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.