Home prices in Atlanta climb; first increase since July

Metro Atlanta's home prices reversed eight months of declines, ticking up almost 1 percent in April, according to a widely watched housing index.

The news, coupled with recent healthier indicators such as rising permits issued for new home construction, offers hope that the region could be beginning a climb out of the slump.

Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Home Price Index showed the area's first uptick in home prices since last July. Local experts say the numbers are driven by record-low interest rates, shrinking inventory, fewer foreclosure sales and growing new home sales.

The increase is particularly appreciated in metro Atlanta, where prices have lost more ground than any of the other 19 metro areas tracked . From April 2011 to April 2012, local prices were down 17 percent, but real estate salespeople have been reporting better sales numbers through most of this year.

"Here's my take. The recovery started back in February," said Re/Max Metro Atlanta associate broker Zac Pasmanick.

Case-Shiller's numbers are reported 60 days behind.

"The April closings that just came out were actually put under contract in February and March," Pasmanick said, "so what is reported is not current reality."

Steve Palm of Marietta real estate analysis firm SmartNumbers said local sales increased in May and June.

"We will have 30 percent more closings in June, if the average holds," he said.

The team at Case-Shiller was encouraged after March's numbers and more so about April's.

"It has been a long time since we enjoyed such broad-based gains," said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee.

Nineteen of the 20 metro areas Case-Shiller tracks showed price increases. Only battered Detroit lost ground.

Home prices in metro Atlanta were up 0.8 percent when adjusted for the typical increases in the spring selling season. That beat the national average of 0.7 percent. Blitzer said he believes the increase shows the climbing numbers are not just because of the season.

Dan Forsman, the CEO of Prudential Georgia Realty, said his closings are up 14 percent compared with last year, and properties selling for less than $100,000 have dropped from about half to 22 percent of sales. That is helping boost average sales prices, along with fewer foreclosures and short sales.

"For three months in a row, normal market sales are now outpacing bank-owned sales," Forsman said.

However, the question of how many potential foreclosures are held by banks is still open. A report this month by RealtyTrac showed that in May, one in 300 mortgaged Georgia homes were subject to a notice or repossession. That and a return of bad economic news could slow the market.

But many believe 2012 will mark the turn for the housing market nationally and here.

SmartNumbers' Palm believes local closings will be up, year-over-year, in 2012.

The Case-Shiller index is widely considered to be one of the most reliable measures of home values because it tracks repeat sales, not all sales.

Case-Shiller Home Price Index

The index set home values at 100 in January 2000. Metro Atlanta's index peaked at 136 in mid-2007 but fell sharply during the recession. A home that sold for $100,000 in 2000 sold for $84,500 in April 2012.

Metro Atlanta home values month by month:

2012

April 84.5

March 82.56

February 83.29

January 85.44

2011

December 87.3

November 88.93

October 91.21

September 95.99

August 102.04

July 104.55

June 104.32

May 102.80