by: 2012 FILE PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Construction workers in Oregon City's South End neighborhood are busy building new homes for families looking to move to the suburbs, bucking the overall trend of the past few years.Is the decline in housing prices that began in 2006 finally making its way back up? It looks like urban Clackamas County may be finally able to hold its head above water.

North Clackamas became a major player in a recent analysis of economic trends in the Portland metropolitan area conducted by Christian Kaylor, a workforce analyst with the Oregon Employment Department.

According to the testimonies of those deeply invested in the real estate market today, now is a great time to put your house on the market if you live in urban areas around Oregon City.

“More people who couldn’t sell before, because they were under water, now can,” said Realtor Kristin Harris with Remax Group.

Residential building permit applications are rising in the metropolitan area, jumping from 5,226 in 2011 to 8,483 in 2012. That’s still well below the peak of 17,175 in 2005, however. Most applications for cities located entirely in Clackamas County were for single-family homes, and Oregon City led the way with 410 applications in 2012, of which only 29 percent were for apartments.

Portland is attracting highly educated young people, Kaylor believes, who are underemployed, socially conscious and do not want to own cars. They are drawn to the city’s well-developed transit system and emphasis on bicycling, along with the thriving neighborhood centers that offering shopping, eating and drinking options within walking distance of homes.

“If you live in the suburbs, you really have to have a car to be comfortable,” says Kaylor.

At the same time, many couples move to the suburbs when they have children.

“I’m finding more and more that people are able to sell,” said Harris. “Who less than a year ago could not.”

Harris has been lately dealing with trying to find families houses with a lack of inventory that is driving prices up.

Chris Engelke, who has been looking for a house to buy for her family for over six months, has been hindered by the lack of inventory. Engelke and her family have been renting a three-bedroom townhouse since August after their seven-acre family home of 10 years sold quickly.

For them, Engelke said, renting is not a good option, there are few apartment complexes with enough bedrooms for them, and the rental houses that they looked at were either not in family-friendly neighborhoods or did not allow pets. “Families come with pets,” she said.

But so far, Engelke and her family have been unable to act quickly enough to snag what might be their dream home. “Most houses we seriously look at, we have to make an offer within one or two days of listing,” said Engelke. “Or it’s gone.”

Trends vary

People with children look for larger homes with yards and good schools, which you can find in the suburbs, but, Kaylor adds, fewer couples are having children these days, reducing the potential size of the migration.

“Right after World War II, 50 percent of all households had children. Now it’s 25 percent,” Kaylor says.

Kaylor notes that many young people in Portland area are working in Washington County, especially for such large companies as Intel and Nike. He expects that to continue, in part because both companies can be reached from TriMet’s westside MAX line.

Harris believes that this new trend is simply supply and demand, and right now, the demand is there, but the supply is very low. “I think that people are not aware that the housing market has increased and that it’s okay to sell now,” Harris said.

Harris also cited the slowing down of foreclosures and short sales as a reason that inventory is scant. And Oregon City area is not the only market with few houses available to buy, according to, Portland housing inventory is at a record low as well.

For some people, the disbelief in the market is still there, and thoughts about houses not selling may be keeping families from moving. “I was chatting with our Realtor,” explained Engelke. “And we have both noticed that when we tell friends that good houses are going like hotcakes, they all look surprised.”

But the increase in possibilities to sell is not a complete surprise, Lawrence Yun, chief economist and researcher for the National Association of realtors predicted that by the end of 2012 there would be a nine to 10 percent increase in total home sales. And according to the PSU Center for Real Estate Winter 2013 Quarterly Report, “Sales are at the highest level since November 2009 when the annual pace spiked at 5.44 million.”

Still looking for jobs, homes

According to Kaylor, economic data reveals the region is finally beginning to recover from the Great Recession. The results vary by county, however.

Oregon added approximately 18,000 jobs in 2012, Kaylor found, with virtually all of that growth occurring the Portland area. Multnomah County led the way with 10.200 jobs, followed by Washington County with 6,000 jobs and Clackamas County with 2,000 jobs.

The new jobs increased Multnomah County’s share of jobs in Oregon slightly in 2012 after decades of declines, Kaylor says. Washington County’s share of jobs also grew, a trend that began many years ago. The share of Oregon jobs in Clackamas County remained flat, however.

Kaylor says the leading economic indicators indicate job growth will continue. The Conference Board, an economic consulting firm, reports that online help wanted ads are continuing to increase.

Engelke also sees past economic issues as a reason there are no houses available. “I’m guessing that people are still worried that the market is “down”, or flooded with foreclosures,” offered Engelke. “Not so. Yes, prices are not what they were five years ago, but they are more realistic.”

According to Harris, of all of her homes, only one—which is older and needs some improvements—is having some trouble with offers, the others are selling with multiple offers, and in less than 10 days.

So if you’re holding back your typical family-of-four $280,000-$330,000 home, with three bedrooms, a bonus room, and a decent sized backyard, that is perhaps 2200 - 2600 square feet, maybe its alright to take a chance on the market. Engelke and her family would sure be interested.

Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this news story.

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