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Bend Home Hunting Changes With Market

If you believe the statistics, Oregon has survived the bursting of national housing bubble. But that could be changing.

Tuesday the National Association of Realtors said August was the worst month for expected home sales since it began tracking the data in 2001. State brokers are compiling their local data this week, and most expect it to be as bad — if not worse. Our Central Oregon reporter Ethan Lindsey has more on what he's discovered about the Bend housing market.

During the housing boom, national attention was focused on red-hot markets like San Diego. But under the radar, no city in the country saw more heat than Bend.

This one-time logging town has been  the lead car in  the real estate rollercoaster.

Before the housing boom, Bend was actually an undervalued market.

But things changed very quickly. Federal housing statistics say Bend home prices jumped by more than 30 percent between the years 2005 and 2006. The biggest increase in the country.

That turned the city into 'flip this house' heaven.

Two years removed from those sunny days, though and the rooms don't seem as bright as real estate agents walk through unsold homes.

And economic data points to things getting worse.

Central Oregon contractors plan to build almost 2/3 fewer homes than they did a year ago, according to county records.

And only 139 homes sold in August - about half as many as two years ago.

Becky Breeze is one of the city's most recognizable realtors - I first learned about her from a public relations video the city produced in the late 90s. She's famous for her unbridled optimism about the city's real estate future.

But even she says the boomtimes of 2005 may have hurt the overall stability of the local market.

Becky Breeze: “The problem is that so many agents went into the business, and so many mortgage brokers went into the business during that little upside period, that there's not enough to support that many people.”

On the other hand, Breeze says Bend's home prices have remained stable.

So far.

Becky Breeze: “But we wish some of our houses would sell faster, absolutely.”

The median home price here in August was $352.000 - unchanged since February. Remember, that's while home prices in many parts of the country slipped — a lot.

But since half as many homes sold in central Oregon in that time, the number of homes now on  the market is now sky-high.

And more supply, with less demand is what economists would call a buyers market.

That's something I can personally attest to. I'm a prospective home buyer here, and sometimes I feel like I am the only one.

I have looked at several homes where the seller tried to drop the price  the minute I showed up at the door.

And of the 30 or so homes I have looked at in the past few months, fewer than 5 have sold.

My realtor's named Dawn Dwyer.

Dawn Dwyer: “We are definitely in a full-blown buyer's market.”

Dwyer says that in 2005, many of the homes I've looked at would have been swamped with multiple offers on the day they were listed.

And many of those offers would come in above the asking price.

My experience has been the opposite.

Right now, I am close to making an offer on a 2-bedroom home that has been on the market for more than a month. I may get at least $20,000 off the price on the sign out front.

Dawn Dwyer: “It's the true story of what its like to be in a buyers market and what its like to be in a sellers.  In that fast a time, to see that much of a difference, its really amazing. You're really lucky to have such selection. In the price range we're looking now, you wouldn't be looking at houses.”

So, the housing slowdown does have some positives, at least for buyers like me.

But it's not that simple for a city like Bend. Here, real estate and construction affects more than just home buyers and sellers.

Real estate is the third-largest employer, paying the salaries of 15 percent of working residents.

So, if the housing market doesn't turn around soon, Central Oregon may be facing more than just a glut of unbought homes on the market.

It may see a rise in the number of unemployed workers in the region too.

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