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Interview with a Mid-Century Realtor – Portland, Oregon Edition

October 1, 2018

We're continuing our series, reaching out to Realtors who specialize in mid-century properties. We'll be asking questions of Realtors across the United States to see what's the same or different in various part of the country. Today we're in Portland, Oregon speaking with Marisa Swenson of Living Room Realty.

Tell me a little bit about yourself. How long have you been a realtor?

I am Marisa Swenson, the face behind the Modern Homes Portland brand and my brokerage is Living Room Realty. I have been a Realtor for 10 years.


How long have you been focusing on mid-century properties?

Since the very beginning of my career, I chose to focus on modern/contemporary/mid-century architecture.


What made you decide to specialize in mid-century homes?

I started focusing on mid-century shortly after getting into real estate; so around 9 of the 10 years.


Do you only specialize in this style of home, or do you also work with other clients?

Right after I got my license the Great Recession hit, and to stay positive and excited, I started a blog talking about things that I liked in homes that I toured. My favorite style of homes being mid-century atomic ranches, so I wrote about them frequently and the community (who is also very excited and interested in this style of home) engaged to the point that it made sense for me to focus my attention to it full time. Personally being an enthusiast, it was challenging to find information on architects and neighborhoods so I decided to focus on providing that type of information through my website as I was discovering it. I feature all of the modern listings in one place regardless of if they are my listings or not.


Do you work with commercial mid-century real estate or only residential?

Only residential at the moment.


What range of ages do you consider mid-century in your work?

The mid-1940's through late 1960's


What’s the mid-century home climate where you are?

Mid-century modern homes are hot, hot, hot and they usually sell in days with multiple offers if they are dialed-in. Mid-century ranches are very popular also.


Do you see the desire for mid-century properties in your area growing or shrinking? What does the future hold as mid-century becomes even more “antique”?

The desire for mid-century homes is still growing here; they are very popular. I see that homes which have original details intact are frequently more desirable and architecturally designed mid-century homes command top dollar. I think the values will grow as long as these homes are well maintained and somewhat preserved, not necessarily time capsuled (although we love a good time capsule!) but keeping the original vision for the space.


Are there mid-century details of homes that are specific to your area of the country?

The Northwest Regional Style or Northwest Modern (late 1930's-1960's) was inspired by the International Style of architecture but used local, regional materials and designs that consider the wet climate and site orientation. Think century-barn meets walls of windows with modern interiors. These homes were usually custom and are very desirable in our market.


What is the typical price range for mid-century homes in your area?

The range is all across the board depending on location so $300k -$1M plus.


What is the demographic of your typical mid-century buyer?

People in the 30-65 age range and who are usually designers, artists, architects.


What type of mid-century details are your clients looking for in a home?

My clients are usually looking for large windows (floor to ceiling with clerestory), vaulted ceilings, original wood (walls, floors, ceilings), vintage tile and built-ins. (Ed. Note: So happy to hear the 'vintage tile' part.)


Would you sell to someone who is looking to tear down a mid-century home, or do you draw the line at working with that type of client?

If I was approached by someone with that agenda, I would have a conversation and if I couldn't change their mind, I would probably not work with them. If they looked at my website they would see that I am involved with the local preservation groups so they would probably never come my way in the first place.


What do you do when you see a house that’s been “remuddled”?

My first reaction is my heart sinking into my stomach especially if I know they have taken out really cool mid-century finishes.  The investors usually are the biggest offenders, so I wish they would use designers who "get it" and they could still update keeping the period in mind and probably make more money.


Do you have a favorite story from working as a realtor specializing in mid-century properties?

These homes are so unique and I believe that they have their own personalities and oftentimes choose their owners. I have a few of those stories but one of my favorite stories is of buyers who had to relocate to the east coast and had to sell their mid-century modern Rummer home (Rummer was a builder of homes that are Eichler style) that they had worked hard on restoring. They came back to Portland on another job transfer a few years later and we started their home search and the same home they had sold was on market as a short sale and had severely deferred maintenance issues, was in very poor shape. We were able to get them approved for the sale within weeks (short sales at the time were usually a very long process) and they bought back their old home and immediately fixed it back up to its former glory. They saved it twice!! (Ed. Note: I LOVE this story.)


Anything more you’d like us to know about you and your “relationship” with mid-century?

I feel a deep connection to this style of architecture since most of the buildings that I spent many of my formative years in (schools, churches, doctors offices) were mid-century and unique designs, they were as fascinating to me then as they still are today.


Last question that I have to ask. Do you live in a mid-century home?

Yes, I do! I live in a Northwest Regional Style home built in 1960 which has mostly been preserved (pink and blue bathroom!) It was designed by the architect Day Hillborn and built by the original owner who owned Emerick Construction.  The home was designated as a Class 1 Historic and Cultural Landmark in our city in the fall of 2017 which we are very excited and proud of. (Ed. Note: Check out the Winter 2018 issue of Atomic Ranch Magazine for an article all about Marisa and her home.)


Many thanks to Marisa Sweson from Living Room Realty for willing to be interviewed (and for waiting for our website to be back up for us to publish her words!)  In the Pacific Northwest and interested in working with Marisa?  You can find her on her website, Modern Homes Portland.

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Check out this cute photo of Marisa holding her issue of Atomic Ranch magazine!

Marisa Map

Curious where we've been?  Here's a map for our current and past interviews.  We'll update it with each new interview with the goal of hitting all 50 states!

Are you a realtor who would like to be featured?  Email us here.

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