Real Estate News and Profiles

High Stakes: A Frank Discussion About the Portland Real Estate Market with Ben Hollenbaugh of Living PDX

Ben Hollenbaugh – Portland Broker of the Week!

If you plan to buy or sell a home in the Portland area, chances are that you’ll be engaging in one of the largest financial transactions you’ll ever undertake. It’s worth taking a look at the big picture and seeing what challenges and trends exist in the Portland housing market so that you’ll be better prepared for what lies ahead. Toward that end I sat down recently with Ben Hollenbaugh, the supervising broker/owner of Living PDX Real Estate, LLC, to ask him about the current Portland real estate market and what new home buyers and sellers should know before they make any moves.

Ben HollenbaughHollenbaugh first became a realtor in 2004. He went to work under the umbrella of Windermere for six years before starting his own company in 2010. He and principal broker Johanna Keith focus on a region that lies within in North, Northeast, and Southeast Portland within about 5 miles of downtown. Although most of their clients are buying and selling homes in this area between I-205 and the Willamette, Living PDX also deals with downtown condos as well as close-in homes on the westside. I asked Ben what Portland neighborhoods first-time buyers should look at first.

“As far as the best ‘bang for your buck’ neighborhoods right now,” Hollenbaugh said, “there are not too many places close in anymore where you can get a good house for less than $250,000. The neighborhoods where you still potentially can are St. John’s, Portsmouth, Cully, Roseway. Montavilla, Foster-Powell, Brentwood-Darlington, and beyond that, Lents. These days many first-time home buyers are forced to look toward condos if they want to be close in. The area east of I-205 is going to get more and more popular.”

Hollenbaugh thinks condos, in fact, may be the way to go. “It’s been a seller’s market for 9 out of the 11 years I’ve been a realtor,” he told me. “The buyer’s market occurred when the crash happened. Really, prices didn’t completely crash until the second half of 2010, all of 2011, and the first half of 2012, and they’ve been steadily increasing since to the point where the values of homes within 5 miles of the city has surpassed what they were in 2007, while condos are pretty much on par with 2007 values. So while I didn’t see condos as a great choice back before 2007, now I’m seeing them more as an opportunity and a decent investment.”

However, Hollenbaugh advises, don’t rush in when it comes to buying a condo, either. “You’re always going to have issues with HOA’s. You want to make sure the homeowners association is solid and that they don’t have have pending litigation against them. You definitely want to scrutinize them closely if it’s a new condo conversion or a new building. You never know what you’re getting into! Things could happen, so yeah  – you definitely want to look into the history of a lot of these condos and HOA’s and scrutinize their budget and make sure they’re up on their maintenance and have reserves, because there’s been a lot of litigation against builders over the years regarding homeowners associations.”

Living PDX is actively recruiting experienced brokers. I asked Ben if he had any advice for Portlanders who are thinking of becoming realtors themselves. “When I started at Windermere, they said, ‘work your sphere,’ your sphere of influence, which basically means your closest friends and peers. Word-of-mouth is probably the best way to get business. I would say doing that in combination with advertising at zillow, trulia,, and similar sites is a good place to start. Working in a big office when you’re first starting out can be good for learning the business if you’re in one that’s doing a lot of activity and you’re talking to realtors, ideally one where cooperation happens and where you’re not all in competition with each other. In the majority of transactions there’s a listing agent and a buyer’s agent, with one representing the seller and one representing the buyer, so being able to cooperate is important. It’s good to network with other agents because if they know you they’ll be willing to work with you. so I highly recommend starting out with a company – that’s the way to go. I think once you know the business, branching out into some of the smaller companies can give you better commission splits and you can definitely take home more income working for a smaller company.”

He also said that new realtors should be wary of underpricing with multiple offers. “I got very used to that. Basically, right when I got into the business there were multiple offers on most properties that I was writing up offers on for my buyers. Now there are more multiple offers than ever and price escalation over the listing price. It’s important for listing agents to specialize in smaller areas. For someone to be an expert in all of Portland and the whole vicinity is very unrealistic. That’s some of the reason we’re seeing some properties grossly underpriced because these listing agents don’t necessarily know the neighborhoods so. They’re accidentally underpricing houses and we’re seeing 5, 10, 20 offers sometimes, escalating 70 grand over the asking price. So specialize – specialize in an area, go on a property tour on Tuesdays – you know there’s a lot of brokers’ only open houses on Tuesdays.”

The bad news for home buyers is that the tight housing market is unlikely to change any time soon. “When it comes to housing, we’re the least expensive big city on the West Coast. Places like LA, Seattle, and San Francisco are unaffordable for most home buyers so they’re going to keep looking here.” What else attracts people here? “Gardening, parking, and moderate weather. Mostly, I blame Portlandia,” Hollenbaugh told me with a grin. “It’s been the busiest year I’ve ever had.”

Thomas Dietzel – Contributor