It’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 such 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. As 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!