Why those little lots?

vineyard.jpgIf you prefer a newer home, but also want a big back yard, then you will find yourself in a quandary. There are new houses, and there are large lots, but they just don’t seem to be found together. What’s up with that?

Those little lots are a direct result of Oregon’s land use laws. In the 1970’s a statewide commission was formed, the Land Conservation and Development Commission, also known as LCDC. The purpose of this commission was to develop a plan to conserve farm and forest land and keep Oregon from experiencing urban sprawl. Oregon’s greatest fear, at that time, was becoming California. And California was full of urban sprawl. There was talk that some day Portland would stretch south to Salem and there’d be no open fields: just miles and miles of strip malls and suburbs. The LCDC developed the statewide Urban Growth Boundary. This boundary is basically a line that is drawn around all urban areas. Inside the line the urban community is allowed to develop with residential housing and all of its supporting infrastructure. Outside of the boundary is mandated to be preserved for farm and forest use. This forces the infill of the property inside of the urban growth boundary. Every single city and town in the State of Oregon has an urban growth boundary. Compounding the issue is the 2040 Plan. This is a plan, developed in 1992, that projects the population growth of the state to the year 2040 and requires municipal planning departments to control new construction to accommodate those projected population needs.

So the State of Oregon has limited the supply of residential land and at the same time required planning to allow for future growth. Thus, the requirement that new homes be placed onto smaller lots. Even if a builder wants to build houses on larger lots, the planning process will likely force him to build on small lots, or his plans will not be approved.

There has been some back lash to the strict land use laws in the form of two recent ballot measures. Both ballot measures were designed to benefit people who had owned property since before the land use laws went into effect in the 1970’s. Ballot Measure 37 was passed in 2004. It allowed people who have owned property since the 1970’s to either develop the land as they saw fit or be reimbursed by the government for the loss of value that they had experienced from the land use laws. Ballot Measure 49 was passed in 2007. It modified measure 37 to allow for development of up to 4 home sites easily and more than 4 home sites to be a much harder process.

Oregon is the champion state for land use planning. It’s a highly charged subject that can stimulate rather heated conversation. But this is Oregon and that’s just how it’s done here. And those big new houses on smaller lots are what we often find as a result.

On a side note, there just isn’t much land left in Lake Oswego for the building of new homes. This has got the builders buying up old homes and tearing them down to build new houses on the old lots. In this case, the lots are very often not only large but in beautiful, established neighborhoods. And, yes, you do see quite a bit of this in Lake Oswego.

Only million dollar mansions, right?

soccer-statue.jpgLake Oswego is known to be a community with very expensive homes. Lake front, river front, city views, mountain views, you can find some pretty special amenities here that do drive up the value of a home. So, yes, there are million dollar mansions in Lake Oswego. But does that mean that there are not any less expensive homes? No. In fact, I am of the opinion that the community is often over-looked by buyers because they make the assumption that there is nothing for sale in Lake Oswego that they can afford. So here is a quick moment of enlightenment to be shared: Lake Oswego has affordable houses.

As of March 28, 2008, there were 20 houses for sale in Lake Oswego that were priced at $350,000 or less. The least expensive home was priced at $199,000. It was built in 1947 and has 2 bedrooms and 1 bath in 1188 square feet. This compares to Sellwood, a neighborhood in Southeast Portland, where as of the same date there were 18 houses for sale at $350,000 or less. You actually had a larger selection of homes under $350,000 in Lake Oswego than you did in Sellwood! Yet, a buyer in that price range is very likely to over-look Lake Oswego as an option for them. Amazing!

And, yes, for the record, the most expensive home in Lake Oswego at that same time was a mansion on the shore of Oswego Lake for $7,500,000. Those mansions are part of the neighborhood, but they are not the neighborhood in its entirety.

The Peril of Orangeburg – Yes, Cardboard Crumbles

Neighbors in Lake Oswego have been educating each other about something called Orangeburg pipe, so I thought it might be something you’d like to know about. Orangeburg is a kind of sewer piping that was manufactured and used throughout the country between 1940 and approximately 1972, until ABS plastic piping was introduced and replaced its use.

Orangeburg PipeThe Fibre Conduit Company of Orangeburg, N.Y. was a major manufacturer of this kind of pipe, and with its widespread use, changed its name to the Orangeburg Pipe Co. — thus the common name of the product. If your home was built during this period, there is a good chance that you have this kind of sewer pipe lurking underground, so it is good to know what this could mean to you as either a homeowner, or someone contemplating a purchase.

Orangeburg pipe is actually “bituminized” fiber drain and sewer pipe 2” – 18” in diameter. Basically it was made of cellulose fibers impregnated with hot coal pitch and treated under pressure with a water-resistant adhesive. The joints of this pipe are gasket-less, and the pipe often softens and deforms with age which allows for root intrusion and general breakdown with time. Its lifespan is approximately 50 – 60 years, and so it is, generally speaking, at the end of its life cycle — which is why you should know about it.

On my block, it became an issue and a hot topic of conversation a few years back. Since then, when I bring it up, I often find it is a subject with which people are unfamiliar unless their lives have been directly affected. One set of neighbors had their sewage back up into their basement… not a pretty picture, and had to replace their sewer line in a hurry and under duress. Other neighbors have investigated their pipes and ordered their preemptive replacement in order to avoid the unpleasant fate of the aforementioned neighbors. One had sewer pipes replaced as a part of closing a real estate sale, and another decided on a preemptive replacement only to discover that their sewer pipe was NOT Orangeburg after opening up a big hole in their front yard.

So, if you decide you’d like to have a definitive answer to the Orangeburg question, you may wish to call a company that works with sewer lines to come perform a “sewer scope” at a cost to you of approximately $100. – $150. They will insert a camera down into the line, and be able to tell the condition of the pipes, whether there is root intrusion, and yes, whether you have Orangeburg pipes getting ready to collapse. AND, to top it off, they’ll leave you with a DVD which you may view from time to time for your entertainment… or not.

If you are a prospective home buyer, you will want to assess whether the home you are purchasing is a candidate for possible Orangeburg sewer pipes, and make the sewer scope a part of your home inspection process.

Photo courtesy of Mike Butkus.

Radon, should I be concerned?

view of 1st StreetYes, you should be concerned. Radon is real and it does exist in Lake Oswego.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that is radioactive and can seep into our homes from the ground. While Lake Oswego is shown on radon maps as being an area of low to moderate risk, that does not mean that it does not occur in homes in Lake Oswego. Nationally, radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers claiming 20,000 lives annually.

How do you know if a home has radon? You get it tested. Testing can be done personally or professionally. Radon test kits are commonly sold in hardware and home improvement stores. The kits include a cannister that is placed in a house for several days and then mailed in a postage paid envelope to a laboratory. Test results come back within days. As a buyer of a home, you should consider including radon testing as part of your home inspection process and make the purchase of your new home contingent on satisfactory radon test results. Be sure to allow about 2 weeks for the test results to be completed.

What if the house comes back having too much radon? What do you do then? If you are living in a home with elevated levels of radon, or if you want to buy a home with elevated levels of radon, don’t panic. Radon can be remedied. Because it seeps into homes from the ground, simply filling in gaps from crawlspaces and making the bottom level of a home less exposed to air from the ground may be sufficient. If greater measures are needed, it is usually in the form of ventilation. An automatic fan system can be put into a crawlspace to circulate air out of the crawlspace so that it does not enter the home. After taking measures to lower the radon levels, re-test the house regularly to make certain that the radon levels remain low.

In my professional experience, radon was more likely to be found in houses built onto hillsides that had very rocky soil. I have been involved in the sale of two homes in Lake Oswego that had elevated levels of radon, one was in First Addition and one was in Village on the Lake. Both homes were easily remedied by means that were affordable.

Don’t be afraid of radon, but do be smart about it. When buying your new home, get it tested. You will sleep better at night knowing that you and your family are safe and not being exposed to radon.

Information for this posting was from the Environmental Protection Agency and can be found at www.epa.gov