The rise and fall of a homebuilding empire

About four years ago, R.W. Hertel and Sons' real estate empire was expanding with no apparent end in sight. Flush with profits from roughly 1,000 homes built in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, partners Ronald W. Hertel and Robert Fowler had a fleet of jets, a yacht, a Camarillo golf course and plans to build hundreds more homes in Atascadero, Santa Margarita, Pismo Beach, Central and Northern California, Oregon and Arizona.

Now the company has dissolved, its partnership split. Hertel and Fowler are buried under millions of dollars of debt and foreclosures, and their home-building company, R.W. Hertel and Sons, has been forced into an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

"These were jet-setting developers who unfortunately crashed," said Vance Rose, who worked with R.W. Hertel and Sons as a winemaker in one of its endeavors.

In August, Rose bought the winery in Santa Margarita from them and their lender, Mission Community Bank, as the partners attempted to divest themselves of their debts, he said.

Such stories of failure in the home-building industry have become increasingly common.

The National Association of Home Builders estimates that more than 20,000 residential developers across the country have shut down in the last two years.

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