Bella Vista Beckons NW Arkansas Bargain Hunters

Amid the ever-increasing residential land prices of Bentonville and Rogers, the cities' northern neighbor could be hiding a bargain.

Research indicates that some lots in Bella Vista may have only appreciated a few hundred dollars in its more than 40-year history as a Cooper Community.

In fact, Benton County warranty deeds indicate that lots sold in the early 1980s went for the same price in 2003. Or in some cases, the lots sold for even less.

The purchase records of veteran builder Betty's Homes Inc. of Bella Vista provide a good sample. Betty's Homes bought Lot 9 in Dogwood Hills subdivision for $3,000 in 2003. In 1988, that same lot went for $6,666. Betty's Homes bought Lot 23 in the Brittany subdivision for $2,000 in 2003. That lot sold in 1979 for $2,000.

Bob Abercrombie, owner of Betty's Homes, said his company sold about 38 new homes last year in Bella Vista and has more than 40 home sites in progress right now. Most of its lot acquisition comes from out-of-state owners, he said.

Abercrombie said the lot prices are a product of the market being oversold.

"Most of the lots we are dealing with today were developed in the '70s," Abercrom-bie said. "The price probably bottomed out in the mid- to late-'90s and it's been on a steady incline since then."

Appearances can also be deceiving. Just because a lot is cheap does not mean it is construction-ready.

Abercrombie said his company sometimes must invest an additional $18,000 to get a lot ready for home construction. Betty's Homes houses range from 1,400 to 3,000 SF and sell from $130,000.

Still, homes in Bella Vista are selling for less, and there are plenty of lots left for construction.

Bella Construction

The Bella Vista Architectural Control Committee in January said there were 37,116 assessed lots in Bella Vista, of which 10,907 include homes. The ACC issued 840 residential building permits in 2004, up 38 percent from 608 in 2003 and up 97 percent from 426 permits in 2002. Last year, Cooper Homes had the most permits issued of any single builder at 76.

Betty's Homes was issued 42, and Larry Hurst was issued 23.

In all three years, the eastern part of the village was the most popular spot to build, accounting for 50 percent of all permits.

Information from the northwest Arkansas multiple listing service indicates that the average selling price for a Bella Vista home was $144,000 in 2004.

Next door in Bentonville, homes sold during that same period for 29 percent more at an average price of $185,000. Rogers homes sold for $173,000, and the average Fayetteville price emptied wallets at $187,712.

Abercrombie said 98 percent of his home sales are to working people. Other agencies agreed.

"The transition happened about three to four years ago when Wal-Mart started bringing in more vendors," said Woody Barker, executive broker and vice president of A&B Village Realty in Bella Vista.

"When Wal-Mart started their great growth spurt, that's when the younger market started coming up here. We have a lot to offer the homebuyer. It's probably the best-kept secret on the market."

Reva Henry, executive broker at Cooper Homes Realty, said there are really several different markets for homes in Bella Vista.

"We have the retiree," she said. "We have the families, the younger families that are working that are in parts of Bella Vista, particularly in the areas where you can get into the Bentonville School District."

Henry said the average age of Bella Vista residents used to be 65 to 67 and is now much younger than that. The 2000 U.S. Census estimates the population of Bella Vista to be 16,580 and the median age to be around 61.

Building permits from 2002 to 2004 indicate that an additional 1,874 homes began construction during that time.

John A. Cooper III, president of Cooper Communities Inc., said the company has about 3,000 undeveloped acres in west Bella Vista that it plans to develop upon the future completion of the U.S. Highway 71 bypass around Bella Vista. That's in addition to the already established lots in Bella Vista Village.

Cooper Homes made its first Benton County move out of the Bella Vista home market in 2004 with the development of the 131-acre Cross Creek subdivision in Rogers.