I love working with homebuyers and people relocating to the area who are still in the process of choosing between living in the Portland Metro area in Oregon or just across the river in the Vancouver/Camas area.
I get asked quite frequently, “Which one is better?” Well, you know how I’m going to answer! “That all depends on your needs and priorities.” If there was a clear, simple answer, then everyone would live in one of those areas and the other one would be an unspoiled paradise.
So, why do some people choose Vancouver over Portland–and vice versa? Let’s look at some key factors.
Homes and Values: Prices tend to be a bit lower on the Washington side, and you often get “more house” for your money. This means that you may be able to be a 2-bedroom house in Portland for $250,000, but that same amount might buy you a 4-bedroom house on a larger lot in Vancouver. Some claim that the housing stock in Portland is superior to Vancouver. While it is true that Portland is home to some stunning real estate, it is also true that there are some gorgeous homes and neighborhoods throughout Clark County.
Work and Commute: Quality of life is very important, and no one moves to the Portland area to spend a lot of time sitting in a car. Traffic and commute patterns are vitally important to day-to-day happiness. The traffic tends to be heaviest heading toward downtown Portland, whether you are coming south from Vancouver or north up from Wilsonville. And, the reverse is true in the afternoon. So, even though you might be getting a great deal on a home in Vancouver, make sure you are willing to put up with a traffic-filled commute if you work standard hours in Portland. However, keep in mind that many locations in Vancouver are quite close to Oregon. I can get from Mill Plain and 205 in Vancouver to Portland’s Hollywood District in less than 15 minutes, on most days.
Income Tax: The fact that Washington state has no personal income tax is a major factor for many people, especially for retirees and people who work at home. Depending on your circumstances, living and working in Washington could amount to a small raise. Of course, everyone’s situation is different and I highly recommend that you consult a financial advisor (I am not a financial advisor, and am merely sharing the factors that affect some people’s homebuying decisions. I’m happy to refer a wonderful advisor who is skilled in working with people on both sides of the state line).
Sales Tax: On the flip side, Oregon is one of two states that does not have sales tax. This might not mean much when you are buying a latte or a new scarf, but it really adds up when it comes to buying your weekly groceries. Now imagine how much you might save on items for your home by not paying sales tax on…a furnace? new flooring? furniture? Of course, you could live in Washington and spend your money in Oregon, but that becomes more complicated on large, complex purchases like a furnace or flooring.
Property Taxes: Property taxes are going to be somewhat less in Washington, but your tax rate is affected by so many factors that it might not actually make that much of a difference. If keeping property taxes low is a top priority, look into properties tagged to be included in tax abatement programs (I’ve seen a number of nice proporties with negligible property taxes in North Portland) or take advantage of exceptions, like being a senior citizen.
Excise Taxes: Washington State charges a small excise tax on the sale of a home. So, if you plan on buying a home that you may turn around and sell within 5-10 years, this is a future expense to keep in mind. There are currently no excise or transfer taxes in Oregon, except for a small one in Washington County.
So, what are your key criteria in looking for a home? Take the time to write down what is most important to you, and spend time visiting neighbrohoods on both sides of the river. I’m always happy to have a conversation with buyers about their real estate needs and priorities. Let me know what is on your mind!