New homes are beginning to spring up in a handful of Ashland subdivisions where development projects were sidelined as the housing market began its decline in 2006.
"A year-and-a-half ago, there was nothing happening here; it was a sad deal," said Fred Cox, an Ashland real estate investor who purchased dozens of empty lots in a subdivision near where North Mountain Avenue crosses Interstate 5.
"I started buying lots because I knew it would turn around," Cox said. "I think we're in a hot market right now. Numbers (prices) are down, people's confidence is up. This is going to be a good year."
Cox, who partnered with Ashland real estate entrepreneur Laz Ayala to develop some of the roughly 40 lots owned between the pair in the North Mountain subdivision, isn't the only one thinking along those lines.
"This is a different market ... but I think it's going to start moving," said Eric Bonetti, a broker with Royce Real Estate in Ashland.
Royce has exclusive rights to the 17-lot Helman Springs subdivision being developed by Ashland-based Magnolia Investments.
Two homes are built and sold, and two others are under construction there, between Otis and Randy streets in Ashland's Quiet Village neighborhood.
"It could fill in within the next few years — it just depends," Bonetti said.
In both subdivisions, the pieces are being picked up after original developers lost the properties to lenders when the housing bubble burst.
The same can be said for the Billings Ranch subdivision at the end of West Nevada Street, where properties foreclosed on by Bank of the Cascades have now been sold back to investors.
"I think there is a little bit of a boom going," said Ayala, standing in one of Cox's homes under construction on Stone Ridge Avenue in the North Mountain subdivision. "Prices have bottomed out, interest rates won't go any lower, affordability is the highest it's been in 50 years."
During 2010 and the first half of 2011, most of the North Mountain subdivision was owned by Umpqua Bank, which foreclosed on the properties originally owned by North Mountain Land Co., which was developing the subdivision.
Ayala believes a major reason for the recent burst in residential construction activity in Ashland is because investors, such as himself, were able to purchase foreclosed properties from banks for such low costs.
"We were able to buy improved lots that we can actually build on today "… but when this runs out, it's going to run out," he said. "Banks are also delaying foreclosures, which allows for this window of opportunity."
According to the latest real estate sales numbers compiled by the Southern Oregon Multiple Listing Service, Jackson County's inventory has dwindled from 1,310 units a year ago to 780 at the start of this year. In that period, the inventory based on rate of sales has declined from 7.2 months of housing stock to 3.5 months.
City of Ashland planners are noticing the uptick in activity, said Bill Molnar, community development director for the city.
So far this fiscal year, which ends June 31, the city has issued 25 building permits for single-family residential homes, he said.
According to a city report, only 24 permits were issued during all of last fiscal year. The city hasn't issued more than 50 a year since the 2006-2007 fiscal year, when it handed out 58.
"Whether at the end of the next six months we're at 50 and we double it, it's just hard to know," Molnar said. "I'm cautiously optimistic.
Reach Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email email@example.com.