Each person or family's story is unique, but particularly in this housing market, they share some common themes. Here are the stories of six individuals or families from around the Portland region. Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
A new view: Derek Hoenisch, Lake Oswego
I was born and raised in Portland. I'm an import logistics manager in Northwest Portland. I've been with the company for 23 years.
In 1999, I bought a house in the Overlook/Madrona Hill neighborhood in North Portland. The house is three sites from the Adidas complex. I bought prior to Adidas going in, while they were building the MAX track (on Interstate Avenue).
I bought with the intention of moving into a mixed-race community and sidewalks, because I think sidewalks create community. I'd grown up around Portland in different areas with sidewalks and without sidewalks and I thought without sidewalks it seemed harder to meet others.
Finding a new house
The main reason (we wanted to move) is to have a slightly bigger house with a second bathroom. The second thing would be schools, schools and schools. We have a 3-year-old daughter and my wife is a Japanese national. So we were looking for good schools with the ability to have a foreign language immersion, either Japanese or German.
We originally started looking in inner Southwest, in the Vermont/Wilson High and Capitol Hill Elementary School area. We weren't able to act fast enough or be willing to bid high enough for those homes.
There were a lot of midcentury ranches that were on the market listing price from $375,000 to $400,000. But we weren't quite prepared when we were first looking. We found that most of the houses we were interested in sold in the $425,000 to $440,000 range.
The houses we saw that we really liked were right ahead of us making any offers on them. They were closed within two days or so. When we did have our financial structure set up there was nothing in the market we were willing to go after. Everything was in worse shape or on a busy street with a bus stop or four-way stop. The ones we really liked were on dead-end streets and in close proximity to schools. They went so fast, and were way out of our ballpark.
"When I saw the house on the market... my wife's first response was 'no, it's too far for you to drive.'"
So we expanded our range of looking for housing. I prefer to be kind of inner city. I love North Portland. We were looking to be still inner city. But we opened up our view to see what was out there, and we spotted one specific house and we said, "Let's try, let's go after it."
The new house
When I saw the house on the market – the one we have successfully purchased – my wife's first response was no, it's too far for you to drive. (I'm going from a 2-mile commute to a 13-mile commute.) I told her not to think about me, just herself. It took her overnight just to think we should go out and look at the house. We're close to the city of Lake Oswego – after she saw the town and then she saw the house, she thought this would work just fine.
It's an awesome house in a fantastic location in a perfect spot. Everything kind of fit together for us. $380,000 with 2,500 square feet and a large backyard bordering a city park. The elementary school is a 5-minute walk with a 3-year-old.
We went from being the second offer to being called and told the first offer fell through. We are very happy with the outcome. It was on the market at $399,000, and later lowered to $380,000. We bid $410,000.
It was a somewhat distressed sale and priced under the market. The house has some issues itself. The back deck needs to be rebuilt, but the inside is fine.
Buying a house in North Portland was the best financial decision I've ever made. Selling the house in North Portland was the second-best financial decision I've made in my life. We had 15 offers, and another seven to ten that were interested. The house sold 25 percent above the value we listed it for.
Finding a home was harder than expected. I would base that on the fact that we ended up 13 miles out of the city instead of seven or five. We had a goal of me not having to drive so far.
I never thought I'd live in Lake Oswego. I never thought I'd sell the house in North Portland. Getting married changes a lot of things.
Fulfilling a dream: Victoria Davis, Southeast Portland
I was born here, but I was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I came back as a teenager. Currently I work at an all-women and children's treatment center, part of Central City Concern. We take in women who have been addicted, who are trying to clean up, get their children back in their care and reunite families. I'm the residential supervisor at my job, one of three supervisors. I love the work, but it's hard. I'm also going back to school in the fall to get my Associates (Degree).
I was living at 165th and East Burnside for about 15 months before I started looking for a home.
Looking for a new home
I have been working with (Portland Community Reinvestment Initiative) for a while. I cleaned my credit up and after 15 months I was ready to purchase. PCRI provided mentoring, classes on home buying. I also did an 8-hour homebuyers class. It goes over stuff you learn all through the process of the program.
I got down payment assistance through PCRI, it's called DPAL – a Down Payment Assistance Loan from the city of Portland. The program was for the Lents area only. They have it for targeted areas (including the Interstate Avenue Urban Renewal Area and the Gateway district). I was right on the border (of Lents) but I was eligible. (Note: the DPAL program provides first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance and in return requires they attend homebuying classes and take financial training courses.)
When I first met with (my realtor) she asked what I wanted, what would be OK and what would you absolutely not be interested in. I remember telling her I don't want to move somewhere where there's a lot of work that needs to be done. I didn't want any big trees. I didn't really want to be in an open area like in the middle of the block; I'd want to be on a corner or in a cul-de-sac.
(I wanted) somewhere where my dog would be safe. I wanted to be in an area where I knew if my car broke down I could hop on a bus and get to a grocery store. The bus stop is right outside my house. There's Safeway on 122nd and Powell, Wally World on 182nd and Holgate. Things that were accessible; those were really important.
I wanted to live where there's kids, because I like kids. I live in front of a Home Forward apartment complex. I'm good with that
I looked at 15 or 20 houses. There was one that we made an offer on. It was finished. There had been a family that lived in that home, but you could tell it was well-kept. It was at 172nd off of Burnside, but there were so many offers for that home. We didn't find that out until we made the offer. It just wasn't my house, although I was a bit devastated at the time.
(The home I found) is on Southeast Holgate. It is one of four townhomes. It's brand new. I was the first owner (in the complex). I moved in August 2014 and I was there by myself up until March. The other three townhomes are full now.
My sponsor went through the program and it took her nine months to find a house and purchase it. But when I was feeling a bit discouraged she said, "Why don't you write a little letter to God and say some of the things you want in that house?" So I did.
I still have that letter and everything I asked for I got. High ceilings, spacious, a nice kitchen a little yard for me and my dog, three bathrooms, a garage for my car, lots of closet space. That kind of stuff it makes me cry when I think about it, because it really came true. It really came to life.
On leaving Northeast Portland
I used to live up on 50th and Killingsworth in a duplex townhome. I should have never moved there but I jumped the gun; I was already in an apartment at 162nd and Halsey and I left there and moved into a bigger space with more rent and I found myself in a rut, so I moved out and stayed with my sister for one year. Then I moved out into my own apartment at 165th and East Burnside.
(One reason I moved to that more expensive apartment is) I wanted to be back in my community. But with the gentrification and all those nice things, some of the apartments going up now are more than my mortgage.
"When I close my eyes for the last time, that house will be left to my son and my daughter-in-law and my grandbabies. ... They can live in it, they can sell it, I don't care – but I want them to have it."
I think my overall feeling is I'm just sad that a lot of people who look like me didn't understand the importance of keeping that home in the family. People sold out when money was thrown at them, so I'm sorry for them. Lots of people my age that used to live in the Northeast community now live far out.
Owning vs. renting
I want the money that I work for to go to someone. When I close my eyes for the last time, that house will be left to my son and my daughter-in-law and my grandbabies. I hope I check out before they do and I want them to have that. They can live in it, they can sell it, I don't care – but I want them to have it.
It's overwhelming being a homeowner. It's a lot. But I'd do it again. I'd do it all over again.
When I moved in, I didn't have the movers come in till the next day, but I got my keys and I just lay on the floor. I stayed there alone that night, with just some pillows and blankets. I just needed to feel it, just by myself.
Persistence: Freddie and Leslie Carthy, Northeast Portland
As told by Freddie Carthy.
We moved to Portland July 1, 2014, from Los Angeles. We came here with the idea of do without for a year and see if this is the place for us. We really wanted to get out of Los Angeles. We fell completely in love with the city.
I’m a web developer. I was freelancing, working from home. That facilitated the move: just being able to pick up and go wherever we wanted. Leslie took a break for a month and a half then she started working freelance at a local advertising firm. I now work for a start up downtown.
One of our motivators (for moving here) was the housing market. We knew that we’d never be able to afford a home we really wanted (in L.A.), and we weren't getting what other people are getting out of L.A. It just wasn’t us. So we thought, what's keeping us here?
We decided to give one year in Portland as a trial run, and if we really liked it we’d start looking in the late spring to buy a place. That was always our intention. We ended up starting a little sooner than that.
We were pretty open as far as our requirements for a house. All I wanted for me was a garage to store my motorcycle. And we didn’t want it too small.
Around March was when we made the first exploratory meeting with our realtors.
Then it was a pretty quick decision. We kind of realized that things were heating up.
We’d been living in Northeast for this year and we fell in love with it. So we wanted to stay as close as possible. We were trying to focus a lot on 20th Avenue above Broadway and but not past 42nd. We started branching out from there, looking all the way to Kenton at one point.
The failed offers
We were finding a couple of houses in our price range, but things were going quickly. The first place we ever put an offer on was in Northeast, just a couple blocks away. This was before we had learned the market and before (our realtors) had realized what was really happening, how aggressive people were getting. We offered $425,000 on a house listed under $400,000, and we didn’t get it due to price. Whoever got it bid a pretty penny for that one.
We ended up with 13 failed offers.
We got close at a house a few blocks south of us. We were contacted by the sellers saying we were one of the stronger offers, but they wanted to know who’d be willing to relinquish the appraisal contingency. That’s when we woke up to what was really going on. Because we were 100 percent not willing to do that. If the house is listed at $350 and we’re offering $460 and they want us to roll the dice, we said no. We know for a fact that we lost a couple houses because we were coming up against cash.
We were trying to be creative as possible in how we made strong offers. We’d put down $10,000 in earnest money and offer $5,000 to sellers no questions asked. We would still lose. We would say things like we won't give in our appraisal contingency but if it does come under we’re willing to negotiate.
We wrote many letters. Sometimes we heard, "Hey, you’re our favorites, we really like you guys, but someone else is coming in a bit stronger." We went under backup 10 times.
"We got heartbroken once or twice a week for two and a half months. It was really tough to stay with it."
You have to laugh because if you don’t you cry. We heard before you have to try not to move yourself in mentally because you’re going to be heartbroken, but that’s hard to do. It’s really hard not to picture yourself there to realize that’s the place you want to be. You're buying a home. You're going to be there 10 years.
We must have looked at 100 houses. We were putting in at least an offer a week for over two months. We got heartbroken once or twice a week for two and a half months. It was really tough to stay with it.
We could have stayed in L.A. and moved to the suburbs. If the point is only to buy a house, we could have done that in L.A. somewhere. We’d just be living in the desert. It was about living in a place we wanted to live in and owning a house. We didn’t want to give that up. We had to be very persistent.
A selling agent referred us to a home that was about to be put on the market. The seller was out of the country but they heard our story and how hard it’s been and they agreed to let us see the house once before it was even listed.
We went in and said: "This is it. We have to have this house. We have to have it."
Originally they were thinking of listing it around $440,000. We ultimately agreed at $465,000.
The new place is just down the street at 36th and just north of Killingsworth in Concordia. We think it’s a steal with how crazy the market is. The house is in great condition and so pretty.
Staying put: Silvia Rodrigues, Downtown Beaverton
I came (to the Portland region) 14 years ago, after a few years in San Francisco, where I lived and worked near Candlestick Park. I was not very happy there. The minimum wage was $4.50 and my neighborhood had lots of problems with gangs and violence. My brother lived in Portland working in construction and said I might like Oregon more – the people are nicer, the wages a little higher – so I came first to North Portland. But I didn’t like living there because the neighborhood had problems with gangs. So, I decided we’d move here to Beaverton.
I worked 13 years for a cleaning company since I came to Portland. It’s a long history, but they were only paying minimum wage, no benefits, always asking more and more. So, I decided last year to make the big decision to start my own housekeeping business. I work by myself now, and I have clients here in Beaverton and all over the region.
I watch the TV a lot these days because of all the things politicians are saying about immigrants in this country. I don’t think they have any idea of what life is like for immigrants – why they come here, the work they do. I’m 54 years old, and in Mexico they don’t have good jobs for people over 40 and the wages are really bad.
I’ve been in this apartment for three years. Before this, I was living in another apartment with friends, but I got tired of that, and I thought I might like it better living by myself.
I looked for other places before moving here, but they weren’t nice or they asked for too much money. I saw this place advertised on the internet, I thought it looked nice and quiet, and came to look at it by myself two times, but never saw a manager or anyone in the office. The second time, I saw somebody in the parking lot, and I asked them if they knew where the landlord or manager was, and he said, “You’re speaking with him!”
"I thought about (moving) a little while ago but the rents are getting too high."
They showed me two apartments, and I didn’t like the other one because there was a boiler in one of the closets, and he showed me this one. I liked it. It’s good for me so I stayed!
I love this area. It’s quiet, safe – there’s lots of police cars in the neighborhood because [Beaverton High School] is right across the street. I can walk to the grocery store, library and church. I don’t have a car or a license, so I like there’s a lot of transportation on Farmington Road, or I can walk a few blocks to take the MAX. It’s nice because I have clients here, in Northwest and Southeast Portland, and in Hillsboro.
Shopping for groceries is easy. Usually I walk to WinCo just seven blocks away, or Fred Meyer a little further or a few Mexican stores. It’s a really nice walk in the morning, too.
For me, I don’t have any complaints about the school. Some people don’t like it because maybe the band will be practicing, or they play some games or the children are running around, but my apartment doesn’t face the street so I don’t hear it too much.
On looking for a new place
I thought about it a little while ago but the rents are getting too high. I asked some friends who just moved and they said they pay $750 for one bedroom. It’s too expensive! I said I don’t need to move, I’ll stay here.
Moving (way) off campus: Jacob Mosiman, Gresham
I’m from McMinnville. I’m a student right now, and I also just got hired as an insurance producer downtown. I’ve been going to Portland State University for the past two years, after transferring from Chemeketa Community College, and I’ll be graduating after this winter term. My major is in business management and human resources.
Looking for a place
I didn’t have to worry about housing for those first two years at PSU, but I decided independently that it was time to move into my own place. We were splitting a one-bedroom unit on campus before we started looking, and it was costing us $1,300 a month, but it was the largest unit PSU had available.
I’ve worked in housing before, so I started the whole process of looking fairly early, about six months before my lease was up.
My girlfriend and I started looking for this new place with another couple, and we set our budget at $1,800, and we went with that for a while, but we found out pretty quickly that it was just impossible to get our foot in the door anywhere.
After a while, we had to part ways with the other couple because they had no rental history. So, that took our budget down to about $1,200.
I definitely thought we were going to find something in Portland, in our price range. I knew it was going to take a while, and I knew it wasn’t going to be someplace downtown – we were going to have to commute. I was not prepared for how high the criteria would be for all the property management companies. Most of the places we found had tenant income requirements of 3.5 to four times the amount of the rent, and when you’re a student those amounts are impossible to match. So, I started to look more at independent property owners.
I had a fairly… aggressive way of approaching it. I’m very organized, so I had a spreadsheet listing the location, details of the place, its square footage, my rating of it, the URL and log whether or not I had contacted them already.
I contacted about four to five places a day during the week. There were a few places that we liked a lot that we felt had a chance at getting, and we submitted a full application to four locations. We might have done more, but a $50 fee per application is a lot of money.
When I contacted property managers, I’d ask if they were selecting based on a first-come, first-serve basis, or if it was a comparative process. If it was comparative then I honestly didn’t feel comfortable applying. I’m the only one with any longstanding rental history and I just got my first credit card and started building that, so we didn’t have much credit history either. So, I imagine on paper we didn’t look all that appealing.
I used my social network a bit, posting a few times on Facebook to make sure everyone knew I was on the lookout for a rental. I talked to a former coworker who’s now a real estate agent, asked her if she knew of any properties.
I contacted a few people in the “Roommates” section of Craigslist. I put up an ad on Craigslist as well, and went on RoommateFinder, created profiles there and on a few other websites. But, between our age, being a couple and having cat, no one really wanted it because at least one of those factors would kind of kill it.
My new place
This place was posted on Craigslist. My mom lived in Gresham when I was younger, and having grown up there part time, I didn’t really want to move back. But, when I started to get desperate for finding a place, I started looking as far west as Beaverton and all the way out to East Portland.
It’s on NW Division and Birdsdale, only 10 to 15 blocks away from the Portland-Gresham border, so it’s not terribly far. (I found it) through a rental agency, and it's part of a big development – there’s well over 100 different homes, I’d say.
The rent is for my new place is $1,835 for a 1,500 square foot townhouse. It’s on a year-long lease. The water and garbage is bundled into the rent, leaving us to pay gas, electricity and internet. Compared to PSU, where almost $1,300 covered all utilities.
"Transit was a game-changer because I don’t want to drive my car into downtown. It’s about an hour-long ride each way, though."
The only downside for us is the location and the commute we have to do. I love the place, and it’s much bigger than I’m used to. The only thing that made me compromise, other than the desperation of having to move out in a few weeks, is that it’s right on the No. 4 line which takes me right to downtown. So transit was a game-changer because I don’t want to drive my car into downtown. It’s about an hour-long ride each way, though.
We’re definitely out of our normal social sphere, and we don’t know anybody out there yet. We do have Cash & Carry and a Grocery Outlet like a block away, which is really nice coming from downtown where we were forced to always shop at Safeway. And we’re close to a shopping center, so we’re definitely close to food and entertainment, just not really as much as downtown Portland, naturally.
Advice for others
I think the biggest surprise was the requirement for income, and in general how high those standards were. I guess my biggest beef was how impersonal the whole process is, coming from a smaller town. Out there, half of it is what you are on paper, and the other half is meeting in person to see if you’re a good fit. But up here, you’re lucky if you get somebody on the phone. I would call and get a response from maybe one out of every five people, and that’s just inquiring about the property.
Start much earlier than you think. I think I would have also started looking for shared housing situations earlier as well, that way you don’t have to deal up front so much with the management companies.
Further drive, but happy family: The McCauley family, Tualatin
As told by Brian McCauley
The old house
I work in Beaverton in financial services and my wife works in the Lloyd District.
My wife had bought the house in Southwest Portland nine years ago. It's close to downtown, a great starter home. It was built in 1947 on a corner lot, and prior to my wife, the previous owner had subdivided the lot and built an attached home next door.
The street we were living on was very busy, and a 35-mph speed zone. We didn't have a garage to park our car and the house was a little too small for entertaining people and having family over. We have a 2-year old, too. So, about a year ago we got serious about moving.
Looking for a new house
With the market as hot as it was we couldn't put an offer on another house because we couldn't afford two mortgages and not many people were accepting contingent offers.
We put our house on the market last fall. In two months we had an offer about $15,000 under our listing price and we were about 12 hours from the inspection period being over, when the buyer backed out. At that point it was getting close to the holidays, so we took it off the market. We relisted in the spring and it took about 60 days when we got a full price offer and then we started really looking for our “forever home” but we didn't want to get our hopes up.
We had to move out of our old house before we bought the new one. We got a great apartment off Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, with month-to-month rent.
We loved our old neighborhood so we started looking there. Then we realized we couldn't afford anything we wanted, so we started looking at Tigard. But we didn't really like the houses we looked at because they were either tiny lots or in neighborhoods we weren't excited about. So we looked in Beaverton and the Bull Mountain area, too.
"We got everything we wanted. The only thing that would make it better is if the commute was any less."
We hadn't really thought about Tualatin until we realized that it's a quiet suburban area with good schools and good neighborhoods. That's when we realized that it was going to work out best for us despite the longer commutes.
We found a fantastic house. It's got great schools, and the nearest busy road is a block away, enough to feel comfortable. It's on a cul-de-sac with a nice backyard and a garage. It's bigger than our old house, with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.
We put an offer on it the day it was listed. There were two other offers at the same time, but we came with 20% cash since we'd sold the other house.
We got everything we wanted. The only thing that would make it better is if the commute was any less. I'm looking at 45 minutes and my wife is about an hour.
Advice for others
I'd say pick a really good realtor. When you get a good one, they put a lot of effort in.
I also suggest that people weigh the pros and cons of a commute versus the kind of lifestyle you want to live. Have a little longer term perspective as to where you want to be in life. Think five years down the road instead of immediately.
Share your story
Interviews of Jacob Mosiman and Silvia Rodrigues conducted by Justin Sherrill.