What does it take to work in real estate in Portland, Oregon?
IIn an industry where there’s no cap on how much you can make, there’s bound to be a lot of competition – who wouldn’t be fighting for a chance to make it big in real estate? That’s especially true in a city like Portland, where the housing stock hit historic lows last year, driving up asking prices accordingly. (According to the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, the city’s 2021 inventory hit its lowest point of 0.6 months in December, meaning it would take just over two weeks to sell what was available, where peaking in September was 1.1 months. A more balanced market would have four to six months of inventory.)
We interviewed several local agents to ask what drew them to their job and what it takes to keep up the hustle in a perpetually overheated market.
The design nerd: Marisa Swenson, Dwell Realty
Architectural details had always struck Marisa Swenson, even as a child in an elementary school that happened to be in a Brutalist-style church in SE Ankeny. “With nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete walls, and the vaulted wooden ceilings and stained-glass windows, it was all very dramatic,” says Swenson.
As an adult, Swenson translated this architectural interest into a real estate career beginning in 2007, specializing in local Mid-Century Modern homes and also blogging about the experience mad Men turned out to be a “watershed moment,” Swenson says, for mainstream attention to the style. Back then, Swenson brought and trained her new digital SLR to open houses to photograph old tiles and crown molding Blog readers about local architects and sponsorship of Restore Oregon’s yearbook Guided tour of the mid-century modern home.
A community of readers – people of similar homes and love of style – formed – a party of mutual appreciation that will continue Instagram in recent years. It’s not uncommon for Swenson to receive calls from salespeople who have a secret architectural gem they want her to show her. “These houses have their own personality. It’s like they’re treated like family because they’re just so special. And you feel it when you enter,” says Swenson.
Niches like Swenson’s are common in Portland — from farm lots and floating homes to multi-garage homes for car collectors. “There was a woman who built airplane hangar houses,” says Swenson. “There’s really no threshold as to how many brokers can be in the industry.”
These days, Swenson has expanded her repertoire to include contemporary modern homes, spotlighting vibrant architecture and design firms alongside mid-century finds, while continuing to refurbish her own 1960s Northwest Region style home, which was added to the Historic Register in 2017 became. “Every single house has a story,” says Swenson. “And then the people who are selling, the people who are buying, to me, that’s just layers and layers of fascinating information.”
The Jill of All Lanes: Michelle McCabe, My PDX Props
After earning a degree in Merchandising Management from Oregon State University, Michelle McCabe spent four years managing and training sales associates at Nordstrom. She enjoyed working in sales and customer service, but not so much in fashion.
“Then I took a year and a half off and traveled around South America and Europe and kind of had my Oprah aha moment,” says McCabe. “I vowed never to get into real estate because pretty much everyone I’m related to is in it in one way or another.” This includes McCabe’s mother, father, brother, husband, sister-in-law and aunt.
A longtime Portlander who has lived across the city, McCabe is familiar with the city, but her favorite part of the job is the new: Every day’s routine is different. The focus varies from basic business operations to tracking leads and referrals to explaining finances, lenders and contracts to spot leaky pipes or a bad investment. “It’s about a hundred hats,” she says.
“We work so closely with our customers. We know a lot of information about them that they need to share. Personal things, about their finances or their family planning,” says McCabe, whose office is part of Windermere. “So I think it’s important to feel really comfortable with someone and to know that they can negotiate strongly on your behalf.”
The artist: Nathan Reimer, Latitude
“Most people talk about being a real estate agent as a sales job, which I never wanted to do or have. I hate the whole idea of selling. I really see this more as a service job,” says Nathan Reimer, a visual artist who received his real estate license in October 2021.
When Reimer moved to Portland a decade ago, he rented large warehouses – first in Northeast Alberta, then in North Portland – for his screenprinting facility and divided the buildings into studios for other artists to rent. “I printed wallpaper, t-shirts, posters, art and ran my screen printing business there. But my creative interest really has shifted from the visual to creating space specifically for the community,” says Reimer. “Expanding this space and curating this community became an art project.”
More recently, Reimer and his wife bought four neglected properties that they had renovated and rented and found the restoration “therapeutic” and a good financial investment. Since then, Reimer has joined Latitude, an agency focused on “regenerative real estate,” meaning listings with sustainable features lead the way — think solar panels, edible landscapes, and non-toxic finishes.
“This is really a networking and relationship building business. as a broker, People trust you with one of the biggest financial decisions they make they will earn their whole life”, says Reimer. “That’s why building trusting relationships is a hugely important part of success.”
The educator: Beth Silva, More Realty
Beth Silva knew she wanted to be a real estate agent since she was 12 in Corvallis, but did a masters in education to become a high school social studies teacher before making her decision. When the student classes started, “I thought, ‘No, this is terrible. These teenagers are no fun,’” says Silva, who much prefers to “look at houses and see how people live”. “It’s almost like sociology, archeology and history all rolled up together,” says Silva.
After starting in the industry in 2008, Silva saw the impact of the Great Recession firsthand when she went short one day after someone had just died of an overdose. You have to have “intelligence, bravery, resilience, a thick skin, but also a lot of passion and a lot of love,” says Silva, “because we get right into the family, the business, the money and the drama of the people it can get really challenging .”
“It’s a really emotional and personal industry. To see it as just 14 percent equity growth year over year isn’t the point. That’s why no real estate agent that I know is on it. We are there to help our friends and family and to help everyone to be in the right place for them and to have a comfortable, happy life. That’s the real point.”