A well-known national real estate chain uses a hot air balloon to peddle houses. Now, a local player with dozens of jet aircraft at its disposal is in the same business. But it's using its Web site to send ranches and split-levels flying into the hands of buyers.
The Indianapolis Airport Authority has begun listing at www.indianapolisairport.com homes it acquired under its nearly decade-old "purchase assurance/sound insulation program."
The airport is selling them after investing upwards of $40,000 per house to install more noise-resistant doors and windows and thicker wallboard and to upgrade heating and cooling systems.
The site for Indianapolis International Airport now looks like a page from the Multiple Listing Service used by real estate agents, complete with color photos and poetic prose.
"While away the summer on the deck by the pond!" shouts an ad for a 2,240-square-foot colonial on 2.21 acres in Plainfield, selling for a lofty $339,900.
"Spend the morning with your coffee and paper or the evenings relaxing on the screened-in patio," a listing for a $150,000 Plainfield ranch states.
Never mind that the airport bought these houses from homeowners in the first place because they sat in the flight path of 350,000-pound birds whose engines scream to defy gravity at takeoff.
But since 1999, the Airport Authority has sold 103 houses under the program. Most are in Hendricks County, to the southwest–the direction of the prevailing wind into which planes take off and land.
These houses aren't quite as undesirable as they used to be.
Six years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented quieter noise standards for commercial jet aircraft. Meanwhile, Indianapolis International imposed restrictions that forced planes to bank away from congested areas in Hendricks and Morgan counties.
Homeowners west of the airport caught another break in 2001 when the U.S. Postal Service closed its air-mail hub. That rid 40 bellowing cargo freighters from the sky each day.
A couple of years ago, the airport released a study by Cincinnati consulting firm Landrum & Brown that showed the zone most heavily affected by aircraft noise contracted to about 10 square miles from 18 square miles a half-decade earlier.
While the airport is still the subject of resentment by many of its neighbors, one family who bought an airport-modified home found it a good deal in the long run.
"If the windows are closed, you don't hear even the dog barking in the yard," said Teresa Wiles, who, with husband Donald in 1999, were the first to buy an airport house under the program.
Back then, the pioneers took lots of arrows, however; contractors hired by the airport botched some of the sheet-rock work, forcing the Wiles to a hotel for two weeks.
Today, the acoustical modifications are more of a science than an art. A contractor first blasts a house with noise to simulate a jet, said Robert Duncan, vice president and general counsel for BAA Indianapolis LLC, the private firm that manages the airport.
Then, an architect takes the data and looks for ways to reduce interior noise a minimum five decibels, Duncan said. The modifications can cost upwards of $40,000. But with federal funds used for the noise projects, "it doesn't necessarily increase the cost of the house, per se."
Airport officials have been careful, though, not to sell houses at a below-market price.
"What we're trying to achieve is maintaining property values in the neighborhoods," Duncan said.
The effort seems to be working, according to Susan Blandford, a regional manager for Carpenter Realtors in Hendricks County.
"It's been [Duncan's] goal and the airport [real estate] department's goal to maintain property values pretty rigidly … . They're competitive," Blandford said of home prices.
To boost the marketability of its houses, the airport has been paying real estate agents representing buyers a commission of 4.5 percent, a premium over the typical 3.5 percent to the agent of the buyer.
In recent years, under a separate noise program, the airport demolished 94 homes. They include 83 lots in the former Brunswick Park subdivision, which last year the airport sold to Duke Realty Limited Partnership for $4.4 million to become a 638,000-square-foot warehouse and 15,000-square-foot office complex.
But Duncan said municipalities and schools around the airport generally have preferred resale of the homes acquired under the purchase assurance/sound insulation program, so as not to wipe out their tax rolls.
Another eight houses are about to go on the market soon. The airport's Web site currently lists four houses.
"We don't want to flood the market with airport houses," Duncan said.