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The secret behind Atlanta’s housing affordability woes

by Peter Thomas Ricci

Housing affordability is a major issue, and there’s one trend in particular that’s making it worse

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It’s no secret that housing affordability is a major concern for U.S. homebuyers, but a new report from RealtyTrac has underscored just how pronounced the problem is here in Metro Atlanta.

According to RealtyTrac’s latest Housing Affordability Index, since bottoming in the post-boom marketplace, Metro Atlanta’s counties have all seen far higher price appreciation than wage growth. Through 2016’s first quarter, here is how the two metrics’ trends have diverged:

  • In Fulton County, the median sales price has risen 77 percent, while weekly wages have fallen 10 percent.
  • In Gwinnett, the median sales price increase of 79 percent is far above the 2 percent rise in wages.
  • Wage growth was down 5 percent in Cobb, while median price has jumped 56 percent.
  • In DeKalb, the 6 percent decline in wages has been greatly outpaced by the 79 percent jump in median price.

If there was any positive takeaway from RealtyTrac’s analysis, it was that Metro Atlanta homes remain more affordable than their historic averages. For instance, in Fulton and Gwinnett, it requires 24.8 and 26.9 percent of average wages to buy a home, respectively, compared to the historic averages of 24.8 and 28.4 percent.

The Housing Affordability Quagmire

Nationally, the situation is similarly dispiriting. Over the last year, RealtyTrac reported, 9 percent of all county housing markets are unaffordable by historic standards, up from 2 percent in 2015’s first quarter. Furthermore, home price growth is outpacing wage growth in 60 percent of U.S. counties.

Coupled with alarming reports on American savings, RealtyTrac’s analysis suggests that fewer and fewer Americans will be able to handle the financial demands of homeownership, which has troubling implications for the market’s future.

Here is a more specific breakdown on Atlanta’s counties:

County Q1 2016 Median Sales Price Change in Median Sales Price, Since Bottoming Change in Avg Weekly Wage, Since Bottoming Pct of Avg Wages to Buy Historic Pct of Wages to Buy
Cherokee $192,000 37% 0% 39.1% 40.7%
Cobb $185,000 56% -5% 27.2% 29.6%
DeKalb $135,700 79% -6% 20.5% 22.5%
Douglas $116,900 56% 6% 25.7% 30.7%
Forsyth $261,500 40% -2% 43.7% 44.4%
Fulton $212,000 77% -10% 24.8% 24.8%
Gwinnett $175,000 79% 2% 26.9% 28.4%
Henry $135,150 50% -1% 29.3% 31.1%
Paulding $140,000 61% 0% 32.5% 33.7%

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