When Carolyn Sanco and Jan Saxton started their search for a home in Happy Valley they took the typical route: They contacted a Realtor, toured a number of properties and even made an offer on a townhouse.
Then, they heard about an event that had them second-guessing their approach.
Lake Oswego's Buena Vista Custom Homes Inc. was holding an auction to sell 220 new homes to the highest bidder, including several in Happy Valley.
'We thought it sounded like a great opportunity to get a great deal on a new house,' Sanco says. 'We withdrew the offer on the townhouse and threw ourselves into the auction process.'
The couple looked at homes in all five subdivisions in Happy Valley, looking at each one online and then touring their top 12 choices.
In December, Sanco and Saxton showed up to the Ambridge Event Center in Portland with their bidder number, hoping they'd leave with the keys to a new house.
Buyers snapped up 141 homes that weekend.
With sales of more than $65 million, the auction is believed to be the largest two-day sale of real estate by one seller in Oregon history.
And Sanco and Saxton were among the lucky bidders.
'We raised our paddle and when we won the bid, we just looked at each other and said, 'Oh my gosh,'' Sanco says. 'We couldn't believe we'd just bought a house at an auction.'
A home auction is just one of the marketing strategies Buena Vista is using to attract buyers in a not-so-hot housing market.
'In some neighborhoods, we'd overbuilt or had stale inventory and the auction was like a huge garage sale to clear out those properties,' says Roger Pollock, president and owner of Buena Vista.
Pollock is also a Lake Oswego resident.
'We wanted to move properties off the books. And as a result, buyers got good deals,' he said.
In fact, of the total homes sold at the auction, 96 percent sold under the reserve price.
A home in the Carson Crest neighborhood in Beaverton previously listed at $624, 950 sold at auction for $475,000.
In Sandy, a home in the Hamilton Ridge neighborhood sold for $241,500 - 25 percent off of the original list price of $321,950.
'There was a lot of speculation going into the auction that it was a scam - a way for the builder to get a better price,' Pollock says.
'It truly was a liquidation sale. There were no hidden fees.'
Sanco and Saxton were pleased with the deal they got on their new home in Happy Valley.
'The appraisal came in quite a bit higher than what we paid for the house,' Sanco says.
In addition to the auction, Buena Vista also has launched a lease-to- own program and special Internet pricing.
The company isn't the only builder enticing buyers with new marketing strategies.
Legend Homes of Portland held its 'Blitz the Builder' event in January.
Prospective buyers were invited to make their best offer on 75 completed homes in neighborhoods throughout Portland.
A total of 17 homes were sold over the weekend with offers ranging from full price to 20 percent less than the list price.
'The idea was a slam dunk because it created a sense of urgency,' said Krista Boyd, Legend's director of marketing and communications.
She says company officials were pleased with the results of the program.
'We'd never done anything like that before and we might never do it again,' Boyd says. 'At the time, we had excess inventory and it was a good idea for us.'
Legend Homes also is taking part in a program launched by the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland called the 'Ultimate Open House' designed to increase regional home sales.
'In a market like this, anything we can possibly to do get our name out there and encourage people to buy our homes, we're willing to try,' Boyd said.
Always on the lookout for ways to improve sales, and because the response to the first auction was overwhelming, Buena Vista is doing it again.
On March 8, 52 homes throughout the Portland metro area, including Scappoose, Beaverton, Happy Valley, Sandy and Hillsboro, will be up for auction.
'Builders have to get competitive to move some of their product,' Pollock says. 'The result is good deals for buyers.'
For information on Buena Vista Custom Homes Inc., visit the Web site www.buenavistahomes.com.
For information on Legend Homes, visit www.legendhomes.com.
For information about the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland, visit www.homebuildersportland.org.