Forget gray hairs. Over the past few years, real estate has given us wrinkles. Falling home prices, rising foreclosures rates, and painfully long market times all etched lines into our continuously furrowed brows. But finally, finally, we get something to give us a grin. Prices in Portland are up 6 percent over last year, home sales are up 20 percent, and time on the market is down to 64 days (two weeks less than in 2011), according to the Regional Multiple Listing Service. In a joint-produced 2013 real estate report, the Urban Land Institute and Pricewaterhouse Coopers put Portland in the country’s top 20 markets to watch. Of course, we remain well shy of Portland’s peak median price of $302,000 in 2007 (in 2012, the median was $249,900), but our low inventory could help improve things. 

Portland’s home inventory supply at the beginning of 2012 sat at seven or eight months. Today it’s hovering around three, meaning the market meter’s arrow has moved from the buyers’ favor to sellers’. That led to an “adjustment” for clients intially, says Keller Williams principal broker Nick Krautter. “We had to counsel them that what had been happening for five years really just wasn’t happening anymore,” he says.  

One rule that still applies: the “location location location” adage. But it has changed. The 20-minute neighborhood (the idea that people want places to shop, eat, drink, and recreate within easy walking or biking distance) has, in some places, shrunk as the artisan craft movement that’s spawned so many nano–coffee roasters, brewers, furniture makers, and designers extends to neighborhoods, too. The result: a kind of “microhood”—attractive pockets of retail and residential that appeal to a particular set of interests or values, like SE Division Street’s culinary cachet or N Williams Avenue’s bike appeal. “It’s not that other cities aren’t doing these things,” notes Matthew Gebherdt, an assistant professor in Portland State University’s real estate program, “but in Portland it’s kind of a status symbol.” 

In this year’s real estate feature, we spoke to agents, developers, lenders, and appraisers to identify and explore seven such microhoods and to dig into the trends pushing our housing market ever so slowly toward recovery. After all, if real estate is going to give us wrinkles, we’d just as soon they were smile lines.