In-Ground Oil Tanks

Oil Tank Decommissioning For most of the 20th century, oil heat was the primary method of heating homes. If you own or are considering purchasing a home that was built before 1965, chances are pretty good that the house had oil heat. And chances are also pretty good that the oil tank was buried in the ground.

Should you be afraid to buy a home with an in-ground tank? No.

Should you be afraid of selling your home if it has an in-ground tank? No.

In both instances the necessary steps that you should take are clearly outlined by the Department of Environmental Quality. As a seller, you want to minimize your liability and be certain that once the house is sold, you will never have the old oil tank come back to haunt you. To do this, you must obtain soil samples to prove that the tank has not contaminated the surrounding soil. If the tank is still in use, the soil samples will prove that the tank had not contaminated the surrounding soil at the time that the house was sold. If tank is no longer in use, you are encouraged to have the tank decommissioned.

Decommissioning the tank involves emptying it of oil, cleaning it out, and filling it with concrete slurry that will harden into a big cement rock in the ground. While decommissioning the tank is voluntary, many lenders and most buyers will make this a condition of the sale. If you do not take the necessary steps to prove that the soil was clean at the time the house was sold, and soil samples taken later show that a contamination has occurred, you can be liable for the cost to clean up the soil even after the house has transferred to a new owner. So, take the proper steps now to assure that you will not have a problem in the future.

Whenever work is done on an in-ground tank, it should be performed by a licensed and bonded contractor who is certified with the DEQ. After the work is completed, a certificated of compliance will be issued. This is paperwork that needs to be saved and transfered with the property to every subsequent owner. Cost to do soil testing will run about $200-$400. Cost of decommissioning will run about $800 to $1,200. Can it cost more, yes, but that is a minority of the cases.

If you are wanting to buy a house with an in-ground oil tank, should you be afraid to purchase? No. Simply make the soil testing and the decommissioning of the tank a condition of the purchase. You are strongly advised to get this taken care of before you buy the house. If you buy the house with an in-ground tank, and you discover later that the tank has leaked, you have now taken ownership of the problem.

How bad can it get? There certainly are horror stories of soil clean up costs running into the thousands and thousands of dollars. In my 20 years of selling real estate, the most costly clean-up I have encountered involved bringing in a backhoe to remove a tank and dig a hole about 15 feet in diameter. It cost the seller $8,000.

Information on oil tanks are surprisingly undocumented. There are not good resources for looking up records about in-ground tanks. The DEQ does not regulate in-ground tanks beyond requiring that they be reported if they have leaked. Then, the DEQ does open a file on them and there is a process to clean up the contamination and get the file closed. However, if no leak has been reported to the DEQ, they will not have a record of the tank. And do not rely on city records or fire department knowledge of in-ground tanks. This means that even if a seller has no knowledge of an in-ground tank, you may want to consider having the yard of an older home scanned with a metal detector to confirm that no tank exists in the yard.

In all cases, it is best to take every precaution to be in compliance with soil testing and tank decommissioning when you buy or sell a home. Taking the proper steps now will save both buyers and sellers heartache later.

Links: Oregon DEQ Tank Decommissioning FAQ

Welcome Betty!

A big bloggers welcome to Betty Jung and the metro area’s latest addition to local real estate blogging.  Betty is a Realtor with Re/Max equity group and has just started her new blog, All About….Portland.Oregon.Real Estate.  Betty has a fresh voice and is eager to jump into the pool.  Welcome!

Lake Grove

apple-sculpture.jpgLake Grove is located West of Oswego Lake and East of Interstate 5. It includes a vibrant business district along Boones Ferry Rd with many shops, offices, and restaurants. The neighborhood was platted in 1912 and grew as a result of the Goodin Station train stop between Oswego and Tualatin. The old train station and market were long ago converted to a very charming residence and can still be found today. If I were trying to find a word to describe Lake Grove it would be “diverse”. There is just simply a very wide variety of housing and businesses in Lake Grove.

Housing is both modest and grand. On the modest end of the spectrum are condominiums starting at about $135,000 and single family homes starting at $289,900. On the grand end is a newly built home that is currently for sale for $1,790,000. That’s a pretty broad range of housing! Architectural styles include 1920’s bungalows, mid-century homes of the 1940’s and 1950’s, ranch-style homes from the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the more large-scale homes that became popular in the 1980’s and are still being built today.

With so much diversity Lake Grove has known for years that a plan was needed to be put in place to create some harmony. The Lake Grove Neighborhood Plan was adopted in 1998 to guide development of open spaces, historic and natural resources, economic development, housing, and transportation.lake-grove-street.jpg

The look of the neighborhood is characterized by large stands of very tall fir trees. Much of the area has a woodsy feel to it. Most residential lots are large. Some parts of Lake Grove are actually not incorporated into the City of Lake Oswego, but are considered to be in Clackamas County. The pockets of unincorporated land enjoy Lake Oswego addresses and city services such as water and schools, but are served by the County Sheriff rather than Lake Oswego police.

boones-ferry-rd.jpgThe City of Lake Oswego has spent the last decade doing a major overhaul of its commercial districts. Millenium Plaza Park and the Village Center at the East end of town were completed through this revitalization effort several years ago and have been wildly successful. A similar effort is just beginning in Lake Grove. The Lake Grove Village Center Plan calls for improved pedestrian access and extensive landscaping improvements. It has been in the planning stage for several years with actual construction scheduled to begin soon.

By far one of the great advantages to living in Lake Grove is the easy access to I-5 North to downtown Portland or South to Salem, Hwy 217 West to Beaverton, and Hwy 205 East and North to Mt Hood and the Portland airport. There are two large shopping areas nearby: Washington Square and Bridgeport Village. It is just simply a very convenient place to live.

So if you like a neighborhood that is not a subdivision, where there is a mix of houses and house styles, where there are large lots and big trees, and where you have easy access to shopping, restaurants, and the Westside’s main highways, Lake Grove just may be the neighborhood for you.

First Addition

first-addition.jpgFirst addition is one of the Portland area’s most charming and desirable places to live. It was platted in 1888 and is actually Lake Oswego’s second oldest neighborhood. (The oldest is the historic old town area near George Roger’s Park). The neighborhood was the first growth outside of Old Town as the economic focus of the town shifted from the production of iron and steel to the pursuit of recreation. The neighborhood has about 30 blocks of historic homes. A tour of homes will allow you to see Gothic, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Vernacular, and English Cottage styles.

One of the great features of the location is that it is a short walk to many of Lakelo-library.jpg Oswego’s most popular attractions. The neighborhood hosts the Lake Oswego Public Library and the Adult Community Center. It is also adjacent to the Village Center with its boutiques and restaurants, as well as Millenium Plaza Park which is the location of the Farmer’s Market. As if that weren’t enough, directly North of the neighborhood is Tryon Creek State Park with its miles of trails for hiking, jogging, and even horse back riding.

First Addition has a very active Neighborhood Association that works to preserve the historic flavor of the neighborhood, to keep the area pedestrian friendly, and to preserve the many large trees. There is a 100+ year old sugar maple tree on the corner of 3rd and C Avenues that is beyond spectacular when its leaves turn orange in the fall.

adult-community-center.jpgAdding to the convenience of living in First Addition is the fact that it also contains Lake Oswego’s Tri-Met transit center with bus to downtown Portland and the rest of the metropolitan area.

In 2006 Cottage Living Magazine named First Addition one of the ten best cottage communities in the United States. It raved about the quaint homes, the easy walk to attractions, and the “jewel box gardens winking from behind picket fences”.

First Addition is an awesome place to live that features quaint and historic homes along with easy convenience to many great attractions. When you buy a home in First Addition, you are not just buying a house, you are buying a lifestyle.

For our regular subscribers, if you would like to access past articles in our archives, please click here.

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.

Property Values

I have got to take a moment to respond the the front-page headline of the Oregonian on Wednesday, March 26, 2008: “Portland home values take first dip”.

First of all, that headline was put there to sell newspapers. Doom and gloom has always been a spectator sport. Not to down play the severity of our Nation’s current economic situation, but that headline was extremely sensational. Then read further into the story and you’ll find predictions that property values could drop by as much as 15% this year. Amazing!

As a real estate agent it is my business to listen to economists and follow advice of professionals as to what is going on with real estate values. This is the first time that I have heard such a dire prediction about the Portland housing market. In fact, what I am hearing much more commonly is that the Pacific Northwest is bearing up better than the rest of the country, and while it is possible that we will see declining values, the Portland metro area should fair better than the rest of the country. This is because of several unique factors to our area. 1) People continue to move to Oregon in greater numbers than they leave, and 2) we have limited supply of land available to develop with new homes which keeps our inventory low.

But what about in Lake Oswego? How should you consider the current economy as you think about selling your home? What are your property values doing?

According the latest numbers available from the Realtors Multiple Listing Service, for February of 2008, property values in Lake Oswego are still up 8.5% over a year ago. However, the numbers also indicate that there are 46% fewer sales than a year ago. So prices are up, but sales are down. Average market time to sell a home in Lake Oswego is 80 days. That is the time it takes from listing your home for sale to accepting an offer.

canal.jpgWhat does this mean to you? It means that if you have your home priced according to what other homes in your neighborhood have sold for, and your home is clean and in good repair, you’ll sell your home at 8.5% over what it was worth a year ago and it will happen in about 80 days.

Does that mean you can add 5% to the asking price to have more room to negotiate? No. You need to price your home according to what homes are actually selling for. Because there are more homes for sell today than a year ago, it means that buyers have lots of homes to choose from and will shop for the home that is a good value. It also means it needs to be in good condition. Replace the carpet, pressure wash the exterior, plant flowers in the yard and make your home ready to be show cased.

I am not going to pretend to know what the future holds. Prices could go down. Prices could go up. Who knows? And, really, does even the best economist know? What I can tell you is that values are still excellent. If you have been in your home for two years or longer, you have probably got some equity that you can take with you. Price your home correctly, have it nice and clean, and it will sell.

Why the Property Blotter?

fish-sculpture.jpgYes, our blog has an unusual name. It’s based upon a local phenomenon that we’d like to help you to understand.

Lake Oswego is a small town and has a very small town personality. There is a local newspaper that is widely read called the Lake Oswego Review.

Being a small town, this paper carries lots of local stories. It is great fun to see photos of and to read articles about people and places that you know. There are weekly stories about schools, restaurants, local politics, special people, and just a nice wide variety of community news. If you subscribe to the paper, it is delivered by mail every Thursday.

There is one column in the paper each Thursday that is particularly interesting and that is the Blotter. It is a published run down of all police activity for the preceding week. And we do mean ALL activity. The Lake Oswego police department has a 100% response policy. That means that if you call 911 to get police, you will get a patrol car responding to your home. One of the things that Lake Oswego DOES NOT have is a reputation for crime. There just simply isn’t much of it. So the Blotter tends to have numerous accounts of cats in trees, minor disturbances, and domestic confusion. It is written with a certain wry wit that is both amusing and entertaining. Here are some actual prior entries:

  • A resident of Oswego Pointe reported the mysterious draining of his fish tank. He found no puddle, no signs of forced entry, and his fish scattered around the bottom of the tank.
  • A resident of the Parkridge I apartments on Greenridge Drive says he can’t go on to his back porch for fear of being attacked by a vicious cat.
  • An “unknown hairy thing” found stuffed in a trash can at New Waluga Park and described as “heavy” was determined to be a stuffed animal.

As you can see, this is a great source of amusement and entertainment. It is a truly local phenomenon. And taken to its full blossom, a book was inspired by the Blotter. Written by Elisa Minor Rust, “The Prisoner Pear” was published in 2005.

So when the time came to name our blog, we found that the idea of the Blotter had a local appeal and somewhat defined what we are trying to achieve. We want the Property Blotter to be locally unique, reflective of what is going on in our community, and, hopefully, somewhat entertaining.

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

About Oswego Lake

Lake Oswego MarinaOswego Lake is a 405-acre lake around which the City of Lake Oswego has grown.

The natural lake is fed by the Tualatin River at the West end and spills over a dam, down into Oswego Creek and into the Willamette River at the East end. There is a natural lake that was originally about 150 feet deep with steep cliffs on the South side. Over time, the lake was made larger by damming its waters and by excavating canals. There are several canals with homes that have access to the main lake as well as two bays: West Bay at the West end and Lakewood Bay at the East end.

The lake is privately owned and managed by the Lake Oswego Corporation. It is a navigable lake with a private boat launch at the East end. Being privately owned and managed, use of the lake is strictly controlled. The right to use the lake is deeded through property ownership. Obviously, those who live on the lake have use of it. However, there is a one-time initiation fee of $5,000 to activate lake usage when waterfront property is purchased. In addition, most citizens of Lake Oswego do have use of the lake, and this is accommodated in two ways.

First, many homes that are not on the lake have deeded lake rights through lake easements. Put simply, years ago when there were lots for sale on the lake, the developer of a neighborhood could buy a lot and deed it to an entire neighborhood. These lots are called lake easements. All of them have membership associations who collect dues and maintain the easements. Most easements have boat slips, picnic facilities, canoe storage, and docks.

To use an easement, you must pay dues into the easement association. Upon paying dues, you will usually receive a key that allows you to open the gate at your easement. Use of boat slips at easements usually requires waiting for a slip to become available and can sometimes take several years. Properties with boating rights, but no available boat slips, can put boats in for day use through the Lake Oswego Corporation. In addition, you may be able to rent a boat slip at the small marina maintained by the Lake Oswego Corporation.

The second way to use the lake, even if you don’t have a waterfront home or a lake easement deeded with your house, is to go to the public swim parks. There are two of them, one at each end of the lake.  The swim park on the East end of the lake, 250 Ridgeway Rd, is operated by the City Parks and Recreation Department.  It is open to all residents of the City of Lake Oswego and is open July and August, noon to 6pm, daily.  There are life guards on duty and there is no charge for admission. Info on this park is easily found at the City Website.   At the other end of the lake is the Lake Grove Swim Park, 3900 Lakeview Blvd.  It is open June thru Labor Day.  It is operated by the Lake Oswego School District and is available to all households that are within the school district boundaries for the old Lake Grove School District.  This is the most confusing of the two swim parks as the boundaries no longer reflect school attendance area at the West end of the lake.  Newer neighborhoods on the West end, such as Westlake, didn’t exist during the time that the Lake Grove School District was active and so many newer neighborhoods do not have access to this swim park.  This swim park does not appear to have a website, but you can get information about whether or not your home is located to allow you to use the park by calling 503-635-0355 or 503-534-2000.  The first time you go one of the swim parks, bring identification and proof of residence and, if you are eligable,  you will be issued a membership card. The swim parks have swim areas that are restricted so that young children are contained and life guards are on duty. Swim lessons, snack shacks, volley ball, and picnicking are just some of the amenities.

Any vessel put into the lake must be registered with the Lake Oswego Corporation annually. This includes motor boats, sail boats, canoes, and even surf boards. The lake is patrolled by The Lake Corporation with hired security who confirm vessel registration, enforce speed limits, and see to the safety and well being of those who use the lake.

About every 5 to 10 years the water level of the lake is dropped by releasing water through the dam into the Willamette River. The lake does not completely empty, but it does drop quite a bit. This allows property owners along the edge of the lake to build and repair sea walls, docks, and boat houses. The draw-down of the lake is always done in the winter and lasts for several months before being refilled in time for warm weather use. The last draw-down of the lake occurred in 2006.