Portland Buyers: Condo or Single-Family Home, Part 4

In this final chapter of our series on the Portland condo vs. the Portland single-family home, we focus on single-family homes. According to MLS records for April of 2012, the median list price for single-family homes (SFH) was $238K. The median sold price, however, was $220K, which indicates a little wiggle room for buyers in terms of making an offer. (We don’t have May figures just yet because some of the transactions started in May have yet to close this early in June.) A little over 30% of the homes sold between March and June of 2012 incurred at least one price reduction before selling. But the summer season is generally one of the hottest in Portland, and I don’t mean just the weather. Real estate sales too heat up.

Given that inventory of SFHs is down, and so are prices and interest rates, you might find yourself competing for SFHs—but then again, condos present the same situation, so in either case, you’ll want a good Realtor® guiding you through the offer process.

When you commit to a SFH in Portland, be aware of maintenance costs that you might never have experienced as a renter—perhaps, particularly if you’re from another part of the country, these costs won’t occur to you until it’s too late to avoid them. In Portland, the high rain fall, extreme cold, and extreme summer heat all make demands on your home in terms of utilities and upkeep. Older homes may still have lead paint and/or oil tanks for heating. You need to be willing to clean gutters and kill mold, to check basements and attics for leaks (most old Portland homes have both basements and attics: extra space, yes, but also extra maintenance). Rain also brings a lot of bugs. In my first spring in Portland, I saw more ants in our little rented cottage than I’ve seen in my entire life, combined. When they came in through the floor boards of our bedroom, I called the landlord. As an owner, I won’t be able to do that. Bug control falls to me from now on. And finally, lawns, common in Portland SFHs (as you can see from this photo of the house I recently purchased with my husband) can become mud pools if you don’t deal with drainage and ground covering. Get ready to DIY, my friends.

These maintenance requirements, clearly, demand much more of the owner than condo maintenance does. That HOA money we discussed last week comes in handy here as it usually covers landscaping and upkeep of major systems and any shared property.

Finally, note that while buyers may feel drawn to Portland living in the absence of sales tax, property tax in Portland is not “cheap.” Based on a complicated system of location, size and value, your taxes may surprise you if you aren’t educated about them. Of course, in a condo you will have taxes also, so you can’t avoid them—regardless if you choose a free standing home or a unit in a complex.

Ultimately, choosing a condo or a SFH is an incredibly personal choice, and Portland offers many options for either type of property. Study well the advantages and disadvantages of both, tour as many of each as you can, discuss them with an experienced Realtor, and choose what’s best with confidence—because with that confidence comes happiness in the home that’s right for you.


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Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert.

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