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Millennial homebuyers search for the American dream in Estacada

Stacy Mitchell was anxious enough about sending her young son to elementary school, let alone the idea of sending him to a large public school in Portland. So, when Iyler turned 3, Mitchell and her husband sold their condo in Southeast Portland and moved back to her hometown — Estacada.

“I had a really good childhood there,” Mitchell said. “It’s so ‘small town’...when he gets older, I’ll feel comfortable knowing he can ride his bike without me on his tail.”

The Mitchells ended up buying a two-story home with a balcony and a view in the Cazadero Heights neighborhood. What surprised Stacy about the move was the realization that more and more of her old friends were leaving the big city, and coming home to Estacada to settle down.

“There’s actually quite a few of us in my high school graduating year and in the classes younger and older, coming back to Estacada to raise families,” Mitchell said. “It’s funny, I bought my house from a guy I went to high school with.”

In January 2016, a survey by homebuying site Zillow found that while millennials — born between 1980 and 2000 — most strongly associate buying a home with the American dream, only 9 percent plan to buy a home within a year.

In Estacada, that dream might not be out of reach.

“The priceline is great in Estacada, and there’s a cool, local community,” said Michael O’Meara, a real estate professional with Realty Edge. “Interest rates are also extremely favorable right now [for buyers], and in some cases, it’s cheaper to own a home than to rent. Your mortgage payments are going to stay the same, but rents are always going up.”

In neighboring Portland, homebuyers of all ages are struggling to break into the market, as recently reported by the Portland Tribune. The complication of mounting student debt, a hostile job market and the not-so-distant memory of the 2008 housing crash is especially discouraging to younger buyers.

In Estacada, by contrast, programs like the USDA Rural Development housing loan program are making ownership possible off the beaten path. The program improves the economic viability of rural regions, while helping young people achieve the goal of home ownership, with 100 percent financing and no down payment required.

“The USDA home loan program gives younger people an opportunity to start building some wealth through their home,” O’Meara said.

Tiffany Ellert and her husband, Bob, always knew they wanted to buy a home and start a family.

“We were paying the same amount to live in apartments, and we were ready to invest in something we could own,” Tiffany said.

When the couple found out they qualified for the USDA home loan program, they began looking at eligible areas.

“We just kept coming back to Estacada,” Ellert added.

Molly LeBlanc, of Pete Anderson Realty, also moved with her family to Estacada when her children reached school age.

“From what I’ve noticed, it’s the community,” LeBlanc said. “People want to go out there because they want their children to graduate high school with the same people they went to kindergarten with.”

LeBlanc helped the Ellerts find a house with a significant yard on a hill that overlooks downtown Estacada, and recommended the couple put down a higher offer than asking price.

Even though the couple had enough money to put down, they decided to use the USDA home loan, and were able to move into their new home fairly cheaply.

Although Estacada presents options, it’s hard to find two-bedroom homes or picket fences.

LeBlanc was careful to mention that inventory in Estacada is low, while demand remains high. And while the USDA home loan program opens doors for some, like the Ellerts, buyers still face competition.

Both the Ellerts and the Mitchells plan to resell, in the hopes of finding something in town with more property.

“I want to become part of my community more,” Ellert said. “That’s why we moved here.”