Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tidbits to wrap up the week

The Oregonian ran several articles that caught my eye in the last few days.

A bit of E-News, Environmental, that is. You may have seen the one about high radon levels at Mahonia Hall, the Governor's residence.  I've been nagging about radon for awhile, and Mahonia Hall shows us that even cool old fancy buildings have it.  The folks at Eco-Tech did the testing there.  They are also the folks with Terra, the oil sniffing dog from a previous blog.  Radon is measured by picocuries per liter of air, with the EPA calling for "action" or remediation for any measurement over 4 picocuries per litre of air.  Mahonia Hall measured 6.2 in the billiard room (sounds like we're playing a game of Clue) and 4.8 in a basement storage room.  The short term monitor was used, so I believe next up is the longer, 90 day, test.  Our home test came in at 2.9.

Also in the news this week was the huge solar project Ikea has installed out at their store by the airport.  The project is said to include 2072 solar panels providing an estimated 568,900 kilowatt hours of power per year.  Wow.  In cloudy Oregon.  This will have the effect of reducing approximately 432 tons of carbon dioxide emissions- the equivalent of the exhaust of 77 cars.  Thanks IKEA!

And then a bit of editorializing on the real estate market and such.  The Case-Schiller report was released this week for January 2012, showing declining housing prices in Portland.  This index lags our local RMLS statistics by one month.  And in a changing market one month matters.  Look for Case-Schiller to catch up and show an improving market next month.

 And, it looks as though the Oregon Supreme Court may well hear a case regarding MERS and its relationship to Oregon's non-judicial foreclosure.  In Oregon, lenders can foreclose through an administrative rather than through a court process.  In part, this process is in place as Oregon statutes also require that changes to who owns what loan be recorded in the state, giving a clearer picture of who might actually have a right to foreclose.  MERS is the electronic registration system for mortgages,  that avoided the fees and "hassle" or recording.  There have been a few court cases with disparate rulings, so a Supreme Court opinion would be welcome.  Meanwhile, look for our courts to be crowded by lenders choosing judicial foreclosure to be sure their foreclosures stick.

And lastly, the blue jays have descended on the yard this morning.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Good Liberals" and their Prejudice"

As many of you know, I am a devoted animal advocate and am on the board of directors of a small dog rescue group here in the Portland area (My Way Home Dog Rescue).  I just got off  the phone from talking with a potential adoptor calling about one of our dogs. Great lady, very grounded, realistic and devoted.  But...she was concerned the shepherd mutt she was calling about not have any pit bull in the mix.  In her words, " I realize I have a prejudice against these dogs.  I am a good liberal, but can't have anything to do with a pitbull".  I admire this gal for seeing her issue as a prejudice, but wish it weren't so.

 Merriam-Webster dictionary defines prejudice as among other things "2a(1):preconceived judgment or opinion (2): an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge b: an instance of such judgement or opinion c: an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race or their supposed characteristics".

Unfortunately, just as we prejudge people with "an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race or their supposed characteristics", ask Trayvon Martin's family, many of us do the same with pit bulls.  Just as our society, or at least some of us, have worked to abandon racial and class prejudice, and see ourselves as open minded, I challenge you to do the same with regard to pit bulls.  No, I am NOT comparing dogs to people, and NO, I am in no way acquainting Trayvon Martin to a dog.  I'm pointing out how disingenuous we are to abhor prejudice against people and think nothing of it with regard to dogs.  Dogs who, by the way, aren't prejudiced at all.

Here is a chance to open your mind.  The Hollywood Theater, this weekend, is showing the breakout movie, Beyond the Myth; a movie about the dog breeds commonly referred to as Pit Bulls.  The movie looks at the people who love these dogs, the breed specific legislation several cities and state have enacted, and the myths about these dogs.  Sunday April 1st, starting at 5:00 pm.  Click here to purchase tickets.  Singer/songwriter John Shipe will also perform.  Below is the video of his song, Pit Bull Blues, a fav of mine. Hope to see you there.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Between Seattle and Austin...

Recent  Data On an Old Question
Trulia just released their Winter 2012 Rent vs. Buy study looking at 100 metro areas and considering their rent vs. buy ratio.  If you aren't famliar with Trulia, their website says,
"Trulia is an all-in-one real estate site that gives you the local scoop about homes for saleapartments for rent, neighborhood insights, and real estate markets and trends to help you figure out exactly what, where, and when to buy, sell, or rent."

Trulia, similar to Zillow, has access to a bunch or real estate data and does some pretty interesting things with that data.

In looking at renting vs. buying, they considered asking prices for both rental and for sale properties for December 1,  2011 to February 29, 2012.  It is nice to have pretty recent numbers, as often real estate statistics can lag by several months, which in a changing market, matters.  Yes, we are in a changing market.  There is an inherent assumption here, that seasonal pressures on prices, rent and purchase, are similar; an assumption with which I agree.

Trulia's interpretation of the index says anything under 15 is a market in which buying is better than renting.  From 15 to 20, the question hinges on tax deductions, local programs and incentives and other indicators.  Anything over 20 is a market in which renting is considered better than buying.

Only two major markets in the United States showed indicators above 15; San Francisco and Honolulu.  Some niche markets in New York city eke above 20, but not the city over all.

Portland, which the report calls Portland, OR WA, ranked # 82 with a factor of 11. Seattle is just above us at #81, and our somewhat sister city of Austin, TX is at #83.  It seems we are in good company.  As one might expect, Detroit, MI ranked #1 as the city where buying is a better idea than renting.  hmm.

A few other housing thoughts.
The Oregonian reported today that 30 year fixed rate loans snuck above 4%. And a reminder for buyer's using FHA insured loans, in a well advised effort to increased their reserves, the  monthly mortgage insurance premium from 1% to 1.75% for loans originated after April 1st.  Read more about that here.  This change is estimated to cost the average buyer about $5 more per month, which translates to approximately $1000 of home buying power.

Read Trulia's report here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Don't Throw That Away!

No, this is not a blog about Tim Tebow, though it could be.  This is a blog about restricting what goes in to our landfill as one way to increase our recycling rates.  The State of Vermont, sometimes a kindred spirit to Oregon, is considering restricting recyclable materials from being dumped in their landfill.  Should Vermont HB 485 pass, plastic and glass containers, cardboard and paper would be prohibited from Vermont landfills starting in 2015, with yard debris following suit in 2016.  The idea being, obviously, this would help increase the recycling of these goods.

Oregon, like Vermont, currently prohibits the dumping of used oil, tires, batteries and e-waste.  Oregon also prohibits vehicles and large industrial or home appliances, Vermont doesn't allow white goods and paint.  Of course, Oregon has the premier paint recycling program in the country.

Lessening our waste stream takes a variety of approaches.   As we know, Portland has tried by reducing our garbage pick up to twice monthly, while increasing yard debris pick ups to weekly and including kitchen compost in the yard debris.  This effort puts much of the burden squarely on the shoulders of individual households.  And while Vermont's approach makes garbage haulers responsible, proper sorting and disposal is still up to individuals.

I know there are lots of studies on what motivates us to take the time to recycle.  What gives you that extra umph to take your plastics to Far West Fiber or find the right place for those styrofoam peanuts?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Radon Test Results!

We had placed a 90 day radon test in our house, well about four months ago.  In my work I see many houses with high results on radon tests.  The E.P.A estimates one in fifteen homes have elevated radon levels.  As I have spent a few years encouraging my clients to test for radon, it really was our turn.

The test is done with a small "canister", about an inch high and two inches across, best placed away from windows and doors, and heat registers.  We put ours on the buffet in the dining room.  I'm not sure Don ever really saw it.  Being an over achiever, I let the canister sit there  a bit beyond the 90 day minimum, and then sent it in using the handy envelope provided with the test.  We got our test from Eco-Tech. I believe you can order them by phone.  The actual test was from Accustar Labs, and it looks as though you can order direct from them.

 Conveniently,  I got the results in by e-mail.  Our radon level tested at 1.9 picoCuries per liter of air.  The World Health Organization suggests an action level of 2.7 picoCuries per liter of air.  The Environmental Protection Agency considers anything above 4 picoCuries per liter of air to be actionable.  I am very glad we came in below both those levels.  In Portland Area real estate transactions we see people abiding by the EPA level of 4 pico Curies per liter of air, with radon abatement usually being the responsibility of the seller.

In the coming weeks I'll talk address the questions, " what is so bad about radon anyway?"  and  "what do you do about high radon levels?"  If you'd like more information sooner, get in touch.  503-312-8038,

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How's The Market?

Okay then.  I, and agents in my office, have been feeling the market take off; but for too few houses on the market.  The market stats, released today by RMLS support this feeling.

Year over year, both pending and closed sales are up from February 2011 to February 2012.  Closed sales are up 17.5% and pending sales are up 32.5%.  At the same time, new listings dropped 13.6%  Between January 2012 and February 2012, closed sales grew 3.1% and pending sales grew 15.7%.  So we have been busier compared both to last month and last year, but with fewer choices for our buyer clients.

This increase in activity is slowly being reflected in prices.  The average sales price increased from February 2011 to February 2012 by 4.3% to $255,100.   This is a month to month increase of 2.4%.  Are prices going to take off?  I don't think so.  Though we may see some slight gains in housing prices over the coming months.

Our total market time is hovering around 138 days as compared to last February's total market time of 177 days.  This represents a 22% decrease in market time, so things are moving more quickly.

Recovery?  I don't know.  We do expect to see an increase in foreclosed properties hitting the market as a result of the robo-signing settlement reached recently.  We do expect to see some banks accelerating the rate at which they approve short sales and an increase in the % of short sales , also as a result of the robo-signing settlement.  Inman News did an interesting article on this.

Have questions about your house or neighborhood?  Thinking of buying or selling?  Give me a call: 503-312-8038

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Going Up?

In the 1980's I worked in a boutique hotel in San Francisco.  It was a quaint hotel, catering to artists performing at the San Francisco Ballet, Opera and Symphony.  With the quaint hotel, came a quaint and quirky elevator; quirky, not necessarily in a good way.  As the front desk manager, I got to ride in and provide customer service around what some might have considered a rather terrifying elevator.  Since then, I have had, on occasion, icky elevator dreams.  I'm not afraid of elevators, though I do prefer a  less than bumpy ride, an accurate ride and the ability to exit the elevator when appropriate.

This past week I stayed at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas during the RE/MAX International Convention.  Unbeknownst to me, at the time, the Luxor has famous elevators.  The Luxor is that black pyramid of a building.  As the elevator departs, one feels a bit of a horizontal sway, not a typical elevator feeling.  And as one nears one's floor, the horizontal sway is felt in the opposite direction.  No silent elevators here,  with guests staring at the illuminated numbers.  Most everyone comments on the sway.  So after a few days, I consulted my friend Google.

Come to find out, the elevators at the Luxor are considered one of the 10 Fascinating elevators in the world. They travel up the side of the pyramid at a 39 degree angle.  Wow, with this in mind, the slight sway I was feeling was minor.  The elevators are restricted to guests and require a key card to operate.  This system was designed in anticipation of the hoards of folks who would flock to the Luxor to ride this "attraction".  Not so. While the sway is noticeable, I certainly didn't feel as though I were in a fascinating elevator; one of those times when boring is good.

Do you have an elevator story to share?   No, not THAT kind. :)