Oregon Public Broadcasting

composite_small.jpgThis chart shows the rise in home prices in May in the major cities Case Shiller follows. Courtesy Case Shiller. To see the whole report, click the link below. Click for a larger image.

House prices in Portland increased 2.6 percent between April and May, according to new figures from

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.

It could be the first sign of a turn around in the real estate market.

But as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, whether your particular home has increased depends on the three things that real estate agent stress -- location, location and location.

Kristian: "So I'm in Northeast Portland along North Mississippi Ave, which I've been told is the new up-and-coming area in Northeast Portland. And having driven down here several years ago and been here recently, it really has changed."

In the Sunlan light shop you're likely to find Kaye Newell.

"Better known as the lightbulb lady," Newell says.

She's sitting at the till, surrounded by light bulbs -- some as small as a few grains of rice, others as large as a football.

"Twenty years ago this neighborhood consisted of boarded-up buildings, including mine, Sunlan lighting was all boarded up. Housing was stagnant."

Then, in 1995, the city turned North Mississippi into an urban renewal area.

Critics say the changes gentrified the neighborhood, and that some people who used to live here can't afford it anymore.

But Newell bought her building and says she's done well. Her son, Dennis Newell bought a home here in 2008 -- just before the recession hit -- and paid just over $200,000.

"If I sold now, it would be somewhere in the $300,000 range. It originally was one bedroom. I turned it into a two bedroom. Put a fence in. Put gates up. Put a lot of security around the house to make it feel more comfortable. So when you're there alone, hey, I'm all secure."

Price increases, like those enjoyed by Dennis and Kaye Newell, are among the reasons Case Shiller is reporting that Portland's house prices are increasing. In fact, it's the second month the index has put the Rose City in positive territory.

Maureen Maitland of Standard and Poor's says that's noteworthy. But she warned, it's still early days.

"We have to and we're going to continue to caution people to look at these data for six or eight months and look at all housing statistics before we can say the market has turned around, if it has," Maitland says.

She says buyers still need to be aware that banks hold a lot of foreclosed homes.

"There's no doubt that foreclosures do have a dampening effect in terms of home prices."

But she says different areas have different "shadow inventories" of homes. Those are bank-owned homes that are not yet on the market. So it's hard to know which areas are going to be impacted.

The other thing that can make a big difference to the market, is location. Fritz Page has been a real estate agent in southwest Portland for 20 years. He says things there are still very slow.

"We're seeing not enough inventory and the inventory that we are seeing is a lot of short-sales and bank-owned," Page says.

He says a lot of Portland's Southwest was developed with the car in mind. Nowadays, many people don't want to live in a suburban environment.

"People like that walk to the grocery store and walk to the clothing goods store, or an ice-cream parlor of a place to eat dinner or whatever. We don't get that on the westside because you have to get in your car to get somewhere."

Overall, Case-Shiller says house prices in Portland have increased 0.4 percent over the last year.

So, that's a move in a positive direction

But some economists don't expect a complete recovery in the housing market until the unemployment rate drops. In Oregon, that currently stands at 8.5 percent.

Case-Schiller Report

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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