Housing Trends

The Home Front

Seven trends that are shaping how and where we live

By Stacey Wilson, Kasey Cordell, and Camela Raymond May 19, 2009 Published in the April 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Koichi Fujii

1. We may see fewer California license plates.

IN 2006, according to DMV records, more than 24,000 Californians migrated north to Oregon in search of cheaper housing and shorter commutes, making the Golden State the largest contributor to Oregon’s in-migration population (that’s the population of new residents from other U.S. states). But as Californians find it increasingly difficult to unload their astronomically priced homes before heading north, the waves of migrants may subside to mere ripples. And they’re not the only ones: The Sun Belt states of Arizona, Texas and Florida—which, respectively, represent the third-, fifth- and eighth-largest contributors to Oregon’s in-migration—are also struggling with softening real estate markets. But before any of you Cali haters out there crack open the Cristal, consider that we may actually need new neighbors from the south this year to help buoy our own real estate market. And who better than scads of Orange County expats to spring for those tony new condo buildings in downtown Portland? —SW

2. Buying a home means branding your life.

Most of us are accustomed to expressing our individuality through clothes and cars. For example, that Prius might suggest plugged-in (and well-off) environmentalist. But what do our homes say about us? A lot, apparently.

“The big trend in condos and new developments is this whole idea of lifestyle branding,” says real estate marketing consultant Joel Burslem. By “lifestyle branding,” Burslem means associating a particular interest or personality trait with a building as a way to distinguish it from the competition. In the same way that wearing Nike duds says, “I’m sporty,” living in a certain Pearl condo says, “I’m a cultural connoisseur.”

This type of tailored approach to selling condos has long held sway in cities like Seattle, Miami and Vancouver, BC, where there are so many condos that developers must differentiate their housing projects, says Burslem. But the technique is relatively new to Portland, where condos have only recently become a significant part of the housing stock. Still, we’ve got a couple of prime examples.

Like Cyan, a 16-floor building planned for gold LEED certification at SW 4th and Montgomery that is set to open in April 2009 and offers those “Prius” types a place to call home. Cyan’s website tells us that the Gerding Edlen development is made for “people who want to save the planet by living better. Those of us who don’t want our organic T-shirt looking like a burlap sack.” In other words, hip, young, green professionals.

In fact, the site suggests residents shop for organic produce at the farmers market and dine on organic meals at Higgins restaurant. Cyan isn’t just selling 524-square-foot spaces—they’re selling 524-foot-square green spaces, and the image that goes along with that. So it’s not surprising that in March, Cyan co-hosted an event with the Portland Indie Wine Festival—just the kind of crowd where you might expect to find, well, hip, young, green professionals.

And then there’s the 937 condo development, a 16-story building at NW 10th and Glisan. Set to open in October, 937 screams “design sophisticate”—but not in a Versace kind of way. From minimalist kitchens to out-there accents, like balconies enclosed in red glass, these upscale condos are made for people who appreciate spare, utilitarian elegance. It’s the sort of place you’d expect creative directors at Adidas or Wieden & Kennedy to stash their Macs.

The marketing of these condos also echoes the tastes of high-tech creative types: a sleek, modern website; a showroom that resembles a starkly decorated art gallery; even the sign hanging from the construction site retains a simple, functional elegance. When the model units open to the public this month, one will double as a gallery with rotating exhibits of abstract art. “We wanted everything from the website to the signage on the building to communicate a consistent message,” says Francis Russo, 937’s marketing director. “And that message is that 937 is for design-oriented people who like deviating from the norm.”

So far it seems to be working: They’ve already sold one of the $2.15 million penthouses. But it remains to be seen if other such specific branding techniques will be as successful, or if, as the glut of condos in Portland’s market continues to grow, any customized marketing messages might simply turn into generalized, full-on pleas. —Kasey Cordell

3. Living on the edge is worth it.

Beyond the suburbs, where the rolling green of farmland hasn’t yet been corrupted by the gray of development, lie the exurbs. At least that’s the term author August Comte Spectorsky coined in the 1950s to describe these commuter towns in rural settings. Beaverton used to be one. So did Hillsboro. Now these towns qualify as suburbs, while the exurb label has been tacked onto places like Damascus or Vernonia.

Although a relatively static urban growth boundary kept Portland’s exurbs sleeping from the 1960s to the ’90s, they’re starting to revive. In fact, over the next 30 years or so, Metro predicts Damascus and Bethany, on the tri-county region’s eastern and western edges, will experience population booms of about 900 percent. That’s due in part to the nearly 19,000-acre expansion, in 2002, of the urban growth boundary, which now envelops these areas.

Plus, as Gerard Mildner, director of Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, points out, many people don’t need to commute downtown for work anymore, either because their job is in a suburb or because they work from home. Nor do they need to drive to Portland for play: Some suburbs have become unique cultural centers of their own. Beaverton, for example, boasts Uwajimaya, one of the largest Asian food markets in the metro area, as well as quality sushi restaurants like Hakatamon. Which means living in the exurbs no longer means giving up on going out. —KC

4. Scoring a sweet condo just got easier.

Remember back in 2000, when selling a condo was as simple as saying, “Granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a Pearl District address”? Well, those days have gone the way of the 20-minute morning commute. As of late February, there were around 2,500 condos listed for sale in the metro area—the largest cache of unsold units in the city’s (relatively short) condo-market history, according to Gary Winkler, a senior real estate broker with Colliers International. For sellers looking to unload their lofts, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing—if the demand for condos had kept pace with the supply. But it hasn’t. While there are three times as many condos on the market now as there were in the heyday of the early 2000s, demand remains essentially the same. “There are so many condos now, buyers can take their time deciding and haggle for the best price,” says John Becker, a broker with Realty Trust in the Pearl. “The people selling are really feeling the pinch.”

No one understands this better than real estate investor and developer Robert Ball. Condos in Ball’s 18-floor Pearl District behemoth, the Wyatt, went on the market in November 2006 at $500 per square foot. Nearly a year later, only 56 out of the 245 units had been sold. Compare this with the brisk sales pace of the nearby Gregory building, which had sold all but one of its 133 units between January 2000, when they first went on the market, and September 2001. Last fall, Ball converted the Wyatt into a rental property, sold it to California billionaire John Sobrato for $111.5 million and has since taken on no new condo development projects. Such a sagging market may make developers like Ball reach for the Alka-Seltzer, but for buyers, it just might make purchasing your dream condo as easy as saying, “Have down payment, will buy.” —SW

5. Our city is going gray.

Portland may like to consider itself one of the country’s greenest cities—both in terms of landscape and sustainability—but we’re also one of the grayest. And we’re not just talking about the weather: Researchers at Portland State University’s College of Urban and Public Affairs predict our senior population—those 65 and older—will grow by a whopping 137 percent in the next 30 or so years, eventually making up more than 17 percent of the total population. (Portland’s overall population is expected to grow by about 47 percent in the same period.) While this trend is affecting the entire country as baby boomers age, the shift is particularly notable in Portland—in fact, the New York Times Magazine reports that only six large cities in the country outpaced Portland in the growth of 55- to 64-year-olds from 1990 to 2005, among them Las Vegas, Austin and Phoenix.

So just where will our graying population go as they retire? Nowhere. In their 2006 report on how aging Portlanders will affect housing trends, PSU’s researchers found that many folks stay put after age 50, and certainly after 60. That means areas with a large population of older Portlanders—like those adjacent to and just outside of the urban growth boundary, as well as in the Pearl, Alameda and Irvington neighborhoods, and some of the newer subdivisions near Forest Park—will likely need better public transportation and improved access to medical care. And the early decisions that aging Portlanders’ are likely to make about where to retire also means that South Waterfront and Pearl District developers had better act fast if they want to convince baby boomers to give up that big two-car garage in favor of a two-minute walk to the theater. —KC

6. Rent shoots up, up and away.

The crystal ball might be cloudy when it comes to home prices in Portland, but it doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict the future for Portland’s rental market: Rates are going up in 2008—by about 10 percent in the ’burbs and 15 percent in the city, according to Mark Barry, an apartment appraisal specialist.

We can hear the collective groan already—after all, 38 percent of Portlanders, or about 215,000 people, don’t own their homes. But before the grousing about greedy landlords begins, consider that Portland rents have been fairly static since 2003, when the average price for a two-bedroom apartment in the city was $680. According to a study by the California-based research firm Green Street Advisors, if Portland rents had kept pace with rising home values, renters would now be shelling out an average of $1,039 per month for that two-bedroom; instead, they’re paying about $790.

So the time is ripe for a rate adjustment. “Sure, we are capitalists,” says Tom Brenneke, president of Guardian Management, which has about 60 properties throughout the Portland metro area. “But we’ve also had to cover slowly rising utility costs and keep up with building manager salaries. And ever since 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, property insurance rates have skyrocketed.”

The fact that citywide vacancy rates are hovering at an all-time low of about 4 percent also gives landlords a bit of an upper hand. But there is one bonus to renting that isn’t going to change any time soon, even if rates continue to escalate: no yard work. —SW

7. Beautifying your home can save the planet.

With gas prices and global temperatures on the rise, the question isn’t whether to green your next home-building project, but how. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council anticipates that green building spending will increase 500 percent to $60 billion by 2010. While hardcore enviromentalists are installing rooftop photovoltaic panels, you needn’t take such drastic measures. We turned to some of Portland’s leading green building experts for the top trends and found these four ways to upgrade your home while curbing environmental impact—and still saving money on energy bills. And with design improving all the time, there’s another reason to go green: sheer beauty. —Camela Raymond 

STEP UP An “engineered floor”—basically, a veneer of hardwood glued to a layer of plywood underneath it—gives you the look of a traditional hardwood floor, but uses 60 percent less high-value wood. And some, like this EcoTimber one, use wood certified as “sustainable” by the Forest Stewardship Council.
GET IT: Green Source, 4530 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-239-2276

GLOW WITH IT Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) use about 70 percent less energy and last longer than standard incandescents, but they often jut inelegantly from older fixtures. So Portland’s Globe Lighting designed fixtures like this frosted-glass pendant to fit over them—a classic example of ingenuity and earth-friendly design.
GET IT: Globe Lighting, 1919 NW 19th Ave; 503-221-1919

COLOR ME GOOD Many paints—or tints used to color them—emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause everything from eye irritation to central nervous system damage. The 108 colors in AFM Safecoat’s Ayurveda Essence line come VOC-free, though.
GET IT: Ecohaus, 819 SE Taylor St; 503-222-3881

COUNTER INTELLIGENCE Sure, granite countertops are beautiful, but they’re also often strip-mined and shipped from quarries across the globe. Enter Fuez. The Sauvie Island company’s countertops are made from up to 80 percent post-consumer recycled materials like glass (collected curbside in Portland and Seattle) and cement.
GET IT: Fuez, 5736 N Greeley Ave; 503-289-7000

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