Million-$ Homes Sell – At a Slower Pace

By Christopher Quinn for the AJC

Any story told at a neighborhood party about how much a local home buyer saved purchasing at today’s rock-bottom prices will pale next to Richard L. Jackson’s.

Jackson bought a home at a $35.5 million discount. He paid $9.5 million last July for the foreclosed-upon 47,000-square-foot mansion on 72 manicured Forsyth County acres, which once listed for $45 million.

“I felt like it was the steal of the century,” said Jackson, founder of Jackson Healthcare, which provides doctors and other staff to hospitals across the nation.

The estate, called Le Rêve — French for the dream — was one of 347 homes costing a million dollars or more that sold in eight metro Atlanta counties through August, according to Coldwell Banker NRT Development Advisors. That is more than one high-dollar home a day sold, despite the worst housing market in decades.

High-end sales have been hurt, but not quite as much as average-priced home sales, data reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

In 2007, 803 homes costing a million-plus bucks sold in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton, Cherokee, Forsyth and Fayette counties. Today’s monthly sales pace is 50 percent of that.

But the sales pace for average priced homes — those between $150,000 and $300,000 — dropped 63 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to numbers supplied by Kennesaw-based SmartNumbers, a real estate tracking firm.

Another notable comparison: About 6 percent of $1 million-plus homes on the market in this area are listed as foreclosures, while foreclosure made up an estimated 38 percent of recent home sales in Georgia.

High-dollar homes do take longer to sell, and sellers are taking considerable discounts.

“This is a buyer’s market, and they know it,” said Jenny Pruitt the CEO of Atlanta Fine Homes/Sotheby’s International Realty, which has 192 million-plus dollar homes listed for sale.

“Buyers are willing to view many houses and wait for the right deal before putting their money down,” she said.

Frank Norton Jr., of Gainesville’s real estate Norton Agency, sifted numbers that show there is a 41-month supply of the top-dollar homes on the market, adding that average time-on-market is three times that of smaller homes.

Witness the Buckhead home of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, sold in September.

“The list price was $8 million, and it ended up selling for $3.6 million three years later,” Pruitt said.

Troy Stowe of Beacham & Co., the real estate agent who sold Le Le Rêve, said, “It is very challenging and difficult to sell now.”

He remembers fondly the go-go year of 2007, when he sold nearly a dozen million-plus homes.

“We were selling for the asking price, and then buyers were adding onto it,” Stowe said. “People would buy a home for $2 million or $3 million, and then put in a $200,000 pool or a $100,000 home theater.

“Today, it’s totally different. Buyers’ perceptions are that they can steal a house. Now, it is patient money,” Stowe said.

And buyers are looking for value in every dollar they spend on a home.

Showing Le Rêve was not easy, but it was fun, he said.

“Every time I showed it, it would take four hours,” Stowe said.

How much genuine interest was there in a home with an asking price of $16.7 million?

“A bunch, because of what it was,” Stowe said. “People were flying in private jets and helicopters to see this house.”

For Jackson, the eventual buyer, the process took more than a year and began as a search for property at current bargain prices where he and his wife could build a home and keep horses.

They live in a $10 million house in Sandy Springs. But when his agent told him about Forsyth mansion, whose price had already been discounted to $16.5 million, he made a lowball offer. After months of dickering, they agreed on the price, and Jackson bought the furnishings for an additional $2 million.

“If they had given me that house unfurnished, I wouldn’t have taken it,” Jackson said. He did not want to spend the next three years shopping to furnish it, he quipped.

Unlike with low and average housing price points, there are no investors at these kinds of prices, Stowe said.

“It is a lifestyle. Luxury property is not an investment,” he said.

Jennifer Attaway of Buckhead was looking for a lifestyle change when moving to Buckhead about two years ago.

Attaway, formerly from Sugarloaf County Club in Gwinnett, and her family shopped for a year before buying their $3.6 million home.

“We moved to be closer to private schools,” she said. “And my husband and I love to go out and eat, and in Gwinnett County we were so limited in the choice of restaurants and shopping. For me to go shopping at Lenox was 45 minutes one-way.”

She immediately loved the Buckhead home’s French-inspired design and the quality of its construction materials such as the limestone exterior, slate roof and copper gutters.

“And I loved the location. We could literally walk to the Saint Regis,” the luxury hotel with fine dining and afternoon tea, she said.

But now, she says, the 9,000 square feet is feeling a little cramped with five kids, three dogs and live-in nanny. So the Attaways are looking again and hope to sell the house they have improved with high-end security and landscaping for $4 million.

Pruitt, one of Atlanta’s best known sellers of high-end homes, knows the market is tough, but there are financial bright spots she thinks are helping sales, prices and interest rates.

“I am finding they are jumping back into the market and taking advantage of the low interest rates and realistic prices,” she said. “I think the buyers are tired of waiting on the sidelines to buy their dream home.”

“There is hardly any week that we don’t have a couple of million and over sold when we call out our sales during our sales meetings.”

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posted: Nov 10, 2011 | No Responses

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