Opinion: How can anyone afford to buy a home in Atlanta anymore?

July 15, 2021 Lawrenceville - Portrait of Lavell Hewitt, a new homeowner who was lucky enough to score a home after selling his house to Opendoor at a higher than market price, outside his new home in Lawrenceville on Thursday, July 15, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



July 15, 2021 Lawrenceville - Portrait of Lavell Hewitt, a new homeowner who was lucky enough to score a home after selling his house to Opendoor at a higher than market price, outside his new home in Lawrenceville on Thursday, July 15, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

When Shola Adeniyi first began house hunting in Atlanta, her budget was about $350,000. Though she was raised in Riverdale, the engineer and Georgia Tech grad had always planned to stay in the city limits, but what she could afford two years ago in her desired neighborhoods is now well above her original price range.

“I just decided to come up with more money and ask my parents because I wanted to stay in the city. I literally have to come to the table with $80,000 as a first-time homeowner,” said Adeniyi. “I have a decent job and savings, but what if you don’t? You can’t afford the city.”

When she came across a new build in southwest Atlanta priced at $550,000, Adeniyi wanted to make an offer, but she was leaving for a three-week trip out of the country. By the time she returned and was preparing to submit her offer, the price had jumped to $600,000. “They said it was materials and lumber costs, but really it is because they can get the money,” said Adeniyi. She is now also considering moving to Houston, which she said is “Atlanta about five years ago.”

This is the new real estate reality in metro Atlanta, and according to some experts, unlike the previous housing market crash, this bubble shows no signs of bursting. “The circumstances are totally different than they were in the banking scandals and the real estate crash that went from 2007 to 2012,” said Atlanta-based consumer expert Clark Howard in a recent podcast.

Demand for homes is only part of the story. A decade ago, lending standards were so relaxed that a host of homebuyers rushed into the market and drove up prices, Howard said. Initially, even if the homeowner defaulted on the loan, banks could foreclose and resell the house without losing money. But eventually the house of cards came crashing down and people who were in over their heads defaulted.

This time, the demand for houses has nothing to do with crappy mortgages and everything to do with low interest rates, more millennials hitting their homebuying years and a shift in how we view our homes during the pandemic.

Years of lagging construction, high lumber costs and an increasing number of older Americans choosing to stay in their homes instead of downsizing have left housing inventory at an all-time low. So here we are.

It is hard for me to fathom a housing market in Atlanta in which first-time homeowners like Adeniyi need to drop a half-million dollars on a home.

The housing market was one of the greatest appeals of metro Atlanta when I moved to the area in 2006. I was relatively young, single, and a working professional. Atlanta in the early 2000s felt like the Wild West in a good way with reasonably priced homes available in so many different neighborhoods.

The only two homes I have ever owned in my life have been in the city of Atlanta, and right now, I doubt I would be able to afford either one of them at the current market rates. I’m so disheartened that young people like Adeniyi, who by many measures is probably better off than I was at the same age, can’t find a path to enter the market.

Metro Atlanta definitely needs more affordable housing, and recent efforts to include it near MARTA stations and Atlanta Land Trust developments near the Beltline are just getting underway. But even that solves only part of the problem.

For first-time buyers like Adeniyi with higher incomes, the problem is not simply a lack of affordable housing, it is the lack of housing inventory.

And it’s not just singles suffering. Dr. Meredith Trubitt, 31, and her husband have been in Atlanta for two years. When her husband completed his MBA at Georgia Tech, he and Trubitt, a physician, decided to make Atlanta their permanent home.

The couple, who have been together since college and have always been saving toward their goal of homeownership, knew they would shop for a home that allowed them to put no less than 20% down. “It has been crazy,” Trubitt said. “I go on Zillow and look at what these houses sold for the last time. It is unbelievable. I am like, these people are making bank.”

The couple has taken a serious look at about 15-20 homes, putting offers on two, neither of which they got even with amounts generously over the list price, Trubitt said. Other buyers in the southeast side neighborhoods that they desire to live in have waived inspections or made offers even higher over the asking price, Trubitt said.

They are determined to stick with the search in the hopes that something will change. “I think we can keep renting another year if we have to, for it to calm down,” Trubitt said.

Real estate agent Kathryn Flowers said she has helped clients from all over the country — North Carolina, New York and California — find homes in the city. Some of her clients, particularly those who are looking for more space, eventually shift their focus to areas outside of the city. She has helped some recent clients settle in Newnan and Fayetteville, areas outside of Atlanta where buyers seem to be having a bit more luck.

Lavell Hewitt, 44, lives in Dacula with his wife and school-age daughter. Last year, a homebuyer approached him with an offer on his home, which he had purchased in 2016. Hewitt declined the offer, but in early 2021, when the company came back with a higher offer, he reconsidered.

On average, his home would have sold for about $225,000, Hewitt said, but the new offer put him about $50,000 higher, enabling him to buy a larger home in the same school district that could accommodate both his parents and his in-laws when the time comes.

He and his wife had endured packed open houses and rejections in favor of cash offers, but in the end, it was a human connection that got them into a new home.

The seller of their new home, also an agent, proved to be a kindred soul who could relate to their need to care for their parents in the future. She told them she would make a mental note to keep them in mind if they produced a good offer, Hewitt said, and when the time came, she did.

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