Bargains drive homebuilding boom in Camas

Asking price for high-end houses 50% less than in ’07

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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If new housing starts are a leading indicator of economic recovery, then a spurt of homebuilding in Camas this year could be an early sign that the market is on the mend.

Builders credit the highly regarded Camas School District and a rush of planned business expansions in the city for attracting buyers for new homes. However, most said the homebuilding boom has so far been confined to a handful of bargain-priced, high-end subdivisions in the city’s west-side Prune Hill area that have gone through foreclosure or restructured financing.

Back on the market three years later, developers are offering $400,000 houses on bare land that is selling for as little as $84,000. At about half the asking price of 2007, this has caused a stampede of housing starts as measured by building permits.

From January through October, Camas issued 106 permits to build stand-alone houses, up 63 percent from the same period in 2009, according to Phil Bourquin, the city’s community development director.

“It’s the best year going back to 2007,” he said.

The rush of new residential projects in three Camas subdivisions — The Summit at Columbia Vista, Lakeridge North and Hunter Ridge — are leading an overall homebuilding rebound. Meanwhile, in the rest of Clark County the market for new-home construction appears to have bottomed out, despite weak sales of existing houses.

The county has issued 458 permits to build single-family homes in unincorporated parts of Clark County through October this year, an increase of 42.2 percent over the first 10 months of 2009.

Location also a factor

Most builders said Camas buyers like the location, which is close to new shopping and service developments along east Vancouver’s 192nd Avenue corridor and a short, traffic-jam-free distance from state Highway 14 and its interstate freeway connections.

But the dramatically reduced price of housing lots continues to drive sales in the three Prune Hill subdivisions, said Terry Wollam, an agent with Re/Max Equity Group. and a co-developer of the Summit at Columbia Vista.

“These same lots were originally selling for $200,000 to $230,000,” he said. They are now often less than $100,000.

Wollam’s 50-lot subdivision was originally financed by a loan from the now defunct Bank of Clark County, which was seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 2008.

“The FDIC sold off the loan for pennies on the dollar,” Wollam said.

In turn, the Summit at Columbia Vista’s 7,000- to 10,000-square-foot view lots are back on the market at half the price, said Jason Stenersen, a custom homebuilder with Manor Custom Homes in Vancouver, which is now building exclusively in the subdivision.

“We broke ground on two houses last week, and we’re starting on one more (house),” he said.

Stenersen said Camas is the only site his company is building “speculative” houses, projects the builder finances in hopes of selling upon completion.

Camas subdivisions Lakeridge North and Hunters Ridge also are offering lots that are priced at half the original asking price, after having undergone bank foreclosure, said Scott Wyckoff, a Vancouver broker and listing agent.

The company has sold about 45 lots in the 113-lot Lakeridge North subdivision, said Wyckoff, a broker with Vancouver’s Hasson Co. Realtors office.

He expects the subdivisions to quickly run down the area’s supply of housing lots.

“If I was looking to buy in Camas, I wouldn’t wait,” Wyckoff said.

To builders, the bargain sites also present an opportunity to secure bank financing, since lenders are more likely to loan on projects where the land value represents less than 30 percent of the total project value, said Dick Riley, owner of Riley & Marks Inc. appraisal firm in Vancouver.

“Now, they’re building $400,000 houses on $100,000 lots and that’s about right,” Riley said.