Life in Portland Blog

Energy Trust of Oregon Home Inspection

Did you know that you can have a professional representative from Energy Trust of Oregon visit your home and assess the property's energy efficiency...for free? I will admit that I did not - until I recently became a homeowner and was encouraged to look into this service by my Realtor, Rachel Freed. So I made an appointment, and this morning I met Rocky (pictured), who took me on a one-hour guided tour of my home's energy efficiency.
Rocky's job is varied. He checks the insulation levels in the walls, attic, basement, etc. He inspects the efficiency of your water heater and furnace. He's there to educate you, and advise on ways you can (over time) improve on your energy efficiency - many with cash incentives - with a list of approved 'ally' contractors (all trained to meet Energy Trust standards) who can walk you through the process and ensure you qualify for your rebate.
Rocky is pretty great.

We started with a review of our water usage in our basement ADU. There's a bathroom down there - we utilize the toilet on occasion, but not the shower. Using a dye tablet, Rocky checked to see if we had any cracks or leakage in the plumbing, and gauged that we were flushing away 2.5 gallons of water with each push of the button. Rocky gave us a simple bladder to fill with water and place in the cistern - similar to ye olden days of a brick-in-the-cistern trick - which reduces the amount of water used in a single flush (ours is now 1.75 gallons per flush, thanks Rocky!). He also replaced our faucet aerators in both bathrooms, and checked the downstairs shower head, trading it out with one that distributes the same pressure, with far less water.

Here's some of the other interesting things I learned from this morning's inspection;

* Rocky can replace up to 10 lightbulbs with CFL globes, per household - he even had a special case filled with globes just for this purpose. You can pre-order an Energy Saver Kit on the Energy Trust of Oregon website, specifying which globes you need at the inspection. All at no cost to you.
* He's found that the Energy Performance Score (EPS) is increasingly used as a selling point for Real Estate Agents, especially those representing Sellers. This illustrates that Oregon home Buyers are becoming more savvy of energy efficiency, and are mindful of cutting back on wasteful practices.
* Rocky suggested that we track the charges on our utilities bills, keeping an eye on the fluctuations in different seasons, to help alert us on where to focus our energy conservation efforts. To be honest, we should be doing this already, eek!
* We have storm windows - an original feature of our 1950's home - that aren't exactly energy efficient, but apparently not a huge factor in energy loss. But Rocky did point out that our prehistoric dryer could definitely use an upgrade to a less energy-guzzling model. Plus, we were missing wall insulation, and insulation in our ceiling space. We'll be taking advantage of the available incentives by using one of EToO's recommended contractors to have environmentally-friendly cellulose insulation sprayed in those spaces.
* Energy Trust of Oregon can recycle your old freezer or fridge! That's right - they'll haul it away for you, and, based on the age of the unit, give you a cash incentive of up to $40 to do so. You can also donate this incentive to Oregon Food Bank.
* Rocky pointed out areas where we could insulate pipes against the cold, especially where they rested against the house exterior. This is a simple fix that anyone can do, and makes a difference in the longevity and performance of our plumbing system.

At the end of our inspection, Rocky created a report of the results, and detailed suggested updates and improvements - plus provided plenty of easy-to-follow literature on energy efficiency around the home.

There is far more information and ideas to be found on Energy Trust of Oregon's website, and so much to learn about your home - as an owner, or a renter - that scheduling a free one-hour visit from someone like Rocky is a no-brainer in finding easy, effective ways to save on your energy outage (and therefore your utilities bill). We hope that this post inspires you to make the call, and become more home efficient!

Home Buying, A Geek Odyssey, Part 6: Fin

Hi, I'm Catt. You might remember me from the other five blog posts in this Series, where I rollercoasted from naive optimism, to deep, dark despair (am only 48% kidding, here). Hey, it's the Portland housing market!

Image courtesy of Allison Fuller, Keller Williams - thanks, Allie!

Photo credit to the 70's - thanks, the 70's!

The last time I posted, Wade & I were once again plumbing the depths of our previously untested emotional reserves and forging ahead in the hunt for our perfect home. Since then, we've not only found it (see above photo of adorable Portsmouth abode), but made an Offer (swift, confident), which was then accepted...finally. We're about to wrap up with our signing and finalizing of financials (a whole different bundle of fun), but I'm here to prove to you that while the ride can be rough, you will still get there in the end. As our Agent Rachel reassured us, there has not been an instance where one of her clients has walked away without what they came for. Sometimes, it just takes a lot longer to reach the finish line. Hang in there, kitten!

So here's my takeaway: If you're contemplating becoming a first time home buyer, start now. Build your credit, learn your options, do some research, speak with professionals. Find an Agent who listens to you, and who can relate to you and your unique wants & needs (this is just so important, as you'll be spending quite a bit of time with them). Buying a home is a journey, and - if you're just regular folk, like us - one of the biggest endeavors of a lifetime.
Good luck, and happy hunting!

Home Buying, A Geek Odyssey, Part 5: The Thousand Backyard Stare

There's an old WWII saying for when battle-weary soldiers have acquired a blank gaze into an indeterminable horizon - the 'thousand yard stare'. With full and complete respect to our military, both past and present, I'd like to adapt this phrase in relation to Portland's current housing market: the thousand backyard stare. And I've got it.

It's been a while since my last confession, but that doesn't mean we've dropped off the real estate radar. Along with our 9-5 jobs, and a photography business on the side (wedding season is nearly over!), hunting for our home is exactly as several Urban Nest agents have described it - another full-time job on top of the one/s you already have. Finding the house online, visiting the house in person with our (amazing) showing agent, Ceil, making a fairly swift decision - "Do we want this? Can we live in this? Can we grow in this?" - discussing the Pros and Cons with our (amazing) agent, Rachel, writing up a thoughtful, competitive offer, waiting, waiting, waiting. And ultimately, in our case - twice, now - losing. It's so hard. It's okay, I can talk about it, though.

The first house we applied for was The One. We knew as soon as we stepped inside. We felt it. We could evolve in every direction in this house, grow old in it, raise kids, have guests. A large corner block in a rural-feeling section of Cully, with a bat box on the side - already prepped for our eventual Backyard Habitat! - a HUGE garage which would make an incredible, eventual ADU for my MIL, all these ideas popping into our heads about what we'd do, and where. Dreaming of the house, thinking about moving day. We made a strong offer - to the brink of our financial abilities - and waited.
And then, we didn't get the house.
Even with a great agent, a strong and generous offer, an emotional connection. Even at nearly 30k over asking. We were outbid, by someone with more $ and resources than us. It was devastating. And it took some time to bounce back. We're now trying to not compare every new house to This House, but then we found the second...

...which was a really, really cute house in Roseway. Eventually we'd admit to ourselves that it was coasting on pretty, and perhaps we were cutting ourselves short by 'settling' for the lack of growth opportunity (I was telling myself we'd live "creatively" to fit this diminutive house) and ultimately, we were dramatically outbid on this one as well. But still, each time, we were in second place. Our offers were considered as back-up. Which shows that we had a great offer, but it doesn't matter how great your offer is if your opponent (nemesis) has seriously deep pockets. And that's the nature of Portland's real estate market right now, and the reality for all the buyers out there, just like us.

How to not get dissuaded? How to soldier on with optimism and hope intact? Faith. Have faith in your representatives - who tell me (nearly) daily, "This was not the one. It will happen." And it will. This is not intended to be a negative post, nor is it meant to discourage those in our shoes. If anything, it should strengthen your resolve, and mine. Rachel pulled Wade and myself aside to reassess the situation, and our priorities.  To regroup, and take a breath.
We got this.

Home Buying, A Geek Odyssey Part 4: Where The Heart Is

It's been a while since my last update, but so much has happened in the interim - and all of it in the past week! Wade and I were (finally) pre-approved for a loan (yay!), and everyone who had been patiently waiting on standby sprung into action. David immediately set up an appointment, refreshing us on the financial logistics, providing us with an in-depth assessment of our options, and emphasizing that our budgeted range is very dependent on a property's taxes. Rachel and Ceil (our showing agent) got together on Friday afternoon to compile a list of houses for our 'educational tour' on Sunday, and we even ducked out that same afternoon after work to view a property that seemed to have everything going for it - everything - but still didn't feel 'right'.

And that's what I want to talk about here. This house was "hot", and bound to go quickly. Great curb appeal, lovely garden, raspberry patch - solar panels, even! All the character and vintage touches that make my heart go pitter pat. Extra space in the basement, desirable neighborhood, a work shed for Wade to build guitars in, and an ideal-for-us entertaining area out back under a large, shady tree. Etc, etc. All this at a price within our budget. So when Wade and I walked out of that adorable house and were anything but exuberant, I felt this weird sense of...guilt. Why, when this house was so close to 'perfect' for us, was I anything but moved? In the months (and years) of watching houses come and go online, some being the stuff of night terrors, why were we not jumping for this obviously amazing abode?

It's actually pretty simple. The house wasn't Meant For Us. Rachel has often talked about this - as do other Realtors at Urban Nest - but I certainly needed some reassuring. We'll just KNOW when we've found our place. I have to have faith in that. I've been waiting so, so long to own my own home that it's crucial to be extra careful to not make impulsive decisions. I have to quell my near-panic in this unchartered and competitive market, and trust in my gut - and my Agent. And this is where your Agent proves invaluable, not only guiding you through the maze of home buying, but also keeping you calm, optimistic, and steady for the duration. It's a tumultuous process, and I'm already a bit emotional about it, even though we've barely just begun.

Lastly, I wanted to share here some encouraging words from my best friend, Mary, who is also working around the clock to keep me sane and level through this experience. For those of you joining me in the deep end of the Portland real estate market right now, I hope that you can also take away a little comfort and reassurance from this post, and these wise words;

"I know you know this, but wait until it feels right. This is your life, your future home, don't grab something just because you want to strike while the iron is hot. You will find the one you're absolutely in love with , and while you will need to compromise, you won't have to settle - there's a big difference, there. You'll know it when it happens - I mean, you've waited this long, why rush into something now? I've gone house-hunting before, and I know how unsure the decisions may feel (which is how you know it's not time, frankly), and how unsettling that question of whether you're ever going to find something can be. You can, and you will. Plus, you've got the best of the best on your side, helping you along in the process."

And it makes all the difference.

Catt (& Wade)

Home Buying, A Geek Odyssey Part 3: Real Estate 101

With all of our financial ducks (mostly) in a row, it was time to sit down with our agent for a Real Estate 101 session. This serves two purposes: familiarizing ourselves with the process, and our agent gaining a solid understanding of what we're looking for.
Again, full disclosure - I'm Urban Nest's Office Manager, so I'm lucky to work with and for a diverse group of excellent brokers. When interviewing for the job here, I mentioned how it had been my life dream to own my own home. Rachel Freed stopped, looked me dead in the eye, and said she'd make that happen.
And so now, she is.
As we are on the very brink of jumping into the deep end of home-buying, Wade and I are noticing, with considerable relief, that Portland's available inventory of houses for sale is once again looking healthy. January was all tumbleweeds and dives, and it was pretty disheartening. But now, each day, there are great new houses on the market - and they come and go fast! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a savvy, smart advocate on your side when it comes to buying a home. In this market, in our crowded price range, you need someone not only with experience on your side, but someone who is adaptable to the twists and turns of the industry. Of which there are many. Each potential home presents different complications and considerations, quirks and issues that have to be unearthed and dealt with before you sign on the dotted line. Having a flexible, sharp agent is not only wise, but crucial to your investment. For us (and many others like us), it's the biggest investment of a lifetime.
Real Estate 101 is an in-depth discussion about the process of buying a home. Urban Nest have some stylish and straight-forward literature on each of the steps involved, which Rachel then explains in layman's terms, helping to demystify the process. During the interview, Rachel gleaned information about our lifestyle, what we both want in a home - completely and infuriatingly opposite to each other, in some areas - what's open to compromise and what's not, and neighborhoods in Portland that we love. Even though I sometimes felt I was asking too much for our budget (private backyard, vintage style, walkable/rideable, wooden floorboards, right next door to Pok Pok Noi, etc), it's important to be very clear on your tastes and necessities, to help build a complete picture of your perfect home. What we think of as being impossible right now, just might present itself at some point in our search.
(As a side note, I overheard agent Denise Shorter in the office yesterday describing her job as being a "glorified real estate psychic" - clients rely on you to predict the market, the up-and-coming neighborhoods, where is the new best place to invest in a property - all of these skills that are so important to the trade, and invaluable in an agent.)

We now receive daily notifications of new houses in our preferred areas as soon as they are posted online, and Rachel and our showing agent, Ceil Irwin, are on standby to walk us through a property on the fly - being first on the scene is important, as these homes are quick to be snapped up! And even though we're not quite ready yet, it was recommended that we educate ourselves ahead of time by going to open houses on weekends, to get a feel for what's available at what price in what neighborhood. This will allow us to make a confident and informed decision when we are finally ready to take the leap and put in an offer on a home!

Catt (& Wade)