A conversation with Sasha Welford, of Debbie Thomas Real Estate, about why there’s never been a better time to sell—or buy—in the Pearl
Having built a loyal following as a realtor specializing in residential properties with Debbie Thomas Real Estate (402 NW 13th Ave, 503-226-2141), Sasha Welford has watched the market boom, slow down during the recession, and pick right back up again over the past couple of years. Interestingly, according to Welford, even during the lean period, her business still grew year to year. Here’s her take on the Pearl’s real estate market—and why 2015 is proving to be an ideal time both to sell and buy in the city’s trendiest urban neighborhood. –Andrew Collins
AC: Tell me a little bit about your background in Portland real estate.
SW: I’m a residential real estate broker. Officially, I’m a realtor, which means I belong to the National Association of Realtors and adhere to the Realtor Code of Ethics. I’ve been doing this since spring of 2004 with Debbie Thomas Real Estate, so 11 years now. And I had been doing real estate for two years prior. But 2004 is when I started to focus on urban condos.
AC: In what ways have you seen the market change over the past several years, especially as it looks now compared with during the depths of the recession?
SW: I’ll tell you, really, I never saw my business slow down too much. It’s grown every year, even through the recession. People still have to buy and sell, in any market, so although I was having harder conversations and there was more difficulty for sellers, business never slowed dramatically.
AC: Do you think some of that is attributable to the popularity of the neighborhoods you specialize in?
SW: Yes, I represent mostly close-in properties—downtown, Nob Hill, a bit of the West Hills, and then lots of condos in the Pearl District. During the recession, there was a fair amount of inventory in the Pearl, and if you were looking to buy, it was a good time to do so. Pricing was great for a few years, roughly 2007 to 2010. And then around 2011 and 2012 the market finally started improving for sellers. I just remember conversations with owners then, and seeing a little bit of a shift in the right direction, especially if you had something that showed well and was priced right.
AC: And how about today—what’s the inventory like right now in the Pearl?
SW: The inventory is so low—it’s incredibly low. As of today [early May 2015], the total number of condo units in the Pearl District, not including projects under construction—like the Cosmopolitan—is 3,202, and out of those, just 43 are on the market. That’s just 1.3 percent. It’s tough out there for buyers, finding both condos and houses. Any close-in residential property listed for under $300,000 gets like 20 offers, and almost any house under $600,000 is receiving multiple offers. I just sold a condo that listed for $1.6 million and it had multiple offers—it sold for over the asking price. For buyers, it can feel a little frustrating, so it’s very important to be prepared, and to write the cleanest offer possible. And, of course, be pre-approved before you even start looking.
AC: How are current mortgage rates?
SW: Well that’s the good news for buyers—mortgage rates are under 4 percent right now. The rate actually fluctuated a little bit for a while, rising above 4 percent, but they’re really low again. So that presents a real opportunity, and it’s a situation that’s not going to last forever. If you had rates up around 7 or 8 percent, your dollar would go a lot less far.
AC: What are the hottest buildings in the neighborhood right now?
SW: Everyone has different tastes, so really every kind of property in the Pearl is selling quickly right now. The Metropolitan is beautiful, and it’s very luxurious—I think it will always hold its value very well, because it has more amenities than just about any building in Portland. Along with the Henry, the Casey, and, in Nob Hill, the Westerly, the Metropolitan is possibly the most expensive building in Portland—I think these three are commanding the top prices.
The Cosmopolitan [slated for completion in summer 2016] is going to be absolutely gorgeous, and I’m working with a couple of clients who are buying there. It’s high-end, but people are very excited about it, and the pricing isn’t scaring anyone way, because the developer does great work and has a solid reputation in Portland. They’ve already sold 62 percent of the building, and the rest of the units are selling fast.
AC: On average, what are 1-bedroom condos in the Pearl selling for right now?
SW: Pretty much around $400,000, although you’ll usually find a few starting at $350,000. It’s tough to find anything listing for less than that.
AC: Among prospective buyers, can you size up the demographics? Has it changed over the years? Who’s moving into the Pearl District right now, and where are they moving here from?
SW: I don’t think the buyers have changed too much in recent years. There have always been a lot of buyers from out of town. Portland continues to grow, attracting entrepreneurs, people starting up tech companies—lots of Nike and Intel employees. As companies here continue to grow, they bring in lots of new employees. Many buyers come here from New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but really they’re moving here from all over. I’ve worked with three people recently with ties to Ohio.
What has changed a bit is that I work with more and more clients who spend just part of their time in Portland—maybe they have family or grandkids here, or they just want to be here in the summer. We also see buyers moving locally, some of them downsizing from big houses in the West Hills or suburbs. All sorts of people are moving to the Pearl—younger professionals, retirees, people who split their time here and elsewhere. It’s a really a nice mix.
The following agencies specialize in residential real estate
in the Pearl District:
- Blake Ellis, Broker
- Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty
- Debbie Thomas Real Estate
- Erika Wrenn @ (w)here Real Estate
- Hoyt Realty Group
- Judie Dunken Real Estate Broker
- O’Donnell Group Realty
- Pearl District Properties
- Realty Trust Group, Inc.
Photos courtesy of Debbie Thomas Real Estate