A for sale sign in Lilburn on Tuesday. Metro Atlanta remains one of the stronger home sale markets in the nation, according to a report issued Tuesday. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Home sale price gains narrow in Atlanta, but still outpace the country

Metro Atlanta home prices aren’t climbing as much as in recent years, but are still rising more than in most cities, according to a closely followed report released Tuesday.

Atlanta had the fourth-highest increase among 20 U.S. metro areas in March, trailing only Las Vegas, Portland, Ore. and Tampa, based on the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index, which tracks the resale of homes nationally.

A shortage of homes for sale and a sharp upturn in intown neighborhood prices helped fuel the latest gain, even as a seven-year real estate runup shows signs of slowing in many parts of metro Atlanta because wages haven’t kept pace.

Metro Atlanta home sale prices averaged 4.7% higher than in March of last year, compared with the U.S. average of a 3.7% gain.

“Home price gains continue to slow,” said David Blitzer, chairman of Case-Shiller’s index committee. “Double-digit annual gains have vanished.”

The smaller gains came despite low mortgage rates, good job growth, upbeat consumer sentiment and relatively low household debt levels. Those are all factors that typically fuel a spate of home buying.

But the price of homes, which crashed after the burst of the housing bubble in 2006 and 2007, has been rising steadily since 2012. Because wages and salaries have risen less, homes are becoming less affordable.

That dynamic also is playing out here. Since the housing market started rebounding seven years ago, metro Atlanta home prices have averaged 6.6% annual increases. That is more than twice as fast as wages have grown during that time.

“Buyers have hit a breaking point in what they’re willing to pay, even with low mortgage rates and even in places where incomes are high,” said Matthew Speakman, an economic analyst with Zillow.

Even now, with price hikes slowing and the economy still cruising along, home prices are going up faster than wages. Recent data show the median wage increasing about 3.6% during the past year, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta data. The metro Atlanta housing market has increased more than that every month since the fall of 2012, according to Case-Shiller.

Nationally, Las Vegas had the largest price hike in the past year, at 8.2%.

Key to the higher prices in metro Atlanta is an imbalance between buyers and sellers, said Jeff LaGrange, a vice president with Re/Max. Inventory, a measure of that balance, is down 5% from a year ago. That has propped up prices amid fewer sales overall, he said.

Yet the market in metro Atlanta is far from even. Home prices in Cobb County have slipped 1% in the past year, according to Re/Max. In DeKalb, prices are up 8%, and Fulton has seen a 7% rise.

In the city of Atlanta, which includes sections of counties, the median home price has soared 16% in the past year, according to Re/Max. Prices in neighborhoods from Old Fourth Ward to Ansley Park have seen several years of steep increases as growing numbers of affluent buyers pick the city over the suburbs, triggering expensive new construction or renovations.

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