“Stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of the coronavirus made this clear: Few people want to experience being locked in for months in a small space.
Since March, home shoppers have been targeting properties in Oregon with acreage, a work-efficient Zoom room for private teleconferencing, extra living quarters for family members and a large, relaxing backyard to replace weekend getaways.
City dwellers who can’t see a future in which they will start going to indoor entertainment venues again question the value of an urban lifestyle.
Also driving up desire for suburbs and rural communities are the realities that kids are attending web academies instead of neighborhood schools and parents are authorized to work at home.
“Home shoppers are asking, ‘How can I live while lessening my contact with other people?’” says Israel Hill, the office leader of John L. Scott Real Estate’s Portland Northeast office.
Since April, we’ve been profiling new homeowners who escaped dense cities to live more remotely. Many want a vegetable garden and other ways to ensure self sufficiency.
Despite stay-at-home orders, the coronavirus pandemic, high unemployment and an unsure global economy, people are buying homes in Oregon. The motivating factors: Historically low mortgage interest rates and the realization that shuttered offices and schools require more living space.
After adjusting to restaurants closing, people are cooking more at home, making the already important “gourmet” kitchen even more of a priority.
The right house on the market is selling fast and sometimes a bidding war breaks out, due to low inventory and pent-up demand.
“People are willing to overpay for what they want because of lending rates,” says Hill.
He estimates $10,000 added to the cost of a house breaks down to $50 more a month with a 30-year fixed mortgage. “If I’m saving $300 to $400 a month not eating out, I can buy a lot bigger house with a nice kitchen,” he says.
Oregon has small rural towns most people have never heard of but these are new addresses to a growing number of homebuyers who want acreage, self-sufficiency and a place to live with extended family members. The desire to be outside the city was heightened by stay-at-home orders to curtail the coronavirus.
Josh Lydon, who is selling his 66.68-acre property at 167 Waterfall Lane in Glide outside of Roseburg, says a place in the country is a “blank canvas” in which to create the life you want. You can have a garden and horses, and raise livestock and chickens, without butting up against city ordinances or homeowners association rules.
Instead of traveling through traffic to reach a scenic spot, just step outside, he says.
“You can also sit back on your porch and observe what nature creates,” says Lydon, who accepted an offer on his property after 12 days on the market. He listed it for $790,000 without a real estate agent.
“Rural living abundantly gives moments of peace and a freedom to simply be,” he adds.
The property has marketable timber and views of rolling hills. “Own your own park-like setting filled with wildlife (elk, deer, turkeys, owls, hawks and bald eagles) and a little river frontage as far as the eye can see,” states the listing.
The coronavirus pandemic instantly shifted many homebuyers’ desires. Suddenly, there’s less interest in walking to downtown eateries and more willingness to live remotely and with extended family.
Brokers Chris Martin and Wes Walton of Land and Wildlife, a partner of LandLeader, specialize in high-end houses on vast acreage that offer “self-sufficiency and a lifestyle that rejuvenates,” says Martin.
His clients are “discerning buyers” who want luxurious rural living where they can grow fresh food and “take a break from the fast-paced world.”
“I can tell you that it’s a 100 percent lifestyle decision to get out of a bigger city and onto a piece of property, with freedom, gardens and animals,” says Martin.
He says buyers at the top of the market are also looking for riverfront land.
The desire for an in-law flat to house more relatives was made clear during the coronavirus pandemic. Many young adults who lost their jobs when businesses were shut down and college students sent away when campuses closed returned to their family home.
During the health and economic crisis, some people preferred to have elderly parents live with them rather than in assisted living facilities that were in lock down.
These realities prompted more homeowners to get serious about wanting a self-contained, accessory dwelling unit (ADU), sharing a lot with an existing house on their property.
Advocates and real estate agents say a compact second home can add to the property’s resale value and pay for itself over time, by consolidating family finances or generating rental income.
An in-law suite could allow an aging parent to be close to family rather than spending what could be $72,000 a year for assisted living, says Portland ADU expert Kol Peterson, who interviewed hundreds of sources for his comprehensive book, “Backdoor Revolution-The Definitive Guide to ADU Development.”
Some new houses include a flexible living space with a separate entrance that grants privacy to a member of a multigenerational family or tenant.
In March, people were able to find remote homes at bargain prices.
Guy Therien saw a house on a five-acre property outside of Sherwood last year that he says was beyond his wildest dreams. The Parrett Mountain estate was for sale, but he couldn’t afford it. This year, he owns the place.
It’s not that his finances skyrocketed, though he did receive a promotion at work. Instead, the high-end house, like many others priced at the top of the market, was being sold at a huge discount after waiting years for a buyer. The coronavirus pandemic added more uncertainty to the economic situation.
In the end, Therien was able to quickly sell his old property in Beaverton, purchase the hilltop home for less than half the price of the original owner’s investment and finance his new mortgage at 3.5 percent. “It was in the stars,” he says.
Terry Sprague of Luxe Christie’s International Real Estate in Lake Oswego calls this “special pricing,” based on the owner’s motives and timeline.
“There has been an attempt to look for one answer for the marketplace but the reality is each seller, each buyer, each location, each home and each transaction is so different,” he says.
He adds there’s a large number of buyers who are eager to lock in a loan while employed and mortgage rates are low. Other buyers who have relocated here are in desperate need of housing and are facing few ideal options due to the Portland metro’s chronically low residential real estate inventory.
In Therien’s case, the original owners were motivated to move and there was a new addition to Therien’s family, resulting in a need for more space: His 90-year-old uncle now lives in the multi-level main house with Therien, his wife and children. His mother-in-law resides in the detached guesthouse.
The family moved in on March 25 and have been safely sheltering in place ever since. Everyone’s enjoying privacy on the acred estate during the day but gather together for family dinners.
If months of staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it’s that we need more space to live, work, exercise and relax at home.
Interior designers and remodelers are working with people who can’t wait any longer to spread out into underused areas of their home or add a sheltered extension, inside or out.
There is also increased interest in bringing extended family members together under one roof, especially older adults. Basements, attics, garages and parts of the backyard are being converted into compact living quarters, or accessory dwelling units (ADUs).
“People are desperately looking for additional living space,” says Barbara Miller, design director for the Neil Kelly design and remodeling company.
Builders, designers and real estate agents report that other COVID-19 inspired home projects, big and small, include installing easy-to-clean materials and surfaces; touch-less faucets, especially at the kitchen sink; self-cleaning, wall-mounted toilets; and improved fresh air systems such as heat recovery ventilators.
“People want a healthy home with wool or natural materials that can be cleaned,” says Miller.
In any size home, people are placing even more value on storage space, in the garage or pantry, to keep surplus food and water. The push for self-sufficiency in case of a full shutdown promoted more people to plant a vegetable garden.