Opportunity abounds as the downturn persists

Opportunity abounds as the downturn persists

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The real estate landscape is littered with deals

Barry Menashe likes to say he started out in the real estate business 35 years ago with 25 cents in his pocket. Now he owns more properties than he can name. In September he bought the historic Police Headquarters building in downtown Portland for $2.5 million, half of what it sold for 10 years ago and less than a third of the boom-time asking price. As always, he moved quickly and paid cash.

“Is that a beauty or what?” Menashe asks as he strides purposefully across a parking lot to the lobby of the stately 1912 brick historic structure, the original home of the city’s police force, remodeled into office space in the 1980s. “When I bought the building a lot of the lights were out. Within two hours I had them fixed.”

The entrance to the building is gorgeous, and the floor occupied by the Stoll Bern PC law firm shows the building’s potential. But three floors are entirely vacant. Asked what he plans to do about the vacancies, Menashe smiles. “I’m going to fill them.” He nods his head. “And I can do it at very affordable rent levels.”

Not long after buying the police building, Menashe bought a 27-lot subdivision near Washington Square that had reverted to the bank after foreclosure. He plans either to resell the subdivision for a profit or build starter homes there and sell them. Asked about the risk of buying foreclosed property when the market is already flooded with more of the same, he says, “I have faith in this particular location and this particular market… Everything I buy, there’s a situation, and there’s a story. I want to know the story and understand the story.”

Menashe built his real estate empire piece by piece, starting out with $17,000 rental homes and making his first foray into downtown Portland with a lender-owned property that he still owns. He attributes his success to buying cheap for long-term value, paying off debts quickly and managing all his properties with a small staff of seven people. Most importantly, Menashe says he avoided over-buying during the boom years of 2004-2006. “People were spending way too much,” he says. “But they were spending other people’s money. I’ve never done that.”

When prices began to plummet in 2009 and 2010 he was able to bid low and pay cash. “My favorite thing has always been acquisition,” he says as he walks back to his office passing several other buildings that he owns along the way. “I’m looking to do some more right now.”

Menashe is a distinctly urban buyer, but the real estate deals in the current economy are by no means limited to downtown. It is also a busy time for John Rosenthal, president of Realty Marketing NW. His business auctions off a wide variety of properties throughout Oregon and the West, much of it bank-owned. The longer the real estate slump lasts, the better the deals become: a 26-acre mixed use property on 82nd Avenue in Portland for $4.65 million, 85 acres in Clatsop County for under $100,000, a residential lot on the Coast for $20,000 and dozens of parcels of timberland in Lane and Douglas counties for under $100,000.

Rosenthal is particularly optimistic about the opportunity in Oregon timberlands. For years large timber companies dominated the market, buying up land hungrily and selling rarely. That has changed dramatically as the timber industry has weakened. Several of Rosenthal’s clients have seized the opportunity to purchase large properties they would not have been able to afford in the past. “Even in this market, Oregon timberland is an attractive investment,” says Rosenthal. “And you can get in the game for under $100,000.”