Blog Archives

Helena Market Days

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area and don’t know the territory well, Shelby Co.—just south of Birmingham—offers a great quality of life.

If you want a great community to live in with plenty of things to do, here’s one of many reasons why Shelby Co. is so popular.

Lots of folks love Helena Market Days, the annual summer farmer’s market that takes place along Buck Creek in Helena every Saturday from 8am until noon.

We thought we’d share some sights and sounds of Market Days from our visit on July 13th.  And nope, we couldn’t leave without some of those wonderful Chilton Co. peaches…they’re just plain hard to beat!

Here’s where you can find more information on Helena Market Days.

Enjoy the video!

David

 

Happy Home Owners in Birmingham

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Rick and Deborah Halbrooks have just bought a waterfront home in Birmingham’s Highland Lakes. Rick can’t wait to get out and see if the fish are biting…

We always appreciate getting notes from our Clients, like this latest one from Rick and Deborah Halbrooks.  When we first spoke with Rick, he said something that really caught our attention:  Rick said he had been living in the same house for over 40 years!

“You and Colleen did a wonderful job of representing us and earned every cent of your commission.

As a sales manager, it irritates me to have a sales rep get a big commission check when they don’t do much work; this was certainly not the case with you two.

You were always available, quick to research anything you didn’t know and answered our questions promptly.

You were available to meet us at the house on numerous occasions, made the arrangements, coordinated schedules and generally made us feel like we were the only customer you were working with (I know this was not the case — you are constantly juggling lots of deals).

We appreciate your efforts and for helping us make the only move in 42 (me)/31 (Deborah) years a pleasant experience.”

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the greater Birmingham/Shelby Co. Alabama area, give us a call.

We’re ready to help!

Own For Less Than To Rent

When you can get into a nicely upgraded 3BR home (with new granite counters, new stainless appliances, new paint, new flooring and more) for less than $103,000 and, then, on top of everything else, get a no-down-payment loan…well, that’s a seriously good deal.DSC_5582

This is yet another case where you could own your own home for less money than it would cost to rent.

The home is located at 2148 15th St in Calera.

It’s less than a ten minute drive to I-65, making access north into Alabaster, Pelham and downtown Birmingham easy.

What makes this so outstanding is the price:  $102,900.

Check out our narrated video that shows the treats awaiting inside:

If you know of someone who might be interested (or if you are), we’d suggest acting sooner, rather than later.  Deals like this don’t last long…

David

Lake Forest Sales Update

If you’re looking to buy a home in the Birmingham area, Lake Forest in Shelby Co. is one of the neighborhoods where you can’t go wrong.

Folks love this area because of its surroundings, which include a lake, walking track, playground and more.

Here’s a look at sales activity in the neighborhood during 2012:

If you’d like help with finding a home anywhere in the greater Birmingham or Shelby Co. area, let us know.

There are plenty of good opportunities out there…

Adding The Wow Factor To Our Home

The just upgraded Kitchen at Colleen and David Black’s Birmingham/Shelby Co. home creates an entirely new look and feel.

All we can say is:  Wow.

Talk about adding some pizazz to our home!

We talk with our Clients frequently about adding features that make your home more attractive and enjoyable.

If you’re trying to get your home sold in the Birmingham/Shelby Co. area, these enhancements can be what it takes to get a successful sale.  But even if you’re not selling, they’re still wonderful to enjoy while you live there.

We’ve taken our own advice.

Our Kitchen upgrade project is basically complete.  To say that we’re pleased is an understatement.

We knew we’d like it … but we like it even more than we thought.

This upgrade includes sparkling New Venetian Gold granite counter tops, a Frigidaire professional series hybrid induction cooktop with convection oven, microwave oven, dishwasher, disposer, under mount sink and fixture, and new stone back splash.  We’re even adding an instant hot water dispenser.

A lot of coordination and logistics had to go into this to make everything work.

Different work crews had to be scheduled to come in at various times, and they could only do their work in a certain order (i.e. Crew #2 could come in only after Crew #1 had finished its task).

With the need to do all this coordination—and the fact that the work crews have busy schedules themselves—Colleen and I had suspected that it could easily be three, four or even five days before our Kitchen could be used again.

The stone back splash design—with its distinctive separating glass border—was designed by Colleen and enhances an already elegant setting.

Amazingly, the entire process—from removing the old, to finishing installation of all the new—was done in less than two full days (the template tracing for the counter cuts had been done two weeks earlier).

I never realized how much we depend on having water in the Kitchen—until we lost access to it!  No water out of the tap or refrigerator, no rinsing dishes in the sink, and no stove adds up to having to improvise.

With all the different workers involved, it’s pretty easy to figure that someone in the process is likely to make a mistake.  And I sort of figured there would be a lot of cleaning up we’d have to do behind everyone.

We were wrong on both counts.

The workers who did this project—every single one of them—did an awesome job.  Nothing got damaged, no hardwoods got scratched despite everything being moved in and out, no walls got scraped, everything got put in correctly, protective covering was put down on our floors, stairs and counters, and nothing got tracked on flooring or spilled.

After finishing their work, there was no clean-up for us to do.  Everything was left immaculate.

What more could we ask?

Whether for Kitchen, bath or elsewhere, Shane and Heather Massey, of KB Pro, are a Birmingham area husband and wife team of tile experts who can help create an entire new look.

For all the logistics that had to come together, Colleen and I think we have come out great.

Steve Poe with Cahaba Cabinets, Inc. in Pelham did an excellent job overseeing all the work and handling the installation of our new counter tops.  We do not take him for granite.

Oscar Requena with Hunter Home Improvements handled making sure all the gadgetry was delivered, connected and working.  The changes Oscar made in his schedule are part of why we were able to have a functioning Kitchen so quickly again.

Shane and Heather Massey, the husband-wife team known as KB Pro, took Colleen’s design ideas and turned them into the beautiful back splash that we think really makes the Kitchen pop (I’ve always thought that, if she wasn’t a real estate Agent, Colleen has a second career waiting in home design and staging).

We have a lot of learning ahead, now that we have purchased an induction cook-top (the fact that it’s a hybrid means that we can cook using induction and/or the conventional way, with standard electric).

Our appliances came from the AllSouth Appliance Group, whose staff and impressive showroom can get you pointed toward the best choices for your lifestyle and needs.

Forget waiting several minutes for something to heat up.  If you’re accustomed to cooking with electric or gas, the new Frigidaire induction cooktop promises big changes in food preparation.

It’s pretty wild to be able to put a pot of water on to boil and, instead of waiting several minutes, full boil starts in only a few seconds.

Our research into cooking technology covered electric, gas and induction.  We wound up choosing Frigidaire’s professional series for several reasons.

Induction cooking is far more precise. Colleen liked the fact the stove is a hybrid; if we do sell the home and the new Buyer isn’t familiar or comfortable with induction, standard electric cooking is still available.   A keep warm zone and keep warm drawer are added benefits.

The Frigidaire’s clean lines represented the look we were going for, and last but not least, this series fell in an attractive price point (we could have spent much more).

Even the dishwasher is going to require some educating.  When running it for its first cycle of dishes, we first thought it wasn’t working, only to discover that is working.  Yep.  It’s that quiet.

Regardless of whether you’re selling or planning to stay put and just want to enjoy your surroundings a little more, upgrading your Kitchen is sure to please.

If you’re thinking of selling your home and plan to do an upgrade like this with the expectation of getting your money back in the sale, hold on a second.  That generally doesn’t happen.

Home upgrades such as redone Kitchens and baths are still tremendous selling points, because they will likely put your place above the competition.  Whatever you can do to stand out in a good way boosts your chances of getting an Offer.

As Colleen and I look around and enjoy our new Kitchen, we can only think of one thing we would change.

Whether we sell or stay, we wish we had done this upgrade sooner.

David

USDA Pulls Back On Oct. 1st Loan Changes

Good news if you’re looking to buy a home in several areas close to Birmingham…

The U.S. Dep’t. of Agriculture has just announced that a previously planned October 1st change which would have meant the end of federal mortgage funding for two areas in Shelby Co. has been put on hold until late March of 2013.

This latest announcement means that Calera and Chelsea will remain on the list of communities eligible for Buyers to receive USDA funding on home mortgages, at least for another six months.

More than 90 communities nationwide—including Pleasant Grove in Jefferson Co. and areas in Walker and St. Clair counties—had been targeted to lose their eligibility, effective October 1st.  Yesterday, however, Dallas Tonsager, USDA’s Under Secretary for Rural Development, issued a notice saying the changes would not take effect next week.

USDA loans are popular with many Buyers because they do not require down payments.  They are available, however, only in areas USDA specifically designates.

As it stands now, the changes will take effect March 27, 2013 … unless USDA or Congress takes action in the meantime.

Are Birmingham Area Homes Selling?

From time to time, people ask us, “How’s business?”

If you look around and ask various Agents throughout the Birmingham area how their business is going, you’re likely to get varied answers.  One Agent we spoke with recently has struggled much of the year.  Other Agents we know have been doing much better.   Colleen and I have had an extremely busy year, for which we’re grateful.

The fact is that—regardless of the economy in general and what’s reported in the news media—homes still sell.  That’s because people’s lives change.  New jobs, a change in family size or wanting to be closer to a particular area can be among the reasons.

I’ve heard people thinking of selling their home say, “I’ll wait until the economy improves.”  To be sure, values are still down considerably, compared to previous years.
But that can also be like saying, “I’m going to buy a new car when the models get better.”

Here in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, the number of homes for sale in many communities is down considerably, compared to previous months.  In Shelby County’s Alabaster and vicinity, the Birmingham MLS shows 220 homes for sale at present.  This continues to be among the lowest numbers we’ve seen.

This drop in inventory is having an effect.  Homes for sale that we consider excellent deals don’t stay on the market long.  Buyers are out there, and pounce as soon as the excellent deals appear.

I’ve heard some home owners trying to sell without luck lamenting the lack of Buyers.   It’s really not that Buyers are scarce.  It’s just that they’re finding better deals elsewhere; the homes they wind up buying are in nicer condition, have more features, or are priced more attractively (or maybe all three).

A home needs to have pizazz to sell in the current market, and must be priced to grab a Buyer’s attention.
Homes lacking these attributes typically take much longer to sell (we’ve seen homes remain on market over a year before getting an Offer).

When it comes to getting your home sold, there are definitely success stories in the Birmingham area.   Colleen and I recently listed a home in Alabaster that got two Offers and went Under Contract 13 days after going on the market.  The Seller was motivated, priced his home so that Buyers had to notice, and has done a lot of fixing up to make his home look nice.  The payoff to his work is that his home is set to sell, so he can move.

The drop in inventory being seen in some areas around Birmingham is starting to put a bit of a squeeze on Buyers.  The Buyer who sees a really good deal on a home for sale in this area now realizes that there’s a chance to be taken by waiting:  Someone else might swoop in and grab the home in the meantime.

If you’re looking to buy a home in the area, our advice is to think about what’s important in a home to you, as well as area, and to contact us (205-356-5412).  If you’re planning to get a loan, another critical step to take early in the process is to get in touch with a Lender.  Here is a link to some area Lenders we recommend contacting.

Remember that the world of home mortgages can be confusing, because there are so many different kinds of loans and differences in fees, down payments and other charges.   A good Lender will be able to sort this out for you to help to simplify your decision.

Getting quotes from other Lenders to compare is a good idea, too; just be sure to understand that comparing different loans effectively means looking at all the overall costs, and not just a single fee that might be higher with one loan.  You might also ask about “locking” in your interest rate (which involves being assured of getting the same rate if you wind up buying a little later).

By following these steps, you’ll be on the road to being part of the home sales success stories we’re seeing throughout much of the Shelby Co. and Birmingham area.

David

Birmingham Loans Not As Scarce As You Hear…

It’s no wonder that folks who rely on the news media to know about our world often wind up confused, or sometimes, downright misled.

With the possible exception of politics (no, I’m not going there), I see few better examples of consumers getting misleading information than in real estate.

I have to hand a blue ribbon for disappointment to Marketplace, a program by American Public Media which recently produced a report about the difficulty of getting a home mortgage.

Reporter Gigi Douban in effect focused her magnifying glass on one part of the real estate industry and left folks with the impression that it’s just flat hard to get a home loan. Period.

“Now it’s nearly impossible to get a loan,” the show’s anchor said, leading into Douban’s report.

Douban interviewed people active in the Birmingham real estate industry:  Woody Woodfin, a Lender with Mortgage America; Johnny Montogmery, a Realtor with ERA King; and Jon Mulkin with BBVA Compass.

“There are plenty of folks who want to buy a house, but there aren’t that many who can,” Douban said.

I have no issue with anything anyone interviewed in the report said.

Woodfin talked about the fact that more of the Buyers approaching him for a loan than in the past wind up not being able to qualify.  That’s true.  We all know that mortgage requirements have gotten tighter, something that, in my opinion, needed to happen.

The fact is that getting a loan is difficult.  For some people.

The timing of this story seemed particularly ironic.  On May 14th–the same day Marketplace aired Douban’s report–BBVA Compass announced that it’s expanding its–get this–mortgage operations, and–guess where–in Birmingham, as well as in Tempe, Arizona.

“Even in Alabama, it’s hard to get a home loan,” the headline reads on the Marketplace website.

“Even in Alabama.”  Hmmm.  Is our state supposed to have always been easy street for getting a home loan?  “Well, shoot, Maybel, it’s not lookin’ good for us here in Tupelo, so let’s just head past Pete’s barbecue joint and cross the state line into Alabama.  Anybody can get a loan there…”

In a news release, BBVA Compass cited the rapid growth of its mortgage business as the reason for the expansion.  They’re hiring 60 more people to handle loans.

Huh?

The bank said 270 people will be involved in mortgage operations in Birmingham.   Pretty impressive numbers, if you ask me.  It certainly suggests that BBVA Compass must have some reason to feel confident that they’ll be helping more people buy homes in the coming years, and, specifically, by writing loans.

Why else would they spend the money?

If the Marketplace report had provided a more balanced perspective, it would have mentioned that there are quite a few sales happening in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. real estate market.

Some in the business even feel the industry is turning around.

April home sales within the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area are up more than 10% compared to a year ago.

The fact is that if you have good credit–no, not absolutely through-the-roof sterling credit, but just good credit–you can get a loan.   Sure, some Buyers are paying cash, but don’t kid yourself; a lot of those sales are being financed.

It’s the people in less than sound financial condition, who are late or have missed payments, or who have judgements against them who likely face mortgage rejection.

With more homes selling, it’s only logical to realize that mortgages are not nearly as impossible to obtain as the media tells us they are.

The problem is that folks don’t always hear what the market is really like.

David

One Black List in Birmingham To Be On…

Most of us do our best to stay off other people’s black lists, but here’s one worth getting on.

With so many great real estate opportunities appearing in the Shelby Co. and Birmingham area, we started a quick notification e-mail list we call The Black List; it’s for folks wanting to pounce when really good deals show up.

Pounce is probably the right word.  When we saw one home go up for sale in Helena not long ago, it drew 17 Offers.  Rest assured that—when the really good opportunities show up—someone will be ready to make an Offer, and fast.

If you want to be in a position to take advantage of these great deals when they hit, The Black List is a good way to be ready.  We use it only when properties go up for sale that we consider especially good opportunities.  These are not confined to homes we, ourselves list for sale; the homes we report could be listed by any Agent in the area.

How often do we sent out Black List notifications?  That depends entirely on what the market has to offer at any given time.  Again, it must meet our criteria, or it doesn’t get reported.

The Black List reports on good opportunities for conventional/re-sales, new construction, Short Sales and Foreclosures in the Shelby Co. and greater Birmingham area.

The Black List is free to join.  To join, go to our website’s main page and enter your e-mail address at the top.  Your information won’t be shared, and you won’t be spammed.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

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