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Originally published Saturday, December 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Oregon subdivision a ghost town

Buena Vista Custom Homes unloaded 141 homes last weekend in what company says was the biggest residential home auction in state history. But none of the 29 in Bend sold.

The (Bend, Ore.) Bulletin

Buena Vista Custom Homes unloaded 141 homes last weekend in an auction the company says was the biggest residential home auction by a single builder in Oregon's history.

The 2,209 people who swarmed into the Oregon Convention Center over two days snapped up almost all of the unsold homes the Lake Oswego-based builder put up for sale in Portland's suburbs.

But in Bend?

Not one of the 29 homes Buena Vista put up for auction in its Forum Meadows neighborhood in east Bend sold, company spokesman Mike Higgins said.

It was the only one of the company's nine sales areas without a transaction and the subdivision now stands like a ghost town, with empty houses hovering over half-landscaped lots.

Buena Vista President Roger Pollock thinks distance might have played a role, Higgins said. Buena Vista's Bend subdivision was the only neighborhood in the auction east of the Cascades, and it reflected the poorest turnout.

Of the 385 people who registered to attend the auction and left their registrations at the Forum Meadows site in Bend, only about 15 percent attended the actual auction in Portland, he said. By contrast, about 95 percent of the registrants who filed their forms in Portland-area neighborhoods actually attended the auction.

Buena Vista may stage another auction later on in Bend to try to move the Forum Meadows homes, hoping that geographical distance was the biggest factor in the Portland auction's failure to move anything here, Higgins said.

Meanwhile, he said, the company has no plans to start any new neighborhoods in Bend, even though it still has options on some available home lots.

"The market has got to come back before that will happen," Higgins said. "I guess we don't feel too good about that market just yet."

Buena Vista's decision to aggressively bring houses out of the ground last year, despite the nationwide slowdown in residential real-estate sales, got it named the No. 1 single-family homebuilder in Oregon and Southwest Washington by the Portland Business Journal. The award was largely based on the estimated value of the 309 building permits the developer pulled in Oregon last year.

About 96 percent of the company's 141 homes that sold at the auction went for final bids below their reserve prices, which were set at Buena Vista's break-even level, Higgins said.

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That means that the company lost money on the sales, despite the weekend's $65 million in income.

Still, in every place except Bend, the auction achieved what Pollock set out to do — get rid of expensive-to-carry housing inventory. And it gave him some cash to use on his next moves.

"The sale of the homes from the auction put us in a great position as a buyer," Pollock said in a news release. "There are some great deals to be had out there right now on lots."

Some of the Bend houses attracted bids, Higgins said, but none of the bids came close enough to meeting the reserve prices to justify finalizing sales on any of the homes, Higgins said.

"They were trying to steal them," Higgins said.

The company retained the right to reject any final bids below its unpublished reserve prices, Higgins said. It was obligated to close on any final bids that rose above that level.

Buena Vista had hoped to see bidding start at $189,000 for its 1,133-square-foot models in Bend and $229,000 on its 2,116-square-foot homes.

Original asking prices had been $349,500 and $443,950, respectively.

Tamara Christensen and her family live nearby. She had hoped the auction would work at least well enough to fill the houses with people who would landscape the bare-dirt backyards she sees out of her back windows.

But another nearby resident said she was OK with the way it is.

"I kind of like having fewer neighbors," Charlene Gossling said.

"It's quiet."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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