real estate

File / The Outlook White Oak Landing is a Russell Lands development with 44 home sites in two phases. White Oak Landing broke ground in August as the first new subdivision in Alexander City in 10-plus years.

While some contend the Alexander City real estate market is barely breathing, local agents say a lot is happening under the surface. Meanwhile, those working and living in Auburn and in neighboring Georgia are increasingly coveting property around Dadeville and on Lake Martin.

Alexander City native and RE/MAX Realtor Lacey Howell, who moved away then returned, said while Russell Corp.’s collapse two decades ago devastated the community and hurt property values, a new personality of the city and its potential is emerging. People in their 30s and 40s are taking advantage of reasonable prices to convert older homes into rental properties. Plenty of commercial land is available, especially along U.S. Highway 280, and the proximity to Atlanta, Auburn and Lake Martin is attractive, according to Howell.

“I’m 33 and we chose to move back,” Howell said. “There are a lot of opportunities for young entrepreneurs here. We weren’t looking for big corporate jobs. I think it is slowly changing. A lot of negativity will come from folks who remember the Russell heydays when mid-management jobs paid six figures. A lot of my family worked at Russell. We had a recession inside a recession. It was hard. We lost a lot of upper-middle class people. There may not be management jobs but there could be tech jobs and being able to work remotely. They know they could live on Lake Martin and the Atlanta airport is two hours away.”

While Howell desires the changes that will bring more full-time residents and boost property values, she said it should not come at all costs.

“For all the growth we hope to get, part of Alex City’s charm is its small-town vibe,” she said. “Other places all you see are box stores and concrete. It would look like anybody else.”

Howell said the area is transitioning from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market as the economy improves and disagrees with those who feel Alexander City has little to offer.

“In the past year I’ve sold two homes in Young Acres, one over $400,000 and one over $300,000,” she said. “What’s interesting is being in town, your dollars will stretch a long way. If you buy something comparable in Auburn or Mountain Brook, you’ll pay $700,000 to $800,000.”

White Oak Landing, a Russell Lands development which offers lakefront property in the city limits, is the first new subdivision in Alexander City in 10-plus years. Howell concedes a lack of new homes and apartments in Alexander City but hopes a developer will tap into what she said is a demand for rentals.

“A new apartment complex would rent well,” she said. “I can tell there are people who can afford $600 to $1,200 a month in rent. There is a lack of apartments, a lack of quality rentals, and we have a lot of people who want to rent. I can’t tell you how many calls I get from people looking for rentals. When they’re open they go fast.”

While there is minuscule land downtown for new construction, Howell likes the idea of refurbishing old buildings into new apartments there.

“It would be nice if people could live there and walk to things,” she said.

Howell said residential developers also have a chance to buy comparatively inexpensive property in Alexander City to attract new homebuyers and retirees.

“There is a great opportunity for a developer here especially if the price point stays below $275,000,” she said. “That’s the sweet spot for first-time homebuyers and retirees. They’re competing for the same real estate. … Three bedrooms and two baths is the sweet spot — great for retirees and for young families and young people just starting out. There’s a lot to offer in the $100,000 to $175,000 range in town. A lot of people 35 to 40 are buying older homes and starting to invest in rental properties. In Elmore County and Tallapoosa County you can get property under $100,000 and get them clean and they’re getting $800 to $1,200 a month now.”

While the Alexander City real estate market is finding its footing, the only uncertainty about Dadeville and Lake Martin is how good it will get.

“The lakefront property is a good market,” Rhonda Jaye of Lake Martin Realty said. “There are a lot of people out there looking for a piece of the pie on Lake Martin. In the past four or five years it’s improved just about every year, the single-family detached. My personal sales are up this year over last year. The average days on the market for a second house is 150 to 180 days and what we’re seeing in our market is 140 days.”

People from Georgia are increasingly moving to the lake, Jaye and Howell said.

“On the Dadeville side of the lake we have Georgia buyers,” Jaye said. “Their lakes are overcrowded and it’s just as close for them to drive over here. What we have seen is people starting to look earlier this year in hopes to buy into the lake area and be here by spring. We see people who buy in early tend to test the waters, see how often they’ll use it, and if they use it they sell and move up to a nicer house.”

Howell said she has noted many buyers and potential buyers from Peachtree City, Georgia.

“It has a lot to do with having property that is only two hours from Atlanta and we’re a lot closer to the beach,” she said.

Those living and working in Auburn are seeing Dadeville as a bedroom community with a 30-minute commute, according to Howell.

“We are basically becoming a suburb of Auburn,” she said. “Auburn has no room to expand toward the lake. Our area has a lot to offer. Auburn is getting big fast and people like the small-town feel; they like the Dadeville feel.”

Jaye agreed with that assessment.

“We see people move here and commute not because it is more affordable but because they love the lake life,” she said.

Buyers also don’t have to be directly on the lake to be happy, Howell said.

“StillWaters property has been on fire,” she said. “There is a lot of construction on interior lots for those who want to spend under $300,000.”

While lower costs relative to Auburn are appealing, Jaye said Tallapoosa County property owners would benefit if they paid more in ad valorem taxes for the school system.

“People flock to Auburn because of the school system,” she said. “Anywhere the school is attractive, it increases the value of your home. We have a lot of retired people in the area and they almost never vote on a (property) tax increase for schools. If they did, they’d see a big increase in their property values.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.