Baldwin County real estate sales are just beachy
By Dawn Kent
Vacationers are returning to Alabama’s beaches this summer, and more of them are making real estate investments there, a year after the Gulf oil spill ravaged the market.
Baldwin County, bolstered by improving condo sales along the now cleaned-up beaches, currently leads the state in year-over-year gains in overall home sales, according to the latest data from the Alabama Center for Real Estate.
Through the first four months of this year, the county’s home sales totaled 1,203, up 14 percent over the same time period last year. In April, condo sales alone rose to 127, up 21 percent from a year ago.
“Our real estate colleagues along the beach share that this momentum continued in May with significant buyer traffic and that the condo market should continue to improve over the summer,” said Grayson Glaze, executive director of ACRE, which is located at the University of Alabama.
Prices also are on the rise, at least where condos are concerned. While the overall average selling price in Baldwin County through April is flat compared to a year ago, the year-to-date average condo price has risen 11 percent, to $261,866.
The numbers are especially promising, considering that a rally was on in the condo market during the spring of last year, as buyers were shaking off the effects of the global financial crisis.
Then the oil spill hit in late April and wrecked that movement, so future year-over-year comparisons should be even more significant.
Birmingham real estate analyst Tom Brander, who compiles a monthly coastal home sales report based on the Baldwin County Multiple Listing Service area, cited last year’s pre-oil spill improvements in his April report.
“This year I am seeing the same positive pattern emerge, so hopefully with no disasters we should see a decent market,” he wrote in his blog.
Despite this year’s uptick, prices remain far off the norms seen during the super-heated housing markets of 2006 and 2007, when average monthly condo prices were regularly in the $300,000 and $400,000 range and sometimes topped $500,000.
But those prices started falling long before last year’s oil spill.
Meanwhile, rentals also are up this summer, and there are fewer questions about clean beaches.
“In January and February, some people were asking, but that’s not asked anymore,” said Marie Curren, director of marketing and reservations for real estate firm Brett/Robinson.
So far this year, Brett/Robinson rentals, which include nearly 2,000 condos in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, are up 10 percent over 2009, which was the last decent year.
“We were very anxious as Spring Break rolled around, would they come or would they not?” Curren said. “The booking window got very tight.”
And that window, measured as the time between the reservation booking and the day of arrival, remains tighter than normal this summer, she added.
In the old days, the average person made a reservation 30 days out. Now, about 35 to 40 percent of all reservations are booked within six days of the arrival date.
Curren attributes the trend to the busy summer schedules of moms, dads and children, and the sometimes-difficult task of getting everyone on the same page.
There’s also the tough economy, accompanied by the desire to spend hard-earned and hard-saved money well.
“Of the people who come to our area, 95 percent are drive-ins, and they’re tying into the weather,” she said. “If it’s not going to be nice, they’ll say, ‘We’ll just go next weekend.'”
Curren said business also is improving at Brett/Robinson’s sales division, to the tune of 25 to 30 percent compared to 2009. The company doesn’t use 2010 as a benchmark because the disaster skews comparisons.
“In 2010, we were experiencing a rally of interest and purchases and then the oil spill hit and devastated everything,” she said.
Now that Alabama’s beaches are clean, a positive attitude has returned among buyers interested in coastal real estate, said Jeff McLaurin, Alabama broker with ResortQuest Real Estate.
Most of the buyers McLaurin is seeing are cash buyers, and there also are some new faces.
For instance, the dramatic price drops in recent years have made beach front property, as well as beach-area property, more accessible to people who couldn’t afford it previously.
“It’s attracted a different group of second home owners,” he said. “A lot of people are buying off the beach just to have a place at the beach, and they’re not counting on rental income.”
On Memorial Day weekend, Alabama’s beaches were busy, McLaurin said, and there was more boat traffic than he had seen in years.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Memorial Day like that one,” he said. “The fear factor of the oil spill has obviously gone away.”
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