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Solar Power Expansion Legislation Caught in Political Crossfire

Rooftop solar panels

After nearly two months in legislative limbo, a bill has emerged that would subsidize solar panels for everyone. But it could be dragged down by political struggles, including a failed attempt this week to link it to a bid by utilities to ease their burdens under voter-approved Initiative 937.

I-937 requires utilities to use certain kinds of renewable energy, but has been the target of repeated attempts by utilities to weaken it. They claim that in some cases it’s actually costing them extra money while frustrating the original clean-energy intent of the 2006 initiative.

If passed, the solar bill (HB 1912) would guarantee that purchasers of solar equipment receive a full 10 years of state payments, which could spur new investments in rooftop solar.

How Cash Sent the Portland Home Market Spinning

Julieth Buri waters flowers in front of the Portland house she and her husband, Justin, bought in 2014. Photo: Leah Nash for InvestigateWest

Justin and Julieth Buri were about to lose. Again.

This time it was a pink-colored bungalow, a 1,382-square-foot house on Northeast Fremont belonging to the estate of Veona Monroe, a church devotee and the matriarch of a large Portland family.

It needed work, but they were smitten, if not optimistic. Justin Buri, by day an advocate for tenants, knew well the scarcity of Portland houses. They offered $250,000 — the asking price — and crossed their fingers. This time it took a full day before another buyer outbid them, paying all cash. Seven months later, the house sold again, remodeled, for $483,000.

“It was a nightmare,” Justin Buri said of the couple's house-hunting days. From the time those days began in October 2013 until they ended the following May, the Buris were outbid 16 times for homes, many times by all-cash offers.

“Sometimes we wouldn’t even get beat by that much, but because it was a cash offer, the owner would prefer it,” he said.

So goes the story. Cash is king in red-hot Portland real estate, representing a full one-third of single-family home sales last year. Depending on which urban myth you subscribe to, many first-time home buyers are just out of luck either because the Metro-area urban growth boundary makes housing scarce and pricey, or because Portland is so great, housing is being gobbled up by a flood of New Yorkers and Californians racing here for a slice of nirvana. It’s a post-Portlandia feeding frenzy, right?

Well, no. Not entirely.

26 Investors Who Have Way More House than You

'For Sale' and 'Sold' signs are common in the Humboldt neighborhood of Portland. Photo: Jason Alcorn

There are 26 investors who purchased more than 10 homes for cash in the listed market in Multnomah County through the recession. The equity firms in the bunch were American Homes 4 Rent and Equity West Capital Partners. Equity West Capital Partners topped the activity list, followed by Dilusso Homes, run by real estate mogul Chris Baird, who has purchased more than 500 properties in California, Alabama and Oregon, at least 29 in Multnomah County for cash and more than 100 others in Multnomah County through a combination of cash and other means.

Also high on the list were a trio of private investors: Pak Leong, Hongbo Li and Fuk Chan, who sometimes partner on deals. AAV One, owned by private investor Tina Lei, landed on the list as well, along with private companies Red Gap Holdings and JET Investments. BKB Investments and NSI Investments, private-investor upstarts in the flip market, have since left the game. BKB’s AJ Kitt said the company couldn’t make money on its flips. NSI’s Nick Stearns said he has retired.

Remodelers Eden Enterprises, Willamette Valley Properties, John Reilly and Wilde Properties were also frequent cash buyers, mostly working on the inner east side. John L. Scott Realtor King Brendenkamp bought in east Portland along with Gresham and Troutdale.

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This is Where Top Investors Buy Homes for Cash in Portland

 
Explore More of our Portland Housing Reporting

Methodology for Our Report on Cash Buyers

Here is the methodology for our reporting on home sales for cash in Multnomah County, Oregon.

InvestigateWest obtained a list of 17,776 cash real estate transactions — the property address and the close of escrow date — occurring between 2006 and 2014 from Oregon Multiple Listing Service. The City of Portland’s Bureau of Technology Services matched 11,236 of the records to property ID numbers.

InvestigateWest matched an additional 3,800 transactions by writing a web crawler, a simple computer program that ran property searches on MultCoPropTax.org, a website maintained by the Multnomah County Department of Assessment & Taxation. The web crawler also downloaded all sales information for each available property ID, including the buyer and seller names, the sale date and price.

We then matched 11,785 cash transactions to the web crawler’s output. For each buyer name, we added up the number of single-family home purchases and total cash spent. Each cash sale was then matched to the next transaction for the property in order to reveal gains on flips and to observe when properties were acquired and how they were next sold. Overall cash activity was summarized by zip code and month.

This data was contextualized within the larger cash marketplace with help from RealtyTrac, the real estate information company. RealtyTrac provided data on overall cash transactions in Portland, Vancouver, Beaverton and Multnomah County, as well as data detailing foreclosure and auction activity, affordability for buyers and total cash purchases in the listed, auction, and private contract marketplace. The company also provided data on institutional investor sales and on how many cash purchases were later financed.

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#HomeSweetPDX

Our staff is documenting the effects on Portland's homebuyers market as investors buy thousands of homes with cash. Add your photographs of the collection by using the hashtag #HomeSweetPDX on Instagram.

 

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A Vision for Transparency Reform in Oregon

In my household there is a running gag. It’s that my future biography — to be written by my husband, who I have been talking at for a minimum of two hours a day for many years — will be called Visions.

Redacted.

It will not be about all of the things I have accomplished. It will be a list, likely numbering in the hundreds of pages, of all the great ideas I’ve had but for a variety of reasons did not see through.

There will be the numerous companies I have started (in my mind, anyway). The ever-evolving landscaping plan always in progress in my yard (and, again, in my mind). There will be the dozens of art projects floating around in closets and our basement. Thousands of unwritten articles — a few with asterisks denoting the unavoidable legal causes of their demise. A book or five. Nonprofits, animal rescues, orchid arrangements, volunteer projects.

I am not a procrastinator. I simply like to start things. Like this column. Like the Redacted app. Like a TED Talk-style story rollout at InvestigateWest’s Oregon launch party Thursday night (6 p.m. in Portland at Ecotrust).

And now I’m going to start something with you people: We are going to try to get this darn bill passed.

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Microbeads Ban Goes Down the Drain

Puget Sound. Photo: Flickr/Kris Symer

Legislation aimed at reducing water pollution by phasing out plastic microbeads in products like toothpaste and cosmetics got a unanimous yes vote in the Republican-controlled Washington Senate. But the Democratic-controlled House Environment Committee scrubbed it, leaving it in the growing pile of this session’s dead and discarded bills.

Senate Bill 5609 would have, by 2020, banned the manufacture and sale of products containing synthetic microbeads. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used as abrasives in many health and beauty products. They wash down the drain but are so small that they can escape wastewater treatment filters, ending up in Puget Sound and other waterways and entering the food chain as a pollutant.

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