REAL ESTATE: Metro Atlanta home prices are rising very quickly

Home prices in metro Atlanta. 

ATLANTA — If you live in a desirable area and you’re thinking of selling your home, your timing is good.

Of course, if you’re looking to buy -- especially if you’re a first-timer looking for a good deal in a nice neighborhood -- you may find yourself bidding against many other people like yourself.

All in all, it's a seller's market, with Atlanta home prices climbing nearly twice as fast as the national average, according to a report released Thursday by Re/Max of Georgia.

The median price of a home sold in the metro area last month was 8.4 percent higher than a year ago, with double-digit increases in several of the region's core counties, said John Rainey, Re/Max vice president.

Regionwide, the median price of homes sold in metro Atlanta in July was $246,060, he said. “The greater Atlanta housing market is quickly becoming one of the hottest in the country.”


But the heat is mostly one way, the result of a mismatch between a limited supply of homes for sale and a growing pool of people – often young professionals – with good jobs who want to buy a home.

The number of homes listed for sale in July represented just 2.6 months of sales, down 16 percent from a year ago. Most experts say that there is a supply of six or seven months of sales in a healthy market.

That imbalance in metro Atlanta means that potential buyers often end up bidding against each other for good homes in desirable neighborhoods. It also means that the number of homes sold is not keeping pace with the region’s robust economic growth.

But the equation changes with the price: there is something of a surplus of homes for sale in many of the tonier neighborhoods, even if there is a scarcity among more modest areas. That trend has raised concerns about affordability, since prices have consistently climbed faster than wages.

Some help came this month with a decline in mortgage rates.

The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 4.71 percent, according to Wells Fargo.

Rates recently took their largest weekly downward step of the past year, according to massive mortgage lender Freddie Mac. But unless rates fall a lot farther, experts don’t expect the decline to help that many wannabe potential buyers.

“Unfortunately, this pause in rates is not leading to increasing home sales,” said Sam Khater, chief economist for Freddie Mac, in a statement.

But then, as the cliché goes, it’s also about location.

For example, in the Walton High School district of East Cobb – where home prices are averaging $580,000 – prices have been virtually unchanged from a year ago, according to Patrick Wood, a Buckhead-based vice president of Dorsey Alston Realtors.

And in some areas, prices are down.

In Sandy Springs, prices have dropped nearly 10 percent in the Heards Ferry School district, he said.

“The takeaway for our clients is to not believe the numbers unless your Realtor is willing to dig down not just into your submarket, but into your school district, and some cases, down to your specific neighborhood and the street you live on,” Wood said. “The metro numbers don’t reflect what a lot of buyer and sellers are experiencing.”

But overall, the trend is good for people who are already invested in a home, said Bill Murray, president of the Atlanta Realtors Association.

“The steady rise in prices is an indication of strong continued demand and is great news for homeowners,” he said.

Just over 9,000 homes were sold in the region last month, 2.0 percent more than in the same month a year ago, Re/Max said. In contrast, metro Atlanta has added more than 88,000 jobs in the past year – many of them corporate positions that pay well.

Three of the core counties nearly tied for the strongest increases in price: Clayton with 14 percent, Cobb with 13 percent and Gwinnett with a 12 percent rise.

But then, Clayton was also the most depressed of the local markets in the years after the burst of the housing bubble in 2007. The median price of a home sold in the county last month was $145,000 – less than half the median prices in the other core counties.

The priciest was Fulton, where the median home sold for $369,450 in July.

Nationally, the median sales price was $250,575, up 4.4 percent during the past year, according to Re/Max.

This article was written by Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.