Number of home sales drops in metro Atlanta in August

The housing market’s long-running trend of fewer sales and higher prices has intensified, adding to worries about affordability in the region, according to a report from the Atlanta Realtors Association.

Last month, there were 5,062 home sales in the region’s 11 central counties, down 9.7 percent from the level of August last year, according to the report.

The median price of a home sold last month was $268,000. That is up 8.1 percent from a year ago – more than twice as fast as average incomes have been rising.

The number of sales fell 14 percent from July to August. A slower market is normal in late summer, when school is back in session and not as many people move. However, in an expanding economy, year over year sales are typically up.

That’s not happening because of a scarcity of inventory – that is, the number of homes being listed for sale – especially at the lower ends of the market that might appeal to potential first-time homebuyers.

There are some efforts to build smaller, less-expensive homes, but much of the new construction is in the higher tiers of the market.

Last month, overall inventory represented about three months of sales – about half the level of a balanced market. That shortage gives the whip hand to sellers since potential buyers often find themselves bidding against each other for homes in desirable areas.

Price increases also encourage house-flipping or short-term investing, which in turn, can push prices higher.

The drought of supply may be slowly ending, said Bill Murray, president of the association. “I see inventory creeping up. And if you see it creep up, you’ll see price increases slow down.”

Although the housing crash and recession were a decade ago, the crisis paralyzed homebuilding for years and the market has not come close to making up for the many thousands of homes that were not built.

Of Atlanta’s core counties, sales in Fulton County – which includes both Buckhead and Alpharetta — brought the highest prices, with a median of $369,000. Gwinnett was the only county with more than 1,000 sales during the month, according to the association’s data, which was compiled by First Multiple Listing Service.

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