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Metro Atlanta home prices have fallen to the lowest levels in more than a decade, sinking under the weight of distressed properties.

The region this spring ranked 15th in the nation in foreclosure filings, with 27,250 properties (1 in 79) in trouble, foreclosure data provider RealtyTrac reported.

At the same time, home sales declined 34.1 percent year-over-year in March, to 2,404, but showed steady improvement in the past quarter, according to the Atlanta Board of Realtors.

The median sales price of a home in March for the Atlanta metro market fell 12.9 percent, to $99,000, from a year ago, according to the latest report by the National Association of Realtors, while sales declined 6.5 percent year-over-year.

Home prices continue to be squeezed by a glut of distressed properties throughout the 11-county region, which has been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis.

The result: Home values in the Atlanta area are sitting at the lowest levels since the end of 1999, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller Home Price Index released in April. Statewide, the median sales price fell 10.5 percent, to $106,538, the Georgia Association of Realtors said.

NAR attributed part of the drop in sales to the end of the federal homebuyer tax credit program, which boosted sales last spring.

The Atlanta Board of Realtors reported that the median sales price inched up 0.3 percent to $185,000 in March. The region saw first-quarter sales rise 23.3 percent since the start of the year.

NAR and local board data can differ because of differences in methodology, including housing types and geographic coverage. Despite the different methodologies, there often are parallels between percentage changes over time.

"The number of sales has increased over the last three months. We have every reason to believe the numbers are going to rise in the next couple of months," said Mitch Kaminer, president-elect of the Atlanta Board of Realtors.

"The market is stable. We're waiting for things to start coming back up. Absorption of foreclosures and short sales will start that ball up."

David Jones, associate broker at Re/Max Metro Atlanta, said he foresees a steady market with no significant price swings in the next two to five years. "We are going to remain bumping around within a 5 percent range, plus or minus."

Like many fast-growing communities hit by the real estate downtown, a backlog of distressed properties continues to hamper the Atlanta housing market. Bank-owned homes (REOs) sold for a median price of $71,000, down 18.1 percent from $80,400 in March 2010, the Realtor board reported.

At the same time, the median price of foreclosure properties sold at trustee sales was $121,000, down 2.6 percent from $124,192 a year ago.

"The (home) prices are distressed. What I'm seeing is a lot of foreclosures and short sales. There is so little on the market that is not a foreclosure or short sale," said Dale Fiscina, owner/broker of Re/Max of Buckhead at Brookhaven.

As a result, about 60 percent of her agents have become certified to handle distressed properties. "We still have a lot of foreclosures to clean out in the market."

In 2010, lenders repossessed 38,535 homes in Atlanta, a 21 percent jump from the previous year, RealtyTrac reported. Among the nation's 20 largest metro areas, Atlanta ranked third nationally in foreclosure activity.

REOs accounted for 40.5 percent of all area sales last year, according to RealValuator. The median sales price of REOs was $79,900 in 2010, virtually unchanged from the year before. However, total REO sales year-over-year dropped 15.5 percent to 19,220.

Atlanta real professionals point out that distressed properties are most prevalent in neighborhoods with homes priced under $150,000, which accounts for more than half of the listings in the metro area. The housing market is holding up in more desirable neighborhoods with top-rated schools.

Inventory remains a concern among local real estate agents and brokers. For-sale inventory has dipped from 31,736 in September 2010 to 29,400 in April, a 7.4 percent drop, according to statistics compiled by Movoto, a Web-based real estate brokerage. Listing prices slipped 4.2 percent over that same time period.

Re/Max's monthly Atlanta market report for March pegged the current active inventory at nearly 48,000 properties, down 29.2 percent from a year ago. In the past year, the number of days on the market has increased 1.1 percent to 94 days.

"There are not a lot of (conventional properties) out there," Fiscina said. "A lot of people who don't have to sell haven't put their houses on the market."

David Jones agrees. He is handling half the number of listings than normal for this time of the year. "There's not enough inventory. But there are so few buyers out there that it's not reflecting in price increases."

Local economists and real estate professionals like Fiscina and Kaminer believe the housing market may be bottoming out and poised for a turnaround, especially after the inventory of distressed properties whittles down.

Georgia State University's Economic Forecasting Center predicts the Atlanta region will generate 37,800 new jobs in 2011 and an additional 107,900 jobs by the end of 2013. Housing construction permits are predicted to increase by 32.7 percent this year and by 36.6 percent in 2012. The center described the growth as modest compared to the "go-go" 1990s.

For now, consumers are waiting for positive economic signs. "There are a lot of pent-up buyers out there ready to move," Fiscina said.

The winners will be entry-level buyers and those who can afford to move up to a larger home.

"There are factors that are overwhelming in favor of buyers," Jones said.

Atlanta market data

Atlanta metro area


Population (2010)


Population growth (2000-10)


Total closed sales (2010)


% change closed sales (March '09-March '10)


% change closed sales (March '10-March '11)


Sales rate per person (per total population, 2010)

1 sale per 111 people

Median sales price (March 2011)


% change median sales price (March '10-March '11)


Foreclosure filings rate (Q1 2011)

1 in 79 units

% of sales REO properties (2010)


% homes affordable to median-income
households (Q4 2010)


% unemployment (March 2011,
not seasonally adjusted)


Walk Score


Rent-vs.-buy ratio (Q1 2011)


Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Atlanta Board of Realtors, National Association of Realtors, RealValuator, Trulia, RealtyTrac, Walk Score, National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo and U.S. Census Bureau.

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