By Sarah Kuper
Dot Mash is the 2016 Birmingham Association of Realtors president and a Realtor with LAH Real Estate.
She’s been working in the Over the Mountain real estate market for most of her career and she has raised her kids and grandkids in Mountain Brook, where she grew up as well.
“I left to go to college at Alabama but I came right back. And that’s what a lot of people from this area do. They come back to stay.”
Though Mash feels the community spirit and traditions of Over the Mountain neighborhoods have not changed, she has seen changes in real estate trends.
“More than ever, the schools drive the real estate market. First-time homebuyers may find something in Crestwood or elsewhere but they have to be ready to move when their children are school aged,” she said.
Though many Over the Mountain neighborhoods feature large statement homes, Mash said in the past year she has seen few listings of that kind.
“I haven’t been seeing a lot of huge, million dollar sales. It’s mainly first time homebuyers. There is a lot of youth coming in with UAB and all the hospital systems.”
With all the young professionals entering the market, Mash said buyers are flocking to the Vestavia Hills and Hoover areas more than Mountain Brook and Homewood.
“People may look at Crestline Park but even there, the homes are priced out of the market. The same is getting to be true of Homewood properties.”
According to MLS data from 2014-2015, a home in an Over the Mountain neighborhood is priced one third higher than a home in a Birmingham neighborhood.
Mash gives credit to the school systems, local shops and restaurants. But it also is a result of neighborhoods in places such as Mountain Brook and Homewood having no room to expand, she said.
Because Homewood and Mountain Brook are particularly saturated, Mash said homes in Vestavia Hills don’t stay on the market long. People can get a good house in a good school system and still have money to renovate as they can afford it.
Mash added that one development in the past year that has made outer neighborhoods more appealing is low gas prices.
“People are more willing to commute, especially if you can get more house a little farther from town,” she said. “The average drive from Hoover or Vestavia to town is around 20-30 minutes. That still isn’t that bad. We have people from Dallas come look and they can’t believe how great that commute is.”
Another reality Mash said is becoming truer every year is that people who do find a home in an Over the Mountain neighborhood aren’t planning to move for several decades, or at least until something better comes along.
“Once people arrive in a community, they want to stay there and put down roots. We think of it like musical chairs; you aren’t going to give up your seat unless you have a spot you can go to. People aren’t putting their house on the market until they’ve secured where they are going next. This is causing a huge backlog of people who are looking when nothing is listed.”
She adds the caveat that houses might be bought and sold in Mountain Brook and Homewood before the listings would have made it to the MLS.
“People will see a home they like in these areas and just knock on the door, even if it isn’t for sale. They’ll leave a note in the mailbox to say, ‘Contact me if you ever want to sell.'”
In fact, this phenomenon and the return of the competitive housing market in Birmingham made national news in the March 3 Wall Street Journal article “Bidding Wars Return to Birmingham, Ala.”
Mash said while this is good news for sellers, it makes for a discouraging atmosphere for buyers.
A home will stay on the market for a very short time and will field several offers.
“Buyers begin to wonder if they will ever get a home, but that is when they have to listen to their agent when the agent asks, ‘How bad do you want the house?’ and suggests going in with a strong offer,” Mash said.
For the upcoming year, Mash said she expects to see the market become even more favorable for sellers.
Even so, she has some advice for sellers who don’t want to miss out.
“Go ahead and do the repairs. Make it market ready by cleaning out and increasing curb appeal. Buyers now don’t want to move into a house and do maintenance. That will get you the most return on your property.”
Mash said sellers also need to realize that with the advent of real estate websites, the first showing now takes place online as buyers scroll through pictures.
“When a buyer comes to the house, it is really the second time they’ve looked at the house. Good quality photographs are really important.”
For buyers, Mash said the best advice she can give is to be prepared.
“If you see something you like, you need not to sleep on it. Go ahead and put an offer in. Go to a mortgage lender and get preapproved. A seller wants to make sure whichever offer they select, the buyer will be qualified.”
In the Birmingham Association of Realtors’ 2015 data for single-family home sales:
More than 1,600 homes in Hoover sold for an average of $328,438.
Almost 600 homes in Vestavia Hills sold for an average of $419,416.
Nearly 400 homes in Homewood sold for an average of $341,979.
Just more than 300 homes in Mountain Brook sold for an average of $638,298.
Mash predicts home sales in Vestavia Hills and Hoover will increase in the next year and home prices in Mountain Brook and Homewood will remain high.
Mash intends to use her position as president of the Birmingham Association of Realtors to educate others on the nuances of the Over the Mountain market.
She said she knows part of her position entails keeping track of national real estate trends but she believes the greater Birmingham area has its own trajectory.