You asked, we answered: 34 things you probably don’t know about Atlanta

Why is it so hard to buy a starter home in the city?

We asked our managing editor:

I’m in my late 20s, newly married, no kids. My husband and I both work. The two of us—plus our dog, cat, and 25 potted plants—have outgrown our 750-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in Midtown. So, last year, we thought it was time to find a place we could call our own. A mortgage for a median-priced house would cost roughly the same as our rent, plus we’d be building equity. We’d managed to save some money for a down payment, but we also had debt—in my case, $26,000 in student loans.

After you decide you want to buy a home, you have to figure out where. Kids are not in our immediate future, but homes in good school districts tend to hold their value. We also wanted to be ITP, preferably walking distance to a park or a coffee shop or a bar. Turns out, we could afford just one of those two things, so we chose the latter. Otherwise, we had only a few nonnegotiables: a yard, a safe neighborhood, a guest bedroom, two bathrooms. We settled on southwest Atlanta, zip code 30310, where, according to’s Director of Economic Research Javier Vivas, one in four available homes fit our three-bedroom, $300,000 criteria.

A few months into lurking on real-estate sites filled with Craftsman bungalows, investor-fied moderns, and fixer-uppers, I found a dreamy midcentury modern in Westwood Terrace. Before I could find an agent, someone offered the full $380,000 asking price. And so went our initiation into late 2018’s seller’s market, where homes in some neighborhoods stayed on the market a median 14 days and sold for near-full listing prices.

Another six months would pass before we’d make our first offer, in Westview. (Just 91 percent of asking, the offer was promptly rejected.) Our second, in May, had everything: hardwood floors, a quarter-acre yard for my garden and my dog, close to a grocery store and my office downtown. The asking price was $310,000. We offered $6,000 over. But purported termites, mold, and powder post beetles killed it for us; we backed out on the last day of due diligence, eating the $700 in inspection fees. The next month, we toured a $233,000 house that went pending during our drive home. In July, we made what would be our final bid, $15,000 over on a $265,000 house. An investor offered $300,000 cash. (And, adding insult to injury, put it up for rent: $1,775 a month, $700 more than what our mortgage would have been.) We threw up our arms.

The median sales price in our preferred neighborhood is $262,000, compared to the city’s $377,000. But the area where we were searching was transforming practically overnight, thanks to the BeltLine, the Lee+White mixed-use development, and, most recently, a proposed $350-million Mall at West End overhaul. Speculators had taken over. In 30310, more than half the home sales listed a corporate entity on the deed, compared to 23 percent in the metro area and 13 percent nationally.

Our unsatisfying reality: There are starter homes in metro Atlanta—10,212 to be exact—but we have to be willing to compromise on location or quality. Otherwise, we’ll just have to wait and skip the starter home altogether. Millennials are hitting milestones—having kids, buying homes—later. Those extra years of saving (aided likely by generous parents) have enabled them to put aside more money and buy their “forever homes.” Lucky them.

This article appears in our November 2019 issue.