Category Archives: Madison County “in the news”

Alabama residential median sales price continues to improve in August

Click here to view or print the entire August report compliments of the ACRE Corporate Cabinet.

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View full size Alabama home sales in August slipped 2.1 percent compared to last August. YTD sales up 1.2%. August sales are now up 38% from its August bottom in 2010. Infograph courtesy of ACRE. All rights reserved.

Alabama residential sales totaled 4,139 units in August, a decrease in sales growth of 2.1 percent from the same period a year earlier and 210 units shy of our monthly forecast. Nationally, sales were off 5.3 percent in August from the prior year. See more details of how Alabama compares to the broader US market here.

The YTD Alabama sales forecast through August projected 31,414 closed transactions while the actual sales were 30,212 units, a 3.8 percent cumulative variance. YTD sales through August have been sluggish in most markets across the State but remain 1.3 percent above the 2013. Sales were up 2.3 percent in the second quarter compared to 2013.

Across Alabama, 64 percent of local markets reported positive sales growth compared to last August. It was 48 percent in July. This figure also remains at 64 percent when taking into account total YTD sales compared to 2013.

Pricing: The lead story in 2014 relates to pricing. The Center shared in earlier reports that pricing represents the primary indicator that still had the greatest upside in the future. At least through August, this has come to fruition as prices are up in 16 of 25 or 64 percent of local markets. While this is good news for the market, as prices increase, sales (the typical lead story) attributable to investors bargain hunting will diminish the ability of this “buyer profile” to push the sales growth needle in the future. Distressed sales continue to significantly diminish as a percentage of total sales across the US, a trend most market watchers content will continue in the future.

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View full size Alabama median home sales price in August 2014 improved 12.8% from prior year and now up 21% from the month of August price bottom in 2004. Infoigraph courtesy of ACRE. All rights reserved.

The median sales price improved by approximately 12.8 percent over last August and 6.3 percent when comparing the year-to-date (Jan-August) average for a broader perspective. Still, Alabama remains below the nation’s recent pace of appreciation but the Center prefers gradual increases in pricing over spikes seen in many parts of the country (typically in markets hardest hit by the recession). Keep in mind that pricing can fluctuate from month-to-month due to sampling size of data and seasonal buying patterns. The median price increased 1.7 percent from the prior month. This direction contrast with historical data (09-13) that reflects that the August sales price traditionally decrease from the month of July by 1.1 percent.

Supply: The statewide housing inventory in August was 33,561 units, a decrease of .6 percent from August 2013 and 20.4 percent below the month of August peak in 2007 (42,149 units). There was 8.1 months of housing supply (7 months considered equilibrium during month of August) in August 2014 versus 8.0 months of supply in August 2013, a 1.5 percent unfavorable increase. August inventory also decreased by 1.5 percent from the prior month. This direction contrast with historical data that indicates August inventory on average (09-13) traditionally increases from the month of July by 4.5 percent.

Demand: As anticipated, August statewide residential sales declined 5.4 percent from the prior month. This direction is consistent with seasonal trends & recent historical data that indicates August sales, on average (09-13), decrease from the month of July by 1.1 percent.

The fact that there are fewer distressed properties (attracting bargain hunting investors – typically cash buyers) changing hands when compared to last year has also narrowed the favorable percentage change associated with sales growth.

Seeking Balance: Six or 24 percent of local markets are considered near or in balance where buyer and seller enjoy equal bargaining power. More markets are inching closer so this is encouraging news.

In contrast to reports of lack of inventory at the national level, Alabama still has above the needed levels of supply in most local markets (13 of 25 markets or 52 percent still have 10+ months of supply) but the supply of “quality” inventory is limiting sales according to local professionals with boots on the ground. Only 12 of 25 or 48 percent of local markets have single-digit months of housing supply so this is an area where more reduction would be welcome news. Last month this figure stood at 44 percent. With that offered, metro markets representing 70 percent of statewide transactions, are edging closer and closer to equilibrium with 7.2 months of supply.

Industry Perspective: “The August National Housing Survey results lend support to our forecast that 2015 will likely not be a breakout year for housing,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “The deterioration in consumer attitudes about the current home buying environment reflects a shift away from record home purchase affordability without enough momentum in consumer personal financial sentiment to compensate for it. To date, this year’s labor market strength has not translated into sufficient income gains to inspire confidence among consumers to purchase a home, even in the current favorable interest rate environment. Our third quarter Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey results, to be released later this month, are expected to show whether mortgage demand from the lender perspective is in line with consumer housing sentiment.” For full report, go HERE.

This monthly report is provided compliments of the ACRE Corporate Cabinet. 

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New Madison swimming pool, recreation center a step closer to reality

The Madison school board and city council have entered into a memorandum of understanding together as they plan a new recreation center, including a new swimming pool, to be built on Celtic Drive. The plans tentatively call for a 50-meter, indoor pool, like the one in this photo taken at the Huntsville Natatorium. (Bob Gathany/bgathany@al.com)

The Madison school board and city council have entered into a memorandum of understanding together as they plan a new recreation center, including a new swimming pool, to be built on Celtic Drive. The plans tentatively call for a 50-meter, indoor pool, like the one in this photo taken at the Huntsville Natatorium. (Bob Gathany/bgathany@al.com)

Swim team members at Bob Jones and James Clemens high schools – and competitive swimmers across the Madison community – may soon have more elbow room in the swimming pool.

The Madison school board on Tuesday approved a memorandum of intent with the City of Madison for a proposed recreational facility that would include a new pool. Superintendent Dee Fowler assured the board that the memorandum brings with it no contractual obligation, but moves the district closer to one.

The Madison City Council approved a similar measure last month, along with a memo of understanding with Fieldhouse LLC, the Nashville-based firm chosen to build and help manage the recreation center.

[Related story: Divided Madison City Council agrees to partner with schools, private firm to pursue recreation campus]

The target date for a binding agreement between the board and the city is Oct. 1.

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The Madison Parks and Recreation master plan approved by the city council in May gives a concept of the layout of a proposed recreation center, along with hotels, restaurants and other retailers on adjacent property. (Provided by City of Madison)

View full size The Madison Parks and Recreation master plan approved by the city council in May gives a concept of the layout of a proposed recreation center, along with hotels, restaurants and other retailers on adjacent property. (Provided by City of Madison)

The plan is for the two entities to develop an agreement for the planning, design, construction, maintenance and operation of the facility, which, besides an indoor pool, would also include multiple basketball and volleyball courts and a number of outdoor sports fields. The facility would be built next to the Madison football stadium on Celtic Drive.

The school district currently owns that property, Fowler said, but would convey the property to the city for the project upon execution of a construction contract between the city and the builders. The district would also put up $3 million, a portion of the BRAC funding it received last summer, to help build the facility.

“We were given three years to use the BRAC funds, and one year is up,” Fowler said. “We have two years left to spend that money.”

According to the memorandum, the $3 million covers what it would cost the school district to build a natatorium, or indoor swim facility, of its own.

“The board will take the lead in the design of the interior portion of the natatorium within the recreational building, and the facilities within the recreational building such as locker rooms directly supporting the function of the natatorium,” the memo states.

The city will collaborate with the board on the overall design and look of the entire facility.

During the high school swim season, the Bob Jones and James Clemens teams would have priority scheduling for their practices and competitions over the city recreational teams.

The new pool is a long time coming for the school and recreational swim teams, who have been sharing the pool at Dublin Park. Parents aired their frustrations at a city council meeting last month, saying they were tired of waiting for a new pool.

[Related story: Madison pool parents boiling over delay; demand a 25-yard facility now instead of 50-meters in future]

At Tuesday’s meeting, several swim parents thanked the board for its work.

“I appreciate all of the efforts by the board, and the swim community is out there to support it,” said Laurie Messer, a parent and referee with the Madison Swimming Association.

New Madison swimming pool, recreation center a step closer to reality | AL.com.

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Huntsville ready to roll with $383M in road upgrades over next 5 years

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Orange construction cones may replace the Saturn V as Huntsville’s unofficial mascot over the next five years.

Mayor Tommy Battle called a Wednesday news conference to update drivers on 27 road construction projects around the city that are recently under way or expected to break ground in the coming months.

The $383 million in planned road work is touching almost every major street in town, including Memorial Parkway, U.S. 72 East and West, Martin Road, Research Park Boulevard, Old Madison Pike and Zierdt Road.

Improving traffic flow is vital to Huntsville maintaining its status as an employment hub for all of North Alabama, said Battle. Currently, an estimated 110,000 workers commute into the city from surrounding areas.

“It is inconvenient having to divert traffic and move people around through construction zones,” said Battle. “But we’re a regional employment center. Our workforce comes from a 14-county area. We have to have the capabilities of getting those people … into the city of Huntsville to work each day.”

The road upgrades are a mix of 15 locally-funded projects and 12 being done in concert with the Alabama Department of Transportation. Huntsville and the state are splitting the estimated $221.5 million cost of new Parkway overpasses at Mastin Lake, Lily Flagg and Byrd Spring roads, widening U.S. 72 East and West, and building the next leg of the Northern Bypass.

Last December, the Huntsville City Council voted to raise sales taxes from 8 percent to 9 percent to finance the city’s share of the road construction partnership.

Here’s an update from Battle and City Engineer Kathy Martin on some key road projects:

New Memorial Parkway overpasses at Byrd Spring and Lily Flagg roads:Design is 90 percent finished; state expected to seek construction bids in March 2015; work on access roads should start mid-2015. Huntsville wants the contractor to move quickly, said Martin, and may offer cash incentives for finishing ahead of schedule. Part of the work will be done at night to try to minimize impact on businesses in that stretch, she said.

New Memorial Parkway overpass at Mastin Lake Road: Design is 30 percent finished; construction scheduled to start late 2016.

Third westbound lane over Chapman Mountain on U.S. 72 East: Reed Contracting has been hired and should start work in October; the job is expected to be finished in April 2016.

Six-laning U.S. 72 West from Providence Main Street to Limestone County line: Concept drawings being reviewed; public involvement meeting planned for later this month; on track for mid-2016 start.

Build Northern Bypass between Pulaski Pike and Memorial Parkway: Design 60 percent finished; next step is acquiring needed right-of-way; on track for mid-2017 start.

Holmes Avenue bridge replacement: Construction is 70 percent complete and should wrap up in January.

Four-laning Zierdt Road between Madison Boulevard and Martin Road:Clearing and Redstone Arsenal fence relocation complete; construction of new northbound lanes on track to start late this year and finish in mid-2016.

Five-laning Martin Road from Zierdt Road to near Huntsville International Airport: First phase from Zierdt to Old Jim Williams Road expected to start early 2016.

Five-laning Winchester Road between Dominion Circle and Naugher Road:Design is 90 percent complete; next step is purchasing needed right-of-way; on track for early 2016 construction start.

Widening Old Madison Pike west of Cummings Research Park: Construction is 70 percent complete and should wrap up in April 2015.

Weatherly Road extension to future Grissom High School site: Construction is 20 percent complete and should be finished by July 2015.

New five-lane section of Church Street between Oakwood and Pratt avenues: Construction is 80 percent complete and on track to wrap up in October.

Huntsville ready to roll with $383M in road upgrades over next 5 years, including 3 new Parkway overpasses | AL.com.

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Bob Jones, James Clemens among nation’s best high schools

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Students at Bob Jones High School in Madison wait for class to begin on the first day of the 2014-2015 school year. The school was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

Madison’s two high schools, along with seven others across Alabama, were ranked among the best in the nation this week by The Daily Beast.

Bob Jones High School ranked at No. 292 and James Clemens High, in just its third year of existence, ranked at No. 697 out of the 735 schools named to the list.

“We used six indicators culled from school surveys to compare public high schools in the U.S., with graduation and college acceptance rates weighed most heavily,” The Daily Beast reported. “Other criteria included: college-level courses and exams, percentage of students with free or reduced lunch as well as SAT and ACT scores – another mark of how well a school prepares students for college.”

Madison was the only school district in Alabama to have more than one school make it into the rankings, said John Peck, public relations manager for Madison City Schools. Peck said the latest ranking was made more impressive by the fact that it included magnet schools, charter schools and schools that allow enrollment by lottery or application.

“I’m so proud of the Bob Jones kids and teachers,” said Robby Parker, principal of Bob Jones. “I admit I’m biased, but they are the best in the nation. I’ve always said that, but data backs it up.”

James Clemens High School opening day

James Clemens High School students go through a class change on the first day of school in August 2012. The school, now in its third year of existence, was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

James Clemens High School students go through a class change on the first day of school in August 2012. The school, now in its third year of existence, was named to The Daily Beast’s 2014 list of top high schools in the U.S. (File photo)

James Clemens principal Brian Clayton said he is also pleased the school made the list, particularly since it is such a young school.

“It’s a result of our great faculty and staff and our elementary and middle schools that send them here,” Clayton said. “We look forward to remaining on the list and ranking even higher.”

The Daily Beast ranks Bob Jones, James Clemens among nation’s best high schools | AL.com.

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Huntsville awarded Wall Street’s top credit rating

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Wall Street continues to hold the City of Huntsville in high regard when it comes to financial management.

Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s both awarded Huntsville their best-possible triple-A credit rating last week – the sixth straight year the Rocket City has held that distinction.

A city’s credit ranking is based on a variety of factors including past financial management, current debt and economic strength. Cities rated triple-A tend to have a reasonable amount of debt and significant cash reserves to help weather economic downturns.

A stellar credit rating allows Huntsville to borrow money at the most favorable interest rates.

Tommy Battle Will Not Run For GovernorHuntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. (Eric Schultz / eschultz@al.com)

“We have worked hard to remain fiscally responsible in a time of shrinking resources,” Mayor Tommy Battle said in a news release. “We have put our dollars into our most critical needs – public safety, education, infrastructure and economic development – and we are being rewarded with an influx of new industries and expanding businesses that desire a secure, healthy community.”

The positive credit ratings are also a result of strong teamwork between Battle’s administration and the Huntsville City Council, he said.

The Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s ratings were issued ahead of a city plan to refinance about $60 million in old debt at today’s lower interest rates. Finance Director Randy Taylor estimates the refinancing will save taxpayers about $4 million.

Moody’s said Huntsville’s strengths include a stable financial position, above-average wealth levels, below-average unemployment and a large, regionally important tax base with significant government presence.

Updated at 10:32 a.m. to add that this is the sixth straight year Huntsville has been rated triple-A

Huntsville awarded Wall Street’s top credit rating ahead of $60M refinancing | AL.com.

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Madison planners OK layout of Villages of Oakland Springs; first Traditional Neighborhood District

Developers for the new neighborhood center project anticipate earth grading for the 349-lot subdivision to begin in two to three months after getting their layout plat approved by the Madison Planning Commission on Thursday.

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At this point, the focus is on working out the technical details of the project’s infrastructure and then following up with getting the single-family homes built, said Ron Roberts, one of the partners developing 157 acres on Huntsville Browns Ferry Road into what’s being called Villages of Oakland Springs.

About 15 acres of that property is dedicated for commercial use, which will be constructed in the same manner as Village of Providence in Northwest Huntsville.

There’s nothing to announce yet on what’s coming on the commercial side of the project because those designs are still being planned, he said.

Roberts’ partner, Todd Slyman, said it could take years to fully develop the retail and office aspect of Oakland Springs, because ultimately, it will be determined by the growth of eastern Limestone County.

“You have to have the population growth in order to get some of those things that happened over in Providence, he said. “But sure, the goal is to have another neighborhood center. The goal is to end up with a similar product.

“Now, is it going to have all the same elements, I don’t know yet. Depends on how things develop out there and how things go. Demand will determine what the retail becomes. As that area grows, we’ll have a better idea of what to bring in there and make that work,” Slyman said.

Asked whether he learned any valuable lessons from developing Providence that might benefit Oakland Springs, Slyman said he couldn’t pinpoint anything specific other than learning the right ways to execute plans, because for the most part, Providence played out as planned.

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“We really haven’t varied from the original plans from the way we originally designed it,” he said. “It’s come together really well. It’s kind of the vision we had from the beginning.”

One popular element of Providence that is already incorporated into layout plat for Oakland Springs is a park-like “common area” in the middle of the subdivision. Providence has used its common area for outdoor concerts and movies. Plans for the common area in Oakland Springs call for green space next to a small lake.

The location is in the middle of cotton fields along an old farm to market road, and it’s about a 1.5 miles from the closest residential subdivision. Still, the location is prime for growth, Slyman said, because it’s minutes away from what families need, such as James Clemens High School, Madison Hospital and Publix.

One of the access points into the subdivision is directly across from where Holladay Road ends at Huntsville Browns Ferry Road

“Holladay Road is a great addition,” Slyman said of the five-lane roadway that begins at U.S. 72. “It’s basically coming right into the project. It’s a five-lane driveway.”

Oakland Springs also is less than two miles from County Line Road to the east and a straight 6.5 miles from the interchange at Interstate 65 to the west.

The planning commission discussed the challenge ahead of providing sufficient roadways for the rapidly growing area of western Madison. The existing county roads are not built for high volume of daily commuters. As part of the Oakland Springs project, the city is asking for 120 feet of right of way for the future widening of Huntsville Browns Ferry Road.

Madison planners OK layout of Villages of Oakland Springs; first Traditional Neighborhood District months away from construction | AL.com.

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Madison City Council OKs rezoning for new midtown shopping center

A new shopping center is coming to Wall Triana Highway and Browns Ferry Road after the City Council rezoned about 22 acres of empty fields.

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View full sizeThe Madison City Council on Monday rezoned about 22 acres on the northeast corner of Wall Triana Highway and Browns Ferry Road. The rezoning will allow for a new shopping center.

That didn’t sit well with more than two dozen residents from the surrounding neighborhoods who said convenient shopping is not an acceptable trade-off for the peacefulness they will lose with increased traffic.

“Shopping’s not everyone’s quality of life,” said Lois Brown, a Madison Trace resident, who said she will lose her quiet evenings sitting outside once a shopping center opens. “Please, please help us keep that quality of life. That’s why we moved from Huntsville to Madison. Please don’t make us move to Harvest or Monrovia to get back that quality of life.”

Eleven residents pleaded with the council to reject The Sembler Company’s request to rezone the property from R-2 medium density residential to B-2 community commercial district. This will allow grocery stores and small retail businesses to locate a few blocks west of Kroger on Hughes Road.

Shopping’s not everyone’s quality of life.” – Lois Brown, Madison Trace resident

Josh Beyer, vice president of development for Sembler, said he couldn’t divulge which particular stores they seek for the shopping center, but he said neighborhood service shopping centers typically have a grocery store and smaller retail outlets, such as the Publix on County Line Road.

“This would be a lot smaller,” he said, compared to the Publix on County Line Road. He added it would not include a big box home improvement type store.

The residents opposed to the rezoning said the property has been zoned residential for 20 years and some specifically made sure it wasn’t going to be commercial before they bought their houses. They told the council it should stick with what’s on the books. Some also argued that a new shopping center won’t really add much because it will take away business from existing stores, ultimately creating more empty storefronts.

Toby Stauch said there are enough empty storefronts in Madison already to accommodate retail growth.

Before the vote, which passed 6-1, with Councilman Tim Holcombe the lone dissenter, Council President Tommy Overcash said some residents behind where Publix had the same concerns but their fears were not realized.

Councilman Mike Potter said he researched the 11 homes within two blocks of Publix that sold since it opened, which showed two decreased in value by 1 percent, four increased 10 to 15 percent and five increased from 20 and 45 percent.

“Did Publix cause that, I can’t say, but you can say a development like Publix did not decrease it.”

Councilman Gerald Clark, who represents the area where the new shopping center will be, said growing up on a farm where they went grocery shopping once a week, he learned the value of stores being within walking distance.

“You don’t know what convenience is until you don’t have it,” he said.

Clark said he’s optimistic the city can find money to eventually four-lane Wall Triana all the way to U.S. 72, but it will take lots of money, which the new shopping center can help provide. He reminded them his main campaign platform was to increase the city’s tax base.

Former Councilman Tim Cowles, who once represented the area in question, said he favored the proposal for several reasons: one, if residential had been the best use, the property would not have remained vacant for 20 years; two, development will bring traffic improvements to the intersection; and three, the property owner ought to be able to determine its best use.

“I for one would like to see additional services there,” he said.

Mayor Troy Trulock said after the meeting that he didn’t feel the residents who spoke against the rezoning represented the sentiment of most of the 23,000 residents who live within two miles of the shopping center site or more residents would have attended.

There were 32 people there to here to speak for or against the rezoning, and 11 spoke against and two spoke were for it, Trulock said.

Councilman Steve Smith encouraged the residents to stay involved in the process because the development still has several steps through City Hall before it can begin construction.

“So don’t feel like you have lost your voice,” he said.

via Despite residents’ fears, Madison City Council OKs rezoning for new midtown shopping center | AL.com.

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