Let this rattle around in your mind for a second: some “premium” two-bedroom apartments in one of metro Atlanta’s hottest new live-work-play-shop oases rent for more than $5,000 a month.
In Alpharetta. Deep in the burbs of north Fulton.
Why, you might wonder — I certainly did — would people shell out rent equivalent to five house payments?
That question would probably come to mind even if you aren’t one of those who believe paying rent is like shoveling cash down a commode.
Hint: it’s not about what’s inside the apartments. It is, I think, a sign of how some people will pay dearly to be where the action is and where they can find pals. And it says something about at least the potential of all-the-rage mixed use developments that aim to create communities from scratch.
At the very buzzy Avalon developmentoff Old Milton Parkway near Georgia 400, most one-bedroom offerings go for at least $1,750 a month. Take no comfort in that, though. Prices zoom up from there, topping out at $5,400 and more than 1,700 square feet for a choice corner unit overlooking Avalon’s active “street” life. The rates are way higher than the developers originally expected to get.
“That’s steep,” said Chris Hall, of real estate consulting firm Haddow & Company, which tracks rents in places like Midtown and Buckhead. “I’d say those rents are competitive with the top stuff intown” in mid-rise buildings.
They are well above what’s typical in the Roswell/Alpharetta area, where rents average less than $1,300 a month, according to Axiometrics.
Rents in metro Atlanta have been increasing faster than the national average for several years. But recently the local growth has slowed.
Buck the trend
Maybe some apartments embedded in those new mini mixed use developments will buck the trend. The AJC reported that one of the new complexes at The Battery beside the new SunTrust Park has rents starting at $1,225 and leaping to $4,305.
Avalon, now two and a half years old, has just opened its second phase, with additional pricey apartments, additional upscale stores (including some wooed from Northpoint Mall), an office building and a big hotel with convention space.Leaders at North American Properties, a developer and manager of the project, expect apartment rents per square foot to go a bit higher in the second phase.
So I forced myself to spend a night at Avalon, you know, to figure out how it has pulled this off and to guess whether the money magic might spread to other mixed use projects that put stores, restaurants, entertainment and work just outside our doorsteps.
I (but ultimately the AJC) paid for my one-night stay, with my wife along for the adventure. We were in a furnished hospitality suite that I was told is slated to be converted into an apartment with a possible asking rent of $6k a month.
It had all the extras: fancy kitchen with fancy appliances. Fancy showers. Spacious floor plan. Lots of windows, some overlooking a community pool.
But here’s three things Avalon execs think allows them to charge a premium:
— Effervescent concierges at the center of the community who will do things like hand out free wine and beer or order meals from Avalon restaurants and deliver them to you at the fire pit, pool, apartment, wherever. (I couldn’t bring myself to ask for that.) They call it “resort-level hospitality.” One marketing representative told me a resident had her number listed on his cell phone as “Not My Problem.”
— An open drink policy throughout the development. (I guess walking with a glass of wine or a mimosa dulls the rent pain.)
— A bounty of restaurants, watering holes, shops, free Wednesday yoga classes, Tuesday gatherings for kids, cornhole league competitions, and Friday night live bands beside the town green’s artificial turf.
“It’s like sleeping on a cruise ship,” Joe Peluso told me. “All I have to do is take an elevator ride down and I’m in the middle of the party.”
A courtyard view
He’s 52 and divorced (kind of common, I noticed, among Avalon renters). As a dentist who also does business development for a dental practice, he apparently has enough money to make Avalon work. He lived there in a $2,600 unit, then reluctantly moved back to his big house in a nearby golf community when it didn’t sell, and now has reserved a $4,700-a-month apartment in Avalon’s newest complex, called Veranda. It’s got floor-to-ceiling windows and a view over a courtyard that he expects to be a gathering spot for the community.
He’s also got flexibility: his contract allows him to leave the unit with relatively little notice. And he figures he’ll avoid some of the costs of a big house but still remain in the north Fulton area where he has lived for two decades.
“It’s justifiable at least in the short term,” he told me.
Avalon has some advantages over other mixed use projects. It’s within sight of Georgia 400, a corridor that continues to get high-end growth. It’s near a big pool of wealthy boomers and near boomers who are divorcing or otherwise downsizing and can afford to seek out something extra without the drive into Atlanta. And big chunk of Avalon’s apartment dwellers (it also has houses and townhomes) already lived in north Fulton or worked in the area and wanted to find a way around the commute from somewhere else.
I saw a surprising number of people on the streets at Avalon. Friends tell me that’s common. It pulls in visitors from around north Fulton.
“Until recently there were no places you’d go to hang out,” said Joe Mrsich, who lives nearby and stops in at least once a month with his wife.
I told him what the rents were for apartments.
“God bless!” he said.
More than our house
“That’s more than we pay for our house,” his wife Laura said. “We are a little more on the practical side of things.”
Her husband remarked that, “The IT kids make pretty good money.” (Except, actually the apartment residents skew toward the forties and fifties.)
At those prices, he told me his preference would be a home in a nice intown community.
“This is a made-up neighborhood,” he said.
But I found plenty of residents who gushed about the place. Rich Strand had previously lived in a typical apartment complex nearby. “They had the pool in the middle and that’s it. It looked sterile. It didn’t look like a community.”
Ken Lawson, who came down from New York with his wife two year ago, told me: “I know more residents here than anywhere I’ve ever lived.” He noted the music piped in along the streets from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., comparing the place to Disney World.
To each his own, as long as their money holds out. We’ll see how long Avalon keeps its magic.
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