Although the real estate market in Southern Maine is hot, it’s the kind of hot that can leave behind the odor of singed dreams. The Portland area is unique in some awesome ways. But our painful housing crunch isn’t one of them.

With approximately one trillion American Baby Boomers making a collective decision to downsize and/or flee the suburbs for a closer-knit community, the whole nation (and other parts of the world, as well) is feeling a peculiar population pinch.

Seared by the “nursing home” twilight of their elders, Boomers are determined to “age in place.” That means they’re looking for low-maintenance, stairs-free, affordable housing close enough to a yoga studio and a coffee shop that they can carry on Booming with less driving.

But this housing does not exist. It just doesn’t. Ranches are pricey to build because the expensive roof and basement are amortized across a small living area. High rises with elevators don’t exist because nobody really wants one next door. Plus, to a Boomer, “high-rise” is synonymous with “ugly-*ss box with no outdoor space and I don’t have time for elevators.”

If I had a million dollars (or ten million) I’d build a high rise condo in Westbrook. That town is affordable, it’s quickly evolving into a cool and manageable community, and a river runs through it. I love Westbrook. And my high rise would be special: Every horizontal surface would be planted or solar-paneled, and there would be a lot of horizontal surfaces. Nine-foot ceilings would banish the “flat” feeling of the old-time flat. My buildings would be carbon-neutral and cheap to own.

Did you see how that turned into plural buildings? I have big plans for Westbrook.

Want to live in my buildings, Boomers? Can you deal with an elevator? Txt me.

Good report on housing demographics here.


Zillow & U.S. Census Bureau

Zillow & U.S. Census Bureau

There’s a house shortage, if you haven’t heard. Caravans of mournful buyers are circling Southern Maine waiting for a chance to dash into a newly listed house and make a rash offer above asking price. It’s like musical chairs but much less fun. Why aren’t there more houses for sale? Where did all the houses go?


Zillow & U.S. Census Bureau

They’re right where we left them, says this report from the Federal Reserve. But they’re only available to renters. They’ve entered the “rental inventory.”

When the housing bubble burst (thanx, banx) oodles of foreclosed homes flooded the market. Mannnnny of these bargains were bought by the only folks who could round up credit or cash: Investors. Now they’re in use, but not in circulation.

Check out the trend lines: The housing market dwindles; the rental market swells.


This Pecha Kucha presentation was so much fun. I learned one million things, and gained an even greater affection for this pragmatic place called Portland, Maine. Six minute video. 13,000 years of history. You can’t get much more value than that.

Click image for video:
20 hvh


Kublai Khan. Wikimedia pd

Kublai Khan. Wikimedia pd

I’ve been watching the Marco Polo series on Netflix not for the melodrama and frontal nudity, but for the real estate considerations. Primarily, how did Kublai Khan not freeze his funny little hairdo off? How warm can you really make a ger?

Pretty warm, apparently. Thanks to sheep.

The Mongolian ger, aka yurt, is a lightly-woven basket, covered with layers of felted wool. The ger is modular from the get-go, as befits a culture of sheep-followers. Accordingly, the insulation also is easily adjusted. The basic unit of insulation is a flexible version of foam insulation board, known as felted wool. The raw material is mined from a sheep, then whacked into dense sheets about an inch thick. This oily product is water and wind-repellent, and has an R-value of a bit under 1. In the winter, you pile on as many as you want. Three inches of felt mat provide an R value similar to your double-pane window (2). The old balloon-construction houses of Maine only managed R-4 or -5.

But insulation is only part of the story. Materials also lose heat through radiation. Glass is a fantastic radiator, shedding your household heat out into the winter air. Felt, according to research by a bunch of sheep, yak, camels, llamas, and goats, is not.

And air infiltration is important as well: That old Maine house has sprung so many leaks since it was built that you may as well just leave a door open all winter. The circular, even spherical, shape of the ger sheds cold wind instead of fighting it; and apparently the oily felt itself is remarkably windproof. (Modern gers have a canvas cover that helps, too.)

So Khan & Co. weren’t exactly roughing it on the Mongolian grasslands. Plus, if Netflix’s account is to be believed, no Mongolian ever spent a night alone.