Atlanta home prices up — so are Fed rates

The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate a quarter-point Wednesday, setting the state for similar hikes in credit cards, car loans and mortgages.

The change, while small enough to have only a marginal impact, does add to a larger campaign by the Fed to make borrowing more expensive. It is the fifth such increase since the nation’s central bank slashed rates nearly to zero during the recession nine years ago.

In related news, metro Atlanta home prices continued their solid rise, even as the number of sales dropped last month, according to the monthly report from the Atlanta Realtors Association.

The median price of a home sold in November was $248,000 – up 6.4 percent from the same month a year ago ago, the realtors reported Wednesday.

That continues a long expansion, and experts say they don't expect the Fed's move to mean much for the market – yet.

Yet the market continues to struggle with a shortage of inventory – that is, homes for sale. And while rising prices raise concerns about affordability, the region has long lured migration from higher cost regions, and Atlanta's price hikes are modest compared to some other metros.

Inventory has dropped 16 percent from a year ago. The number of homes for sale represents about 2.7 months of sales – a market in which sellers have the upper hand.

A market in which buyer and seller power are balanced typically has six or seven months of sales, experts say. Experts give a number of explanations for the shortage, one of which is that few homes are built for entry-level buyers.

Naturally, the shortage of listings tends to mean a lower number of homes sold. That number was down 5.7 percent from the same month a year ago.

And because the number of listings has lagged demand for homes, home prices have consistently been nudged higher, said Bill Rawlings, president of the Atlanta Realtors Association.

“These inventory levels are also keeping prices higher during these fall and winter months,” he said.

Prices often dip in the colder months. Not this time: the median price last month edged up 2.5 percent from October, according to the realtors’ report.

Among the core counties of metro Atlanta, Fulton had the highest median sales price: $332,000. Gwinnett had the lowest median: $226,000.

The housing market is mostly going to ignore the Fed’s move Wednesday, said Cheryl Young, senior economist at Trulia, an online residential real estate site, in an email Wednesday.

“Mortgage rates would have to rise to levels unseen since 2011 to have any impact on the home buying decision,” she wrote. “The 30-year fixed mortgage rate would have to rise to 8.3 percent – or 4.5 percentage points higher than they are today – for the cost home buying to equal the cost of renting.”

The average mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in metro Atlanta last week was 4.30 percent, according to a survey by Bankrate.

Typically, the Fed tries to raise rates to head off inflation. Despite many fears that the long economic expansion would produce accelerating inflation, so far, inflation signs have been restrained.

Metro Atlanta homes, November

Median Sales Price

Cobb $261,000

DeKalb $249,000

Fulton $332,000

Gwinnett $226,000

Source: Atlanta Realtors Association