Innovation in College-Town Real Estate

It would be an understatement to say that the University of Kansas and the local real estate market in Lawrence, Kan., are linked. In fact, Nicholas Lerner struggles to come up with a single example of a real estate transaction he’s participated in over his dozen years in the business that didn’t also involve his alma mater, a Division 1 basketball powerhouse. “I’ve helped everyone from people who’ve worked in the welding shop on campus to administrative people and parents buying houses for their students to investors,” Lerner, an agent with McGrew Real Estate in Lawrence, says. “Lawrence and KU are tied inextricably.”

What agents like Lerner have long understood about the close connection between real estate and colleges, city planners, developers, and school administrators are starting to notice as well. While universities don’t typically add to the cities’ financial ledgers through property taxes, they have always contributed to the local economy and real estate market by creating jobs, training people, and bringing in new residents. Still, relationships between colleges and their surrounding neighborhoods are changing as both public and private investors look for ways to turn innovation into entrepreneurial expansion.

Over the past decade or two, communities and schools have become more aware of the interconnectedness of the “town and gown” relationship. Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, points out the growing consensus that the fortunes of universities and their surrounding neighborhoods are bolstered by similar economic forces, leading to greater collaboration. In a study examining the association between university revitalization activities and neighborhood trends published in 2017 in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, she wrote: “Universities report mounting pressure to establish porous boundaries with the neighborhood, fostering a ‘sense of place’ in both town and gown to support institutional stability.”

In the case of public universities, at least, part of that mounting pressure is financial. “Higher education in general is in sort of a crisis today, in that federal and state funding is flat or declining,” says Rebecca Robinson, director of economic development at the Kansas State University Institute for Commercialization. “Universities are having to figure out other ways to be sustainable and create value. For us, that trend is partnering with industry.” While most private colleges have successfully recovered from the Great Recession, a recent report by the Council of Independent Colleges found that many of them are introducing innovations and partnerships that create new sources of revenue to combat both declining enrollment due to demographic challenges and increasing pressure to offer tuition discounts.

Picking a Major

Specialization is one clear path to success in real estate, and it’s no different in the effort to differentiate a college’s mission or strengthen a town’s economic development. The city of Harrisonburg, in Virginia’s picturesque Shenandoah Valley, has found a way to attract new residents by capitalizing on the local university’s cybersecurity program. Brian Shull, the city’s economic development director, says that after James Madison University became the first school in the mid-Atlantic region to offer an online master’s degree program on cybersecurity about a half a dozen years ago, Harrisonburg embarked on an effort to incorporate this specialization into its economic development plans. “We found that JMU had some very unique niches,” says Shull. “They developed a reputation in that world.”

The city organized a cybersecurity forum last April, inviting professors and an advisory committee from the program to help figure out the best way for Harrisonburg to capitalize on the initiative to spur its own economic development. “We came out of there with a nice to-do list of things to work on,” Shull says. One takeaway was that a tech conference could help showcase the area to companies that might be interested in relocating and taking advantage of the talent at JMU. The school, the city, and a private developer worked together to open Hotel Madison, which features 235 rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Because it’s the largest conference space between Roanoke and Northern Virginia, “it’s going to bring in a lot of people who normally wouldn’t have thought of the Shenandoah Valley,” Shull says. In September, the hotel will host Valley TechCon, a direct result of the cybersecurity forum.

Halfway across the country, another development project linking private and public institutions demonstrates that technological innovation sparks growth even in the oldest of economic sectors: agriculture. Established in 2008, the Knowledge Based Economic Development program came about as an LLC that would allow Kansas State University, the city of Manhattan, Kan., and private industry to create collaborative spaces to foster development and innovation. Robinson, who helps manage the more than 30,000 square feet of office and lab space that came out of the project, estimates that hundreds of jobs have been created over the past decade thanks to the partnership, which has enticed more than 18 companies to come to or expand in the area. Many food and bioengineering companies choose to lease space on campus due to the subject matter expertise at the school’s Department of Agricultural Economics. The so-called “Silicon Valley of biosecurity” has attracted a $1.25 billion investment from the Department of Homeland Security, which is currently building an infectious disease laboratory with the highest classification of biosafety possible on campus.

The on-campus office park offers coworking environments, business incubators, and build-to-lease office and research space. Developers brought in a local company to provide high-speed fiber internet and undertook a variety of infrastructure projects such as widening streets, adding lighting, and incorporating design features that would make the space feel like a natural extension of the campus, rather than a corporate add-on.

Tapping Into Entrepreneurship

Robinson says it’s hard to overstate the importance of sourcing the right types of real estate in bringing new companies to town: “One of the biggest challenges that we have with economic development in the region is having an appropriate space for the partners we’re trying to attract.” She says commercial real estate professionals are a key part of bringing new businesses to the area, especially when it comes to off-campus space.

However, town-gown friction is sometimes expressed in real estate. Kate Ryan, commercial leasing and engagement manager for the Kansas State University Foundation, remembers one chamber of commerce committee meeting where a commercial real estate broker didn’t want to have to compete with the university, which was trying to recruit companies to its on-campus incubator spaces. But “once he understood that we weren’t going after the same businesses that were downtown and thriving, he really grasped the vision we had and he jumped right on board,” she recalls. Robinson notes that because typical commercial rent on campus is so much higher than what companies will find in downtown Manhattan, campus officials serve businesses that have no other choice than to be located at the school.

Real estate pros can help business owners interested in relocating or opening up their doors in a college town by looking for incentives built into the landscape. For example, tech businesses that start up or relocate to the Harrisonburg Downtown Technology Zone get a three-year exemption on business, professional, and occupational license taxes and fees and a free water and sewer connection. The zone also provides incentives for renovating properties and assistance securing tax credits.

But Shull notes that economic development isn’t just about attracting new businesses. He says it’s important to maintain a good quality of life through amenities and affordable housing options: “It’s a mix: We need to have apartments downtown for young adults as well as quality single-family homes.” Like Shull, Manhattan city officials have had their eyes set on a variety of programs to achieve a healthy mix. In the 1980s, the city began a series of downtown redevelopment plans that were crucial to creating the vibrant community that today attracts new business owners and college students alike. One of the first steps was securing a $10 million federal grant to develop a shopping mall downtown, after turning down proposals to move a local mall in from the outskirts. As part of a second redevelopment plan initiated in the early 2000s, the city established tax increment financing and transportation development districts and secured $50 million in state and U.S. bonds, which helped transform an old steel warehouse mill into a walkable retail–restaurant area, among other projects. These redevelopment plans introduced a wider spectrum of amenities to attract young people, established professionals, and families to the area. “Downtown is a complement, more than anything, because of the quality of life it produces,” Robinson says. “It’s necessary for the types of companies we’re trying to attract.”

Keeping the Talent You’ve Got

Cities and universities shouldn’t rely solely on external recruiting to fuel innovation—sometimes the best catalysts for growth are already in town. “Being in a college town, we have a lot of students who are considering starting a company right after school. That’s really the perfect time to take that risk,” Shull says. “So it’s great to have the opportunity to work with those who want to stick around after graduation.” Harrisonburg offers up to $25,000 in low-interest bootstrapping funds to help new companies set up shop anywhere in the city.

Sometimes real estate companies make lasting connections with universities unrelated to the transfer of property. Lerner admires the willingness of his broker—fellow KU alumnus and 2017 NAR Treasurer Mike McGrew—to bring in college students to work on videos and marketing projects for agents and the brokerage at large. “Every year you have new blood and new energy that comes into this town,” Lerner says. Why not take advantage of the fresh perspective these new residents offer?

Real estate professionals can help turn students into long-term residents. But with rising student debt, many recent graduates find it difficult to transition to homeownership. Lauren Rogers, an agent at Kingsmill Realty in Williamsburg, Va., relies heavily on her work history with renters and landlords when helping recent alumni from the nearby College of William & Mary. While her background as a property manager has boosted her business, she also notes that renter-to-homeowner conversion contributes to a healthier market. “It helped our neighborhood to continue the cycle of growth,” she says.

Though Rogers’ rental and listing work is now concentrated in the upscale gated community of Kingsmill, she works as a buyer’s agent for many alumni with smaller budgets throughout Williamsburg. “A lot of young people from William & Mary stay here because there are a lot of large companies they can work for after graduation,” she says. And even if new grads aren’t quite ready to make the leap, Rogers recommends agents stay in touch and remain available to answer questions about the local market. “A year really flies by. If you make that connection and they trust you, they’re going to call you when they’re ready.”

Many of the same strategies apply when helping faculty buy in to the community, but there are a few additional considerations. Because Ryan Zimmerman, ABR, GRI, an agent with Wheeler Steffen Sotheby’s International Realty, has lived in Claremont, Calif., all his life, he’s a helpful resource for the many transplants drawn to the southern California area for jobs at one of the seven schools that make up The Claremont Colleges. His website features pages devoted to what makes the community special, and you can sense his passion when he talks about the preponderance of trees and independently owned retail. He also promotes college-funded lending programs that make it easier for faculty to buy homes near their new employer. Loan terms vary but can be 2 to 3 percent below market rate. “When I’m writing an offer, I always highlight that as a plus, because you don’t have to deal with a traditional bank,” he says. “Those transactions on the lending side of things are so much easier.”

How Your Expertise Fits In

Cities and universities benefit from working with agents and brokers to understand just what the local real estate industry needs in order to expand and thrive. Shull is regularly in touch with 15 to 20 residential and commercial real estate pros in Harrisonburg. “I use them as my sounding board quite often, to give me a barometer of the local market,” he says. “It’s great to have people with real estate experience to lend their expertise.”

Real estate professionals play a big role at Kansas State, both on and off campus. Ryan notes that communities and colleges do have ways for business leaders to get involved, but that they often go by a variety of names. Agents and brokers should seek out chambers of commerce, technology transfer offices, corporate and industry relations centers, and community engagement officers to find out more. “Not every institution will have those, and they don’t always work together,” Ryan cautions. “But I encourage people to participate in those things. You never know who you’re going to connect with.”

While economic development professionals clearly value the specialized knowledge real estate pros bring to the table, they also see them as front-line boosters for their communities. “When people are checking out the area, they’re calling a real estate agent first,” Shull says.

Part of working in a university town is not taking yourself too seriously. Back in 2008, Nicholas Lerner was considering marketing his real estate business on magnets that also featured the schedule for the popular KU Jayhawks basketball team. “Basketball is life in Lawrence, Kansas,” Lerner says. But rather than just posting his business contact information on the magnet, he wanted to get creative with it. Each year, he comes up with a funny new way to edit his face into the sports scene depicted on the magnet. One year, he even tried to insert himself interacting with highly regarded head coach Bill Self, but that concept didn’t make it through his company’s marketing review process. So instead of using the head coach’s likeness, Lerner replaced all the faces on the magnet with his own (see right). Now he says customers and local business owners keep the schedule up well past the basketball season and, when they see him, they ask when his next one will come out. Lerner says the $200 he spends on 250 magnets each year is well worth the investment in terms of branding and name recognition: “It became this kind of quirky thing that people expect of me. It’s hard to track that sort of thing, but people definitely look forward to it.”

View full article here at Realtor Magazine

A Pair of Downsizers Give the Portland ‘Skinny House’ a New Face

“Skinny houses don’t encourage demolition. Townhouses do.”

Blink and you’ll miss this slender North Portland house. When the owners wanted to downsize from their three-bedroom bungalow—without leaving their beloved neighborhood—they eyed the empty lot next door. It wasn’t really wide enough to build a house like the one they had, but what if you didn’t need a traditional home?

Completed last October, the new 1,550-square-foot “skinny” house is exactly that: long and deep, with a Z-shaped cross-section to break up space without adding walls. Zoning code is restrictive on skinny houses, explains lead designer Diana Moosman of MWA Architects, with a maximum height topping out at 24 feet, or roughly two stories. Moosman maximized space for the Reids’ house by stacking two floors atop a sunken basement, which doubles as a guest room (with a built-in Murphy bed), laundry area, and yoga workout space. A short, seven-foot-wide staircase splits the ground floor into the kitchen and living areas. To keep a sense of privacy with maximum light exposure, Moosman added a high window above the living room and made the sides mostly solid, with a few tall windows staggered so they aren’t facing the neighbors’ windows.

“It feels bigger than their old house because there aren’t as many interior walls,” says Moosman. She adds that the skinny house principle is perfect for adding living spaces without demolishing existing homes. (The owners still own the bungalow next door.) “There’s a way to create more density without just having a townhouse. Skinny houses don’t encourage demolition. Townhouses do.”

In a city where many houses built on narrow lots greet the street with nothing but a garage door and a front door, an unexpected feature is the floor-to-ceiling kitchen windows.

“We came up with the idea of the kitchen/dining room being a big farmhouse kitchen that faced the street,” says Moosman. “They’re pretty introverted folks, but I warned them, [this] is going to turn you into a party house. And sure enough, it’s made them more social people.”

View full article here at Portland Monthly

Dinosaur Days: How a T. Rex Costume Helped Dress Up a Texas Home

Remember the real estate agent who dressed up in a panda suit to try and sell a home in Spring, TX? It worked like a charm, and got her 12 showings in the first two days. You can’t argue with that kind of success.

But you can move up the food chain. The real estate agent selling this two-bedroom, one-bathroom lake house in Granbury, TX, has hired an extra straight from the Cretaceous era to help out with the listing photos: a giant T. Rex.

Among the lovely shots of hardwood floors, lake views, and a screened-in patio, we see ol’ Tyrannosaurus raiding the fridge, taking a nap, fishing in the lake, and even mowing the grass. That’s pretty impressive for a guy with such tiny arms, no?

“We came up with the idea a few years ago and have been waiting for the right client and right house to try it,” explains listing agent Casey Lewis. “It was a great way to get extra exposure to an already great property.”

Quite apart from filling in as a Jurassic Park testing facility, the 796-square-foot house has a fireplace, two porches, and a deck, and access to a community boat slip around the corner. The asking price was just $89,900.

So did it work? “The reach was amazing,” says Lewis. “The listing has been featured on local news, shared hundreds of times on social media, and I’ve received calls from all over the country asking for information about the property.”

Lewis had over 45 showings, and was in contract within the first two days. It might be a goofy gimmick, but it certainly did the trick. The real question is, why aren’t more real estate agents putting on wacky animal costumes for listing photos? Next time someone tells you they’ll do what it takes to sell your home, send them to the costume shop!

View the full article here at Realtor

The Rise of the Accessory Dwelling Unit

Where affordable housing is scarce, these secondary homes may be the answer. Here’s what you need to know about today’s version of the mother-in-law apartment.

by Karen Springen


When Jeni Nunn, an agent with Intero Real Estate in Santa Clara, Calif., and her husband bought their 1,270-square-foot house, they planned to use its deep backyard to build a pool or playground. But they switched course when Nunn’s dad and mom (diagnosed with Parkinson’s) couldn’t find an affordable condo nearby. Instead, four years ago, they built a 640-square-foot, wheelchair-accessible, one–bedroom house, with room for their baby grand piano, for $160,000—a bargain in the Bay Area. “For us, it’s the perfect scenario,” says Nunn, who is also a mother of four. “I can send my 3-year-old into the backyard. ‘Go to grandma’s house!’ ”

Nunn’s own build-out put her at the leading edge of the movement to address one of today’s most vexing real estate problems: the need for affordable housing in areas with tight inventory. These secondary residences, known formally as “accessory dwelling units,” have become a popular alternative in high-demand areas of the U.S., from Washington, D.C., to Seattle. And local governments are increasingly passing measures that makes it easier for homeowners to build and rent out ADUs. The homes are permanent, with their own entrance, kitchen, and full bath. “It’s a self-contained dwelling on the same property as a standard single-family home,” explains Martin Brown, a researcher who co-edits and rents out an ADU on his Portland, Ore., property. While much attention has been paid to the rise of tiny homes under 400 square feet, the emergence of compact ADUs has been similarly swift, if with less hype.


No one tracks the total number of ADUs, but Kol Peterson, author of Backdoor Revolution, creator of the “Building an ADU” online guide, and co-founder of, estimates that the country is home to 25,000 to 100,000 permitted units and several million unpermitted ones. Since California loosened its restrictions in 2016, the number of applications in Los Angeles alone increased from 90 in 2015 to nearly 2,000 in 2017. With permits, cities make sure the units are safe and also capture property tax revenue.

The idea behind accessory dwelling units is hardly new. “It used to be the case that it was quite normal to have someone living above the garage or in the basement,” says Patrick Quinton, CEO of Portland, Ore.–based Dweller, which builds ADUs in a factory so that on-site construction takes only 30 days. In fact, Thomas Jefferson lived in basically an ADU while Monticello was being built, says Eli Spevak, co-founder of and an affordable housing developer in Portland, Ore.

So-called mother-in-law units grew at a time when multigenerational living was more common, but in cities like Washington and Philadelphia, people replaced the little home in the back with garages. Interest in ADUs is rising at a time when the average family size has fallen to an all-time low of 2.6 individuals and people have become “overhoused,” says Rachel Ginis, executive director of Lilypad Homes, an education and advocacy group for ADUs in California’s Bay Area. ADUs fall under “in-fill housing”—ways to squeeze more homes into walkable, bikeable high–demand areas. “A third of the population is in one- or two-person households,” says Peterson. “We’re not building the right kind of housing for the population we have right now.”


As ADUs become more prevalent, it’s important to consider how they may affect a transaction. “It’s like looking at a pool,” says Nunn. “There are people who love a pool and will give more money. There are people who [say], ‘I’ll never have a pool’ and see them as an invasion of privacy.” Nunn urges buyers to think about a property’s ADU potential even if it’s not a priority feature. “I encourage my clients to pay attention to the lot size of homes, especially if they have aging parents in the area. Even if they can’t afford to do an ADU immediately, I try to show them the value of having the option to do it in the future.”

Looking good

What are the secrets to ensuring an accessory dwelling unit is not an eyesore? “A lot of people really take pride in their units,” says David Garcia, policy director of the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley. “Sometimes they even look nicer than the primary residence.” For example, Kol Peterson and his wife live in an 800-square-foot “dream house” ADU with a king bed, radiant in-floor heating, and a 10-foot movie screen. (They rent out their main house for $3,000 a month, which more than covers the $1,700 mortgage.) Some tips:

Match the main home’s exterior. Cities typically require it, though places like Portland, Ore., and Seattle are relaxing those regulations. “Modern is in right now,” says Valley Home Development’s Steve Vallejos. But it tends to be more expensive and may not fit in as well in some neighborhoods. Many opt for a match to the main house. “Most clients are coming to us with the assumption that the ADU is going to be a miniature version of their existing house.” says Vallejos. Homeowner Lisa Fontes, whose primary house, a colonial, is dark brown with maroon trim, is building the ADU on her Massachusetts property to be lighter brown with maroon trim.

Place windows as high as possible. They let in more light. “Use higher, not just bigger, windows and doors,” says ADU architect Ileana Schinder. “That brings light deeper into the apartment.”

Consider vaulted ceilings. They create a spacious feeling. “The key is natural light,” says Schinder.

Create open spaces. Avoid hallways. “Why waste square footage?” says Schinder. Put the laundry in the kitchen, and make closets for reaching into rather than walking into. Recess fixtures like medicine cabinets.


View the full article here at: Realtor Magazine

An Iconic Portland Mall Seeks Survival in Movies and Music

In the age of online shopping, Lloyd Center doubles down on entertainment.

Unless you do all your shopping online, there’s a good chance you’ve already noticed the major changes going on at Lloyd Center. So far, renovations at the 58-year-old inner-east-side retail staple have overhauled the indoor ice rink, remodeled the food court, and added that shiny, futuristic spiral staircase.

But the biggest developments are still to come: in the works are a new 14-theater Regal Cinemas, additional retail and restaurants, and a 4,000-seat music venue—speculated to be Portland’s first House of Blues. Dallas-based EB Arrow, Lloyd Center’s current owner, is the developer behind the project.

“Shopping is still important,” says Bob Dye, the mall’s general manager, “just not as important as it was 20 years ago. Entertainment and food are the drivers in this industry.”

An apt symbol of the changes Dye’s talking about, the new cinema will take the place of the former Sears, on the east end of the mall. It’s set to be a “prototype, state-of-the-art facility,” according to Dye, including the sorts of reclining seats you can find at other next-gen local movie houses.

The west end of the mall—former home to Nordstrom—will fill all three floors with new developments. The top floor will house the new music venue, listed on its OLCC license application as “HOB Rose City MH Corp.” (“We’re not talking B-roll, casino-level entertainment. It will be all the major names,” says Dye, “artists who might otherwise be going to the Keller or the Schnitz.”) The exact business that will occupy the second floor of the old Nordstrom is still unannounced, but Dye says we can expect something along the lines of arcade-bar chain Dave and Buster’s. The ground floor will house large, full-service restaurants, with only a smattering of retail.   

Ambitious, yes. Meanwhile, the former dead zone around the mall is riding a development boom. The current Regal Cinemas across NE Multnomah Street will be replaced by a “Superblock”—a 1,200-plus-unit apartment complex. In total, Lloyd (the neighborhood association is dropping the “District”) will see about 2,500 new apartment units, not to mention the roughly 25,000 workers who commute to the area. Foot traffic, they say, won’t be a problem.

“In two to five years, I think Lloyd Center will be the dominant retail and lifestyle center in the Portland metro area,” enthuses Dye. “I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to touch us. You’ll be able to walk across the street from your apartment into Lloyd Center.”


View full article here at Portland Monthly.

Preparing to move? Tackling your spring cleaning? Here are a few ways to recycle or donate this spring.

Spring has sprung which means relocation rates pickup and the itch to clean and refresh gets real!  Our latest mailer takes the legwork out of finding local resources for recycling all of those things that can’t go straight to the curb.  If you’re on our mailing list, watch for your guide to low-impact, earth-friendly decluttering in the mail!  If you’re not part of our distribution community, read on for links, pro tip and recommendations!


1. kitchen appliances: Annie Haul
(*pro tip:  Energy Star models: the EPA’s Energy Star Program offers rebates for some large, recycled appliances.)
refrigerators:  Energy Trust of Oregon

2. electronics:  Free Geek, Oregon E-Cycles:
(*we recommend:  Oregon Metro’s search engine tells you how to recycle pretty much anything in the Portland area!

3. light bulbs, batteries:  Batteries Plus Bulbs, Orchard Supply Hardware
(*pro tip:  Household batteries do not need to be recycled, but recycling is the better option. Take used batteries to recycling facilities or drop-off locations.)

4. clothing:  H&M, Family Friend

5. furniture, household items:  ECR Recycling
mattresses:  Earth 911
(*fun fact:  ECR also accepts mattresses and some local mattress shops like Mattress Lot might be able to take your mattress for a small fee.)

6. most non-recyclable plastics like Styrofoam, foam food trays: Agylix
(*pro tip:  Look for the recycle symbol #6.)

Local recycling services, drop off and pickup info. available at: Earth 911 and Oregon Metro .


Please share your favored resources and insights via comments on our Facebook and Instagram pages!

Happy spring cleaning from all of us here at Portland’s Alternative Realtors!


Earthquake Retrofit

Earthquake damage to older homes​

Homes built before 1974, when Oregon adopted its first statewide buildin

g code, will suffer the worst damage in a serious earthquake.  Constructed to specific seismic standards, homes built after 1993 are the most likely to withstand earthquakes.

 Earthquake forces can affect your home in three ways.

  • The house may slide off its foundation.
  • The cripple walls (walls between the foundation and floor) may buckle and collapse (this is called racking).
  • Your house may be lifted off its foundation.

Earthquakes can cause considerable damage to the structure and to utilities and services like water heaters and gas lines.

While there are many types of earthquake retrofitting, the two most common are bolting the house (mudsill) to the foundation and reinforcing the cripple walls with plywood sheathing.  (Cripple walls are also called “pony” walls.)

Some older homes do not have cripple walls.  There are still several methods available for improving the connection of the framing to the foundation when a house does not have cripple walls.

 If a living space sits atop a garage or other open structure, that area may be particularly vulnerable to earthquakes.  The garage or open structure (“soft story buildings”) may need additional bracing.  Strapping water heaters is now required by code and new water heaters are generally secure.  Older water heaters may need to be strapped to the wall studs.  There are other items, like masonry chimneys, that may need to be considered in an earthquake retrofit.
You may choose to have an automatic shutoff valve installed on a gas line.  Located between the gas meter and the house, the valve is activated by the shaking of an earthquake.​

City of Portland Requirements

The City of Portland is the only jurisdiction in Oregon that has adopted specific, prescriptive standards for earthquake retrofitting.  The information is set out in Bulletin 12, “Residential Seismic Strengthening – Methods to Reduce Potential Earthquake Damage.”

Prescriptive standards are standards that provide exact rules, directions or instructions to do something.  The City of Portland allows a person to retrofit to these standards, without engineering the design, if the building:

  • Is a one- or two-family dwelling,
  • Is not over three stories high with a cripple wall stud height not over 14,”
  • Has a continuous concrete foundation around the entire building, and
  • Is not on a foundation subgrade steeper than 3 (horizontal) to 1 (vertical) at any point.

All other retrofits must be engineered.

The City of Portland requires a permit for retrofitting.  (You should contact your local building official in other jurisdictions. Some do not require permits.)

Costs for Retrofitting

The cost for retrofitting varies considerably.  If the work can be done in a fairly open crawl space as oppose to a finished basement, it likely will be less costly.   A ballpark estimate for standard work by a licensed contractor is at about $2 – $5 per square foot of crawl space or basement.  (This translates to between $4,000 and $10,000 for a 2,000 square foot, single-level home).

Grants and Loans

The City of Portland announced that it received federal funds to help retrofit 150 homes. That money has been committed. Homeowners interested in joining a seismic assessment wait list and receiving notification of any future funding to offset retrofit costs should visit Depending on your location, loans may also be available.​

If you retrofit a house that is an income-producing property listed in the National Register of Historic Places, you may qualify for federal tax credits.  Contact the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

Earthquake Insurance

As a general rule, homeowners insurance does not cover earthquake damage.  However, you may be able to purchase separate earthquake coverage through your current insurance company or a separate company.  Earthquake insurance tends to carry large deductibles.  In some cases, you may need to provide proof of a retrofit to obtain the insurance.

Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services has further information on earthquake insurance​.

Finding a Contractor

There is no license or other requirement for contractors to perform retrofit services.  Any contractor licensed in Oregon to work on residential structures is legally permitted to perform earthquake retrofits.  However, you may want to find somebody that specializes in this work and has gained some expertise.

 View the full article HERE at Oregon.Gov


The City of Portland Home Energy Score ordinance will take effect on January 1, 2018, requiring sellers of single-family homes to disclose a Home Energy Report and Score at time of listing. Portland City Council unanimously adopted the policy (Portland City Code Chapter 17.108) in December 2016. In advance of the policy taking effect, the City of Portland Home Energy Score website is now live at

For sellers, the website explains the necessary actions for completing the requirement and answers questions about logistics, how to get a home assessed and how to improve scores. Buyers are guided through the Home Energy Report and are prompted to wrap energy improvement projects into financing. Real-estate professionals can learn how to make the new policy work effortlessly for their clients and how to post scores online. Builders can find information about how to obtain a score based on construction plans and possible exemptions and waivers.The website is also a place to find out how to become a Home Energy Assessor.

For more information, visit, email or call the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability at 503-823-5771.

The full article can be viewed HERE at The City of Portland website.

Granny Pods Help Keep Portland Affordable

Earlier this year, Michelle Labra got a notice that the rent on her family’s two-bedroom apartment was doubling, from around $620 a month to more than $1,300.

She worried she was being priced out of Portland and would have to move to the suburbs.

But Labra, her husband and their two children didn’t get pushed out of Cully, their North Portland neighborhood. They were able to stay by moving into a little house, 800 square feet, built in a neighbor’s backyard. It’s a type of housing city planners refer to as an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, often called a granny flat or granny pod.

“When I first came in and I saw this beautiful house, I was amazed,” Labra says. “We’ve never had a place that’s new like this. My kids loved it, and they were already wanting to get their stuff together and saying, Mom, when can we move in?”

With a lot of cities looking for solutions to rising housing prices, the idea of making it easier for homeowners to add small second units in their backyards and garages is gaining traction.

Portland has among the fastest rising rents in the country, and it has embraced the ADU as a low cost way to create more housing in desirable neighborhoods.

Before they moved into their backyard cottage, the Labras lived in the Normandy, an aging complex of two-story, yellow buildings with siding coming loose in places. About 20 families, most of them Hispanic, lived there.

A new investor bought the Normandy last year, raised the rent, and began fixing it up.

Talking about the sudden rent increase brings Labra to tears. She was close to the other families in the apartment complex, and so were her children, Jose, 8, and Daphne, 5.

“My son, he said, ‘I really don’t want to leave this area. My friends are here, my school is here.’ I realized it was destabilizing to him,” Labra said.

The apartment, with its many families with children, became a symbol locally of Portland’s rapidly rising rents and the gentrification that was pushing people of color out of the city.

The Normandy was on the main street in Cully, a neighborhood on the northern edge of Portland with mobile home parks, ranch houses and small apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s also, according 2010 census data, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oregon. Close to half of the people who live there are people of color.

The residents of the Normandy started working with a community group called Living Cully and staged a protest against the rent increase. Hundreds of people marched in the streets back in February.

“No more landlord greed. Housing for human need,” they chanted.

The owner of the Normandy declined to comment for this story.

Labra and the other tenants did win a small concession: The rent increase was delayed by several months, but they still had to move out eventually.

In an effort to arrest the gentrification of the neighborhood, Living Cully helped about half the families relocate to new homes in Cully. Some of them qualified for affordable housing in a government-subsidized apartment complex nearby.

The Labras found their ADU thanks to a message Living Cully posted on the Nextdoor app.

“An accessory dwelling unit is a fully legal, independent structure that has its own front door, its own address and its own kitchen,” explains Eli Spevak, a developer with the company Orange Splot, which builds smaller homes including ADUs.

Spevak lives and works in Cully. In true Portland style, a flock of chickens lives right outside his office.

Spevak says Cully used to be a place to find cheap rent or cheap land. Then, its big lots at the edge of the city started attracting urban farmer types.

Now, he points out, expensive new homes are going up.

“This is the house that was built as a spec development and it sold for $720,000,” he said. “And that was an eye-opening change for this Cully neighborhood, where we realized many new people who want to live here might be able to afford to outbid anybody who lives here already.”

Spevak says Portland’s zoning code is contributing to its housing problems.

On much of the city’s land, the code limits how many units you can build on a lot, so developers build the biggest house possible, to turn the most profit. There is an exception for ADUs as long as they meet certain criteria.

ADUs, Spevak says, are a way to relax those zoning rules a little and sprinkle some smaller, lower-rent housing into single-family neighborhoods.

“The good thing about it from my perspective is they allow a neighborhood to have people with a wide range of incomes living with each other,” he said.

Portland has some of the most permissive zoning for ADUs in the country.

Almost any homeowner is allowed to add one, and the city has encouraged property owners to build them by exempting them from certain fees and parking requirements.

That has led to a backyard construction boom in Portland. Last year, the city issued building permits for about one ADU a day.

“And the numbers seem to be climbing still,” Spevak said.

Seattle, Austin, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco also recently made it easier to add a second unit or granny flat.

And last year, California passed a state law that makes it easier for people to legalize ADUs they’ve built illegally in the past, and that requires cities to allow some types of ADUs, like garage apartments.

Back with the Labra family, the kids are settling in to their ADU.

Five-year-old Daphne likes showing visitors around. She and her brother share a small room in the ADU’s loft. Downstairs, there’s a queen bed that Jose likes to jump on.

“I’m going to do it now,”Jose announces, launching himself into the air.

“A front flip,” Daphne explains.

The rent here is still a stretch — $900 a month, more than half what the family earns.

But Michelle Labra says it’s worth it, because her kids get to stay right here in Cully, and they didn’t have to leave their school.

The full article can be viewed HERE at NPR’s website.

How Portland-Born Architect John Yeon Gave the Northwest Its Signature Style

Is there such a thing as “Northwest architecture”? John Yeon was never sure—ironic, given that many figured the son of a Portland timber baron helped invent the very thing.

“The subject remains interesting,” he once conceded. “It has long been of interest to me.”

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You could say so. Yeon died in Portland in 1994, at the age of 83. He left behind a tiny architectural portfolio of about a dozen houses (notably the world-famous Watzek House in the West Hills) and just one public building. But his larger vision of place, craft, and aesthetic ambition still resonates. Imagine a high-design, distinctively Northwest house that might be built today—modernist in line and geometry, woodsy in aura, and, above all,

Photo: Yeon in 1941

attuned to what’s outside—and the vision probably owes much to the designer, collector, and conservationist.

“He was a pretty unusual character,” says Randy Gragg, the longtime local journalist who directs the University of Oregon’s John Yeon Center for Architecture and the Landscape. “He could look at a vista on the coast and see its essential aspects, but he also understood residential and European garden design. He was remarkable for breadth, depth, and especially range of scale.”

This month, Portland Art Museum opens Quest for Beauty, an exhibit encompassing Yeon’s architecture, conservation work, and eclectic collections of art and craft from around the world. The project will be the museum’s largest show ever dedicated to a single architect. At the same time, it will offer a portrait of a broader sensibility. Selections from Yeon’s own art collections, in particular, dig into the sources of his aesthetic. “You’ll see an intermingling of art work that’s unusual for an architectural exhibit,” says Gragg, a former editor and frequent contributor for Portland Monthly.

Gragg met Yeon in 1992 and adopted his work and legacy as a 20-plus-year “subproject,” as he puts it. The PAM exhibit unites the UO Yeon Center, which owns the Watzek House and two other Yeon properties; the museum’s European and Asian curators; Yeon’s longtime partner, Richard Louis Brown; and a other collaborators  including acclaimed local firm Lever Architecture. Two books, location tours, lectures, and other events accompany the museum installation. Quest may not be the final word on Yeon, but it will define his work, life, and enthusiasms for a broad audience.

“Yeon put together one of the most diverse and interesting private collections in Oregon,” says Maribeth Graybill, PAM’s curator of Asian arts, of the exhibit’s assembly of objets. “And through it, you see him thinking like a decorator—the designer of domestic interiors drawn to things that complemented and contrasted with the severe linearity of his architecture.”

“John could appreciate the curvature found on a Rococo barometer,” Gragg says. “His aesthetic eye could find beauty in these different things, and translate that into his design vision.”

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Clockwise from top left: Two views of the 1948 Portland Visitors Information Center, Yeon’s only public building; The Vietor House; The Shaw House

April 1953 found the editors of House Beautiful in a truculent mood. Elizabeth Gordon expounded on nothing less than “The Threat to the Next America”: as Gordon’s fervent eight-page essay revealed, that menace was modern architecture. Or, at least, certain modern architecture. Gordon railed against a “Cult of Austerity” led by Europeans like Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, “the mystical idea that ‘less is more,’” and “a self-chosen elite ... trying to tell us what we should like and how we should live.”

If the magazine knew what it was against, it also knew what it was for. That issue’s cover featured the Shaw House, a Yeon design in Lake Oswego. Luminous, decorous, set on eight acres of suburban meadow, this was modernism House Beautiful could believe in: nothing less (Joseph Barry wrote) than “the architectural way to an age of humanism.” An ecstatic article praised Yeon’s use of modular paneling, a ventilation system tuned to the Northwest’s mild climate, and a compact layout amenable to “servantless operation.”

“A free man’s home of the future will be his palace,” Barry wrote, “and here is the style for it.”

Observers—and not just quasi-McCarthyite shelter-mag editors—did like to put their own stamp on Yeon. The Watzek House, completed in 1937, was hailed as a regionalist, all-American riposte to the placeless International Style; a later history of Portland architecture praised Yeon as an “exemplary representative of the rare breed of Renaissance men.” These aren’t necessarily bad descriptions, but the man himself seems to have chased a much simpler and more universal—if elusive—ideal.

“He came from a tradition that was about beauty,” Gragg says. In Yeon’s small but near-perfect architectural portfolio, Gragg notes a fanatical attention to detail and a thrifty economy. Yeon frequently used plywood, for example. Then again, he also spent 25 years sculpting a stretch of the Columbia Gorge into a landscape he called the Shire, using both bulldozer and exacting grass-varietal selections.

His legacy embraces precision and rigor, but also play and fancy. (“He loved the baroque and rococo, at a time when those things really weren’t very popular,” notes Dawson Carr, PAM’s curator of European art.) Working big or small, creating or collecting, the intelligence documented by Quest for Beauty gravitated to the exquisite.

“The main link between the different aspects of this exhibit,” Gragg says, “is in Yeon’s mind.

The full article can be viewed HERE at Portland Monthly’s website.