Protect Your Investment


protect investment family
Image: Daniel Root

Owners: Chris and Nancy Crean
Occupations: Chris, attorney; Nancy, special-projects coordinator
Location: Irvington, Northeast Portland
The property: 1924 Craftsman bungalow with 1,800 square feet, three bedrooms, two baths
Date purchased: 1998 price $220,000
Current assessed value: $550,000

The neighborhood Irvington, which is only twelve minutes from downtown and is served by five bus lines, is full of tidy Craftsman-style homes served by excellent schools like Irvington Elementary. The Creans’ home sits on a corner lot, near Irving Park.

Market watch Last year, 110 homes sold in Irvington, down from 142 in 2007, but the neighborhood’s median price of $546,000 is holding steady.

Keeper’s tip “Ten years ago, $220,000 seemed like a scandalous amount of money for a house,” Chris Crean says. “Now, I think we got in at a good time.” Rising home prices during 2005 and 2006 did tempt the couple to sell. “At one point people were telling us we could get $700,000 for this house. I can’t say we didn’t think about it,” he says. “But our neighbors next door and across the street both have boys the same age as my son—they’re best friends. We didn’t want to rip him out of that close social network.”

Keeper’s tip After refinancing in 2004, the Creans lowered the rate on their primary mortgage to 4.9 percent and began remodeling an upstairs bedroom. “We put in oversize windows, built-in cabinets, and a bathroom,” Chris says. The process took about five months, but the family gained a new master bedroom and a bathroom.

Expert eye With the housing market still settling, it’s a good idea to keep remodeling projects in check, says Gary Majors, president of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors. “If you give a minor face-lift to a bathroom, you might make your money back,” he says of future sale potential. But to owners expecting to recoup 100 percent of their costs for larger jobs, like a $15,000 or $20,000 kitchen remodel, Majors says, “We just don’t see that.”—BB

Expert Tip: Conserving energy is a "guaranteed return on investment," says Mike O’Brien of the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Energy Trust of Oregon provides cash incentives for energy-efficient improvements like solar panels. For a free home audit, go to energytrust.org.


Should I refinance?

Homeowners generally should ask themselves whether they’ll save enough on interest to justify the closing costs, says Steve Emory, a broker with Pacific Residential Mortgage. “The more you owe, the more impact a rate savings has.” Understating a home’s value is also important—if you borrow less than 80 percent of a home’s worth with a conventional loan, you won’t get tagged with mortgage insurance. What about getting approved? Emory says to be prepared with two years’ worth of tax returns and W-2s, thirty days’ worth of pay stubs, and a month’s worth of bank statements. Under the Obama administration’s “Making Homes Affordable” plan, as many as five million homeowners may now be able to refinance and avoid foreclosure. Another three to four million homeowners may be able to modify their loans. For loan modification, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate financial hardship, but you needn’t be behind on payments. If you’re already in foreclosure, you still may be eligible for help. To find out who qualifies, and to learn how to avoid mortgage scams, visit financialstability.gov/makinghomeaffordable, or call the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline at 888-995-HOPE.