Friday, December 7, 2018

Clark County Real Estate is Diverse and Priced Right

Here in Clark County we have a very diverse residential real estate market. Probably as diverse as anywhere in the USA. By diverse I mean the broad range of neighborhoods, types of properties, price ranges, rural, urban, suburban, mountains, lakes, rivers, views, etc. Like our neighbor to the South, Multnomah County, OR we have a scenario by which the county is dominated by one large city. Two out of three Clark County residents have a Vancouver address. But Clark County also has a rapid transition between urban, suburban and rural. One need not travel far to get to that 5 acres of rural paradise.

The price range is also very broad. Clark County is noted for having a less expensive alternative to Portland or even Washington County. To a point it is true, there are still excellent homes to be had in Vancouver in the upper $200k and low $300k range. But Vancouver and the rest of Clark County is a virtual cornucopia of real estate. Some of the most expensive homes in the whole metro area are along the Columbia River in Vancouver. Nearly a 100 homes are currently listed at $1 million or more and just as many are listed at less than $250k. In fact the second most expensive residential listing in the whole Metro Area is right here in Clark County.

Of the four primary counties in the Portland-Vancouver Metro Area, Clark has the lowest median home price according to recent MLS data. In fact on the surface we are a bargain. But the gross numbers often fail to tell the whole tale. Data for October 2018 shows the following median price for the four primary metro counties:

  • Clackamas County, OR: 542 sales, median $408,700
  • Washington County, OR: 695 sales, median $399,200
  • Multnomah County, OR: 874 sales, median $395,000
  • Clark County, WA: 634 sales, median $354,950
1942 2 bed 1 bath listed for $280k Fruit Valley, Vancouver
Back in the 1940s shortly after the start of WWII, Kaiser had a large shipyard in Vancouver that employed 38,000 people. Housing was scarce as Vancouver's population more than doubled during WWII, so thousands of simple 2 bedroom 1 bath cottages were built in a very short time. There are literally thousands of these little 600-900 square foot houses scattered around Vancouver. These were built quickly to support not only Kaiser Shipyards, but other large industrial companies along the Columbia River that ramped up production to support the war effort. 

On the Oregon side the city of Vanport was also constructed to house Kaiser Shipyard employees for both the Vancouver and Portland shipyards. Vanport was destroyed in an epic flood in 1948 along with most of the little houses.

These small and very simple homes served a great purpose during the war, and afterwords they continue to serve as excellent value opportunities for homeowners on a budget. Vancouver has the largest collection of these WWII public housing homes in the metro area. There can be little doubt that the median home price is affected by the sheer volume of activity in this popular price range.

Well that clearly affects Vancouver's median home price, but county-wide Clark still represents a relative bargain. When looking at 3 bed 1200-1500 sf homes Clark is still the best value but the order changes to Washington, Multnomah, Clackamas, Clark. When looking at larger 3-4 bed 1900-2100 sf homes Clark again is the value leader and the order is the same as the 3 bed list.

What about income? That often plays a role in the value of real estate. Clark is comparable to both Washington and Clackamas county income but those two are about 6-7% higher. Multnomah however is more than 10% less than Clark. Clark County also has the lowest poverty rate of the four counties in the metro area but only a tad better than Washington County.

So what is the deal then? I have a theory. Vancouver is as close to jobs in Portland as Clackamas or Washington counties. Washington County has its own sizable job market with two juggernaut employers in Nike and Intel. Clackamas not so much. Vancouver is in a different state and is limited to just two crossing points into Portland. Vancouver and Clark County are a bit of a bastard step-child in the metro area and there is this false pretense that Clark County is "far away." It's odd that Vancouver and Portland actually share a border and still there is this 'far-away' vibe even from people that live in places like Troutdale, Hillsboro, Oregon City, etc, all much further away from Downtown Portland.

So buyers have an opportunity to buy in a clearly superior area for less money because as they say, perception is reality. Superior? Yes, better rated public schools, better highways, lower crime. Buck the perception trend and get a great house, in close if you desire, for less money. 

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