In the year since filmmakers Jason and Heather DeVan relocated from the Los Angeles area to metro Atlanta, they have been fielding a lot of calls from friends still living on the West Coast.
“We have tons of people calling us and saying, ‘We want to move to Atlanta. We are on our way. What are your thoughts?’” said Heather DeVan, an Atlanta native who returned to the area after living in L.A. for 20 years. “We got really lucky. I feel like the real estate here will thrive.”
Local real estate agents who cater to film industry transplants couldn’t agree more. Actors like Melissa McCarthy and Jamie Chung (Fox’s “The Gifted”) who have publicly shared news of home purchases are just a few of the industry veterans setting up permanent residence in the metro area, where the industry has boomed amid the state’s film-friendly tax incentives.
“The film industry is growing so much that actors are putting down roots in Atlanta. It is an investment for them. It is like a vacation home in Florida, just in a different market,” said Hasan Pasha of Harry Norman, who has developed a niche as a go-to agent to the stars.
Though dozens of celebrities have recently supported a proposed boycott of the state over the “heartbeat” abortion bill, some industry insiders have been shopping for local real estate. One A-list, Oscar-nominated actor reportedly viewed homes for sale while filming in metro Atlanta, as did two directors.
The majority of out-of-state actors, directors and crew members rent homes or stay in hotels while working in Atlanta, but the growing industry combined with the lower cost of living and diverse neighborhoods make Atlanta an increasingly attractive place for industry insiders to live, work and invest.
In January, Movie Maker Magazine called Atlanta a new “industry titan” and ranked it as the No. 2 big city for moviemakers to live and work (Albuquerque, New Mexico, bumped Atlanta from the No. 1 spot). In fiscal year 2018, 455 productions filmed in Georgia, bringing a $9.5 billion economic impact to the state. Some of that impact can be attributed to housing for actors and crew, which has created a cottage industry for real estate agents, leasing companies and owners of investment properties. But those luxury properties also come with high prices putting upward pressure on already rising rents and making the city less affordable for some.
Part of the entertainment industry’s interest in Atlanta real estate may be fueled by the sluggish market in Los Angeles, where home sales have slowed after seven years of growth. Affordability was the main reason for the slowdown, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, which also reported a decline of 13,000 in the population of Los Angeles County for the year ending July 2018. In 2017, the county population grew by 0.13%, the lowest growth since 2012, according to calculations by the California Regional Economic Analysis Project.
Jason and Heather DeVan were part of that exodus when they decided to move with their three children to metro Atlanta last year. They were wrapping their first film, “Along Came the Devil,” a thriller centered on a demonic possession. They now have two more films in the pipeline, one of which has just started production with a crew that is 90% Atlanta-based.
Not only did the Victorian-style homes in Decatur and the suburban, downtown streetscape in Flowery Branch serve as great locations for making their follow-up feature film, they symbolize the neighborhood attributes that lured the couple to relocate. “Coming to Atlanta from Los Angeles, it is such a different atmosphere,” said Jason DeVan, a native of Pennsylvania whose family now lives in Powder Springs. He wasn’t accustomed to neighbors waving as he drove by, strangers offering him a helping hand or the affordable cost of housing.
“Housing is incredibly cheaper in Atlanta than it is in L.A.,” said Heather DeVan. “Being here and still feeling like I am part of an industry that is booming is incredible.”
The biggest adjustment was for their three children. “Our children were born and raised in L.A., which is a big city and is a melting pot,” said Heather DeVan. “The kids say, ‘We live in the country.’ I say, ‘No, we really don’t.’”
Last year in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McCarthy said she and husband Ben Falcone loved Atlanta so much they decided to keep a place in the city. “There’s just something about the South that you can’t replace. It’s friendly,” the actress told AJC reporter Jennifer Brett.
Three years ago, Pasha, 30, was studying for the medical boards when he saw an episode of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing” and thought he could do what they were doing. Several big deals and many connections later and he is a specialist at housing actors, crew and designers filming in Atlanta.
The film industry often functions by word-of-mouth, and it takes a certain skill set to develop a solid reputation. He showed one actor at least 40 houses before the actor made a decision, he said. Soon, he developed the ability to interpret what his film industry clients mean when they say they are moving from L.A. and want an L.A.-style home or they are looking for a New York-style townhouse. Atlanta may not be able to offer Beverly Hills, but Pasha will ask, “What does Beverly Hills offer that you like? The street scenes, restaurants or shopping?”
“Atlanta does have that,” he said. “There is a lot of variety from Old Fourth Ward to Buckhead to Midtown. Each neighborhood is different.”
While many actors or crew members choose to rent or buy homes in intown neighborhoods, some are also moving to areas such as Smyrna or Peachtree City, Pasha said. In nearby Fayetteville, Pinewood Forest, a new mixed-use development designed to buttress the 700-acre, 18-soundstage Pinewood Studios, has sold more than 90 homes since 2018 with prices ranging from about $400,000 to over $1 million in a community where the median price of homes sold has hovered near $212,900, according to data from Zillow.
No matter where film industry workers decide to live, no matter if they choose to buy or rent, all of them want the best deal, said Pasha, noting that the average rent for a one-bedroom unit leased to industry workers is about $4,000 per month. In contrast, the median rent for a one-bedroom unit in Atlanta is $1,470, according to Zumper’s May National Rent Report.
Some locals have invested in multiple rental properties for the sole purpose of renting to film industry workers.
One company, Restore Rentals, billed as “the most luxurious film housing company in Atlanta,” has housed actors, crews, producers and directors on productions including “Captain America: Civil War” and the “Divergent” film series. Some of the properties listed include a $4,000-per-month loft near Ponce City Market and a three-bedroom Virginia-Highland bungalow renting for $290/day.
“It is a positive for everyone who owns investment properties but a negative for anyone who wants to live here, because rents are going up,” said Andre de Winter, a Compass agent with 20 years in the real estate business.
But even Hollywood has limits, said Pasha, and if greed leads locals to take advantage of the film industry, Atlanta could lose out. “We offer a lot to benefit the film industry, but we still have to be fair. Overinflating prices is the biggest downfall in any community,” said Pasha. “If you keep jacking up prices, there are other places that people will go.”
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