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Appraisers: Oaky Woods sellers got sweet deal in 2004
By JIM WALLS
The 2004 sale price of the site of the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area was so sweet that it could not be used to place a value on the property today, appraisers for the state say.
A Houston County development group pocketed $19.4 million last week when it sold 10,036 acres to the state Department of Natural Resources, a summary of the transaction shows. The remaining $9.2 million from the sale went to mortgage holder Columbus Bank & Trust Co., whose parent company, Synovus Financial, has bled red ink for two-plus years due to bad real-estate loans.
The developers, who purchased the property in 2004 for $1,633 an acre, resold about half of it to DNR for $2,860 an acre — a 75 percent markup. The state could have bought the land for the same low price in 2004 but Gov. Sonny Perdue, citing budget difficulties, declined.
Critics questioned last week’s sale price, which they felt should have been much closer to what the principals of Oaky Woods Properties LLC paid in 2004.
But Pritchett, Ball & Wise, appraisers hired by the state, said the earlier sale was below market value because Weyerhaeuser Co., the seller, was trying to unload dozens of similar parcels at the time:
“This was part of approximately 300,000 acres that Weyerhaeuser sold on the same day to multiple buyers with essentially simultaneous closings. … [W]e believe that the fact that this was part of a bulk sale of approximately 300,000 acres that were offered for sale at one time affected the price paid.”
DNR officials made details of the appraisals available to the public Friday, after the deal had closed.
Oaky Woods Properties bought an adjacent parcel in 2005 for even less — about $1,400 an acre. The appraisers said that sale wasn’t comparable either because of the property’s topography and limited access.
The sellers had been asking $6,900 per acre for the entire 21,000-acre tract, the appraisers reported. The sellers claimed to have had much higher offers for the land — $12,500 per acre in 2006 and $14,000 per acre a year later.
Pritchett, Ball & Wise appraised the Oaky Woods property in November at a little over $30 million, or about $3,000 per acre, using the sales of six other large tracts as comparable transactions. Two of the tracts, as detailed in the appraiser’s full report, have also been leased to the state as wildlife management areas.
A second appraisal commissioned by DNR, conducted by an Alabama firm specializing in evaluating timberland, placed the value at $24.6 million.
FOOTNOTE: Perdue, citing the economy, chose not to use bond financing in 2004 to buy the entire Oaky Woods tract. The state financed last week’s purchase, in even scarier economic times, with $28.7 million in bond proceeds.