How I Found My Portland Forever Home (And You Can Too)

Hi there! - If you like this blog and want to know more about my personal home, check out “An Oregon Home Landscape Comes to Life - Part 1” (and stay tuned for Part 2)

My starter home after we lived there for nearly 10 years, in all it’s sage green, T-111 siding awesomeness.

My starter home after we lived there for nearly 10 years, in all it’s sage green, T-111 siding awesomeness.

I’ve owned 2 primary homes. One was my starter home that I bought a long time ago. I remember talking to the home inspector and telling him that we intended to live there for at least 10 years. He immediately scoffed at the idea and said “I’m 100% positive that you’ll be trading up within 3 years!”

Well, this was about 7 years before the financial meltdown that led to the recession. We did end up staying there for around 10 years, so my prognostic abilities beat out my home inspector. Of course, had the recession not happened, we may have decided to trade up sooner, but it still would have been at least 7-8 years.

Now, we’re happily ensconced in our forever home :)

This is the story of how it happened.

How I found my forever home

Part of my starter home backyard that I was reluctant to give up. Originally all field grass, I landscaped it myself into what we Realtors call a “park-like backyard”

Part of my starter home backyard that I was reluctant to give up. Originally all field grass, I landscaped it myself into what we Realtors call a “park-like backyard”

Like many second-time homebuyers, my list of wants and needs had changed quite a bit since I’d bought my first home.

Back then, my primary goals were to find a home that wasn’t a disaster, had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a decent yard.

This time around I was still looking for a home that wasn’t a disaster, had at least 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a decent yard. But, there were a few other considerations.

By far, location became a very important factor. As everyone knows, Portland traffic ain’t great, and nearly a decade of time since we’d bought our first home in Hillsboro had not improved the problem.

Career transitions into positions that required lots of local driving in all directions for Steve and me made finding a home in a very central location a priority. This meant that we needed to be much closer to Portland in an area easily accessible to multiple freeways and alternative routes.

But, a typical inner city neighborhood lot of ~5000-6000 square feet would not work for us. Between dogs and gardening and just enjoying some elbow room, we were used to our quarter acre cul-de-sac lot and wanted to find something close to that size (or bigger, dare to dream!).

These guys need an indoor home.

These guys need an indoor home.

We pretty quickly realized that Southwest Portland would work the best for our needs.

Space was certainly a concern, but in a somewhat different way from the usual “move-upper”. We felt that a little extra square footage would be nice (our starter home was 1400 square feet) but we’d also be fine in a house that was a similar size if everything else was right.

The bigger issue was finding a home with the garage space we needed for our vehicles and motorcycles.

We were pretty sure that finding a 3 car garage attached to a ~2000 square foot home would be a unicorn, but at least a 2 car garage was a priority (still somewhat difficult the closer you get to Portland but do-able).

Our budget was modest but we’d built a lot of equity over a decade, even considering the years when home values declined precipitously, so we were hopeful it would be enough to find a non-fixer that met our needs (we were just too busy to take on a project house).

The search commences

One thing stayed the same between our first home search and the second time around: I was encouraged by the homes available and Steve was not. I guess I’m a real estate optimist!

A sage green ranch, of course! We liked it, but not enough to waive home inspections (never never never…)

A sage green ranch, of course! We liked it, but not enough to waive home inspections (never never never…)

We started our search in spring of 2013. Many Realtors will remember this as “the year that the market took off”. Things had been getting better since the recession, but that spring was when multiple offers, sometimes 40-50K+ above list price, became a thing.

The first home we put an offer on was, amazingly, nearly identical to our starter home. Same sage color, same single level 3/2 ranch style floor plan, same T-111 siding (on the sides), same 2 car garage, same size lot, built during the same time period, etc.

Except this one was EASY walking distance to Multnomah Village and Gabriel Park.

We placed an offer 20K above list price and we were Not. Even. Close. The winning offer was around 35K above list price with an escalation clause and waived home inspections.

Crazy!

Of course, we’re kind-of used to that now. While the market has calmed down in the past year or so, between 2013-2017, this became normal.

After that experience, the game was ON.

I loved that mid-century feel! Big windows, Roman brick, original wood floors… <swoon>

I loved that mid-century feel! Big windows, Roman brick, original wood floors… <swoon>

We found a mid-century home on SW Iowa Street that I absolutely fell in love with. It definitely needed updating, and was at the top of our budget. But, like many buyers that fall for a home, I didn’t care.

It had a glorious upstairs porch facing a beautiful sunset view.

Downstairs off the basement was a “secret garden”. Overgrown and needing some care, but completely closed in from all the neighbors.

It even had a 2 car garage with an extra 3rd bay tandem space!

I went back to see it three times and loved it more every time. Even though the kitchen was dated, the bathroom kindof a disaster, the electrical all needed pulled, the finished basement was musty, and who knew how many other problems...

Steve put on the brakes because of a glaring fault with the home. The driveway was a short, severely steep downward plunge that only leveled inside of the garage. My truck had no problem but his car scraped both at the top and bottom of the driveway. The thought of getting the motorcycles out of there was hair raising. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space to be able to correct the problem, either.

I reluctantly let go of it and the search continued…

The search continues

I found another mid-century home that I loved (I realized quickly into our search that mid-century homes have a special appeal to me, which I had not never realized before then).

The interior was very dated but with a backyard like this, who cares???

The interior was very dated but with a backyard like this, who cares???

The location wasn’t as ideal; it was very close to Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy and on a minor pass-through street. But the neighborhood was nice, it had a finished basement that would seriously ROCK as a media room, and the backyard was positively dreamy.

Steve was out of town at the time, and Facetime wasn’t a thing yet, so I sent some pictures and he took my word for it that it was worth jumping on.

We did end up being able to see it together during an open house, right before the offer deadline. And, this house was absolutely PACKED with people viewing it.

Pro Tip: If you view a home with your Realtor and are interested in it, go by again during an open house, if you can, to see if there are a lot of people there. People love talking about houses as they walk through them, especially the negative stuff. Listen to what they’re saying! It will give you insight into possible problems that you might not have noticed. If there are lots of “gushers” (people walking through that look starry-eyed) then you know you’ll probably have some competition on your hands and can prepare for it.

We had already placed our offer and knew it probably wouldn’t be enough. We thought about improving it, but then realized that we wouldn’t be devastated if we didn’t win, and certainly weren’t willing to go ludicrously over the list price or waive inspections (waiving inspections is almost always a bad idea!).

Not surprisingly, we didn’t get that one, which was okay, so our search continued…

The search reveals a possibility!

Spring was wearing on but we were not discouraged! Well, at least I wasn’t.

A sage green ranch hidden on top of a large sloped yard of field grass and weeds.

A sage green ranch hidden on top of a large sloped yard of field grass and weeds.

Memorial day weekend was just a few days away and we went out to see the small handful of new listings that hit the market that week.

We happened across another single-level rancher in SW Portland. It was located at the top of a winding, forested road that looked like it belonged out near Mount Hood.

The house was situated up on a hill above the street so you couldn’t see much from the road but it didn’t look terribly impressive. I could tell it was a sage green color and had T-111 siding (this seemed to be a common theme for us).

Game to look at anything, we drove up the steep, crumbling asphalt driveway to behold <gasp> what appeared to be a 3-car garage!

I checked the listing and it said 2-car garage, but I can tell you from TONS of experience that listings are chock full of inaccuracies, so I began to wonder if maybe we’d found a unicorn.

The yard was… different. A large, steep, downwardly sloped front yard, with a decent sized, level, reasonably private side yard and a forested, ivy and blackberry ridden, unusable, upwardly sloped backyard.

The front and side yard was a typical lawn - an unmaintained mix of grass and weeds that was mowed regularly. Beyond that, there was a really huge, seemingly brand new aggregate concrete patio that took up half of the usable space in the level side yard. They’d also used the same aggregate concrete to create a level turn-around front drive, which was the only non-sloped area in front of the house.

The great thing about all this is that the land was over a half acre. So, even with all the slopes, there was a TON of elbow room and potential.

Lots of beige! This one room was basically the entire original house when it was built in the 40s.

Lots of beige! This one room was basically the entire original house when it was built in the 40s.

Inside the house was… unimpressive.

It had originated in the early 40’s as what we think was basically a shanty - a one-room little hunting retreat built near the top of a hill in a forest. It was unincorporated Multnomah County back then and roads hardly existed there yet.

Additions made in the 70’s, and subsequent remodeling with a garage addition, turned it into an oddly shaped ~1900 square foot, single level, 3 bed/2bath home.

There was absolutely ZERO character to it. The owners liked traditional style and had done a good job pulling all of the mid-century roots out of the house. From the white front door with the traditional half-moon window down to the heavy, granite topped traditional bathroom vanities, it just didn’t have much going for it… Other than the fact that many of the updates were recent, including a few big ticket items like windows, exterior paint, and carpet.

More beige and greige tile, and kinda dark.

More beige and greige tile, and kinda dark.

The owners had painted everything inside in what I jokingly referred to as 50 shades of beige. And I’m only exaggerating a little bit here. Every room had 2-3 different shades of beige paint. The garage had a line of paint cans 2-3 cans high and I seriously didn’t know beige came in that many varieties.

There were plenty of other drawbacks for us besides the styling.

The kitchen was pretty tiny. Not the smallest I’ve seen but fairly close. Dark, ugly (to us) granite counters topped blonde-colored traditional cabinetry. It was also a galley-style kitchen which is pretty much no one’s ideal.

There was tile all over the hallway, kitchen, and bathroom floors. It was sort of a greige, 12” square tile with heavy grout. There was beige, travertine-like tile all over the 2 bathtub walls, also with darker, heavy grout.

The master bedroom was small, maybe a tad larger than our starter home but small enough that all we could fit was a bed and a dresser (and that’s with covering one of the windows with the bed, ugh).

Not my dream bathroom but compromises can be made…

Not my dream bathroom but compromises can be made…

The master bathroom was probably the worst. I’ve still never seen a bathroom so tight and cut-up. It had a double vanity, but jammed in with little counter space. The owners managed to squeeze a full bathtub, tiny walk-in closet, and true water closet with a full door into a slip of a space. The compromise to get all that was NO WALKING ROOM.

Only one person could fit in the closet, and to get there you had to walk past the vanity, which you can’t do if someone is actually standing there.

It was weird, but again, it was recently remodeled so other than being an annoyance and not our style, was certainly livable.

Lots of trees!

Lots of trees!

The house was also north-facing. Since the backyard was an upwards slope and forested, the south side (which is where the back family room and 3rd bedroom were) received no light. In fact, the back of the house was about 1.5 feet below ground.

To top it all off, there was no fence for the dogs (a big project for such a large, sloped yard) and no fireplace or wood stove, which is something we really wanted. Steve and I love a good fire in the winter-time!

And yet, walking through it, I was excited! Despite all the drawbacks, it had some things going for it that made it appealing as a potential forever home.

This was a solid home that needed no major work situated on a half acre lot (with a small territorial view!) in a wooded, private area of Southwest Portland about 12 minutes away from downtown. The front yard, even though it was sloped and north facing, was very open and got a ton of sunlight. The gardening potential was enormous.

Best of all, it was very comfortably within our budget!

Oh, and about that 3 car garage…

Turns out that the 3rd bay was cut into a part of the slope in the backyard, which made it sort of a narrow 2/3 bay. Not close to enough room for a car, but plenty of room for 2 motorcycles!!!

Not to mention, since the house had an attached shed on the other side of the property, the size of a 1/3 garage bay, so we wouldn’t even need to use the garage space for storage. We could actually put all of our vehicles inside a garage. No more scraping ice off windshields!!!

The big picture windows in the front living room faced a wonderful, relaxing view that we never would have expected to find in our budget.

At 1900 square feet, with enough garage and storage space for everything we needed, in the perfect location, no immediate major remodeling work to do, and elbow room galore… I didn’t care that the style was way off what we wanted. I didn’t care about the galley kitchen (Steve cooks alone and we knew that one day we’d remodel it and open it up). I didn’t care (much) about the wonky master bath. Steve and I don’t exactly spend hours in front of the mirror. And, with a big, open outdoor space full of light, I didn’t care (much) that the home got almost no direct sunlight because the ambient light was so great.

In other words, I saw a home that had all the makings of a forever home. Something that worked for right now, and could be remodeled to also work for the long haul.

So, we found the house. How were we going to win it in this crazy market?

This time, for this house, we knew we’d be willing to pull out all the stops (short of waiving inspections) in order to land it.

Shockingly, we didn’t have to.

We communicated with the listing agent, put together a full-price (but not over list) offer with all the normal contingencies and a short expiration, and held our breath…

We were the only offer they received.

Apparently, the whole of Portland was taking advantage of the most perfect spring weather ever and had scattered to the winds.

Our offer was quickly accepted and we were thrilled. We’d found our forever home!

How my story can help you

forever-771012_1280.jpg

This is a story from way back in 2013 but what I was looking for and the difficulties we faced will always be relevant.

If you’re considering searching for a forever home, you’re not alone. I hear terms like “forever home”, “age in place”, and “multi-generation living” all the time now. Finding a home that could work for the long haul, versus a “works for now” home, has become very popular since the recession.

So, let’s dig into why people are staying put in their homes longer and what to look for in a forever home.

How long does the average homeowner stay in their home?

In a 2016 profile of home buyers and sellers, the NAR (National Association of Realtors) found that the average length of homeownership was about 10 years. However, prior to 2007, that average was only 6 years.

My story apparently closely mirrors the national averages.

What’s interesting about the average length of homeownership is that it seems to be continuing to increase. We’re far enough away from the recession at this point that you would expect more people to be ready to sell, for a variety of reasons. Even when people purchase a home intending to stay there forever, the majority of the time, something will happen within 10 years to precipitate a move:

  • Needing more space

  • Needing less space

  • Job changes

  • Family changes (marriage, divorce, addition of children, children moving out, parents moving in, etc.)

  • Layout of the home no longer works

  • Financial necessity

  • Etc.

Why Are People Choosing to Stay in Their Home Longer?

While the recession is still likely having an impact on the length of homeownership, it’s not as much as you might think.

According to CoreLogic, more than 79% of homeowners with equity (which is 93 out of 100 homeowners) have more than 20% equity in their home. (Home equity is the difference between your mortgages and the value of your home.)

In 2018, almost every state saw home equity gains and even more is forecasted this year.

Americans have almost as much home equity now as they did when home values peaked before the housing crisis.

So, with all this home equity, are people staying put and tapping into their home equity to remodel their homes (or for other needs) instead of selling?

Apparently not. In 2018, Americans had a collective 15.5 trillion in home equity. Cash-out refinances saw an uptick, but not nearly at a level that would be expected, given how much equity is out there.

Okay, so we’re not tapping into our home equity like we used to. Is it because we have more cash and paying for projects as we go?

Ah, now we might be on to something…

A kitchen remodel on a modest budget can work if you don’t change the footprint!

A kitchen remodel on a modest budget can work if you don’t change the footprint!

According to a recent survey, 9 out of 10 homeowners plan to remodel their homes, and a good portion of those plan to do so in the next 2 years. But, 70% of those are planning to spend $10,000 or less.

For smaller projects, it makes sense to save up and pay with cash or credit card, rather than going through the expense and difficulty of refinancing or opening a home equity line of credit. Home equity account rates are averaging a couple points above home mortgages so they aren’t as attractive as they used to be. Mortgage rates are still pretty low so cash-out refinancing is an option, but very few people want to do a cash-out refinance when they already have a historically low rate (plus years of time towards working down the principal balance).

Memories of the recession are still lingering, people are enjoying their low, fixed rate mortgages, and beginning to use their savings to maintain their homes and perform modest remodel work.

I think Americans have become better educated homeowners

American homeowners have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

American homeowners have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

More and more of my clients, whether they are first-time homebuyers or not, are telling me that they intend to stay in their home for the long term. They don’t want to buy an “okay for now” home. They want to buy a “can potentially work forever” home.

I believe that as a nation, we’ve learned a lesson about homeownership - it pays to stay in place longer or keep a home and turn it into a rental. It pays to plan for the long haul in case of hard times. And if hard times don’t come, then making a wise buying decision now can lead to wise selling decisions later (and more wealth).

People are beginning to understand that it takes time to build real equity in a home and usually 10+ years is where wealth building as a homeowner really begins.

Buying (and selling) homes is also expensive, no matter what method you choose (read about how costs work in my blog about why Realtors are so expensive and alternative options).

I’ve noticed that my first time homebuyers tend to be much better prepared for homeownership than people were in the past. They often have larger down payments, understand the costs involved, and make wise decisions about location, condition, and property size. Even when they intend to sell sooner rather than later, they make sure to buy a home with good potential.

Of course, my perspective is skewed because I’m a Realtor. People that work with a good real estate agent do tend to be better informed. They tend to spend time researching the home buying process, learn how to prepare, shop around for a few good lenders, and interview multiple real estate agents before choosing who they want to work with. And they do all this BEFORE they begin shopping for homes.

By the time all that is done, they are well prepared to make great decisions!

On the other hand, people that like to jump into shopping online for a home without first getting pre-approved and interviewing real estate agents are sometimes confused about the process, don’t understand what loan products are available for the types of properties they are looking for, and even if they find a property online that they love, usually aren’t able to successfully buy it because they aren’t pre-approved or get stuck due to the enormity of the decisions they have to make on the spot without having a full understanding of how it all works.

To a certain extent, the ease of looking at property online or listing a home for sale with a few clicks has become a barrier to buying and selling homes!

How to find a forever home

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Finding a forever home takes a little extra effort because there are more things to focus on when making a purchase decision, but can be well worth it.

Whether you are a first-time home buyer, looking to trade up, or otherwise needing to make a move, we can focus on finding a home with long-term potential.

Here’s some things to look for:

  • Location, location, location

  • Condition of neighborhood

  • For those with kids or who may have kids - school systems and potential future boundary changes

  • Single level living options

  • A yard that works - big enough to enjoy but small enough to easily maintain in the long term

  • The right square footage - an amount that allows you to spread out and entertain, but not so much that it’s difficult to maintain

  • Noise level

  • Property Taxes - there are certain areas of town that pay higher property taxes than others (that’s a long story). Talk to your Realtor about the areas that will work best for you

  • Price - can you afford the mortgage payment in the short and long term without being house poor? Does the PITI payment (principal, interest, taxes, and insurance) work both for now and in future towards retirement (factoring in increases in taxes and insurance rates)?

  • Storage and garage space - Do you intend to buy and store more vehicles and outdoor gear as time goes by?

  • Works for your lifestyle - Do you love to garden? Then look for a home with a yard that will hold your long term interest. Do you love to travel and anticipate doing more and more? Then find a home that will be easier to maintain and leave for longer periods

  • Pain points that are easy to rectify - Ex: Would it be fairly simple to remodel that bathroom to improve the flow? Does the exterior paint color bother you (something that will have to be re-done at some point anyway)? Or are there bigger concerns - Do you anticipate that difficult-to-fix galley kitchen will be an immediate source of frustration?

  • ADU potential - A forever home should have age-in-place potential. Check out my blog about Portland ADUs for loads of good info

Be upfront with your realtor

Hey, that’s me!

Hey, that’s me!

Let your Realtor know all of your wants and needs, and be honest about your deal breakers, even if they seem silly!

It’s okay to have an aversion to homes built between 1976 - 1994.

Are you only willing to consider one very specific micro-neighborhood? We can do that.

Do you have an inordinate fondness for split-entry homes? No problem, we can find one.

Of course, try to be open-minded. I’ve had clients that thought they wanted a rural home on acreage property that ended up purchasing an early 1900s Victorian on 1st Street. I’ve had clients that thought they absolutely wanted a detached new construction home in Bethany that ended up in a 1990s townhouse in Orenco Station. I truly had no idea how much I loved mid-century homes until I started looking for my current house.

There’s nothing wrong with pivoting as your search progresses.

I’ve also had plenty of clients that fell for a home they saw on the first day out. That works, too! I usually encourage going ahead and seeing as many others as possible in a short time span at least for comparison. But, in many cases, it really is the one!

Let’s Get Started!

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