Kathleen McLaughlin
The Bulletin

The first two houses that Taylor Wolf built at Pronghorn Resort stood out with their striking combination of modern design and traditional materials.

Heavy timbers frame the tall windows and simple yet dramatic roof lines. The houses on Ghost Tree Lane were featured on the Central Oregon Builders Association Tour of Homes in 2016. A speculative venture by Wolf’s NWB Builders, the houses were sold in August and December of that year for $799,000 and $925,500.

Those first two houses generated buzz, and owners of other lots in Pronghorn started asking Wolf to build custom homes, said David Poe, a finish carpenter who worked on the NWB homes and became Wolf’s partner in Mission Statement Homes.

Mission Statement Homes formed in June 2016. The company started work on at least eight jobs in Pronghorn, according to Deschutes County building permits, and undertook a $2.26 million custom home in Broken Top, a gated golf course community in Bend.

Poe said he and Wolf parted ways last fall. By June 24, Mission Statement Homes was out of business, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Six home sites at Pronghorn were incomplete when Mission Statement folded, according to the owners and notices filed with Deschutes County. Wolf also faced a breach-of-contract complaint from the Broken Top homeowner, Tim Baggs, a Bend entrepreneur who helped launch Rockstar energy drinks.

Baggs, whose complaint is in closed arbitration proceedings, declined to comment. He’d spent $1.33 million on the house, which was begun in November 2017, when work stopped in February, according to the complaint filed in April with the Oregon Construction Contractors Board.

Pronghorn homeowner Gary Wart, of Vancouver, Washington, filed his own breach-of-contract complaint with the Oregon CCB on July 30. Wart paid Wolf and his companies $2.19 million toward a house contracted in March 2017 for $1.4 million, according to the complaint.

Wart didn’t respond to requests for comment. His complaint includes a home inspection report that cites several defects, and he states, “All invoices have been marked up 30%.”

He estimates the cost of “total default” of the construction agreement, plus repairing and completing the project to be $1.14 million.

The Construction Contractors Board hasn’t completed its investigations. “That’s not necessarily evidence the company did anything wrong,” said Wolf’s attorney, Anthony Albertazzi. “It’s just evidence of a dispute.”

Wolf had no experience in the construction industry before 2015, but he holds several active licenses, according to the contractors board. Two are for the residential development and general contracting companies formed in fall of 2015, Norman Wolf Tesana and NWB Builders. In March of this year, Wolf licensed an excavation company, Wolf Lapp Contractors.

Ron McFadden, a Mercer Island, Washington, resident who is building a second home on Ghost Tree Lane, said he was surprised when Mission Statement closed shop. He’s found another contractor to finish the job. “It’s about a year behind schedule,” he said.

McFadden and other homeowners declined to talk in detail about Mission Statement’s work. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” McFadden said.

The contracts that Mission Statement had with Baggs and Wart were “cost-plus,” meaning the owners would pay all direct costs, plus a negotiated profit margin for the general contractor, which ranged from 10% to 15%.

Mission Statement failed because customers lost confidence in the company and stopped paying for work, Albertazzi said.

“We believe this was caused by one of the homeowners who has been waging a campaign to destroy Mission Statement Homes through circulation of false information to its customers,” Albertazzi said.

Without customers making timely payments, Mission Statement Homes couldn’t pay its workers, he said. “You need to keep that flow of money coming. If you don’t, it really creates problems.”

Wolf’s résumé is vague. Prior to forming the construction and development companies, he worked in sales and marketing in high-end communities, including another Central Oregon resort, Brasada Ranch, Albertazzi said. The attorney did not provided dates of Wolf’s employment at Brasada Ranch or other companies.

“The company had people on staff that had the requisite skill and experience necessary to fulfill these contracts they made with the customers,” he said.

Poe said he was asked to work on NWB’s houses at Pronghorn by Gary Norman, a former custom home builder and the owner of Barnwood Industries. Norman died in January.

Norman had not held a contractor’s license since 2009. The license expired after a disciplinary action, and Gary Norman Homes had more than $100,000 in unpaid claims, according to the Construction Contractors Board.

As a finish carpenter, Poe said he knew Norman through Barnwood Industries, but he was drawn to the work because of the designs by Wright Design Studio. Principal Rick Wright couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Those houses we did were brilliant,” Poe said. “And it was just a pleasure building a Rick Wright design.”

Poe, a former furniture maker, said he knew that Wolf’s background was in sales, but he seemed to share his passion for craftsmanship. “He wanted to make a house perfect.”

Poe said Wolf and NWB’s other partners planned to continue building and selling houses on lots they’d bought in Pronghorn. The project seemed to bring momentum to Pronghorn after a period of stagnation, he said.

A golf resort in the ranch land east of Bend, Pronghorn’s previous owners defaulted on loans during the recession. A Hawaii-based company, The Resort Group, bought it in 2012 and a few years later began work on a long-awaited hotel. The 104-room Huntington Lodge opened this spring.

From 2013 through 2016, the community saw construction start on two to five new residences a year, according to Deschutes County. The number of new residential construction permits ballooned to 11 in 2017.

After one of NWB’s partners, a licensed construction contractor, left the firm, Poe said he was asked to take over as a project manager. It was during that time that other Pronghorn lot owners started asking the company to build custom homes, he said.

Because of those inquiries, Poe said he and Wolf formed Mission Statement Homes, which had a similar name to his longstanding company, Mission Statement Woodworking. Poe said he handled all aspects of construction while Wolf worked with customers.

“It seemed easy,” Poe said. “I had a really good salesman. People loved the houses.”

Poe said he soon became overwhelmed with work. He took his wife and son on a weeks-long adventure in Africa last September, and when he came back, he and Wolf decided to split up. Lately he dedicates his time to OverKill Campers, a company that makes camper trailers for off-road travel.

Poe said he doesn’t understand how the company could have been undone by clients’ lack of confidence, as Albertazzi alleged. A contractor can always show how they’re spending the money, he said, or have the homeowner pay subcontractors directly. “There’s so many ways to be transparent in this business.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com