Gulf Shores Alabama And Surrounding Area News

Latest News For The Gulf Oil Spill

We now keep our current information for real estate and condos on our blog.  Please visit this link for current local news.

The latest trajectory forecast shows a potential for westward movement of the oil. Twice daily, NOAA oceanographers continue to release updated trajectory maps showing the predicted trajectory of the oil slick. Drifter buoys have been placed near areas of the slick to provide tracking data that will be used to ground truth NOAA’s predicted trajectories. The buoys transmit location information and can be used by the NOAA modeling team to better understand how currents and winds are moving the slick and accompanying buoys.

Technical specialists and other personnel from many agencies and organizations are assisting NOAA in providing scientific support for the spill response. NASA has volunteered use of a reconnaissance aircraft for NOAA’s use in conducting overflights of the affected areas.

NOAA efforts have included: modeling the trajectory and extent of the oil, getting pre-impact samples surveys and baseline measurements, planning for open water and shoreline remediation, supporting the Unified Command as it analyzes new techniques for handling the spill, and starting Natural Resource Damage Assessments (NRDA).

Decreasing wind and sea state should allow the full spectrum of surface operations until the weekend. NOAA's National Weather Service has created a special forecast for the incident area which you can access here:
NOAA has 3 aircraft on-scene: a King Air specially equipped for photogrammetry and 2 Twin Otter aircraft one for marine mammal observations
The Coast Guard is using forecasts and graphics of oil movement prepared by NOAA's Emergency Response Division (ERD) and Marine Charting Division to keep mariners out of oil areas by depicting them on electronic charts.
NOAA restricted fishing in federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico directly adjacent to the area closures enacted by Louisiana. The closure, which will be in effect for at least 10 days, is to protect consumers and the seafood industry. NOAA fisheries representatives will be meeting with fishermen this week to assist them. Further details can be found here:

Birmingham News
-On the Beach-
By Amy Cates

When it comes to beach property, “luxury” has taken on a whole new meaning. That's because a demanding public has come to expect a long list of amenities and upgrades in their vacation spots and in their investment properties.

That's just the American way, said Aaron Pugh, a Realtor with Ono Professional Partners in Gulf Shores. What were once luxury amenities are now standard. Gourmet kitchens, solid-surface countertops, fitness facilities – all these things add up to what Pugh calls an "overall appeal."

Along the Gulf Coast, the exponential growth of residential properties means more units – and more competition. According to Condo Owner Magazine, the Alabama Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle have experienced a 595-percent growth over the past decade. That's more than double the increase in other coastal regions. With 10,000 units in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, is there room for more? "There's always more room," Pugh said.

The need for new products has been in place for several years, and in a way, Hurricane Ivan helped spur the supply. Ivan, Pugh said, was "a necessary evil. It was like a cleansing process," ultimately replacing older and outdated buildings with larger complexes that provided more units and more of what buyers are demanding.

And where there are residences, commercial development follows. Once upon a time the Alabama Gulf Coast was more residential, less commercial. "That gap is slowly closing," Pugh said. "We've had a lot of commercial development come through here."

On the Fort Morgan peninsula, for example, the all-inclusive Beach Club Gulf Shores is a full-scale resort, with a spa, racquet club, fitness center, sauna and steam facilities, several restaurants on site and more. The Cottages at the beach Club are single-family residences that are mini-resorts in themselves, with outdoor kitchens, luxury baths and access to all spa services.

The Colonnades in Gulf Shores offers a library, movie theatre and a zero-depth pool. Coral Reef Resort, in preconstruction in Orange Beach, will feature an indoor heated pool, a theatre, a game-room, a 9,000-square-foot outdoor lagoon pool, an adult heated pool, a yoga room and an owners club, among other amenities.

Clearly, developers hear the demands, and they're answering with a diverse supply of housing opportunities with standard features. As Pugh put it, they have to. "Developers now have to consider there's more product than there was two or three years ago," Pugh said. "Buyers are demanding, and they have the right to be that way."

To reach prospective buyers, developers are not only staying competitive with the product and developing innovative properties, they're also creating financial incentives. For example, at Coral Reef in Orange Beach, where preconstruction is under way, the letter of credit has been reduced from 20 percent to 10 percent. "It's a numbers game," Pugh said, explaining that developers must have strong commitment from buyers before construction begins.

If you're looking for an investment property, Pugh said that now is the time to make the move. Whether the market favors the buyer or the seller changes continuously. With beefed up amenities and innovative blends of commercial and residential, the buyer may have leverage because inventory is strong and diverse. "Now is a good time for anyone looking for property," Pugh said.

by: John Birger

Thanks to the real estate crash, these days you might just be able to afford that condo by the sea. Here's where to shop.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Three years ago, while writing for Fortune's sister publication Money, I embarked on what seemed like an oxymoronic (or maybe just moronic) quest: to find affordable beach houses at a time of real estate insanity. Beachfront prices were soaring, which made my mission - finding vacation getaways right on the ocean for less than $500,000 - seem like a long shot.

In the end, I did find a few beach locales where bargains still existed, such as North Padre Island in Texas and Prince Edward Island in Canada. For the most part, though, my travels confirmed what the experts had warned me going in: The beach-house retirement dream is out of reach for many upper-middle-class Americans. "We get calls all the time from people who say that all they want is a little house on the beach - nothing too fancy," one real estate agent told me. "It's heartbreaking, but the problem is that even those homes come with a fancy price tag."

Three years and one real estate crash later, the beach-house market has changed. Prices are coming down, especially in America's vacation-home capital of Florida. But so far the correction hasn't been nearly as dramatic as prospective buyers might hope.

So where are the beach bargains these days? I posed this question to two of the most active vacation-home buyers in North America - Cathy Ross, executive vice president for real estate with Exclusive Resorts, and Richard Keith, CEO of Private Escapes.

Exclusive Resorts and Private Escapes are leading "destination clubs," which are essentially luxury time-shares for the well-to-do. (Members pay a six-figure membership fee, plus annual dues, and are entitled to use the clubs' stable of luxury vacation homes for several weeks a year.) Ross says she sees "great value" right now in Hawaii, where prices have fallen some 10%. Keith is finding deals in the Caribbean archipelago of Turks and Caicos - particularly the Grace Beach section, where developers overbuilt during the boom.

Two markets where both Ross and Keith see buying opportunities galore are along the Florida/Alabama coast. The best bargains are in condominiums. Aaron Pugh, a real estate agent in the Panhandle resort town of Gulf Shores, says Panhandle prices have fallen 25% to 30% since 2005. A two-bedroom beachfront condo that might have sold for $600,000 in 2005 can now be had for $425,000, he says.

But before booking a flight to the Sunshine State, consider property tax is soaring. If you move to the Alabama side of the invisible line, they fall four-fold. Another peice of good news involves insurance premiums. Most all of the rates have declined after a couple of hurricane-safe years and should continue to do just that.

Orange Beach News
by: Kathy Jumper

Larry Wireman won't build more condominium units at Caribe Resort in Orange Beach until the market heats up, but he does plan to construct the 14,000-square-foot Caribe Restaurant overlooking Perdido Pass, the Gulf of Mexico and Cotton Bayou.

"It's something I promised the people that bought in here a long time ago," Wireman said. "I think it will enhance the property values. The owners can walk from their unit along the boardwalk to the restaurant."

Almost two years of sluggish condominium sales have caused many developers to kill some new projects and put others on hold. It's difficult to get financing for new condo construction with almost 3,000 units -- about 1,350 of those Gulf-front -- already on the market, agents said. But there are reports that sales are picking up, and at least one local agent said the market shows signs of a comeback.

Another 398 condo units are expected to come on line by the end of the year, according to the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 31 units at Santorini in Orange Beach had presold before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but most of the buyers backed out because of hurricane-related losses, according a Realtor in Orange Beach. Her father is the developer, and he has since redesigned the project, adding more amenities. The project will be renamed by the time presales start in October.

There will be 28 units at prices averaging $1.5 million, she said, adding, "We combined all our favorite projects to create this product."

Sales are flat at the 30-unit Kiva Village, which was finished this summer on Fort Morgan, according to developer Jim Edgemon. The large units range from the $540,000s to $830,000s and are on the 18th hole of Kiva Dunes golf course. With slow sales, he said, "We may just furnish and rent them."

Some condos are moving off the market.

"We're selling a condo a day," said marketing manager for Orange Beach-based Brett-Robinson, which has projects along the Gulf.

Brett-Robinson started closing on units in its 17th complex last weekend, and some owners are already moving into the 100-unit Phoenix 9 in Orange Beach, she said.

"We're very fortunate that we haven't experienced any problems," she said. "No one has backed out."

Phoenix 9 presold two years ago, she said, and prices range from $649,000 to $685,000 for two-bedroom units and $875,000 to $995,000 for three-bedroom, 3½-bath units.

Most of the 600 units at Wireman's Caribe development were sold prior to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, he said. Units in the third building closed in 2006, and none of the buyers backed out, he said.

Construction on the first Caribe tower started in September 2000. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Miss., is the contractor and a developer partner in the project.

"Values at Caribe have gone down, but they've held up as well as can be expected, considering the market," Wireman said. The units for resale at Caribe range from $650,000 to more than $1 million for penthouse units.

His Caribe Restaurant was designed by architect Henry Norris & Associates of Pensacola and will be operated by the owners of Cosmos Restaurant & Bar in Orange Beach. The 350-seat eatery will have an oyster bar, pizza bar and tiki bar and open in the spring 2008. The restaurant will be elevated by 6 feet to capture the views through a wall of glass windows overlooking the outdoor deck.

Wireman's other condo project, the 24-story Turquoise on Alabama 182 in Orange Beach, should close its 173 units in April 2008, he said. The units average $1.5 million and the first four floors are parking spaces. He paid almost $40 million for the 30 acres and 900 front feet in April 2004 and started construction on Turquoise in spring 2005

"We stored drywall before the prices went up and we bought the land at a reasonable price," he said.

Wireman and Yates have an adjacent 900 front feet under contract. The second Turquoise building is under construction but has not sold out.

"We sold enough to satisfy the bank," he said. That project is scheduled to be complete in summer 2009.

The Realtor said that she predicts "a tremendous fourth quarter" in 2007, once the hurricane season ends.

"I think we've bottomed out and are coming back up," she said of the condo market at the beach. "I have been slammed the last two months. It feels like the old days for me."

She attributed the renewed activity to a shaky stock market and word that the Fed could cut interest rates.

"The summer started off with just lookers, but I've written seven contracts since the third week of July," she said. "Not every offer has been accepted, but I've had three closings, and I'm still working with people trying to find deals.

"But sellers are not going as low as they were," she said. "They are tightening up on prices."

USA Today Names Gulf Shores, AL the #5 Best Hidden - Affordable Beach Destination

When most Americans think of Alabama, sugar-sand beaches and palm trees aren't the first things that come to mind. Many forget that Alabama's heel nudges onto the Gulf of Mexico, its coastline a natural extension of the Florida Panhandle. In fact, this region, Gulf Shores, has 32 miles of enviable waterfront real estate. Once again, the ignorance of others is a boon to the enlightened traveler."Gulf Shores is a bit of Florida mixed with southern charm and hospitality," says writer Andrew Der, who visited the area in 2005. "It rivals any Florida destination I've seen, but without the expense or the crowds."The area has tried to make itself into a laid-back beach destination for families and outdoor enthusiasts, without the flash of theme parks, swanky resorts, and college spring break action. Most visitors come to spend a week relaxing on the beach with occasional forays out to visit the attractions. Nature lovers can explore Gulf Shores' protected wilderness areas including the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park. Those interested in learning about Alabama history can check out Fort Morgan State Historic Site, a Civil War era fort. Playing golf at one of Gulf Shores' championship golf courses and fishing are also popular pursuits.

Going out to sample some of the local cuisine, fresh seafood with a southern flair, is a must. "Gulf Shores is known for some of the best seafood in the country—you should not eat anything else while there," says Der. Try the highly acclaimed Gulf Shores Steamer, where a steamed platter of shrimp, crab legs, oysters, and mussels costs $35 for two people. Or, try a shrimp, oyster, or soft-shelled crab po' boy from King Neptune's Seafood Restaurant for around $10.

Can You Take Advantage Of The GoZone Act Relief?
By Sunny David

The aptly named Gulf Opportunity “GoZone” Act is attracting attention from Realtors and real estate investors in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Congress approved the GoZone legislation on Dec. 16, 2005, and President Bush signed it into law five days later. It is designed to offer tax benefits and incentives to individuals and businesses to help them revitalize and rebuild in areas damaged by the two hurricanes. The hurricanes are considered to be the most devastating natural disasters that this country has ever seen.

According to the act’s provisions, all parishes in Louisiana are covered, as are 49 counties in Mississippi and 11 in Alabama, including Baldwin and Mobile. Florida is partially covered, but only in the southern part of the state. Escambia County, Fla., is not covered.

In these affected areas, taxpayers are allowed to claim an additional first-year bonus of 50 percent depreciation on a GoZone property. A qualified GoZone property includes personal property with a life of 20 years or less; residential and nonresidential property; property acquired by the investor after Aug. 27, 2005; property placed into service before Dec. 31, 2008, for residential property, and Dec. 31, 2009, for nonresidential property; and property that can be used but is “new” to the taxpayer.

Certain properties, such as casinos, liquor stores, golf courses, massage parlors, hot tub and suntan facilities, and racetracks are ineligible.

Also, under the act’s provisions, a wide range of businesses has the opportunity to build or rebuild with Gulf Opportunity Zone Bonds, which carry interest rates from 1.5 percent to 2 percent lower than conventional financing. Taxpayers in Alabama, for instance, will be able to use the state’s tax-exempt borrowing authority to borrow money.

Aaron Pugh, an agent with Ono Professional Partners, warns that not everyone will be eligible for the GoZone tax relief and that every person who wants to purchase or build in the hope of taking advantage of the bill’s provisions should make sure they qualify before signing on the dotted line. “They have to meet certain criteria based on a variety of measures,” he said. Pugh advised that anyone considering taking advantage of the GoZone Act should contact a qualified tax attorney or certified public accountant (CPA) to make sure they are eligible.

Some may question why Gulf Shores and Orange Beach properties in Alabama are eligible for the relief, believing that they were not badly affected by either hurricane. However, the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and the West Beach area of Gulf Shores were heavily flooded. Swiger said that just because someone wasn’t directly affected doesn’t mean they can’t take advantage of the provision.

Bert Sanders, a CPA and partner in the accounting firm of Grant, Sanders and Taylor in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, warns that the provisions of the new act are extremely complicated. “Each buyer is going to have to be determined for eligibility on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “Qualifying the property is straightforward. Qualifying to get a benefit or to get a deduction for an individual is not. There are requirements that the IRS imposes in order to qualify, and they are pretty straightforward.”

In referring to buyers from outside the region who are buying properties under the new law, Sanders warned, “It is such a localized piece of legislation. You are not going to find [accountants] in Tennessee or Florida or Georgia who know anything about it. There is no reason for them to study this law.”

Sanders draws a distinction between buyers who are taking advantage of the law’s provisions to build properties that are business-related and those who are buying rental property. “We have clients who are going to qualify this year because they have built a new office building or apartments or things that are business-related and there is no question that the property qualifies,” he said. “Where you run into issues is with individuals buying rental property. The property may meet the requirements, but then they may get absolutely zero deduction because of passive law rules or second home rules that have been in effect for years.”

The GoZone Act is patterned after the Liberty Zone Act put into law following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The only guidance the IRS has issued thus far is to refer to that act until new rules can be issued as they refer to the GoZone Act. “We have spent hundreds of hours studying this law, and there are still no regulations,” Sanders said, adding that some people will get benefits and some won’t. “It’s as clear as mud.”