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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

Masters, Soul and Head of U.S. Cyber-Security

By Geoff Smith

When we think of Augusta, GA, I know the first thing that comes to mind: the home of James Brown, Godfather of Soul. Right?

I guess there is that golf tournament that I got away with spending an entire day on the couch watching a couple weeks ago – the Masters. But there is another thing in August I’m becoming focused on that most of you have not heard of: Augusta is the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command. For the Army, this is ground zero for all cyber-attacks made against, and by, the United States.

The headquarters was built in 2016 and was followed up by a $60 million-campus that is the state’s “centerpiece for cyber security research and development,” according to an article in the AJC. The campus, known as The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, will help train the workforce for the Army’s headquarters, and will also incubate startups in the same field.

I am fortunate enough to sit in on the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Coalition. We study workforce trends in the technology and healthcare industries in North Fulton, and then work with our universities and schools to make sure they are aware of the demands from our local businesses. The idea is to produce students who have the skills that the companies in our area require. There are several very smart CTO’s that have been involved on our committee and I’ve learned a lot. One of the things I learned is that the tech guys in the security divisions are typically the smartest of the bunch. Most tech guys only have to learn the kind of coding that their company considers standard. But those in the security side of things have to know every kind of coding, because hackers use whatever coding the criminal is an expert in.

In March we hosted a Cyber Technology Summit where our guest speaker was Ronald W. Pontius, Deputy to the Commanding General of U.S. Army Cyber Command. He said that his office fights off ‘hundreds of millions’ of cyber-attacks every month. He happened to be speaking the same day that the City of Atlanta announced an attack that ultimately shut the city down for 6 days. (We have a knack at the chamber for having guests at just the right time. We had the state transportation director speak the morning of Snowmageddon in 2014).

Pontius said that cyber-attacks are a bigger threat to our national security than terrorism.

Knowing all of that, it’s really pretty great for our state to have both that headquarters and that college campus in Augusta. It will bring some of the best talent in technology to Georgia.

When I was growing up, life was pretty simple. We didn’t like Russia and they didn’t like us. And everyone else kind of watched us maneuver each other and it all seemed pretty visible. Today there is so incredibly much information out there that it is hard keep up with what’s true, and to understand who our enemies actually are. Whereas most of the jockeying for power back then seemed to be done out in the open, today we are fighting three million little battles a day behind closed doors on computers. All while I’m Googling the stats of Georgia’s intra-squad spring day football game.

It’s a fast-paced and unknown world we are in. But give credit to our officials running this state. Georgia has once again positioned itself at the epicenter of one of the most critical industries on the planet.

Mortgage Rates Take One on the Chin

Mortgage rates shot up to 4-year highs this week before catching a little bit of a break yesterday. News that the 10-Year Treasury yield hit 3% rattled markets who were mostly expecting it to do so.

Mortgage interest rates are tied in part to the 10-Year Treasury, some say because that’s the average time a homeowner stays in a house before selling it. When bonds are bought in low volume, the laws of supply and demand say that their price will drop, which they have. Since they are originally bought at a fixed price with a fixed rate of return, when their prices drop in the aftermarket, the yield rises.

The stock market immediately tanked when the yield hit 3%. This was kind of strange because most experts expected the yield to do that and stocks are typically bought and sold on speculation. But it seems this was likely driven by automated trading where investors programmed computers to make specific trades once the yield hit 3%.

Usually the mortgage interest rate moves down when the stock market goes down and visa-versa. This was unique in that regard.

Hitting the 3% mark was a big deal because it’s a sign investors are comfortable enough with the economy to look away from the safety of bonds.

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%.

Residents Report More Than 80% Satisfaction with Fulton Services

A recent survey found more than 80% of residents polled were pleased with the customer service provided by County agencies. The polling was conducted with the assistance of Kennesaw State University’s A.L. Burruss Institute of Public Service & Research.

From February 19, 2018 through March 17, 2018, more than 700 residents completed the survey that covered a multitude of Fulton County services. Here are some of the results:

  • 85.7% indicated they were satisfied with the services that Fulton County is currently providing.
  • More than 50% indicated they trust Fulton County government.
  • Nearly half (47%) rated opportunities in Fulton County as “good” or “very good”.
  • 82.8% indicated they felt safe in their community.
  • More than two-thirds of residents were satisfied with the variety and availability of cultural and recreational opportunities.
  • Residents also cited areas in which they hoped for improved service from Fulton County. Many of those suggestions are already in the midst of implementation, including proactive steps the County has taken as part of its digital transformation to improve its website and online services.

Transit Takes Giant Step in ATL

By Geoff Smith

After returning from cities like Chicago and New York City, people always ask, “Why can’t we build a rail system like they have up there?”

The answer is simple: It’s insanely expensive.

Depending on who you talk to, expanding MARTA’s rail line costs somewhere between $150 million and $350 million a mile. And that’s not easy for MARTA to raise considering the only funding it gets, other than through ridership fees, is mostly from sales taxes in Fulton, Dekalb and Henry Counties. To make any real progress toward expansion, the agency either needs to expand its presence to more metro counties, or start receiving more capital subsidies from the state. This session under the Gold Dome, it got both.

State Senator Brandon Beach has been working doggedly for years to try to bring together all counties in the metro area in the name of mass transit. He once made a video showing how it took him almost a full day to travel from Cobb, through Fulton and Dekalb, to Gwinnett County using all the various transit options. His hard work paid off with the passage of a bill in the House and Senate that will bring together 13 metro counties and the various transit systems under one umbrella to be branded as “the ATL.” The bill would put all county leaders at the same table and give them the option to bring to a vote an increase in sales tax to fund transit expansion. This is a huge infusion of potential capital fundraising going from three counties to 13 – two of which are Cobb and Gwinnett, although it is unclear to some of the commitment of Cobb.

The re-branding would start to take hold in 2023, which is when you would start to see the name change from MARTA to ATL, and the creation of a new logo. But for now, it allows our planning agencies to start thinking bigger in their planning of where to expand.

It appears that the expansion of any heavy rail line further north up GA400 is however off the table. Fulton County helped facilitate a study that culminated in all the North Fulton mayors coming to the table to weigh options for future expansion of public transit. Many thought expansion of the rail line to Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell was likely. But according to an article by Patrick Fox at the Herald, Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann said there was only unanimous consent to go with a proposal that would add bus rapid transit service along GA400 and Holcomb Bridge Road, and arterial rapid transit along Old Milton Parkway, Medlock Bridge Road and Roswell Road.

Those civic leaders inside the perimeter seem to be more receptive to rail expansion. Especially since rail stations have become desired locations for corporate headquarters. Just recently State Farm and Mercedes-Benz settled on sites for new regional headquarters largely because of their close proximity to a MARTA station. Other large development projects have begun next to and around other stations throughout the city.

In addition to Beach’s bill in the Senate, Governor Nathan Deal allocated more than $100 million in his budget this year to go toward transit expansion. It may not equate to a mile’s worth of heavy rail expansion, but it is a good sign that the state is more focused on improving the metro area’s traffic problem.

2018 Legislation Recap

The 2018 Session of the Georgia General Assembly is history, with session officially ending after midnight on March 29. All legislation that successfully passed in 2018 now goes to the Governor for review and potential approval or veto. While any passed bills left untouched by the Governor automatically become law, the 40 day deadline for the Governor’s action is May 8. Unless otherwise specified, all approved legislation becomes Georgia law on July 1, 2018.

This weekly Capitol Overview Update is to inform you on legislative issues that may effect your North Fulton business or quality of life. Your comments and questions are welcome.

For more information regarding the North Fulton Chamber’s legislative efforts, contact Liz Hausmann, Vice President of Government Affairs, at 678-397-0572 or lhausmann@gnfcc.com

The mission of the North Fulton Chamber is to be the catalyst for economic development, business growth, and quality of life in North Fulton.

PASSED

  • Regional Transit Authority providing the dramatic expansion of mass transit in metro Atlanta to include the 13 metro counties.
  • A ban on talking on your phone while driving unless you use a hands-free device.
  • Reducing Georgia’s 6 percent income tax rate.
  • Sales tax collection on online retail sales.
  • Constitutional Amendment to establish a business court with statewide jurisdiction.
  • Rural internet expansion by setting up a structure for future government funding.
  • Tax exemptions for certain computer equipment sold or leased for use in high-technology data centers.
  • Fully funding the state’s portion of K-12 public education formula.
  • Increased funding for charter schools.
  • Increase in the tax credit scholarships for private schools.
  • Expansion of eligibility for the HOPE Scholarship.
  • Created a career pathway for high school students to earn industry certification and credentials.
  • Created a pilot program introducing agricultural education in elementary schools throughout the state.
  • Created a study committee to evaluate the school year calendar for Georgia public schools.
  • Medical marijuana for patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Allow local governments to effectively ban fireworks except on holidays.
  • Permit domestic violence victims to break their leases without penalty.
  • Funding to protect green space in Georgia.
  • Georgia Lottery winners to remain anonymous.
  • Making it free for Georgians to freeze their credit reports.
  • A ban on computer snooping without permission.
  • Adoption reform.
  • Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants beginning at 11 a.m. on Sundays instead of 12:30 p.m. by local referendum.
  • Created a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Operations and Authority Creation Study Committee.
  • Floating homestead exemption for Fulton cities and school systems.

DID NOT PASS

  • Creation of the Georgia Freight Railroad program to streamline state investment.
  • Replacing Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a paper-based system.
  • Limiting early voting on Sundays and requiring uniform 7:00 pm poll closing time throughout Georgia
  • Requirements for prosecutors and police to determine whether defendants are in the country illegally.
  • Extending the time allowed for adult survivors of child sex abuse file lawsuits against predators.
  • Keeping guns from Georgians with mental illnesses.
  • Allowing religious adoption agencies to turn away gay couples.
  • Regulation of daily fantasy sports.
  • Higher pensions for state legislators.

Transit

HB 930 sponsored by Representative Kevin Tanner (Dawsonville) and Senator Brandon Beach (Alpharetta), creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (the ATL). The ATL is a new structure for coordinated and integrated transit planning for the 13-County Metro Atlanta region, and the bill passed both chambers after conference committee agreement shortly before midnight on Sine Die. The bill establishes the governance and accountability of the ATL, as well as outlining new and enhanced transit funding; including through optional local taxes (TSPLOST) which counties may apply to raise transit funds. The FY 2019 Budget includes $100M for bond funding for Transit.

HB 930 is a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in Metro Atlanta. Metro Atlanta is defined as the 13-County region currently under GRTA’s jurisdiction, namely: Cobb, Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale Counties. The bill intends to improve the coordination, integration and efficiency of transit in the region to promote a seamless and high-quality transit system for Metro Atlanta.

Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce
Transit
Bills to create a Regional Transit Authority in Metro Atlanta have now both passed overwhelmingly out of their respective Chambers and were in transportation committee this week in the other Chamber for consideration.The expectation in committee is that both would substitute the other bill’s language for the original house or senate version, and then head to a conference committee for agreement. Both Bills are now in Rules Committee and are expected to be on each respective chamber floor for a vote this week, and head to conference committee for potential agreement.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach (R-21) proposed SB 386.

Major Provisions:

  • Creates the Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Commission. The purpose of this Commission would be to coordinate the funding and construction of transit facilities in the 13 county metro-Atlanta area.
  • Creates an optional T-SPLOST that counties which are apart of the system may adopt through a referendum. The money would be used to fund public transit expansion within the local jurisdiction. The jurisdictions are encouraged to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with MARTA for their transportation services.
  • Authorizes the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority to oversee the creation of the ATL board to develop, manage, and execute regional transit strategies throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area. The ATL Commission will consist of the Georgia Commissioner of Transportation, Mayor of Atlanta, Chief Executive Officer of MARTA, and County Commission Chairmen from each member-county.
  • The House Transportation Committee passed Senate Bill 386, but stripped it of all language from the Senate Bill and substituted all of the language for House Bill 930.

Rep. Kevin Tanner, Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, introduced HB 930 as a result of the work of the House Regional Transit Funding and Governance Commission. The bill was amended to remove the special tax district for Cobb County and allow the entire county to have the option to join the new Regional Transit Authority if created.

Major Provisions:

  • Restructures GRTA into the Atlanta-Region Transit Link (ATL) Commission incorporating the 13 counties in the ARC region in the new authority governed by newly created districts.
  • Identifies two new funding revenues to support transit: (1.) Adds a 50-cent charge per trip on rideshare, taxi and limo providers (2.) Creates a 1% airport tax on concessions at the Atlanta airport.
  • Allows new counties to call for a referendum to levy a 1% transit SPLOST.
  • The Senate Transportation Committee passed HB 930 by substitute with language from SB 386 and is now in Senate Rules Committee.

Leadership in both Chambers agree that metro Atlanta needs well-networked, efficient transit and both are committed to passing framework legislation. What that final piece of legislation will look like remains to be seen. Rep. Tanner and Sen. Beach have both indicated that House and Senate are working together but differences remain.  This is likely to not be decided until the last day of the session, Sine Die on March 29.

Recently Built Homes the New, New-Built

By Geoff Smith

It should be no secret that homebuilders are having trouble keeping up with the demand in the market right now. So it appears that homebuyers thirsty for newly built homes are finding what they want in recently built homes.

A new chart released by Atlanta’s own Smart Real Estate Data shows that 33% of all Metro Atlanta resales(homes sold that are not new construction) in 2017 were homes built between 2000 and 2007. That’s pretty significant when you think about the fact that we’ve been building new homes in the metro area since the 1960’s with the attitude that we can’t build them fast enough.

Mitchell Palm with Smart Data says homebuyers are attracted to homes from this area for several reasons.

“These 10-15 year old homes offer decent layouts, a lot of home for the price, and larger lots than what most homebuilders are providing today,” he said. “Update some flooring, counters, appliances, and a fresh coat of paint, and you have practically a brand-new house.”

Housing designs have gone through many iterations throughout the years, but a relatively new tool to builders became mainstream in the late 1990’s: the engineered beam. This improvement made it cost-effective for builders to start offering more open floor plans. Before this, if a builder wanted to have an opening from one room to the next of more than, say, 10-16 feet, they probably had to use a custom-built steel beam. Today, you can go to any professional supply store and pick up an engineered beam and cut it to size.

That’s why houses built in the 80’s and 90’s all have those similar layouts – you walk into the foyer with a dining room on one side, a formal living room on the other, and the kitchen and den in the back. The engineered beam made is so that you didn’t have to walk through a small doorway to get from one to the other. And we seem to like that.

In fact, when I had my remodeling company 10 years ago, we went into several homes built in the 1980’s and 1990’s and used engineered beams to remove walls and open up floor plans. It certainly made the house feel bigger. Brenda and I used engineered beams to open up the floor plan in our first home – an 1,100-square-foot cabin originally built in the 1920s. The difference there was night and day.

But there are a lot of things people want out of a new home. Just the fact that it’s new is attractive to a lot of homebuyers. I have people come to me all the time interested in getting a construction loan so they can build a house themselves. They love the idea of picking out all the finishes and the layout and making the home that much more personal to them. Few actually have the stomach for it though. Building a home today is no joke. Homebuilders in our area have this down to a science, and even they are having trouble keeping costs down. It’s a pricey market to build in right now. First of all, there is nowhere near enough labor to build the demand, and builders are having to lure subcontractors away from other builders by paying them more. Regulations have made building more expensive. And wood prices are through the roof – pun intended.

Most of those that come to me wanting to build themselves either end up buying new construction, or doing what Palm from Smart Numbers said and buy a recently-built house and upgrade all the finishes.

It’s an interesting market right now. But with home values and interest rates going up like they are, there’s no time to buy like the present.

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.

A Story for Your House Please

by Geoff Smith

For at least three years now, inventory in the under $400,000-market here in Atlanta has been at record lows and buyers have been fighting each other for good deals. The result is a sharpened artform that many agents have crafted to be ‘the one’ chosen from the many.

I was reading a great article in the Wall Street Journal titled The Strangely Effective (and Easy) Way to Win a Bidding War. It details several methods agents and buyers used to win deals, and showed data collected by Seattle-based realty firm Redfin.

With inventory so low and competition so high, a listing agent’s job is to really find the buyer who can close with the best offer and with the least amount of fuss. I’ve heard of houses that have gone under contract the first day on the market and had more than 10 offers to sort through. I’ve been told of showings where the buyer had to wait for an hour outside the house while people before her were shown the house. If you are trying to by one of these houses, you have to make yourself stand out.

According to the article, the best way to stand out is to use cash. I would be a bad mortgage lender if I didn’t remind people that an average retirement account earns more than 7%, while mortgage interest rates are still in the mid-4% range. That said, using all cash nearly doubles your chances of being able to beat out the other offers. If you are using cash, that means you typically can close much quicker and without a bank having a say in your purchase. Listing agents like that.

Another method that appears to be highly effective, and one that I personally do not like at all, is waiving the financing contingency. This contingency basically gives the buyer in a contract a certain amount of time to get approved on their loan. If they don’t get approved in that time, they can walk away from their deal with the earnest money check(a deposit of sorts that is written and held in escrow just after signing a contract). This makes a listing agent comfortable because if there is no financing contingency, the buyer would have to kiss goodbye that check if they decide to walk away from the deal. This puts a lot of pressure on the lender to do a very thorough pre-qualification. Earnest money is typically 1% or more of the purchase price. But waiving contingencies apparently increases a buyer’s odds of winning the deal by 57.9%. So as an agent, you might earn their praise by initially winning the deal by waiving the contingencies. But if your lender doesn’t get the loan approved and they lose their earnest money, their perspective will very quickly change.

The method that came in third is actually my favorite: writing a personal letter. Having buyers write a personal letter to the sellers actually was a very close third, boosting your odds to win the deal by 52.2%. Selling a home can and should be an emotional endeavor. We live there and leave behind a lot of memories. Writing a letter telling the seller how you will live there, how you will maintain the house and what you love about the house seems to go a long way. The letter adds a personality to the offer and it also seems to let the seller know that the buyer is serious, according to the article. I have seen this method work on several occasions.

As a lender, my agents always make sure to let the listing agent know they can and should call me. This has proved to be a huge advantage. Our industry is a little wild-west and there are a lot of very inexperienced lenders out there. Giving the listing agent the opportunity to talk to me and, at the very least, find out that I am competent, experienced and that I did a thorough prequalification, goes a long way. Once the deal goes binding, everyone is to some degree at the mercy of the lender to get the money approved and bring the deal to close. So it is also important to make the listing agent comfortable with your lender.

With 90,000 people a year moving to the metro Atlanta area, it is hard to imagine that inventory will increase anytime soon. So sharpen your pencils and start writing some good stories.

Rates Push Further Up

Mortgage interest rates continued their steady march upwards this week. Economists are grappling with an economy that has no visible downside right now. As such, they are investing, the stock market is going up and so are mortgage interest 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 4.28%.

Smile. You’re Branded.

by Geoff Smith

Fork in his eyeThe quote-master, Mark Twain, once said: “Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.” I’m often amazed at how thin the line really is between the two.

I just read an article by Maria Saporta in the Atlanta Business Chronicle about how the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is going to ask our congressmen to take a pledge. It will ask them to promise to “do no harm” to our state’s image. If you did not know, Georgia is now one of the most admired states in the union for the economy we have created here. If you don’t believe me, go to Lansing, Michigan, hang out at the bar Tavern and Tap across from the state capital and wait for session to get out. It will fill up with congressmen that will gush over how great our state is.

It has taken decades for Georgia to position itself as an economic powerhouse that has been named the best state to do business in. With a few state races, some candidates are finding success in telling rural voters that they may sign a religious freedom bill. According to the article, the Georgia Chamber seems to fear that a backlash from such a signing would be similar to what happened to North Carolina. And that’s a big deal – especially with Amazon now looking between us and 20 other cities as the location for their HQ2.

Apart from state politics, the article got me to thinking about branding. While our state has spent decades building an admired economy, one mistake could tarnish our reputation overnight. You don’t believe me? Just ask Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, or – and it truly kills me to say this, Charlie Rose.

I knew a guy who coaches in the same basketball league I coach in. Everyone used to know him as the nicest, most put-together guy – kind of quiet, but always to the point. Then we saw him on the court coaching a 5th-grade basketball game. He was way more Bobby Knight at Indiana than Mark Richt at Georgia. All of you Hoosiers fans might point out that Knight won three NCAA championships. While that’s true, I’m talking about a 5th-grade coach with no championships.

In the span of a week, the guy went from being put-together to always being a step away from coming un-glued. Now, for the rest of us, it was probably a good thing that him coaching basketball flushed out that side of his personality. But for him, it wasn’t good at all. It would have been better had he prescribed to a phrase my engineer brother always said to me growing up: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt.”

I know a bunch of people that would sour to the thought that what they do in their personal lives should have an effect in their professional lives. They are crying “phony!” I can hear them. But that doesn’t change the fact that everyone around them has a perception of who they are. You can think the greatest thoughts in the world, but if you present them poorly – who will know? It’s like the tree falling in the woods analogy.

I actually like branding. It requires effort and loyalty to an idea. I’m always looking for the people who are shining lights on things for me to follow, rather than those who are constantly pointing out the darkness. I don’t want to know how bad everything is. I want to see how great it all can become.

Rates Push Further Up

While the movement has not been huge, nothing has been able to knock mortgage interest off their stride in a steady move upwards.

Since passage of the new tax bill, there has been really no bad news to cramp our improving economy’s style. For the past several years, while we’ve seen good numbers from most of the things economists measure to determine a strong, growing economy(GDP, consumer confidence, unemployment, etc..), inflation has remained stubbornly low. Inflation is the measure of wages and the prices of goods and services. Economists, including governors at the Federal Reserve, have been flummoxed that prices and wages have not gone up with the growing economy.

They reasoned that it was because of us now competing more with a global market than we were prior to the economic collapse of 2008. If we raise prices of our goods and services, we won’t be competitive with our foreign companies. And we can’t raise wages if we can’t charge more for our products and services. Otherwise inflation usually goes up when everything else looks good(low unemployment, rising GDP, high consumer confidence and retail sails, etc…). Inflation seems to be the last hold-out on the Fed declaring full success for our economy. It kind of felt like the guy charged with opening the doors at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

Well folks, inflation finally started to move and those doors could now be open.

We’ll see where it goes from here. But as far as mortgage interest rates are concerned, we all expected them to be well into the 5%-range by now. But they have hovered above and below 4% for the last 3 years. Rates typically rise in a growing economy and that’s what they have been doing for several weeks now.

What this Means to You:
According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.22%.

Another Company Moves to be Near MARTA

by Geoff Smith

The sun came up and another company has decided to move its headquarters next to a MARTA station – what else is new?

Insight Global, a staffing company for Fortune 500 companies across the United States and Canada, has decided to move 800 employees into a new, 16-story building that will be built between Perimeter Mall and the Dunwoody MARTA station. There has been a lot of talk over the last year of plans to build a high-rise here on the eastern side of the station, now they have a tenant. State Farm is currently building the second of its four high-rises on its new campus across Hammond Drive from the Dunwoody MARTA station. Their first building includes a walkway over Hammond Drive to the station. And there is already talk of more high-rises that could go up along the western side of the MARTA station.

It has become common knowledge that most company executives believe that to stay competitive for the future workforce, they need to be located near mass transit. Every major corporate move to the Atlanta area has been at or near a MARTA station. Along with State Farm, Mercedes-Benz is building their North American headquarters down the street from the Sandy Springs MARTA station. NCR Corp. just moved its large headquarters from Duluth to intown Atlanta to be near mass transit.

According to a recent article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce President Hala Moddelmog said that the recent corporate relocations were in part, because of MARTA.

“They would not have come to this market if it had not been for MARTA,” she said.

As the Georgia General Assembly heads into session, transit and expansion of MARTA is something that will again be a hot topic. It has only been in the last couple of years that state legislatures have seen expansion of the system as an issue they need to be concerned with. With these large corporations citing MARTA as a reason for their move to Atlanta, it has become more acceptable for legislatures from outside of the Metro Atlanta area to be open to conversation about putting state money aside for MARTA expansion.

State Senator Brandon Beach, who chaired the Transportation Committee in the Senate last year, said one of the big issues this year will be to try to bring Gwinnett and Cobb Counties together with Fulton, Dekalb and Henry counties in funding MARTA. Gwinnett and Cobb both have their own transit systems independent of MARTA. Even though their systems drop riders off into the MARTA system, they do not help fund it. Being two of the most populated counties in the metro area, bringing them together with Fulton, Dekalb and Henry would be a huge plus for transit in Metro Atlanta.

Here in North Fulton, the debate continues about what an expansion of mass transit would look like. Many officials seem warm to the idea of expanding rail up to Holcomb Bridge Road. But there is little consensus to go further north than that. State Senator John Albers is preaching another concept: autonomous vehicles and buses. Rail expansion is expensive and would take 5 to 10 years to build. By that time, Albers says autonomous vehicles will be in use and residents will be more used to taking Uber and Lyft. Instead of spending the billions of dollars it would take for full-rail expansion, a fraction of that money could be used to install a state-of-the-art system of autonomous buses, he argues.

With NCR’s move intown, North Fulton officials are taking the issue of mass transit expansion in North Fulton serious. Fulton County officials are in the middle of putting together a comprehensive master plan for transit it North Fulton. Called the “Fulton County Transit Master Plan,” it will have recommendations for how North Fulton should move forward with transit improvements. They hired a consultant to put together several options for local officials and residents to consider.

The options will be presented on January 23 at the Atlanta Mariott in Alpharetta from 6 to 8 p.m.

MARKET WATCH

Rates Jump on Tax Bill, Bond Market

Mortgage interest rates jumped Monday and Tuesday as investors sold off bonds to put money into stocks. When bonds are bought in low volume, or are not in demand, mortgage interest rates tend to rise. And they did – to their highest level in the last 6 months.

They could get another push upwards today if the numbers released for the Consumer Price Index rise. This would signal a rise in inflation – something economists and the governors at the Federal Reserve have been waiting to happen for several years now. Inflation has been the one sour spot in what has been viewed as an otherwise robust economy.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.14%.

Fed Raises Rate and I Don’t Care

By Geoff Smith

You would be hard-pressed to find a legitimate economist who was surprised by the Federal Reserve’s move last week to raise its short-term interest rate for the third time this year. But you could open your inbox (or look in your junk mail box) and probably find 20 loan officers who are.

While some are probably pretty tame, I’m sure you also get your share of ones that sound kind of like this: “Quick!!! Buy your next house now because rates are rising through the roof!!!” When in fact, they are not.

Loan officers are taking the news that the Fed raised its rate as an opportunity to warn consumers of a possible correlation to a rise in mortgage interest rates. It’s an easy argument to make. After all, the Fed’s interest rate and mortgage interest rates both have the phrase “interest rate” in them.

While the Fed’s short-term interest does have an impact on the bottom line of the banks who ultimately set the mortgage interest rates, the correlation is really not all that direct. Here is the proof:

In December of 2016, the Federal Reserves raised its rate for the second time since dropping it to near 0% in 2008. Just before it did that, MortgageNewsDaily’s average 30-year fixed conventional interest rate was at 4.38%. Today, after that increase and three others this year, the rate sits at 3.96%. The Fed raised its rate by more than a full 1% in the last year and current mortgage rates are averaging almost a half of 1% LOWER.

As the hosts of my sons’ favorite tv show say: Myth Busted.

While there is some correlation between the Fed’s rate and the average mortgage rate, you would be better served in watching the 10-year treasury if you want to predict the future of mortgage interest rates. When those are bought in high volumes, mortgage rates almost always go down. When they are not, rates go up. This actually makes predicting mortgage rates a much more volatile enterprise because treasury bonds are typically bought when investors are nervous about the stock market and visa versa. It’s almost impossible to predict because our economy is global and one never knows where the next surprise will pop up from around the globe.

If you want to know where the rates for your credit cards, auto loans, business loans and other lines of credit are headed, then pay attention to the Fed’s rate. Banks do peg their base interest rates for those types of loans to the Fed’s short-term rate. But not mortgages.

I’m not saying all of those e-mails you are getting are totally misleading, because there is a correlation between the Fed’s rate and the average mortgage rate. And it goes like this: Mortgage rates tend to go up with the economy. When investors feel good about their understanding of the economy, they play the stock market and don’t buy bonds – which as I just said, makes rates go up. The Governors at the Federal Reserve are some of the most well-respected economists in the world. When they raise the Fed’s short-term fate, it’s because they feel good about the economy and that borrowers, mainly businesses who borrow, don’t need the incentive of a low interest rate to apply for a loan. If you follow this logic, it should make sense that we are indeed headed toward a rising-rate environment. We are just not there yet.

If you are really on the fence about buying a bigger home, the larger concern should be rising home values here in Atlanta. If you get an e-mail about that – that is no joke.

Has MARTA Conversation Shifted for North Fulton?

By Geoff Smith

While we in North Fulton have been dickering for years about MARTA expansion, I noticed a change: the conversation seems to have shifted from “yes” or “no”, to “what kind.”

Fulton County Commissioners and the county’s mayors got together yesterday to see the results of a 6-month transit analysis and public engagement study. According to an article in today’s Atlanta Business Chronicle, the consultants hired by the county presented five different options ranging from an “aspirational” plan that includes the rail lin expanded up GA400, to one limited to bus-rapid transit.

North Fulton residents and leaders are mixed in opinion with some wanting the rail line expanded to Windward Parkway, while others don’t want it expanded past Holcomb Bridge Road. Conversation hit a fever pitch last year as leaders first pitched an increased sales tax that would go directly toward MARTA expansion. What was finally approved by voters was a 3/4 of a penny increase in our sales tax with the funds being divvied up among the cities to be used only on transportation, not transit, improvements. This was a huge shot in the arm for our North Fulton cities and a number of projects are underway now because of the influx of revenue.

But the argument for expansion of MARTA remains strong in North Fulton. Fulton Commissioner Liz Hausmann summed up the reasons for expansion pretty well in the article in the Chronicle.

“It’s imperative our region consider transit as a necessary component for congestion relief,” she said. “A well-managed transportation system will foster economic prosperity and continue to keep our state as a national leader in which to do business.”

It’s almost impossible to determine how many more people would actually ride the train if it was expanded to Holcomb Bridge Road, especially considering that if we started construction on it tomorrow it wouldn’t be finished for another 5 years or more.

But there is a lot of talk about our lack of affordable, or critical workforce, housing in North Fulton. Land has become so expensive here that without significantly increasing the density, which is measured in things like units per acre, or number of stories a building can go up, developers cannot build homes or condos under $400,000 and make a profit. So our firefighters, policemen and women, and restaurant and retail workers all have to fight through traffic to get here. If you have a friend who owns a restaurant, ask him or her how often they have to rehire. My friends tell me its often. If we cannot figure out how to get more ‘affordable’ housing here in North Fulton, an efficient transit system could help alleviate that problem.

If ridership doesn’t move you on this issue, perhaps this will. Even if you have only casually been following all of the corporate relocations to Atlanta over the last several years, you understand this: today’s corporations want to be near mass transit. Mercedes-Benz put their North American headquarters off Abernathy in Sandy Springs. In their press release, they said being near MARTA was critical. State Farm is building a massive campus across the street from the Dunwoody station. They included a walking bridge over Hammond Drive connecting the campus to the station. You can bet that if Amazon puts HQ2 in Atlanta, it will be next to a MARTA station. If we want to attract new relocations to North Fulton, it’s going to be harder to do without a good mass transit system in place.

But here is something else to think about: NCR just moved their headquarters from Duluth to downtown Atlanta. They wanted to be in a walkable environment with plenty of mass transit options. So not having a mass transit system in place is not only hurting our ability to recruit new business, it’s giving existing businesses a reason to move out. I will now think about that every time I drive through downtown and see NCR’s new 22-story building reaching up and over the highway.

Setting aside the fact that these corporations help our local economy by supporting our retail, restaurant and network of other small businesses throughout the day, having less of them will only exacerbate our traffic issues. Once finished, you know how NCR’s employees that live in North Fulton will get to work? GA400 south.

By Geoff SmithWhile 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.

Woodstock Draws Office to Live, Play Community

By Geoff Smith

City leaders in Woodstock have worked hard over the last 20 years crafting what has become one of the metro area’s most successful suburban downtown areas. And as the saying goes, success breeds success.

When I was at Chattahoochee High School back in the early 1990s and we traveled to Cherokee High School to play football, it seems like we made it west clear to Alabama. The country started pretty much right after Crabapple Road on 92 in west Roswell and went on for what seemed liked forever. If you grew up in the metro area and have not been to, or heard what’s going on in, Woodstock lately, then you are probably wondering why in the world I’m writing about it.

A real estate agent friend of mine was driving around a family who wanted a house in Roswell for under $350,000. They could not find what they were looking for. She kept telling them about Woodstock, but they just turned up their nose – would not entertain the thought. So my friend headed up Arnold Mill, pretended to get lost, and wound up in downtown Woodstock. That family now lives in Woodstock.

Woodstock had some decent bones to start off with. The town, like many, grew up around a small rail stop. The old town spread along Main Street and one side of the railroad tracks. The other side of the tracks was mostly woods.

City leaders back in the early 2000’s got aggressive and saw what many at the time did not. They partnered with some local developers and coordinated a town center that consists of several city blocks, some five-story buildings filled with condos, apartments, and retail and restaurants on the bottom, and an entire neighborhood of detached and attached homes, all around a very wooded neighborhood park.

The downturn in 2008 halted the project for a spell. But it got back up and going and is at this point running full-steam ahead.

The new buildings are all leased up. The old town on the other side of the tracks is leased up and restaurants seem to be clamoring to get in. A fantastic concert venue called MadLife opened up. It’s a venue that looks like an old jazz club with a huge stage, high-top table seating and a bar on the lower level, and an upper level with a bar. Quality music acts play there almost every night.

And they love their beer in Woodstock. Reformation Brewery is about a mile down Arnold Mill road, and they are planning a new location in downtown. Reformation has expanded and it’s hard to find a grocery store locally that does not carry their product. They also had a great growler shop that grew into a bar/restaurant. The shop’s owner had a great idea to open a bar focusing on carrying a wide-variety of micro-brews, with space behind the bar for a different food-truck to pull up every night. The idea was so new, that the city was not sure how to approve it. It was a restaurant without a kitchen. It was a bar that technically did not sell food. It went against their existing guidelines. But what did Woodstock do? It said ‘hey, this is a great concept. This would make our downtown better. Let’s figure out how to make it work.’. And it did. The second location is going up in Alpharetta’s downtown.

That attitude has created a downtown so successful that city leaders are now getting inquiries from developers who want to build Class A office space nearby. Businesses want to be where the action is. And if Woodstock’s attitude towards those projects is similar to how it took on development of its downtown, Woodstock will soon be a true live, work and play community.

The Data Says Buy A $900,000-House

By Geoff Smith

If you are looking for a new home under the $400,000 price-range, I know how competitive it is. But after some serious research, I have found a solution for you: go buy a $900,000-house.

If only it were that easy!

I just finished reading through Smart Real Estate Data’s third quarter newsletter and I’m stunned again by the lack of inventory available to most homebuyers. Our homebuilders can’t seem to catch up to the demand that is out there.

Inventory is measured in ‘months of supply’. The numbers reflect the months it would take for homebuyers to buy up all the currently listed homes if no new houses came onto the market. Experts consider a healthy housing economy to have 6.5 months of supply. Why is it unhealthy for there to be more or less? Supply and demand.

If you have less months of supply, then the demand is stronger than the supply and home prices rise quickly as buyers compete for the relatively low number of houses on the market. If you have more than 6.5 months of supply, then it’s a buyer’s market and values can drop as sellers compete for the relatively few buyers.

In the below $300,000-market, there are less 2.5 months of supply. That is one of the lowest months of inventory in the history of people keeping track of these numbers. In the $300,000 to $400,000-range, it only rises to just above 2.5 months. The $500,000 to $600,000-range is where the market finally starts getting healthy with about 6 months of inventory. Above that and it quickly gets unhealthy again with inventories above 7.5 months.

By the way, that $900,000 to $1M-range I mentioned at the beginning of this article has well over 10 months of inventory. It is a good time to get a deal in that range.

Based on the laws of supply and demand, prices on sub $400,000-homes are rising and on the $600,000-homes are lowering. Maybe someday everything will be priced around $500,000!

Obviously that won’t happen. But the laws of supply and demand are making the lower priced homes even more expensive, eventually creating even less inventory for a market already starved for inventory. Capitalism usually has a way of evening these kinds of things out. But building houses in the sub $300,000-range is a hard thing to do these days.

Land has gotten more expensive in the metro area. Builders are having to pay more to comply with an increased number of regulations that most residents want, and pay more for increased impact fees which help fund capital improvements to fire, police and other municipal departments. There is a labor shortage in the construction industry, so builders are having to pay more to lure subcontractors away from other builders. And with unemployment so low in general, we are not seeing employees from other industries jumping over to meet the demand.

The average price of a new home was $334,977 for the third quarter. With the increased costs, the builders are having to build more expensive homes to keep their margins. But if you look at the more expensive homes – there is a relative glut. The demand is for the lower-priced homes.

In the coming years, it’s very possible that we could see more effort from both the private industry and the public, to find creative ways to build more, lower-priced homes.

Some cities and counties are seeing this as an ‘affordable housing’ crisis where many of the people who work in their police, fire and retail service sectors are not able to live close to where they work. I’ve heard some folks try to blame the developers. But developers are pretty simple creatures. If the project will make their business money, they’ll probably build it. If it will lose their company money, they probably won’t. They know the demand is there, it is just hard to make the numbers work.

Atlanta Area Demographic Data

by Geoff Smith
If your household earns more than $77,233, then you have made it into the top 40% of income earners in the metro Atlanta area. I would bet more than 90% of you reading this article fall into that category. But hold on, the numbers jump quickly as we climb to the top. To get into the top 20%, your household needs to earn more than $122,065. And finally, to get into the top 5% of all income-earners in the metro Atlanta area, your household needs to bring in more than $234,699.

The Census numbers I saw didn’t break it down further than that. But if you are still wondering, a CNN chart predicts that you have to earn more than $440,000 to be in the top 1% of all U.S. income earners.

If you are sour because you did not make it in the top 5%, here is something to boost your spirits. All of you are probably in the top 1% of income earners in the world. To do that, according to Investopedia, your household needs to earn more than $32,400 a year.

Mortgage Rates Jump

Mortgage interest rates jumped this week, moving up at the fastest pace since last June. Much of the movement, according to experts, has to do with a hopeful outlook that lawmakers will be able to pull off some form of tax reform.

Most investors believe this would be good for business. And when they believe that, they invest more money in stocks than in the more risk-averse market of bonds. And when bonds are bought in low volumes, mortgage interest rates rise.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 4.09%.

Why North Fulton is So Stinking Great

By Geoff Smith

The Alpharetta Hotel and Conference Center should be complete in Avalon early next year

The Alpharetta Hotel and Conference Center should be complete in Avalon early next year

I was born in North Fulton, raised in North Fulton and I live with my family today in North Fulton. I have a good many friends up here who have said I should get out more, but you know what? All those friends moved here – to my home.

Roswell's locally renown Canton Street during an Alive After Five event

Roswell’s locally renown Canton Street during an Alive After Five event

If you know me, you’ve heard me say this: I’d rather be from the place everyone is moving to, than the place they are all moving from. And for the last 43 years, people and businesses have fought to get into North Fulton.Some say that North Fulton’s success is because of the fiber-optic cable that was laid along roads in Alpharetta in the early 1990s. Others say it was Jim Cowart’s vision to build the first gated community of Country Club of the South. I’ll add that it was Roswell’s vision back in the 1970s to develop what just recently was awarded the Gold Medal Award for the best Recreation and Parks Department in the entire country.

You could keep going further back to Roswell’s founder, Roswell King in the mid-1800s. He stopped in Roswell to build a cotton mill. He was from Connecticut and back then, the south shipped most of the cotton it grew to the north for processing. The finished products were shipped back down here to sell. King started the mill to cut out the shipping costs and boom – a successful business town was born.

It is beautiful country up here. Roswell has about 10 miles of the Chattahoochee River running through it, and Johns Creek has about 13. Big Creek flows from Forsyth County with a near-continuous bike path along it through Alpharetta to Roswell. Take a drive through Milton’s horse country and you’ll get jealous in a hurry that you don’t live there. Go to Canton Street in Roswell, or see what’s going up in downtown Alpharetta near Avalon and you’ll feel the same way.

One of Milton's many horse farms

One of Milton’s many horse farms

It’s no wonder people want to pay top dollar to live here, and businesses want their employees to work here. Alpharetta has more than 600 technology companies within its borders. Windward Parkway should be a brand in itself. Johns Creek is awash in successful corporate offices – its downtown is essentially a grouping of corporate campuses.When they look for a move, today’s corporations are trying to think like millennials – who will make up half of the workforce by 2020. Most think that means moving intown near mass transit and in areas that are highly walkable and full of action. North Fulton is countering this with the most desired suburban downtowns in the metro area and an incredible collection of undeveloped parks that take full advantage of the river and creeks. Roswell owns more than a mile of parkland along the Chattahoochee that is already master-planned. And once developed, will be a park not just enjoyed here in North Fulton, but admired throughout the metro area. It will surely be yet another draw for businesses looking to make a move.

John's Creek recently approved plans for a linear park near some of its office parks

John’s Creek recently approved plans for a linear park near some of its office parks

I have not even mentioned the schools, but by almost any measure, you will not find a collection of higher-performing public high schools anywhere in Georgia. U.S. News’ rankings have 6 of the top 8 public high schools in Georgia as being located in North Fulton.North Fulton didn’t get this way because of a few major events. It got this way because great servants in our community took these great resources and worked them inch-by-inch, project-by-project and success-by-success to piece together what I think is the best place to live, work and play on the planet(a new friend of mine said its better than her home city of Paris, France. So…). The key now will be to take what we have been given to the next level so that my two boys will say the same thing in 30 years. And with the resources we already have, the sky should be the limit.

Market Watch

Rates Sitting Still… Still

Mortgage interest rates have not really budged from this time last week. There is talk about a new tax plan, talk about the Executive Branch rolling back some policies involved in the Affordable Care Act, and talk about the Fed standing firm on several interest rate raises throughout next year. But at this time, investors seem to be saying…”that’s just talk.” They all seem to be from the “Show Me” state this week. Mortgage Interest rates are holding firm to recent highs.

What this Means to You:

According to Mortgage News Daily’s Rate Survey, best execution rates for a conventional 30-year fixed are at 3.96%.

Downtown Lawrenceville Awash In New Development

By Geoff Smith

Suburban downtown areas are flush with redevelopment these days as cities and developers rush to meet market demands of residents who want to be close to where some action is. Lawrenceville is the latest to double-down on this idea.

A couple years ago, or really any time in the history of the Atlanta metro area, I would have trumpeted what is going on in downtown Lawrenceville as epoch development. But these days, what they are doing is keeping up with what’s going on in other cities like Alpharetta, Sugar Hill, Chamblee, and Sandy Springs. All that said, there are at least three major projects going on in downtown Lawrenceville that will transform a city that already has seen significant downtown development.

The projects include almost 40 acres of mixed-use development and a 2.2-mile linear park that will connect Georgia Gwinnett College with the downtown district, and open up development opportunities along the way.

The biggest project being proposed is a 32-acre development behind the Lawrenceville Lawn Park and around City Hall that would include 600 residential units – 435 multifamily units and 159 single-family and townhouse units. Within that project would also be about 15,000 square feet of retail. Novare Group is the developer and is scheduled to present the project to the city in December, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

Just across the Lawrenceville square and on 7.5 acres that used to be the site of the now demolished Lawrenceville High School(built in 1895), Richport Properties is proposing a $20 million mixed-use development. The project, being called City View, would include 58 single-family homes, townhomes, “cottages” and office space. According to the AJC, the developer is under a purchase-sale agreement with Lawrenceville’s Downtown Development Authority.

The linear park is a significant project, mostly because of the opportunities it will create. This project has been in the planning stages for several years and the city has recently hired Georgia Development Partners to run construction of the project, which is expected to begin next month, according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. In addition to a new two-lane road, the project will include multi-use trails, bike paths, roundabouts and landscaping features. Multiple pocket parks and detention ponds are also shown in the plans – as are spaces for new townhomes, a restaurant, some retail space and a multi-level residential structure.

One of the biggest things this corridor would do is connect the roughly 11,000 students enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College with the downtown district and the two other projects mentioned in this article. The corridor will also fold in an existing brewery named Slow Pour Brewing Company, and 550 Trackside, a popular event facility housed in the city’s old train station. It should take about a year to demolish some of the buildings in the corridor to make way for the new road and trails. At that point, construction on the new infrastructure is said to begin.

I imagine that retail businesses in downtown Lawrenceville are chomping at the bit to see these projects completed. With almost 660-residential units going in, they will see a significant increase in night-time and weekend customers. And with the office development and the connection to Georgia Gwinnett College, they will see a significant increase in daytime customers during the weeks. It will be a good time to be doing business in Lawrenceville for sure.

Beltline Creator Sets Sites on Buford Highway

By Geoff Smith

There isn’t much doubt about it, most people will finally agree that there are really great restaurants throughout the metro Atlanta area.

Growing up in Roswell, it seemed that transplanted New Yorker’s loved to complain about the food. The Italian food was boring, there were no good bagels, and forget about finding a good Chinese restaurant. Well nowadays, I don’t hear that kind of talk. Folks are pretty fat and happy in Atlanta.

Chefs have grown more and more creative. And creative in a way that draws people consistently into their restaurants. Different parts of the metro area are developing their own styles too. Canton Street in Roswell has more great restaurants per square foot than maybe anywhere else in the metro area, all serving out of buildings first built in the late 1800s. Alpharetta’s restaurants are a bit more spread out and refined, but fantastic. Ponce City Market in Atlanta has its food court packed with several unique and great restaurants where most of the seating is stretched along barstools.

Perhaps the most unique area walks a thin line between being considered under the radar here in Atlanta, and well-known among chef circles outside of Atlanta. It is Buford Highway. Written up in Bon Appetit, this 7-mile stretch of road heading north from I-285 was called a “United Nations of restaurants.” In this stretch of road you can get Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Somali, Mexican, combinations of those, and many other types of food. Some of you might think that you’ve got Vietnamese, Chinese and Mexican restaurants close to your home. But the difference here is that these restaurants cook their food as if they are serving not Americans, but people from their home countries.

It has developed a serious ‘it’ factor. So much so that when Anthony Bourdain, a king of cool, brought his show to Atlanta, he spent a lot of time eating in, and complimenting restaurants there.

To the eye, this stretch of road is probably not the most inviting stretch of road. These great restaurants are scattered throughout strip malls that were built during a time when we had little ability for urban planning. But that could be about to change.

One of Atlanta’s king of cool, Ryan Gravel, is setting his sites on Buford Highway.

If you do not know, Gravel conceptualized the idea of The Beltline while a student at GA Tech, and then worked as a planner to make it a reality. The Beltline has become one of the most successful redevelopment ideas of our time anywhere in the country and has transformed every community it runs through. He left The Beltline project because he thought they were getting away from his idea to incorporate more affordable, lower-income workforce housing.

According to Reporter Newspapers, Gravel created a nonprofit called Generator. Its mission is to be an “idea studio…committed to the production of ideas about cities that nobody is asking for.” His first Generator workshop will be a School of Design class at Georgia Tech that will focus on Buford Highway.

According to the article, he finds this area interesting because it deals with a lot of issues that are prevalent throughout the country. There is a large immigrant population there, and he sees this as a way to create a solution for suburban immigrant populations throughout the country. They are going to look at different transit options and different ways to move people around. His design principals will go much deeper than transit and affordable housing options too. He wants to create ways to force people to interact and “love” each other more.

Best of GA Fall Blows Through the Mountains

By Geoff Smith

This is the time of year in Georgia when spurts of cool breezes blow through the humidity and heat, and tickle our spirits into a state reminiscent of an old college buddy popping in through the door to whisk you off to one more, wild weekend. Or at least into trying to be fancy with your writing of a business article.

Truth be told though, there are few places on the planet better than Georgia in the fall and spring. It’s a proven fact…probably. The weather is a big reason that so many people have moved down here – just ask someone from the great city of Chicago.

This time of year, those cool breezes move my attention to the mountains. Standing mountaintop, looking out miles and watching the wind blow up and down the red- and gold-covered hills and valleys, will lead you to a true moment where you say “there really is no other place I’d rather be.” And there are many great places to go in the North Georgia mountains. Blood Mountain is one of my favorite spots. It’s just north of Dahlonega and is an easy day trip. You could drive up GA400, enjoy the ride, park at the base of the mountain, hike to the top, enjoy the open views and be home in time for dinner. Or, better yet, eat on the square in downtown Dahlonega.

Georgia’s mountain towns have developed nicely over the years and there is a wide variety of places to go visit. There are relatively large cities such as Dahlonega and Clayton that are surrounded by great parks and nature, but also have large commercial districts and hotels. Then there are also small towns like Blue Ridge and Ellijay that have just enough.

Perhaps the most visited, or most known, is Helen. This city was originally founded as a logging town, but in the last 1960’s reinvented itself as a Bavarian alpine town lined with buildings modeled after many of the great south-German cities. It has become crowded over the years and is flooded throughout the day and night with sounds of loud motorcycles, but it has a thriving commercial district with shops and restaurants, is built along a much smaller and younger Chattahoochee River and is surrounded by awesome sites like Anna Ruby Falls, Unicoi State Park and Dukes Creek Falls.

Blue Ridge and Hiawassee are two of my favorite North Georgia towns. Both have nice-enough downtowns, good restaurants, and are surrounded by fat mountains. But what they also have are incredible lakes. Lake Blue Ridge and Chatuge Lake are surrounded by mountains, have clear water and whisper serenity.

That said though, if I’m talking about North Georgia lakes, I have no choice but to mention Lake Burton. As far as beauty and serenity goes, it has both Chatuge and Blue Ridge beat. Located just west of Clayton, it is also lined with some of the most expensive real estate in the state. Many famous people have houses there including Nick Saban and country music star Alan Jackson, and houses go easily for $2M to $5M. I spent part of a summer in college working at Camp High Harbour, which long ago secured a prime spot on the lake. The owner of Waffle House had just bought the small mountain next to the camp and was in the process of blasting off the top of it so he could have 10 flat acres. I bet it’s interesting walking around the grocery store on the weekends there these days.

In Georgia, there are countless day hikes, waterfalls, small lakes and small towns. Oh – and canyons. Right. Cloudland Canyon is one of our recent finds. It is awesome and is about a 20-minute drive from Chattanooga, TN. Last time we went we camped there and drove into the city for dinner. It was fantastic.

Bottom line is, it’s that time of year again. Do yourself a favor: just pick a spot and go.

New Construction at Pre-Recession Levels

Inventory Still Historically Low

Courtesy of Smart Real Estate Data

By Geoff Smith

For the first time, new home construction closing numbers are competing with pre-recession levels. And it’s nowhere near enough.

According to numbers just released from Smart Real Estate Data, there was an estimated 5,566 new construction closings in the 2nd quarter of this year, and 10,182 closings in the first half of this year. These numbers are similar to numbers posted in the first half of 2008, which was right before the collapse.

And this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In the 2nd quarter, 7,110 new home permits were issued – the most permits issued for a quarter since 3rd quarter of 2007. So clearly with all of this new construction going on, we must be flush with new homes on the market. Right? Wrong.

In most markets, it is hard to find and buy a house. Housing inventory is measured by the numbers of months it would take to sell out all existing listings with no new listings coming to market. Most experts agree that a healthy market is with 6 months of supply. At that mark, home values are increasing at a safe pace. With too much inventory, sellers are competing for limited buyers and home values can actually start to drop. With too little inventory, buyers are competing for limited houses and home values rise too fast. Right now, inventory is historically low at an average 3.29 months. It’s the lowest level since they’ve been recording this type of data. And that number is trending downward. Inventory averaged 3.63 months the same time last year.

And in keeping with the laws of supply and demand, the invisible hand has pushed home prices up an average of 5.6% over the last year. In some markets its less than that, and in others it’s much more.

You might think that since new construction pace is back to pre-recession levels, and inventory is still low, then resales are probably down. You might think that, but you’d be wrong. In the 2nd quarter of this year, the metro area set an all-time record for the most resale closings in a quarter with 25,992 closings. So why is inventory so low then?

Here is why: we are adding more new homebuyers to the market than homes being built. Over the last three years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the metro area’s population has grown by an average of just over 20,000 people per quarter, or about 7,000 people a month. Not all of those people need a home as families are included in those numbers, but add to those numbers the amount of first time homebuyers trying to move out of their parents’ basements and you have more new homebuyers than new homes coming to market. And this trend doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon. So that is leaving the door open for other types of housing to grow.

“All around Atlanta’s core are apartment buildings going up left-and-right,” said Mitchel Palm, Senior Associate with Smart Real Estate Data. “That is where a lot of these people moving to Atlanta are residing.”

Homebuilders are trying to do their part, but Palm says a lack of affordable, developable land, inflation on building materials, and a lack of skilled labor are sucking the wind out of their sails.

An interesting point that stuck out to me is that we are nearing peak levels of new residential construction, but our inventory is shrinking. The metro area has become massive. We are operating in much deeper waters than we were just 9 years ago. The city’s success is attracting people from all over the world.

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