Surviving the recession in Bend

Woodhill Homes builds new homes in old neighborhoods

By Joseph Ditzler / The Bulletin / @josefditzler


Published Feb 28, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Feb 28, 2014 at 09:27AM

Homebuilding partners George Hale and Jay Campbell survived the post-2007 housing slump by getting creative.

“Our partnership stayed intact, (and) just like other builders in the county, we took our lumps,” Hale said. “We had to downsize and reinvent ourselves.”

Their company, Woodhill Homes Inc., of Bend, went from 20 employees to about four as business tanked.

“It was really just working through what we had and trying to keep the company intact,” said Hale. “We did five houses in the worst year,” 2009.

Last year, the city issued 25 permits to build single-family homes to their company, and in January, Woodhill Homes was named the Central Oregon Builders Association builder of the year for 2013. Campbell, a COBA first vice president, was recognized for his contribution to the organization, along with Woodhill as a builder, said Andy High, COBA staff vice president for government affairs.

“I think that like most of our members, Jay and George want to build a home that an owner wants to build equity in over time, that’s energy efficient, Earth friendly and that someone is going to be proud to come home to every day,” High said.

Rather than wait for the Bend housing market to be revived, the partners found a niche.

“During the downturn, we sought out … some properties on the west side that we could convert to new homes,” Campbell said. “Some of the lots we found were old homes, old mill homes with no insulation; there was water in the basement of one of these.”

Said Hale, “They were flat-out tear downs. They’d worn out their useful and economic lives.”

The Woodhill partners focused on established west-side neighborhoods, building on Albany, Fresno and Elgin avenues.

Hale and Campbell said these infill projects allowed them to build more energy-efficient homes on smaller lots. The city encourages infill development but offers no breaks or incentives.

NorthWest Crossing — where developers planned housing with restaurants, parks, shops and schools nearby — provided inspiration, the pair said.

That concept exists on the west side, where many older neighborhoods are within walking distance to shops and eateries along Galveston and Newport avenues.

Hale and Campbell said infill opportunities on the west side may be drying up.

“We’re looking for more infill, but like George (Hale) said, it’s hard to make the numbers work,” Campbell said. A home they built two years ago would sell for about $550,000; that same home today would price at $750,000 or more, Hale said.

Woodhill continues building in its four subdivisions around the city. Plus, the partners said they would like to build a multifamily project on Sixth Street to answer the demand for more rentals in Bend. Hale and Campbell said they see the recovery gaining strength.

“I think that Bend really benefits from other markets doing well: Seattle, Portland, California,” Hale said. “If interest rates stay low and people continue to have jobs, the market will steadily get better.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815, jditzler@bendbulletin.com