This summer the homes in the Northwoods subdivision will be reintroduced into the housing market a little more than a year after the Pegasus Pipeline ruptured, leaking thousands of barrels of crude oil and a mixture of industry dilutants into the quiet Mayflower neighborhood.
In a Mayflower Community Newsletter dated March 7, Exxon stated "although extensive air and soil testing has demonstrated that the neighborhood is a safe, clean and healthy place to live, several property owners exercised the option — under ExxonMobil’s voluntary Property Purchase and Price Protection Program — to sell their home directly to ExxonMobil at market price without considering the pipeline incident."
The Property Purchase and Price Protection Program is available through April 2016 to any current homeowner or new home purchased in Northwoods.
Through this program, Northwoods subdivision residents have the opportunity to receive a one-time payment of lost property value related to the spill known as "Option A."
In order to receive this payment, homeowners are provided a list of appraisers by Georgia-based Community Interaction Consulting, Inc., an independent real estate and communications services company that has overseen similar home-purchasing programs for other oil companies.
Exxon also conducts an appraisal and the payment is based on the higher of the two appraisals. Homeowners have the option to pick their own appraiser, subject to review by CIC.
"Option B," only available to the 22 homeowners who were evacuated out of the 63 homes in the Northwoods Subdivision, can have their home directly purchased by Exxon.
Aaron Stryk, communications and media advisor for Exxon Mobil Corporation, said in an email "[Exxon] own[s] a couple dozen, but I don’t know the exact number...the Property Assessor should have the actual figure."
When contacted, Property Assessor office associates said they weren’t able to find ownership information for Exxon or ExxonMobil, suggesting the company could be acquiring property under a different name.
Property Assessor office associates said they would need the property parcel number or the property owner’s name to know how many Mayflower properties Exxon currently owns.
None of the property in the City of Mayflower has been entered in the property assessor’s geographic information systems or GIS service site’s database.
Three of the Northwoods subdivision homes owned by ExxonMobil were demolished last year due to oil trapped beneath the homes’ foundation at 32, 36 and 44 N. Starlite Rd.
Homes in the Northwoods subdivision should start being released for sale on the market by June, said Realtor Tracy Tidwell, owner of ERA Henley Real Estate in Conway.
Exxon plans to release a half-dozen homes at a time, not to flood the housing market, Tidwell said.
"I know there’s a lot of doubt and concern," she said. "I would want to do my homework if I were buying one of the homes. This was a tragedy — economically it was a tragedy, but all communities have a tendency to overcome tragedy if they work together."
"There have been many communities that have overcome worse and been better for it," she said.
According to Exxon’s marketing plan, in the coming weeks, CIC will begin to staff a model home at 28 N. Starlite that will also serve as a sales office in the Northwoods subdivision to help market the properties Exxon owns. An information center is being set up at 8 N. Starlite, and CIC will also support enhanced maintenance and beautification of the common areas in the neighborhood in an effort to help maintain home values and the appeal of the community.
Exxon is also rebranding the neighborhood with a new logo "that captures the feel of the neighborhood," including a website that will have information about the community, homes available for purchase, virtual tours of the homes and other videos and contents highlighting Northwoods and Mayflower.
Tidwell said the housing market in Mayflower was initially locked up after the oil spill because lenders couldn’t follow through on a loan because the underwriters couldn’t get clear answers from appraisers.
"Appraisers didn’t know how to respond because they didn’t know how to answer some of the questions or address [the oil spill] on the appraisal," she said.
Local appraisers expressed concerns about Option A of ExxonMobil’s Property Purchase and Price Protection Program because they did not have the experience or knowledge in appraising a property to determine any diminution of value when post-incident comparable sales were not available, Stryk said.
Last year on October 25, ExxonMobil sponsored a training seminar for area appraisers through the Arkansas education arm of the Appraisal Institute titled "Analyzing the Effects of Environmental Contamination on Real Property."
ExxonMobil sponsored the seminar but was not in attendance and did not provide any comments to the instructor, Stryk said.
In a Mayflower Community Newsletter dated March 7, Exxon stated, "we continue to meet with lenders, real estate agents, real estate brokers and others to share information about the completed remediation process and to responsibly market the homes. Through this effort, real estate and finance professionals are gaining a greater understanding of the work that has been done in Northwoods and the value of the properties in this vibrant and desirable community."
"I can’t put the blame on the appraisers," Tidwell said. "I think there was just so much uncertainty they didn’t know how to address it. It’s not something you deal with everyday."
Tidwell said she thinks the seminar, education and training provided by Exxon has helped Mayflower’s housing market move forward, but that isn’t the sentiment shared by all.
One appraiser said he or she did not feel comfortable being quoted because they are involved with several law suits involving home owners and ExxonMobil, but the anonymous source attended the seminar and said they didn’t feel they gained anything from the seminar, leaving still unsure of how to properly appraise a home affected by the oil spill.
In some instances, Mayflower properties were directly affected by the spill and others were affected just by association.
"Just the fact that they were in the Mayflower area brought a bad connotation on them even though they weren’t affected in any way," Tidwell said.
Tidwell has sold three homes in Mayflower since the spill.
Mayflower is not a high turnover area normally, she said, so the fact that she has sold three homes since the oil spill may be an average reflection of the housing market.
One of the homes is on the same side of the railroad tracks as the oil spill, but not part of the Northwoods subdivision and the other two are located on the opposite side of I-40, directly on Lake Conway.
One of the buyers was from out of state; the other two were from the Central Arkansas area.
"We made them very well aware that there could be issues, and they did their research and are very comfortable with their decision," Tidwell said.
Tidwell said Vilonia had tornadoes, Greenbrier had all the earthquakes at one time, Conway had the flood a few years ago — all of those communities have had to deal with those disasters, but the market always rebounds and responds back if it’s handled properly and people choose to move forward.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1215. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)