to August 2011.  Pending sales also went up (29.6%)  and new listings dropped (24.8%).  In addition, when we look at July 2011 to August 2011, closed sales increased by 5.6% and pending sales went up 13.4%.

But...we are still seeing a decrease in prices, with the month to month average sales price decreasing 1.2% to $271,800.  Year to date, the average sale price dropped from $284,600 to $264,000.

There are a few forces at play that could make these numbers a bit harder to read.  First, many banks are holding off on foreclosing until inconsistencies in their procedures get cleared up.  So while there may be fewer foreclosed properties hitting the market, this doesn't necessarily mean we have cleared through the backlog of unsold properties.  Secondly,  in an effort to standardize how short sale properties are reported, we have driven, in the last month, lots of short sales from active to pending status.  At least a portion of the increase in pending sales is attributable to this change.

I expect we'll see continued increases in closed sales, and minor increases in pending sale as the short sale standardization efforts have fewer ripple effects.  Fall is traditionally not a time folks put their homes on the market, but an influx of bank owned properties could increase our new listing count.

If you have questions about the Portland area real estate market, or want an market analysis of your property, please get in touch.  You can read the full Portland area report from RMLS here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

St. John's and My Fab New Listing

Actually, the listing is in the Cathedral Park neighborhood, but many folks think of that whole part of North Portland as St. Johns.  Way back when, there was a City of St. John's, annexed in to Portland in 1915.  The Cathedral Park neighborhood, and park were a part of the City of St. John's. 

For years, St. John's was a quiet, working class neighborhood, considered to be too far from downtown to be of much import.  Gentrification, MAX light rail, and bike lanes have all contributed to, in the past ten years or so, St. John's (and Cathedral Park) moving closer, in our minds, to Portland's central neighborhoods.  The tight knit communities of St. John's and Cathedral Park, reasonable real estate values and core commercial area have recently made St. John's a "go to" destination.  Graced by the soaring towers of the St. John's Bridge, the lush green lawns of Cathedral Park and beautiful views to the west, St. John's is one of many unique Portland neighborhoods.

My new listing, at 7034 N Ivanhoe , with a walk score of 74, is well located.  A hop, skip and a jump to Fred Meyer, Kruger's Farm Stand, various coffee shops, and several bus lines.

This 1930 bungalow has been in my client's family for three generations.  Listed at $264,000,  it has three bedrooms, one and one half baths, living room, dining, breakfast room, and den.  The unfinished basement has TONS of storage.  Hard and soft wood floors (some need work), built-ins, beautiful wood work and lots of built-in storage are all part of the package.

The built-ins are lovely.  Don't be fooled by the fireplace though, it is electric and there is not actual chimney.  This could be a great use for one of those direct vent gas fireplaces.

Check out  this sweet corner built-in in the breakfast room.  And I just love the double garage:

The covered patio, garden shed and yard make for comfortable out door living.  The gardens were once lovely, and just need a bit of attention to "bring them back".  This house is a bit of a fixer.  Yes, you can move right in, but I imagine there are several projects one might put on "the list".

To take a peek, give me a call at 503-312-8038.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A New View of Foreclosures

HUD, The Department of Housing and Urban Development has recently released a new interactive map.  This map identifies mortgages that had been under written by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA, that have since been through foreclosure.

These are properties that will eventually come back on the market, but may not yet be.

So what good is this map?  You can't zero in on specific properties (or I haven't been able to).  What I do find informative is looking at a slightly broader look.  For instance, in looking at Multnomah County, in Oregon, I immediately notice the swathe of foreclosures in the southeastern part of the metro area.  Where as the close-in portions of North, Northeast and Southeast Portland are almost devoid of such foreclosures.  And wow, look at all those clustered up in Vancouver. 

Keep in mind, this map just shows forclosures of houses that had these particular loans.  Different loan products, home values and buyer profiles sought out different loan products that may not be reflected in this map.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tina Fey's Rules for Improv

I just finished Tina Fey's book, Bossypants.  And what a book it was.  Lots of good stuff in there, and I highly recommend the book.  One of the many things that stuck with me was her "Rules of Improvisation that Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat"  Not sure about that last part, but some of these rules sure apply to life also. 

1) "Agree and say yes.  Agree with what your partner had created and start from an open minded place." I really like this one.  It can apply to so many parts of our lives from relationships to collaborative work efforts and beyond. 

2) "Yes, and. Agree and then add something of your own."   Tina highlights this one as, don't be afraid to contribute.  Wow this is even better than #1.  For whatever reason it is far easier for folks to tear down what someone else has put forth, than it is to add a complimenting piece, or even add a unique contribution.  I'd even expand on this to say if you can't agree and add, then create something new.  I know, that might not be the best rule of improvisation, but it sure could work in life.  In our house, if you don't like what is planned for dinner, make a suggestion of your own, or be quiet.  I suppose "yes, and" would work like this.Me:   "We're having shrimp tacos for dinner".  Don or Emma, " yes, and let's have grilled salmon burgers too".  Okay, not a good example, as I'm not making both those things on the same night.  So maybe it becomes, No, but"  as in, "No, I don't want shrimp tacos, but how about salmon burgers". 

3) "Make Statements".  As in, don't ask questions all the time.  This could also be a good one for kids. This relates to "yes, and".  Put something out there of your own, questions and questioning can be a form of doubt, and down right lazy.  My daughter asks a lot of questions when she is tired as it is easier than formulating her own complete thoughts.  So make statements, don't be lazy.

And lastly,

4)"There are no mistakes, only opportunities"  Tina Fey extrapolates on this far better than I.  I'll only make this sound like all to motherly and fake.  Read Tina's book!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Not so "Smart Money"

My husband has a subscription to Smart Money magazine, a Wall Street Journal publication.  While I'll admit I don't read it cover to cover, I do glance at a few articles now and again.  The September 2011 issue had a little ditty that caught my eye; The Perils of the Feel-Good Job, by Reshma Kapadia.  As you might guess, the article is about baby-boomer corporate types taking jobs with non-profits both as a  transition from working to retirement, and in search of personal fulfillment.

As expected, life of an executive at a  non-profit is very different from that of a CEO in a for profit corporation.  At non-profits consensus building is a norm, potential donors must be considered and the expense account virtually non-existent.  Executives at non-profits often find themselves rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to get things done, even if it involves metering some mail to get a project out on deadline.  It occurs to me that corporate CEO's might consider doing this too. 

But what got me in the article was this, " At many non-profits, progress is measured by squishier metrics."  This said in contrast to corporate folks thinking about profits and shareholders.   Really, squishier?  I think not.  Most non-profits are quite results based, but money isn't necessarily the goal.  A housing non-profit might measure success in the number of families housed, folks working with the homeless look at how many people they get off the streets, animal rescues measure how many animals they place in a certain time period, health clinics measure now many patients served or immunizations given, or lives saved, and so on.

Perhaps this could have been better stated as something like CEOs finding they need to adjust to success measurements other than the bottom line.  But "squishier", I found that a bit offensive.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Finishing up the Road Trip

The Sierra Mountains and Yosemite played a big part in my childhood.  Both my parents enjoyed the High Sierra; my dad a climber and my mom a backpacker.  Childhood vacations most always involved a drive across "the valley", and a climb through the foothills to a trail head.  While we mostly sought less crowded spots at higher elevation, many a trip involved at least a stop over in Yosemite. 

Much is the same in Yosemite Valley today; Curry Village is still a busy hub of families with kids, presenting a myriad of activities, and always feeling a bit hotter than other spots.  The grocery store at Yosemite Village is still abustle of back country folk stocking up, or treating themselves to something cold after a long trip, combined with campers getting a few supplies (hot dogs, s'mores etc) and others grabbing a few souvenirs and a cold bottle of water.  A few steps away, the Ansel Adams Gallery is still a quiet, cool and soothing spot to take in some aesthetics, see Yosemite through the eyes of world class photographers and contemplate a purchase or two.  The Ahwahnee   remains a classic jewel, tucked away from it all in the woods, with that huge quiet "lobby" for relaxing, a delicious dining room and of course historic rooms (in which I have never stayed).  The Yosemite Valley of the Ahwahnee always seems much cooler than other parts of the valley.

But much has changed, and in general, I think, for the better.  Back in the day, we did see the iconic dumping of fireworks off Glacier Point at night.  Wow!  What a show, but probably not the best for the environment.  The valley shuttles, when first introduced, were open air trams, with an optional shed roof in inclement weather.  I really liked those old trams as you got wonderful views and fresh air while scooting from one place to another.  On the other hand, I'll admit the air conditioned coaches of today were pretty comfy.  In years passed, there was an informal spot in the meadow by El Capitan where folks would gather to get a glimpse of climbers on the rock face.  Today, the air conditioned El Capitan shuttle, takes folks to said meadow where most days a climber/docent is posted with a telescope to pinpoint climbers and lend some reality to the view.  I like this, as many folks who wouldn't have stopped, or even known what all those folks were looking at, get some exposure to the climbers and the idea of spending three to five days on a rock face.

Favorites from this year's trip included lunch at The Ahwahnee Hotel, floating the Merced and watching the climbers on El Capitan.  We had made reservations at the Ahwahnee as I was sure we would need them, but in the end, they didn't seem necessary.  While dinner at the Ahwahnee is a formal affair, dress code and all, lunch was nicely informal and relaxed (you know me).  I had, most likely, the best rainbow trout I have ever had, and the girls seemed to like the special Ahwahnee ketchup; some sort of BBQ sauce and ketchup mixture.  We all enjoyed the soaring ceilings of that dining room, "lodge" decor and beautiful views.  My niece loved the look of meadow and want to frolic in it.

Our float on the Merced was also quite a treat.  The recreational rentals (bikes and rafts) are at Curry Village.  Depending on the timing, especially for rafts, there can be quite a wait, about an hour for us.  The place though, is quite well organized, and has a good system for forms, equipment and explanations.  Four people to a raft (though I saw some exceptions with kids) and rafters much be a minimum of 50 lbs.  We felt bad for the 47 lb. girl who hung out with her Mom while her brother and Dad got to raft.  We were actually lucky to be able to raft in mid-August as the river is usually too low by then.  The late wet season had the river higher than usual.  It was quite a leisurely float, with a wee bit of directional paddling (don't hit the bridge pilings) and some paddling required to get through slow spots.  The float itself took about an hour and a half, maybe two.  With another half hour added on for the shuttle back to Curry Village.  I highly recommend this float if you have a chance, but it is spendy.

On our last day, in the late evening, I snapped this photo from Curry Village:

One of the great things about Yosemite, is views like this, ALL THE TIME.  While it had been several years since either my sister or I had been to Yosemite, we vowed to return, and a bit sooner this time.

I won't bore you with the drive back from Yosemite to Portland.  It was long and pretty boring.  The fruit stand we stopped at outside of Merced had to much schlocky stuff and fruit inferior to what I can get at the Hawthorne Fred Meyer.  We got tired of our CD collection that had been so inspiring that first day, and grew a bit weary of each other's company.  It is always nice to be home.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

That Road Trip: Part One

Back from the road trip I had blogged about a few months ago.  Many hours of driving lends itself to quite a bit of thinking, and now and again a few revelations, or at least novel thoughts.

We set off from inner Southeast Portland, heading across the Ross Island Bridge; a cooler of drinks, yummy car snacks, a big stack of CD's and the atlas.  On the road!  We sat in a classic Ross Island Bridge traffic jam for 45 minutes.  So much for our big start.  A bit of humility is good for us all.

Day 1 took us to Crater Lake for a late lunch, ending in Yreka - a favorite stop over.  I had only been to Crater Lake once as a child and remember the squirrel stealing my sister's hotdog more than anything else.  We still talk about it.  It had even been years since I had been over Highway 58 and on Highway 97 that far down.  When you turn on Highway 138, heading toward Crater Lake, the pavement stretches out before you; over ten miles of straight, gradually rising road.  And then, pop, there you are perched above the lake with the first breath taking view.  As we were aiming for a late lunch, we resisted the many incredible overlooks and made our way to the Lodge.

Arriving at the Lodge at 2:07 pm.  We had just missed lunch service in the dining room.  Thanks Ross Island Bridge.  They were though, serving soup and salad in the lobby.  Fed and bathroomed, we set off to sight see.  We didn't have time to take the boat trip around the lake, and have put that on the list for next year, but got some great views and a real since of scale - as in how huge it all is and how tiny we were.  The rock formation, Phantom Ship, appears to be about the size of my two story house.  It is actually about 500' long and about 200' tall.  We really need to take that boat trip.

 I was also reminded of how recent of a formation Crater Lake is.  They say the most recent, caving in of the mountain to form the lake occurred about 7700 years ago.  Holy Cow!  In geological time that must be less than a second.  Feeling tiny and a bit out of breath, we made our way down the west side to I-5 and our evening destination.  My daughter had not yet mastered the art of taking a  picture of road signs while speeding down the interstate, so we have no photo of the "Welcome to California" sign.

Day 2 took us through California's central valley and up through the Sierra foothills and gold country to our hotel at El Portal ( I have trouble writing that without writing Portland instead).  If we endeavor to eat food grown locally, we may want to move to the central valley.  I grew up in California and travelled through the valley lots in my child and teenage hood.  And yes, Oregon has plenty of agriculture, no doubt.  But I had forgotten the huge scope of agribusiness in California.  Wow.  We were most impressed with the fields and fields of sunflowers, clearly being grown as a crop for the seeds and such, not for the floral value.  Somehow this seems sad and a waste.  Our route took us down I-5 to Stockton (one of the worst real estate markets in the country), down I-99 to Highway 140 and over.  That stretch of I-99 is a rather awful part of America; old freeway travelling through semi-abandoned factories smattered with cookie cutter strip malls.It was so nice to leave I-99 at Merced, though we could have done without  the closure of the Yosemite exit, absolute lack of detour signage and plethora of construction that flummoxed I-pad maps and the GPS.

My sister and niece were about an hour ahead of us, having left that morning from Los Angeles.  We had gotten texts of them passing through "bleak, dead, brown fields of nothing" on Highway 140.  The Highway 140 we were on (same stretch) was beautiful rolling hills of golden grass dotted with gorgeous aging oak trees.  I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.  We arrived at our hotel, the Yosemite View Lodge in time for a quick dip in the pool before dinner.  It didn't take us long to realize we were quite the minority at our hotel, as most of the guests were speaking other languages, primarily french.  The girls seemed to enjoy the handsome young Frenchmen.

Transportation around Yosemite has grown up a lot since we visited in the 1960's and 1970's, go figure.  I had remembered the open air trams that served as the park shuttles.  First off, YARTS (Yosemite Area Rapid Transit) is a thorough bus system with service from Merced to Yosemite Valley, and on to Tuolmne Meadows and Mammoth; full size coaches with luggage compartments and air conditioning.   Picked up at our hotel, we took YARTS into the valley and connected to the valley shuttle service (now also air conditioned buses) that did a great job of getting us around.  Yosemite was not nearly as crowded as we had feared, nor as hot.  There was though, a forest fire nearby(started by lightening) that made for smokey views.

Check back for the second installment: some Yosemite activities and the long road home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Some musings on energy efficieny and savings

Living Social is offering a version of a home energy audit today, performed using infrared imaging.  I've seen presentations on this technology, but haven't had this particular service done on our house.  I was impressed though, by what an experienced technician can learn from information resulting from this imaging.  Differentials in temperature are clues both to heat loss (or gain) spots and moisture intrusion.  Click here to see today's deal.

As to solar energy, The Oregonian ran an article today (front page) on the changes we'll see in large solar energy projects now that the Legislature made some pretty deep cuts in the business energy tax credits.  As an emerging renewable energy source, the market for those large projects has relied heavily on federal and state dollars.  The trick with these subsidies is to phase them out just as market demand for the "goods" is created.  When hybrid vehicles were first around, there were some very nice tax credits to those who purchased.  As the hybrid vehicles became more sought after and folks were willing to pay a premium, the tax credits were phased out, without much ill effect on the market.

Enter the economic woes of the last few years, where state budget issues, not market forces, have dictated the fate of energy tax credits and the like.  The Oregonian article uses the huge solar project in Klamath Falls' ribbon cutting as an example of the type of project that will no longer see the sizable subsidies in place since 2007.

Subsidies for residential solar projects in Oregon are still reasonably generous and vary with the size of the project and local support.  Click here for a link to complete list of subsidies and supports in Oregon.  Navigating these various programs can be a bit intimidating.  Our solar installation, by the folks at Imaginenergy, was quite simple as they coordinated the different programs to help us maximize the available subsidies and incentives.

Just as commercial solar projects have lost the majority of their support, expect the subsidies and incentives for residential projects to wane in the coming years.  These programs have probably played a large role in the marked decrease of the cost of solar panels we have seen in recent years.  Get in on the sweet spot of incentives and lower panel cost while you still can.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Portland Area Market Stats

The latest market data for Portland was released by RMLS today.   Remember that history lesson from last month's stats.  In June of 2010, the home buyer tax incentive transactions had just closed, July of 2010 being the first month with no home buyer tax program for 18 months.  So now, looking to July of 2010, we see the first backward look at a normal market.  Or kind of a normal market, as there was probably a slight dearth of closed sales since so many closed in June of 2010.

In any case, now, when we look back, we see that from July 2010 to July 2011, both closed and pending sales are up.  Closed sales grew 21% in July 2011 compared to July 2010 and pending sales grew 18.4%.  That is good.  Prices though, are still down from July 2010 to July 2011, with the average price declining by 7.4%  from $297,000 to $275,100.

 Month to month though, June 2011 to July 2011 we saw a slight increase of 3% in the average prices from $267,100 to $275,100.   Sales activity from June 2011 to July 2011 is down a bit, with closed sales decreasing by 12.7% and pending sales decreasing  down 3.7%.  I'm not surprised by this decrease as we expect seasonal slowing  in the summer.  I guess we'll see similar slowing in sales activity from July 2011 to August 2011, with an uptick from August to September once folks get back from vacation and start shopping again.

We won't know we've reached the bottom of the market until we can look backwards and see improvement.  Consistently.  So for now I'll ask the question.  Does increased activity year over year and increased prices month over month constitute a hint that we bottomed out?

Check here for the full Portland area report.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Privitization of Water?!

I know there is a whole world of water politics to which I am not privy.  Let me just get that out on the virtual table.  Oh yeah, I saw Chinatown and read The Cadillac Desert.  My dad has a cabin up above the Owen's Valley in California,  and has watched Los Angeles water politics in that area for awhile.  Hydroelectric power is no longer considered a renewable energy source as the water to provide that power is disappearing.  And of course, there have long been private contractors building water treatment plants and such.

I recently read though, an article in Smart Money, Water World,  on Aqua America, which runs water treatment facilities and utilities in several states in the U.S. Wait, what?  A private company is running water bureaus around the country?  Wow.  Where have I been?  It is not a surprise that water and sewer infrasturctures are old and failing.  And cash strapped cities and municipalities do not have the resources to invest in important upgrades. What I didn't know, but might have realized if I'd thought about it, is that not only is the issue aging water treatment plants, but aging pipes.  In the interview with Aqua America's CEO, Nicholas De Benedictis, he says some cities lose 30 to 40 percent of their water through pipe leakage.  That is a lot of water to treat and not use.

Private companies like Aqua America are buying utilities from municipalities.  Yes, they increase rates.  Not only do rate increases pay for fixing the systems, but  private sector utility owners pay tax, where as utilities owned by municipalities don't.  Hmm.  I wonder what would happen if municipal utility owners raised their rates by that 20 percvent and used it to make needed repairs?  It must be more complicated than that. 

De Benedictis says about 15 percent of water utilities are currently run by the private sector.  With hard economic times for cities and towns, combined with tighter rules from the EPA, he expects this percentage to rise.  And, Aqua America also expects their business to increase from  the natural gas extracting in Pennsylvania. All that fracking takes lots of water.  Interesting though is that Aqua America's focus is smaller towns.  De Benedictis says towns of 10,000 and under are their area of expertise.  I guess there are some French firms who specialize in larger towns; Veolia and Suez.  I'll find out about them for a future post.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Prices up and foreclosures down!?

S&P Case/Shiller and RealtyTrac released some interesting stats this week. 

The S&P Case Shiller Indices showed a second consecutive month of price increases for their 10 and 20 City Composites.  16 of the 20 market areas watched showed some increase, month on month.  Detroit, Las Vegas and Tampa showed decreases and Phoenix was unchanged.  Looking at annual numbers, Washington D.C. was the only area with a positive change and Minneapolis showed the worst decline at 11.7%.  As the spring and summer are usually busy real estate months, seasonal adjustments can decrease the impression of these housing gains.    Portland shows an increase from April to May of 1.2%, but an annual decrease of 9.1%  Though I don't see it in print, I remember hearing the NPR story on this data earlier in the week where the Case Shiller folks said something like, " Hey, seasonal adjustments or not, any increase is good".  I feel the same way.  The Report

RealtyTrac, tracks, among other things, notices for defaults , scheduled home auctions and home repossessions, all signs of impending foreclosure.  Their stats show that in the first two quarters, a majority (84%) of metropolitan areas saw a drop in their foreclosure rates as compared to 2010.  At first blush this is encouraging.  Industry insiders, like me :) attribute this less to the health of the economy and more to issues of unlawful or at least questionable foreclosure practices. 

Remember "robo signing"?  Where bank employees were supposedly approving legal paperwork without actually reviewing it?  That kerfuffle resulted in a slowdown of procedure and paperwork.  So in those instances, foreclosures are down because proper procedures are being followed.  Something to celebrate, I guess. 

Oregon is a non-judicial foreclosure state, which means, as long as proper procedures have been followed, lenders can foreclose without going through a court of law.  As long as proper procedures have been followed, there is the catch.  With the securitizing of mortgages, and the frequent resale of mortgages, lenders created MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System.  This is a mechanism allowed the sale of mortgages, without recording those documents in the county in which the property is located. Thing is, a non-judicial foreclosure in Oregon is predicated on the recording of transfers of titles and liens.  There is at least one court case where a foreclosure was overturned due to this exact issue.  This MERS issue is slowing foreclosures down a bit too.

So it isn't that fewer houses are subject to foreclosure this year compared to last.  The situation is more that questionable practices surrounding foreclosures have mucked up the foreclosure machine.    Though in the spirit of the comment above regarding any market increases being a good thing, I suppose any slowing in foreclosures is a good thing also.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Solar Power and Home Values

We're closing in on a full year with our "photovoltaic energy system". I call it our solar system, but that keeps being misinterpreted.  We've had a few luxurious months where we have used less power than we have generated, resulting in the sale of power back to PGE.  Hooray!  So, we are starting to be able to calculate the day in, day out value of our "solar system".  This then, leads the Realtor in me and the real estate magnate in Don, to wonder about the effect of our solar power on the value of our house.

Conveniently, the smart folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, along with some funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and the U.S. Department of Energy, recently concluded a study on this exact question.  Well, almost this exact question.  They looked at homes in California, 72,000 to be exact, including 2000 that had solar power installed at the time of sale.

The data was spliced and diced a variety of ways; best for you to refer to the report and summary for the particulars.  The study found pretty convincing evidence that houses in California, with solar systems (believe me, the Lawrence Berkeley Labs folks don't refer to them that way) sold for a hefty chunk over homes without such systems: nearly $17,000 for a newish and averaged size system.

Do Don and I think our system added that much?  Not quite.  California has more sun, so a similarly sized system to ours will produce more power throughout the year.  And real estate markets value different amenities differently; swimming pools in Arizona vs. Alaska, for instance.  The Lawrence Berkeley Labs study tells us how the California market values solar power...  A similar study was conducted in 2010, that looked at homes in the San Diego area.  This study arrived at a similar conclusion, still in California.

I would wager the Portland market values solar power a lot, probably as much as the California market, when adjusted for less power generation due to less sun.  We aren't selling anytime soon, so the question is a bit academic anyway.

As an aside, I've been feeling our house is a bit cooler since we  installed the solar panels on the roof last summer.  Don scoffs, but it makes since to me that something else, not our roof, is absorbing or at least intercepting, the suns rays on the most exposed face of the roof, the house just might not get as hot.  Speculation anyone?

Read the research report summary here.

And remember, the work on our project was done through Solarize Portland and the great folks at Imagine Energy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Decision Paralysis; why I'm having such trouble buying shampoo

I am a decisive person.  I make decisions quickly and well, rarely revisiting or regretting a decision I have made.  In my work, I help other people make decisions; buyer and seller clients, agents in my office I counsel on their business, my daughter etc.  Most of you who know me, know I don't dither and wring my hands over making a decision.

So why, the, am I having so much trouble buying shampoo? 

I try to live in accordance with my values, with a practical approach.  I have few absolutes in my life and manage to find the line that works for me.  For example, while I am an animal welfare advocate, I am not vegan, and I do wear leather here and there.  But I don't need animal products in my shampoo.  And in general I buy organic when possible, but am plenty comfortable getting groceries in small town USA with not an organic vegetable in sight.

So why am I having so much trouble buying shampoo?

Up until a few months ago I had a purple streak in my hair.  It was adviseable to use shampoo gentle on colored hair.  I bought it at the salon.  It was not tested on animals, had no animal products and was expensive as hell.  I got tired of the purple streak and was freed from the designer shampoo.

So why am I having so much trouble buying shampoo?

Here are the priorities and thoughts that come into play in the shampoo buying decision (I'm sure there are more at play, but these are the obvious ones); no animal products, no animal testing, phosphate free, larger bottles as wasteful packaging drives me crazy, I want my hair to look good, I get sucked into the media message that I need special things for my hair to look good, I understand the active ingredients in most hair products are the same but for texture, color and scent, so anything will work, buying local would be good.  And then I walk in the store and see a kajillion different products.

The last stuff I bought came from the "nutrition" section at Fred Meyer.  Smaller bottles, no animal testing or products, cheaper than the fortune I'd been paying at the salon, phosphate free.   I am not fulfilled and look forward to the day those bottles (shampoo and conditioner) are empty.

I was at my Dad's mountain cabin recently and REALLY liked his shampoo; Pert all in one .  Nice big bottle, must be phosphate free as he is quite strict about phosphates up there.  And since it is shampoo and conditioner, it is one less bottle and one less product!  But Pert does contain tallow (an animal ingredient), doesn't claim not to have been tested on animals and certainly isn't located locally.  hmm.

Now you might see why I am having such trouble buying shampoo.  An associate of mine at work, who I think has great hair, tells me she uses a bar of soap for shampoo and "body wash' and uses no conditioner.  Maybe I don't need to buy shampoo at all?  Inaction, not buying shampoo, could be a decision in itself.  That Trader Joe's bar of  oatmeal soap may be just the thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Market Update

RMLS, our regional multiple listings service, released their statistics for June on Friday afternoon.  The numbers are interesting. 

A bit of history.  Remember that last year, the homebuyer tax credit was sunsetting and we were in the midst of closing all the transactions that had been put together under that incentive.  So for months now, the closed sales for this year have been diminished by the numbers of last year.  We are almost able to look back and compare normal market to normal market, not incentivized market to normal market.

So, as expected, closed sales were down when compared to the closed sales in June of 2010.  But...pending sales jumped by almost 24% from June 2010 to June 2011.  Wow.  And in a closer look, closed sales increased 12.4% from May 2011 to June 2011. 

Another way we look at the market is by inventory; how many properties are on the market.  At our current rate of sales, how many months would it take to sell all those properties?  It is thought that six months of inventory or less signifies a seller's market, and more than six months is a buyer's market.  June's statistics show six months of inventory, our lowest point since July 2007.  Does this mean we are in a seller's market?  Not quite, though we are seeing some multiple offers and sales prices over list prices in well priced, well cared for and staged properties in the close in neighborhoods.  I am also reminded that a major reason inventory is so low is that we, Realtors, are telling you, homeowners, that this is not the time to sell.  We could be wrong.  And, many homeowners, who bought in the last six or so years, with 100% financing, don't have enough equity to sell and buy up.  Until the housing market tumbled, homeowners sold and bought every seven years. 

Prices do continue to decline.  So the pressure we might see from low inventory is not reflected in the price increases one might expect from normal, supply and demand economics.  The average year to date sales price at the end of June 2011 for the Portland metro area was $260,000, compared to $280,000 in June of 2010.  The median year to date sale price at the end of June was $219,100 compared to $239,900 at the end of June 2010.  These numbers show decreases of 7.8% on the average sale price and 8.7% on the median sale price.

We are nearing the tine of year when we see seasonal slowing in the market as the "before school starts" transactions wane, and folks go on vacation.  There is though always ( but for fall 2001, after 9/11) a bump in the market from the "before the holidays and the end of the tax tear" transactions.  In 2010, the fourth quarter was my busiest.  You never can tell.

See the full Portland area report from RMLS.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Those Darn Party Sewers

I have written about these lovelies before, but want to keep this subject top of mind, or at least not buried below the surface.

Portland's sewer system is old. And much of it was cobbled together over the years.  In the city's close in neighborhoods, not all houses have their own direct connection to the city sewer.  Many houses then, have some sort of joint/cooperative/party line, that heads to the city main.  Many streets have NO sewer main in them, leading sewer connections to join with neighbors to get to a connection on another street.  In the past, the city required, when a line on a party sewer failed, that the "guest" on a party sewer install their own distinct connection.   In the past few years, this requirement became more stringent; requiring that once discovered (even if the party line were in good working order) the guest must install their own line.

It has been suggested that home buyers "scope" sewers as part of home inspections for five to ten years.  As with many new inspections, it can take a few years for such an inspection to become a norm in the marketplace.  "Really", a buyer might ask, "you are suggesting I pay $100 for someone to send a little camera down the sewer?".  Yes, That is what I'm suggesting.  In those early years of sewer scopes, we were only concerned with the functionality of the line, as the party sewer was only an issue when the sewer failed..  And a failed line needed work anyway, so the extra cost of the distinct connection was nominal.

There are many folks out there who bought their homes in the last ten years, diligently paid for a sewer scope, found a good sewer, and yet are in danger of having to pay for a new sewer connection.  There are also lots of folks out there, minding their own business, but who are on a party sewer with a house being sold.  Chances are 50/50 that they'll be the guest and will be required to install a new sewer connection.  Make note, if you are the "host" and yours is the dominant line, you usually are unaffected as it is the guest who is forced to leave the party.

  I had a listing this year where not only was it a party sewer, the required abandonment of the party sewer would effect a total of four dwellings on three different streets!  The City of Portland has proscribed noticing and waiting periods, but inaction is not an option and having no sewer connection is not an option (than goodness).

I had another listing where both the house being sold AND the neighbor were required to install new connections.  My seller clients were quite friendly with their neighbor (this is Portland after all).  The neighbor had been unemployed for two years and was quite financially strapped.  My seller clients were horrified that their move to their dream home would cause such a financial hardship for their friend and neighbor. In this case, my clients worked with a contractor on both sewer connections, thereby getting the lines at a slight discount, and even paid for some of the neighbor's connection...this is Portland, after all.

Also in many of the close-in neighborhoods, the lack of a city main in the street caused some folks to (way back when) pay to have a private line installed in the city right of way.  These connections are also seen to be non-conforming, and the work to make these "proper" can be quite a bit more extensive and expensive.  Many neighborhoods are affected by these issues. 

I have had transactions in Brooklyn, Richmond, Buckman, Sunnyside, Hillside and Arbor Lodge all with party sewer issues.  The Southeast Examiner had a recent article by Reuben Deumling on sewer issues, especially as it affects the Sunnyside neighborhood.  Is your sewer a party sewer?  Are you having hosting a party?  Or merely a guest?


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Olympia Washington as a vacation destination, really?

Really.  I have a good friend who lives in Bellevue, Washington, and I in Portland.  Most years, our families vacation together on the Olympic Peninsula.  This year, a combination of forces made scheduling such a trip nearly impossible.  We decided, instead, for the two of us to meet somewhere in the middle, Olympia for instance.  This trip was really about spending time together, with a bit of sightseeing thrown in for context.

Boy were we pleasantly surprised! 

We stayed at a somewhat tired business class hotel: the Governor, no worries about confusing it with the Governor Hotel in Portland.  The location was quite central to downtown Olympia with nice views of the lake and Olympic Mountains, along with close proximity to the waterfront.  In addition the reasonable room rate included a pretty decent breakfast.

Our first afternoon we took a bit of a drive to orient ourselves and ended up at Tugboat Annie's for a long leisurely dinner in a comfy corner booth with great views.  Ahhh.  A leisurely dinner with a good friend is one of my most favorite things.

The next morning we took a nice walk along Percival Landing, the waterfront and moorage adjacent to downtown, and ended up at the farmer's market.  Olympia's farmer's market has a semi-permanent home in a covered space, stalls have access to electricity, there are nice restrooms with flush toilets and several more permanent food stalls.  We found some goat cheese with garlic and herbs, a fresh baguette and a bunch or rainier cherries for a picnic lunch later, and of course a few baked goods.  We passed up some gorgeous handmade beeswax candles, living wreaths (wish I'd have bought one) and yes, tie died clothing.

The view from Percival Landing toward the Capitol

Our afternoon took us to Wolf Haven, a wolf sanctuary about 10 miles outside of Olympia.  We had a lovely picnic lunch at the picnic area bordering the prairie, accompanied by a large flock (?) of ravens.  Wolf Haven began in 1982 and now houses 55 animals; 20 in their species survival plan and 35 residents.  The species survival animals are not on tour as they are preparing to be released into the wild and their contact with humans is minimized.  The 35 residents are not candidates to be released into the wild as at some time they were kept as pets or in other sanctuaries where they became too accustomed to humans.  

Diablo, whom we met.

Our tour, led by a knowledgeable volunteer,  took just less than an hour.  Just as we began, the wolves (all of them) set to howling.  Wow, what a sound.  We visited eight enclosures, each housing a bonded pair of wolves.  We learned much about the specif wolves we met along with lots about wolf behavior, endangered species, re-introduction and the like.  I enjoyed, but wasn't surprised to learn that the strong or alpha female is integral in hunts...she organizes them of course!  I was also interested to learn of the symbiotic relationship between ravens (our lunch guests) and wolves.  Ravens often lead the way on hunts and even direct wolves to their prey.  In turn, the wolves actually allow the ravens to do a bit of clean up after a hunt, an honor not afforded any other animal or bird.

Jacob Black, not on tour, but a permament resident.
 After a bit of downtime at the hotel we took a nice stroll through downtown to dinner at the Oyster Bar.  We again enjoyed a leisurely dinner, with a great view and reasonable food (and a great beer menu).  Downtown Olympia is more lively than I'd have thought, with a variety of interesting and primarily independently owned shops and restaurants.

All in all, a very enjoyable weekend with surprisingly a lot to do.  Give it a try!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How long does it take for that electric car to pay off?

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Liam Denning writes about a Boston Consulting Group analysis of the ownership costs of combustion, hybrid, all electric and plug-in vehicles.  The BCG study calculated the combustion vehicle costs based on tightened emissions standards, projecting 47 miles per gallon in a compact car.  They looked at the increased costs of attaining this efficiency versus the costs involved in hybrid, electric and plug in vehicles.  Other assumptions included a gasoline price of $4.50 per gallon  and annual maintenance costs of $400 for the internal combustion engine vehicle down to $200 per year for the pure electric vehicle.

In the end, the payback on the hybrid took just under six year, the plug-in payback took seven years and the electric about eight years.  While the article didn't talk about the average length of car ownership in the United States, I was surprised that these paybacks were seen as " a long  time in car years; beyond the expiry of a typical lease".  What is missing here, I think, is an understanding of the mindset of the hybrid/electric car buyer.  Do you really think these niche consumers lease and get a new car every few years?  I'd posit these vehicle purchasers are motivated by conservation values, and realize the waste, both of finances and natural resources, in the purchasing habits based on the disposable society.  I'd love to see a study of how long owners of "high efficiency vehicles" keep their cars, as compared to owners of internal combustion vehicles.

As some of you know, I drive a 2006 Toyota Highland Hybrid.  None of the calculations in the article or study pertain to a SUV that gets, on a good day 29 mpg and gas prices well below $4.50 per gallon.  That being said, I bought the hybrid in the spring of 2005 and expect to have it about another four years.  Some day my pay back will come...

The Wall Street  Journal won't link to the whole story (you'd have to subscribe on line for that), but you may read the intro if you click here.