Coloured_Figures_of_English_Fungi_or_Mushrooms_-_t._126There have been fewer foreclosed houses on the market lately, so when one popped into the MLS today I popped over to take a peek. Emphasis on pee. Or puke: I popped over to take a puke.

Here’s some frustrating background: It takes an average of 600-plus days to foreclose a house. And a whole lot of sh*t can happen in 600 days. Especially if the occupant goes away mad on Day 242 without draining the pipes.

So, in my experience, most foreclosed homes have been through a winter of frozen pipes, and a springtime of indoor flooding. The furnace is often defunct from flooding, freezing, or both. The baseboard pipes may be split in a number of secret locations to be revealed only when the new owner opens a new account with the Portland Water District. The wood floors are buckled; the stench of mold and heartbreak hangs thick in the air.

(In the best cases, the bank that now owns the house has hired someone to drain the pipes, dump antifreeze in the toilet, and return every few months to pull the pin on a Glade grenade the size of a pineapple. I actually prefer the scent of sewagefungus.)

Anyway, foreclosure often sets water free, and free-range water is almost never helpful to the inside of a house. Mold happens. If sewage is stuck somewhere when frost sets in, that too can spread a fantastic feast for fungi. Today’s house had that scent — sewagemold plus heating oil.

People are increasingly freaky about bunking with mold, our species’ cave-sleeping past notwithstanding. Aint no bank gonna lend normal people money to buy a mold house. The only person equipped to purchase a fungusy foreclosed house is generally a renovator. A flipper. A professional fungus jockey.

And so today’s foreclosure, which I had hoped might fit my artistic and modestly-budgeted clients, was a disappointment. The burgundy shag on the stairs they could handle. The blue bathroom they could manage. But mold won’t fly. A Glade bomb had been detonated, but it came nowhere near drowning the smell of waste and heartache.




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.


OSU image

OSU image

When clients from out of state recently inquired about a termite inspection for their new nirvana, I replied, “Pffft.” Then I thought perhaps I should read up on that. Climate change… changes things.

Historically, Maine has been protected by the translucent ant-wannabes by our deep freezing temperatures. Southern Maine has rare occurrences of termites, but they lack staying power.

If this winter is any indication of what climate change does to a jet stream, there will never be another termite in Maine, ever again. Ever. And this guy says that even if someone imports termites, and a colony takes root, that colony should remain isolated: Termites don’t have time to raise a special “go forth and colonize” generation without a long, humid summer. They’ve tried it in Toronto, and failed. The colonizing generation needs wings; the wings won’t grow in Toronto.

So for now, termites are an exotic rarity. Yet another dazzling benefit of our brief, short, and truncated summers.

And if the jet stream does relent, and we do get termites, I would hope that we also get armadillos to eat them. That only seems fair.




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


Maine real estate monthly report.

LookinMaine real estate monthly report.

Lookin’ alive, Maine! The past quarter has seen a perkier market in all but one county. (‘Sup, Sagadahoc? I thought Bath Iron Works was on a hiring binge.)

The first three columns of that table address the number of houses sold this quarter versus the same quarter a year ago–it’s a measure of how easy (or hard) it is to get out from under a house you don’t want.

But the second three columns remind you that opportunity is not equal. These columns address any change in the average sale price, this quarter over the same quarter a year back. A big change in that average price can mean a couple things:

1: A big, expensive house sold, and its price is pushing the average around. Check the “volume” columns — a small volume of sales leaves the average price vulnerable to weirdo sales.

2: Sellers are SICK OF THIS AND GETTING OUT OF HERE EVEN IF WE TAKE A BATH ON THE PRICE! This  might explain Lincoln County, where the number of sales is up, but the price is way down.

When you look at the populous counties (York, Cumberland, Kennebec) you find smaller swings from quarter to quarter: A high “n” (number of data points) produces a more reliable signal of where people are going.



When tax money flows between people and government, it often leaves a “public record,” a trail. You can use this public record to discover who owns a building. Realtors follow these trails for every house we handle, looking for back taxes, foreclosure motions, sibling squabbles, snarly divorces, and other afflictions.

To find your own trail, start at the Assessor’s Office in your town. Here’s Portland’s.

Input the street and/or street number you’re curious about. Screenshot (61) You’ll get a list of properties and tax accounts on that street; if you have the street number you’ll get just that property.Screenshot (62)

Click the account number at the left of the property you’re interested in, which will take you to that property’s “assessor’s card.” Cumby’s card, for instance, looks like this, and will contain allllll manner of info, including when it last changed hands, and for how much money. And a pretty picture, so you can be sure you’re looking at the right thing.

Screenshot (63)

Now write down the “Book and Page” Screenshot (64)numbers from the card. We’re going to find the deed for this property at the Registry of Deeds. Here’s Cumberland County’s.

Search settings:

Office: Recorded Land

Search Type: Volume

Volume (Book): 7282

Page Number: 348Screenshot (65)

GO! Up comes the result list, from which you select that tiny magnifying glass image labeled, “View img.”

And voila. There’s the deed, the public record of the last time that property changed hands.

Screenshot (66)

It gets a lot funner than that, but also a lot more wordy. But just for fun, click one of those names that appears to the right of the deed…


Art: trulia

Art: trulia

I simply don’t know what to make of this. Every young person in America apparently wants to own a home. And very few older people do.

This Trulia survey of current renters suggests that the burning desire for ownership cools inexorably under the chill wind of age and experience. Or it suggests something else. I’m quite curious about it. But I’m most curious about these Millennials being all nesty and optimistic. It actually fits my experience with them as real estate clients.

These people were supposed to be sway-backed under the burden of debt, and dismal-eyed about their employment prospects. What went wrong? Well, they’re also considered a conscientious and idealistic batch of humans. And that’s what I see.

I’m excited about the communities they’re going to build.


Wikimedia [PD]

Wikimedia [PD]

It’s not uncommon for house-shoppers to steer clear of a neighborhood with a lot of renters. The perception is that renters “don’t care” about maintaining a safe and friendly neighborhood. Do they not care? Or do they not feel they have the right to care?

This little study demonstrates that, while renters are just as inconvenienced as owners are by  potholes, dead streetlights, and other degenerative diseases of a city, they are far less likely to complain about them.

Homeowners in Boston are three times more likely to file a complaint than renters, although renters outnumber owners two-to-one. And because 80% of the complaints address problems within two blocks of the citizen’s residence, the issues are likely to be the sort of things that impact renters and owners equally.

There is something magical about writing a property-tax check, I think. It feels like a direct purchase of city services, and entitles the homeowner to question the value of those services.

While renters most assuredly pay property taxes, they do so indirectly, handing the money to their landlords. Does that disconnect renters from their local government? That’s hard to say. But this study says that renters either don’t object to driving around potholes, or don’t believe anybody cares.




Weird, still weird in Maine: not enough houses where people want them (intown Portland, pretty much, or a second home on water); and too many, faaaaaar too many, in much of the remaining acreage of this post-industrial landscape.

I often wish it were easier to slide houses around, or helivac them to where they’re wanted. Whenever we visit my inlaws in Glens Falls, NY, I get misty about the fabulous old Victorians, Greek Revivals, Brick Behemoths, and Umpteen-Gabled Bungalows. Many of them are empty, crumbling, bed sheets across the windows. If they were in Portland, they’d be inhabited, and adored.

People used to move houses a lot more than they do now, by ice or water, or ox-team. Now that houses are quicker to build and expensiver to move, we’ve kind of quit.

Since humans left home, our species has faced this problem. We’re restless by necessity. We must follow food, whether it’s in the form of wildlife or jobs. If our shelters can’t be rolled up and dragged along, they must be left behind.

The abandoned and unloved houses haunt me. They were built to solve an urgent human problem, and often the artistic ideals of the builders were recorded in the process–as were the additions and subtractions of future inhabitants. And then they’re left, these rooted, semi-living things, to die.

Pretty philosophical, for a sheet of number, perhaps. I plead extenuating circumstances.