Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Friday, May 30, 2008

Marshallese Citizens in NW Arkansas Welcome President Litokwa Tomeing

Thousands of Marshallese people, many of them residents of NW Arkansas, welcomed Litokwa Tomeing, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), to Springdale over the Memorial Day weekend. Others came from as far away as Oregon and Florida.

The reason for President Tomeing’s visit was two-fold: to celebrate the 29th anniversary of Marshall Island independence and to announce there would soon be a fully staffed consulate in Springdale.

NW Arkansas is currently home to roughly 5,000 to 6,000 Marshallese. Hawaii and Oregon also have large populations with smaller groups living in Oklahoma, Texas and Florida.

A little background is necessary to understand why so many Marshallese come to this country to live and work --

During World War II, the United States conquered the Japanese who controlled and occupied the islands after the First World War. In 1947 the Marshall Islands and several more island groups in the South Pacific Sea were added to the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, administered by the U.S.

From 1946 to 1958 the U.S. tested 66 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands including the largest nuclear test the U.S. ever conducted. (If you’re old enough, I’m sure the names Bikini Atoll, Rongelap, and Aniwetok are familiar). Some health effects were virtually immediate while long term results still linger.

RMI consists of 29 atolls and 5 isolated islands spread over an area of about one million square miles. The population totals about 62,000 people. Most of the land lies at sea level and is vulnerable to typhoons. The economy is mainly agricultural but has few natural resources. Imports far exceed exports.

The U.S. Army maintains its Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll and in addition to paying rent to the land owners, it is the largest employer.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) was officially established in 1979 and became self governing.

In 1986 RMI and the U.S. entered into the Compact of Free Association which provided for U.S. aid to and defense of RMI in exchange for continued U.S. military use of the missile testing range on Kwajalein Atoll.

Under the Compact of Free Association, Marshallese citizens can come and go freely between their homeland and the United States. They can live, work and receive education in the U.S. but they maintain Marshallese citizenship. They are considered migrants — not immigrants or refugees. The migrant designation permits the Marshallese to enter and leave the U.S. without being screened.

Obviously, many have chosen the U.S.

To celebrate President Tomeing’s visit local Marshallese organized food, sports, singing, lots of visiting, and health and job fairs. Marshallese communities across the country sent 60 teams to compete in sports tournaments that included basketball, softball and volleyball. The 3-day celebration was held at Jones Center for Families in Springdale.

Foreign Minister Tony DeBrum who accompanied President Tomeing said the largest overseas Marshallese community lives in NW Arkansas. RMI is in the process of meeting U.S. requirements for the establishment of a consulate in Springdale to look after its citizens.

For more information:





Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Did you know it's possible to get an Energy Efficient Mortgage?

Energy Efficient Mortgage (EEM) is one of many FHA programs that insure mortgage loans. The mortgages are actually made by many banks, savings and loan associations, and mortgage companies, and the loans are covered by EEM insurance through FHA.

The idea behind the EEM program is to help achieve national energy-efficiency goals and reduce pollution as well as to provide better housing for people who might not otherwise be able to afford it.

The program considers the anticipated savings on monthly utility bills when a buyer purchases an energy-efficient home.

For example, let’s say the utilities in an older home you are considering will cost $200 a month and you qualify for a mortgage payment of $700/month but if you buy a certified energy-efficient home instead, the utility expense will be only $100/month. Now you can qualify for an $800 monthly mortgage payment.

This is a very simplified explanation but I hope it’s sufficient to give some serious consideration to an EEM.

Other provisions of the program are geared to adding energy efficient improvements to an existing home – one you already own or one you are considering buying.

Click on the links below for more details and technical information, such as maximum amounts, who qualifies, and how to get an EEM:


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Investment Opportunity?

I came across an interesting tidbit the other day.

Remember the movie Sleepless in Seattle that starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Well, grab your checkbook and come on down! The houseboat seen in that motion picture can be yours for a mere $2.5 million.

The houseboat was built in 1978 and at 2,075 square feet is probably the largest houseboat on Lake Union. It features four bedrooms, nearly two full bathrooms, large windows and views of downtown Seattle, according to a Seattle newspaper article. (I’m still trying to figure out what “nearly two full bathrooms” means).

Don’t spend all your money to purchase it though because you’ll need $6,450 annually for taxes plus $388 monthly for homeownership dues.

The Realtor® showing the houseboat says about 50 agents and perhaps a dozen potential buyers have viewed it – but so far no offers.

According to my calculations, $2.5 million for 2,075 square feet of livable space equals an astronomical $1,200 per square foot.

(And I've been complaining about $200 per square foot for the downtown Fayetteville condos)...


Light Rail – What is it and when is it coming to Northwest Arkansas?

As a professional Realtor®, I spend a good amount of time on the roads of NW Arkansas and frequently get stuck in gridlock. Traffic backs up on the ramps to and from I-540. The major intersections in Fayetteville and Bentonville repeatedly resemble parking lots. Traffic congestion is a huge waste of productive time, causes unnecessary expense at the gas station, adds to pollution, and increases daily stress.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you heard me complain about the need for improvements to infrastructure and a light rail transportation system in NW Arkansas. Perhaps the time is getting closer for some serious consideration of light rail.

First, let me explain the term “light rail.” It generally refers to a system of streetcars that operate on some type of electric rail, ideally separated from automobile traffic. However, life is seldom ideal so light rail is often mixed with other city traffic.

Light rail usually makes frequent stops to load and unload passengers. It does not operate as fast as true rapid transit systems such as those found in large cities (think subways and elevated trains in New York or Chicago). Neither is it a railroad train that runs between cities and across the country.

Infrastructure has simply not been able to keep up in NW Arkansas. No matter how fast new roads are built or widened, they become clogged. Yet, many people don’t want to seriously consider light rail yet. Would they rather wait until we way behind on that front as well?

No one knows what a light rail system would cost. Coupling design/engineering/utility costs with right-of-way acquisitions and construction costs puts the estimate as high as $1 billion. That’s an astronomical amount of money. On the other hand, doing nothing for another 10 or 15 years would probably make $1 billion sound like a bargain.

There are many points to consider, such as:

Is our population large enough to support a light rail system? (Estimates are approximately 400,000 people live in Washington and Benton Counties.)

Would people avail themselves of light rail or continue to drive their gas-guzzling SUVs?

What other economic benefits would a light rail system provide?

What are the costs of not building a light rail system? (More and more roads?)

What high will the cost of gasoline rise?

I am not the first to think a feasibility study needs to be conducted to evaluate light rail and other methods of moving people around this area. The study might cost $1 million but the cost of doing nothing is much more expensive. My hope is that we can get moving on the study within the next year.

For more information:



Thursday, May 08, 2008

First Quarter 2008 Skyline Report

The quarterly Skyline Report breakfast, sponsored by Arvest Bank, was held last week for Washington County at the Clarion Inn in Fayetteville. Kathy Deck of the U of A Center for Business and Economic Research presented the highlights.

It’s always tough to get up early for these breakfasts, but the information for a real estate agent like me is invaluable, and I never miss them. We’re really lucky to have such good data, which usually confirms my own anecdotal evidence.

Anyhow, here’s a summary:

NW Arkansas’ supposedly “bullet proof” economy is showing some cracks. Of concern is the fact that new job growth in the area is less than the previous few years. And jobs are what primarily attract new people to the area (aside from retirees and those who move here for “quality of life” reasons).

Principally, there was a decline in new jobs created in the Professional and Business Services sector and in the Trade, Transportation and Utilities sector. These are large sectors of NW Arkansas employment and have a significant effect on job growth in the area.

In the commercial real estate sector things are not too bad, according to Deck, since commercial spaces in existing buildings are being filled and there has been restraint in initiating new commercial projects. At present there are 32.7 million square feet of competitive commercial space in NW Arkansas.

However, the multifamily situation is less positive. Fayetteville has the most healthy multifamily situation with one-bedroom vacancy rates under 10% while two-bedroom vacancy rates are just over 10%. Springdale’s two-bedroom vacancy rate is at almost 20%, as is that of Rogers. Bentonville’s two-bedroom vacancy rate is about 15%. Economists consider 5% as a healthy multi-family vacancy rate.

The average lease rate for an apartment in NW Arkansas in the first quarter of 2008 was $513, down 1.4% from the fourth quarter of 2007. The average price per square foot was $0.62 in the first quarter.

What I have been terming “condomania” in previous blog posts continues to plague NW Arkansas, as new complexes continue to be built and not necessarily sold. The luxury condos on the market have a list price of between $150-$200 per square foot. But only one of these was sold in the first quarter at a price above $200 per square foot, and only two were sold at prices above $150 per square foot (actually they sold at $152 per square foot).

There are also lots of lower priced condos on the market, for example, for the university market in Fayetteville. But condos in other towns are not doing as well. In Bentonville the average price of the 3 condos sold in the first quarter was $134,480 or $99.18 per square foot. In Fayetteville the average price was $136,362 for the 13 units sold in Q1 or $106.79 per square foot. Rogers had the highest average price for the 8 units sold there in Q1 at $244,684 or $134.30 per square foot.

For single family homes the situation continues as it has been for the past quarters—lots of homes for sale. In Q4 of 2007, there were 44.9 months of lot/ house inventory in active subdivisions and building permits were low. Few new subdivisions were getting approval and average prices were flat to declining.

In Q1 of 2008 building permits are significantly down compared to Q1 of 2007 in all of the major NW Arkansas towns. However, in some of the smaller towns, building permits are up slightly. The value of the permits is also down, reflecting a more realistic view by builders and developers of what buyers can actually purchase. There remains a glut of high-end homes on the market in NW Arkansas. The average value for building permits in both Washington and Benton Counties during Q1 of 2008 was approximately $150,000. (This does not include the value of the land).

The number of lots in active subdivisions continues to be high and has grown during the past couple of years. Benton County had 11,688 lots in active subdivisions in Q1 of 2006, 15,290 in Q1 of 2007, and 17,001 in Q1 of 2008. Washington County had 7,518 lots in active subdivisions in Q1 of 2006, 9,751 in Q1 of 2007 and 10,561 in Q1 of 2008.

However, new homes continue to be absorbed and (with the decrease in building permits) the inventory is decreasing little by little. This is a necessary adjustment. Nevertheless, there was still a surfeit of lots/new homes on the market in NW Arkansas in Q1 of 2008. Bentonville increased to 57.1 months’ worth. Centerton increased to 70.9 months. Fayetteville stayed at the same level at 41.5 months. Rogers increased to 31.8 months, and Springdale decreased to 29.8 months. For NW Arkansas as a whole, there is 49.4 months of lots/new homes available.

But at the same time new subdivisions were approved through the preliminary plat process by city entities in NW Arkansas. If all of these subdivisions were to be built, this would increase the inventory in NW Arkansas to 108 months’ worth. However, according to Deck, with the current credit crunch, many of these developers may not be able to get financing and thus this potential increase in inventory may not occur.

In terms of prices of homes, the situation varies from city to city. The average price of a home sold in Fayetteville actually increased in Q1 of 2008 compared to Q4 of 2007. In Springdale there was a slight increase, and in the smaller towns of Washington County there was a significant decrease in average sale price. In Benton County, Bentonville’s average sale price increased, as did that of Centerton. The average sale price in Rogers and Siloam Springs decreased in Q1 of 2008. But what is not shown in these numbers are concessions made to buyers, such as help with closing costs.

My own take: the bottom line, confirmed by this data from the U of A, is that there is still a lot of inventory, so it’s a great time to purchase a home in NW Arkansas. For sellers, it’s a less attractive scenario. They must price their homes competitively (i.e. on the lower end of any price ranges of recently sold similar homes) due to discounts that builders are giving to get out from under their construction loans on “spec” homes.

The Skyline Report normally deals with new construction for the residential market, but the average price figures also include re-sale homes. With so many new homes on the market in all price ranges, re-sale homes are suffering and staying on the market longer.

For sellers the key is to price their home to sell, not to sit on the market. For buyers, with so much to choose from, it may be difficult to make a decision. But these low prices (along with low interest rates and high inventory) may not last forever.

A lot of people are waiting for the market to “hit bottom” before they purchase a home. The problem with this strategy is that we won’t know when the bottom hits until it is past, and then prices will be on the rise again.

After the speculative frenzy of the past few years in NW Arkansas, it’s time for some sanity to enter the equation again. The outside investors looking for a quick buck have largely left NW Arkansas, and the main thing to keep in mind is that purchasing a home is traditionally a long-term investment. It’s a place to live and enjoy, raise a family, not just a paper investment like stocks and bonds. The market has declined here, but real estate is cyclical. What goes up must come down, and eventually our market will start appreciating again.

It IS a great time to buy now in NW Arkansas.

For more information on purchasing a home now:

http://www.buynwanow.com (why it’s a great time to buy now)
http://www.NWArkansasHomeSearch.com (search the NW Arkansas MLS)
http://www.JudyLuna.com (general information about NW Arkansas and the home purchase process)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Removing the Kinks at NW Arkansas’ Professional Baseball Stadium

Springdale’s brand new baseball stadium opened April 10 to a full house of cheering fans, including Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, Springdale Mayor Jerry Van Hoose, team owners, celebrities, and a flyover by four A-10 Thunderbolts from the Arkansas Air National Guard.

The stadium is beautiful by all accounts but now that the festivities are over, a few kinks need to be worked out – most notably traffic and parking.

Opening night traffic was congested in all directions but 56th Street was probably the worst of all. Of course, it was a sell-out crowd but one would have to hope that big crowds continue to come to the park.

There has been talk of widening 56th Street as well as possibly creating a new exit to the park directly off I-540, both of which would take a lot of money and time.

But, let’s face it; people will not be happy about spending an hour or more in traffic just to get to the stadium.

If development as envisioned by the City of Springdale is to occur in that area, the roads must be improved. It’s that simple!

Moving on to parking (no pun intended), much has to be fixed. The number of parking spaces (1,700) is insufficient for a big crowd. I have never been able to understand how the number of parking spaces is determined when building a new venue. Surely there’s a formula somewhere that needs to be reworked! For example, the new stadium can hold 7,800 fans but has parking for only 1,700 vehicles. That’s roughly 4 1/2 people per car, not counting players and workers. Maybe a lesson from Disney on people moving is in order.

If you think that’s worthy of note, you should have been at the Komen Race for the Cure April 19, which started at the ballpark. At least 17,000 people participated. Tents were set up in the parking lot so even fewer parking spaces were available. Shuttle buses ran from other parking lots but even at that, parking was a total mess.

The City of Springdale has rights to the stadium for concerts throughout the summer with seating for up to 12,000 people. I’m already wondering where those people will park.

I don’t mean to take anything away from the stadium or professional baseball in NW Arkansas, but the reality is that major enhancements will be needed for the success of the entire venture. By the way, the Naturals lost their opening game and have had more losses than wins since then.

For more information: