Lake Martin Voice Realty
Archive for the 'Real Estate Tips' Category
Anytime is a great time for taking pictures around Lake Martin.
I can think of so many great occasions – times when you want to say “look at me, I’m still fishing and you’re at work,” hiking, hunting, or just plain ole hanging out.
If you are like me, you imagine these perfect photo opportunities and how good they would look on social media. Your subject looks dazzling. The picture is composed so well that Kenneth Boone would nod in artistic appreciation. Your “friends” on Facebook would seethe with envy, yet comment something like “so cute” or “time, please slow down!”
If you are like me, you also mess up just about 99 out of 100 shots you take. Everyone’s hair is combed; the dog is looking directly in the camera; the kids appear genuinely like a gunfighter in a spaghetti western. Ugh!
The same goes for real estate photography.
Sure, I will grant you, no one is likely to print out a picture of your home from the MLS and hang it on their fridge. It probably will not go viral like the “Back to School” shots of your kids, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Having really good pictures of a home that is for sale is still paramount in my business. I really like all of the media that we have these days – video, aerial footage and 3D walkthroughs – but that doesn’t mean we agents should forsake the humble photograph.
The most important picture is the first one listed in the MLS or online. That’s because we know from the numbers that 90% of homebuyers use the web to scout for homes. A great majority of people’s first move is to look online, not call an agent. That lead picture is the home’s mug shot. It is the maker or breaker. If the first picture doesn’t look good, the ever-roving eye of the buyer will move on without a click.
That is why it’s really important to take the best pictures possible. Everybody knows this, but at the lake it means getting really nice shots of the lake side of the house. For a waterfront home, the lake side is the main side. Buyers come for the lake, so the lake is the most important thing.
It sounds pretty elementary, but time and time again, I see pictures on the MLS or on other sites where it’s obvious that the agent or owner did not take this into account. If I were a seller of a waterfront home on Lake Martin, I would insist on the best media possible – pictures, 3D tours, etc. The whole nine yards. I would make the main thing the main thing. Show me a great picture of the lakeside facade.
One of the steps in getting great pictures is having superb lighting. The best possible. I am nowhere near a professional photographer, but at least I try to get the best light. To do that, I have to figure out the time of day that is going to be most flattering for the outside of the home. This differs for every home on Lake Martin because the lake side of the home might be facing in any direction.
If you have a west facing home and take early morning pictures, your results will be draped in shadow. You have to plan around that.
Also, at Lake Martin, many waterfront homes sit on wooded lots, so you have to take that into account. What sun angle would be best to avoid the trees casting shadows all over that outdoor kitchen? Not just morning or afternoon, but what exact time of day? If you were really doing a good job, you would want to take pictures of every side of the house.
Do you need to come back another day at a different time and take more pictures or video of different sides of the house to take advantage of differing light situations? Will it be cloudy the day you try?
How then, can you plan for shadows and the path of the sun? Does it require camping out and taking notes for an entire day?
Enter my not-so-secret-weapon-of-a-website: suncalc.net.
I was tipped off to this website by my friend and architect Bryan Jones. Architects are another group of professionals that really pay attention to the sun.
This site will tell you the best time of day at any place around the world. Just plug in an address, and you can see the sun’s path at any given time on any given day of the year.
Where should you take pictures Easter morning at Grandma’s house? When’s the best time to photograph your dock at the lake? All of these questions can be answered at suncalc.net.
Incidentally, if you want to shoot Acapulco Rock in the full sun in the middle of August, try 11:05 a.m.
Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine. I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine.
If you are curious about old cabins around Lake Martin (some maybe from the 1950s as advertised above) you are not alone. Here’s a question one of my buyers emailed me the other day:
Q: We have been renting houses on Lake Martin for years. This past weekend we took a long boat ride looking around. We saw several old cabins that looked unused. Just curious as to if these ever go up for sale?
A: Thanks for the email. That’s a great question. I see old cabins around Lake Martin all the time, too. Most (99%) of the time there is a reason for it. Like, maybe it’s an old family cabin and they can’t decide what to do about it. I can’t blame them, because it is hard to give up on generations of memories!
Or maybe the person has decided to hold on to it in order to get more when they sell in the future, but doesn’t want to fix it up. I can’t blame homeowners like this, either. Historically, Lake Martin (like most waterfront real estate markets) has had very high appreciation over the long term.
Or, maybe the owner would sell it but they have a crazy high price in mind (this happens a lot). Honestly, I can’t relate to home owners like this. I know that your home is “one of a kind” – but people will compare to others. When buyers come to Lake Martin, they typically will walk through seven or eight homes per visit. This is after whittling down a list of twenty they found on the web.
My rule of thumb is, if they want to sell it, it would be on the market. These type of cabins get calls, emails, and letters from people all the time (mostly agents) that want to buy it. They are presented with many opportunities, so if you as a buyer contacted them, you will likely be joining a long list of interested parties.
A more likely scenario happens when home owners call me and ask what I think their Lake Martin property is worth. At least those folks are considering selling, but not always. With a second home market like Lake Martin, you’re dealing with buyers that don’t “Have” to buy, and sellers that don’t “Have” to sell. That makes it kind of unique.
Does Lake Martin Area Association of Realtors (LMAAR) have ALL the listings for Lake Martin or are there some listed through realtors that are not on that site?
Several months ago I had a potential client ask me the question – “Where are Lake Martin homes listed for sale?” He told me that he and his wife were constantly looking (more looking than anything) for a home to purchase at Lake Martin. They checked the LMAAR website several times a month to look.
LMAAR has 99.5% of all properties that actually sell on the Lake. If you look on the Montgomery Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) website you’ll see 10 to 20 at any given moment but all of them are also listed on LMAAR. Occasionally there will one on MAAR that is not on LMAAR, thus my < 100% number. All of the agents that are serious and full time about Lake Martin (like me) live and breath the LMAAR MLS.
To help my clients I can set up an account on my LMAAR MLS feed. Click here for the link. It is not public and no one else will see it.
Setting up your account will help you save the properties you have seen and share feedback with your spouse. It can also be set up to auto alert you by email when something pops up in your area and price range. If you aren’t interested in registering, no sweat, but some folks like to be alerted so they don’t miss anything, and properties in some Lake areas are going fast these days.
Here is helpful information from one Lake Martin couple who purchased a fixer upper.
When I met with the homeowners back in December, I had no idea (and neither did they) that they would decide to sell their Lake home. I wanted to write an article for Lake Magazine about remodeling at the Lake and stopped by the cabin to take some “after” photos and ask a few questions.
Remodeling is popular these days. If you are unaware of this trend, just flip on the TV. Waco, Texas, has the adorable Chip and his wife Joanna. Los Angeles has Christina and whatever male she decides to include on her show.
So in going along with the trend of “old to new,” I thought I would write about lake home remodeling. When homebuyers come to Lake Martin, they often wrestle with this issue.
“Do I want to buy a brand new home? Or am I up for a remodel of an older home? How large of a remodel project would I like?” they might ask themselves.
I thought it might be helpful to talk to a couple that has actually been through the process and hear what they have to say. Granted, their experience is personal and limited to one home. But, they did put considerable thought into their remodel, and it might be entertaining and enlightening for all.
Here is their story:
Don and Kristie are from Birmingham, Alabama. They bought their home in 2011. It is located on the north side of Lake Martin and was originally built as a fish camp style home with concrete block construction. It was extremely functional but short on refinement.
The home’s original construction date was listed at 1960, but subsequent owners had made improvements along the way. While Don and Kristie loved the home as it was, they naturally sought to personalize it. Here’s a Q&A of their Lake Martin remodel story:
When you first started your home search, did you want to buy a home that was move-in ready, or were you looking for a fixer upper or a project?
Our first priority was to buy a home with great water frontage with pretty view and a level lot for kids to play. At our price range, that dictated a fixer upper.
When you bought it, did you envision fixing it up this much?
Yes, but not with any definitive timeline. It was just as we could afford with money and time. There was no rush because we did not live there full time, so it was nice to do a little and walk away for a bit. Being patient helped us to get to know the house and what we really wanted out of it.
What was your first project, and was that the same project you planned when you bought?
The house was quaint and charming, but we wanted to personalize it to our tastes. We pulled out all carpet and baseboards and slowly started to replace with a floating floor and new baseboards. During that process, we took what furnishings came with the house to refurbish pieces with paint and distressing. That helped to clear some stuff and allow for flooring. It also helped us to visualize how to put each space back together from a decorating standpoint.
Which part gave you the most instant gratification?
Paint. Paint will transform a space. If the ceilings in a lake house are not that special, consider painting them the same color as walls. It really opens up a room and makes it feel larger. That is something many people will look sideways at you for suggesting until it’s actually done.
Which part was the least fun to spend money on?
Electricians and plumbers.
Did you experience “project creep,” e.g., “as long as we are fixing X we might as well fix Y?”
A tad but not tremendously. To offset the creep, we would look for ways to do things inexpensively but still with good impact, things that we might not otherwise do if it was our primary home. For example, in the kitchen, we had white Formica countertops that were fine for a lake house. But we added the pass-through and purchased a remnant of honed granite for the bar top. Instead of spending thousands on the kitchen countertop, we found Formica that was basically identical to the granite. It only cost a few hundred dollars, and it looks fine for the small space.
How did you budget for this? Did you decide on a total amount to spend and wait until you had it and then start, or did you know that you wanted to do this or that project and just did it?
The rule was, if we couldn’t pay for it out of pocket, we were not doing it. That governed our time and pace. With it being a second home, we were not so antsy to ‘get it done’ immediately.
Anything you would change?
I wish I had peeked at the ceilings in the oldest part of the house during renovation. I always wondered why the ceilings were lower in the old original camp house. Far down the road after interior was done, we were working on the sun porch that required us to reveal part of the ceiling, and it was discovered there was old tongue and groove on the ceiling. It was one of those moments of “who the heck covers this up!”
What was the hardest part of remodeling from afar?
Just having to be patient knowing we had limited time to work on it and making ourselves stop to enjoy the view every now and then.
Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine. I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine.
Recently I had a conversation with Don Manuel of Alabama Power Credit Union (APCO Employees Credit Union) to discuss two topics. The first topic we discussed revolved around closing costs on mortgage loans, and the second was APCO’s new relationship with Lake Martin Resource Association (LMRA).
Don: Thanks for asking about the promotion. This really is a unique offering from a financial institution. The Credit Union is a not for profit cooperative. When the Credit Union is successful, we return our profits to members through lower borrowing rates and higher savings rates. We also have a fantastic mortgage operation. Our goal was to make a splash during the slower time of the year (January and February) for mortgage lending, so we came up with the ZERO Closing Costs Mortgage Promotion. It is really just another way to give back to our members.
John: When you say ZERO closing costs, does that include the origination fee?
Don: Yes, ZERO origination fee.
John: What about appraisal fee?
Don: Absolutely! The appraisal fee is included, too.
John: What other incentives are included in ‘ZERO Closing Costs’?
Don: Just about everything you think of when you hear the words, “closing costs”. In addition to not charging an origination fee, we don’t charge a fee for underwriting, appraisal, title insurance, doc prep, credit report, flood determination, tax monitoring, application or closing. The promotion covers everything, except recurring items like taxes and insurance. There is a complete list on our website, apcocu.org. Of course, terms and conditions apply.
John: How long are you running this mortgage promotion?
Don: The promotion started January 1 and will run through the end of February.
Don: LMRA is a non-profit organization that has been around since the 1970’s. Even though our CEO, Derrick Ragland, and I have both been lake homeowners for over 30 years, we had not crossed paths with LMRA until last year. We learned that LMRA is dedicated to promoting, preserving and protecting Lake Martin and the adjacent areas. Their goals of safety, clean water, stable water levels and overall enjoyment of the lake was a sentiment we shared. While meeting with the LMRA board, we learned more about the organization and realized our credit union and LMRA could accomplish much more together than we could separately. Our credit union is a “closed” field of membership financial institution. In order to become a member, you must be associated with a specific company or organization that is a Select Employee Group (SEG). LMRA and APCO agreed to work towards a partnership that would give the group SEG status. The affiliation process was successfully completed and we’re happy to play a small role in aiding LMRA’s mission, while opening the door for members of the organization to join the Credit Union.
John: What do you have on the horizon with LMRA during 2017?
Don: With the start of the New Year, LMRA began a membership drive. We are supporting and collaborating with their efforts in any way we can. The Credit Union has more than 70,000 members. We believe many of them share in our support of the LMRA initiative of preserving Lake Martin and the protection of Alabama waterways. We want to do what we can to grow awareness for the LMRA and its projects.
Zillow doesn’t work here at Lake Martin for selling waterfront real estate. It is terribly inaccurate.
I get reminded of this every now and then when I hold my nose and wade into their site. Today I was looking at a Zillow advertisement for a waterfront property on the Dadeville side of Lake Martin. The Zestimate was crazy wrong. But….. that goes without saying. Aren’t we all used to that by now?
What caught my eye is some of the wacky supplemental info that Zillow tried to give for the home. Dadeville’s zip is 36853, and Zillow thinks that the nearby zip codes of 36023 (East Tallassee) and 36256 (Daviston) are comparable to this property. Huh? Seriously? Here’s the reality- homes that are a half mile away from this one, but also in Dadeville, are NOT comparable, either. That’s because an off water home in Dadeville is not comparable to one that is waterfront on Lake Martin. The lot drives the value on Lake Martin.
Common sense, right? Well, it seems the computer nerds at Zillow haven’t figured out how to program for that.
Also- check out the “nearby” neighborhoods. Hello? Only one of the five of those has any waterfront on Lake Martin. I have never heard of the other four.
Lake Martin Zillow FAQ:
Why is Zillow so wrong here at Lake Martin? Many reasons. Among them is that the counties around Lake Martin do not report sales data to Zillow. Neither does our MLS. The result is that Zillow’s database is bloated with homes and lots, many of which are out of date, inaccurate, have sub-standard media, and are poorly described. This leads to buyer frustration (“What? This home’s listing was cancelled two years ago?”) and seller anger (“What? It says my house has 0 bathrooms!”).
Then why is Zillow so popular nationally? Zillow is not in the real estate business. They are in the “sell ads to real estate agents” business. To be frank, they are good at scaring the poop out of real estate agents like me when they cold call us. The pitch is, “we are so awesome! Don’t you want to be The Featured Agent in your area?” I respond, “My area? You mean Sessions? Or Buttston? or Tohopeka? No thanks. I will keep my money and you keep that title.” Agents that do give money to Zillow soon find out that Zillow takes their money and uses it to advertise to – you guessed it – other agents, pressuring them to outbid the original agent for the (occasionally) coveted Featured Agent for the area.
Will I ever advertise on Zillow? Who knows. I never say never. Maybe one day Zillow will get its act together for Lake Martin real estate. Maybe their SEO will start to beat mine. Maybe they will actually become a useful tool for home sellers and buyers here. When that happens, I will hop right on board. Occasionally I hear of a FSBO that uses the site with some success. Sometimes I will even recommend that FSBOs try Zillow out if they are so inclined, but right now it just doesn’t make sense for me. I am a full time, professional real estate agent with other, much more powerful marketing tools with which to help buyers and sellers here at Lake Martin.
When I helped Pat & Betsy buy their waterfront home on Lake Martin, I set a personal sales record of which I am very proud.
Before you groan and think I am just another real estate agent boasting about my earnings, this record is not about the money. It wasn’t a gajillion dollar sales price and commission (although it was very nice).
No, they set my record as my longest looking buyers. I’ve been working with them to find their perfect home on Lake Martin for a while. Take a second to watch the video and see how long it has been and what the first thing they planned to do after closing. It seems there was a slight disagreement.
The reason I mention this is I find that when helping some Lake Martin home buyers they feel they can’t start talking with me because they aren’t ready to buy tomorrow and don’t want to “waste my time.”
I always tell them 1.) there is no way you are going to set the record for my longest looker, and 2.) that it’s not a “waste of time” and we can look at their pace.
I am not a high pressure real estate sales guy. I understand that finding a lake house can sometimes take a while, especially here at Lake Martin. That being said, there are plenty of people that I help that find their dream home on the first day. But the majority of successful outings happen like – they contact me (through phone, web or the Lake Martin MLS) – we start talking, we prioritize for matches that come on the market in the future. We talk some more and they give me feedback, then come up to see some homes. That way, when we are looking, there’s a good chance we are looking at “maybes.” If they don’t find their one on that trip, we rinse and repeat.
Just so you know, Pat and Betsy weren’t Lake Martin newbies. In fact, they were two of the more experienced “lakey” buyers I’ve ever had the pleasure of helping. They knew exactly where they wanted to be on the lake, knew how they would use the home, and knew when it was right for them and their family to pull the trigger.
It wasn’t a nine year frantic search, instead it was a slow and steadily monitoring, knowing what was right for them.
Are you ready to break their record? I hope someone is! Contact me here or at the number at the top of the page and let’s get started.
2026 will be here before you know it!
The State of Alabama requires a certain amount of education before one can sit for the real estate licensing test. One huge part of the licensing education is a discussion of professional liability. The training includes a seemingly constant refrain that the potential agent should always quote sources and encourage consumers to consult an attorney. When I took those courses, I often wondered; if we are steadily telling people to consult an attorney, why do they need an agent?
The answer is a wise one: Let lawyers practice law, and let agents stick to real estate.
As such, I would encourage the reader to consult an attorney on all of the matters below, as I am just a real estate agent. Not a lawyer.
With that disclosure out of the way, I would like to talk about subjects that sometimes cause confusion when buyers and sellers negotiate a real estate contract. In Alabama, the law says that everything is negotiable. There are no standard terms or standard rules.
I will say that, from market to market, we do find that local customs prevail. I find it interesting that even in the same state there are varying degrees of “normal.” Agents from other areas, such as Montgomery, Auburn, Birmingham or even the beach, show property here at Lake Martin, and sometimes, even present offers. When that happens, there is usually a frank discussion between agents to identify the parts of a contract that might be different in each region. Even when both agents are from the lake, a clear understanding of all the contract terms is paramount. I will attempt to touch on a few parts of the sale that might possibly be confusing.
One important part of a real estate transaction is figuring out when the buyer actually takes possession of the real estate purchased. In the case of a lot purchase, it is really no big deal. Usually, the seller has little or no property on site; therefore, there is nothing to move. But what about a home purchase?
In this situation, buyers and sellers can agree to just about anything. Two possibilities are: 1) buyer takes possession at closing, or 2) buyer takes possession, say, two days after closing. I have seen cases where the seller doesn’t move out, but instead rents back from the buyer for a month.
Admittedly, around Lake Martin, closings like that are pretty rare. That is understandable, as most buyers use the properties as vacation homes and are looking forward to vacating as soon as possible. In many a closing, the buyers drive up to the closing attorney’s office in a U-Haul, loaded to the gills and ready to move and hit the water for some fun.
Sometimes, sellers might want to wait and not give possession until after the actual closing. They might think, why should I move all of my stuff out before I am absolutely sure that I will get my money? I can see their logic, but the same could be said by the buyer. Why should I give them my money when they haven’t even started moving out yet?
The point is this: Be sure to read the contract and negotiate based on your preferences; however, I would guess that 95 % of the time, possession is given at closing here at Lake Martin. Maybe this gets back to the high second home rate in the area. Maybe it is because, many times, furniture is involved, and that cuts down the burden of moving.
Speaking of furniture, that’s another area of the contract that sometimes causes confusion. I get a lot of buyers that ask a common question when walking through homes, “Is the furniture included?”
Again, it pays to be really specific. As a buyer, if you can’t imagine finding a kitchen table more perfect for your family, go ahead and write it in the contract. If you are the seller, and you know that no matter what, there is no way you can part with your MeMaw’s antique rocker, it is wise to specify it as excluded in the contract.
Exclusions can work on the buyer side, too. I have had a few buyers say, “they better be sure to get that junk in the yard out of here,” and we have had to write it in as an exclusion.
One last word on furniture and any other personal property: Consult your lender on the wording here. Some underwriters have major objections to seeing anything, even refrigerators, included in the real estate contract. Other loan underwriters don’t mind, as long as you state that they are adding no value to the real estate purchase. Check before you write it up.
Surveys are another example of possible confusion. I have had agents tell me there is a law in the State of Alabama that says all sellers must provide a survey. That is incorrect. In fact, most brokers’ contracts are written in such a way that you have to check a blank to stipulate who will pay for a survey, buyer or seller. Again, consult an attorney to be sure you understand the contract.
Did you clean up after yourself?
If you are a seller in the home transaction, is there a clause in the contract that addresses the cleanliness of the home? If you are the buyer, is this a high priority? If so, make sure you have some language in the contract that covers it. Also, maybe you had better schedule a walk through before closing, so you can make sure the contract was followed. There are many definitions of “clean,” so in my opinion, it is difficult to address this in writing.
When I am advising sellers on this subject, I ask them to go overboard. I have never seen a buyer complain that a house is too clean. The main point here is that nothing is standard. Sellers are not required to dust the first bunny. Put it in writing.
Those are just a few areas of the real estate sale that might cause potential misunderstandings. To find out more, talk to your real estate agent, and yes, consult an attorney.
Note: I originally published this article in my monthly column in Lake Magazine. I am proud to write about Lake Martin Real Estate for Lake Magazine.
How hard is it to sign a contract to buy waterfront real estate in Lake Martin?
The answer – I try to make it as easy as possible!
These days most Lake Martin buyers are 2 1/2 – 3 hours away. They come to the Lake to real estate shop and enjoy a little mini vacation. On their drive home they spend time talking, texting or calling about lake property.
When ready to make an offer and (hopefully) sign a contract they don’t have to leave the comfort of their home. It is not like the old days: come to the office, sign mimeograph copies of the contract, etc.
One of the ways this process has gotten easier is using DocuSign. DocuSign is electronic signature technology letting you electronically exchange contracts or other signed documents.
An awesome example of how well this works happened earlier this year.
While the husband was moose hunting on the Alaskan pipeline aka The Haul Road he received a call telling him, “You got the house!” He had to hike a little ways to get a better signal to sign his sales contract but hey – he was able to get right back hunting! Watch the video for the full story.
Like a lot of people, I love to check out how Lake Martin home buyers renovate their waterfront homes after the purchase.
I was really excited earlier this summer when I stopped by a lake home in the north Lake Martin area that I had sold a few years ago. The young couple who bought it wanted me to see the results of their remodeling job. They renovated the bedrooms upstairs, and really put a number on the basement!
And wow – the basement (aka lake level) had been transformed! Sometimes the word “basement” makes us think of a dark, damp and dreary space – sort of scary. Nothing scary here!
The previous owners had used the area for storage. While it was easy to see the potential for this large space it would not be an easy project even for the handiest DIYer or professional contractor, yet the buyers performed most of the work themselves. From design to installation of some tricky sheetrock and carpentry, this was almost 100% their remodeling work!
With this renovated lake level area the homeowners have probably doubled the size of their home. They added a finished bedroom in the space and a bright family room with its own door to the lake side deck. The existing bathroom was updated and expanded. The interior stairs were improved and made more user friendly.
The exterior also received some updating. The old single garage door was removed and replaced with two custom wood, barn style faux doors that look amazing and really add to the lake appeal of the home.
Don’t just take my word for it – look at these before and after photos below!
By the way, if you are looking for a contractor or subcontractor to help you with a remodel, renovation, or new construction around Lake Martin, CONTACT ME HERE and I would be glad to make some recommendations.