WARRENTON — Along Kalmia Avenue, on the western edge of Warrenton in the Juniper Ridge development, several houses pop up out of the sandy soil in various stages of bloom. In the last three weeks, several have started. Some have foundations, others have floors to stand on, some have frames standing and others are receiving the finishing touches inside.

“We’re building homes for Clatsop County’s working families,” said Cary Johnson, owner of CT Johnson Inc. and one of about five general contractors working in Juniper Ridge. “We have teachers, and police officers, and fishermen and loggers – pretty much a broad cross-section of every type of person in Clatsop County.”

It’s seen as one of the epicenters of affordable home construction in Clatsop County, throughout which members of the construction and real estate industries are showing cautious optimism that the new-house market is turning a corner and especially strong this spring.

“I talk to people, and they say, ‘Well; the interest rates are great, and the homes are still affordable,’” said Gil Gramson, whose family has owned the property for more than 30 years and started the Juniper ridge project in 2006. “They are looking at buying.”

The neighborhood is planned for 75 lots, of which about 35 have homes on them. Prices in the neighborhood are fairly stable and range from $205,000 to $235,000, said Gramson. The area has been able to avoid any foreclosures, and he said it’s only experienced a couple second sales. In other words, people move into their houses and stay.

New home development in Clatsop County is largely based around Warrenton, driven by affordable land and nearby commercial development. Other developments, such as The Reserve at Gearhart, are also seeing a jump in activity.

“Just about three months ago, we started selling lots again at a pretty good rate – about three a month,”?said Tim Regan, a broker and marketing manager for the Reserve, adding that about 30 of the development’s 130 planned lots have houses on them. ”Some have been to individuals, and some to builders. It shows they can get financing and they have confidence that people will buy their houses.

“I just think there’s been a lot of extra money sitting on the sideline for the last two years, waiting for the bottom.”

He added that he expects home values countywide to climb about 2 to 3 percent per year in the near future.

Realtors Bree Phillips and Marianne Pittard of RE/MAX River & Sea both called this “the year of stabilization.”

“That’s truly where the growth is, in the Warrenton market,” said Pittard. “The reason is the affordable price point.”

By contrast, Astoria, already built out for the most part, has had about nine permits for new single-family dwellings from 2011 to present.

“People are fixing up what they have rather than buying new,” said City Planner Rosemary Johnson about the housing market of Astoria, adding that a glut of foreclosures on the market and a focus on compact and multifamily dwellings negate the sprawl, such as that in Warrenton.

Phillips said countywide, there are about 500 homes – new and existing – on the market, and in places like Warrenton, almost half of the 11 sales so far in 2013 are for newly constructed houses.

Countywide, according to the Clatsop Association of Realtors’ database, there were 515 single- and multiple-family dwellings sold in Clatsop County in 2012, up more than 200 from 2009. There were also 343 new residential listings in the first quarter of 2013, the highest number since 2010.

Builders, agents adjust to the market

“Just like turning off a faucet, things in 2007 just stopped completely,” said Regan.

Driving past a miniature mansion in the Reserve fronting the Gearhart Golf Links, he gave a stark assessment of how far the real estate market has fallen. The house sold for $1.25 million in 2007 – and again for $510,000 in 2011.

“The prices were reduced ... 70 percent from the original listed price,” he said about lots at the Reserve.

He joined the Reserve team of brokers four years ago. The development started in 2007, split about 50-50 between locals and second-homeowners, but the ownership group from Seattle had expected to sell all the lots by now. It’s situated in a prime location between two golf courses, Oregon silverspot butterfly habitat owned by the Nature Conservancy and the opulent Pinehurst development to the west.

In the past 30 to 90 days, Regan saw things at the Reserve turn around, with five pending sales currently.

“I think builders being able to get the financing for spec building was the main thing, because once the builders could build houses, then people were buying houses,” said Regan, adding that the key for builders is getting a plot of land to build on at the right price, to which the Reserve obliged.

With home buyers focused on value, developments such as the Reserve have experienced more fluctuations than in working-class neighborhoods such as Juniper Ridge, which Gramson said has experienced price drops of about 15 to 20 percent from 2007.

“It’s just a matter of value, I think,” said Johnson, adding that why builders might have cut back on the finishing touches in the interior, they don’t skimp on the structural materials. “We have to make sure their houses are built to last and that people are happy with them.”

“It just helps purchasing power, when everybody works together,” said Mark Korpi, an in-law of the Johnson family who owns North Coast Classic Homes. “You get good, happy (subcontractors) that want to work for you.

“They get paid. You’re not always in bidding wars with people.”

Korpi added that the close-knit group has also helped them weather hard times, when finishing houses and paying everyone sometimes became tougher.

Johnson said there are maybe half the builders operating in Clatsop County than there were in 2007, as many outfits that dabbled in home construction found other ventures after the market crashed.

When asked whether the recent recovery in new housing is a blip or a sustained recovery, Regan unsuccessfully searched for the crystal ball in his office desk drawer, adding that there’s now way to tell.

“Things have been starting to improve fairly rapidly,” said Johnson, who has four new homes under construction. “So it’s really hard to know how it’s going to look for the really long term. Short-term, things look pretty good – looks like it’s going to be a good summer.”

    

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