It can all be rather confusing.

Buying a house sometimes can seem like a return to math class. There’s a parade of unintelligible numbers. Prices are up here, down over there. Inventories are flat for one kind of home, shrinking for another.

Sometimes, comparing houses can even take on the look of an algebraic calculation: Does 5 BR + 4 ½ BA in Sandy Springs = 4 BR + 3 ½ BA in Dunwoody?

To try to cut through some of the numbers, we decided to pose a simple question: What can you get for about $500,000 – half a million dollars – in Reporter Newspapers communities? What’s a half-million-dollar house these days?

“Well, it’s not what it used to be,” joked Sandy Springs Realtor Katie Brinkman, who’s been in the business a quarter century. “But people get good buys for their money, particularly in the suburbs.”

With the help of Realtors and real estate agents in our communities, we sifted through listings for dozens of houses and came up with four answers, one each in Brookhaven, Buckhead, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.

These homes are very different.

One is a classic “Dunwoody house,” a brick home built with windows creating the classic “5- over-4-with-a-door” look used for houses that fill portions of the north Atlanta suburbs. Another is a “California-style” home, with a two-story entrance hall and a waterfall in the backyard.

A third is a two-story, brick townhouse with fenced backyard and space for a home office. The fourth is a 79-year-old house in the heart of Buckhead that been remodeled and expanded to include four bedrooms and three fireplaces.

In Dunwoody, Realtor Bob Fiscella recently found a dozen houses and two townhomes listed for sale at prices ranging from $475,000 to $525,000. Brinkman said 27 were listed in Sandy Springs.

The average sales price for a single family home in Dunwoody during the first eight months of 2014 was about $438,000, up from $415,000 for the same period last year, Fiscella said. “The higher-priced homes that weren’t selling last year are selling this year,” he said.

The one thing shoppers can expect when they’re browsing in the half-million-dollar range is to look at older homes, real estate agents say.

Realtor Debbie Leonard of Brookhaven says that because of the current price of land, new single-family houses generally are going cost more than $500,000. At that price, she said, “you’re going to get an older ranch [house] or you’re going to get one that is, like, a cluster home.”

In Buckhead, a $500,000 budget means you’ll probably be looking at homes your grandparents could have owned. “You’ll be looking at a house that’s 60-plus years old,” said Buckhead Realtor Lori Fiata. “Three bedrooms, two baths, probably has had at least one renovation.”

And it’ll be more, um, cozy than a similarly priced house in the suburbs. Expect to shop among homes of 1,500 to 1,800 square feet, said Fiata, who said she’s been selling Buckhead homes for seven years. “There’s a backlog of buyers on the market. [Houses newly on the market] go under contract in 24 hours. You get multiple offers. You’re getting more than the asking price. When they’re on the market 30 days, that seems like forever.”

Not every Buckhead home sells instantly. Ask Art Picken. He moved into his Buckhead home in 1993. He extensively remodeled it, doing much of the work himself. He says never expected to leave. “I never wanted to sell it,” he said. “I think it’s perfect. When I’m 80 and can’t drive, I can walk to everything.” But he remarried and moved to the suburbs with his wife, so he put it on the market in early June.

Fiata, who’s representing Picken, said potential buyers seem to have been put off by construction across the street and the proximity of nearby apartments. “People [say they] want to live in a city, but have trouble living next door to an apartment house,” she said.

So Picken has dropped his price to $475,000. Fiata is hoping to attract interest from investors who could rent it to families looking for a house zoned so their kids could attend Sarah Smith Elementary School.

She says she’s sure the house eventually will find a buyer.

“It’s hard to get anything for less than $500,000 these days, especially right here in the heart of the Buckhead market,” she said.

Just do the math.

$475,000
3226 Mathieson Drive
Neighborhood: Buckhead Forest
4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths
2,260 square feet
Year built: 1935
Extras: front porch, updated kitchen, walk to Buckhead Village
$504,000
9010 River Run
Neighborhood: Huntcliff
5 bedrooms, 4 ½ baths
5,500 square feet
Year built: 1976
Extras: master suite with two bathrooms, two-story great room w/fireplace and built-in bookshelves, billiard room, cedar shake roof, two HVAC systems, stream and waterfall
$515,000
1277 Village Run NE
Neighborhood: Village at Lenox Park
3 bedrooms, 3 ½ baths
2,030 square feet
Year built: 1990
Extras: fenced backyard, updated kitchen, bedroom and bath on third floor
$494,800
5549 Martina Way
Neighborhood: Withmere
4 bedrooms, 3 ½ baths
2,850 square feet
Year built: 1977
Extras: swimming pool, built-in bar in recreation room, screened porch