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March 30, 2023

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Clark County sees high demand for large, expensive houses

By , Columbian business reporter
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6 Photos
Reynaldo Sotelo, left, and Simeon Chavez of Gecho Construction lend a hand at a home being built at Parklands at Camas Meadows. The home under construction will be 8,000 square feet, part of a trend toward physically larger homes during the pandemic.
Reynaldo Sotelo, left, and Simeon Chavez of Gecho Construction lend a hand at a home being built at Parklands at Camas Meadows. The home under construction will be 8,000 square feet, part of a trend toward physically larger homes during the pandemic. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Camas-area house was just under 7,300 square feet, the biggest that Connor Zuvich had ever listed for sale. He was prepared to be patient; it’s not unusual for houses of that size to sit on the market for months, and this particular house had taken about a year to find a buyer when it sold in 2016.

But the first call came in within minutes after the listing went up in mid-December, and there were four more offers in the next three days. By Day Four the house was under contract, and at $100,500 more than the original $1,499,500 asking price.

The sale closed about two weeks ago.

Zuvich is a broker at Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty, and he said the Camas home’s lightning-fast sale is a prominent example of how Clark County’s housing market has grown so hot that even the biggest houses and highest price brackets are seeing dramatically heightened activity.

“There’s not that many homes of that size and scale,” he said, “but the ones that are (out there) are definitely being picked up rather quickly.”

Other local real estate agents described similar experiences in the past year. The region’s already-brisk housing market accelerated dramatically when the COVID-19 pandemic set in and families found themselves trapped at home and in desperate need of more space and amenities for work and play.

County’s priciest house lists for $19M

Clark County’s housing market is booming, with surging demand for resale houses and new custom homes at every size and every price point. Even houses in the $1 million-or-more range are receiving quick offers, bucking the usual patterns that limit higher activity to lower price brackets.

So is there still a ceiling? Is there any home for sale in Clark County that won’t get a half dozen offers in a matter of days?

The answer is yes, but a few million dollars is a mere down payment.

The Dawson Ridge Estate, a cliffside mansion perched above the Columbia River west of Camas, is currently on the market for a cool $18,997,000 – the biggest and most expensive house for sale in the county, according to listing agent Ali Wise of Cascade Sotheby’s International Realty.

The 11,649-square-foot house, built in 1989, includes six bedrooms and nine full or partial bathrooms, along with a four-car garage (with lifts for additional vehicles) and a barn with horse stables on 10.6 acres. Nearly every direction features a spectacular view.

“The views are pretty much what sells the house,” Wise said. “You can see basically all of the Columbia River and any given mountain range from anywhere in the house.”

The home is owned by entrepreneur Brandon Dawson, who purchased it about 10 years ago and invested $5 million in remodeling, according to Wise.

The surrounding acreage was originally much larger, but Dawson sold a significant portion of it to be developed as the Dawson’s Ridge community, the site of the 2019 Northwest Natural Parade of Homes.

Like many other real estate agents in Clark County, Wise said she’s seen $1 million and $2 million houses fly off the market in record time in recent months. But the $19 million Dawson Ridge Estate is “in a completely different world.”

The house has been listed since September and remains on the market, although Wise said she’s seen a few interested parties “come and go” in the past six months. The eventual buyer is probably going to be someone who learns about the house through word of mouth rather than conventional advertising, she said.

“You can’t just throw up a Facebook ad and hope that anyone of stature is going to see it,” she said.

— Anthony Macuk

Another agent at Cascade Sotheby’s, Heather DeFord, recalled a recent case where she helped a client make an offer on a house in Camas priced at a little more than $900,000. Her client offered $55,000 above the listing price, but so did five other would-be buyers — all in the first two days.

“We’re used to seeing that in the 250 to 500 (thousand) range, but this past year has been robust,” she said.

Surges in local housing market activity are typically concentrated in the lower end of the price spectrum, Zuvich said, topping out at about $500,000 to $700,000, while the market for $1 million or greater houses remains selective. But now, seven-figure houses are moving quickly.

Zuvich said he’s also seeing much more interest in physically big houses with more amenities, reversing a pre-pandemic trend. The Camas house, for example, had a built-in gym and a large home theater. The last trend toward bigger houses was in the mid-2000s, he said, and it eased after the recession.

Big houses can be more like commercial buildings, he said, often with multiple heating and cooling systems, industrial kitchens and other costly amenities, so the added responsibilities of owning a large home can be a turnoff for potential buyers even if the cost of the house is no object.

“There’s so much more involved in these, as far as maintaining them,” he said.

Multiple agents and homebuilders said many of the buyers of these expensive homes are relocating from Oregon or California, often to take advantage of Washington’s comparatively favorable tax structure for wealthy individuals.

Historically low interest rates are often cited as another factor driving the housing market boom at lower price ranges. Ali Wise of Cascade Sotheby’s said those benefits also extend to bigger purchases.

“It’s not just the first-time homebuyers who are getting really great interest rates,” she said. “It’s people getting (homes for) up to one, two or three million dollars.”

Construction booms

The surge in big house activity isn’t limited to the resale market. Custom builders said they’ve also seen an incredibly busy year, often with buyers pushing for bigger spaces.

“Our calendar for 2021 is completely full now with houses that — the smallest ones are around 4,500 square feet and the biggest are around 6,500,” said Tracy Doriot, owner of Vancouver-based custom builder Doriot Construction. “It’s craziness.”

Homes of that size typically cost from about $1.5 million to $2.5 million, he said, depending on the included amenities — and that’s just the cost of the home itself, not including the site.

New project starts are now being pushed to 2022, he said. As a high-end custom builder, Doriot Construction only builds about a dozen houses annually, but even so, it’s unusual for the company to have hit capacity so early in the year. 

Nearly every custom buyer has requested dedicated office spaces, often along with study centers for children, he said. One buyer asked for a home of 8,000 square feet, Doriot said, but that would have made the project too big to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

Rachel Gecho, who works as an agent for Keller Williams as well as her husband’s custom building company, Gecho Construction, said she’s seen a marked increase in demand for houses priced at more than $1 million since the pandemic began — both in the resale market and the new construction market.

“It’s happening extremely fast, a lot faster than it ever has,” she said.

The construction spree is creating a high demand for subcontractors, she said, and it’s prompted Gecho Construction to grow from six employees to about 27 in the past year, in order to try to maintain its schedule by bringing more services in-house. 

John Colgate, owner of custom builder Affinity Homes, said the demand for bigger homes was already rising before last year, possibly due to more millennials entering the market. Young couples with children tend to want bigger two-story homes, he said, rather than the one-story homes that have been popular with baby boomer clients. Even so, there was a clear uptick after March 2020.

“The demand and the amount of phone calls has probably grown two to three times what it was prior to COVID in the million-plus market,” he said.

Doriot, Gecho and Colgate all described land availability as one of the biggest constraining factors when it comes to new housing development in Clark County, especially during the pandemic. High-end buyers want land with dramatic views, Gecho said, which is increasingly hard to find.

The scarcity has prompted more buyers to purchase existing houses solely for the lots, Doriot said, tearing down the original houses and building new — usually bigger — replacements.

“In Felida we just bought a $700,000 house and lot and tore down the existing house to build a new one,” he said.

This story has been updated to correct the value of the offer that Heather DeFord helped her client make on a house in Camas.

Columbian business reporter