In February 2022, a fire consumed the second story of the 100-year-old home at 1502 SE 84th Avenue. Now the owners are rebuilding from the ground up, trying to complete a project they started a year ago. Eventually, the site will support a two-story house and a pair of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU).
Julie Lais and Levi Lais bought the 1919-era home in early January 2022, intending to refresh the old craftsman house. The building sat atop an unfinished basement, and the property included a detached garage. This additional space offered the couple space for two ADUs that would provide income for the family. Their children attend school within blocks of the house, and this location would have met their desire for a classic Portland home in a walkable community. As a licensed Oregon real estate broker, Julie Lais recognized the quality of this home with its fir floors, hand-crafted built-ins, and leaded glass windows. “It’s a really sweet house that you could tell had been loved for a few decades, even though it was a rental prior to us purchasing it,” said Lais.
However, a month into cleanup work at the house, an electrical fault changed the couple’s plan. “In February, while we were still doing some cosmetic updates, there was a bathroom fan that we believe was the source of the fire,” explained Lais. Flames spread throughout the top floor and began burning through to the main level when Portland firefighters arrived on the scene. The fire crews extinguished the flames, but smoke and water damage destroyed everything else, leaving nothing to salvage. Fortunately, the asbestos siding kept the fire contained to the inside of the structure. No one was living in the home yet, but they had insurance. However, the Lais family would soon discover the shortfall of insurance coverage.
A slow insurance payout delayed rebuilding for the better half of a year without compensation for lost funds. This location was not the Lais family’s primary residence at the time of the fire, so a loss of use coverage would not apply to this incident. Insurance would have covered lost rent if it had been a rental for at least six months, but the house was vacant and new to the couple. It was unfortunate timing, leaving them responsible for all the bills without support. “We’ve just been paying the mortgage on the hole in the ground,” said Lais. Now that they have received the insurance money, they realize it’s insufficient to recreate the lost house. “You can’t rebuild with what the insurance company will give you,” explained Julie Lais. Crews will construct the replacement house with contemporary building materials and modern finishes to stay within budget, losing the classic craftmanship of the older home.
The new house will recreate the prevues layout of the first floor with a similar large front porch. They chose to update the second floor’s arrangement and build taller walls supporting a higher ceiling. Modern building standards required a new foundation for the basement. That space will remain unfinished. Eventually, it will host a one-bedroom apartment after the Lais family financially recovers from this current project. The detached garage will also support a one-bedroom, one-bathroom ADU. The detached garage is the last part of the original property and will remain on-site with a new purpose.
Although the demolition of the old home created a sense of loss for the Lais family, the support of the local community was helpful during a difficult time. “We have met many neighbors in the process, and they have all been very kind and encouraging,” said Julie Lais. Construction plans for the site have changed due to the fire, but they are trying to get back on track. They anticipate keeping the property but may rent it out instead of moving in. It is undecided. “Everybody has a plan until their house burns down,” remarked Levi Lais.
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