As COVID Wears On, Some City Residents Are Heading for the Hills
In a normal year, Yamhill County real estate agent Rita Wolff’s buyers come from high-end wine appellations around the globe—Burgundy, say, or Mendoza—interested in owning a pinot-primed piece of Oregon wine country.
In literally-never-normal 2020? It’s mainly local interest that has driven Wolff’s business to new heights ever since shelter-in-place regulations eased up in the spring.
“Usually it is all out-of-state, even out-of-country, buyers [looking at] $6 million properties,” she says. “Now it is also local people spending that kind of money. I had three people wanting a $2.5 million place within a week. They all wanted to be out in the country, away from the city. If you’re going to be locked up, you don’t want to be locked up in an apartment.”
“The whole working community is more and more going to be working remotely even after COVID,” says Jenelle McCleary, a Hood River–based real estate agent. “People can live where they want to.”
Welcome to the start of what could prove to be an urban exodus, in favor of the city’s picturesque hinterlands, including the outdoor sports meccas of Hood River and Skamania Counties, and the rolling hills of wine country. (On the flip side, the hard-hit urban condo market—who wants to be in an elevator right now?—is in oversupply. Though things rebounded a little by July, in May there were only about 150 closed condo sales citywide for the entire month, roughly half the number in May 2019, against more than 700 active listings.)
For McCleary, sales this summer are easily double, and in some cases triple, the business she did in 2019. In August, she recorded 63 pending home sales in Hood River County, up from 37 from the same month the year before. In less expensive Wasco County, just to the east, the numbers are even more striking: 92 pending offers in August 2020, compared with 35 in 2019.
It’s not only about those high-end hideaways on a vineyard, McCleary says. A modest two-bedroom, one-bath home in Bingen, Washington, drew an August bidding war before finally selling for $16,000 over its $299,000 asking price.
And while there are still some second-home buyers in the mix, McCleary says she’s seeing a rush of families interested in the Gorge, from Portland, and also from other urban areas, including Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
“They want privacy, space, and views—Mount Hood, Mount Adams, the river,” she says. “They want a yard, things they can’t get or can’t afford in the city. Home offices ... playrooms. People want to grow their own garden and have chickens—live a little more of the farm-style life and be more self-sustainable, in case something happens with the grocery store.”