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Biggest House in the World

Exactly what makes a house “big”? That’s a judgement call, for sure.

In the Portland Metro Area, houses that are 4,000 square feet or larger would certainly be considered “big,” “spacious,” “ample,” “accommodating,” etc. Most families can get along quite nicely with the U.S. average of 2,600—so even Portland houses with 3,000 square feet can be thought of as providing a little extra elbow room. But are they “big”?

The reason the subject comes up has to do with the all-important listing language. It’s Job One for a new local listing that the descriptive language be as accurate as possible. It’s vital that prospective buyers come away with an accurate feeling for the property. Readers need to be drawn to the houses that should attract them—and, equally important, not be disappointed by the actual property when they tour in person.  

In other words, exaggerations are out. So when Forbes magazine ran an article about a listing for “The World’s Largest House,” it deserved scrutiny. Some of the specifics are mysterious—but overall, the details do make it likely that prospects would not be disappointed by many features of the actual property.

For instance, house hunters looking for a spacious backyard would view the included 1600-acre forest as more than adequate. For those worried about having accommodations for out-of-town relatives at Thanksgiving, it wouldn’t even come up: there are 110 bedrooms. If hygiene is an issue, that’s also no problem: there are nearly as many baths as bedrooms, plus “many vintage outbuildings.”

This is where the listing language comes into focus. That adjective “vintage” might turn out to be important, since the actual house was apparently built in the 12th century. “House” isn’t quite right, either. “Castello” is better (Italian for “castle”). In fact, Forbes’ World’s Largest House is a castle—but a “rare” one. It includes, for instance, a “large, whole, crenellated towered 12th-century fort” (so security-minded Portland Metro Area house hunters shouldn’t be disappointed). The commute, on the other hand, would be an issue.

But that’s also where the mystery comes in, because the listing agent does describe the 150,000 square feet (actually, “it’s 150,000-plus square feet”)—but not exactly where any of them are located. And since the most obvious point of interest—the property’s undoubtedly noble history—isn’t provided, Forbes understandably calls the listing “hilariously terse.” The privacy of the current owners is clearly being protected, but futilely so, since an aerial photo of the castle is provided. It’s understandably “quite famous” to everyone in the region, which is somewhere “east of Siena.”

Even those local house hunters with their hearts set on the right Italian castle will probably keep looking, though—although price wouldn’t be the obstacle (it’s “a steal” at $32 million). The fact is, it’s somewhere “in the heart of Chianti”—yet no vineyard is mentioned! Sometimes what’s not in a listing can be telling.

But putting that disappointment aside, fortunately—and much closer to home—there are many appealing local houses available on today’s market. Call us anytime to arrange a tour of the ones that meet your requirements!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

The Riddle of the Ultimate Buyer

While reading a real estate magazine article about “the pros and cons of buying during the peak selling season,” I was fairly certain (as you probably would be) that, one way or another, the cons wouldn’t outweigh the pros. Portland’s peak selling season is certainly prime time whenever there are homes for sale, but often there are reasons when other times of year can be opportune.

The article in came up with more pros than cons. No surprise there: we can all bank on the inevitability of that conclusion (that NOW is a good time to buy or sell) whenever we’re hearing from an industry whose business is buying and selling!  

So—how do you actually get the straight scoop on the subject?

The answer may lie in understanding why a true best answer for when to put up northwest homes for sale always does tend to be “now.” It’s because of a phenomenon called “The Riddle of the Ultimate Buyer.” The riddle goes like this:

The “Ultimate Buyer” is the prospect who will ultimately wind up buying your Portland Metro Area house. Before you put it on the market, there is no way to accurately forecast very much about who that will be. We can set our marketing outreach to target the haunts of the most likely buyer profiles (in fact, that’s what we do), but as any experienced local Realtor will tell you, the Ultimate Buyer could also be anyone—and their identity is often surprisingly unlike what anyone would have predicted. Frequently, their choice of which residence to buy has been shaped by equally unforeseeable motivations.

Not only is the profile of the Ultimate Buyer unknowable, her or his schedule is equally enigmatic. The only thing we do know for certain is that your Ultimate Buyer will be looking, become interested, and make an offer while your Portland Metro Area home is up for sale. If you put off listing for a month or two, those months might have been the only ones during which that prospect was looking to buy in Portland. That might have been the only time when that buyer happened to drive past your house (it would have been without my “For Sale” sign out front); might have been the only time he or she was available to take a tour; found suitable financing—any number of factors might have been in play.

The Riddle of the Ultimate Buyer is such a puzzle that we can only rely upon the one thing we know for certain: that buyer can only materialize once the home is up for sale. That’s why now is a better time to list than a month or two from now, when the person who would have been your Ultimate Buyer has already moved into another Portland Metro Area house. They’re someone else’s Ultimate Buyer—and they won’t be back!

So, while there’s no pat answer to when is absolutely the best time to list a home for sale, logic says it’s more likely to be now rather than later. Especially while we’re wrapping up Portland’s peak spring selling season, when there are usually a greater number of potential Ultimate Buyers actively searching, it’s a doubly good time to give us a call!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

Homeowners’ Tips

Some of Portland’s senior residents will verify that The Reader’s Digest was once flat-out the most popular magazine in the country. I don’t know how far back that began, but at one point at least, it was the time-saving way Americans kept up with what was being published in the other magazines (there were lots of them). RD boiled lengthy articles down to a couple of pages.

TV is probably what spelled its decline. The internet almost finished the job—but the Digest is still going in various forms. When you come across it online, it never fails to show a whole lineup of almost irresistible Click Me sidebars. A few weeks ago, for instance, local homeowners might have been snared by “20 Secret Hiding Places for Valuables in Your Home” (if your home will host an open house anytime soon, that one would be fortuitous); “Prepare to Be Amazed By the Gorgeous Way This Woman Transformed Her Simple Camper Trailer” (although the flashy red-white-and-blue stripes on the camper shell might have been overkill); “13 Neat Ways Milk Can Help You Look Gorgeous And Clean Your House Too!”(sour milk can renew tarnished silver; powdered milk can erase fine cracks in china).

But the most relevant attention-grabber of all (for Portland Metro Area homeowners, at least) would have been “10 Ways to Increase Home Value with Exterior Paint.” We all know that a fresh paint job will give any home a value boost—but what are the other 9 ways? Here’s a selection from the answer:

  1. Color Correct for Value—which means “use eye-catching color schemes.” This was RD’s #1 way to increase value…but I’d have to caution that if a color scheme is a bit too eye-catching, it could accomplish the reverse…
  2. Perception of Color is Very Relative—When choosing color schemes, remember that the colors need to viewed right next to each other to judge how they will actually appear to the eye.
  3. Begin with the Value—The word “value” here means how dark or light the main color will be. Decide on it first, before trim colors.
  4. Don’t Be Top-Heavy (Portland homeowners note: this was really the only one I thought could actually increase value)—Place darker colors below lighter shades to prevent a top-heavy look.
  5. Choose Colors in the Right Light—view swatches in the same kind of light they’ll be seen in).
  6. Play Up the Size (use light colors to enlarge a small house and dark colors to make a large house on a small lot look smaller).

I can’t really agree with #6; most local homeowners whose houses are set on small lots would still do well to have the home look as roomy as possible.

Following the original Readers Digest concept, this boils the 10 Ways down to 6. You really could shrink it all the way down to just #4—but since it would no longer be a list, that would be overdoing it. In fact, homeowners who clicked on the sidebar for “13 Tips for Selling Your Home” might actually benefit most from #9—which was “Get Real About Pricing.” No matter how many of the Selling Tips you wound up taking seriously, though, I would have to add one more truly practical one: Call Us!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

Open House Approaches That Work

The debate continues about whether open houses are effective for marketing Portland Metro Area homes. Yes, sales do still originate from them, but the percentages have been declining since social media and online listings changed the way local prospects look for their next home.

Whether an open house is likely to garner qualified traffic is a decision that clients and I work out together on a case-by-case basis. The choice has to do with the nature of the property, its location, history, and the state of the current market. Some properties are much better suited to being shown on a one-on-one guided tour basis, where questions can be answered and strong points pointed out; others shine in any circumstances.

When it’s decided that an open house looks to be a productive event, preparing the property will be nearly identical to that for any showing. The only difference is that more prospective buyers will not have any idea about the house—they will not have seen any photos or taken a video tour. For the owner, then, preparing begins with projecting how those prospects will take in the property. This is a list of the six approaches that are most often cited as being keys to preparing for open house success:

  1. First Impression. Most commentaries point to the perennial first impression as being decisive in how the entire open house will be experienced. “First impression” is defined as the prospect’s takeaway from what happens during the walk from car through the entryway. It rates extra attention, so in addition to making it as inviting as possible (via landscaping and paint touchup where it’s needed), if the route unescorted visitors should take is ambiguous, strategically positioned arrow signs make your welcome explicit (in fact, a “Welcome!” Isn’t a bad idea, either).
  2. Clean clean clean. “Clean” can include not just sparkling floors, sinks, and countertops—it means clean air, too: a few clean-scented floral plug-ins make it easy.
  3. De-clutter. This could also be #2. You could argue that if a crowd shows up, clearing open space is even more important than usual (but it’s really important always!)
  4. Stash personal items. This is 85% true; but the goal is to create the impression that this home is ready for its new owner. Massive family photo displays should be packed away, but a few personal favorite décor items can add a people-friendly touch.  
  5. Light and bright. Curtains open, lights and lamps on.
  6. The rest. The last of the “Top 6” tips is hard to determine—there are many candidates that are cited with equal frequency. Setting the dining room table used to be a leader, but formal dining rooms are disappearing fast. Setting out a local information sheet with great nearby Portland Metro Area restaurants and shopping venues is certainly a good idea for those new to the area. Being mindful of temperature control is important when weather might drive visitors away, as is buying new towels for the bathrooms and setting out cookies and lemonade, water or tea.

Northwest open houses are just one of the many ways your home can be offered to the public when you decided it’s time to move to a new place. All of them start with an easy first step: calling us!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

Bargaining Point Basics

When a new buyer first approaches their initial home buying effort, chances are they have only a general idea of what the process involves. Although they are successful people who have arrived at a juncture in their lives and careers where it’s now possible to buy a home of their own, most of the details—and even the terminology—is specific to this single kind of transaction. More than in most other purchases, there are a number of junctures where negotiations determine the outcome.

It’s pretty common to assume that their Portland Metro Area home buying venture can be wrapped up with a single offer—one that will either be accepted or not. But along the way, from the home loan provider to the title insurer to the seller, other bargaining points frequently appear.

A first local home buying venture is sure to run more smoothly if these basics don’t come as a bolt from the blue. Most of these five fundamental bargaining point basics might be guessed at, but anticipating them all will put any first-time buyer in a much better prepared position:

  • Down payment. It’s not true that buyers must put 20% down to buy a house. Or 10%. The amount of the down payment is a bargaining point with the lender, who usually offers trade-off choices.
  • Pre-qualification/Pre-approval. The difference between the two terms can make a difference in how eager some sellers are to talk turkey. Pre-qualified means the lender has received a potential borrower’s information; Pre-approved means the bank has verified it, which presents the buyer in a stronger light.
  • Closing costs. The down payment isn’t the only “up front” cost: there are a variety of other home-buying fees and charges that must be paid before the deal is financed. It’s a myth that the seller is obligated to pay closing costs—it can be a bargaining point, though.
  • Home inspection. The inspection report informs the buyer what might need to be fixed now or at some future time. If the buyer has made an offer contingent on a flawless report, if problems are identified the seller can offer to correct them, pay a named amount for a cash-back credit—or refuse (a “take it or leave it” stance). In any case, it’s another bargaining point.
  • Asking Price/Offering Price. This is the bargaining point that is fundamental in every local home buying venture. The seller can accept, reject, or compromise with a counter-offer. Then again, if more than one buyer is interested in a property, stand back: a bidding war could erupt!   

With all these (and there can be more) bargaining points to deal with, a first-time buyer might feel intimidated. That’s where being able to rely on the experience of a veteran northwest real estate agent is such an advantage. It’s not just that you won’t be surprised by steps in the process—you will have access to the approaches and tactics that have led to success in the post. It’s another good reason why a strategic first call will be to our office!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

Jumbo Mortgage Popularity Gains

House hunters aiming for some of the Portland Metro Area’s more upscale properties may see their home loan applications finding an increasingly welcome reception. That’s the word from the national financial press—and they aren’t whispering. According to The Wall Street Journal, it’s nothing short of “a jumbo shift in the U.S. mortgage market.”

In the world of mortgage lending, the “jumbos” are home loans for amounts that rise above the limits set by the federal reinsuring entities—Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (they aren’t exactly miniature outfits themselves). In circus lore, the name of “Jumbo” became legendary when, in the late 1800’s, P.T. Barnum thrilled crowds by starring the pachyderm of the same name—at that time the largest captive elephant in the world—in the center ring of his “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Today, the Portland home loans that borrow his name may not be elephantine, but they are larger than average. While one might think that lenders would view the larger loans askance, since more money involved would carry greater risk. You’d think they would give greater scrutiny and be more reluctant to lend for the same reason. But there are more and more indications that the opposite is true: jumbo loans are rising in popularity among lenders.

Financial commentators point to a number of reasons. CNBC cited the drop in interest rates as the cause of what they branded a “refinance boomlet” in the jumbo sector. After this month’s post-Brexit dive in mortgage rates, more borrowers had a larger incentive to refinance. CNBC found an average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed rate jumbos falling “to their lowest level since January 2011.”

The National Association of Realtors® found reason to point to the same conclusion—and provided a rationale explaining why “the jumbo mortgage business keeps getting bigger for banks.” In the wake of the mortgage crisis, with regulators pressuring banks to avoid anything that even smacks of risky lending, jumbo applications “typically feature borrowers with high credit scores”—a feature banks find newly appealing. “And,” according to the realtor.com website, “they aren’t linked to government programs that cost banks tens of billions of dollars in fines after the financial crisis.

All in all, the gist of the news should gladden the hearts of any resident looking to buy or sell the level of home that warrants one of those local jumbo loans. For sellers, it means that a greater number of consumers may be able to comfortably afford a jumbo home loan, broadening the pool of potential buyers. For buyers, it could mean that “more house” is newly within reach. For either eventuality, I hope you’ll give us a ring!

 

How to Make a Memorable Open House

Fresh baked chocolate chip cookies at your open house? It’s been a standard for open houses everywhere and forever, but if the goal is to make your property and its open house a standout, it’s a solution hardly in sync with the goal. Cheese and crackers? C’mon—does anyone really want dubious-looking cheese and cold cuts that have been sitting out for who-knows-how-long…?

Stone fruits and berries are at their absolute peak this time of year—so they make for a simple, elegant solution. It’s also one that’s easy to provide and appealing to look at…

Then again, if you are planning for your own local open house in this summer, you also have the option of upping the ante a bit—while still bringing the fruits of the season inside to the party. To add a delightfully unexpected and memorable surprise to your open house, consider baking a pie or two! Let the mouthwatering aromas fill the air just before show time—and be assured, the effect of that kind of old fashioned hospitality will linger long and memorably.  

Of course, it’s necessary to come up with an absolutely stunning pie—and since we aren’t all Julia Child-level kitchen whizzes, a little help might come in handy. Fortunately, help is here. This comes from Susan Hamilton’s book, Hit Woman, her memoir of the commercial music business and her adventures at its apex.  Hamilton’s cookery became almost as renowned as her music chops, and in an aside in an early edition, she shares the recipe for “the last pie crust you’ll ever use.” She recounts how it originated with a $1 mail-in classified ad from a long-forgotten Vermont newspaper. Here it is, reproduced (with her permission) for you to try:

3 ¾ c. unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

¾ lb cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes (3 sticks)

6 tablespoons cold lard cut into small cubes (about 3/4 stick)

½ c. ice water

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 whole egg

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in food processor. Mix ice water, egg and vinegar in glass measuring cup and set aside. Cut butter and lard into cubes quickly and place in processor. Use about 10 1-second pulses until fat pieces are the size of small peas. With the motor running, slowly pour the liquid into the mixture. When ingredients have almost massed together, dump contents into large mixing bowl and form a big ball with your hands. If necessary, give it a quick knead with the heel of your hand. Divide into 3 or 4 discs (3 for galettes; 4 for 9” crusts), place in Ziploc bags in fridge for at least a couple of hours. Crusts can be frozen for about 6 months.

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Looking for an agent to list your Portland Metro area house this summer? Whether you plan to bake pies or just eat them this season, I’m here to serve up a creative marketing plan—why not give us a call?

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

5 Snags that Derail Closings

It’s a great feeling to assist clients on the great adventure of discovering and landing their new northwest home. The final part of the real estate sale comes with the closing, where the papers are executed and house keys handed over.

Virtually all of our local real estate sales proceed to closing without significant hitches. That’s not by accident: we’ve helped clear the path by methodically checking off every item on each sale’s unique ‘to do’ list. That checklist has evolved to include the various technical legal and financial items that need to be addressed before a change of ownership can happen. At closing, they’re all addressed.

But—as everyone with many closings to their credit will tell you—even well-laid plans can begin to unravel when the unexpected pops up. Apparently “closing nightmare” stories make for great internet fodder, because you can find scores of them online. Some are tall tales, but others are exactly what’s to be expected if care isn’t taken to head them off.

Here is a list of five of those kinds of closing predicaments. They reflect common missteps that can derail things when everything else is in order. Since most are easily preventable, they’re unlikely to occur at the last minute if real estate professionals have been part of the picture from the start:

  1. Agreed-upon repairs aren’t completed. This can happen for any number of reasons, but innocent or not, if the timetable for completion hasn’t been met, it can threaten to derail the real estate sale. This one doesn’t have to prevent closing. If everyone wants to proceed, the Realtors® for the parties can work out an escrow arrangement with funds set aside to cover the shortfall.
  2. The house can’t be sold. This rarer situation should have been identified before closing, but it’s possible that a mechanic’s or tax lien can show up late in the day. In cases where there has been a death in the family, it’s also possible that the heirs may mistakenly believe they will have legal title to home in Portland before the probate process can be completed.
  3. The home loan appraisal comes up short. Both buyer and seller may be in perfect agreement about the value of the Portland Metro Area property— but if the chosen bank’s appraiser demurs, it may be back to Square One.
  4. The buyer’s finances change. When a lender green-lights a loan based upon the buyer’s debt-to-income ratio, that’s considered a key qualifier. If the buyer changes that ratio by losing income or taking on new debt (or even paying off an existing debt!) it alters the ratio, which can trigger a new investigation, stall the loan—and waylay the closing.
  5. Homeowner’s insurance falls through. It’s a bad idea to assume that every insurance company will grant required homeowner insurance. Since their binder or policy will be needed, better to take the extra moments to call to more than one agent.

The best local closings are no accident: they happen when all contingencies have been discussed and worked out well in advance. They start at the very beginning—we hope, with a call to us!

The Rent or Buy Enigma

To rent or buy? question sometimes answers itself—especially when the requisite down payment amount isn’t available. Other Portland Metro area residents have to wrestle with a very important decision that simply doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, any more than does a what car is best? question.

Factors that make it complicated have to do with how predictable many other facets of their future are: how long do they know they will be living in the northwest; how reliable is their income stream; how stable is the size of their family, and—an associated issue—how important will the quality of neighborhood grade, middle, and/or public high school be…and when?

Once you are convinced that there is no simple answer to the rent or buy question, it becomes much easier to dismiss some of the mythology that passes as common sense when it comes to the decision. Chief among the myths is the one that has renting being more economical because of the associated costs that go with homeownership—

Taxes! Maintenance! Insurance! Put them all together, pile them on top of the monthly mortgage payment, and there’s no way it isn’t cheaper to rent!

That idea is sometimes bolstered by taking pencil to paper. If the immediate monthly expense does come out in favor of renting, it’s probably why the myth endures (even though some other “common sense” has it that owning your Portland Metro area home is the smart way to go).

What’s the unbiased bottom line when it comes to dollars and sense? Is the answer to rent or buy dependent on speculation—that local real estate values need to continually grow? If everything else is equal—if the emotional and prestige aspects of homeownership are set aside—why isn’t it financially more prudent to risk nothing, and just rent?

The answer that’s most comprehensive was recently cited by media financial guru Dave Ramsey, who is most well-known for counselling against debt. With that as his philosophical touchstone, you’d expect that the last thing he’d recommend would be signing on to a debt the size of a typical mortgage. Yet the opposite is true. Among other reasons, the asset value of the underlying property soon balances out against the liability of the debt, so it’s not troubling. But that’s not the real answer to his coming down on the side of owning over renting.

Ramsey’s reasoning is simple enough: the key lies in inflation. When you measure this month’s cost of homeownership versus the monthly rental for a comparable local home, the two might be almost equal—or even cheaper for the rental. But that’s only this month. Thinking ahead a year or two…or more realistically, seven, or 10, or 15 years, inflation can be counted on to add significantly to what the renter will pay. The homeowner’s costs are much more stable. Ramsey says that a renter would pay 38% more over the next seven years than would someone who buys today. He quotes Zillow’s finding that between the years 2000-2014, the cost of renting grew twice as quickly as did household incomes. Currently, rent costs nearly 30% of a typical renter’s income.

The financial part of the rent or buy decision is another area where my clients benefit from up-to-the moment market knowledge…and why a call to our office always results in valuable information!    

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

July Maintenance Checklist

In addition to our Independence, the Fourth of July also marks a sort of mid-year pause. Families with kids have by now shuffled them into summertime activities. All graduates have graduated; the gardens have all been started (and some parts of it, even harvested!). This used to be the season for television series reruns, resulting in measurably less TV-watching; but cable programmers have obliterated that notion—and this year, the Rio Olympics will draw much attention back indoors.

But for the most part, the beginning of July marks OTY: the undeniably Outdoor Time of Year. It’s the sunny, healthy time of year; time to get out of the kitchen and see how much outdoor cooking can get done. It just feels healthier—even if there are just as many calories in a burger cooked outdoors as in the kitchen.

For northwest homeowners who have been telling themselves they would get around to the annual home maintenance chores pretty soon, it’s also the time of year when they are uncomfortably within visual range of many the details that call out for some quality maintaining. A sagging gate that really should be reinforced; paving stones that tree roots are slowly but surely upending—they may not demand attention in December, but—let’s face it—it’s already July!!!

The outdoor features most in need of attention are different for every Portland Metro area home, but here is a universal maintenance checklist culled from some of the items that commonly deserve attention. They may not be precisely those that warrant your ministrations, but may serve to jog your memory about the ones that make up your own maintenance checklist:

Deck & Patio – when the weather’s clear, it’s prime time for staining (it usually is an annual task—no matter what the label on the can promised).

Pots & Planters —new ones and old ones deserve “feet” beneath them…or any solution that facilitates draining. The surface beneath will benefit—and likely need less attention of its own later on.

Mold — it’s really easy to deal with if it isn’t allowed to accumulate for years. The products that make eradication easy can be found at all local hardware stores.

Drainage — while you’re out in the yard attending to everything else, keep your eyes open for evidence of runoff where it doesn’t belong. Trace it back to the source: if it’s just the beginning of a drainage issue, dealing with it early can save a lot of expensive grief later on.

Windows — pests frequently enter through cracks and openings that develop around window frames. You may need a ladder to be able to spot what’s developing on top, but if needed, a little caulk will keep your home’s “envelope” intact.

A/C — every kind of air conditioner needs to have its filter cleaned or replaced to prevent needless strain on the fan motor. If not July—when?

It feels good to have an annual look-see at how your home is standing up to the wear and tear that the past year has rendered. Once any issues have been dealt with, the rest of the summer will be that much more enjoyable. And on the very practical side, if and when you decide to hand your local home off to a new owner, the financial rewards for having kept it in prime condition over the years will be measurable. We’ll be here in the meantime—standing by to answer any and all questions about our area’s real estate market!

Craig Reger Group

503.893.2022

We sell more because we do more.

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