by: contributed photo, Several thousand people filled the Oregon Convention Center to bid in a housing auction billed as the largest in state history.

Buena Vista Custom Homes sold 141 homes during the builder's Dec. 15-16 auction at the Oregon Convention Center, including 28 homes from Sandy's Cascadia Village and Hamilton Ridge subdivisions.

The auction - billed as the largest in Oregon history - drew 2,209 attendees and generated a total of $65 million in sales, Buena Vista reported. (Local charities received $250,000 of the total proceeds.)

The homebuilder's entire unsold inventory from across Oregon and southwest Washington, 240 homes, was up for grabs at the auction.

The lowest-priced house sold at the auction was a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath house in Sandy's Cascadia Village neighborhood, which went for $195,000. The most expensive house was a 5,073-square-foot home in the Shadow Ridge subdivision in Happy Valley, which sold for $510,000.

Buena Vista spokesman Mike Higgins said the Sandy homes sold 'pretty consistently' 10 to 15 percent below the unpublished reserve prices.

'Those homes in Sandy were bid on real aggressively and were very popular in the sale,' Higgins said. 'We were real pleased.'

Virtually all areas were strong sellers with two exceptions - the 29 homes that were offered in Bend and Buena Vista's portfolio of rental homes.

None of the homes in Bend sold, and few of the rentals found buyers. Four of the unsold homes were in the Hamilton Ridge subdivision.

'(The bids) weren't as high as the seller would accept,' Higgins said when asked why the houses didn't sell.

Buena Vista set 'reserve' prices prior to the auction to reflect the homebuilder's costs. The company announced after the auction that 96 percent of the 141 sold homes were sold below the reserve price.

'We came to the auction to sell, and we did just that,' Buena Vista owner Roger Pollock said in a written statement. 'To sell 141 homes in less than 48 hours is truly remarkable.'

Sandy resident and home seeker Luke Lyons attended the auction in hopes that he might walk away with a deal in the Hamilton Ridge subdivision.

Lyons, who stayed only for the auctioning of the first six Sandy houses, said he quickly realized that he wasn't going to buy a home Dec. 15.

Lyons said the auction was very fast-paced and efficient.

'It was just amazing how rapidly the bids went up,' Lyons said, noting that homes quickly blew past his predetermined price range and didn't stay on the block longer than two minutes.

'I don't think anybody saved any money,' Lyons said.

Worse than that, he said some people probably overpaid.

Lyons said he has been interested in the Hamilton Ridge subdivision for a couple years - 'before they built any houses there,' he said - and always had picked up fliers from the homes for sale.

He said he watched prices start at around $259,000 and top out at around $300,000.

The cooling real estate market saw prices drop most recently to $279,000, just before the auction, he said.

But once the auction was announced, all the fliers were taken away, and Buena Vista announced that the homes were valued at about $350,000.

Indeed, a four-bedroom, 2.1-bath, 2,261-square-foot home in Hamilton Ridge was advertised with a 'list price' of $348,950, while a nearly identical home down the street sold in October for $267,950. Another comparable Hamilton Ridge house that had slightly less square footage sold for $262,651, according to real estate records.

Yet another house down the street sold for almost $221,000.

Lyons thinks Buena Vista raised the list price before the auction to drive bids higher.

'It seems to me like that was put there so that if people started doing research on Hamilton Ridge for the auction, they'd think they were worth a lot more,' Lyons said. 'I think they did it to make people think they were getting a bargain when they were paying $275,000 or $250,000.'

While Buena Vista announced that it sold 96 percent of its inventory below the 'acceptable' reserve prices, Lyons says don't feel sorry for them.

'I had done my research and seen that they had accepted offers at $220,000,' Lyons said. 'The price shot past that (at the auction) in under 10 seconds. These people thought they probably saved some money, but they didn't. There's no doubt in my mind (Pollock) made money on the houses he sold.

'If I had known people were going to be this crazy, I would have made an offer beforehand,' Lyons continued, 'and saved myself a lot of trouble. I just didn't expect people to be that careless or carefree with such a serious matter.'

Now that most of its standing inventory has been liquidated, Buena Vista plans to move to a more conservative model of offering few finished homes, built on speculation of future sale, and more pre-sold to buyers.

'We will still be an aggressive player in our market,' Pollock said. 'The sale of the homes from the auction puts us in a great position as a buyer.'

So who made out in the auction? Lyons says he thinks Pollock did, and so did 'the guy who bought his house for $220,000 … that just raised his equity.'

Lyons says he thinks auctions like Buena Vista's will become more common in this uncertain housing market. His advice: 'Do some research. Find out what houses sold for, not what they're listed at. Drive by and collect fliers.'

Higgins said that because of the 1-percent deposits that will be due soon for auction winners, it's likely that a few of the deals will fall through. And when they do, he said the houses will be back on the market.

'And then I'll walk down and offer $220,000,' Lyons said.

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