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A fight over just who should have access to the waters of Oswego Lake is always simmering. Some say the lake belongs to the whole community and needs to be public. Others are coming down on the side of leaving access where it is now, largely with those who live on the lake or have access through easements.
In defense of the status quo, Doug Thomas, president of the board of directors for the Lake Oswego Corporation (the organization that manages the lake) had this to say: "Every 10 years or so, someone makes a challenge as to why everyone and anyone can’t come into the lake … But the shareholders built this lake and have maintained it for over a hundred years. Why would we let everyone have access to our backyards?"
Then he added an important dimension to the debate, telling The Oregonian that "We’re not exclusive. There are homes for sale on and around the lake right now for under $150,000 that anyone is welcome to buy."
We might be a little out of touch, but "exclusive" is, in fact, one of the first words that comes to mind when we think about Lake Oswego. Generally speaking, the city carries a reputation as an upscale community for those who take home more than most. It seemed to us that $150,000 for a home in the area was a stretch -- let alone a home that sits on or near the lake.
We couldn’t help ourselves; we had to check his claim.
Our first call was to the Clackamas County assessor’s office. Lynn Longfellow, a sales analyst there, admitted to having heard something about Thomas’ comment earlier. She was similarly confused. She guessed there might be some condos with access to the lake for under $150,000, but she doubted there was anything on the lake for that price.
The cheapest she could remember a house on the lake going for was $300,000 -- a short sale with some slide issues. "I can’t imagine anything (else) on the lake selling for $300,000," she said. Let alone $150,000.
Still, she was kind enough to run us last year’s sales data, so we could take a closer look for ourselves.
As far as waterfront property goes -- that means canals and the lake itself -- the cheapest sale documented was for just over $500,000. If you’re talking Lake Oswego and Lake Grove generally, six homes went for less than $150,000. None of them looked as though they’d be in areas with easement rights -- though we can’t say for certain as the map on the Lake Corp. website isn’t definitive.
If you take a look at condos specifically, things look a little more promising. About 44 condos in the whole of Lake Oswego -- half of those listed -- went for less than $150,000. Few of them were in the estimated easement areas, but we did find a couple, including one in Lake Grove that went for just over $100,000.
To put that figure in a little bit of context, though, of the 580 stand-alone homes sold in the area last year -- and the figures aren’t completely final -- six sold for less than $150,000, while more than 200 sold for $500,000 or higher.
To check the current market, which seemed to be Thomas’ focus, we pulled up current listings in the area on the Windemere Real Estate website. First we searched for strictly waterfront properties under $150,000. Not a single one came up. When we left the waterfront part out, 20 properties popped up, about five of which appeared to be close enough to potentially have lake access via an easement -- though we can’t be sure. Those five properties were all condos. The cheapest listing that explicitly mentioned lake access was for a condo priced at $100,000.
Based on that quick search, it seemed like Thomas might be right as far as homes around the lake go -- so long as you consider a condo a home. But there is still nothing directly on the lake, house or condo, that appears to be available for less than $150,000.
Still, we’re hardly professionals when it comes to real estate, so we phoned Hasson Realtors, an agency that works in the area, for another take.
Bill Marquard, one of the real estate agents with Hasson, was happy to help. He quickly found around 10 condos that were listed for less than $150,000 and would have lake access. Some condos at a property that was formerly an apartment complex even had docks.
"You definitely have condos," Marquard said. "You can get into Lake Oswego and have access to the lake for definitely under $150,000." But as for stand-alone houses, "I wouldn't say impossible but very, very difficult.
"What's your definition of a home?" he asked.
Finally, we wanted to talk to Thomas. After all, he’s the one who made the statement we’re ruling on. After repeated phone calls, we finally got him on the line. He said condos are just as much a home as a house and he pointed out the apartments-turned-condos that were going for under $150,000.
"I'm not trying to mislead anybody," Thomas said. "I think everybody always assumes that these properties are expensive."
So that brings us to our ruling. Last week, Thomas told the Oregonian that there were "homes for sale on and around (Oswego Lake) right now for under $150,000 that anyone is welcome to buy." So far as we can tell, there’s nothing on the lake, condos or otherwise, that hits that mark. There are some condos with lake access that go for less than $150,000. But that price is hardly the norm.
Those are important details -- and his statement ignores them. We give this a Half True.
The Oregonian, "Lake Oswego residents, critics spar over public access to 415-acre private lake," Feb. 11, 2012
Interview with Lynn Longfellow, sales data analyst at Clackamas County assessor’s office, Feb. 15, 2012
Clackamas County assessor’s office, sales data, 2011
Windermere Real Estate’s website, home listings, Feb. 14, 2012
Interview with Bill Marquard, real estate agent with Hasson Realtors, Feb. 17, 2012
Interview with Doug Thomas, board of directors president of the Lake Oswego Corporation, Feb. 17, 2012
Lake Oswego Review, "Condos: Enjoying the breezy lake lifestyle," Updated Oct. 30, 2009
Lake Oswego Corporation, Easement Map, Feb. 17, 2012
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