(Editor's note: With our Sunday centerpiece, the Daily Mountain Eagle is highlighting the impact of Smith Lake, specifically home sales, on our area's economy. Visit mountaineagle.com for a "web …
(Editor's note: With our Sunday centerpiece, the Daily Mountain Eagle is highlighting the impact of Smith Lake, specifically home sales, on our area's economy. Visit mountaineagle.com for a "web exclusive" companion story that features tips from local realtors for would-be Smith Lake home buyers.)
Real estate agents for the Smith Lake market says the lake is still affordable for many and is beginning to rebound from the Great Recession.
The Birmingham Business Journal reported April 12 that Lake Homes Realty, which real estate agent Justin Dyar is involved with, said in its spring 2019 lake market report that Smith Lake remains the largest market in Alabama.
Despite a 6 percent decrease in market size from a year earlier, from $233 million to $219 million, the lake is extending its lead over Lake Martin, in terms of market size compared to last year. According to the Journal, Lake Martin is now No. 2 as a market, valued at $189 million.
Real estate agent Joseph Carter said values are up 10 to 20 percent and that the market is great.
"We went from $80 million in sales last year to be on track to hit that or more this year," he said. "We've already hit 101 sides (being either on the buying or selling side of a deal) as of today (April 22) as far transactions, and most of that is on the lake." He said the lake is "very busy," with supply lower and inventory prices higher, with anything appropriately priced not lasting long on the market.
Agents in the area talked about affordability at the lake. The average Smith Lake home listing price increased 22 percent this spring, to $536,000, up from $459,000, the Journal said, thanks to tighter inventory. A total of 250 homes are available, compared to 325 last spring.
About 70 percent of the home listings are for homes under $500,000, the Journal reported. A total of 43 percent are for listings priced between $250,000 and $500,000.
While some see the large homes, less expensive ones are available. Dyar noted only six or seven homes worth at least $1 million sold at the lake last year, and maybe only two the year before.
"I have one right now that is under contract that will be the highest residential sale ever," at $2.3 million and 7,000 square feet and 40 acres. "It's a monster - huge place," he said. "But I also sold a place for $10,000, for a piece of land. There is something out there for every budget. I preach that." He said people ask him if he will sell a mobile home on the lake, and he says he will, as someone will buy it.
Dyar said most of the homes he sells are between 1,600 to 2,500 square feet, with a price range of $250,000 to $450,000. A price of $200,000 can get one two bedrooms and a bath to yet, "and people don't think you can even do that," he said.
Carter said it all varies wildly according to desires.
"Last year we closed the all-time high, which was like $1.9 million," Carter said. "This year a $2.3 million closed. So the lake market is trending upward with those larger homes. ... The hot price range is $600,000, $700,000 and $800,000. Then you can find an affordable weekend place for $300,000 to $400,000. It is just a matter of where you want to be at and what water frontage do you want."
Carter said if one wanted a lake lot, they might need to hurry. He said a good lot is getting harder to find at the lake due to development, with prices going from $1,000 a foot to $1,200 a foot on water frontage. "But you only need 100 feet to put a boat dock in, so if you start getting more than 100 feet of water, that doesn't mean you are going to get $1,200 a foot for 1,000 feet. You have to leave development cost and all that in there," he said.
He said the pricing is back equal and almost greater than what is was before the recession a decade ago. Dyar recently said the housing bust around 2006 did disturb the level of growth being seen then at the lake.
"But the lake remained very strong. It wasn't the higher end sales. But there was not one house built in a year. I didn't see any new homes, but it started to trickle more. Nobody wanted to build; they wanted to buy," he said.
Real estate agent Pam Rose, who mainly deals with vacation properties on Smith Lake with Life on the Lake with exp Realty, has seen a rebound since the recession. "The values are not as high as they were in '07 or '08, in that era, but they are coming back," she said. "I would say the sales in the last year have probably, I would say more than tripled since last year even," in part due to switching to exp Realty two years ago and with people moving from Gulf after tiring of hurricanes.
"Smith Lake has gotten to be more popular in the past five years as one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S.," Rose said, added with the large shore line that touches Walker, Winston and Cullman counties. "We've got properties from $50,000 to $6 million on this lake. Anybody with any budget can live on the lake and they can have that lake life they are seeking."
Real estate agent Rhonda Hall of All Four Realty, who has been here since 1986, recalled the pre-recession boom and doesn't know if it will reach the old $2,000 a square foot level, but does predict that it will continue to rise.
"It still needs to be a common's man lake," she said. "That's what we're trying to get the builders to realize. The common people are comfortable giving anywhere between $400,000 and $500,000. It sounds like a lot, but that is a good lake home in today's market."
The market is "flooded with lots," and the availability will continue to drive the market upward. "We're booming," she said. She said she has told people for years the best thing might be to get the lot they want and then build on it.
Dyar feels Smith Lake has started to take off again in the past three years, with more land for sale and more new homes.
"Now, if you go up to the lake, you will find new construction everywhere," he said. "We're back to where we were back then. We're pretty close. I'm not sure the sale price for land is where that was then, but as far as activity, Smith is getting a lot of activity from Nashville" and nearby Franklin. "Everyday, someone from Nashville calls me," making it one of his top markets.
He said that area is "eating it up" as it is only 2 1/2 hours away and one can buy twice the land on Smith compared to areas in Tennessee. "What we sell for 400, they sell for 800," he said. "We can drive two hours, have cleaner water and have more house for the same money."
He feels generally about half his buyers are in Birmingham, while another 25 percent is Huntsville and another quarter is Nashville. He said some sales come from Memphis, Tennessee. "I probably sold six or eight things last year to folks from Memphis," he said. "But they say the same thing. The water is not good there. They come here for the water and the value."
Carter agreed on Smith Lake being a draw for Tennessee due to value, adding there is a strong pull from Tupelo and some other Mississippi locations. Hall agreed with that as well, saying Mississippi and Tennessee are strong.
Georgia has a smaller draw due to lakes between Birmingham and Georgia, but in other areas, "we're the best waterfront for the best prices," Carter said.
Dyar added one family purchased a Smith Lake home on the lake for $580,000, and friends from Nashville guessed they had paid $1.2 million. "They were completely shocked," when they found out the price.
Carter said out-of-state lawyers have looked at property tax revenue and asked if the figures were for a month, when it was for a whole year. (Rose said she is seeing people come from as far away as Florida, Michigan, Arkansas and Texas, which others have seen as well.)
"The lots on Tims Fords Lake (in southern middle Tennessee, run by the Tennessee Valley Authority) are ridiculously priced. They are way above what Smith Lake is," Rose said, noting Smith is much bigger. She said Smith is also nicer than Lake Martin, despite high dollar homes at Martin.
"We have property (at Smith Lake) that anyone middle class and up can afford," she said.
Dyar also added that the purchases are discretionary in nature and the buyers are smart, walking away if the deal is right. "They don't care about the schools or the taxes," he said. "It is where it is on the water, which way does it face, how deep is the water, is it a high traffic place."