Housing market strong in Forsyth County
Residential real estate in Forsyth County is booming as the fringe of metro Atlanta pushes up Georgia 400.
“We used to be really far out. Now we’re not considered that far out. It’s such a highly desirable place to be right now,” said Tara Locke, Keller Williams real estate agent and Forsyth County resident. “In the past five years, Forsyth County has really made its mark on the national map.”
Buyers are flocking to the county for low property taxes, proximity to Lake Lanier and easy access into the Perimeter via Georgia 400. The tech and startup boom in Alpharetta is just a couple of exits south off Georgia 400. Downtown Atlanta is about 45 minutes away.
And because the majority of residents are transplants to the area, “We all have that bond,” said Locke, president-elect of the 400 North Board of Realtors.
The membership of the 400 North Board of Realtors has grown 18.5 percent in the past year alone, according to its current president, Laury Gardner, of Bella Realty Group. There’s no shortage of work for them. Gardner describes the market growth as traveling in a clockwise pattern around the county. “It’s going kind of gangbusters down in the south,” she said. Next she sees the growth moving into the southwest of the county, then north and lastly to the east along the shores of Lake Lanier.
“People know they don’t need to live on the lake to enjoy it,” she said, adding that this isn’t the case across the lake in Hall and Dawson counties. In Forsyth County, “You can access the lake from pretty much anywhere.”
Tim Hopkins, a Keller Williams agent in Forsyth County since 2004, remembers exactly when he noticed the national mortgage crisis hitting the local market: August 2007. The steep market decline that followed hurt. Dozens of “pipe farms” — half-finished developments — sat abandoned for years.
But the crisis didn’t hit Forsyth County as brutally as other parts of metro Atlanta or the country at large. “We went into a little later and we came out of it sooner,” Hopkins said. In the past two years, the market has sprung to life. At Keller Williams, inventory is up 23 percent compared with last year at this time, Hopkins said, and “We’ve had an increase in the median sales price for nine quarters.”
Residential data collected by First Multiple Listing Service and research firm Metrostudy show a rosy outlook for Forsyth County.
A year and a half ago, homes stayed on the market on average about four months. In June, it was less than two months. Meanwhile, in the same time, the average price per square foot has gradually risen from $91 to $111. The average asking price and closing price are on a path to converge. In June, the average for-sale price was $416,000 and the average selling price was $343,000.
In the more densely populated southern part of the county, Locke reports an average price of $445,000 as of June. One new housing development opening soon in South Forsyth is Traditions, a $178 million, 420-home, master-planned community on 158 acres about a mile and a half from Georgia 400. Homes will be priced at $300,000 to $500,000.
Traditions floor plans are currently being finalized and construction is expected to begin in August, with model homes opening in late fall, according to Kelly Fink, vice president of marketing and online sales at the Providence Group of Georgia, the realty firm handling Traditions.
The ratio of the price at sale to the original listing price is holding steady at 96 percent, with higher percentages reported depending on the type of real estate. “Townhouses are averaging right now at and above the asking price,” Gardner said. She attributes this to the popularity of downsizing and the dearth of available townhouses in Forsyth County.
“There’s really no bottom-feeding going on with land right now,” Gardner said.
Forsyth County is the fastest-growing new homes market and one of the tightest markets overall in metro Atlanta, according to Frank Norton Jr., president of The Norton Agency.
One measure of a tight market is months of inventory, or the length of time it would take to sell the current inventory of homes, given current conditions and no new inventory entering the market. When the Forsyth County market started to pick up in late 2012 to early 2013, the months of inventory plummeted quickly. In January 2013, it was 5.2 months. Six months later, it was 2.8 months. Earlier this summer it was at 3.4 months, still less than half the eight months of inventory Norton said creates a market equilibrium.
If months of inventory drops below three, Norton predicts the Forsyth market could experience a severe shortage and switch quickly from the seller’s market it is now to a “major buyer’s market.”
“The challenge is to keep sustainability,” Norton said. Lenders, appraisers and federal regulators haven’t kept up with the market, particularly a market as strong as Forsyth County.
The lending climate is more than cautious, he said. “It’s the Dark Ages.” A queasiness lingers from the recent up-and-down cycles of the market and lenders are holding back. “It’s the Feds that are holding regulation. Forsyth will have to wait for the rest of the country to catch up.”
65,852 2014 YTD estimate of Forsyth County population, which has steadily increased by more than 5,000 residents since 2010.
7,714 In the first quarter of 2012, Forsyth County vacant developed lots (VDL).
5,040 In the first quarter of 2014, Forsyth County vacant developed lots. (VDLs had dropped by 45 percent.)
2X Annual residential closings more than doubled from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2014.
$343,000 Average price at sale, or 82 percent of the average listing price. Sold prices are going up quickly while listing pricescome down.
Sources: FMLS and Metrostudy