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