Market Spotlight: Atlanta | Think Realty | A Real Estate of Mind
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Market Spotlight: Atlanta

A southern market that is anything but overheated

RentRange®, an industry leader in market data and analytics for the single-family rental (SFR) housing industry, found in its recent data report that the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area (Atlanta MSA) is a large-sized market that has been steadily growing within its means. The market is one of the most affordable in the U.S. and offers stability in the uncertain economic environment with low downside risk. Additionally, it currently offers a balance of appreciating properties with good cash flow for buy-and-hold investors. The Atlanta MSA has been a high-performing market and a favorite amongst investors for many years. It should continue to progress and build upon its existing growth for the foreseeable future.

POPULATION GROWTH

The 2019 Census/ACS data shows the Atlanta MSA is the 9th largest MSA in the U.S. with just over 6 million residents. This metro area added nearly 75,000 residents between 2018 and 2019 (a 1.2 percent increase), and in the previous five years increased 7.6 percent with over 425,000 new residents.

JOB MARKET

The Atlanta MSA economy is the 10th largest in the U.S. Although it has taken a hit due to COVID-19 related issues, the overall job market is still one of the top markets for diverse professional and high-tech jobs. As many as 16 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here, including Home Depot, UPS, Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.

The favorable business climate and ample opportunities in various industries has helped Atlanta become one of the fastest-growing labor markets in the U.S. Low cost of living and a still affordable rental and housing market will continue to attract employers and new residents.

Like all major metropolitan areas, the pandemic continues to affect the Atlanta MSA. According to the BLS MSA-level Employment Report (through May 2020), the Atlanta MSA has lost nearly 10 percent or 283,000 jobs between February and May. Some job industries have been more resilient, but this represents nearly the entire job gains from the last five years.

The June 2020 BLS National jobs report was better than anticipated, showing hope for a rapid labor market recovery. National statistics indicate the worst is over with a 3.6 percent (4.8M) net increase and a 21 percent bounce in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Job categories in the Atlanta MSA through May 2020 are as follows.

Industry Group May 2020 Employment Share of Jobs Vs Feb 2020 1yr % chg 5 yr chg 5 yr % chg
Trade, Transportation, and Utilities

572,000

21.1%

(32,300)

-4.38%

19,000

9.28%

Professional and Business Services

497,400

18.4%

(51,200)

-8.82%

900

10.49%

Education and Health Services

353,100

13.0%

(31,800)

-4.28%

32,500

20.06%

Government

326,100

12.0%

(12,600)

-3.12%

3,500

4.99%

Leisure and Hospitality

203,200

7.5%

(98,900)

-34.43%

(70,000)

10.58%

Financial Activities

173,200

6.4%

(5,400)

-1.98%

11,900

10.73%

Manufacturing

151,400

5.6%

(20,700)

-11.93%

(3,100)

11.39%

Construction

125,800

4.7%

(3,900)

-3.70%

18,600

20.9%

Information

90,200

3.3%

(11,100)

-9.44%

(3,400)

8.23%

Other Services

88,700

3.3%

(15,600)

-14.55%

(7,800)

-8.08%

Mining and Logging

1,600

0.1%

100

0.00%

200

14.29%

TOTALS

2,710,100

 

(283,400)

 

21,100

 

 

UNEMPLOYMENT

The Atlanta MSA hit a record low unemployment rate of 2.6 percent in November 2019. Due to shutdowns, the unemployment rate spiked to 12.7 percent by April. Reopening the economy has restored many temporary layoffs, bringing the unemployment back down to 10.3 percent in May. This is just shy of the maximum unemployment measured in the great recession of 10.6 percent in 2010. RentRange analysts forecast an end-of-year unemployment rate of sevent to eight percent for the market.

HOUSEHOLD INCOME

According to 2018 ACS data, the various industries in the Atlanta MSA provide a median household income of $64,766, ranking the metro 65th in the country. Incomes are also slightly above the national median income of $63,688. Metro incomes have enjoyed a 4.9 percent increase vs. 2017 ($61,733) and a 14.4 percent increase over the 2013 household income of $56,605.

Information and statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data, Department of Labor report, Census/ACS Tables and RentRange® data sources.

HOME PRICE METRICS

Atlanta Home Values through April 2020

Atlanta-IndexTrend-HPI-RPI-Emp-HHIThe multi-index trend shows the 2008-2012 recessionary effects on home prices (blue line) in the Atlanta market were significant, dropping over 30 percent over four years. The Atlanta housing market has nearly doubled in price since the lows in 2012, helped by a steadily increasing job market and rising wages.

In June 2020, the median single-family home value in the Atlanta MSA was $268,000 and has averaged nearly eight percent year-over-year growth since 2012. In the last year, home value appreciation has slowed to only 0.5 percent year-over-year.

Rental rates for single-family homes (orange line) had only a minor five percent decrease over the recessionary period but stayed flat for many years. In 2015, the rental market turned upward alongside the home price trend, rising nearly seven percent per year.

Notably, income growth (teal line) has been strong in the last five years, supporting the increases in home and rent prices.

Atlanta MSA Home Price Forecast through 2021

Pent-up demand, historically low interest rates, and below average inventory has led to home price increases between May and June of nearly one percent. Listing volume has increased as sellers gain confidence in home values and their ability to find a replacement home, but for-sale listings are still down by nearly 15 percent YoY.

Coming into 2020, the Atlanta SFR market has been steadily performing, supported by the robust economy creating new jobs and wage increases. Prices will remain supported in the near term due to reduced inventory, historically low mortgage interest rates, seasonal demand, and the improving buyer sentiment from reopening the economy.

Conversely, new outbreaks of the virus in July have caused Atlanta’s mayor to recently roll back the city to Phase One of the reopening mandate. Continued restrictions threaten to stagnate the economy again and create uncertainty for potential buyers. After the initial surge of buyers in early summer, demand will begin to decrease due to attrition, increased qualifications for loan approval, employment uncertainty, and reduction in wages.

We forecast supply-and-demand to be evenly balanced in the summer months, leading to flat or moderate price growth.

Q3 2020 Forecast: +0% to +2%

Heading into winter of 2020/21 – Medical professionals continue to warn of a further resurgence in cases in the fall-winter flu-season period, which could restrict the economy and damper consumer sentiment further. Those who do not qualify for a forbearance extension or loan-mod may affect prices by adding inventory at discounted prices.

The tighter lending restrictions, a slow recovery for the job market, seasonal slowing of market demand, and increasing defaults from non-GSE loans are challenges that will weigh on real estate prices. Buyers and investors will be expecting to find deals at a discount, and this sentiment will put downward pressure on prices.

Demand will continue to shift towards the suburbs which will support current prices, while more densely populated areas will see less demand and price reductions.

Q4 2020 – Q1 2021 Forecast: -8% to -2%

Spring/Summer of 2021 should show improvement. A vaccine may not be widely available, but public awareness and precautions will help keep cases under control for the economy and employment to build. Wages will stay flat or decrease slightly as the economy ramps up. Mortgage interest rates will stay low through next year, and any dip in prices should encourage renewed demand for homebuyers and investors.

Demand will stay elevated in the suburban areas which will help increase prices, while demand in the more populous areas will be muted leading to flat or marginal price growth.

Q2-Q4 2021 Forecast: +0% to +5%

Disclaimer: The variability around this forecast is wide and dependent upon data available as of June 2020. The severity and duration of the COVID-19 epidemic, as well as the response of the public and policymakers, continues to change daily.

Rental Rates

As of May 2020, the average three-bedroom, SFR home in the Atlanta MSA is $1,460/mo. Metro area one-year change for a three-bedroom detached SFR is up 6.1 percent, which is an $85 annual increase. Rents for single-family homes have rapidly appreciated 33 percent over the last five years, 6.1 percent year over year, and have come up another 1.8 percent between April and May 2020.

Atlanta-3map-Rent-Yield-HPI

Zip-code level three-bedroom SFR rents have a wide range of $1,050 to $2,300 across the metro.

Atlanta ranks 7th in the U.S. for five-year SFR rental price increases with a 33 percent gain. More expensive areas have seen moderate appreciation of 15 to 20 percent, while less expensive areas show larger increases up to 35 to 40 percent.

Even with aggressive rent increases over the last several years, the Atlanta MSA rent-to-income ratio still ranks as the 17th most affordable rental market, coming in at 25.2 percent – substantially below the national average of 32 percent. Rent-to-income ratios nearest to the city range between 30 and 40 percent, as these areas have a larger segment of low-wage earners. Suburban areas show a moderate rent-to-income of 20 to 30 percent.

Though many areas of the market are affordable, a large cohort of the rental population is suddenly unemployed. Extended unemployment benefits expire at the end of July unless additional stimulus measures are passed. State eviction suspensions are set to expire July 14th in Georgia, which could leave a significant number of vacancies.

WHERE DO RENTS GO FROM HERE?

Atlanta Rental Rates Prediction 2020
Positives for the market include comparatively low rent vs. income ratios and the momentum of the strong economy bringing in new residents. Rental increases have been in-trend with wage growth to create a stable rental price environment.

Risks stem from the large number of lower-income jobs affected by the spiking unemployment, and tenants may struggle to keep up with payments. Increased evictions will add more vacant inventory. Economic effects have increased demand for affordable housing and Section 8 subsidized rentals. High-end rentals will see a drop in demand as some areas are less expensive to own than rent, which could reduce rental demand heading into the peak summer/fall seasons.

Q3 2020 Rent Price Forecast: 0% to +3%

Late fall and winter months are typically seasonal low points. If home prices dip during this time, more demand could be lost due to low interest rates providing opportunities for renters to convert to homeowners. Unemployment may remain high and put further downside pressure on rents. Increases in COVID-19 cases should not affect rental prices directly but could slow the employment recovery leading to continued evictions and elevated vacancy rates.

Q4 2020 – Q1 2021 Rent Price Forecast: -10% to -5%

The single-family rental market will see increased demand as people migrate away from multifamily property classes. Until employment and wages recover, rental rates will see minimal appreciation similar to the stagnated period between 2010-2015. If the virus issues abate and all phases of businesses can return to full capacity, this will lead to accelerated rental price recovery.

Q2-Q4 2021 Rent Price Forecast: -3% to +3%

CONCLUSIONS

Atlanta has been a favorite target for investors since the last recession. Our forecast for the near and long-term is that Atlanta is and will continue to be a great market for investment, even with the challenges of COVID-19. The local economy is very well balanced across a mix of industries leading to excellent pre-COVID-19 year-to-year increases in population, jobs and wages.

It is a steady, performing market that provides investors with a balanced opportunity for equity appreciation supported by rental cash flow with a low downside risk. Yields are also at a comparatively high rate of 8 to 12 percent.

The area has shown strong home price appreciation in the past five years, yet many suburban areas remain very affordable with median prices between $200 and $250 thousand. It’s also benefited from a steady increase in wage and employment growth, so the market is not overheated.

While the rental market is strong with below average rent-to-income ratios, rental prices may see a short-term dip. Multifamily rentals will be more adversely affected by decreased demand and a longer recovery. The SFR rental market should recover quickly which provides investors with abundant cashflow opportunities.

Be aware that homebuyers seeking affordability, space, and reduction in virus exposure are driving interest from the city out to the suburbs. Also, rental and home prices will flatten or marginally decrease if the economic downturn continues in the next one to two years.

Fred Heigold III is the senior data analyst at Altisource® / RentRange®, an industry leader in market data and analytics for the single-family rental housing industry.