The forensics find the patient suffering from multiple wounds, some self-inflicted: the housing collapse, the subsequent recession, greed, need, bad timing, poor planning, overbuilding, speculation and more than a bit of magical thinking. The law of unintended consequences plus the economic collapse has spared no one. Most of the state’s destination resorts are in various stages of distress: slowed sales to no sales to foreclosures to bankruptcy.
The landscape is littered with foreclosures (currently more than 6,000 in Deschutes County alone), and the housing market in Central Oregon is woefully oversupplied. “Just in Deschutes, you have 15,000 approved lots,” says resort consultant Linda Swearingen.
National housing expert John McIlwain has seen it before: “One of the things the development community is really good at is spotting an opportunity and then overbuilding it.”
And then there’s the long-standing criticism that newer resorts are stealth subdivisions that circumvent land use rules and provide only low-paying jobs and few of the public amenities that create tourism, which is why they were allowed to build in rural areas in the first place. There is growing opposition from Oregonians, legislators, the environmental community, and increasing alarm from nearby cities, which have no say over the approval of resorts. Cities do not share in the tax rewards that go to the counties (in 2008-2009, Deschutes County resorts paid more than $35 million in taxes), which approve the resorts. But cities have to cope with the impact they have on their services, roads, infrastructure and housing stock. Redmond, for instance, is having difficulty attracting high-end housing because of the nearby resorts, which limits its property tax revenues, according to the League of Oregon Cities.
It will take years, if not decades, to soak up the current supply of real estate and recover prices. Residential property in Bend has fallen 75% from 2007 top prices, and commercial property values are half off their peak. A federal housing study released in late May showed that Bend suffered the sharpest housing price drop in the nation over the past year. Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, has little sympathy. “The reset had to happen,” he says. “Prices were too high.”
Even the mighty Jeld-Wen, Oregon’s largest privately held company, is hurting. A major player in the resort industry, the company has developed three destination resorts in Oregon: Eagle Crest near Redmond, Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte and Running Y Ranch in Klamath Falls.
If Chris Pippin is a youthful player in the resort game, Jeld-Wen’s Jerry Andres is the old dog who has been around for decades developing properties for a behemoth company. Andres is not shy about ticking off the problems facing his firm’s Oregon resort properties: “We’ve cut services, we’re not growing. We’ve had layoffs and things are not over yet.” He says that Eagle Crest is about 65% built out, but at Brasada, “we’re selling for less than what we have in it.”