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An Icy-Cold Housing Market Makes Work For Some

Whenever temperatures in Oregon dip into the single digits homeowners need to be wary of freezing pipes. 

But with a glut of empty and foreclosed homes across the state, banks are finding themselves with the responsibility normally reserved for homeowners.  David Nogueras reports.

Here in Central Oregon, the housing market boom lifted all sorts of boats, from speculators to drywallers to landscapers.  But when cracks began to emerge in housing’s façade, the money dropped out, leaving many businesses scrambling in the new reality.

Bank-owned Bend-area home. OPB File Photo by Ethan Lindsey

Sunset Plumbing in Bend survived by adapting.  Julie Childress is one of the owners.  She says when the market started to turn her company had to shift gears from doing remodels and new construction to doing more home repair and service. 

For owners of vacant homes, she says that means taking action to avoid frozen pipes.

Julie Childress: “Well in this area it gets so cold the pipes will burst and then when the temperatures warm back up they won’t realize the house has got broken pipes until it warms back up and everything thaws out and then the water starts flooding out of the walls”.

Childress says these days they’ve been getting a lot of calls to perform what’s called a winterization.  That’s where the water is shut off and the pipes are flushed out to keep them from freezing.

Julie Childress: “You know, probably in November we have a big rush of them because it’s starting to get colder and then you know in the spring we’ll de-winterize them or as they sell, you know people that are moving in will have us come in and get the water back on.”

Across town on Bend’s west side, plumber Jesse Toomey is on call at a foreclosed house that just sold.  Now he’s doing the reverse of that process, what they call a de-winterization. 

Toomey says this year, he’s done more winterizations and dewinterizations than he’s ever done.

Jesse Toomey “We’ve been doing more winterizations then we have ever before with all the foreclosed homes and the last couple of years we’ve been fixing a lot of homes that have been sitting empty for a year or two and they go to get their inspection and everything is broken.  So I think that the banks and people who are selling their homes, even vacation homes are starting to winterize more then they ever have.”

Toomey checks the hot water heater and all  the fixtures before turning the water back on.

The pressure of the water forces the air out of the pipes.  The new homeowner will pay about $200 to get the water running again.  But the winterization itself, along with snow removal, yard work, all the costs that normally would be the responsibility of the homeowners now fall on the banks.

Kathy Ragsdale: “They really have to because if there’s no one living in the home and they own it and need to sell it at some time they do need to take on all the responsibilities of security, utilities, and yard maintenance and that sort of thing.”

Kathy Ragsdale is the CEO of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors.

She says currently about 10 percent of the listings in Central Oregon are bank owned.  But Ragsdale says a lot of the big banks aren’t even listing some houses for fear of further pushing down prices.

Kathy Ragsdale: “I know that the National Association of Realtors is working with many of the large banks to try and figure out a way to introduce those properties into the market in a way that won’t flood the market with properties that need to sell quickly or are lower than what really market value should be.”

Ragsdale says she doesn’t know how many of those houses are out there, but she says she does see some signs of improvement. 

In the last year about 40 percent of all home sales in Central Oregon were bank-owned properties.  And overall foreclosures seem to be on the decline.

While it’s safe to say, realtors here would rather see homes dewinterized than winterized, plumber Jesse Toomey says it’s all the same to him.

Jesse Toomey: “We did one last week, I winterized it, de-winterized it, they didn’t sell it so I winterized it again and then de-winterized it, all in a week for the same people.  It was a bank-owned home.  It doesn’t matter to me.  They’re both awesome.”

So whether that inventory of bank owned homes goes up or goes down, there will be a pipeline of work that needs to get done.

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