Tag Archives: Sandra Nickel

Bye Bye Bel Aire—Hello, Hornet Football!

They started showing up shortly after 8 a.m. last Saturday. As the morning progressed, the land in front of the old Cloverdale School building gradually was covered over by RVs, trucks and cars. And out of the vehicles came grills, coolers, lawn furniture and canopies. Fans of Huntingdon football and their homecoming rival, Birmingham Southern, were participating in one of the South’s favorite rituals:  tailgating.

In the not-too-distant future, Alabama State Hornet fans will be able to enjoy the same spectator sport. In a brief interview on Friday, September 24, ASU President William Harris confirmed that ASU will be constructing an on-campus stadium. “We have the land available. We have the site picked out,” he said. Trustees are in the process now of preparing bond documents to support the project.

Hearing this good news from Alabama State brought to mind the construction already underway on the eastern edge of the campus, an area formerly known as Bel Aire. To enable future expansion, the University had between 1995 and 2000 acquired all of the property between University Boulevard and the west side of Forest Avenue.

Not all of the acquisition went smoothly. Some of the land was bought from homeowners, but a significant number of properties were acquired through the process of eminent domain. The recently deceased African-American District Judge Charles S. Conley owned many parcels wanted by the University and actually sued, alleging that officials had discriminated racially in their offers of compensation.

When I first noted activity on the Bel Aire land this spring, I telephoned University spokesman Ken Mullinax to learn if it might herald the coming of the much-discussed football stadium and was disappointed to learn that there were other plans for that area of the campus. The recent news of a stadium site is exciting, and I’m sure welcomed by alums who want to join the ranks of Southerners who are able to make game days really special.

It will be interesting to see if folks living near the ASU campus are equally happy about the planned addition. For reasons I don’t understand, I have heard some say that an on-campus stadium is not a good idea and that play should continue at Cramton Bowl.

It will also be interesting to see where Huntingdon tailgaters go when the Cloverdale School frontage, now being offered for sale by owner Colonial Properties, changes hands and is developed. Were there not a fire station on East Fairview, it might make sense to just close the street on game days and allow the party to occur in the roadway. As that is not an option, I suppose only time will tell.

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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Small Town Living in a Midsized City

As I write at my office desk in the heart of Cloverdale, I hear the sound of marching band music  reverberating from the grounds of what was once Cloverdale Junior High School (and before 1929, I understand, Montgomery County High School). The parking lot is filled with school buses from many counties in central Alabama; and the grounds are full of kids in band uniforms, toting instruments, along with their drum majors and majorettes. There must be some kind of competition underway.

The sights and sounds transport me back in time to my childhood and our home in a small town. Our home backed up to the junior high school, and the sound of band practice was a regular occurrence, as was the sound that I considered the harbinger of spring — the crack of a baseball being hit off a wooden Louisville Slugger bat as teams prepared to compete in many different kinds of league play.

Speaking of baseball, earlier today I happened by Huntingdon College where I saw the Huntingdon Hawks conducting what must have been a fall practice. On the streets and sidewalks nearby were bicyclists, runners and walkers, most of whose faces I recognized. In fact, the challenge when one walks or runs around here is that of maintaining the pace as it’s tremendously tempting to keep stopping to chat and catch up!

From my desk, I can look out onto Fairview Avenue and see people coming and going to the Cloverdale Shoe Shop and the boutique M. Bagwell on either side of our office, joining friends or family for lunch at Sinclair’s or Tomatino’s. On Sunday morning when I come to feed our office cat, Halle, I always see folks I know at Café Louisa enjoying their pastries, coffee and newspapers … along with a healthy helping of neighborly conversation.

All this reminds me of what I often tell Montgomery newcomers about life in Midtown:  It’s like living in a small town inside a mid-size city. Whether a patron chooses the Pine Bar in Cloverdale Village, Sinclair’s or Bud’s in Cloverdale Five Points, or Down the Street on Zelda Road, he or she enters a Cheers-like atmosphere where “everybody knows your name.”

Montgomery is said now to have approximately 225,000 people inside the city limits. But in Midtown Montgomery, the population count is a much more manageable (and knowable) 8,500 households. I guess this translates into about 25,000 adults and children, just about the size of the tiny hometown of my youth. And it’s the perfect size for truly getting to know folks and develop meaningful relationships.

Midtown Montgomerians are passionate about our quality of life. We care deeply about what goes on in our midst. A great example is the proposed rezoning of the aforementioned a“Cloverdale Junior High” frontage. As soon as the zoning signs went up, my telephone lit up — as did those of many neighborhood leaders. Folks wanted to know what was being proposed and whether it would it be good for Midtown. (I happen to believe it is a positive step.)

You can easily get from one end of Midtown to the other in less than 15 minutes unless you are caught in morning or afternoon “drive time.” Downtown and the Capitol Complex are only minutes away. We have everything one needs in the way of shopping except a major clothier. And the merchants are, for the most part, local folks who live here, so our dollars stay right here in our tight-knit little community.

All of this is to say that life in Midtown is good … so good, sometimes, that I feel a bit sad for folks who have somehow opted out (or not opted in). If you agree, help spread the word!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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How’s the Market? It All Depends!

This week, I ran across a very interesting chart that describes the various “states” possible in any given real estate market:

A severe buyers’ market means prices are extremely negotiable and may be falling. In Midtown Montgomery, it means in general that only those really needing to sell should be on the market because buyers expect and are getting discounts on sales prices and many other give-backs with dollar signs attached.

So how’s the market? Taken as a whole, Midtown is still pretty much tough sledding for sellers. Overall, we see 11.01 months of homes available for sale. That means in theory that if no additional homes go on the market, it will take just over 11 months for all the existing listings to be sold. The good news is that the inventory of homes available for sale is down somewhat from last year and appears still to be declining.

But..and it’s a big but…Midtown is not one monolithic market. It is the sum of many varied markets. Each neighborhood and price range is a mini-market within the larger Midtown market as a whole. So when you ask me (or whomever), “How’s the market?,” don’t be surprised if the answer is, “Well, it all depends!”

Let’s look at a few specifics, starting with Cloverdale-Idlewild. In the past 12 months, 13 homes were sold. And today there are exactly 13 homes on the market for sale. Clearly, there is that theoretical 12-month supply of homes, which would label Cloverdale-Idlewild a severe buyers’ market.

But for a real severe buyers’ market, we need look no further than Center City (Garden District, the two Cloverdales and Edgewood) homes priced at $200,000 or more. Currently there are 42 homes for sale and only 20 sold in the past 12 months. It’s the perfect opportunity for an old-house lover to sell his/her/their smaller home and move up to the bigger, more expensive home of their dreams! (More later on why the best time to move up is in a down market.)

Hillwood, however, is quite a different story. In the past 12 months, 13 homes sold in Hillwood/Hillwood West. And there are only 8 homes on the market today. In theory, it will take less than 8 months for those homes to sell, so Hillwood is a balanced market. This means that buyers won’t find the “deals” there that the national media has been telling them they should expect.

If you are thinking about selling and/or buying in Midtown, be sure you have the “How’s the market…my segment of the market” conversation with your agent. Then act accordingly to avoid disappointment down the road.

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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Fixer-Upper Homes: Opportunity in Work Clothes!

By Sandra Nickel

This week I visited a neat 3 bedroom, 2 bath Midtown Montgomery brick cottage just east of Old Cloverdale. While it was not in move-in condition, it would hardly qualify as “rode hard and put up wet,” either. It comes complete with walk-in closet in the master bedroom and a jetted tub in the master bath!

Hardwood floors are stained and need to be refinished. New appliances are needed in the kitchen. And to become a really attractive rental, the home needs a good paint job. Assuming no hidden issues, I’d guess a renovation budget of $5,000 would handle it all. So for a total of just under $65,000, the house could be yours.

Because it is a FNMA foreclosure, you would be eligible even as an investor for FNMA HomePath Renovation Financing with only a 10% down payment (only 3% if you are going to live there!). Let’s break down some numbers quickly. The cost of acquisition of the house I’m talking about would, therefore, look like this:

Purchase price: $59,900 (assuming you can’t negotiate a better deal)
Improvements: $5,000
Total acquisition: $64,900
10% down payment $6,500
Loan amount: $58,400
Interest rate 15Yr: 4.25%

Payment
Principal & interest: $439.33
Tax: $34.50
Insurance: $50.00
Total: $523.83

You should be able to rent this property for at least $750.00 per month, giving you plenty of room to hire a property manager if you choose and to build a good cash reserve for the inevitable repairs and vacancies.

So where does the dirt come in? My $5,000 renovation budget did not include what I call “industrial strength” cleaning. That, if you will do it (down-on-your-hands-and-knees behind the commode, for example), you will attract a much better tenant. Folks with high standards appreciate cleanliness and they take care of your property!

The other thing not covered in the $5,000 is landscaping. Right now the yard needs some fluffing up, something else you can do yourself to build equity.

Fifteen years from now, your tenants will have bought you this house. At that point you can sell it to pay for college (or whatever). OR you can just use the monthly income to pay for whatever you’re dreaming about today.

Last month, 96 of the 272 total homes sold in the Montgomery marketplace were foreclosures — over one out of three! That means at least 96 folks looked past the “needs work” label and took advantage of the tremendous values available in our marketplace. As of today, August 21, there are 77 FNMA foreclosures available, most of which you as an investor can buy with as little as 10% down.

Over 200 years ago, poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” Where will you be financially 15 years from now? Will you have capitalized on today’s Midtown Montgomery real estate opportunities? Or will you just be wishing for “what might have been?”

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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A Midtown Montgomery house can send your kid (or grandkid) to college!

By Sandra Nickel

In 1984, I bought a townhouse in Woodley Park. Ever since then, the tenants have been making my payments by paying me rent. Sure, I have had to invest a few dollars along the way, but not much. Probably not over $5,000 total. If I sold the property today, I’d clear about $35,000. That’s a 700% return on my $5,000. Where else could I have made such a tremendous profit? Nowhere that I know of!

Midtown is full of great deals right now. For example, on Boultier in Old Cloverdale a 3 bedroom 2 bath home is offered at $99,900. It would rent easily for $900-$1,000 per month. Then there’s the house at 2133 Felder Terrace, also in Old Cloverdale, on the market at $100,000. It has rented in the past for $800 and the garage apartment out back brings $400 per month.

Midtown Montgomery residents wanting to invest in a property can obtain financing today at incredibly attractive rates—in the vicinity of 4% for a 15-year loan. Assuming a 20% down payment on that $100,000 house, the payment would be $591.75 for loan repayment and not more than another $200 per month for tax and insurance. Call it a total payment of $800 and rental income of $1,200. Even with money set aside for future repairs and vacancy and 10% of the rent paid for a professional property manager, the 2133 Felder Terrace house would still produce a positive cash flow each month AND would be paid off by tenants!

Imagine having a $100,000 paid-for house today. Wouldn’t that make a dandy dent in the cost of educating your college-age child! Or how’s about adding another $100,000 to your retirement funds…or your “trip around the world” fund…or whatever?

“But,” you say, “I don’t have $20,000 lying around for a down payment!” Good news here: you may have untapped resources. You can borrow from your 401k plan or a life insurance plan with cash value. Or how about getting those doting grandparents to partner with you, putting up the down payment as a “gift” that could then be repaid when the investment property is sold as Junior gets ready for college?

The point is that real estate is the only big-ticket investment you’ll ever be able to own that some else (tenants) will “buy” for you. Not stocks, not bonds, not mutual funds—only real estate. And the climate in Midtown Montgomery is perfect right now for you to chalk up a truly great buy on an investment property. Next time I’ll talk about how you can come out even better by being willing to get your hands dirty. Until then…

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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Historic Homes: An Affair of the Heart

By Sandra Nickel

Grand entry in one of Sandra’s listings, with a style reminiscent of her grandparents’ home.

As I am often asked how I came to love old houses and old neighborhoods, I thought it time to tell my story. You see, I grew up in a family of 6.  And until I was 10 years old, we were all in a tiny post WWII 2 bedroom, 1 bath reminiscent of Levittown. My father used to get up long before dawn just to have private time in the bathroom

But going to visit my paternal grandparents was a complete change. They lived in a grand 1890’s Queen Anne with huge rooms, high ceilings, four big bedrooms, 2 full and two half baths…plus an extra shower and toilet in the full basement. It was heaven!

When I close my eyes, I can still see the grand entry foyer:  at least 15 feet by 15 feet and no one used the room except to come and go! There was a built-in window seat with storage below for snow boots, etc. Instead of a plain old straight stairway, the entry foyer featured an elegant platform stair. And at the mid-point, there was a doorway that led to another stair down to the kitchen. I thought it was the eighth wonder of the world!

In the living room there was a fireplace with the most interesting hearth:  soft green glazed ceramic tile in the shape of little bricks set not in grout but in extremely fine and very white sand. The worst punishments I got from my grandparents were for taking those tiles out and putting them back in, over and over again and occasionally in a different pattern! Nothing they could or would do to me could cure my fascination with that hearth.

The dining room boasted an entire wall of built-in china cabinets and linen storage, the doors sporting leaded glass panes and the drawers brightly polished real brass handles. One of those drawers held the toys my grandparents bought for us to use—as long as we put them away!

In the butler’s pantry was a pull-out flour bin big enough that made a great hideout for hide-and-seek (fortunately, no flour in the bin!). And there were always violets in a tray perched on the long, low radiator in the kitchen.

The memory of that house is as vivid today in 2010 as it was on the long period in between visits. And it must have been on one of those visits that something inside my clicked and I became a card-carrying old house nut. So, you see, when I got into real estate I really had no choice but to follow my heart down the historic home pathway.

In the late 1980’s I was privileged to attend a week of specialized training and am proud to say that I am one of only two REALTORS in Alabama certified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as an historic home specialist. The other is in Huntsville.

Like many in Midtown, I am “marked” by old houses.  It is indeed an affair of the heart!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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The Case for Historic Designation

By Sandra Nickel

The "addition" in question

It’s not often that I am a loss for words. But some weeks ago when I received a frantic email and photo of the “addition” being constructed on Glen Grattan, words failed me. Finally, I regained my wits and inquired whether the owner had obtained a building permit. I was shattered to learn that he indeed had and that the enormous growth appended to an otherwise attractive older home was, in fact, legal.

The home is located on the far western edge of Edgewood (no pun intended) and looks across the street at Cloverdale-Idlewild. In other words, it is on the south side of the street, facing north. Sadly, had it been on the north side facing south, this post would never have been written. Because Cloverdale-Idlewild enjoys the protection of local historic designation by the City of Montgomery and the ordinances regulating same would have stopped the project before it ever got started.

The Edgewood neighborhood, on the other hand, enjoys no such protection. In fact, Edgewood has only very recently begun a real effort to establish a neighborhood organization. Such groups, unfortunately, usually emerge only after a group of concerned citizens feels that something about the life they have enjoyed is menaced by one or more unfortunate developments. If there is a silver lining to the Glen Grattan building project, it may well be the birth of a functional Edgewood neighborhood organization with a mission:  Do the hard work necessary to seek and obtain local historic designation.

Lest the folks of Edgewood feel like the “odd man out,” I must also mention a second “architectural travesty” example that I came across just last week. (And I apologize in advance to my fellow real estate practitioners who occupy the structure.)

I was driving west on Mt. Meigs Rd. and nearly ran off the road when I spied this turn-of-the-last-century residential structure that had been converted to office use. Head-on, this building somewhat resembles other businesses operating in early 20th century commercial buildings. While many still have the expected full expanse of glass shop windows across the front, others have those “eyes into the operation” covered over.

But I did not see it initially from the front. I saw it on an angle, which clearly revealed that the entire façade of the building had been “flattened” by a slipcover of vinyl siding and brick veneer. A quick stop and walk-around revealed the vestiges of what was once a Queen Anne cottage!

Like Glen Grattan, Mt. Meigs Rd. is the dividing line between two historic Montgomery neighborhoods, Capital Heights (which shares its 1907 birth date with Old Cloverdale) and Highland Park (which originated in the late 1800’s). Both areas have worked fitfully toward historic designation and both have partially succeeded. But neither has yet been able to gain those protections for their entire areas. So the Mt. Meigs “improvement” is unfortunately legal and other ill-conceived projects may follow.

The message to all who love the ambiance of your current neighborhood is clear. If most neighborhood homes are 50 years or older, and someone comes knocking at your door asking for your support for local historic designation, DON’T give them a speech about your right to do whatever you wish with your home. Recognize that it’s not YOU who are the problem. It’s THEM down the block or around the corner. DO invite the volunteer in, sign their petition. Then, just hope the process can be completed before YOUR block experiences the next architectural misstep!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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