Friday, February 20, 2015

Those Urban Coyotes and your pets

I live in one of Portland's closer, urban neighborhoods - not downtown urban- neighborhoody urban.  We've long known, sometimes a bit too well, about the healthy rat population.  But is has only been of late that I'm realizing exactly how populace coyotes are in our neighborhood. 

On our dog walks, we see a few too many signs about missing cats.  Ugh.  And now, thanks to the neighborhood social networking site, nextdoor, I'm hearing of actual sightings.  Lots of sightings right around SE Brooklyn and Woodward between SE 37th and SE 35th. 

A few years ago we converted our cats to indoor cats.  We live on a busy street, and Guido,

who cut a wide swath on our neighborhood kept coming home limping - the vet called it an athletic injury.  I diverge to tell a Guido story.  This is the cat who thought nothing of going in other people's houses.  One of the last straws was, went he went in a neighbor's house and beat the crap out of their cat.  How embarrassing.

It can be hard to convert cats to indoor cats.  We (meaning my husband) built a catio so our cats could still get out in the fresh air. The cats go out the dining room window; it extends along the house, leading to the enclosed dog house (the dogs never really used it anyway). We hope to build another soon.

The Audubon Society and the Geography Department at Portland State University are working on an urban coyote project.    Part of the project has  map showing actual sightings that have been reported. You can submit sighting data and photos.  Take a look at your neighborhood, you might be surprised.

Oh, and maybe those coyotes will do something about the rat population.  One can hope.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Is that a bedroom?

This has become a hot topic in my office, so I thought I'd share.

We often see properties listed in the multiple listing service, that somewhere in the public or private (viewable only by brokers) remarks say something like, "third bedroom is non-conforming" or "basement bedroom is non-conforming".  And usually that house will be listed as a three bedroom, and come up in searches as a three bedroom, even if only two are "conforming".  Conforming to what?

Much of Portland's housing stock is old, and has had a variety of work done to it over the years.  Much of that work was done without permits.  For instance, consider a house that at one point had an unfinished attic. The real living space of the house was on the main floor. Somewhere along the way, someone slapped some wall board on the wall, installed a few outlets, maybe some heat and maybe walled off some rooms.  Over time, someone else installed carpet and built a closet or two.  Thirty years, and a few owners later, the property is sold with the attic considered finished and with bedrooms up there. 

So what makes a bedroom?  Some say it needs an egress window (big enough and positioned so one can get out in case of emergency), a closet, a heat source and a door.  I believe the City of Portland doesn't care if it has a closet.   Appraisers may.  Appraising is a whole different blog.  The stairway leading to the attic can also enter into this discussion. Is it one of those super steep, narrow stairways?  

Now, lets move that "finished over time" room to the basement.  Same thing right?  It was originally unfinished, and over time growing families eked out extra space by putting in some walls, power and heat.  The work was done without permits.  Many of these rooms do have a window, but its way to high and small for one to get out in an emergency. 

I find there are a few ways to think about these spaces.  Certainly, having the work done with City permits is the best. While we've all seen things slip past inspectors, if the space is permitted, it probably fulfills the life/safety issues (decent stairs, egress paths, reasonable plumbing and electric etc.).  But permitted space is the gold standard, and going back to permit already finished space can have its challenges.

So, next best might be non-conforming space that addresses these issues, but wasn't permitted.  I see LOTS of these properties.  They have an egress window in that basement bedroom, that one could get out in an emergency, but may not fit the specific requirements of a permitted egress.  There is either a grade level exit door from the basement, or a decent staircase out. There is no visible scary plumbing or electric work.

And then there are the non-conforming spaces that really are just a finished room in a basement or attic. No decent egress, maybe no heat, wanky staircase to get there.  These rooms can still be of value to a buyer as many folks don't actually need that space as a bedroom, but want it for office, study, man/woman cave, hobby room, storage etc.  But bedrooms, they are not.

So when I see a listing that is listed as three bedroom, but in the notes it says the third bedroom is non-conforming, I'm expecting a two bedroom house, with some sort of bonus room. Depending on where that comment is written, my buyer client may not even see the non-conforming remark, and is thus expecting a real three bedroom house.  Brokers list that house as a three bedroom for a few reasons; pressure from the seller, and the desire for the house to come up on searches by buyers who are looking, not necessarily for three bedrooms, but for two bedrooms plus a bonus room.

So what?  I really think we need to stop calling something we know is not a bedroom, a bedroom.  No matter what.  But what about the gray areas?  That's the hard place.  There is no definitive way for us, as brokers, to know if a bedroom is conforming.  Oh yeah, if there are recent permits on file and the tax documents show it as a bedroom, that is a good bet.  But otherwise, I think we do our best to call the rooms what they are, and use the "third bedroom may be non-conforming" option when we're pretty sure it is a bedroom, but want prospective buyers and other brokers to know it may not be; lack of permits,  no closet, lack of heat.  Of course, those comments need to be visible to all, and if one got so far as an offer, would also be listed in the seller's property disclosure.

Buyers and sellers out there, what do you think? You are, after all, the customer.