HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - School is back in session, the leaves are turning and we may finally get a break from the heat. But unlike years past, the housing market shows no sign of cooling off this fall.
Instead, the latest numbers from the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors (HAAR) show people are still buying at record rates.
In short, it's a seller's market.
In August, 1,470 homes sold in North Alabama. The average sale price - $216,730. Average days on market - 54.
In Huntsville/Madison County, there were 808 homes sold last month. Average sale price - $248,270. Average days on market - 43.
In Athens/Limestone County, there were 202 homes sold. Average sale price - $238,877. Average days on market - 41.
Cindi Peters-Tanner is board president for HAAR. She's also a realtor with Legend Realty, with 15 years of experience in North Alabama.
She says the area has never seen anything to compare to the current housing market. For example, back in 2006 - another hot year - there weren't even 1,470 homes on the market to sell in North Alabama.
That's created a boom in development.
"New home construction is going crazy. They're ramping up. It's everywhere. You see a new subdivision every single time you drive down the road," Peters-Tanner says.
It's unlikely to slow anytime soon. Since January 1, 2018, the Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce has announced 36 economic projects, which will ultimately create 7,994 jobs.
Peters-Tanner says, "we have so much job growth coming to the area. It's coming in like a wave again, that people are selling their homes really quickly and that's leading to shorter days on market than we've seen in the past."
While much of the job growth has been in Madison and Limestone counties, it's having a ripple effect across the area.
"One of the biggest things is, people are willing to drive a little further. I have people who work in Huntsville and are willing to live in Decatur. They don't mind the drive, especially if they're coming from DC or California or Chicago,' Peters-Tanner says.
All this means realtors are giving their buyers some specific guidance. Natalie Jones, with Amanda Howard Sotheby's International Realty, recently helped some first-time homebuyers finally seal a deal.
Jones notes, "buyers have to be a lot more prepared than they were before. It's not really a casual looking process anymore. You need to go ahead and be pre-qualified with a lender because we don't have those two or three days between finding a house and finding the financing. You've got to come with your paperwork in hand."
That's especially true if you're looking for anything under $250,000.
Peters-Tanner says, "if you're under 250, it's been really fast. That's a good entry point for a lot of young families and when I say that, it's because the interest rates are still very, very low. Now, if we were looking at 8 to 10 percent interest rates, that price point would change again. It might be down in the 150 range but right now...under 250 is really hot and that's for most of North Alabama."
Adding to that are young professionals, who might be renting rather than buying in other parts of the country. Here, realtors say they're buying and at a higher price point than might be expected.
Still, local realtors caution - sellers can't just stick a sign in the yard and get top-dollar.
"Your first showing is the minute you hit the market," Peters-Tanner says.
"Everybody loves to look at houses online. They are constantly on ValleyMLS.com, constantly looking at homes. This is not one of those markets where you can put your home on the market and say, well I'm going to have the carpets cleaned next week. No, carpets cleaned now and then, we put it on the market," Peters-Tanner says.
Especially since more and more deals are being done without the buyers ever setting foot in the house.
"That's where the pictures come in. That's where the best foot forward comes forward. You have to be ready to maximize the sell," Peters-Tanner says.
Although some people are selling their homes, without even trying.
It starts with a cold call.
"We have buyers waiting for certain areas, for whatever reason. It could be a certain school district they want to be in. It could be close to a neighborhood park, green space, downtown, Madison, whatever and they've set their realtor up with, 'this is what I want,' and the realtor's like, 'it's not on the market, let me go find it,' and we do," Peters-Tanner says.
If you happen to get one of these cold calls, Peters-Tanners says do your homework before making any decisions. "Talk to (your own) realtor and look at the comparables...to make sure it's right."
For more information, including a first-time home buyer toolkit, you can visit the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors.