I love thoroughbred horse racing. Not because I am a big gambler (I am not), or a dandy dresser (again, not) or married to a woman with a love of big hats (nope).
I love horse racing because I have had the chance to watch a few live races with a friend of mine in Kentucky. Not only is the pageantry and industry amazing, but also, it is just completely awe-inspiring to watch those huge, athletic horses speed by, going flat out, each striving for victory. I love it because you can tell the horses love it. It is like watching a bird dog work a covey of quail. Pure joy.
One thing I learned in my trips to Kentucky is an aspect of how thoroughbreds are trained. Often, when they are out on the practice track, the trainers use a “rabbit” horse. Essentially, the rabbit’s role is to get a headstart on the thoroughbred that is practicing. Toward the end of the run, as the thoroughbred rounds the turn and lines up for the home stretch, it sees the rabbit jogging leisurely ahead of it. The rabbit horse gives the thoroughbred a target – a goal for which to strive. The rabbit is there to inspire the thoroughbred’s competitive juices to run hard to the finish line.
I am reminded of rabbit horses when I reflect on our real estate market here at the lake. This year in waterfront home sales on Lake Martin has been interesting. We started out jogging along, on par with 2018. It would seem that 2019 was on track to trail 2017, the best year on record, by about 18 percent; yet, suddenly, in the last four months, a summer sales surge has caught the lake on fire.
Looking back, it now seems that 2018 was just serving as a rabbit for 2019. Last year was loping along, minding its own business, when May 2019 decided to get serious and run hard. Let’s take a look to see how the summer months have catapulted this year past 2018, to be on par with the mighty, the undefeated, 2017. Counting sales through Aug. 31, there have been 252 waterfront home sales so far in 2019 in the Lake Martin Area Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing System. During the same time frame in 2017, there were 255. That is a little more than 1 percent difference – a statistical tie.
This year achieved its surge by record monthly sales. The months of May (40), July (55) and August (38) saw best-ever sales for their respective months. June 2019 posted a healthy 37 waterfront home sales, which was fourth best.
After a summer like that, I think that Lake Martin has a real chance to beat the banner year of 2017. Another feather in 2019’s cap is the existence of slightly more homes for sale than 2017. In August of this year, there were about 270 waterfront homes for sale, compared to 247 in August of 2017. The 9.3 percent difference this year means that we can sell at a lower rate than 2017 and still come out on top. This race will be interesting to watch in the last four months of this year.
Waterfront lot sales, however, did not seem to catch the same second wind as home sales. Through the end of August, the members of the Lake Martin MLS have sold a total of 44 lots. That is about 10 percent down from 2018’s 49 sales and just about on par with 2017 and 2016. Those two years each had sold 44 waterfront lots through the end of August.
Inventory of available waterfront lots also is going in the opposite direction as homes for sale. In August, there were 120 waterfront lots for sale, about 28 percent fewer than the same time in 2018. This year equaled 2017 and was about 8 percent lower than the 130 lots for sale in 2016.
These results make for a curious situation in the Lake Martin real estate market. Waterfront home and lot sales do not seem to trend in the same direction. Neither do inventory levels. Waterfront home sales are churning steadily, and the wise homebuyer should not hesitate when that dream home is found, even though we are experiencing a slight uptick in homes for sale. Lot buyers should take note that while lot sales have not set records so far this year, lower inventory levels could be the harbinger of increased prices in the future.
The good news is that real estate sellers and buyers have more time to think than is given to the average racehorse and jockey. There is no crowd yelling at them, no TV cameras tracking their moves, not even a rabbit horse in front of them to chase. They can take their time, but not too long.
John Coley is a broker and owner of Lake Martin Voice Realty.