I regularly estimate home values for potential buyers and sellers, past clients or homeowners tracking their net worth. The information helps them set goals and make decisions. On my side, the exercise allows me to expand my network and deepen my understanding of neighborhoods and market trends. So I was happy to estimate the value of a friend’s West Slope home recently.
Part of unincorporated Washington County, the neighborhood is bounded by Highway 26 to the north, Highway 217 to the west, Highway 10 to the south and a sloping boundary (no pun intended) to the east. Home to about 6500 people and over 3,000 housing units, the average West Slope household comes to just a little over 2 people. Yet most detached homes in the area are spacious and high-end, with a median sale price of $549K.
According to nextdoor.com, residents value the area’s friendly neighbors, quiet streets and large lots (good for kids and dogs), well-kept gardens and homes, proximity to shopping and downtown Portland, and mature trees. Walk scores are low but school ratings are high.
In many ways, my friend and her husband embody key trends in Portland and the country. Latecomers to the Silent Generation, they bought their 3300-square-foot home in the mid-80’s for just $110K. They have long since educated their children, paid off their mortgage and retired. But they are part of a growing wave of seniors who are choosing to age in place.
Unlike many Baby Boomers, they are prudent financial planners. Despite their pensions, savings and other assets, the husband continues to earn income by working part-time from home. So they don’t need the outsize equity in their home to fund their retirement.
I say ‘outsize’ with good reason. A walk through of their well-maintained 1960’s 2-story revealed:
- A handsomely remodeled kitchen
- 4 bedrooms and 3 baths, with the master remodeled and one guest bath updated
- A downstairs family room with a wet bar
- Three balconies overlooking a grand sloping lot flanked by even grander Doug Firs
After a thorough review of recent sales and cancelled and active listings nearby, I estimated a 10-percent value range of $730-805K.
Improvements to the house have been driven by both aesthetic and practical considerations. For example, as part of last year’s kitchen remodel, doorways to the entry hall and the dining/living room were enlarged to improve flow and accommodate walkers or wheelchairs. And the footprint of the curbless master shower was enlarged along with the frameless glass door in keeping with universal design principles.
Since the master bedroom and bathroom have always been located on the main floor and the garage is flush with the mud/laundry room, the house is now part of a very select group. Less than 4 percent of the US housing stock offers 3 key accessibility features needed for aging in place: single-floor living, no-step entries, and wide hall- and doorways.
But my friends didn’t leave it at that. They are riding the wave of another trend: the village movement. Originating in Boston’s Beacon Hill almost 20 years ago, the movement aims to empower seniors to age in place. It has since spread across the country. Villages NW acts as organizational and administrative hub to 6 spokes in the Portland Metro area. One of the 6, Viva Villages serves Beaverton, Cedar Hills, Cedar Mill and West Slope.
In exchange for modest member fees, seniors get help from community volunteers with transportation, shopping, household chores, gardening, and light home repairs and maintenance. Still healthy and active, my friends provide volunteer services to Viva Villages members that they will one day receive.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Committed to living responsibly and within their needs, they have seriously considered downsizing more than once. Several years ago, they explored a home in a co-housing development on the west side. But they were put off by what they saw as the inefficiency and financial risk of consensual decision making not guided by professional expertise.
On another occasion, they toured almost every condo development on the west side but concluded that the lifestyle wasn’t for them. And a couple of years back, they made a cash offer on a detached house in a newer suburb 5 miles west of theirs but were outbid. When the first sale fell through, they couldn’t justify leaving the neighborhood and friends they love for a house that cost so much more than what they paid for theirs – yet lacked its character and forest-like setting as well as age-in-place features.
The challenges and choices they have faced are being played out across Portland and America – reinforcing the current inventory shortage. No one knows when “the great senior sell-off” will occur or what effects it will have. But for now, my friends are living resourcefully and well in their West Slope beauty.