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Spotted: A Lake Martin House Flipper

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July 1, 2012
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July 9, 2012

Spotted: A Lake Martin House Flipper

The following is an article I wrote for LAKE Magazine’s July 2012 edition:

I have always been a nerd. My genes dictate it.  In high school I was in all of the nerdy clubs: Don’t think Olympic sports; think Science Olympiad.

House flipper identifiedNow that I am in my adult years, this nerdliness is coming out in all kinds of ways. I guess one of the dorkiest hobbies I have is “birding.” I have tried to stay in the closet about this one for years, but I have reached the point in my life where I no longer have the energy to hide the fact that I like to sit on the back porch with binoculars and the Peterson Field Guide.

Perhaps the Holy Grail of birders, at least in North America, would be to spot the ivory-billed woodpecker. It’s known by a nickname that I now consider blasphemous, but it is roughly translated as “Boy Howdy Would You Look At The Size of That Woodpecker.” It is as big as a crow. It is red headed as the day is long, and has distinctly marked wings and bill. It is thought to be extinct in our continent, so to get a picture of one – to confirm they still exist here – would be the biggest ornithological event since the rescue of the California Condor.

I, of course, think I have spotted many over the years – like one time in the piney sand hills of north Florida, or when I’ve been hunting in south Montgomery County. Once, while driving around Lake Martin, I spent two hours chasing a likely one just outside of Tallassee off of Highway 229. I tromped down an Elmore County road with a 300-millimeter zoom lens on my camera and even got a decent shot. But that and every other time when I get back to my bird guide, I realize that I have only seen a mere pileated.

In 2006, I was turkey hunting in Texas and met a guy from a small town in Arkansas where scientists “think” they found an ivory-billed in a nearby state forest. Once word spread, pandemonium broke out. People flooded to the tiny hamlet. Birders, scientists and savvy capitalists descended upon Brinkley. They filled hotels, they hammered restaurants, they staked out the woods, they sold T-shirts – they even bought up tracts of land. In the end, they came away with a doubtful audio recording but no confirmation. The lesson? Caution. Be very careful when you think you have spotted a rare species.

It is with great trepidation, with this proper perspective, that I tell you that I have confirmed sightings of another creature thought to be extinct – the Lake Martin house flipper. I can think of two or three successful flips in the last 12 months.

A house flipper is someone buys a house with no intention of ever spending the night there. Their goal is to buy it, fix it, sell it and forget it. Around Lake Martin, they most often do things like add a bedroom and bathroom. They might add central air conditioning if they need to, but you can bet they will add wood floors and the ubiquitous black granite counter tops with stainless appliances.

House flippers exist everywhere, obviously. Sometimes they have been blamed for the housing bubble, as callous profiteers who “bid up prices” just to rake in the dough. Hogwash, of course. The bubble was too big to blame on one section of the industry. It had plenty of guilt to go around. No one group was totally innocent, including us real estate agents. So don’t be a hater. Flippers are a good thing, a necessary element in any industry, a part of the circle of life – Hakuna Matata and all of that. I, for one, am glad to see a successful flip here and there in the Lake Martin real estate market. I take it as a positive sign, yet another indicator that the freeze has thawed for good.

house flipperI cringe with this announcement, however, I loathe suggesting anything that might be interpreted by sellers as their chance to jack their prices back up. I don’t want everyone to become armchair developers again like they did in 2005-2007. If you don’t do this for a living, don’t do it at the lake.

To buyers, I say this loudly – do not think of your purchase as an “investment.” Do not make the mistake of those in the past that thought in terms of rate of return. A lake home is a home – not your 401k. If you buy one and spend $15,000 making improvements over the course of one month, it is not magically worth $100,000 more than the day you bought it. Everyone gets HGTV. Everyone has cute ideas. Everyone knows someone in the construction industry who will give them a deal. Don’t be tempted by that siren.

So if, in the coming months, you hear about a successful Lake Martin flipper, don’t believe it until you see it. If you see one, smile and let it warm your heart, but don’t get any big ideas. The mere existence of one or two successful flippers does not mean the roaring times are back. They are just the first purple martin to reach Lake Martin in February – a reminder of a healthy ecosystem, not evidence of a free for all.

On the other hand, if you see an ivory-billed woodpecker, take a picture, and then call me. But only me! And if you’d like to talk about Lake Martin real estate, please give me a call: (334) 221-5862.  I’d love to be your realtor.