Monthly Archives: November 2011

Getting Lit for the Holidays

We always love seeing how festive some folks in the Birmingham area become when the holidays approach.

Michael Rice is a resident of Lake Forest in Alabaster.  For the third year in a row, he’s showing that—if there’s any competition for who can put on the most dazzling display of Christmas lights—Michael’s going to be tough to beat:

You can see Michael’s display for yourself by pulling up to in front of his home on Sugarberry Dr any evening between now and New Year’s.  Don’t be surprised if you see him outside, tweaking or adjusting, to try and make his assortment of over 40,000 lights even more impressive.

“It’s a process. You have to get it right, or you’re blowing fuses, popping breakers and having cords melting down,” Rice said, noting that he strictly follows national electrical code standards.

He has installed ten circuit breakers with 20 receptacles and estimates he’s using over 3,000 feet of extension cords.

“Power is my limitation,” Rice said. “You can’t plug in more than three sets of lights together.”

Rice doesn’t use any commercial lighting, but instead uses only off-the-shelf consumer lights. “I buy everything from WalMart.”

The lighting project grows every year, with Rice estimating he invests between $500 and $600 a year.



Will Birmingham’s Black Eye Heal?

If you’re thinking of moving to Birmingham from out of town or out of state, you will no doubt hear news that—at best—will seem unsettling about our area.

On November 9th, the county commission for Jefferson county–Birmingham’s home county–voted 4-1 to file for what will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. At $4.2 billion, the scale of this filing is mind blowing, making it more than double the famous Orange Co. California $1.7 billion bankruptcy filing from 1994.Jeffrson Co. Alabama

It goes without saying that this is a very unfortunate event, but it’s not exactly a surprise, either; the possibility has been mentioned and warned about for years.

The Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing follows the collapse of an agreement for the county to pay $3.1 billion in sewer debt connected to a series of financial dealings going back three years that cost county taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and caused sewer rates to rise sharply.

Complicating the county’s financial picture was the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling in March 2011 that a controversial occupational tax the county had passed (and depended on for $66 million of its budget) was unconstitutional.

Alabama’s Legislature could have stepped in to try and help the county avoid bankruptcy, but didn’t.

The bankruptcy filing isn’t helped by the tarnished reputation of some of Jefferson county’s elected leaders the past few years.  The county’s leadership became a cesspool of corruption that saw at least 21 people—including five county commissioners—convicted of, or agreeing to plead guilty to, corruption charges, some of which were connected to the sewer debts.  At least the commissioners and department heads connected with the sewer scandal are out of office.

If you’re thinking of moving to Jefferson county, this filing raises questions about the quality of life you can expect. What impact is bankruptcy likely to have on county services, on rates for sewer service, and even how easy or difficult it will be to renew car tags, given the closing of satellite courthouses? What does it mean for the myriad of county services residents need?

County staff has gone through severe reductions, as well, and these cuts have affected everything from roads and maintenance to the courts to health to inspections to law enforcement.

All of these are legitimate concerns for people thinking of moving to the Birmingham area, and there are no easy answers.

So, what does the filing mean for real estate sales in Jefferson county?  The county has a lot of desirable communities that individuals and families have called home for decades.  There are conveniences and benefits that only living relatively close to the metropolitan area can provide.

In deciding where to live, the quality of local government is certainly an important consideration, but so are other factors.  The general feeling a community has, the geography, types of housing, price ranges and proximity to important locations are all major considerations.  Vestavia and Mountain Brook, two incorporated and very desired cities in Jefferson county, have some of the most expensive homes in Alabama.

No doubt about it:  Jefferson county has a black eye that will take years to heal and that could have major economic ramifications.  People are still going to buy homes in the county, but the financial implosion is likely to make at least some Buyers take a close look at living across the line in Shelby county; indeed, we have already seen evidence of this.

A Birmingham real estate attorney says he has seen Buyers purchasing homes in Shelby county who say they want no part of Jefferson county’s problems.

Regardless of the bankruptcy filing, the simple fact is that—for decades—a large number of people who work in the general Birmingham area have chosen to live in Shelby county, because of its great quality of life, financial stability, affordability of housing and proximity to the metropolitan area.

The vast majority of Buyers Colleen and I work with wind up buying in Shelby county.Helena Market Days

Some residents view Shelby county as a breath of fresh air, compared to the financial mess, criminal wrongdoing and political bickering that has plagued their neighboring county to the north.

What’s ahead for Jefferson county?  Residents will no doubt experience new belt tightening, and much of it likely won’t be pleasant.  It is virtually inevitable that services will be strained further, and costs (whether they be taxes, sewer rates or other fees) will go up more.  Real estate sales in the county—both commercial and residential—may well be affected, though no one is sure by how much.

Real estate Agents may find themselves being asked questions from bewildered home Buyers, like, “What’s all this we hear about Jefferson county?”

Can Jefferson county rise from the ashes?

It has to, because it has no choice.

Despite the massive negative nationwide publicity, Jefferson county will have to find a way to continue to provide needed services and facilities.  The county is fortunate to have many talented and dedicated people working within its government.

Those people will be needed more than ever in the coming months and years as the county works to restructure its operations.

The Birmingham area business community may find itself being called on in new ways to be an active participant in helping the county get back on its feet.  Perhaps the state will finally step in and become involved at some point, too.

Another reason to feel optimistic for Jefferson county is the recent hiring Tony Petelos, Jefferson Co. Alabama County Managerof Tony Petelos, the former Mayor of Hoover, as county manager.

With his established track record in the business and legislative community for getting things done, Petelos has drawn praise for his diplomatic skills and ability to bring sides together.

Petelos is well known for his willingness to face daunting challenges, and take them head on.

In Jefferson county, he has found one.


Agents Go to Open Houses, Too

Home buyers aren’t the only people invited to Open Houses.  Real estate Agents are, too.

That may seem kind of odd at first, but it’s a great way for Agents working with Buyers to be familiar with homes for sale in different communities.

We thought you might enjoy tagging along as we take in an Agent Open House in Hoover, sponsored by Newscastle Homes, Inc.

We hauled the video camera along so you can get an idea of what you can get for your money in some areas around Birmingham.  In Lake Cyrus, you can buy a new home with plenty of features and pay less than $200,000.

See what you think:

If you’re thinking of moving to the Birmingham area, there are lots of great deals on homes.  Give us a call at 205-356-5412 and we’ll be glad to help.


Blogging Blacks are Back

We’re back.

If you’re visiting our site for the first time, you may be thinking we’ve just now decided to jump on the blog band wagon.  Not quite.

We’ve had a blog on our website for several years, but fell victim to a server attack last week.  Whether several years worth of interviews, comments and real estate information will be able to restored is uncertain at present.  We’re hoping the content can be recovered, but we’re not counting on it.

To confess, I was pretty upset upon first realizing how much information may have been lost.  But the morning walks I take with Fisbo, our spoiled six pound poodle, helpFisbo, The Black Team's Marketing Manager bring me to a new understanding.

Looking at the pre-dawn sky and enjoying the spectacular display of stars our crisp, clear autumn weather has made available, you’re reminded pretty quickly about how big our universe really is, and what size we are, in it.  As I look at light that has traveled thousands of years just to get here, the potential loss of a blog in that huge, big world…well, it doesn’t seem quite as significant.

One of my favorite sayings is that every day is an opportunity.  We have the opportunity to create all sorts of new content we hope will be informative and entertaining.  And one thing is for sure:  The real estate market is always changing.  So, fresh, new ideas and perspectives are needed, anyway.

The Birmingham and Shelby Co. area real estate market continues to be active.  Lately, we have seen more Buyers jumping at low priced opportunities, including Foreclosures.  Some Buyers are going for these as investments they plan to rent out, while others are seeing them as good opportunities to live in a home at never before available prices.

We continue to see significant drops in the number of homes for sale in the Shelby Co. and Birmingham area, too.  This is encouraging news for folks thinking about selling their homes, because it means there’s a little less competition out there, compared to previous months.

Right now remains a fabulous time if you’re thinking about buying a home, too, whether it’s your first place, or a repeat purchase.  No matter what part of the Birmingham or Shelby Co. area you’re considering, choices and price ranges are varied.

Finally, if you don’t quite have all the money in your pocket needed to buy a home, you may be thinking of getting a loan, and this continues to be a great time for that, as well.
Assuming you qualify, you can get a 30-year conventional loan for well under 4%, or a 15-year conventional loan in the low 3% range.

Got questions about buying or selling?  We’re here to help.  Call us at 205.356.5412.

It’s that old  ‘Every day is an opportunity’ thing.