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6 Questions To Ask At An Auction On Lake Martin

Lake Martin Auction property home25 waterfront condos are being auctioned at Harbor Pointe in Stillwaters on July 7th.  Five of those will be absolute.  This auction follows on the heels of one earlier this spring.  Is this a sign of the times on Lake Martin?  Does this signal an end to the seller’s market? Are auctions a way to get a good deal on Lake Martin property?

Like any real estate transaction, every auction is uniqueThe person that does the homework will either come out of it with a fair price or avoid paying too much.

What questions should buyers ask before attending an auction at Lake Martin?

1.  Is this an absolute auction?  Always clarify this, but usually an absolute auction means that they must sell on that day, regardless of price.  Even if someone bids $1 for a Lake Martin condo, they must sell.  If it is not absolute, then ask what the reserve price is.  I’m sure they won’t tell you that, but no harm in asking.
2.  How many / which parcels are absolute? The Harbor Pointe auction will have 5 out of 25 absolute.  But,  if you see an ad for a different auction that says “40 condos for sale, absolute auction” maybe only 2 will be absolute. You want to be clear as to which are absolute and you want to make sure that you’re under the tent when they’re selling the absolute ones.
3.  Have these properties been for sale before?  The auction company may or may not know the answer, or they may or may not be obliged to tell you.  Here’s where your Lake martin real estate property auctionresearch comes in the picture.  How well do you know the Lake Martin market?  Or Stillwaters? Or Harbor Pointe? If the lake properties have been for sale recently, the listing prices can give you an idea of the seller’s expectations.
4.  What do you have to do to be a qualified bidder?  Usually you can give them a check for like $5,000 or something or a letter from the bank, usually it is better to set this up ahead of time, the week before the auction.
5.  What are the fees to the buyer?  Usually the buyer pays a fee above and on top of the bid amount  – this could be 5% to 10% – to cover the cost of the auction and the auctioneer fees.  This is sometimes a big part of their pitch to sellers.  They say, why pay realtor fees of 6% when you can make the buyer pay 10%?  Sellers think they are saving money but it all comes down to what is net to them anyway, and buyers figure that in when they bid and reduce their top number by, say, 10%.  Whatever.
6.  Will you send me the rules of the auction ahead of time? I ask for those.  I read everything.  Every auction is a bit different.  Maybe I will spot something that I didn’t think to ask about originally.
Sometimes I have Lake Martin buyers ask me about things like this, where I am neither the listing agent nor involved in any way. If they are interested, I can call the auction company for the buyer and register them as a potential bidder.  The auction company usually pays an extremely small “referral fee” to realtors like me when they register a buyer that is a high bidder.  This doesn’t cost the buyer a penny more because the buyer’s fee will be the same whether I call them or the buyer calls them directly.  But if I do call, I can ask them all of the above questions and give my analysis.
Lake Martin home auctionIn the case of the Harbor Pointe auction, I would run a buyer a report of all of the sales in Harbor Pointe in the last 2 years, and give a bidder an idea of what the exact market price should be on a condo there.  This gives you a pretty precise point to bid up to without getting hurt too bad.  Again, it won’t cost a dime more, and could arm you with a lot of information for the auction.  If my registered buyer is not a high bidder, they don’t owe me a penny.
I will definitely be watching the auction at Harbor Pointe to see what happens. (Thanks, Kirk, for the idea for this post!)

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Mythbuster: Alabama Power Leased Lots – Lake Martin

Lake Martin Alabama power leased lotAlabama Power has leased waterfront lots on Lake Martin for decades.  Yet, so much rumor, speculation, and innuendo surrounds the topic it remains mysterious to many people, real estate agents included.

Allow me to try to bust the myth on this subject.

Why are there leased lots on Lake Martin?

Lake Martin dam alabama power real estateLake Martin was created in 1923 when the Southern Company (Alabama Power) built Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River.  They bought up all of the eventual waterfront at the elevation of 490 feet above sea level.  Since old Mr. Ben Russell (founder of Russell Mills), already owned the damming rights to the Tallapoosa, the Power Company swapped him those rights for one half of the waterfront.  Pretty much every inch of the 700 miles of waterfront of Lake Martin at one time or another was owned by either Alabama Power or Old Mr. Ben.

When did Alabama Power begin to lease lots on Lake Martin?

Sometime around in the 1960s, Alabama Power allowed people to build homes on the waterfront, but they retained ownership of the land underneath the home.  The people own the sticks and bricks, the company owns the dirt.  The people paid a monthly lease to do so.  Over the years, depending on the opinions of officers at Alabama Power, the homeowners were given the chance to buy the dirt under their homes.  No rhyme or reason to it, some years they would decide to sell, other years they would institute leases.  That policy continues today.  Who knows, they may decide to start selling lots to leaseholders tomorrow.  They might not.

How does a lot lease work on Lake Martin?

These days, when Alabama Power leases a waterfront lot to homeowners, they have a written lease, just like you would for an apartment.  The lease specifies the monthly rate (currently around $400), the length of the lease (currently twenty years), and the yearly increase of the rate.  The key here is that every lot is different, so if you’re concerned, consult a lawyer.  Alabama Power assigns the lease amount when they offer new lots for lease.  They offer the lots in a bid system, meaning, the homeowners bid offers of cash to pay for the privilege of entering the lease.  If you are the top bidder, then you must pay the monthly lease rate on top of that.

What happens at the lease end?

Again, you must examine each lease to be sure of how it works.  But generally speaking, at the end of the lease, one of 4 things can happen:

1.  Alabama Power renews the lease
2.  Alabama Power sells you the lot
3.  Alabama Power buys the house from you
4.  You pick up the house and leave.

My family has been selling real estate in the Lake Martin area since 1953.  We have never heard of Alabama Power buying a house, or making someone move their house away.  Not that it is impossible, but it is, in my opinion, highly, highly, improbable.  Most of the time they either renew the lease or sell you the lot.  Once again, if in doubt, talk to a lawyer.

Can you sell a leased lot home?

One word answer – YES.  There are plenty of great leased lot homesLake Martin real estate for sale now (like this one) on Lake Martin and many that have sold in the past.  Generally speaking, you can get more house or view for your money on a leased lot house than you can on a deeded lot home, because of the existence of the lease. The transaction works just like a deeded lot sale, except you have the added step of transferring the lease to the new owner.  Alabama Power must approve this transfer, but usually it’s just a matter of paperwork.

Can you finance a leased lot home?

YES – easily.  I almost always recommend that Lake Martin buyers use lenders from around the lake.  Not because I am related to any many of them, but because lake financing is usually a bit different than your standard McHouse in McSuburbia.  Local lenders are especially handy when it comes to financing a leased lot home.  They are familiar with all of the documentation, so it’s a lot easier to work with them.

Do you own a leased lot home and have some advice to add?  Or maybe you have questions that I haven’t answered here.  If so, please comment on this post and I will do my best to answer anything else.

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When Does The Water Level Go Down On Lake Martin?

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Free Boats At The Ridge Boat Show & Spring Home Tour

lake martin the Ridge marina boat showFree boats Lake Martin!!

Russell Lands’ big event is the Russell Marine In-Water Boat Show and Spring Tour of Homes at The Ridge. It is scheduled for two weekends, April 28 & 29 and also May 5 & May 6.

For the past couple of years, Russell Lands has done a couple of the Tour of Homes deals per year at The Ridge. This year they are combining it with a Boat Show at the Ridge Marina, hence the lengthy title “Russell Marine In-Water Boat Show & Spring Tour of Homes.

Basically you can go out to the Ridge Marina and test drive some boats. I understand theylake martin the ridge tour of homes will have ski boats, Hurricanes, pontoon boats, etc. Then, you hop in the car and go on the Spring Tour of Homes at the Ridge. Each of the featured homes will have a nice new boat parked out front.

Here it is – the payoff – the “free boat – : “if you buy one of the nine feature(d) homes you will also receive a brand new boat from Russell Marine.

Considering that the nine featured homes are all priced at over $1 million, the “free boat is a nice gesture, but it’s not like it’s worth 10% of the home’s value or anything.

But, if you or any of your loved ones need a house and a boat, and would like to buy one (or all!) nine homes, and would like to receive one or nine “free boats, just give me a call, I would be glad to arrange it!

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Lake Martin Real Estate Spotlight: The Ridge

Lake Martin Real Estate Spotlight: The Ridge

Lake Martin The Ridge LogoRussell Lands has developed neighborhoods on Lake Martin for over thirty years, but its newest, The Ridge, is vastly different from any one it has done before.

If you would like to see waterfront homes and lots for sale right now in The Ridge area, CLICK HERE to go to my Ridge Neighborhood page. I have a report that shows every waterfront home and lot for sale – by all agents, all brokerages, on Lake Martin. It pulls from the Lake Martin MLS so it will be current no matter when you visit the page.

Russell Lands has gated communities like Willow Point, and the Ridge is near to its other developments of Windermere, Windermere West, and Windover.  But The Ridge is a totally new animal.  Here are 5 Things That Make The Ridge Different:

1.  Heavy emphasis on selling through approved builders – Russell Lands started this Lake Martin trend a few years ago with Phase I of The Ridge, and continues it with Phase III.  They sell a certain number of lots to “approved” builders, who build spec houses and then turn around and sell them for the builders.  In prior developments, they sold almost 100% to the end homeowner.  The use of approved builders gives them much greater control over the quality of the homes.  They also get a lot of design consistency on the look of the homes by also having “approved” architects.  I think this also drives up the price so that their initial offering lot price to homeowners is pretty high.  As far as I can figure there is no real “pre-construction” pricing.

2.  The Ridge Marina – Russell Lands owns plenty of marinas around Lake Martin, but The Ridge Marina is the only one that is inside the gates of one of their developments.  It is a safe bet to say that The Ridge Marina is one of the largest marinas Ridge marina stack storage - smallon the lake.  The marina is close to Chimney Rock by water.  They sell gas, they have a huge line of boats that they sell, and also sell boating and skiing accessories.  Another big part of their business is boat storage.  You can rent a wet slip (a parking spot at a dock), but they are more expensive and rare than dry storage.  Dry storage is where they stack your boat on a huge rack inside their warehouse.  When you are ready to go, they come pick it off the rack with a forklift and put it in the water.  No matter how many times I see that it still makes me nervous.  They are adding on to the dry storage.  A company official was quoted as saying the The Ridge Marina will have the “biggest dry storage east of the Mississippi.”  That’s big, friends.

Lake Martin The Ridge Club3. The Ridge Club – Russell Lands is currently building a 9,000 square foot clubhouse called The Ridge Club.  While Willow Point has its Golf and Country Club, Willow Point residents are not necessarily members of the club, and vice versa.  In the Ridge, however, part of the homeowner association dues pays for membership to The Ridge Club.  Planned amenities include swimming pools, tennis courts, athletic fields, children’s play center, workout / cardio center, and a bar and grill.  From what I hear they have commercial lots set aside for possible restaurants, etc.  See the construction progress photos on the left.  It looks like it will be as nice as promised.

4.  Off water activities- Usually, in Lake Martin new construction developments, merely token emphasis is placed on off-water lots and properties.  At The Ridge, Russell Lands attempts to offer something to do off of the water, and (I assume) by association, raise Ridge club drawing - smallthe value of off-water residential lots.  They have designed sidewalks all through the Ridge, which is very different for the lake.  They also have cut in extensive walking trails through the woods around The Ridge.  I hear that the ultimate plan is to be able to walk, run, or bike on trails from The Ridge to Willow Point.  Look at a Lake Martin map to appreciate how huge of an area that is.  They also have plans for a town center located on highway 63, close to Windermere Road, that will have kitschy shops, a high end grocery store, and a gourmet restaurant.  (I will post more news as they confirm the details.)

5.  Marketing and Events – Russell Lands has promoted The Ridge like no other Lake Martin development.  If you haven’t received at least 3 mailers on it, you should have your feelings hurt, because they sent them to everyone in the area that pays taxes and has a pulse.  They also have been all over the home design type magazines.  Their homes have had multiple spotlights in Southern Living Magazine, and had tons of other regional media attention and write ups.  They also have really played up the Spring and Summer Tour of Homes.  This spring they have even tied the events in with a boat show at The Ridge Marina.  I have to hand it to them, it works. In the past ten years Lake Martin has gone from a regional treasure to getting attention on a national level.  This was due in large part to Russell Lands’ tirele$$ promotions.

If you wonder how long this will last, check the map.  They are selling Phase III now, with (I guess) a couple more phases left up the sleeve for The Ridge.  Then it’s on to the next big thing.  Does anyone have a guess on where the next one will be?  Comment below!

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Why I Give Away The Milk For Free

Lake Martin real estate changesThe Lake Martin Real estate market, like every other one in the country, has changed irreversibly. 

When my father Walter started in the business in 1973, the process was pretty much the same as when my grandfather Temple founded Coley Real Estate in 1953.  If you were a seller in the Lake Martin Area, and wanted to know what your home or lot was worth, you had to call an agent.  In 1953, in what is now the Lake Martin Area, there were two agents.  In 1973 I think there were three.  The process was – you called an agent, made an appointment, and physically came into the office.  Then you two would discuss your home.  He would tell you what home sales trends were.  There was no Lake Martin Multiple Listings Service.  No Lake Martin Homes Magazine.  Certainly no Internet.  You were totally dependent on the keepers of the information, the real estate agent.

Now, obviously, it is all different.  A Realtor’s office is no longer a thickly lake martin real estate agents guardwalled, heavily guarded fortress of information.  The web has enabled (almost) perfect information about sales prices and trends.  The MLS (Multiple Listings Service) web site is open to the public and easy to search.

So why do you still need a realtor now?  Especially if you’re a seller – you don’t need an agent if Lake Martin is still such a seller’s market, right? 

Wrong- the value of a great agent lies not so much in the mere possession of the data (MLS #s), but in how you interpret it, and what you do with it.   

It’s kind of like stock quotes.  Closing sale prices of stocks and mutual funds are free and public information.  When you pay a financial counselor to help you with your retirement savings, you are paying them to give you advice on how to interpret the data.  The value isn’t the knowledge of what XYZ Company’s stock closed for on a given day.  The value lies in knowing when and for how much to sell or buy and why.  Could you imagine picking a financial counselor based solely on the fact that he has access to stock quotes?  No, because a small mistake in interpretation can cost you lots of money.

The value of a great realtor lies not so much in telling you what the lake home on 123 Easy Street sold for, but how that relates to your lake home, or the waterfront lot / home that you want to buy.  Next, a great realtor executes a marketing plan to go out and sell your property instead of merely sticking a sign in the yard.

So, when looking for a realtor to help you value your Lake Martin property, don’t pick one that guards information like the sacred scrolls.  Pick one that is focused on you, that asks you questions about your want and your needs.  The more questions a realtor asks you, the better chance that he can get a feel of how to best serve you.

I work extremely hard to help people get what they want, but I don’t work for free.  I give away my advice and information on Lake Martin real estate because I want my clients to be a part of the sales process, not feel like I am posing as the wizard behind the curtain.  After I give them the information for free, then I can focus on marketing their home uniquely or finding them the home that matches their exact tastes. 

Lake Martin Named Top Real Estate Market In AL

Lake martin real estate winnerHere we go again – Lake Martin was described as the top real estate market in the entire state of Alabama

The Central Alabama Business Journal – a sister publication of the Montgomery Advertiser recently interviewed J. Danny Cooper, the Executive Vice President of the Alabama Association of Realtors.  The article covered various topics from the condition of Alabama’s real estate market overall to the performance of specific areas.  Cooper singled out Lake Martin as the top market in the state.  In his words, “Lake Martin has surpassed any other market in the state in terms of appreciation and home value.”

I know what you’re thinking – this is just another propaganda puff piece from aLake Martin Cupcake rah-rah realtors’ rep.  I might be inclined to agree, on some points.  Anybody can have an opinion on what is a “good” or “bad” market.  What sets apart Cooper’s statement? It’s a fact, not an opinion.  The numbers have been crunched – and Lake Martin came out on top.

Not that the rest of Alabama is so much chopped liver.  This state is blessed with many great second home or vacation home markets – Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Lake Eufaula, Lake Guntersville, Weiss Lake, Lake Logan – Martin, just to name a few.  Maybe you and I think none of them are better than Lake Martin.  Maybe someone else thinks that another lake or beach is prettier, or cooler, or whatever.  Everybody’s entitled to an opinion.  But here’s a fact – recently, none of them have appreciated in value like Lake Martin.

Even if you own a home or lot on Lake Martin and never intend to sell it, isn’t it nice to know – that if you did – it is in the top market in the state?  Wonder what it’s worth?  Drop me a line, I’ll run you a Comparable Market Analysis, no strings attached. 

And if you don’t own any property on Lake Martin yet?  I can help you with that, too.

 

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Lake Martin Home Prices Not Affected By Sales Drop?

Lake Martin Alabama real estate Bull and bear argueRest easy.  Alabama home sales have dropped, but not on Lake Martin.  Or should you be alarmed that the average sales price of a home in Lake Martin plummeted 15% in one month?  Which is it?

On March 12, 2007, Patrick McCreless wrote an article in the Alex City Outlook entitled, “Home sales still strong on Lake Martin.”  The information he quoted was from the Alabama Real Estate Research and Education Center, which (I assume) got its data from our Lake Martin Area Multiple Listings Service.  While I do not disagree with any of the data in the article, I do think it presents an interesting look at analyzing statistics of our market.

Two main stats stuck out to me:

1.     Statewide, Alabama saw the number of homes sold drop 20.4% from December 06 to January 07.  The Lake Martin Area increased its number sold to 29 from 25 in December, for a gain of 16%.  Hence the analysis that we were unaffected by the State’s slump.  I agree.

2.     At the end of the article, it sneaks in that the Lake Martin Area’s average home sales price dropped in January to $181,310 from $213,716 in December.  Again, agreed.  But – couldn’t the headline easily have been “Lake Martin Home Prices Drop 15% in One Month?”

This same article could be used both by doomsdayers to prove evidence of a dreaded “bubble” in our market and by bullish folk saying that the market is still hot.  The seeming contradiction in interpreting the data is a classic case of trying to draw too many conclusions from too small a sample.  Any professor of Statistics will tell you that the smaller the sample, the greater margin of error.  In other words, if you poll the five people you play poker with on the question of who will be the next President, the chances of them being wrong are a lot bigger than if you selected five million registered voters, randomly distributed across geographic, economic, and political lines.

The point is – be careful when you try to interpret the data of a market like Lake Martin.  We have a broad mixture of Lake Martin Real estate Bulls and bears coexisttypes of properties – on / off the water, single / multi family, modern / rural, etc. – that are spread across a relatively small number of listings.  One big sale here or there can really affect the numbers, so watch out.  Try to gather as much information as you can.  Talk to many people in the business.  Are you confused about what your property is worth, or what you should pay for a place on the Lake?  I am always willing to give my honest two cents and would be glad to help! The only way I know to do it to tell it like I see it.  See the “comments” section on this post for my email to Patrick McCreless where I provide an opinion on the contradictory stats.

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5 Mistakes When Buying Real Estate On Lake Martin

Lake Martin House in waterIt’s easy to make mistakes when buying a home or lot on Lake Martin. Whether you are a wizened real estate pro or a newcomer looking for your first property, there are some pitfalls that everyone needs to avoid. Heck, you could say that about anywhere, though, because real estate is such a local thing. I make my living selling real estate in the Lake Martin area, but if you dropped me off in Craig, Colorado, or Nicholasville, Kentucky, I would be just as lost and in need of local advice as the next guy. Here are 5 mistakes that you can avoid on Lake Martin (no particular order of importance):

1. Don’t waste your time calculating price per square foot of waterfront homes. As a former math major and current recovering accountant, I struggle to ignore this siren call every day of my life. I want so badly to have a piece of data like this to graph, make bar charts, build trend analysis, and otherwise calculate to the fifth decimal point. Alas, it is useless. So much of the market value of a Lake Martin waterfront home is in the lot, not the home. The lot drives the price, and very few lots on the lake are exactly the same. Even when the lots are pretty comparable, the homes are different, even on the same street. Yuppies in McMansions sit next to rasslin fans in shacks. Even in neighborhoods of similar construction, the lot drives the price.

2. Calculating price per waterfront foot of a lot is almost as useless. Well okay, you say, since on Lake Martin the lot drives the price, why can’t we value a lot by comparing it to other lots that have sold and divide sold prices by the amount of feet of waterfront they had? Nice try, but this still will trip you up. You can apply rules of thumb, such as, anything over 200 feet on a point lot should be priced at a premium, but you still have variables Lake Martin Math frustrationsuch as view, steepness of lot, etc. If you have a swampy 300 foot lot in the back of a cove that is on 1 foot deep water and the neighbor’s dock is 3 feet from yours, it will sell for much less than a gently sloping, 200 foot lot with a “big water view and a sandy beach. Try to graph that relationship; I dare you. I have tried and failed. I am considering creating a prestigious prize to challenge the nerd community, maybe they can come up with one.

3. You bought the house but you don’t own the lot underneath it. In most cases, when you buy a home on the lake, it is on a deeded lot. But, some homes on Lake Martin are built on leased lots. That means you own the home and all other improvements on the property, but Alabama Power owns the dirt. You lease it from them and pay them a monthly lease fee. When you buy the home you assume the terms of the lease that the previous owner negotiated with Alabama Power. Monthly lease rates and terms vary widely. Have an attorney check the lease before you buy. All other things being equal, a house on a deeded lot is worth more than the same one on a leased lot.

4. You take time to think about it. Contrary to a lot of other second home markets in the South, Lake Martin is still a sellers’ market. Sure, some sellers put ridiculous prices on their homes and therefore they take a while to sell. But if it is priced right, property still moves in a matter of days, not weeks. I’m not advising running out and buying willy-nilly, no. Let a local real estate agent help you. Do all of your research very carefully so that you know exactly what you want and how much you would like to invest. That way when something pops up on the Lake Martin MLS that you like, you can move swiftly and with confidence. Once you decide to offer, do it fast.

5. You don’t make an offer because the seller is asking too much. Lake Martin real estate Howling ape regretfulAs I mentioned above, Lake Martin is in a sellers’ market right now, but sometimes things are still overpriced. I advise buyers to make an offer based on what they would pay. You never know, sometimes the seller will come to their senses and back off a ridiculous asking price. Maybe your offer will finally convince the seller to come down. Too many times I have heard buyers say, once discovering the selling price of a property they liked, “if I would have known they would have taken that, I would have bought it. The only way to find out is to pony up and make an offer.

Can you think of any other mistakes people make? Leave a comment below, and we will edit this article to include your submission!

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