Where should we live? Buying a House in Portland, OR

Portland, OR has a lot of neighborhoods—ninety-five within city limits. It was clear even during our first visit to the city that each neighborhood has its own unique personality. After we decided that we wanted to move to Portland, we spent some time driving around the city and getting the vibe from some of the neighborhoods, dreaming of where we would want to live. One of the very special things about the city is Forest Park which is a massive forest that is only a couple of miles from the center of downtown. You drive out of downtown and boom. . . you are in the woods. On our first visit, we couldn’t help comparing it to parts of Wisconsin and Northern Minnesota where our friends and family would “go to the cabin” for the weekend. The difference being a ten minute drive from downtown Portland versus a 3-5 hour drive to a Wisconsin cabin. You can actually live in the woods here and still be close to downtown, with public transit and all the other fun that comes with living in a thriving city.

After we discovered the forested areas where people live, we started dreaming, discussing and evaluating whether we might be able to move to that part of the city. It was 2011 and we still needed to sell our house that had been on the market for almost a year. Fast forward to August of 2012 and we were now living in Portland and renting in the Sunnyside neighborhood in SE Portland. This was a great neighborhood for us to start out, as it afforded us the opportunity to walk to dozens and dozens of restaurants and shops with only a 20 minute bus ride to my new job downtown. Sunnyside was nice, but we still dreamt of the forest. We discussed the pros and cons deciding we were willing to give up the walkability that most Portland neighborhoods provide in hopes of buying a house in the hills with a forest in the backyard, but we had no idea how feasible this would be.

After two months of renting, we started looking at Portland real estate. We had connected with a realtor that specialized in Modern Homes of Portland about a year before we moved. It gave us the opportunity to watch houses in interesting neighborhoods to help us start to understand what type of options we would have when we relocated. When we finally arrived in the city, we met with our potential realtor Marisa of M Realty. We told her what we were looking for and asked if she could find a couple of houses for us to see later in the week. We wanted to make sure she understood what we wanted before we committed to working exclusively with her. The first house she showed us was a mid-century split level that had potential, but would need TONS of money invested to make it livable (by our standards) and it would take months of work to be ready—we only had four more months on our lease at the rental house and we really didn’t want to sign another rental agreement if we didn’t need to. We hoped the second house she showed us would be move-in ready.

The second house interested us immediately (we’d even seen it online when we were still living in MN) because the backyard was a forest. There was no yard to speak of because the house was on stilts and the property was a huge hill, but this was not a deal breaker. We were OK with the idea of no yard work. When we first looked at the inside of the house it appeared that the owners had left in a hurry. The furniture was gone, there were still unwashed towels in the bathrooms and cleaning supplies in the cupboards. It was dirty and dusty, with fingerprints on the walls, dog and cat hair in the corners of the stairs and pine needles tracked all around the house. We were able to look beyond all of that when we stepped out onto the wraparound deck in back and smelled the forest aromas and a view fill with trees. It was serene, green and beautiful.

A Forest Backyard

A Forest Backyard

I was immediately convinced we needed to buy this house—the Fairmount Blvd. house near Council Crest Park A.K.A. the “Top of the Town”.

PDX 2011 House Wish List

It was the last house we looked at that night. As we drove home I told my husband, “We need to put an offer on that house.”  He wasn’t as convinced and felt nervous because it was only the second house we had looked at, and we might be missing other houses that were better. We talked through it and agreed that he should talk to the realtor the next day to get an idea of how often modern houses near the city, in our price range and with forests in the backyard came up for sale. His call to our realtor (yes, now she was becoming our full time realtor) confirmed what we had thought. This type of house in this neighborhood was extremely uncommon. She was actually shocked it was still on the market and suspected part of that was because it was empty and dirty and because of that, not showing well. To further convince my husband this was the house for us, I pulled out a notebook I kept filled with my “wish lists” and turned back to a list he and I had made almost a year prior called PDX House Wish List (November 2011).  As I read the items back to him from that list we both found ourselves smiling. The house met almost every single item we had listed.

The next day we called our realtor and planned the steps to make an offer. We anxiously awaited a response and within a couple of days heard back. The owners accepted our offer. Now all we had to do was have an inspection done to finalize our decision to purchase the house. The inspection passed and showed the house was a solid structure but we needed to do a few maintenance and updates. We were comfortable with the idea and now started to call this our house.

Shortly after we closed we spent the following month hiring contractors to paint the entire interior, clean the carpets and do an overall cleaning. We coordinated with our St. Paul, MN moving company and on December 3rd, 2012 our belongings were delivered to our new home. It was an amazing feeling to finally see all of our stuff after a year in storage. As we unpacked it was like a birthday and Christmas with each box—getting everything you exactly wanted with each item we unwrapped.

We are getting close to our one year anniversary in our Portland “tree house” and we are mostly unpacked at this point. With each project and each dinner party it feels more like home. My favorite part of every day is enjoying the serene forest views.


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