Susie Knows Martha

Have a look at this cookbook – you’ve probably seen it before:

You might own it. You might be addicted to Brussels sprouts because of it – this sacred text of the PDX foodie scene by Joshua McFadden (of Ava Gene’s) and collaborator Martha Holmberg. Martha is a great writer, food editor, teacher, recipe developer and nicest person you could ever meet and earlier this year I had the honor of helping her sell her home in University Park (N. PDX). Here’s her story:

Quick bio. What’s your PDX story in a nutshell?

In 2005, I was living in a lovely town in Connecticut. I had been the editor of a national cooking magazine called Fine Cooking for about a decade and was feeling the itch for something new. Fate agreed with me, and presented the opportunity to move to Portland to become the food editor of The Oregonian newspaper, which at the time had a vibrant food section. 

Portland was the most vibrant culinary scene in the country, and making that move was scary, exciting, and the best thing I ever did.

What made you decide to sell?

In the same way that 17 years ago I was ready to start a new adventure, I’m at that place in my life now. My daughter is grown and happily launched in Denver, and the new man in my life and I decided to envision how we would ideally live this next chapter and then make it happen!

We each owned a house in Portland, and realized that this was the moment to benefit from the equity we had built up. 

How did the home selling process go? 

It was daunting! Selling your biggest financial asset is momentous for anyone, and in my case, I had a lot of deferred maintenance issues, along with a bit of emotional baggage (I had bought the house from my ex-husband as part of our divorce settlement).

But Susie and her team were incredibly supportive, true partners all through the process. She helped me understand what aspects of the house were the most marketable, how and what to repair or remodel, and she and her team offered up their contractor partners to help us get the work done. 

I also appreciated her sensitivity to my budget; I had some money but not unlimited budget to spend on fixing and fluffing, and we did a lot of the work ourselves. She was helpful at identifying what would be worth our time and money vs. what wasn’t going to bring any return. 

Knowing where your house fits objectively in the market is hard for the homeowner, because of course I had all my wonderful memories and favorite flowers and all of the sentimental things that made the house a palace to me. But in reality, while my house is indeed unusual and charming and always got compliments from friends and neighbors, it was old (1892) and hadn’t seen many high-quality renovations over the years.

Susie helped me see that the biggest benefit was the space, including tall ceilings, big windows, airy spaces…plus a rental unit!  I divided the house into a 3-bedroom main house with a 2-bedroom apartment in the daylight basement. I’m 5 blocks from the University of Portland, so a rental would be golden in that neighborhood. And the garage would also appeal to a buyer looking for home office, home-schooling, or other flexible space that so many buyers want in our current situation. In doing so, we narrowed the market but sharpened the appeal for my property – I could offer specific features that most houses don’t have.

We ended up with a great pricing strategy, and just as I’d hoped, had multiple offers over asking price within a few days. The whole listing and sales process was easy as pie for us, Susie and her team handled everything.

Any surprises along the way?

I learned that my boyfriend is an excellent carpenter…as long as there’s a YouTube video to show him the moves!

Tell us about the next chapter! Where’d you move to & what are you cooking up for the future? 

John and I have moved to Spokane Washington! It’s a cool city, about half Portland’s size, close to so many outdoor recreation areas; Nordic skiing, fly-fishing, hiking, and camping are big pillars in our new life. And there’s a farmers market almost every day of the week in season!

We discovered that the real estate market here is as red-hot as Portland…but with prices that are about 40% lower, so our profits are going a lot farther. Maybe the real estate gods are rewarding us for all the painting, sanding, and caulking we did on my Portland house, but we have just bought our dream property: a charming 1939 house in a sought-after neighborhood (South Perry) that has all the other elements of our lifestyle: Almost half-acre lot full of gorgeous landscaping, including established vegetable garden beds, a big greenhouse…and a sauna and outdoor shower! I had been saying I wanted a sauna, but thinking “well, maybe some year,” but there it was, brand new with its own 100-amp electrical panel!

As important, we’re planning to get passive income in retirement from an apartment in the walk-out basement, and two big decks, outdoor dining areas, and gardens will allow us to offer a range of food-and-wine classes and dinners, which is something we love doing and had begun doing in Portland. In fact, that’s how we met Susie!

Any advice for future sellers?

Pick a realtor who is willing to be a true partner, not just someone who wants to turn around a quick sale. Susie worked with me over several months, never being pushy but helping build momentum to carry me over the finish line. Unless you already live in a show home and have all your belongings neatly packed, getting a house ready to sell and moving your entire life out of it takes time, focus, and hard work. Having a partner like Susie, Josh, and Susie’s other team mates made it all possible, got us a great price, and was a pleasure in the process!

Martha, thank you for the warmest words. It was a joy to work with you and we cannot wait to see what you do next!

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