Blog Archives

First Steps All Home Buyers Must Take

Walking on to a new car lot can be fun.  You get to see all the latest technology and styling, and imagine yourself behind the wheel.

And then, after glancing at the sticker, reality sets in.

Looking was fun, but the sticker reminds that—before you can actually own that new car—you’re going to have to play the “show me the money” game.

Having your funding secured for the purchase of a new home is just as important.  After all, if you don’t have the money needed to make buying a home a reality, what’s the point of looking?

Having enough money on hand to pay cash for a home is great, but let’s face it … not everyone can do this.

The alternative, then, is to get a loan.

Unfortunately, a number of people looking to buy a home in the Birmingham area wind up starting the loan process the wrong way, which goes like this:

  • Buyer decides to buy a home
  • Buyer starts the home search, driving neighborhoods, looking at homes
  • Buyer finds the perfect home (“I want it!”)
  • Buyer starts envisioning the new home as theirs (“Living here will be great!”)
  • Deciding to move ahead with purchase, Buyer asks Lender for a loan
  • Lender looks over Buyer’s information and says, “sorry, can’t help”
  • Entire process comes to screeching halt

The scenario above is a classic invitation to major Buyer disappointment.

It doesn’t have to happen this way.

Colleen and I feel strongly that the first–and most important–steps in the home buying process are to contact us as your Agents and then speak with a Lender.

By finding out how much money you can borrow before you start looking, your search will be easier, as well as more targeted to properties that fit within your price range.  If there are parts of your financial background that need work, a Lender can be a good resource for charting a course for you to follow so you can be approved.

If you’re thinking of buying a home, a good Lender will answer all of your questions and make you feel comfortable with the entire process of obtaining financing.  Since buying a home is the biggest purchase many people make, if you don’t have this feeling of comfort, our advice is simple:  Find another Lender.

Buyers lacking some time of financial qualification may be in for a surprise, given a reality we see all the time in the Shelby Co. and Birmingham real estate market:

Sellers want some assurance that a prospective
Buyer can actually obtain needed funding.
“Show me the money.”

If you try submitting an Offer without including either a loan pre-qualification or verification of funds (if paying cash), many Sellers simply won’t deal with you.

We know of several good Lenders in the Birmingham area with a thorough knowledge of the mortgage profession, different loans, costs and how they work.  These Lenders have a strong commitment to providing good service.

Fortunately, most of our Clients purchased their home the right way, having contacted us first and then following our advice on consulting with Lenders before we started helping them with their search.

As a result, they are now happy homeowners.

David

Birmingham Home Sales Thoughts for 2012

As Fisbo, our highly spoiled six pound poodle, and I took our early morning walk a few days ago, I used the time to contemplate how our real estate business has evolved during 2011 and thought about what’s ahead as we kick off 2012.

Our walk was made rather intriguing because the neighborhood was shrouded in fog, limiting visibility sometimes to only a few hundred feet.

You can’t see very far ahead, and as you keep moving, what’s behind you grows increasingly vague.

Predicting home sale trends in Birmingham and Shelby County can be a little like walking into the fog:  You can see a certain distance in front of you, but after that, knowing what’s ahead gets tricky.

That’s not to say we’re in a fog about what will happen, market-wise, during 2012.  In fact, Colleen and I are optimistic that a lot of people will be buying and selling homes during ’12.

We think it’s going to be a busy and successful year.

Our optimism about ’12 is due in part to 2011, a year that was not only productive for us, but outperformed previous years.

For a lot of people in the Birmingham area, 2011 was a very difficult year, with the April 27th tornado affecting so many thousands of people and Jefferson County declaring the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

I believe the new year will be one of healing and stories of success.

So, what does this mean for you if you’re thinking of buying or selling a home?  Okay, watch out, I’m getting out the crystal ball!

If  You’re Buying:

2012 will be a year of excellent opportunity.
You might have to spend a little more time picking and choosing than during previous years, because inventory in some areas has dropped.  This doesn’t mean the good deals are gone.  It just means you’ll have to do a little more work to find them.  An Agent with a good knowledge of the market as well as sharp negotiating skills will be one of your most valuable assets during this time.

Pricing will continue to be very much in your favor, but if you’re in search of a “steal,” you stand a greater chance of a Seller saying, “no deal.”  If inventory continues to drop, Sellers have less competition, and therefore less reason for agreeing to a “fire sale” Offer.
The Buyer who understands and accepts this still stands to get a very good deal.

With no sharp rise in mortgage interest rates on the horizon, ’12 is shaping up to be another year of tremendously low borrowing costs.

If You’re Selling:

You will be in a better position to get your home sold than in some previous years.   Home values will continue to be a big challenge, but the news isn’t all bad.  With the number of homes for sale dropping in some areas, what has been very much a Buyer’s Market shows signs of changing.  That’s a good thing, but the change is going to be gradual.

During ’11, we saw many homes sell for the same price they sold for ten years earlier.   This was great for the Buyer, but not for the Seller.  Seeing both Buyer and Seller bring checks to the closing table was not uncommon last year.

If you plan to sell during ’12, understanding one “fact of life” about the Birmingham and Shelby Co. real estate market will help:  The maximum a Buyer thinks your home is worth may wind up being significantly less than you had anticipated.

We do feel optimistic that the slide in values is beginning to ease.  This easing, however, is likely to be so slow and so slight that many people selling in 2012 may not feel it’s very noticeable.  It’s important to remember, though, that the slide in home values didn’t happen in a few weeks or months, but rather, took years.   Any correction won’t happen fast, either.

And then there’s the matter of your home’s condition.  Do you want your home to appeal to a majority of possible Buyers or only a few?  In the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, the overwhelming majority of Buyers we work with want homes that are immaculate, need nothing done, and are “move-in” ready.  We do get calls from Buyers looking for places to fix up, but they expect to pay “bottom dollar” for the work they know they’ll have to do.

A 2011 High Point:

Of all the homes Colleen and I sold during 2011, one property we were particularly excited to sell was a home in Alabaster.

Price wise, this home was nowhere near our biggest sale.  But it’s not about the money.

The Seller had tried to sell five times before, starting three years ago, and not had success.
This was a sizable home in extremely nice, clean condition.  But the sales price had never been in alignment with what was taking place in the Shelby Co. market, and we didn’t feel that the property had been marketed correctly.

Lowering the price was not easy for the Seller to do.  But we worked hard in marketing the property, and our Seller worked hard, too, cooperating closely with us as we moved toward our common goal.

That team work finally paid off with a successful closing.

It pays to be a student of the market.  Many of the sales Colleen and I helped with here in the Birmingham area offer lessons to the wise if you’re thinking of selling during ’12.

A 2011 Low Point:

We had many successful sales last year.  But one home we listed in No. Shelby Co. was not destined to be one of them.  It stayed on market for five months and never received an Offer.  The home was not priced correctly, drew very little interest, and had significant structural issues cited by many of the few Buyers who actually looked inside.

During one phone call, the Seller (who had moved out but was still making monthly payments) says, “I really need to sell this house.”  Only seconds later—during the same conversation, as we discuss pricing—he says, “I’m not giving my house away.”

The Seller’s viewpoint could be summed up in five words:  Take it or leave it.

Buyers gave their answer.

The experiences from both our High Point and Low Point provide clear support for a prediction we’ll make for the year, though it’s not the boldest call I could make:  2012 will show that price and condition have never been more important in getting your home sold.

Changes To The Dictionary:

As we kick off ’12, I’m also deciding that it’s time to change the definition of some of the terms real estate Agents use (hmmm …  am I allowed to do that?).

Agents have long referred to motivated and unmotivated Sellers.  These categories don’t exist any longer.  A Seller who is determined to do what it takes to get their home sold is, by definition, motivated.  They will adjust their price as needed and will make sure their home is immaculate (as so many folks we worked with did last year).  These are the people who, in all likelihood, will get to sit at a closing table.

The unmotivated Seller is typically unwilling to price attractively enough to receive an Offer.  They also choose not to deal with with the moldy smell in the basement or the rotted wood that needs to be replaced.  This person is not a Seller.  They are a home owner.  If they do happen to receive an Offer, it is likely to be for an extremely low price.

This year will be another time of great opportunity in real estate.  If you’re giving thought to buying or selling a home, you no doubt have questions.  Whether you’re a veteran or just starting out, Colleen and I hope you will feel welcome to contact us for assistance.

Feel free to call us at 205.356.5412 or 205.677.8686.  Or e-mail us at:  sales@theblackteam.com

And we’re on Facebook, if you’d like to join us.

As for walking through the fog, I look forward to it.  What might be ahead may not always be known, but if you’re determined to keep moving, the scene gets clearer as you forge onward.

Our optimism and positive thinking have us excited … we know there are lots of opportunities ahead.

We look forward to being part of your 2012 success story…

David

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.

David

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.

David

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.

David

Saturday Open House in Hoover/Lake Cyrus

If you’re out and around in the Hoover area this Saturday 10/22, stop by 5729 Park Side Pass in Lake Cyrus for our Open House.

Yep, that’s an Open House on a Saturday…

This is a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac street in one of the Birmingham area’s most popular swim and tennis communities (with award-winning Hoover schools).

The huge open Kitchen is a Chef’s dream, and features a hardwood floor, granite counters, tile back splash, under mount sink, island and more. The Master Suite is on the main level, and there are two more bedrooms upstairs plus a huge Bonus Room that could be a 4th bedroom.

With its open floor plan and high ceiling in the Great Room, this will be an ideal home for entertaining. A covered patio looks out to a very pretty (and large) level, fenced yard.

See the video below…

The Seller has cut the price ($239,400) and is looking for Offers!

See you Saturday 10/22, from 2pm ’til 4pm..

Click here for a Google map link to find the home…

Questions? Call us @ 205.356.5412.

David

When Birmingham Goes To The Dogs…

Colleen and I love this time of the year. Fall in Alabama can be a time of spectacular weather, and the start of October is no exception.

This is also the time when Shelby Co. and Birmingham area pet owners gather for what has become a popular annual event, sponsored by the City of Alabaster and the Shelby Co. Humane Society. Bark In The Park, held at Alabaster’s Veterans Park, continues to grow every year.

With new video camera in hand, we thought we’d share a few sights and sounds of this year’s festivities … for man and his best friend, too, it was a lot of fun…

Veterans Park is a fabulous park developed by the City of Alabaster. A lot of folks buying homes in the area wind up falling in love with this park, and for good reason.

We know some folks who are already planning to attend next year’s Bark In The Park. It’s held the first Saturday of October.

David

Alabaster, Helena & Calera: Good Places To Live

Here’s yet another reason to show why Shelby county is such a good place to live…

Bark In The Park is one of many events that make Alabaster a popular place to live.

Bark In The Park is one of many events that make Alabaster a popular place to live.

Money Magazine has placed Alabaster,  Calera and Helena in its top 100 Best Places to Live for 2009.

Alabaster’s steady construction and housing markets were noted by the magazine, while Helena gets praise for its housing market, along with cultural activities, scenery, and historical charm.

Calera was cited for its low crime rate and strong community values…

Click here for more information on the article…

Of course, folks who live in these communities already know what a good place Shelby county is to live.  Slowly, but surely, the word is getting out.

Housing inventory is plentiful right now:  There are 366 properties presently available for sale in the Alabaster, Maylene and Saginaw areas, while 524 are for sale in Helena and Pelham (Shelby Co.).

Add interest rates for 30-year fixed loans around the 5.125% range, and it all spells a great opportunity to buy a home in the Shelby county and Birmingham market…

David