Before 2020, my husband and I never planned to buy a house. We moved around for our careers, and we intended to invest in multifamily real-estate funds and rent in different places as needed.
But no one can predict the market, and life changes fast. We ended up pivoting and buying an urban condo in Portland’s Southwest Hills, closing at a 3.9% interest rate.
My husband and I used to change jobs every two years or so, traveling to different cities and states for work. We rented in convenient or trendy locations in charming historic areas or brand-new apartment buildings. We were having fun moving around nearly every year, and investing in things like our cars and various retirement accounts.
That started to shift when the pandemic hit
I launched my independent freelance journalism business in fall 2019 and had already begun transitioning to working from home before then.
After living in Texas for a stint, my husband and I moved back to Oregon. My husband works as a salesman and started selling bulk ingredients for an international hemp company — something not easily done from Texas due to stricter cannabis laws.
I received a phone call at the end of 2021 from a publisher at my favorite local newspaper, where I’d been a reporter years before. They’d lost a star reporter and wanted to reorganize the newsroom, bringing me back on as the associate editor.
Combined with the Great Resignation and the closure of many local newsrooms, I took the gig to help save local news while continuing to operate my freelance business.
My husband and I both started working full-time from our one-bedroom apartment
I set up my office in the dining area while he worked on his laptop at the counter. Sometimes, one of us would work from the couch or make calls from the single bedroom.
He told me he loves his job, and I realized I do too. I have stability from a full-time income and the flexibility of writing for additional clients as much as I like, nearly all of which are completely mobile.
However, salesmen and journalists both make a lot of calls.
It wasn’t working in our apartment anymore
Just a year prior, we’d been perfectly happy in a studio. But for the first time, we had reason enough to stay in one place and were able to maintain mobile flexibility with our careers.
The trend toward remote work clinched the idea of transitioning to a condo more permanently. When we do change jobs next, we can choose to work from home from most places now.
We started looking for two-bedroom homes. Rent was going up nearly 30% at our one-bedroom location in the highly-ranked Lake Oswego, even though the place suffered from mold. Newer studios could cost upward of $2,000 per month, and homes with an extra bedroom for an office are easily $3,600 in the Portland area.
At the time, interest rates were historically low
There were two-bedroom condos on the market that were nicer and had lower monthly payments than a two-bedroom apartment, even including the HOA fees.
We got preapproved for a home loan and started seriously looking at open houses. We looked from the suburbs to the downtown core of Portland, scouring listings from every neighborhood. We wanted to make sure the property would be a good investment for us, as well as a good place to live.
In the end, we decided on an urban townhome-style condo. The suburbs had more competition and higher prices, and a modest condo allows us to keep plenty of funds available for diverse investing — one main reason we were shy to buy a primary residence earlier. Buying a condo instead of a house also allows us to live in the nice neighborhood of Southwest Hills, because it was cheaper than a similarly nice single-family home.
Make sure you know what you need in a home
We decided to not look for a two-bedroom condo, but instead a place with at least one closing door that could be used as an office. We also wanted 1.5 bathrooms and a minimum of two parking spots, including one covered garage.
Then, we took stock of where we could compromise. This was key in winning a bid against Boomer bidders.
The first compromise was stairs. Condos with elevators can easily have HOAs in the $1,000 to $1,200 per month range. Our HOA is less than half that because we decided we were OK with hoofing it up to the third floor. Every day is leg day!
We also decided to conduct our search during the winter. There’s less competition, but also less inventory. It worked for us.
We put in three offers total and won two of them, although the first fell through. We originally secured an interest rate at 3.2% but lost it, finally closing on the third condo at 3.9%. Because it was a conventional loan on a condo specifically, it’s a little higher than the interest rate people buying single-family houses pay.
We love the little 2001 condo we decided on
It has some custom updates already installed and room for more renovation projects. It’s affordable but not a 100-year-old fixer upper that’s never been updated, which are common on the market around Oregon.
It’s also a top-floor, townhome-style corner unit, so we only share one wall with three sides of windows, and we’re above only one other neighbor. Across three buildings, there are 11 units in our HOA.
For us, that means we can walk to the Saturday Market and even rent it out to students or use it as an Airbnb in the future.
It’s a lot more conventional than our original plan, which was to invest straight into multifamily real-estate funds. But with the historically low interest rates and rising rent, it made sense to invest in a primary residence condo first.
We’re betting on downtown revitalization and putting our money and hearts back into the city that we love and have chosen — a least a little more permanently — to call home.