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Dunwoody Slams Brakes on Multi-Unit Construction

By Geoff Smith

With several large projects under construction, including the State Farm mega-campus near Perimeter Mall, Dunwoody seemed poised to cash in on an influx of demand from developers who are ready to build large-scale, mixed-use projects there. Then last week, the Mayor and Council voted to put a halt to all of it.

Citing concerns over safety codes regarding the wood-construction of multi-story developments, the Dunwoody Council voted to put a six-month moratorium on multi-unit building applications, permits and construction. According to Reporter Newspapers in Dunwoody, the action comes after a legislative session where a state bill was approved that prohibits local governments from prohibiting wood-framed building that otherwise meet state building and fire codes. The new bill undercuts Dunwoody’s existing ordinance requiring commercial, office, apartment or condominium buildings more than three stories to be framed with noncombustible materials such as metal or concrete.

The moratorium clouds the progress of two significant projects that were moving through the system. The largest is GID Development Group’s High Street project. The Boston-based developer owns 42-acres at Perimeter Center Park and Hammond Drive where they have proposed a 10-city-block ‘mini-city’ that is so big it was actually one of the sites submitted for Amazon HQ2. It included a 12-story office building, a 30-story residential tower and five other residential buildings ranging from 7 to 12 stories. GID announced yesterday that it signed up Avalon developer North American Properties as a partner, and had filed for a land disturbance permit earlier this year. The company’s attorneys were at the council meeting and confronted the Mayor after it was over.

The other project is the 20-acre mixed-use development in Perimeter Center that includes 500,000 square feet of office space, 12,000 square feet of retail and 900 condominiums.

Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said the bill was ‘maybe a small part’ of the council’s decision. He said the city had been working with fire marshals for months reviewing their building codes and this moratorium will give them time to breath.

Metro Atlanta has been awash in new office development over the last several years. Major developments in the works right now include 4 new office buildings in midtown that were being built as spec, and include a 31-story office tower, a 10-story office tower and almost 1.5 million square feet in other office development. Thyussenkrupp Elevator Americas will soon build its North American Headquarters in The Battery next to the Braves SunTrust Park. And Avalon is working on its second office tower.

Of course office construction is not the only form of multi-unit construction. The moratorium would also affect apartments, condos, townhomes and most retail construction.

MARKET WATCH

Rates Break Lower Still

For nearly 6 months experts and predictors were sold on the idea that the Federal Reserve would continue its plan to raise short-term rates this month and throughout next year. But the stock market slid quickly over the last month and inflation fell just below the Fed’s 2% target. So Chairman Jerome Powell this week seemed to hint that the Fed’s short-term rate was actually a lot closer to their target than where it would need to be for the Fed to justify numerous rate-increases throughout next year.

This small hint helped to drive the stock market up on Thursday and mortgage interest rates down.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.84%.

Keep in Good Credit Shape Over the Holidays

By Geoff Smith

While the idea of maintaining a good credit score seems pretty simple, there is some art to really boosting your scores with the three big credit bureaus.

I am a mortgage banker and since my income sometimes depends on my clients having at least a decent credit score, I keep a very sharp eye on how to get those scores up. Helping to get clients’ scores up sometimes can make a deal work, and other times can simply improve their mortgage interest rates. There are usually things we can do immediately to boost a credit score, and there are almost always things we can do to improve it over time. At Assurance, we have software that allows us to plug in a client’s credit profile and play with things like their credit card balances and get instant reads on exactly how it will affect the scores from the three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Most of you have a ballpark idea of what your scores are, but few of you probably know where you stand against everyone else.

ValuePenguin reports that the average credit score in America is 695. That has gone up dramatically since the downturn in 2008. If there was a dividing line between what we in the mortgage industry would consider good versus bad credit scores, I would say it’s 700. If your score is above 700, you will get better rates and have more options. That said, we can now do FHA loans for people with scores as low as 590. Those rates and fees are not pretty, so we always try first to see what we can do to get a 590 up over at least a 620. If you are over 760, then you are usually getting the best rates available.

Having a good credit score obviously helps you with more than just getting a good mortgage rate. A good score will get you good rates on car loans, credit cards and can make you exempt from certain fees when signing up for new utilities. So it’s good to always be working on your score.

And to do that, the basic principles always hold true: stay disciplined, pay your bills on time and don’t max out your credit cards. Your credit score is affected really by two things: positive and negative credit histories. I’ve seen scores that are low because of a negative history filled with late payments, maxed-out credit cards, and numerous accounts in collections. I’ve also seen low credit scores that were due to the person simply not having much credit history. And these clients are usually irked when I tell them they have low credit, because they are proud that they have such a low-usage of credit. Not using credit cards or loans of any kind certainly requires a healthy amount of discipline. The problem is, when we are trying to qualify you for a loan, we want to see something that shows us your history of repaying loans, and the credit scores are really the easiest way to do that.

If you are one of those people, I would recommend opening two credit cards. Use them each month maybe for groceries, then pay them off each month. Or, at least, keep your balance under 30% of your limit. You’ll rack up points that can be redeemed and you’ll boost your credit score.

One other thing that catches people off guard are collections showing up on their credit report. These show up a lot with medical bill payments and utilities. If you have a dispute, or see that someone is trying to collect a debt of any kind – do not ignore it. Deal with it as soon as possible because they are quick to put that bill into collections, and it will hurt your score. With all of the junk-mail and e-mail scams out there, it is hard to decipher between what is real and what isn’t. And our medical industry is so convoluted these days that if you have any kind of procedure other than a routine checkup, it is hard to understand exactly what you are responsible for paying. But if you want to have a top-tier credit score, dig in, figure it out and either pay what they say you owe, resolve the request for payment by getting your insurance company to pay it, or get them to remove the charge in their system.

Hopefully this will help you on your next car-loan or mortgage application. Happy New Year and let’s make 2019 a year of outstanding credit!

MARKET WATCH

Rates Lower to Lowest Rates in a Month

The continued decline of the stock market finally relieved some of the pressure shoving mortgage interest rates up. Last week they dropped to their lowest point in November. That said, there really has not been much movement so the headline isn’t quit as dramatic as it seems.

With the surprise decline in the stock market, all eyes will be firmly on the Federal Reserve to see if they will raise their short-term interest rate – a move they’ve been committed to for almost half of the year. Their move could have a significant impact on mortgage rates.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.94%.

Atlanta Gulching Amazon

By Geoff Smith

Atlanta officials are not missing a beat after finding out our city will not be the new home of Amazon’s glorified HQ2. Earlier this week they moved forward on a project that will both help land the headquarters of a shipping company that’s been around a little longer, and will transform downtown.

Amazon’s plans were leaked to the media this week that it had decided to split its massive new headquarters into two that would be located in two cities. According to reports, those cities include Crystal City, VA, Dallas and New York City. Cities across the country had been scurrying to put together offers that included everything from tax incentives to actually renaming their city Amazon. All in hopes of wooing the new headquarters and the 25,000 employees that were supposed to come with it. But in doing its due diligence, Amazon found it difficult to land in a city that could provide 25,000 qualified employees, and then could also house those employees. So according to reports in the Wall Street Journal, it decided to split the headquarters right down the middle.

Georgia and the City of Atlanta are beasts in the world of wooing businesses, and industries for that matter, to relocate to their area. I’ve told stories of my travels to other states where I’ve talked to their representatives only to learn that they all look up to Georgia and its climate for business, growth and prosperity. They point to the number of successful colleges, our workforce development programs, our economic diversity and our state’s ability to pull together to win deals and improve infrastructure. For the 6th year in a row, Georgia was named the number one state for business, by Site Selection Magazine. The magazine does a number of things to generate scores, including interviewing company executives, a survey that ranked Georgia at the top.

It’s hard to say exactly why Atlanta seems to be losing out to the other cities. But an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle pointed to several things. One was that Amazon’s team first showed up in Atlanta a couple weeks after then Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle responded to Delta Airlines’ decision to stop offering discounted fares to the NRA by saying he would “kill” any legislation that benefits Delta, if the airline didn’t back down. The Amazon team apparently pressed Governor Nathan Deal on this issue, asking about the message it sent to corporations. According to the article, they had to set up a meeting with Delta executives and other state officials to try to ease their concerns.

Other issues seemed out of Atlanta’s control. The article pointed to the fact that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. In addition to being close to his paper, having a headquarters in northern Virginia offers Amazon strong connections to the U.S. government and federal spending.

There was a lot of effort put into trying to bring Amazon to Atlanta, and no doubt there are some who may feel defeated. But by no means is Atlanta losing out. The city has been on a winning streak for what seems like the last 10 years. Just recently it has brought Inspire Brands and 1,110 jobs, Starbucks Corp. and 500 jobs, BlackRock and 1,000 jobs, Salesforce and 600 jobs, and because of the successful Gulch vote last Monday, Norfolk Southern Corp.’s headquarters and its 850 jobs.

The Gulch-project vote was a huge win for economic development in Atlanta and the council was being lobbied and pressured from every major business group throughout the city to pass it. The Gulch is about 40 acres of parking lots and rail lines that sit just east of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Most of the property sits well below street level and plans are to bring all of it up to street-level in the way of a platform. This alone is estimated to take three years and the final project is estimated at $5 billion. It would add between 1.8 million and 9.3 million square feet of office space, fix a relative eyesore, and connect areas of downtown that have been partitioned by the huge pit. There are only a handful of companies that could even attempt to take on such a project and business groups didn’t want to miss out on the current opportunity.

Some council members were uncomfortable with the $1.9 billion in public financing that came with the approval – some of which will come from state Enterprise Zone bonds and the city’s Westside Tax Allocation District. But in the end, the council was convinced of the projects’ long-term economic development benefits and approved it.

Town-Center Concept So Hot, Walmart Now Selling Them

By Geoff Smith


Walmart for years has put the ‘expanse’ in the phrase hugely expansive sea of asphalt. But where many just see a massive heat-absorber, Walmart executives are seeing opportunity.

As mentioned in my article last week, shoppers have more and more been avoiding malls and strip-malls, instead opting for the more cosmopolitan feel of a town center. As such, suburban cities like Duluth, Alpharetta, Roswell and Woodstock have each worked to improve their downtowns by encouraging the development of more shops, restaurants, parks and entertainment venues. In some cases, town centers were built where there wasn’t a town center. Look at Avalon, the Battery and downtown Suwanee – which was 10 acres of woods before the vision of the then Mayor and Council was brought to life.

Today, an Avalon-esque town center named Halcyon is being built in southern Forsyth County and will serve as Forsyth County’s town-center for nightlife and entertainment. The county’s only city, Cumming, despite having infrastructure that many suburban cities are paying big bucks for, was never really developed or promoted as that kind of destination. The former Mayor and Council, many of whom were first elected in the 1970’s, seemed to prefer for it to remain a solely workplace destination. But the new Mayor has made rumblings of doing more.

So yes, the town-center concept is so hot, that the nation’s largest retailer has decided to get in on the action. According to a recent article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Walmart’s Vice President of U.S. Realty Operations said at a recent conference that they will be rolling out the “Walmart Town Center.” These town centers would be built on some of the many sprawling parking lots it owns across the country.
“We want to provide community space, areas for the community to dwell- a farmer’s market, an Easter egg hunt, trick or treating,” Johnson said. “We want to provide pedestrian connectivity from our box to the experiential zones that are planned on our footprint.”

Renderings from a project that is underway in Loveland, CO shows a small park surrounded by curbside parking, restaurants such as Torchy’s Tacos and Wahl burgers, a skatepark, a bike-shop and other small stores. Walmart dedicated a website to its town-center concept at www.walmartreimagined.com. It shows potential partnerships with Chipotle, Caribou Coffee and Pressed Juicy. They are looking for their town centers to host festivals and provide small concerts as well. In addition to the Loveland project, it has others underway in Springfield, Mo., Garland, TX, Long Beach, CA, Gresham, OR and Lee S Summit, MO.

Layout of a proposed project shows the center in the upper-right corner of the parking lot

Walmart is one of the country’s largest landowners. Georgia has the fifth-most Walmart-owned stores, including 154 Supercenters and 24 Sam’s Clubs. In the article, Johnson was asked if they were considering projects in metro Atlanta. He commented that metro Atlanta stores have some of the largest Walmart parking lots and that there was good opportunity to do so. He added that projects here could also include apartments. This would add hundreds of customers who could walk to the restaurants and shops in the town center, as well as shop at Walmart.

Walmart has always been respected by industry experts for its relentless pursuit of insanely streamlined and efficient distribution of its goods, and management of its operations. And for years it has hammered its suppliers to give Walmart lower prices than any of its competitors. It will be interesting to see how this town-center concept plays out.

Johnson says in the article that he wants to work with members of each community to develop concepts that mesh well with its surroundings, saying they will “be tapping the talent, expertise and partnership from members of this community to support our efforts.”

Phipps, North Point Leading Transformation of American Mall

By Geoff Smith

Most of you know by now that the mall is falling out of fashion. What is fun to watch is how many of them are being transformed.

In Nashville, the old Hickory Hollow Mall was mostly gutted and turned into a satellite campus of Nashville State Community College that included classrooms and an ice rink, among other uses. Half of The One Hundred Oaks Mall, also in Nashville, was converted into medical offices and clinical rooms for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

America’s oldest shopping mall, The Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, opened in 1828, was fully renovated in 2008 and turned into a micro-apartment complex. The unites average 300 square feet – which certainly fits the description of ‘micro’.

And here is one that is a real example of the times: the site of Randall Park Mall in Ohio was converted into an 855,000-square-foot shopping center for Amazon.

I don’t think any of this is new news. You don’t have to look too far to find a mall that has been awkwardly retrofitted. I actually have a friend who owns a mall and is in the middle of a major conversion there. He’s trying to find a home for an escalator. If anyone wants one, let me know. The news is that conversions are starting to happen.

The owners of Phipps Mall in Buckhead and North Point Mall in Alpharetta are making major overhauls to not only the looks of the malls, but the uses for them. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Simon Property Group is breaking ground on a new mixed-use project on the northwest portion of the Phipps campus, redeveloping the Belk department store. The $200 million project will be a 150-room Nobu Hotel and restaurant, 13-story office building and 90,000-square-foot Lifetime Athletic facility. The additions are coming after a major renovation that included the additions of apartments and a complete remodel of the building’s façade.

Simon isn’t necessarily changing the uses inside the mall, but with the additions of the hotel, the office building and the apartments, and even the Lifetime, it is planting more people – more shoppers, within walking distance of it. It’s turning the mall from a single, retail-use, into a mixed use creating its own economic ecosystem.

General Growth Properties is planning a similar project with that idea in mind at its North Point Mall campus in Alpharetta. The project will remove the Sears department store from the mall and replace it with a 14-acre mixed used project. It will include 328 apartments and almost 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space around a 2.5-acre plaza with a multi-use trail system snaking throughout. The mall had already converted several stores into leasable office space with common areas for collaborative working.

The North Point Mall project is more unique because it is actually part of a bigger initiative by the City of Alpharetta, and its North Point Livable Centers Initiative. The initiative’s aim is to transform the “oceans of parking lots” along North Point Parkway into more pedestrian-friendly development. The city is developing a new set of zoning and regulatory guidelines that will act as an overlay of existing guidelines, and will help facilitate the initiatives’ objectives. http://files.constantcontact.com/92e2b173301/b7050987-ff37-45a0-acbd-f0730f30e5f4.jpg

One of those objectives is to bring in more residential development to the area. There already is a significant office presence there, creating a relatively healthy daytime customer-base for the intense retail up and down North Point Parkway. But adding more residents within walking distance who could shop at night and on the weekends would help even more.

And course with the city looking at the entire area around the mall, it is helping to ensure a common look, or brand, throughout the district. They hired MKSK to develop a “placemaking plan.”

“Placemaking fosters strong community identity by providing development guidelines that brand an area through architecture, signage and public spaces,” said Alpharetta’s Community Development Director Kathi Cook.

MARKET WATCH

Mortgage Rates Hovering At 5%

Mortgage Interest Rates have not moved much in the last week, getting a bit of a break yesterday on news fears that Italy may create drama in the EU.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.97%.

Downtown Gulch Mobilizes City

By Geoff Smith


As an outsider looking in, with high-rises seeming to break ground on a monthly basis, I take for granted that the City of Atlanta sometimes has similar conflicts as other metro cities when a new project is submitted for approval. The proposed Gulch development has started a debate that has mobilized groups all over the city to weigh in and try to move it along.

If you are not familiar the Gulch, it is about 40 acres of parking lots and rail lines that sit just east of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Most of the property sits well below street level and initial plans are to bring all of it up to street-level in the way of a platform. This alone is estimated to take three years. Once built, developers and planners are envisioning 15 brand-new city blocks with roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, gathering spaces and parks. The developer’s plan is to add between 1.8 million and 9.3 million square feet of office space – a big stretch that leaves the door open for a major company to agree to move in and drastically influence how it is developed. And yes, it has been said that the Gulch would be a top target should Amazon decide to move its headquarters here.

But even if the project was only about building the city blocks on raw land, it would be massive in scale. To raise the street level makes it a massively massive project. A developer friend of mine told me there are probably only a handful of developers who would be able to attempt such a project. The entire thing has been estimated to cost up to $5 billion. Because of the immense cost of just preparing the site for development, the developer has asked the city of Atlanta for up to $1.75 billion in public financing – and that is where the rub is coming from. The public financing would come in the way of tax incentives.

Some on the Atlanta Council are listening to some citizens and advocacy groups who claim the city is giving away a chance to secure a major income stream. “You’re giving almost $2 billion away for a $5 billion deal,” Deborah Scott, executive director of the downtown community advocacy group Georgia Stand-UP, was quoted as saying in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We want the Gulch to develop one day….This is not the deal.”

No one seems to be arguing in favor of not developing the Gulch. There’s no real way to make a case for it needing to remain as it is – which is a kind of dark hole surrounded by office buildings and the state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

But because of the complexity in improving the site and readying it for development, many view the current project, which has been brought forward by Los Angeles developer CIM Group, as a gift that should not be turned away.

“From our view, redeveloping the Gulch is an imperative,” said Hala Moddelmog, President and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in a prepared statement. “Delaying or dismissing this opportunity is not optional. It may be decades before another developer puts forth the time and resources to turn one of our city’s greatest economic development challenges into the opportunity of a lifetime.”

In addition to taking on a task very few developers would want to take on, City Council members also credit the developer with agreeing to several conditions that would benefit the community. Those include putting aside $28 million for affordable housing, $12 million for economic development, $12 million to enlarge a nearby fire station and $5 million to replace a bridge connecting the Gulch to the Castleberry Hill neighborhood.

Other advocates for the project say that it is in the unique geographical position of being able to connect several areas of downtown, and turn downtown from a group of areas, to one connected and fluid downtown. Commercial realtor JLL in Atlanta put out an Op-Ed in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that endorsed the project, saying “the development…will connect areas of downtown that have been partitioned for decades, rejoining Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the newly renovated State Farm Arena, CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia World Congress Center, Underground Atlanta, Five Points MARTA station and Downtown proper. Our downtown will no longer be a collection of interests isolated from one another. Instead, it will be a more cohesive and walkable community.”

The Council seemed to be split at a recent meeting and it will be interesting to see how this project moves forward.

Market Watch

Mortgage Rates Jump Over 5%, Then Fall With Stock Market

Mortgage Interest Rates dropped for the first time in a long time, mostly in reaction to the recent drop in the stock market. Mortgage interest rates tend to move with the stock market, because they are tied closely to the bond market. When bonds are bought in high volume, mortgage interest rates tend to go down. And bonds are bought in high volumes when investors are pulling their money from the stock market and looking for a safer place to store it.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.94%.

Economy Growing at Steady Clip

By Geoff Smith

The U.S. unemployment rate is now at its lowest point in 49 years. So if you have work that needs to get done, roll up your sleeves because everyone else seems to be busy.

In its monthly jobs report, the Labor Department said the unemployment rate dropped from 3.9% in August to 3.7% in September. This news rode in with a wave of other good news regarding our national economy and has given our Federal Reserve Chairman and Board of Governors confidence that things will continue in this manner for some time. They continued their predetermined path of raising the Fed’s short-term interest rate to between 2% and 2.25% last week. And on PBS, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy is experiencing “a remarkably positive set of economic circumstances,” and that “there’s no reason to think this cycle can’t continue for quite some time, effectively indefinitely.”

That is a strong statement coming from a person whose every word is dissected and inspected by economists all over the world. It’s also interesting because even though we have been through the second longest economic expansion in the history of the U.S., according to a recent Bloomberg article, he’s saying there is nothing he sees that will keep us from continuing to do that. That is a serious amount of confidence he is displaying.

When most people say such statements, to be taken seriously by economists and forecasters, they have to back those comments up with mountains of data – all of which can be picked apart and interpreted differently. But when the Fed Chair says that, he doesn’t. The Fed Chair is assumed to be the expert of the experts. He or she has access to all of the most relevant and up to date data. Investors and business leaders make important financial decisions based on what the Fed Chair says, so it is also assumed that the Fed Chair feels that weight and thus measures his or her statements.

Every Fed Chair is different and Chairman Powell is relatively new having just taken the job over from Chairwoman Janet Yellen. The Fed Chair has earned a lot of trust since our economy broke in 2008 and the Fed never really saw it coming. Hopefully Chairman Powell will retain that trust and our economy will keep pushing onward and upward.

The biggest concern I’m reading about has to do with the ‘trade wars’ that are going on between us and other countries around the globe, specifically China. We are hitting imports from China with tariffs, so they are hitting exports from us with tariffs. We are creating alliances and trade agreements with other countries with parts aimed to weaken China’s trade capacity, and it’s likely they will try to do the same. We navigate a battleship near those fake islands they built and they navigate one of theirs in our path so that we have to swerve out of the way.

Wait, what? Yes, you may have missed that. I had to find it buried on one of the inside pages of the Wall Street Journal last week – the front page was dominated by the Kavanaugh hearings. In case you didn’t know, China essentially went out into shallow international waters, poured tons and tons of sand, built airports on those piles of sand and then called those waters theirs. They have been told to stop, but they haven’t listened. So now what? It appears we might find out. An article in Business Insider estimated that $5 trillion in trade passes through those waters each year. So it is in a lot of countries’ and businesses’ interest to keep them out of China’s hands.

Economists are paying attention to that, as well as how low unemployment will affect our companies’ abilities to grow. But right now, things are still on the up and up.

Apartments Out, Condos In For Dunwoody Development

By Geoff Smith

Land has become scarce in Atlanta and thus, expensive. You can’t buy 800 acres and build 900 single-family homes anymore. But you can buy 19 and put up 900 condos.

Or at least you can try. Grubb Properties submitted formal rezoning requests for a 19.4 acre site in Dunwoody with plans to build two high-rise condo buildings bookending what appears to be office and retail. The 14-story tower development would sit just north of I-285 and just east of Perimeter Mall in the Perimeter Center area. And if built, I can give you eye-witness reports of the construction – it would be in what is now the parking lot for our offices here at Assurance Financial, right outside the window of my sixth-story office.

The project previously included 1,200 apartments, but Dunwoody residents, like residents from a lot of communities around Atlanta, have shown no appetite for that. It is difficult to say exactly why, but apartment development is meeting more and more resistance. Roswell’s Downtown Development Authority bought a high-profile property in its downtown district a couple years ago(the old Southern Skillet shopping center for you locals). It had appeared they had chosen a developer for the site and a project. But the developer, it seems, was unwilling to come off of a higher-than desired density of apartments. So the DDA just released a statement severing ties between the project and the developer, and is now back at the drawing board.

Apartments have gotten a bad wrap around Atlanta, in part because everyone can point to a nearby apartment complex that has gone downhill, fallen to disrepair and become a catalyst for more crime. Because of the transient nature of apartment dwellers, school officials have a hard time preparing for attendance in schools with high-apartment ratios. And residents who feign heightened awareness of such issues will say they prefer residents who own their properties because they will take more interest in the community.

As a mortgage banker, I probably should pile on in adding that it’s hard to do a mortgage for a renter. But I’m not sure there are many sympathetic ears for that argument except for other mortgage bankers and real estate agents.

It’s a tough racket to be a renter in Atlanta right now. If you are renting, you either don’t have the financial wardrobe to qualify for a mortgage(which with all of the products I’m now seeing available, that’s getting harder to believe), or you just need a place to set up for a bit before you decide where you want to live long-term. So you rent. And rent-rates, along with home-values, have been driven up over the last five years because an average of 75,000 people a year have moved to the metro area and builders and developers cannot keep up. Rent rates went up 4.4 percent over the last year in the metro Atlanta area, the fifth-highest increase of any major city in the nation. They’ve gone up so fast that I’ve had three renters in the last month come to me looking for a mortgage so they could lower their monthly payments.

With all of the people moving here, and all of the first-time homebuyers coming onto the market, and builders’ inability to find large parcels of land to build single-family homes or condos, apartments seem like an easy fix. It’s just hard to find a home for them.

Grubb originally proposed a plan with 1,200 apartment units on their 19-acre parcel in Dunwoody. But they found stiff resistance, read the writing on the wall, and have come back with the new plan showing 900 high-rise condominiums. That’s a huge influx of new residents. Dunwoody’s total population is only about 49,000 people. This would be at a minimum a 2% increase. In a town that size, and with voter-turnout and voter-apathy being what it is, this one development could help swing the next election Mayor and Council election. If they were renters, they wouldn’t be able to vote. I don’t think that has much to do Dunwoody’s decision on the development, it just occurred to me as interesting.

The project would also include 12,000 square feet of retails, 500,000 square feet of office space and 3 acres of parkland.

Braves Gamble Paying Off Big in Cobb County

By Geoff Smith

Braves Stadium

When the Braves announced they were leaving Turner Field and downtown Atlanta, and Cobb County voted to issue more than $376 million in bonds to help build a new stadium, Atlantans sour about the deal decried Cobb officials as fiscal fools, and Cobb voters eventually showed up at the polls to oust then County Chairman Tim Lee. But according to a new GA Tech study, those initial negative reactions appear to have been short-sighted.

The Georgia Tech Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) just released a study showing that while the county will see an annual net loss of $5.8 million for helping to build and for operating the stadium, it will also see annual revenues in excess of $11.3 million from development around it. And the Cobb County School system will see an additional $15.9 million in annual revenue.

These revenues are being generated in the form of new property taxes, sales taxes, new hotel/motel taxes, and other government revenues from the nearby Battery and other new development that is resulting because of the new stadium. So for an annual commitment of $5.8 million, the county has generated net revenues of $27.2 million for itself and the school system – that’s a $21.4 million net gain.

Some in the Braves organization are arguing that these figures are overly conservative and the actual net gain will be much higher. While opponents of the stadium are arguing that the numbers are overly aggressive. But unless these folks at GA Tech are grossly incompetent, it seems pretty obvious that the county is financially better off having worked out the deal they did with the Atlanta Braves organization.

I went back and looked through old articles that were being written about Cobb County development prior to the announcement of the new stadium. None of it was very pretty. While new projects were being unveiled throughout the metro area – like Avalon in Alpharetta, The Beltline around Atlanta, and the myriad of new suburban downtowns from Duluth, to Suwanee and Lawrenceville, very little was being done in Cobb County. The office and retail developments that were once vibrant in the 1980s were looking dated. Other than daytime office use, there was very little happening in downtown Marietta – Cobb’s largest city. It wasn’t easy to find commercial property that was increasing in value at the same rate as other areas around Atlanta.

But today is a different story. New development, especially near the stadium, is running rampant. Deals are being brokered for those dated commercial developments that today find themselves in demand. Comcast moved its regional headquarters to the Battery next to the stadium. One of the world’s largest elevator manufacturers, Thyussenkrupp Elevator, announced it will build a state-of-the-art facility in the Battery that will house 900 employees that will make up its U.S. headquarters. And a friend tells me that she goes to the Marietta square all the time for dinner and fun at night.

The County Commissioners in Cobb took a pretty big gamble to get the stadium there. One could argue whether former Commission Chair Lee won or lost on that. But it is really hard to argue honestly that the county is worse off. People are going to Cobb County now. Developers want to invest there. Before the stadium it was a county that kind of looked like it was getting old. Now it looks like it’s getting new. Cobb County leaders and the Atlanta Braves swung for the fences on their decision to bring the Braves there and build The Battery. As time goes on, it’s looking more and more like a home run.

Fleet of Companies Eyeing Move to Atlanta

By Geoff Smith

If this is the calm before the storm in terms of new companies moving in and new office buildings going up, then it’s going to be some storm.

Several announcements I’ve read this past week have made me go from wondering if the expanse of new office development starting and being planned around the city was too much, to wondering if it’s not enough. The first article I saw didn’t really raise my eyebrows, but confirmed that in Atlanta – we still go it. The metro area added 75,800 new residents between April of last year to April of this year. That brought our total population to 4,555,900, which the Atlanta Business Chronicle pointed out as more than the population of 25 U.S. states. If you are wondering, Cherokee and Henry counties grew the fastest, while Fulton, then Gwinnett, then DeKalb group the most.

So while that news confirmed that folks are still moving in droves to Atlanta now, the next couple articles predicted that they’ll continue to move here in the coming years. According to the Chronicle, in a speech he gave to the Atlanta Rotary, Governor Nathan Deal said that the state is working with 20 good prospective companies that may move operations to the Atlanta area – each would bring an average of 850 new jobs. That would be over 16,000 new jobs if Deal and company are able to close them. One of those deals could be a Fortune 500 company that is said to be in talks with the developer of the Gulch in downtown Atlanta, according to reports.

If you are not familiar the Gulch, it is about 40 acres of parking lots and rail lines that sit just east of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Most of the property sits well below street level and initial plans are to bring all of it up to street-level in the way of a platform. This alone is estimated to take three years. Once built, developers and planners are envisioning 15 brand-new city blocks with roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, gathering spaces and parks. The developer’s plan is to add between 1.8 million and 9.3 million square feet of office space – a big stretch that leaves the door open for a major company to agree to move in and drastically influence how it is developed. And yes, it has been said that the Gulch would be the top target should Amazon decide to move its headquarters here. And no, the Fortune 500 company said to be talking with the developer is not Amazon. Final cost of that project will easily be into the billions.

The Gulch is a massive development. But massive is relatively normal right now in the metro area. The City of College Park is working on a 320-acre project that is right now being called Airport City. This project is said to be valued between $3 billion and $3.5 billion. It is next to the airport and would include up to 10 million square feet. Office, residential and retail are all major components to the project, as are multi-use trails and paths.

Since we seem to maintain an average of 32 new residents a day, we are going to need more houses, offices and stores. So I hope a good percentage of those new residents work in the construction industry. Since I’m a mortgage lender, I’m all too aware that there is a shortage of houses in the under $400,000-market. Builders are doing all they can to keep up, but simply don’t have enough workers to keep up with demand. Unemployment is at historic lows, so it’s hard to get people to jump away from other industries.

MARKET WATCH

Mortgage Rates Still, Still Sitting Tight

Since the only news that seems to keep coming out is news confirming the status quo, mortgage interest rates are sitting quietly still. Minutes from a recent Fed meeting, which usually have an impact on rates, did nothing since all the minutes showed was a detailed explanation as to why the Fed was going to continue doing what it is doing.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.62%.

Gwinnett CID Gets Big Win with 1.4M Sq.-Ft. Redevelopment

By Geoff Smith

Strip malls fell out of favor about 15 years ago and the pipeline for building emptied quickly. Today, Amazon is putting many of them out of their misery and residents and city planners are asking, now what?

One answer is playing itself out in Gwinnett as a developer has submitted plans to convert a smattering of neighboring strip centers and parking lots into a dense, mixed-use project with parking decks, a hotel, townhomes and retail. Almost half of the 32-acre property is currently parking lots and many of the storefronts are now vacant. Rio Bravo and Office Depot were on the site but have since closed leaving behind vacant buildings. This project is on the north side of Pleasant Hill Road along Old Norcross Road just west of I-85.

The property is in the footprint of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District (CID), who had been searching across the country for a developer to do something with this site. A CID is an organization that basically collects a tax from commercial property owners within its defined geographical area. The revenue generated can only be used to support economic development projects within that area. Those projects might include beautification of sidewalks and intersections, funding planning and plans that improve traffic, helping to create overlays that might allow developers incentives in the way of additional uses that can be developed on a property that may not currently be available, or even developing and maintaining a brand for that area. There are many of these within and around the Metro Atlanta area.

The Gwinnett Place CID worked with county leaders and developed a strategic plan for the area that aimed for a completed rebranding. The plan focused on improving traffic flows, promoting pedestrian access, improving streetscape design, and creating a bigger “desireability of property for redevelopment.” Once the plan was complete, they reached out to 71 developer around the world, promoting the opportunities that exist within its footprint. Then, in 2016, a developer approached them about this particular site, whose then-owner was filing for bankruptcy. CID executives introduced the new developer to economic development employees at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Gwinnett Planning Commissioners and Gwinnett Commissioner Jace Brooks to “find out what the community want(ed) for that 32-acre piece of property,” said the CID’s Executive Director Joe Allen in a 2016 article in the Gwinnett Daily Post.

The plan submitted last week by the developer, Insignia, LLC, will be called Orchid Grove and will include 776 residential units across three buildings that include lofts and town homes. There also will be a 120-room hotel, a food hall, a theater, a plaza with greenspace, and over 100,000 square feet of retail and office space.

This is a big win for the CID. In an article this week in the Atlanta Business Chronical, Allen said the CID’s footprint is dominated by 1980s and 1990s era shopping centers and big-box development. “What we want to see is an internationally diverse, green, walkable and sustainable urban community,” he said.

Allen also said in the article that he is hoping for expansion of public transit in the area. This may have been a reference to plans that were released earlier this year to extend MARTA’s rail line from the Doraville station into Gwinnett county with stops at Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Gwinnett Place Mall, which sits just east of what will be The Orchard.

MARKET WATCH

Mortgage Rates Still Sitting Tight

Not much movement with Mortgage Rates this week. No big economic news has surfaced. As such, mortgage rates are staying close to where they’ve been for the last month.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.64%.

Metro Atlanta Awash in New Office Development

By Geoff Smith

When you average an annual job-growth of nearly 80,000 jobs over five years, you’re going to need a place to put everyone. And developers in the Metro Atlanta area seem happy to oblige.

The metro area has been a beacon for business relocations and existing business growth. We added over 104,000 jobs in 2014, 70,600 in 2015, 90,300 in 2016 and then a ‘modest’ 55,600 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Georgia Department of Labor. With the U.S. unemployment rate at a historic low of 3.9%, and our businesses desperate for good employees to help feed growth, it’s a great time to be looking for work in Atlanta. And you might have a fresh, new state-of-the-art office waiting for you.

In addition to the millions of square feet of class A office space already under construction, several new projects have been announced over the last few weeks. Perhaps the most exciting was just announced as ThyssenKrupp Elevator Americas will build its U.S. headquarters in The Battery overlooking SunTrust Park. The elevator manufacturer plans to make this a showcase for its existing and future products. The site will include three buildings anchored by a state-of-the-art, 420-foot tall elevator qualification and test tower, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The tower will have 18 elevator shafts that will include high-speed elevators, shafts where two cabins will operate in, a rope-less system and a system that moves sideways. The campus will host, among other segments of the company, Thyssenkrupp’s executive team and the average salary of the more than 900 full-time employees that will work there will be $100,000. This building would be Cobb County’s tallest and could help to add to a tax-base where the county just voted to increase the millage rate.

About 8 miles to the east of that, Grubb Properties is again pursuing a large development that could include a 19-story office tower. I’m keeping a close eye on this one because it would be in the parking lot of Assurance Financials’ Atlanta office – where I work. Grubb pulled a prior application that included parking decks and turned existing parking lots into parks. It also included 6 residential buildings with 12,000 square feet of retail on the ground level. The project, and our office, is off Perimeter Center East, just east of Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody.

About 4 miles southeast of that project, a developer is proposing the largest office project ever planned in Chamblee. Parkside Partners is proposing a 6-building loft-office development that would be called Edison at Eastside on a 30-acre site next to Peachtree DeKalb Airport and Atlanta Chinatown Mall. It’s a bustling area near the Chamblee MARTA station where $400 million in mixed-use developments are already underway.

Head 8 miles southwest from there and 4 new office developments are planned for Midtown, according to Bisnow. Cousins is planning a 31-story office tower at 901 West Peachtree St., Selig is planning two developments that could include almost 1 million square feet of office space, MetLife revealed plans for 500,000 square feet of office that could include two office towers, and Greenstone is close to breaking ground on a mixed-use project that would include a 10-story office building. Something to note here is that all four projects could move forward as spec – meaning they will start construction without first securing tenants.

Head about 20 miles north up GA400 to Avalon and you should soon see construction begin on the development’s second office tower. Hines and Cousins just inked a deal with AXIS Capital Holdings to occupy 75,000 square feet.

Then let’s go about 12 miles east and North American Properties, who developed Avalon, recently unveiled plans for its Avalon-esque project that will be called Revel, which will be a redevelopment of the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett County. The project would include a hotel, 400,000 square feet of retail and 850,000 square feet of office space.

If you need a job, or a new place to work, then it’s a good time to be living in the Atlanta Metro.

MARKET WATCH

Mortgage Rates Jump as Treasury Funds Deficit

Mortgage Rates jumped this week, largely on news that the U.S. Treasury would help fund the U.S. budget deficit by borrowing $329 billion from July through September by issuing securities. Mortgage interest rates tend to mimic movement of the yield of 10-year Treasury bonds. As the yield increases, so do interest rates.

When supply of those bonds increases over demand, prices drop and the yields go up.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.72%.

Home Values, Not Rates, Are the Thing

By Geoff Smith

Our economy made the transition earlier this year to full recovery from the near economic collapse in 2008. The Federal Reserve and other economic policy makers have switched strategy to one meant to stoke growth, to one meant to manage growth. In some ways, our economy is out on its own again for the first time in a long time, and we are all cautiously watching to see how it performs.

The economy has showed no significant proof that it is doing anything but driving on all cylinders. So the Federal Reserve committed to increasing its short-term interest rate back to close to pre-recession levels. With that news, mortgage interest rate-makers continued a steady increase this year before leveling off this summer at about 4.7% for a 30-year fixed conventional loan, according to MortgageNewsDaily. Since then, rates have sat relatively still.

While credit is indeed loosening and most U.S. companies are showing profits, economists and investors seem to be cautious. There are two things that are creating instability in their outlooks on future growth: a shortage of skilled labor and the potential for more tariffs. Investors are aggressive only when they feel comfortable in their understanding of where the economy is headed. With unemployment at historic lows, it’s hard to imagine exactly how U.S. companies will be able to produce more product and grow. It is also hard to understand exactly how the trade-wars and tariffs that are being talked about will impact each sector of our economy – so investors don’t know exactly where to invest for big returns.

Until we see a solution for increasing the productivity in our U.S. companies that doesn’t include hiring more U.S. employees, and until we see a decision on what tariffs will be implemented by our government on foreign imports, and then on foreign governments on our exports, investors could remain cautious. And mortgage interest rates will likely stay close to where they are.

If you are a homebuyer, the bigger concern should be with rising home values. The problem of having a historically low unemployment rate means it’s very hard to find enough skilled labor to build enough houses to meet current demand.

While we are averaging close to 90,000 people a year moving to the Metro Atlanta area, we are only averaging close to around 20,000 new-home starts a year. And a very high percentage of those new homes are in the $400,000+ price-range. Areas close to and inside the perimeter are largely built-out, and there are very few large swaths of undeveloped properties. So builders are paying more for smaller properties. And because of the labor shortage, they are having to pay more for skilled labor. This is making it very hard to build houses under $400,000 and still make a profit. As such, inventory levels in the under $400,000-market are at historic lows.

This market is extremely competitive with good deals going under contract less than a week after being listed. Buyers in this market are having to compete against multiple offers and agents are listing house at prices that are as high as they think they will appraise for – and sometimes much higher.

Homebuyers in this market are forced to be aggressive, offering list price and short closing periods. To say it is a seller’s market is putting it mildly.

This competition is driving up home values by as much as 5% to 10% a year in some markets. Which means if you are buying a $350,00-house and decide to wait, this same time next year you likely will pay between $17,500 $35,000 more. In terms of a mortgage payment, that could mean paying between $80 and $170 more a month. To say it is a seller’s market is putting it mildly.

As we get used to this new economy, it will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. It is unlikely that homebuilders will find solutions for the labor shortage any time soon. And unless demand for housing stalls, we can expect home values to continue to rise over the next several years.

MARKET WATCH

Mortgage Rates Asleep

Mortgage Rates hardly budged in what seems like a long, summer slumber. Since May 1, average rates for a 30-year fixed mortgage have moved from 4.63% to 4.64%. Rate-makers already adjusted many months ago rates for future increases to the Federal Reserve’s short-term interest rate. Since then, nothing substantial in the global economy has cropped up to change the perception that the Fed will do that.

Economists are predicting growth, but growth tamed by employers inability to hire more skilled labor to help produce any increase in consumer demand. The threat of more tariffs both by us on imports, and by foreign countries on our exports is also keeping investors cautious.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.64%.

Beltline Creator, Ryan Gravel, Looking Way Into the Future

By Geoff Smith

I was entertaining myself a couple weeks ago at Ponce City Market in intown Atlanta, and noticed it was the first building I’d been in where a biking trail was incorporated into the building. This wasn’t the first time that the trail, known to everyone as the Atlanta Beltline, has done something I’ve never seen before.

New sections of the Beltline are opening and under construction, and this success is guaranteed to continue as revenue generated by the Tax Allocation District along it easily covers operational costs of the non-profit, and goes further to pay for new development of the trail. On top of that are tens of millions of dollars that Atlanta’s corporate partners donate every year. Humungous mixed-use projects have been, and are being, planned for sections that have not even been built yet. And experts from around the country have lauded it as one of the most significant economic development projects to happen anywhere in the country in the last 10 years.

For those that don’t know, the Beltline is a continuous walking and biking trail being built along an abandoned rail line that circles the city. It connects neighborhoods and provides a generally pleasant way to travel on a nice day.

About four years ago a mutual friend introduced me to the Beltline’s creator, Ryan Gravel, who developed this idea as his thesis paper while a student at GA Tech. At that time, the Beltline had recently become a reality, was the darling of the economic development world and Gravel was working solely as a Design Manager for the project. He was a proud papa then.

Since then, the Beltline has grown to the behemoth that it is today and is reshaping every neighborhood it goes through. Gravel decided a couple years ago to set out on his own both so that he could advocate for things about the development of the Beltline that he disagreed with(something he could not do while he worked there), and to focus on other issues. For a good, long time, he’ll be known for creating the Beltline, but through his company Six pitch, he now is working with cities and organizations to design and consult on development projects, and travels around the world talking about design principals and his book, Where We Want to Live. He helped start an initiative through GA Tech called Generator, which brings smart minds together to develop ideas on how communities can be proactive in preparing for future growth.

I called Gravel a couple weeks ago to see what he was up to and to get his thoughts on some of the issues our community planners are dealing with today.

One of his most passionate issues, and one of the reasons he left Beltline Inc., is to make sure there are affordable housing options for our lower-income workforce. Land and labor have become so expensive in the metro are that developers can’t seem to figure out ways to build much housing in the under $300,000-range. While some have pitched the idea of offering subsidies to developers, or having nonprofits buy and manage property, Gravel doesn’t see this as a good long-term solution.

“Affordable housing is a problem all over the world,” he said. “But we will never be able to subsidize our way out of it. We need our private sector to find our way out of it.”

He said municipalities can help by loosening regulations in the way of offering higher densities to developers in exchange for more affordable housing. Or by allowing more people to rent out parts of their homes, something intown cities are grappling more with. He also said they could require less parking, which would significantly reduce cost while opening up more developable land. Of course, less parking is easier to do when there are more available transit options.

Gravel predicts that 2.5 million more people will move to the metro area in the next 25 years, and we need to start planning for that now.

He looks at how online shopping is squashing out the need for physical, retail store-fronts. This is playing out all over the metro area as stores like Target and Kohls close locations, leaving behind big, empty buildings. Gravel said he believes we need to plan in a more proactive, and less reactive, way.

“Change is coming and we need big ideas to address it,” he said. “To start, we need to (look ahead at what we will be like in 25 years) and design a place that we want to live in.”

He sees successful communities as those that will embrace more urban design principals, incorporating walkable developments and redevelopments that are less reliant on cars.

If you want to learn more about Gravel’s outlook on community planning, check out his book Where We Want to Live.

Even Interest Rates Need a Vacation

By Geoff Smith

Mortgage interest rates had been working hard since late 2016. They climbed from a historic low of under 3.5% for a 30-year fixed mortgage, to their current spot at 4.69%, according to Mortgage News Daily. But it appears that this summer, even they needed a break.

Before the economy broke in 2007, rates were jumping around 6.5%. Then, as the water rushed into our economic party ship, the Federal Reserve, along with every other central bank around the world, used every tool at their disposal to bail the water out, including pushing rates to their lowest levels ever. Rates bottomed-out in the fall of 2012 at around 3.33%.

Since then, they have struggled mightily to rise back up to healthy levels. Just when economists started thinking the economy was on track, something would crop up to knock that theory down. Culprits included slower growth in China, economic instability in Europe, a terrorist group running rampant throughout the Middle East, and North Korea threatening nuclear war, to name a few.

But since the end of last year when most economists started claiming that our global economy had hit ‘full stride’, rates climbed relatively unimpeded to where they are now. Sure, there are looming trade wars with every country on the planet, and Italy for a minute seemed on the brink of another political collapse. But compared to what we’ve been through since 2008, these seem to be mere fly-specs on the radar.

Inflation finally hit 2% this year. It was a mark the Federal Reserve had been waiting for, basically deeming that the time when policy-strategy would shift from trying to grow the economy, to trying to slow the economy. Inflation, the measure of the growth of costs of goods and services, as well as salaries, had been stuck below the 2% mark. A historic low unemployment rate has seemed to force employers to pay more for employees that now seem to have more jobs to pick from than they know what to do with. There are more jobs available today than there are unemployed people to fill them.

So it seems like rates got comfortable with the fact that our economy is on solid footing. They got close to 5% and seemed to have taken a break for the last few months. The question is how long will they stay on break? In many ways, our economy has grown so slowly over the last 10 years that it’s hard to imagine there is a steep cliff waiting around the corner. In other words, it seems like a stall in growth would be more in order than a bubble-burst of some sort.

As the pain and instilled-fear from the 2008 collapse fades into the history books, economists are certainly seeing signs of frivolity. Consumer credit card debt hit an all-time high this year. Despite there being a glut of houses in the above $500,000-range, banks are making loans to build more of them. And because of the conversely low inventory of houses in the under $500,000-range, home values and rent-rates are rising at a rate that’s making owning a home impossible for our lower-income workforce.

Over the last 10 years, as our economy struggled to grow, economists were searching for positive news to help fill the sails. Now that we seem to have hit ‘full stride’, many are looking for the rocks below the water. Let’s hope we all listen to them and don’t forget they are there.

Market Watch

Mortgage Rates Unchanged

Mortgage Rates remained quiet from activity this week, many say waiting to see how the looming trade wars play out.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.69%.

Governor Deal Awards $100M for GA 400 BRT Project

On June 19th, Gov. Nathan Deal announced on June 19 the state of Georgia will invest $100 million in general obligation bonds to fund Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s project to build express lanes on Ga. 400. This is expected to fund 4 BRT Stations along GA 400 located in the managed lanes planned for the corridor.

US DOT Awards $184M INFR Grant to GA 400 Express Lane Project

On Friday, June 29, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao joined U.S. Representative Rob Woodall, U.S. Representative Karen Handel, Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and other state and local officials for the announcement of the proposed $184 million INFRA grant award to the SR 400 express lane project.

Immediately following the award ceremony, Secretary Chao and Congressman Woodall held a Transportation Round Table discussion at the GNFCC office. In attendance were transportation industry professionals along with state and local community leaders to discuss future partnerships with the federal government to continue to improve Georgia’s transportation network.

By Liz Hausmann, North Fulton Chamber

Mortgage Rates Unchanged

Mortgage rates barely flinched upon the Fed’s announcement this week that it would continue to raise rates this year.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.68%.

Smart Real Estate Data
(The following information courtesy of Smart Real Estate Data.)

New Construction

Atlanta finished its first quarter of 2018 (1Q18) with an estimated total of 5,272 new construction closings, a growth of 9.7% over 1Q17’s 4,804 new construction closings. January, February, and March of 1Q18 recorded 1,317, 1,841, and 2,114 new construction closings, respectively. All of which were 10‐year month‐over‐month records. If Atlanta can continue at this pace, 2018 is estimated to finish at 24,510 total new construction closings.

There were an estimated 826 new attached closings in 1Q18, a 13.0% growth over the 731 closings of 1Q17. New attached closings set a 10‐year first quarter record, although this figure pales in comparison to 1Q06’s all‐time first quarter record of 3,579. Considering 1Q18’s performance, Atlanta is on track to finish 2018 with an estimated 3,868 new attached closings.

There were an estimated 4,446 new detached closings in 1Q18, a growth of 9.2% over the 4,073 closings in 1Q17. New detached closings set an 11‐year first quarter record, while only being 48% of 1Q06’s all‐time record of 9,350. Considering 1Q18’s performance, Atlanta is on track to finish 2018 with an estimated 20,644 new detached closings.

The Average Sales Price (ASP) for all new construction in Atlanta was $330,857 in 1Q18, which revealed a 2.3% decrease from 1Q17’s ASP of $338,942. 1Q18 marked the first year over year quarterly decrease in ASP since 2009 where prices dropped by 6.4%. Multiple factors can be attributed to the price drop, but a slowdown in price appreciation in new construction has been a common theme since the beginning of 2015.

The new attached ASP was $341,163 in 1Q18 vs. $339,479 in 1Q17, or an increase of 0.7% (Figure 2). In 1Q18, the new attached market experienced year‐over‐year monthly ASP changes of ‐1.2%, +2.2%, and ‐0.7% for January, February, and March, respectively.

The new detached ASP was $328,942 in 1Q18 vs. $338,414 in 1Q17, or a decrease of 2.8%. In 1Q18, the new detached market experienced year‐over‐year monthly ASP changes of ‐4.2%, ‐5.5%, and +0.01% for January, February, and March, respectively.

Average New Construction Price

Resales

Atlanta finished 1Q18 with an all‐time first quarter resale closings record of 17,786, yet only experienced a 0.2% growth over 1Q17’s 17,742 resale closings. January, February, and March of 1Q18 recorded 4,839, 5,503, and 7,444 resale closings, respectively. If Atlanta can continue at this this pace, 2018 is estimated to finish with 87,527 total resale closings.

There were an estimated 2,984 resale attached closings in 1Q18, an increase of 4.5% over the 2,856 closings in 1Q17. This all‐time first quarter closing record can be attributed to January and February setting monthly records, and March being only four closings shy of its monthly record. Considering 1Q18’s performance, Atlanta is on track to finish 2018 with an estimated 14,651 resale attached closings.

There were an estimated 14,802 resale detached closings in 1Q18, a decrease of 0.6% compared to the 14,886 closings in 1Q17. Resale detached closings failed to set any monthly records in 1Q18 creating an anticipated decrease for resale detached closings in 2018 finishing at an estimated 72,876.

The ASP for all resales was $261,416 in 1Q18, which is 8.4% greater than 1Q17’s ASP of $241,069. Concerns regarding over appreciation will be addressed in the New to Resale Ratio Section of this report, but ultimately, ASP appreciation for resales has continued to outpace new construction prices into the start of 2018. Driving these price increases are inventory scarcity, growing interest rates, steepened demand through job growth, and geographic superiority between resales and their new construction counterpart.

The resale attached ASP was $227,774 in 1Q18 vs. $211,258 in 1Q17, or an increase of 7.8%. In 1Q18, the resale attached market experienced year‐over‐year monthly ASP increases of 7.7%, 5.7%, and 9.6% for January, February, and March, respectively.

The resale detached ASP was $227,774 in 1Q18 vs. $211,258 in 1Q17, or an increase of 8.7%. In 1Q18, the resale detached market experienced year‐over‐year monthly ASP increases of 7.6%, 9.7%, and 9.1% for January, February, and March, respectively.

Average Resale Price

Inventory & Month’s Supply

The months of supply (“MOS”) for all housing at the beginning of 2018 hit record lows for total, attached, and detached categories which reported 2.4, 1.8, and 2.5 months respectively. Inventory figures had a slight uptick in March, but from a quarterly perspective, remained 8.1% lower than 1Q17 averages. Our housing inventory demands continue to outpace current inventory levels. With lackluster new construction performance compared to pre‐recession numbers, the continued increase in population for Atlanta, and the uncertainty of rising rates, this downward trend of months of supply and the persistence of a seller’s market for affordable housing does not appear to be changing in the near termf.

GNFCC Capitol Overview

May 14, 2018


The 2018 Session of the Georgia General Assembly is now complete, with Governor Deal making his final decisions to either sign or veto legislation that passed both chambers.

One of the most significant pieces of legislation passed this year was a Regional Transit Authority creating the Atlanta Transit Link (the ATL), a priority of the GNFCC. The Legislature also approved the FY2019 Budget, historic income tax reduction, increased funding for public education, requirements for drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones, the “Brunch Bill”, and floating homestead exemptions for city and school property taxes in Fulton County. All these measures have been signed by the Governor and will become Georgia law on July 1, 2018 unless otherwise specified.

Governor Deal has also vetoed an historic 21 pieces of legislation. The complete list is below.

This is the final week for Early Voting for the May 22, 2018 General Election Primary, held at 21 Fulton County locations from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm through Friday, May 18. Fulton Sample Ballot found here.

Fulton voters will vote at their regular precinct on Tuesday, May 22. Find your Fulton Precinct here.

Candidates for every statewide Georgia Constitutional office are on the ballot, including Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, School Superintendent, and Insurance Commissioner. All Georgia Senate and House seats are on the ballot, as well as Judges from the Georgia Supreme Court to Fulton County. Local races include seats on the Fulton Board of Education and Alpharetta Mayor and City Council.

The GNFCC encourages all members, employees, family and friends to participate in the electoral process by voting.

2018 Legislative Vetoes

2018 Legislation – Action by Governor Deal

Under Georgia law, if an adopted bill is vetoed by the Governor, it will then go back to the chamber of origination during the next year’s legislative session for a possible veto override. A veto override requires a two-thirds vote of the House or Senate.

2018 Veto Statements

VETO NUMBER 1 – HB 354

House Bill 354 reconstitutes the Georgia International Maritime Trade Center Authority (GIMTCA) as a public corporation and instrumentality of the state. The Authority created by HB 354 is made up of appointments by each member of the Georgia General Assembly who represent a portion of Chatham County, the County Manager of Chatham County, the City Manager of the City of Savannah, the President of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, and the President of the Savannah Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. HB 354 also grants the Authority broad power to issue revenue bonds without any cap on the aggregate amount, unlike other authorities which are subject to aggregate limits on the amount of bonds that may be issued. Moreover, unlike many of our other state authorities, GIMTCA has no gubernatorial appointments, nor does it have a legislative oversight committee. The Authority’s lack of executive and legislative oversight and theoretically unlimited bond capacity could lead to obvious negative consequences for the entire state stemming from the absence of accountability. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 354.

VETO NUMBER 2 – HB 410

House Bill 410 provides a list of information that home owners associations, property owners associations, and condominium owners associations would be required to provide to a homeowner upon request and caps the fees the association could charge for producing and transferring that information. First, the cap provided by HB 410 is, to my knowledge, lower than that of any other state in the nation with such a cap and may not be sufficient to cover costs of providing the information required, which could result in increased costs to association members. Second, such associations often contract with private parties to provide these services so that association members need not complete the tasks personally, on behalf of the association. Consequently, it appears that HB 410 could impose burdensome responsibilities on associations and their members and, regardless, absent sufficient justification, parties should generally be left alone to dicker the terms of their private agreements without government intrusion. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 410.

VETO NUMBER 3 – HB 441

House Bill 441 would allow for the creation and use of self-settled spendthrift trusts-also known as self-settled asset protection trusts. Under current law in Georgia, a spendthrift provision may be included in a trust instrument which, generally, can shield the assets in the trust from certain creditors of a beneficiary. However, a spendthrift provision is inapplicable to a beneficiary who is also a settlor or contributor, to the extent of the contribution to the trust. Self-settled asset protection trusts, as proposed in HB 441, would allow a person to create, or settle, a trust naming the settlor as a beneficiary, while shielding the trust assets from certain creditors. Such trusts have been subject to controversy and scrutiny due to the potential opportunity to shirk creditors while preserving the assets of the trust for distribution to the settlor/beneficiary. In a recent trend, many states have begun permitting self-settled asset protection trusts which were previously prohibited throughout the United States, though a majority continue to prohibit such trust instruments. I commend the authors for their willingness to seek input and adjust the bill throughout the legislative process, but am concerned of possible unintended consequences presented by a complex new estate planning tool. Though I do not dismiss the potential merit of these proposed trust instruments in comprehensive estate planning, I have not yet been convinced of the need for such trusts in Georgia. As a state, we want to ensure that the creditor-debtor relationship is an equitable one that facilitates economic prosperity and mobility, and self-settled spendthrift trusts-without proper safeguards-have the potential to negatively impact this balance. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 441.

VETO NUMBERS 4, 5, 6, AND 7 – HB 507, 508, 549 and 550

House Bills 507, 508, 549 and 550 provide governing authorities for the cities of Jonesboro, Morrow, Lovejoy and Lake City, respectively. The House sponsors of the legislation requested vetoes for HB 507, 508, 549 and 550 because the language of the bill mistakenly references 2017 dates instead of 2018 dates. The authors of the bills have also expressed the desire to have these bills vetoed so they may start over with new legislation next session. For this reason, I VETO HB 507, HB 508, HB 549, and HB 550.

VETO NUMBER 8 – HB 586

House Bill 586 provides for the Charter for the City of Reynolds. The language of the bill mistakenly references 2017 dates instead of 2018 dates. The General Assembly passed, and I have signed, a separate bill during the 2018 legislative session which has the corrected dates. For this reason, I VETO HB 586.

VETO NUMBER 9 – HB 600

House Bill 600 amends the Charter of the City of Stonecrest by providing term limits for the mayor of Stonecrest while expressly permitting councilmembers to remain in office for an unlimited number of terms. Additionally, the bill removes the Mayor’s power to vote with the City Council, except in the case of a tie. These amendments to a city charter that has been in effect for less than two years have not, apparently, received the proper amount of discussion during the legislative session as legislators from the delegation could not reach a consensus. For this reason, I VETO HB 600.

VETO NUMBER 10 – HB 754

House Bill 754 would allow insurers domiciled in Georgia to divide into two or more insurers. Any plan of division must be submitted to and approved by the Commissioner of Insurance, giving the Commissioner broad discretion to decide on a case by case basis if the company meets the requirements to divide. If a company was deemed acceptable by the Commissioner to divide and one of the resulting insurers stopped turning a profit, issues could arise as to how to distribute the liability. I am unaware of the need for the division process provided for in HB 754 and am unconvinced that the appropriate safeguards are provided for in the proposed legislation. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 754.

VETO NUMBER 11 – HB 795

House Bill 795 would subject the State Board of Worker’s Compensation to many of the requirements of the Georgia Administrative Procedure Act, from which it is explicitly exempted by current law. The Board’s current rulemaking and proposed legislation process relies on a consensus of stakeholders through its advisory council. This bill would permit, and to some extent encourage, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the House Industry and Labor Committee, and the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee to override such consensus, effectively giving the legislature significant control over worker’s compensation policy. While I do not doubt the sincere intention of the author of this amendment to HB 795, this shift seems to undermine the policy objectives behind the creation of the state’s Worker’s Compensation system and circumvent the largely successful advisory council process. Rather than significantly altering this process through a late amendment to an otherwise innocuous bill, I encourage the legislature to focus on providing input to the Board of Worker’s Compensation through current law and Board rules. Similarly, it is imperative that the Board of Worker’s Compensation continue to provide notice of proposed rules to relevant legislative committees pursuant to Board rules and to encourage appropriate comment and legislative interaction. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 795.

VETO NUMBER 12 – HB 870

House Bill 870 annexes the Fulton County Industrial District (“FCID”) into the City of South Fulton. The FCID is the only portion of Fulton County that remains unincorporated after the creation of the City of South Fulton in 2016. The FCID cannot be annexed by any municipality due to a local constitutional amendment to the Constitution of Georgia dating to 1979. The FCID is unique in that it consists of predominantly commercial and industrial properties, therefore only the relatively small number of residents who apparently live in the district-not the majority of property owners and users-would dictate via referendum whether to incorporate the area into the City of South Fulton. It is my belief that Fulton County citizens should first vote on repeal of the constitutional amendment before beginning discussions about annexation of this unique unincorporated, and largely non-residential, area into any city. For this reason, I VETO HB 870.

VETO NUMBER 13 – HB 912

House Bill 912 allows the Spalding County State Court to impose additional fees of up to $50 on any court cost associated with a guilty or nolo contendere plea. The bill also authorizes a failure to appear fee which can amount to as much as $100. I believe these additional costs are unnecessary and impose a significant burden on those appearing in the Spalding County State Court. County appropriations should be sufficient to support the expenses of this court without placing fees on individuals in addition to the substantial court costs already imposed. For this reason, I VETO HB 912.

VETO NUMBER 14 – HB 942

House Bill 942 creates the Savannah Farmers Market Commission as a political subdivision of the state and public corporation. The Commission would consist of members appointed only by the Chatham County Delegation to the General Assembly and would work with the Savannah State Farmers Market to plan and execute agricultural events and programs along with other powers and duties. While I am encouraged by the local delegation’s support for agricultural programs and their support of farmers using the market, I am unconvinced of the necessity for a new political subdivision of the state to support such efforts and do not want to displace the role of local government in that endeavor. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 942.

VETO NUMBER 15 – HB 995

House Bill 995 aims to provide more transparency with respect to local government contracts with private consultants. The language contained in HB 995 was largely lifted from a standard form contract that is used by the Department of Administrative Services when state entities enter into agreements with private consultants. However, because of this, the bill is not suitably tailored to the subject of HB 795: various local governments. While I commend the authors’ attempt to protect the local government contracting process, I fear that copying contract language used by state-level entities to create legislation regulating local governments-without appropriate adaptations-will lead to varying interpretations among the state’s local economic development authorities and, as a result, difficulty in fostering economic development. Moreover, the legislation contains language, seemingly unintentionally, that would apply only to state entities while the purpose of the bill is to regulate local government contracts. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO HB 995.

VETO NUMBER 16 – HB 1039

House Bill 1039 creates the Big Canoe Water and Sewer Authority as a political subdivision of the state and public corporation. The authority’s purpose would be to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, and operate an adequate water supply, water treatment facilities, and distribution facilities within the authority limits. The House sponsors of HB 1039 have requested this bill be vetoed. For this reason, I VETO HB 1039.

VETO NUMBER 17 – HB 1047

House Bill 1047 permits the State Court of Washington County to collect a $15.00 fee as a surcharge to each fine paid in the court. The money collected from the fee would be earmarked to fund various technology improvements for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and disbursed at the discretion of the Sheriff. I am not convinced that the installation of a new fee is necessary for funding technology in the Sheriff’s Office; such costs of modernization and technological improvement should be borne by existing or future local government appropriations, not by those appearing in court. For this reason, I VETO HB 1047.

VETO NUMBER 18 – SB 315

Senate Bill 315 proposes to create the crime of unauthorized computer access. The intent of this legislation is to strengthen cyber security laws to protect national security interests and to safeguard sensitive or private information of government, citizens, and consumers.

As technology continues to advance and evolve in the digital age, a robust discussion on cyber security policy that meets the needs of the public and industry stakeholders is of critical importance. Georgia’s emergence as a leader in cyber technology, particularly the presence of U.S. Army Cyber Command, the state’s Cyber Range, and a wide range of private tech companies and cyber research institutions, further necessitates the need for comprehensive cyber security debate, discussion, and measures.

Under the proposed legislation, it would be a crime to intentionally access a computer or computer network with knowledge that such access is without authority. However, certain components of the legislation have led to concerns regarding national security implications and other potential ramifications. Consequently, while intending to protect against online breaches and hacks, SB 315 may inadvertently hinder the ability of government and private industries to do so.

After careful review and consideration of this legislation, including feedback from other stakeholders, I have concluded more discussion is required before enacting this cyber security legislation. The work done this session by the legislation’s sponsors and stakeholders provides a solid foundation for continued collaboration on this issue.

It is my hope that legislators will work with the cyber security and law enforcement communities moving forward to develop a comprehensive policy that promotes national security, protects online information, and continues to advance Georgia’s position as a leader in the technology industry.

For the foregoing reasons, I VETO SB 315.

VETO NUMBER 19 – SB 338

Senate Bill 338 significantly modifies requirements for agency rule making under the Administrative Procedure Act, requiring agencies to file a notice of intent to adopt or amend a rule at least 60 days prior to the effective date of the proposed adoption, and hold a meeting on adoption at least 30 days after the issuance of the notice and at least 30 days prior to the proposed rule’s effective date. Second, SB 338 gives the General Assembly more time and eases statutory requirements to override a new or amended rule; the General Assembly could take up the override of a proposed rule at any point during the legislative session and such an override would not be subject to a gubernatorial veto, moreover, in some circumstances, a bare majority of a legislative committee could hold a proposed rule in limbo until the 40th day of the next legislative session. It is my firm opinion that the current Administrative Procedure Act provides sufficient safeguards in the instances that SB 338 addresses-requiring 30 days-notice of an agency action, permitting legislative committees to object to the rule and override such rule by a simple majority subject to gubernatorial consent or by a two-thirds vote without signature of the Governor, and requiring any action taken to override a veto be completed prior to the 30th day of the legislative session. In addition to unnecessarily ceding power from the executive branch and slowing the ability of state government to respond by way of agency rulemaking, SB 338 places those who are subject to regulation of state agencies on unstable ground, possibly jeopardizing our state’s business climate. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO SB 338.

VETO NUMBER 20 – SB 342

Senate Bill 342 would allow a vehicle owner to retain possession of his or her vehicle upon being cited for failing to have the required revalidation decal affixed upon the license plate if such an owner provides evidence to the court that he or she has attached the decal since being cited. Current law, however, already provides a mechanism by which an owner may retain possession of his or her vehicle upon a violation-that is, if the owner shows to the court that the revalidation decal had been properly applied for but had not yet been received before being cited. This legislation would diminish the deterrent enforcement of revalidation decal violations and is unnecessary given the leniency exception already provided by law. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO SB 342.

VETO NUMBER 21 – SB 357

Senate Bill 357, while well-intentioned, creates several unnecessary additional levels of government. The proposed director of health care policy and strategic planning along with the Health Coordination and Innovation Council and an additional advisory board would be attached to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, yet the director of OPB would have no functional control over these newly created positions and entities. In addition to the practical management and organizational issues presented by this structure, a new Governor will be elected this November and it should be left to that individual to shape their executive team in 2019. For the foregoing reasons, I VETO SB 357.

May 22 General Primary Election

Candidates

GOVERNOR (Republican)
Casey Cagle caseycagle.com
Eddie Hayes  
Hunter Hill votehunterhill.com
Brian Kemp kempforgovernor.com
Clay Tippins claytippins.com
Michael Williams williamsgeorgia.com
GOVERNOR (Democrat)
Stacey Abrams staceyabrams.com
Stacey Evans staceyevans.com
LT. GOVERNOR (Republican)
Geoff Duncan teamduncan.org
Rick Jeffares rickjeffares.com
David Shafer shaferforgeorgia.com
LT. GOVERNOR (Democrat)
Sarah Riggs Amico sarahforgeorgia.com
Triana Arnold James triana4georgia.com
SECRETARY OF STATE (Republican)
David Belle Isle davidbelleisle.com
Buzz Brockway vote4buzz.com
Josh McKoon joshmckoon.org
Brad Raffensperger bradforgeorgia.com
SECRETARY OF STATE (Democrat)
John Barrow barrowforgeorgia.com
Dee Dawkins-Haigler deehaigler.com
Rakeim “RJ” Hadley  
COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE (Republican)
Jim Beck  
Jay Florence jayflorence.com
Tracy Jordan jordanforgeorgia.com
COMMISSIONER OF INSURANCE (Democrat)
Janice Laws janiceforgeorgia.com
Cindy Zeldin cindyforgeorgia.com
COMMISSIONER OF LABOR (Democrat)
Richard Keatley keatleyforchange.org
Fred Quinn quinn2018.com
STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT (Republican)
John Barge johnbarge.com
Richard Woods (I) woodsforsuper.com
STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT (Democrat)
Sid Chapman sidforsuper.com
Sam Mosteller mostellerforsuper.com
Otha E.Thornton, Jr. othathornton.com
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER (Democrat)
(to succeed Chuck Eaton)
Lindy Miller millerforgeorgia.com
John Noel noelforpsc.com
Johnny C. White  
PUBIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER (Democrat)
(to succeed Tricia Pridemore)
Dawn A. Randolph randolphforgeorgia.com
Doug Stoner  
PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONER (Republican)
(to succeed Tricia Pridemore)
John Hitchins III  
Tricia Pridemore (I) pridemorepsc.com
US REPRESENTATIVE GA-6 (Democrat)
Kevin Abel kevinabelforcongress.com
Steven Knight Griffin stevenknightgriffin.com
Bobby Kaple bobbykaple.com
Lucy McBath lucyforcongress.com
SENATE DISTRICT 6 (Republican)
Leah Aldridge leahforgeorgia.com
John Gordon gordon4senate.org
GA HOUSE DISTRICT 25 (Republican)
Steven Grambergs stevenforhouse.com
Todd Jones (I) jonesfor.us
GA HOUSE DISTRICT 48 (Republican)
Betty Price (I) bettyprice4ga.com
Jere Wood votejerewood.com
GA HOUSE DISTRICT 50 (Republican)
Douglas Chanco votechanco.org
Kelly Stewart electkellystewart.com
GA HOUSE DISTRICT 52 (Republican)
Gavi Shapiro gavishapiro.com
Deborah Silcox (I) silcoxforgeorgia.com
Fulton County Board of Commissioners and MayorsCourtesy of Fulton County:“This pic is from the first meeting between the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and the Mayors of Fulton County. In 2015, the BOC brought box lunches over to the Mayors who were attending the annual GMA Mayors Day Conference. This informal meeting has led to cooperation and communication between Fulton County and all 15 cities in Fulton, and we now meet quarterly to discuss issues that impact us all. And there are many – tax assessments and collections, elections, health issues, library services, senior services, animal control to name just a few. The issue that seemed to be of highest concern to all is traffic congestion and mobility. As a direct result of working together, in November of 2016, the .075 cent TSPOLST was approved by the voters of Fulton County for road, bridge and sidewalk infrastructure improvements, and the city of Atlanta voters approved a combined .09 cent TSPLOST and MARTA expansion plan. As we continue to work together to find solutions to get people moving throughout Fulton and our region, our work has turned to developing a future public transit expansion plan that works for Fulton County to reduce traffic congestion and move people where they need to go, Since beginning the study in February 2016, we have held a series of 30 public meetings in every Fulton city to gather data and citizen input. The BOC and Mayors meet again Monday to discuss a direction for potential transit expansion.”View the Fulton Transit Plan options here.

By Geoff Smith

While there is a lot of drama going on in the country between people groping other people, Trump saying weird things about Pocahontas and the University of Tennessee hosting a reality show about how to not hire a head coach, it turns out the economy is killing it.It’s easy to see success around the metro area. There are cranes almost everywhere you look. The Congressional Budget Office just released statistics that show the U.S. economy is operating at full stride. So the success you are seeing here is for real.The study in the report measures the economy’s potential to produce goods and services based on the supply of people working and how productive they are. The conclusion is that we are doing the best right now with what we have.

Economists measure the productivity of our workforce by determining how much product the average worker can produce. They can then multiply that times the number of people in the workforce and determine our economy’s potential to produce goods and services. As it turns out, our production – measured in Gross Domestic Product, was actually slightly more than our potential.

We are essentially right where we want to be. This is a good thing if you are happy with where things are. But if you want faster growth in our economy – where do we go from here?

If we start overproducing from what economists believe is our maximum potential, then experts say the economy will overheat. Which means that banks and businesses would start being careless in their lending and spending. Right now, we basically have full employment and the supply is meeting an honest demand. An economist in a recent Wall Street Journal article called it “the sweet spot.”

The same article also reported that many economists believe an economy operating beyond its potential will put pressure on product prices and worker wages to increase. This is welcome news for the Federal Reserve, whose governors have been concerned with the stubbornly low inflation numbers we’ve been seeing.

This could also be welcomed news for our housing market. I just listened to a real estate industry expert who predicted that a 4% increase in wages would set loose a home-buying spree across this country. He pointed to statistics that show that we only buy houses after our salaries have increased from where they were when we first bought the houses we are in.

It’s an interesting theory. In the metro area, there is less inventory right now of houses priced under $400,000 than in any other time since folks started recording inventory levels. It’s almost the opposite case for homes priced over $500,000. There is an overabundance of inventory in that market. If wages increased, and people started moving up, you could see a slew of new inventory flood the market in the starved sub-$400,000 range, as people who own homes in that range list their houses so they could buy in the above $400,000 range.

As we head near the end of this year, and the beginning of the next, you can expect to see articles predicting greatness in 2018. It’s happened almost every year since I started paying close attention to the economy. I’m not sure if this is born out of hopefulness or if its strategy to try to create some inertia going into the new year.

The truth is, if we want to see a significant jump in growth, if we are operating at full stride, we’ll need a new product or market to appear, which will have to be accompanied by either an increased labor force, or a technology that drastically improves our productivity at work. The internet created a huge market in the late 1990s that took years to fill. Is there something bigger on the horizon that will instantly create an expanse of capacity?

If I knew, I’d be a hard man to find. As it is, I’ll enjoy living in Roswell and waking up every day doing the best with what I’ve got.

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