Story by Anya Martin. Photos by Jenni Girtman
Kelli Covington and Paul Gumpman almost gave up hope. The couple had spent months searching for a home inside the perimeter that met their needs and was affordable on two teachers’ salaries.
But their efforts paid off in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of East Point, and in March 2016, they closed on a $220,000 four-bedroom, three-bath, brick, circa-1940 bungalow.
Their dream house was completely renovated, including a master suite addition, refinished hardwood floors, pastel walls, a two-car garage and a one-third acre lot with plenty of backyard for their four dogs.
“We didn’t have to do anything except pick our appliances,” says Gumpman, 53, a program specialist with the Georgia Department of Education. “All our furniture just fit in, and even the paint colors were perfect.”
The only thing missing on their checklist was a screened porch, but they plan to add that to a bonus mother-in-law cottage which they are renovating as an art studio and “a place to have friends over, hang out and share some whiskey,” says Covington, 44, a Fulton County Schools teacher.
Jefferson Park is one of a steadily declining number of metro Atlanta neighborhoods where buyers can still find homes for under $300,000. Atlanta home prices are rising faster than in the rest of the country. The national median price for an existing single-family home was $247,800 in 2017, up 5.3 percent from a year earlier, and prices rose in 92 percent of the 177 metropolitan areas assessed, according to the National Association of Realtors. Meanwhile, Atlanta median home prices jumped 8.7 percent in the same annual period, from $182,900 to $198,900.
Fortunately, first-time homebuyers or anyone on a budget can still find hidden gems in some unheralded Atlanta neighborhoods, such as the following five. But you have to move fast.
Tom Trimble, an agent with Keller Knapp Realty, used to have to push the idea of East Point to other agents. But two years ago, as home prices in other ITP neighborhoods began to skyrocket, that changed, says Trimble, who likes the area so much he moved there.
“It’s an amazing place inside the perimeter for entry-level buyers,” he adds. “I have lived in neighborhoods I loved, but I have never experienced the sense of community I do here.”
In 2017, he sold 14 homes in Jefferson Park at prices from the $130,000s to the $290,000s. Homes in Jefferson Park include Craftsman bungalows built in the 1920s-40s, mid-century ranches and some newer properties. Trimble finds that lower-priced homes will need some work, but the quality of updates made to homes is generally high.
Covington says that she and Gumpman can make it to Inman Park or Midtown in 15 minutes on a Friday night. However, they don’t have to venture out of Tri-Cities (East Point, Hapeville and College Park) to find a thriving restaurant and bar scene, with their favorite local joints including the Duck Club Speakeasy and Brake Pad.
Or they can just eat breakfast on the front porch on a weekend morning and socialize with their neighbors when they walk by with their dogs, Gumpman says.
Jefferson Park Neighbors Association, jeffersonparkneighbors.org
Schools: Parklane Elementary, Paul D. West Middle School, Tri-Cities High School
Adjust expectations when looking at older homes that have not been completely gutted and renovated, Trimble says. Be prepared for fewer or smaller closets, uneven floors, no master suite and crawlspaces instead of basements.
Dayna Noffke and Jason Tolar worried they couldn’t afford a move from Athens to Atlanta when they found a 1962 ranch house for just under $200,000. Tucked right inside I-285 south of Lawrenceville Highway, the idyllic neighborhood is right out of “The Brady Bunch.” It offers mid-century homes, desirable schools, a community pool and plenty of young playmates for their 9-year-old daughter, Viva. Because the streets are contained, commuters don’t cut through, making it even safer for kids playing outdoors, says Noffke, a 45-year-old filmmaker.
The couple reveled in the house’s retro attributes, such as the original turquoise-tiled bathroom. “A lot of people would gut that, but we were thrilled,” Noffke says.
The older house’s shortcomings were easily addressed and even afforded new interior design possibilities, she says. Big front windows now have groovy ’50s fabric curtains; the den showcases her movie memorabilia and prop collection; and the couple compensated for the home’s lack of closet and pantry storage with vintage wardrobes, dressers and a sideboard.
Noffke’s work location changes constantly, but she can get just about everywhere in Atlanta easily thanks to the close proximity of I-285, Ga. 78 and major thoroughfares such as North Druid Hills Road. Plus, the backyard is big enough for two dogs, an in-town chicken coop and parties.
“Be prepared to make an offer quickly, because there are fewer listings and the neighborhood is stabilizing,” says Jason Yates, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. New townhomes are being built in the area, and North DeKalb Mall is about to undergo a significant upgrade (including the first Decatur-area Costco), so finding a home under $300,000 will become that much harder.
Lindmoor Woods Civic Association, lindmoorwoods.com
Schools: Laurel Ridge Elementary, Druid Hills Middle School, Druid Hills High School
Do the math, Yates says. When you look at a home hasn’t been fully updated, consider the money you save allows you renovate to your own tastes, not the seller’s. For example, Lindmoor Woods’ median home price currently is about $60 per square foot less than Medlock Park.
When they lucked into Northwoods, Andrew Morris, a 34-year-old environmental lawyer, and Rebekah Cohen Morris, executive director of the nonprofit Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, were searching for a safe, inexpensive neighborhood to raise their two daughters, ages 3 and 4, with close proximity to a MARTA station. Four years ago, they purchased their approximately 2,000-square-foot, 1958 split-level for $255,000.
“Northwoods has a very nice community feel,” Andrew says. “There are lots of cook-outs, holiday parties and pool parties.”
In addition, two area parks, Autumn and Brook, feature playgrounds, bike paths and a picnic pavilion for community barbecues and even acoustic concerts. Indeed, the Morrises love the neighborhood so much that Andrew is now president of the Northwoods Area Neighborhood Association.
Northwoods is one of the last affordable, walkable neighborhoods hidden in northeast Atlanta, says Eric Benjamin, an agent with Keller Williams First Atlanta. “It was the first planned unit development in Atlanta and features cutting-edge architecture for the era,” he adds. “It was built for live-work-play when nobody thought about that.”
Northwoods straddles Doraville, which comes with an attentive police force, and unincorporated DeKalb County, where the lower taxes appeal to some homeowners. More area assets include walkability to diverse houses of worship and proximity to Chamblee, Brookhaven and all the international restaurants and markets on Buford Highway, as well as being convenient to I-285 and I-85.
Northwoods Area Neighborhood Association, northwoodsarea.org
Schools: Cary Reynolds Elementary School, Sequoia Middle School, Cross Keys High School
Adam Murphy didn’t want a condo. The 36-year-old senior tax associate with KPMG Inc. wanted to find a house in a nice move-in condition, close to his friends and intown night life that offered a better commute than Sandy Springs. He found all that for $239,000 and in December 2017 moved into a fully updated three-bedroom, three-bathroom 1956 brick ranch in Gresham Park, southeast of East Atlanta.
“The house is really beautifully renovated,” Murphy says. “All the other houses within my price range, even in East Lake, needed a lot more work as far as I was concerned.”
Murphy bought his house from an investor, and the house next door is also undergoing a rehab for resale. Indeed, at least three homes were for sale on his street at press time. His main original concern was the reputation for crime in south Atlanta, but crime statistic research allayed his worries, and he finds the street to be safe and quiet. Maybe too quiet: the area’s main down side is a lack of a vibrant business district.
“Gresham Park really is the next phase of East Atlanta,” says Robin Fink, an agent with Keller-Williams, who is about to list her third completely renovated property there. “Over the next years, it’s going to be a totally different neighborhood.”
Gresham Hills Neighborhood Association, greshamhills.org
Schools: Meadowview Elementary, Ronald E. McNair Middle School, McNair High School
In 2016, Natalie Young, 66, a retired registered nurse, decided to move intown from Douglasville to be closer to her six grandchildren. She wanted to downsize, and in Riverside, a westside neighborhood named for its northern boundary along the Chattahoochee River, she scored a 2,000-square-foot, brand new townhouse for $261,000.
“I love the babies and growing families,” says Young, the oldest homeowner in her 20-unit community. “There’s a lot of hope here, a lot of hope and happiness.”
Compared to Buckhead condos in her price range that needed significant upgrades and had high association fees ($350-$500/month), she pays just $99 a month at Riverside Park Townhouses. And while the Bolton Road area once had a high-crime reputation, she says all she has seen are new shops and restaurants opening.
Retro-seeking homebuyers can also find 1920s-30s Craftsman bungalows in Riverside, but be warned that listings in the low $100,000s will require a lot of rehab, says Shawntae Mitchell, an agent with Keller-Williams Buckhead. The Atlanta Braves’ new stadium and the economic boost it’s brought to the Cobb/Galleria business district is only likely to make the area even more desirable.
“Riverside is a gem for those who buy now,” Mitchell says. “It’ll be a pricey neighborhood if you wait a year or two.”
Riverside Neighborhood Association, riversideatl.com
Schools: Bolton Academy, Sutton Middle School, North Atlanta
ANYA MARTIN is an Atlanta-based freelance journalist and blogger-in-chief of ATLRetro.com.
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