These days, most ski resorts worry about running out of slopeside real estate, so they scramble to squeeze in building after building before they post the "sold out" sign. Not so for Mt. Bachelor, in central Oregon. There are no hotels, no ski-in/ski-out condos nor any fancy villages at the base of the mountain. With the exception of six day lodges and a dozen lifts, the ski area is unencumbered by the real-estate sprawl typical of most North American ski resorts. Located on federally owned forestland, Bachelor is strictly off-limits to developers.
Buyers scouting the second-home market might see this as a glass-half-empty or a glass-half-full situation. On one hand, skiers have to drive 20 minutes to reach the slopes from the nearest residential neighborhoods. On the other hand, from those distances you can see the entire mountain, a dormant volcano towering over its surroundings, which include the Three Sisters Wilderness. Bachelor offers skiing in the raw—on a prodigious 3,683 lift-served acres—and the accompanying sense of freedom.
But if Mt. Bachelor sits like a lonely sentinel in the high desert, the city of Bend (22 miles north) is like an agitated anthill. This once sleepy hamlet of 1920s bungalows and weeping willow trees lining an elbow of the Deschutes River is now the hub for one heck of a real-estate bender. The original small-town charm is still there, in the little downtown boutiques and restaurants, but during the past decade the city's population has more than doubled, from 29,400 to 70,000, making it the sixth-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States.
On the outskirts of town, large housing subdivisions are springing up. Late in 2005, Sunriver, arguably the first true destination resort in the area, opened its new 950-acre Caldera Springs project to presales. In two days, buyers claimed 203 of 206 lots at prices ranging from $235,000 to $475,000. Sold by the Deschutes National Forest as surplus land, the property features a nine-hole golf course, several man-made lakes, and miles of hiking and biking trails.
Last summer, Brasada Ranch (east of Bend) sold 201 home sites for $200,000 to $450,000 each. This was followed in October by an offering of 57 cabins, ranging from 1,200 to 1,700 square feet in size, and priced from $450,000 to $700,000. The bed-golf-and-ski craze and an attendant flood of speculators are also creating brisk markets in new residential communities such as Awbrey Glen, Widgi Creek, Broken Top, Three Rivers South and the more distant Pronghorn, north of Bend.
"Last year was explosive for real estate, and 2006 could see as many as 1,100 new homes, most of them with modest footprints of 1,400 to 2,200 square feet," says Frank Bonacquisti, a broker for Windermere/Central Oregon Real Estate. The city projects a need for 23,000 new homes over the next 25 years.
A few condominium and time-share projects are also in the mix. Eric Carmichael, a broker with Kerr Oliver & Company, suggests that bargain hunters consider Seventh Mountain Resort, an older property on the road to Mt. Bachelor, which has changed ownership and completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. One-sixth shared interests start at around $22,000 for a two-bedroom condo.
While the quaint craftsman homes in downtown Bend are expensive for many buyers, new apartments and condos planned for a mixed commercial and residential complex in Bend's Old Mill District should prove more affordable, with loft-type living spaces of around 800 square feet, says Geoff Groener, broker for John L. Scott Real Estate.
Most buyers are from the West Coast, from L.A. to Seattle, and most, Groener says, come for the activities that abound in central Oregon. "It doesn't take much to plan a day of skiing in the morning, golf in the afternoon and flyfishing at sunset," he says. But there's one little problem in buying vacation property in Bend: After a few weeks, you might want too take up full-time residency.