By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneMay 19, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--As Army recognitions go, the month of military housing is focused on the lifestyle of Soldiers and their families.
But at Redstone Arsenal, Soldiers are only a fraction of the workday population, with more than 36,000 Army civilians and contractors working on the Arsenal. Hence, the Redstone Rocket has taken the liberty to stretch the monthly Army theme to include a focus on the entire North Alabama housing market.
And when it comes to talking about the region's housing market, the best source of information is the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors.
The realtor association's region includes Madison, Morgan, Marshall, Cherokee, Etowah, Jackson, Lawrence and Limestone counties. The association's inventory averaging more than 3,300 properties in North Alabama can be viewed through the North Alabama Multiple Listing Service Inc. at the valleymls.com website. The association has a membership of about 2,800 licensed realtors.
And. it goes without saying, the realtor association's members are managing a growing housing market due to the growth at Redstone Arsenal.
"Between 2010 and 2015, we are seeing consistent growth in households and the population of the area," Oscar Gonzales, the realtor association's chief executive officer, said.
"The growth of Redstone Arsenal has been very much a part of our growth in the housing market, and the preservation of values and homes sales."
The region is highly desirable to relocating home buyers for three reasons - the social component of the region that includes friendly neighborhoods and families committed to the area, the region's strong economic engine and the opportunity to purchase homes that are environmentally friendly.
But where those relocating home buyers end up living varies with lifestyle and personal choices.
"Relocating is always a challenge, especially if you are going from a large, metro area to a smaller area," Gonzales said. "Where you are coming from can influence what you are looking for. We've seen people who move from very compact, urban areas who want to bust out in the countryside."
Ninety percent of homes sold in the region are in the Huntsville metro area. The average median price (the price that falls in the middle of the highest priced houses and the lowest priced houses) for a home in the region is $175,000. Between 33 and 40 percent of sales is new home construction. Sales of both new and existing homes have remained steady.
"We are seeing consistently a one to two percent growth in sales," Gonzales said. "There are seasonal fluctuations, but for the most part we see that sales are holding their own. We have not had the drastic drops that you have seen in places like San Francisco and Las Vegas. Our median house prices have stayed very stable."
Sellers and buyers both win in a market with stable median house prices.
"Our area offers preservation of home equity," Gonzales said. "People coming into the area can know that the house they buy will retain its value for when it's time to sell. Those buying homes can know they are going to get their investment back. From a housing standpoint, this is a very affordable region."
Yet, Gonzales warns that stable prices mean that home buyers shouldn't expect to find basement bargain prices on homes.
"We're not really a bargain market," he said. "We don't have a lot of foreclosures or short sales. We have good, healthy prices for sellers and buyers. We are a market that is steadily growing and healthy, and people enjoy living here."
There are several variables that influence home sales. A buyer's lifestyle along with their age, race, gender, size of family, income and desired amenities all influence the types of neighborhoods and homes they will choose from.
"Where people are in their lives and who they are have a significant role in buying decisions," Gonzales said.
"For example, 51 percent of first-time home buyers are single women compared to only 10 percent of single men are buying homes for the first time. Many young buyers like the urban lifestyle. Families with young children will look in areas where there are good schools and commute times are short. Older buyers may be more interested in moving out from the metro area because they want land and they don't mind the commute. Master planned communities have an appeal to all age groups."
Drive times are indeed having a more significant influence on buying decisions because of the increasing gasoline prices. That economic fact combined with the realization that new growth in the area is associated with Redstone Arsenal means the region's "natural growth" area is located west of the Arsenal in west Madison County and east Limestone County.
"That area is just exploding. The area's schools are also giving the area a boost because they have excellent reputations. Schools definitely contribute to an area's economics," Gonzales said.
While there is a variety in housing, Gonzales said most sales are for homes in the $300,000 and below categories.
For those new residents moving to Alabama from other states, Gonzales said they are pleasantly surprised with housing prices and variety while viewing the state's Buyer Beware status as a significant negative.
"Buyer Beware states frighten a lot of people," Gonzales said. "Most states require full disclosure and their boards of realtors are very highly regulated.
"We are working on state legislation that will put mechanisms in place to protect home buyers and consumers. We do want tighter regulation and full disclosure. We recognize that if regulations are too tight they can choke a developer. But we need regulations that give consumers some comfort and confidence in buying."
Mortgage lenders also help to protect consumers by requiring certain standards for the homes they will finance.
Today's home buyer is educated and sophisticated, and relies on the Internet for housing information.
"Gone are the days when a buyer sits in a realtor's car, and drives and drives and drives," Gonzales said. "When they come here, they already have information about the community and an idea of where they want to live. Realtors provide them with more in-depth information and knowledge, and shepherd them through the home buying process."