The white-hot housing market in Buckhead and top end Perimeter neighborhoods may be hitting its peak as prices rise above salaries, two experienced local real estate agents say. For now, Brookhaven is the hottest area, especially as long commute times drive some homebuying decisions.

“Families are feeling priced out of Buckhead’s new construction and smaller homes,” says John Mason of Harry Norman Realtors’ Dunwoody-based Atlanta Perimeter office. “The Brookhaven market is much stronger than Sandy Springs or Dunwoody.”

John Mason of Harry Norman Realtors.

Kelly Marsh of Brookhaven’s Keller Williams Realty says the housing market has come back to where prices are even a little higher than they were in the boom of 2006, before the bubble burst in the global financial crisis.

“Real estate is typically a nine- or 10-year cycle, and we’re back up at the top of the cycle,” she says.
Inside-the-perimeter neighborhoods in Sandy Springs and Brookhaven appear to be enjoying new popularity with homebuyers who have had enough of the city’s notorious commuter traffic.

What’s more, these home buyers seem willing — at least for now — to pay a premium for relief from the bumper-to-bumper grind.

“The commute is now a major factor (in home-buying) that I haven’t seen before,” says Mason, who has been with Harry Norman Realtors for nearly 11 years. “Commutes in metro Atlanta are getting worse. We’re hearing of two hours one way, and that’s like New York and Los Angeles.”

Mason says greater numbers of young families, in particular, are choosing to live closer in — and that the price of a single-family home in inside-the-Perimeter Sandy Springs reflects this trend. The median price of $860,000 is up 23 percent in 2019 over the same first-quarter period a year ago, he says.

In the past, Mason says, concerns about the quality of public schools have kept that market’s families at a distance. But now those families are buying homes in need of updating that “we practically couldn’t give away before,” in areas such as north Sandy Springs, where unit sales are up by 5 percent and the time spent on the market is down by six days. The median price in outside-the-Perimeter Sandy Springs is $570,000.

“I see buyers reluctantly paying these prices,” Mason says, adding that salaries in the Atlanta job market might not allow the numbers to go too much higher.

Kelly Marsh of Keller Williams Realty.

“I think we saw a bust in the fourth quarter of last year,” he says. “The [Federal Reserve] started jumping interest rates. We hit a price cap for a lot of buyers.”

Marsh has been seeing a surge in Brookhaven, where she has lived for the past 20 years. Although the community is still regarded as more affordable than Buckhead or Midtown, that may be changing.

Brookhaven, which is served by a MARTA rail station, “has become the new Virginia-Highland,” Marsh says. “It’s a hot place to be. It’s a destination with the conveniences of restaurants, shopping and grocery stores.”

Brookhaven’s single-family properties divide into three categories, according to Marsh:

■ Older, single-story ranch homes priced at less than $600,000 remain a seller’s market, often lasting only a week before being sold. Some of those are demolished after they are purchased, to make way for new construction.

■ Older, two-story ranch homes from $600,000 to $750,000 make up what real estate agents call a “balanced market,” with about six months of inventory. (Inventory is the time it would take to sell all listings at the current rate if no more properties were listed.) There are more homes in this range than there used to be, Marsh says.

■ Newer homes built in the last 10 years and priced at more than $750,000 are slowing in sales, creating a buyer’s market.

“Brookhaven typically attracts people who live close by or are already in Brookhaven,” Marsh says. “There aren’t huge amounts of relocation people. Some people may be moving up or downsizing.”

She says condos and townhouses — known in the industry as “attached” units — are difficult to find for less than $400,000 in Brookhaven.

In north Sandy Springs, Mason says, the median price for attached housing is $194,000, which represents an increase of 20 percent over 2018 but remains considerably less than Buckhead’s median of $270,000.

Mason says some sellers may have been waiting last year to see whether Amazon would locate its second headquarters in Atlanta, anticipating a spike in the value of their property. But the move didn’t happen.

–Doug Carroll