Apartment deals in abundance in Atlanta

LaVelle Johnson has been looking for the perfect apartment for three months. Security and location are two of her biggest requirements.

Her top priority -- affordable rent -- has been taken care of by the economy and the state of the Atlanta apartment market.

Vacancies are rising and rents are tumbling, creating good conditions for the bargain-hunting tenant.

“Of the four communities I’ve talked with, two were offering some sort of free-rent deal,” said Johnson, who’s been staying with a relative since losing her job late last year. “On the other hand, the rent advertised at the other two communities was comparable to what the first two were offering, including the discounts.”

Johnson said her online search has turned up other complexes that encourage shoppers to call for special offers.

The average rent in Atlanta during the last three months of 2009 was $748, the lowest figure since the third quarter of 2000, according to Alan Wexler, president of Databank Atlanta, which tracks apartment data. For all of 2009, the average rent was about $756, compared to $774 in 2008. The last time the annual figure was less than $760 was 2004, according to Databank.

Apartment owners and managers are offering all sorts of concessions to get current renters to renew and stay put, as well as pitching offers to potential new renters, industry experts say.

In the last three months of 2009, 54 percent of Atlanta area apartments offered some sort of discount or concession, the average of which was 14 percent off the monthly rent, according to a quarterly report from MPF Research, which collects apartment data from several metro areas across the country.

Those figures are up from the fourth quarter of 2008, when 49 percent of surveyed complexes offered concessions and the average discount was 10 percent, the report said.

“Those are pretty significant numbers and not far off the highs of the past decade,” said Jay Parsons, an analyst for MPF. “Apartment operators are cutting their rents and being creative because they have to.”

Some properties aren’t offering advertised specials but have cut rents to be competitive, said Matt Henderson, publisher of apartmentfinder.com and Apartment Finder Magazine. “We’re encouraging (complex managers) to list their bottom-line rent. We’re seeing people looking for bottom-line pricing, and amenities and lifestyle are a harder sale right now for some.”

At Glen Lake apartments in Sandy Springs, new tenants can get a $200 gift certificate to Fido Fido, a neighboring dog daycare business, if they mention the offer before they sign. That offer, however, is not on the community’s Web site.

“We are known for being very pet-friendly and that gift certificate is real money to many of our residents who need those types of pet services,” said Billy Holcombe, director of marketing for Glen Lake and a sister property, Rockledge apartments.

At both communities, a new tenant can move in now and not pay rent until March on select floor plans, Holcombe said.

“We realize people may not have a lot of up-front money and this allows them to not have to spend too much up front,” he said.

Nicolette Rankin, 26, who recently moved into Glen Lake, said her apartment-hunting uncovered a number of similar offers.

“There were communities that would give you a month or two in free rent, or take so much off of your monthly rent, if you asked,” she said. “What they weren’t doing was budging on pet fees.”

Rankin said her hunt was complicated by her 70-pound Greater Swiss, Marley, who is over the size limit of many communities. She said Glen Lake and the gift certificate were a perfect combination.

“I already take him to day care, so $200 was a good chunk of money I wouldn’t have to spend out of pocket,” she said.

Holcombe said Glen Ridge has signed nearly a half-dozen new leases connected with the Fido Fido offer.

“That tells us it is working, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic, which is amazing considering this is usually a very slow period,” he said.

With all of the trouble in the mortgage and home-buying arenas, most might think apartment owners' woes are few right now. But that is not the case, experts in the apartment sector say. Rising unemployment has left complexes with vacancies.

“A payment is a payment,” Henderson said. “Whether it is a mortgage payment or a rent payment, many people just don’t have the money for either right now.”