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Tear down vs. facelift: The fate of older houses

Newberg developer details the ins and outs of demolition and renovation

No two homes age the same, as so many factors go into how well a home is preserved in its old age. Whether it’s a rental, what its occupants were like, and how it was originally constructed all play into its likely lifespan. Sometimes, a house is simply too far gone to save.

“Teardowns are pretty obvious, you’re gonna go in and there’s no foundation, everything’s slanting,” Chandler Willcuts of W Development said.GARY ALLEN - Excavation - While several large subdivisions continue construction on large tracts of undeveloped land, Chandler Willcuts' W Development is focusing on renovating or replacing a few houses inside Newberg's existing neighborhoods. Often a house just needs some significant upgrading work, but occasionally a structure is just too far gone to save.

His development company is looking at those situations as an opportunity to revive part of Newberg’s neighborhoods.

A house W Development purchased several months back for demolition was a particularly good example, as it had sat empty for a year and had developed several animal infestations. Willcuts was sure it was a teardown from the get-go, but brought in a few sub-contractors by to get some second opinions. The consensus was unanimous.

In other cases, the house just needs some serious fixing up, rather than entirely new bones.

“Renovations are more of, they need some cleaning up, rip out the old carpets, put some lipstick on it,” Willcuts said.

Working on a fixer-upper has the added bonus of being a feel-good process.

“We like the renovations because it’s nice — sort of eco-green to take something that’s already there and make it better,” he said.

Renovations also do not require as much preparation work before even beginning construction. With a demolition, the finances can be tricky to balance as there are costs associated with the demolition and excavation process before the foundation is poured.

“You definitely have to buy properties at wholesale price,” Willcuts said. “It’s hard to come across; few and far between.”

As a developer he looks for homes in need of a lot of repair that a traditional buyer couldn’t get a loan for and purchase it. Often, he said, it’s as much of a relief for the property owner as it is for the developer.

“It gets to be a win-win situation for a lot of sellers: a lot of them are in over their heads with no money to make repairs. It’s a way to get out quick,” he said. “Take what they want and leave what they don’t.”

Newberg’s limited supply of buildable land also figures into the equation for teardowns.

“There’s not a whole lot of just bare lots sitting out here, not a whole lot of development land,” Willcuts said. “That’s why we’re getting into this niche.”

W Development has completed two renovations and one teardown and replacement home during its nine-month existence that began shortly after Willcuts and his wife were married.

They stumbled across the first one when Willcuts was out on a listing appointment in his capacity as a realtor. The property owner had planned to sell to an investor, but Willcuts decided to give it a shot.

“I just have a passion for architectural design and it’s a lot of fun,” he said.

It’s also a good time to be getting into homebuilding. In fiscal year 2013-2014, 55 single-family residential building permits were issued in Newberg, a slight increase from the 42 issued the prior fiscal year. Construction figures, though, are not entirely indicative of the housing market right now.

“The market is hot,” Willcuts said. As a real estate agent helping connect traditional buyers with houses, he’s learned they have to jump on a deal often the day it goes on the market. “It’s a sellers’ market, that’s for sure.”

Willcuts’ family is ubiquitous in the local real estate scene, with Willcuts Company Realtors completing several large-scale subdivisions such as the Highlands at Hess Creek, which is bringing more than 100 new houses into a vacant area of land.

But with his side project of W Development, Chandler Willcuts is focusing on a house here and a house there, inside already established neighborhoods in the city.

“I just want to add to it. Parts of the south side of town it would be cool to revive,” he said. “Make Newberg a better place than it already is.”