BROKERS WILDThe making of a suburb: Part Two in a series
It was brokers day on Thursday April 25 at Reed's Crossing, the largest planned housing development by density in Oregon history.
Sixty-five real estate agents crowded the welcome center, which in January was just a bunch of two-by-fours and plywood in a sea of green. Now it feels like a show home, but it is the Reed's Crossing information center, with meeting rooms where brokers can bring clients and maybe seal a deal.
Outside, saplings with their roots in burlap lay waiting to be planted, and orange-clad workers heaved up the frame of a house as though at a mini barn raising. Guests in heels picked their way along the virgin sidewalks to the front door, where they were greeted with wine and a buffet.
In one corner of the living room was a bike attached to a virtual reality station. Interested parties can "ride" around the completed neighborhood, waving at yoga people and joggers and admiring a perfect view of Mount Hood.
This part of South Hillsboro will eventually be filled with 4,000 homes and about 20,000 residents. But at this point it's all about imagining how it will look when it is finished. As a coyote loped along one of the roads next to the greenway, brokers rushed to photograph it and capture evidence of nature.
Suburbs but more natural
David Brentlinger is VP of operations of the developer Newland, which has 35 communities across the country. He stresses that they are all unique, driven by local market research. For instance, potential Hillsboro residents said they would prefer a natural-looking green space with passive recreation instead of a community center or swimming pool. That's what they got, and that's where the coyote was.
Brentlinger's job is to spark interest in Reed's Crossing and get homes sold. The homebuilders have their own sales staff, working inside the model homes, but there are not enough of them. They need the boots-on-the-ground realtors from across the Portland area to bring in people who like the idea of a "walkable" neighborhood just a bike ride from Intel and Nike. They represent the homebuyer in discussions with the home builders.
Newland owns 463 acres of the 1,400 acres that comprise South Hillsboro. But in this development, variety is the spice of life. There are seven modes of home to choose from. There are spec homes being built for those who don't want to wait.
First, the developer had to line up interested banks, then home builders, now brokers to sell the home. One home builder, Stone Bridge Homes NW, built the welcome center, and has an edge when it comes to competing with the non-local homebuilders.
"They've been there the longest of any of the builders," Brentlinger told the Business Tribune at the gathering. "They know people from way back, and in this market it's good to have a good crew."
Drinks and apps
In the huge kitchen, the island counter was taken up with a map of the area. It showed where the school will be, the shops on TV Highway, the movie theater to the west, health services, and Orenco Station.
"The shops are along TV Highway (right now)," he says. "There's a lot of ones and twos. There's a Starbucks, there's a couple of grocery stores...To the south is the South Hillsboro planning district, 1,400 acres, and we're 463 acres of that. There's also Butternut Creek there, and some smaller holdings in between."
Brentlinger estimates Reed's Crossing is only about 15 percent done. Much of it has not yet been planned down to lot and street level. They're just trying to get the first few hundred homes built and occupied.
Speeches over, half of the brokers left to check out the show homes, goodie bags in hand (wine glasses, tape measure). The other half stayed to schmooze, including Alexander Phan, principal broker with Keller Williams Realty Professional in Portland.
He was born and raised in the Beaverton/Aloha area and after selling real estate for 13 years, counts Reed's as his turf. He was there with his iPhone 7 Plus and his $100 gimbal, shooting videos for YouTube with his own spoken commentary. Phan was a ball of energy in a cautious room. He is up for the challenge.
"This is a different process from resale. If you do like new homes, this is a fantastic opportunity, to see a community of this scale. It gives the public a variety of options we don't have right now in the marketplace."
Phan manages 10 sales agents and is also the president of the Asian Association of Realtors. He's a rising tide lifts all boats kind of guy. Being in a room full of other brokers doesn't faze him.
"I don't look at anyone here as competition, there's more than enough people out there," he says. "When clients are deciding who to work for they should choose an agent who is knowledgeable and has experience in the process, especially in new construction."
There are 9,000 agents in the region, and there's a lot of churn. What makes a good agent?
"You've got to have passion, be doing it for the right reasons...See how you can help them out."
Would he live here? He just bought a single-family home in South Beaverton, but yes.
Broker Darren Amico of the Hasson Company Realtors was working the room. He thinks South Hillsboro could be exciting.
"This would be a great place to bring my clients," Amico says. "People want to live close in and they like the idea of a community around them, but often times affordability limits that so the bedroom communities are what people are looking at: Trails, shopping, community centers, nice houses, affordable places to live. I think it's going to be a great opportunity."
Phase one houses will go for up to $750,000, townhomes will start at $300,000. Amico says some people might be cautious if they remember Villebois, a planned community near Wilsonville that stalled during the 2008 Great Recession.
Newland's Brentlinger qualified later: "History has shown that any time there has been a recession that Newland's master-planned communities continue to do well." He stressed that the Villebois developer sold the community before it was complete and that Newland will stay with it through completion, anticipated to be about 10 years.
Amico expects to see a lot of high-tech transfers coming in from out of state.
"I hear in 2015, Portland Metro had 16,000 new people come in, and 25% of them came from San Diego County, Los Angeles County and San Francisco County."
He's trying to tap into them by having a web presence and establish ads on Facebook and other social media, such as Instagram handles @TheAmicoGroup and @Your_Personal_Portland. On the latter, he features different businesses and individuals, which make Portland appear attractive.
Ads aside, Amico says "Relationships is what drives business the most. The internet's a great tool but a lot of people think it's the easy button. You have to put a lot of work into the internet."
Millennials are going suburban
Newland's marketing director Rimpal Singh addressed the brokers in the living room to make them feel at home. Warm and fuzzies aside, she says market research is crucial to her job. She pores over mountains of data each week, seeing how long people spent on the website, what questions they have, and where the come from.
They do focus groups with millennials, Gen Xers and Boomers, 20 or 30 at a time. The central office is constantly sending reports on what people want: Townhomes, yards, access roads, down to minutiae like the size of the server closet. That helps to plan the future phases of Reed's Crossing.
"Trends are constantly changing," says Singh. "People moving from San Francisco might not want 3,000 square feet, they might want an ecofriendly home, 1,200 or 1,300 square feet. Or move-down buyers (retirees) might want a master bedroom on the ground floor."
It could be the first sign of a reversal of the trend of rebuilding central cities.
"We have community outreach, closed-door meetings with local employers. (We ask) 'You're hiring thousands of people next year, who are they, where are they moving from?' And we're hearing they're hiring a lot of millennials, and a lot of these millennials no longer want to live in Portland. It's all about work life balance. They don't want to commute, but they're frustrated because there has been a lack of housing in Hillsboro."
Joshua Kim was there touring the show homes with his wife Mimi Kim.
He was looking for his clients, and maybe an investment property. Joshua is a dentist by day, but flexible hours allow him to cruise the streets looking for livable homes. He doesn't like left turns because they delay a commute.
The Kims came to Portland from Houston, Texas, and were soon frustrated at being beaten by multiple offers on every home they liked. Joshua figured how hard could it be to get a real estate license and do his own deal quicker? While he was on paternity leave and his wife was home with their third baby, he went to Starbucks every night to study. He aced the test after one week.
Although they own a home, Mimi likes the look of Reed's Crossing, mainly because the streets would be safe for their kids. Texas lots average 10,000 square feet — three times those here. They also like that the choice of home designs. "It' not cookie cutter homes," says Joshua.
He sells through Summa Realty, but usually only finds homes for friends. The commission averages about 2%. He has to give some of that to Summa. "My friends know he's got another job so he's not going to push anything on them," adds Mimi.
He adds, "They were frustrated because they couldn't find agents that seemed to care about them. But I have a day job, so I can get the best deal for the clients. I don't need to push them. It's the way I practice dentistry too. If you rush into things you can have regret, whether it's your tooth or your house."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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