Deals driving up Buckhead condo market

By Kathy Vogeltanz

The real estate market is brightening throughout Atlanta, and Buckhead is one of the shining hotspots. In fact, the rise in condominium sales is starting to deplete the current inventory of new properties.

Anne Schwall, VP SkyRise Group with Atlanta Fine Homes, said that the first quarter of 2012 has shown the highest number of sales in the last five years. “Since January, we’re in the range of the $20 million sales mark. There’s a definite uptick in properties in the luxury market, anything north of $500,000 to $4 million. It was stagnant for the last four years, but it’s moving now and showing definite improvement.”

She explained that among the condos in the $300,000 range, there has been great velocity in the last 16 months, and communities in that price range are selling out for the first time. Buyers are shifting up to the higher price brackets and sales are improving there too. As an example, Schwall pointed to The Sovereign, where seven condos were sold in the months January through April at an average price point of $1.6 million. That’s the same sales number as the entire year of 2011.

The Sovereign (sovereignbuckhead.com) has 49 homes, all featuring top-of-the-line finishes, available for $900,000 to $3 milliom. The building is set in a prime location, affording spectacular views all around. Living in the heart of Atlanta, homeowners enjoy all the benefits of membership to the Buckhead Club and fine dining at Bistro Niko, both housed in the building. The skyline pool on the 28th floor and 5000-square-foot fitness center are other Sovereign draws.

Why the jump in sales? Bill Murray, Managing Broker at Prudential Georgia Realty Buckhead, had the answer. “Everyone’s doing a deal, and the deals are driving the increase in sales. And while the number of sales is up, the law of supply and demand hasn’t kicked in yet – the price per square foot of Buckhead condos has not increased. Buckhead luxury condos are currently selling for about $195 a square foot, down from $225 a square foot last year.”

That’s incredible, Murray added, since the number of sold condos is up 11.5 percent from last year, and the condos under contract is up 54 percent for the same time period; all this takes a big bite out of the available condos in Buckhead. Luxury condos, which used to be in the $800,000 to $900,000 price bracket, are now listing closer to the $500,000 mark.

The Buckhead condo market is attracting first-time buyers and empty nesters, as well as investors, Murray noted. First-time buyers can purchase a condo now, live in it for a few years, and rent it out later as they move up, thus accessing wealth in the real estate market.

The Astoria at Aramore (theastoriacondos.com) is also experiencing a huge increase in traffic and sales, according to Jack Williams of Kairos Development. “Our traffic is from suburban couples looking to sell their home and change lifestyles, people relocating from New York and other northern cities and long time Buckhead/Peachtree Battle residents who want to stay in the Peachtree Battle area with less upkeep. One couple who just closed on a condo had been looking at The Astoria for almost four years and knew this was the right time to buy.”

The Astoria balances a small, boutique feel of under 80 homeowners with large floor plans featuring custom finishes. Homeowners enjoy unique homes – no two are the same – and a superb location between Buckhead’s business district and the entertainment venues of Midtown. The gorgeous pool, Jacuzzi and deck offer total privacy while boasting great views of downtown. Sibet Freides, Principal at Idea Associates, listed out other amenities that draw buyers to the Astoria, such as the guest suite, full fitness center, clubroom, full catering kitchen, and an acre of green space, perfect for walking dogs, behind the building. The Astoria at Aramore has just 17 condos available, with prices averaging at $450,000. The homes start at $370,000 and include one penthouse that can be customized to a buyer’s taste.

“Sellers and developers understand the change in the market and are becoming comfortable with the new normal in real estate, so they’re willing to accept current market pricing,” said Bonneau Ansley, one of Atlanta’s top selling agents with Ansley Group/Harry Norman. “As people’s confidence is increasing in real estate, the supply is decreasing, so we’re seeing a 12-year low on inventory right now.”

Ansley referenced the success of Regents Park at Peachtree Battle (regentsparkga.com). This year, five homes have been sold, leaving only four available out of a total of 23. Prices start at $1,050,000 for a shell, and finished homes range from $1,750,000 to $2 millon. The homes are an incredible bargain, Ansley explained, since the current prices are well below the replacement costs.

The original developer had the goal of building the absolute best that Atlanta has to offer in location, architecture and construction, Ansley said. Unfortunately, the only thing off was the timing, with a delivery date in 2008. The next year saw a new owner who dramatically reduced prices. Still, 2010 and 2011 sales were sluggish. Finally, starting in the last part of 2011 and into 2012, there’s been a huge surge in activity and sales.

So much of a surge that Karen Rodriguez, Luxury Buckhead Condo Expert/Blogger, Associate Broker/Dorsey Alston Realtors, exclaimed, “Beginning in December of 2011, I and many of my fellow Realtors have been the busiest we have been since before the recession. We joke that we’re selling condos like it’s 2005!”

In addition to the bottomed-out pricing, unbelievably low interest rates and dwindling inventory, Rodriguez added another good reason for buying now – the over-inflated rental market. Rental rates are at an all-time high, she noted, and it’s cheaper for qualified buyers to purchase a condo than to rent one. She also advised buying now, since the better units are being snatched up, leaving hesitant buyers out in the cold.

Some of those fast-moving properties are at the Ritz Carlton Residences (theresidencesatlanta.com), where certain floor plans are already selling out. In the year and a half since opening for sales, 62 residences – half of the building – have sold, leaving just two of the seven penthouses remaining. Prices start at the mid $400s for a one-bedroom pied-à-terre. Two bedroom condos are available from the high $500s to high $800s, and three bedroom homes start at $1.1 million.

Incredible views and an unequaled location are two reasons buyers prefer the Ritz Carlton; another is the availability of upscale hotel services without actually having hotel guests in the building. The first-rate amenities, as well as the services of the highly trained staff, are devoted completely to homeowners.

Rodriguez called potential buyers to action: “Don’t wait! We may all look back a year from now and see that the bottom occurred around December 2011 to March 2012.”

Inventory is moving quickly among townhomes – so quick that there’s already a contract on one of a limited offering of the eight new townhomes of 58 Sheridan (jwhomes.com), located on Sheridan Drive right off Peachtree. John Weiland Homes and Neighborhoods began construction about a month ago and interest is very high. Introductory pricing begins in the low $400s, and the first new townhomes are scheduled to be complete by the end of this summer.

The private enclave of 58 Sheridan is set in the heart of Buckhead’s historic neighborhoods. Spacious plans offer two or three bedrooms with thoughtful architectural details. Select homes also feature rooftop terraces, some with coveted views of Buckhead. Early buyers have the opportunity to personalize their interiors at John Wieland’s New Home Design Studio with the help of a dedicated designer, and all new townhomes are protected by the exclusive Wieland 5 to 20-year warranty.

Michelle Horstemeyer, Division President for John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, echoed the message that “The Buckhead market is one of the strongest in the city. My advice is to buy now, while interest rates are low and selection is best.”

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