The Wake County school board has approved a contract to buy a large swath of land in Apex for $4.67 million - about half the price the county almost paid for the property in 2007, at the top of the real estate bubble.
The contract, one of two school officials approved last week, indicates how far the market has fallen in an era of tight lending. Closing the deal will be up to the Wake commissioners.
In early 2007, the school board agreed to buy the 108-acre tract off Humie Olive Road for $8.7 million. But that price was criticized as too high by some county officials, and the school board ultimately killed the deal.
The purchase is part of a land-banking strategy by the school district, which expects to grow by 60,000 students by 2020. It would be reserved for an eventual high school and middle school.
Real estate brokers say it's better to buy today than wait until the market heats up again.
County Commissioner Tony Gurley called the deal "a great savings."
"What we have to do is verify that we're still getting value for the taxpayers' money," he said. "But it seems to be an easier job knowing that it's millions less in cost."
Real value elusive
In 2007, two certified appraisals indicated that the Apex property was worth less than the current contract, which is still 44 percent more than what seller Apex Olive LLC paid in April 2006. The current price is also 17.6 percent above the property's tax value, which was assessed during the real estate boom.
Since 2007, money for land purchases has dried up, limiting competition and lowering prices. Because so few land deals have closed during the recession, it's difficult for appraisers to assign an accurate value to properties.
Betty Parker, director of real estate services for the school system, attributed the price to the lack of water and sewer service now.
Apex's sewer system has almost reached its capacity. New development in the town is virtually impossible until a new regional wastewater-treatment plant is built. Plans for a plant in New Hill, which would serve Apex, Morrisville and Cary, have been delayed for years.
Utility service expected
Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said he is confident such infrastructure will be available by the time the schools are built and is encouraged by news of the pending land sale.
"That was the only ideal tract in the Apex proper area, in the size they were looking for," he said.
"We were very pleased they were able to reach a price that obviously serves everyone well - from the taxpayers to the sellers."
On Tuesday, the school board also approved a contract to pay $3.6 million for 80 acres off Old Honeycutt Road in Fuquay-Varina, where the county plans an elementary school and a high school.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
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