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Low Lanier water levels are sidelining home sellers
Lakeside housing market tight after year of drought conditions
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Doug Spiron walks from his dock to his new home on Lake Ranch Court on Friday. - photo by Nick Bowman

The Spiron family bought their home on Lake Lanier to do some fishing — and the house is their bait.

After a career working for Home Depot, Doug Spiron is now remotely running an Ohio-based software company and a Nashville talent agency. The Atlanta entrepreneur and his wife, Corena Spiron, are moving into his lake house off of Dawsonville Highway after selling their primary residence in Milton and a beach home in Florida.

With their two children grown and out of the house, the Spirons wanted to ensure they had a place where the rest of the family would keep coming back.

“Most of all (we) wanted a place to entertain,” Spiron said. “Beach houses are a real destination from a family standpoint. We wanted to repeat that here, but it also needed to double as our everyday residence.”

They started looking for a new house last year, found their house near Jerry Jackson Bridge in April and are now moving in. Spiron said they looked at “very few” houses and didn’t have to compromise in their search.

The house has a two-slip dock, deep water, a pool and plenty of room.

Many others won’t be as lucky this year.

“There are a lot of buyers out there right now,” said Teresa Smith, the Keller-Williams real estate agent who found the Spirons their house. But at the same time, 2017 “has been the year that we have seen the least amount of inventory come on the market than we have in the past years.”

June is Hall County’s busiest month for home sales, but as property values continue to rise, many lake dwellers looking to sell are holding off, waiting for a higher lake level — and a higher selling price.

Some homes are drought-proof, meaning that they have water deep enough to never worry about their dock grounding. These are going for a premium.

“There was one that I appraised, it was a small cottage, probably 1,200 square feet with a basement that was finished,” said appraiser and Lake Lanier expert Mary Thompson, owner of Lake Appraisal Service. “It was on a point lot, beautiful lot. Small little house, point lot and 700 feet of corps line — purchased for $900,000.”

But for the majority of the homes around the lake, those in the $300,000 to $600,000 range, the few feet of water between where it sits now and full pool can make a big difference.

In June 2016, 49 homes were sold around the lake, which sat at 1,069 feet — almost 5 feet higher than it is now.

The lake’s pool isn’t the end-all when it comes to selling a house on Lake Lanier, but, like a fresh coat of paint or new flooring, it helps move a house and move it for more.

When they don’t have the lake lapping at the floats of their dock, people tend to get nervous about prices and hesitate putting their home on the market. That’s one reason agents are dealing with tight inventory at the moment.

“A lot of times people will sell property before they come on the market,” Smith said. “There’s a group of lake agents up here that if we have something good coming on the market, we’ll let each other know because we all know we have buyers and we can’t seem to find anything for them.”

People are right to wait, said Thompson, given the effect views and water can have on asking prices. If they’re not in a rush to sell, they can — and many are — waiting until the lake comes back up.

“The bottom line is the lake site is the driving force — lake site first, house second,” she said. “Realtors will tell me — and I believe it to be true — is that a lot of times they’ll pull up to the house, they’ll go walk the lake first and if they don’t like what they’ll see, they won’t even go into the house.”

With the lake recently climbing from 10 feet below full pool to about 6 feet, Thompson said she’s seeing more business as people become more optimistic about selling their homes.

They’re more optimistic this year, but property owners are also more optimistic in the long term after what has been for many a dreadful decade.

Mid-priced homes on the lake lost about 30 percent of their value after the housing bubble burst, Thompson said, but those at the high end — the mansions and the country club homes in the high six figures or low sevens — had their property values halved or more during the recession.

In 2017, they’re finally catching up to the peak of 2006, she said.

But summer is here, and the lake likely will to drop about 6 feet before season’s end based on water demands, heat and rainfall, and the level will take some home’s asking prices down with it.

Between now and then, it will be a good time for buyers looking for a deal — if they can find one.

“As far as a buyer goes right now, now is a great time to look,” Smith said. “If a dock has water — we’re only down about 6 feet — but if you’ve got nice, good water right now you should always have good water.”

But even if a house doesn’t have as much water as a buyer would prefer at the moment, it might still be something to think about.

“If anybody is well educated ... about the lake, they know and understand that we fluctuate up and down,” Thompson said. “If they don’t want to pay the high dollar for the drought-proof, deep-water lake lots then they don’t shy away as much from those kinds of properties.

“I would say if they’re getting it for the right price, especially if the seller is (willing to discount), it might be a smart move because it always comes back. There’s only been a few times when it’s been pretty devastating for one or two seasons.”

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