The way the numbers tell it, metro home prices are nearly back to where they were at the height of the housing bubble.
But tell that to Dan Gering, who sold his house in Tualatin this week, after dropping the price three times. "Everyone around us was saying the market was hot," he said. "I was stunned."
The median-priced home in the Portland area sold for $299,000 in July, according to the Regional Multiple Listing Service. That's just $3,000 short of the August 2007 peak for the area.
But median prices don't paint a complete picture. A closer look reveals an uneven recovery, with only a handful of neighborhoods actually seeing higher prices now than at the peak. Those tend to be close-in eastside Portland neighborhoods that had lower home prices during the housing run-up in the first place.
Most suburbs, and some neighborhoods considered among Portland's most desirable, are still seeing homes selling for far less than their peak, averages be damned.
When Gering listed his house in the 97223 ZIP code in May, several real estate agents he consulted expressed high hopes. But when they threw open the doors for the expected throngs of waiting buyers, they saw only a trickle of interest.
"It was not as hot as we were thinking it was going to be," he said. "I never felt like it was a seller's market. Ever."
Meanwhile, in Northeast Portland's Concordia neighborhood, Jesse Morton bought a house last year, fixed it up and put it on the market in March. "Three days later, I had three higher-than-asking offers," said Morton, who lives in the nearby Woodlawn neighborhood.
The view from the 97211 ZIP code, it turns out, has given Morton a somewhat skewed perspective of the market. He recently spoke to a friend in Vancouver, Wash., whose home's value is still down by about 20 percent.
"From all my experience here, it seems like everything's back to normal," Morton said. "But I guess that's not really true in all the neighborhoods."
Buyers seek amenities, low risk
The close-in neighborhoods didn't fall as far during the downturn thanks to a stable, and limited, supply of housing, said Portland real-estate economist Jerry Johnson. Now, in the recovery, they're seeing more investment that brings new amenities.
"They're in a good spot right now, and that's probably going to be sustained for a bit of time," Johnson said.
The housing markets in more distant neighborhoods were once seen as an affordable option. Now, says University of Oregon economist Tim Duy, they seem potentially risky.
"In this post-bubble era, buyers are going to be a little more discerning," he said. "They're not going to buy anything and everything, so I don't think there was going to be an equal amount of growth."
The diverging recovery is fairly typical of metros across the country, said Jed Kolko, an economist with the real-estate listings site Trulia.
"Much of the run-up in prices and overbuilding during the bubble was in the suburbs and beyond, so it will take longer for those areas to get back to their earlier peak," he said. And, Kolko notes, $302,000 isn't what it used to be, given inflation and income growth.
"Remember that we're talking about peak nominal prices," said Kolko. "Prices aren't fundamentally back to bubble levels."
-- Elliot Njus