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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County homes are larger on average than Portland’s; extra square footage is driving up prices

Average apartment sizes 22% larger than in Rose City, RentCafe reports

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: November 15, 2023, 6:05am

Homes in Vancouver are much larger on average than similarly priced homes in Portland. It’s an attractive quality of Vancouver for buyers looking for a home in the region, but it’s also driving up home prices.

According to RentCafe, a website for finding housing for rent, houses in Vancouver average 1,663 square feet, 56 percent larger than Portland’s 1,068-square-foot average. Apartment sizes in Vancouver are 22 percent larger on average than Portland’s.

Part of the reason for Vancouver’s larger homes is because average lot sizes in Vancouver are 48 percent larger than in Portland.

And with the rising costs of lots, developers are forced to build larger houses in order to sell homes for more money to offset the cost of the lots they sit on.

“In order to be profitable, you have to build a bigger house to justify the price you have to pay for the land. Nobody buys a $200,000 lot and puts a 1,000-square-foot house on it,” said Mike Lamb, a broker with Windermere Stellar. “You couldn’t make money.”

Those large home sizes are contributing to the rising cost of homes in Vancouver, placing homeownership further out of reach for first-time homebuyers.

Median home prices in Vancouver are catching up with those in Portland — $583,900 compared with $599,100, according to the latest RMLS report.

In Clark County, median home costs have risen by almost 70 percent in the last five years, according to RMLS data.

“We’re headed for much more challenging times for people who want to buy an affordable house in Clark County,” Lamb said.

Larger lots mean more land, and Clark County is running out of that precious commodity.

“We have a tremendous shortage of lots for detached housing in Vancouver. Now, you’ve seen Ridgefield boom. Washougal, Camas — that’s kind of a safety valve,” Lamb said. “But at some point, we can see the end coming.”

As demand for houses in Clark County goes up and the supply of available land to build those houses goes down, housing costs will keep rising.

“We are going to be really constrained for people who want to buy a detached house, especially at an affordable price for the average person,” Lamb said.

One solution would be to reduce lot sizes and allow more homes to be built on a single lot, a concept referred to as cottage cluster communities.

In Clark County’s 2022 Housing Options Study and Action Plan, staff recommended reducing minimum lot sizes, increasing minimum density requirements in high-density zones to allow for smaller housing units and allow for more affordable “middle housing” (which includes cottage clusters) in certain areas.

But the county hasn’t adopted any of these policies yet — the Clark County Council is still deciding which ways the county will achieve more housing in smaller spaces.

The county’s next Technical Housing Code forum meeting where this topic is discussed is at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. A Zoom link for the meeting can be found on the county’s website.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.