Atlanta’s housing market still tilts toward sellers, but there are fewer bidding wars, experts say. (TNS)

Home sales slump in Atlanta, prices still rising

The number of home sales in metro Atlanta dropped 11 percent in January compared to a year ago, according to a report issued Tuesday from Re/Max Georgia.

“Like the rest of the country, Atlanta home sales cooled off in the new year,” said Jeff LaGrange, Re/Max vice president.

The report covered 28 counties. Among the region’s core counties, Gwinnett took the hardest tumble, as home sales fell 16.5 percent from the same month a year earlier.

For several years, experts have warned that too few homes were for sale in metro Atlanta with the worst shortages at the lower end of the market, which is most likely to draw first-time home-buyers. That made for tough competition – and rapidly rising prices – as would-be buyers jostled with each other, hoping to snag a modestly priced home.

Late last year, experts said the inventory – that is, the number of listings for sale – was finally starting to increase. But it seems to have leveled off in January, according to Re/Max.

Experts generally say that in a balanced market – where sellers and buyers have roughly even negotiating clout – the number of houses listed for sale is equal to the number typically sold over six or seven months. The number of homes listed for sale in January represented three months of sales, the same as in January a year ago.

In January, average prices in the metro area were 7.7 percent higher than a year ago. With something of a surplus among higher-priced homes, that price hikes are mostly concentrated among the entry-level homes, according to experts.

“Atlanta home-buyers aren’t seeing much relief in homes available for sale,” LaGrange said.

And that increasingly undermines Atlanta’s lure as an affordable region for young professionals.

While Atlanta prices were still low compared to especially hot markets like San Francisco, Seattle and New York, the increases in Atlanta do make it look less affordable than many smaller cities.

Moreover, Atlanta’s home price increase last month was significantly larger than the national average of 4.6 percent.

The fastest price growth was in Clayton, which also has – on average – the lowest-price homes for sale. The median price of a home sold in Clayton last month was $140,000, a jump of 12.4 percent during the past year, according to Re/Max.

At the other end of the spectrum, the highest-priced county was Fulton, where the median price for a home sold last month was $327,000.

Still, the trend favors buyers, with inventories up four of the past five months, according to Aaron Terrazas, senior economist for Zillow. “During the second half of 2018, something shifted. Home buyers aren’t out of the woods yet, but there is a glimmer of light on the horizon.”

Competition in Atlanta is not as intense as it was, according to Redfin, a Seattle-based national brokerage. A year ago, 41 percent of Atlanta sales involved competition – that is, more than one potential buyer. Last month, bidding by more than one buyer was involved in just 12 percent of sales, according to Redfin.

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