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Best Cities for Homeownership in Georgia

The majority of Georgia residents have put down roots in the state by purchasing a home; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63% of Georgia residents are homeowners. The median monthly housing costs (e.g., mortgages, utilities, taxes and insurance) for those with a mortgage is $1,351, and the median home value is $158,400, per the most recent figures available.

But how much has homeownership really paid off for Georgia residents over the past few years? That depends on where you might live in the state.

To uncover the best spots for homeownership in the Peach State, LendingTree combed through data points including home value appreciation, average commute times and unemployment rates. Results include both metro and micro areas, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey for 2013 through 2017. Here’s what we found.

Key findings:

  • The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area is the best place for homeownership in Georgia. This metro area has the highest median home value of $189,700, high home appreciation (9.65%) and decreasing housing costs (-5.51%) between 2013 and 2017. However, this metro area also has the longest average commute time of all the cities surveyed, at 31.4 minutes.
  • The Thomaston micro area ranked last for homeownership in Georgia, partly due to its low median home value ($93,500), high unemployment (11.2%) and declining home value between 2013 and 2017 (-1.89%).
  • The Cordele micro area is the second-worst place for homeownership in Georgia. It has a low median home value ($96,600), the highest unemployment rate on the list (14.8%) and plummeting home values (-21.46%) from 2013 to 2017. The only reason it did not rank last was its short average commute time of 18.8 minutes and decreasing housing costs from 2013 to 2017 (-2.77%).

The best cities for homeownership in Georgia

1. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area

The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area lands the top spot for Georgia homeowners. The median home value here is $189,700, and values appreciated by 9.65% from 2013 to 2017. At the same time, the cost of housing has decreased significantly, falling more than 5.5% between 2013 and 2017. The 7% unemployment rate in 2017, however, is on the higher end of the spectrum when compared to the other cities on this list. The average commute time is also the highest on our top 10 list, at 31.4 minutes.

2. Gainesville metro area

Set northeast of Atlanta on the edge of Lake Lanier, Gainesville earns a homeowner score of 68.3. Home values there are about $12,000 less than you might find in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area. Commute times are lower, too, at an average of 26.3 minutes. And home values have been on the rise — to the tune of 4.65% from 2013 to 2017. At the same time, the cost of housing has decreased by 3.68%.

3. Athens-Clarke County metro area

Athens-Clarke County is located about 70 miles east of Atlanta. Home values in the metro area are comparable to those in Gainesville, coming in at $173,500, and they appreciated at 3.27% between 2013 and 2017. The 2017 unemployment rate, however, was on the higher side, at 6.9%. The area does offer a combination of increasing home values and decreasing housing costs, though by a slimmer margin than you might find in Gainesville or the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area; the decrease from 2013 to 2017 was less than 1%.

4. St. Marys micro area

The St. Marys micro area is situated along the east coast of Georgia, beside Cumberland Island. Residents enjoy relatively short commutes to work, averaging 22.8 minutes. And housing costs have decreased by the widest margin of any of the top 10 cities on this list, falling by nearly 8% from 2013 to 2017. That said, it’s only one of two areas on this list that has experienced home value depreciation between 2013 and 2017; values fell by 1.33%. The area also had the highest 2017 unemployment rate compared to the other top 10 cities, at 8.2%.

5. Chattanooga metro area

Located on the Tennessee-Georgia border, Chattanooga earns a homeowner score of 61.9. Much like some of the higher-scoring cities on this list, home value appreciation (9.15%) has outpaced housing costs (2.3%). The unemployment rate is comparatively average, standing at 6% in 2017. And the same could be said for the commute — residents spend an average of 23.2 minutes getting to and from work. At $159,800, the area features a lower median home value than the top four cities in Georgia.

6. Waycross micro area

Waycross is a landlocked micro area north of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It boasts a comparatively low unemployment rate of 5.2%, as well as decreasing housing costs, which fell by nearly 4% from 2013 to 2017. The area also has the lowest median home value of the top 10 cities and is the only one to dip below the $100,000 mark in recent years. Compared to other areas on our list, home value appreciation, at a median of 3% from 2013 to 2017, isn’t as impressive. The average commute time comes in at a reasonable 22 minutes.

7. Rome metro area

With a homeowner score of 60.6, Rome (located near the Alabama border in the northwest corner of Georgia) is the last area in the state to score in the 60- to 70-point range. Housing costs here are relatively stable, rising by 0.36% in recent years. The home value appreciation from 2013 to 2017 was comparable to that of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area, at 9.42%. Median home values, however, are considerably lower, coming in at $138,200. And the 2017 unemployment rate was fairly high, at 7.5%.

8. Douglas micro area

Douglas is located in the central southern region of Georgia. By far the most impressive stat the micro area can boast is its home value appreciation, which increased by a whopping 22.11% from 2013 to 2017. And while housing costs have also gone up during that time (12.67%), those increases haven’t outpaced home values. Even with that hefty appreciation boost, however, home values aren’t too lofty, standing at about $112,000 in 2017. When it comes to commute times, the area scores well: The average is just 20 minutes, the lowest on our top 10 list.

9. Brunswick metro area

Ending with a final homeowner score of 59.4 (tied with Warner Robins) is Brunswick, a coastal area located just north of Jekyll Island. The cost of housing there is on the decline, falling by 1.82% from 2013 to 2017. Home values, however, at a median of $156,900, are higher than you might find in an area like Rome or Douglas. However, Brunswick is one of two top 10 cities to see home values decline, falling -2.24%. The area also has a relatively high unemployment rate of 7.2%. On the bright side, the average commute is just 21.9 minutes.

10. Warner Robins metro area

Completing the list of top Georgia cities for homeowners is the Warner Robins metro area. It’s located south of Atlanta, in the central region of Georgia. As mentioned above, its final score ties it with Brunswick. However, there are points of differentiation that homeowners should be aware of. For example, the unemployment rate (7.8%) is slightly higher, while the median home value ($144,600) is slightly lower. On the plus side, Warner Robins does have a much better home value appreciation stat: While Brunswick experienced depreciation of 2.24% from 2013 to 2017, Warner Robins’ home values increased by 5.39%.

Homebuying tips for Georgia

If you decide that Georgia is the best state for you to call home, there are a few things you should know about buying a house here. For example, if you’re looking to settle down in the southern region of the state, it’s vital to be aware of the costs of natural-disaster-related damage and how that will impact you and your home. In 2017, for example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the region experienced at least $100 million worth of storm-related damage. So appropriate home and flood insurance would be an absolute must for those residents.

And for those looking to move into one of the top 10 areas in the state, home values will play an enormous role in your decision. Traditional wisdom says you should put 20% as your down payment. Based on the median home value ($158,400), that amounts to $31,680. But if you are a first-time homebuyer, there are options to circumvent that and start with a smaller down payment. In addition to federal programs, such as VA and FHA loans, there’s also the Georgia Dream Homeownership Program, which offers affordable mortgages to qualified applicants and can assist with the down payment, lowering the bar to just $1,000. (The program is also open to those who have owned a home in the past, if they are purchasing in a targeted area.)

Aside from the usual closing costs and origination fees you might get with a traditional mortgage, there are other costs you should be aware of when considering a home purchase. For example, your lender will likely hire an appraiser to determine the actual value of the house, as it may differ from the list price, and you’ll pay the appraisal fee. That usually costs between $300 and $500. And you’ll want to do an inspection to make sure there aren’t any serious issues, such as structural or water damage.

Potential homebuyers should also be aware that Georgia requires a real estate attorney to conduct the closing process. You should also consider external costs, such as homeowners association fees, title insurance, property taxes, utilities, repairs and maintenance.

Think about getting pre-approved before you start on your house-hunting journey. This will indicate to sellers that you’re serious, which could help make the process faster and easier.

You can check mortgage rates for Georgia here.

Methodology:

The methodology for this study was simple and straightforward.

1: Collect metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) and micropolitan statistical areas from the U.S. Census Bureau using 2017 population data.

2: Each MSA and micropolitan statistical area was ranked on a scale from 36 (Best) to 1 (Worst) for five different metrics. Those metrics are:

Median Home Value (36-Highest Value, 1-Lowest Value)

Unemployment Rate (36-Lowest Rate, 1-Highest Rate)

Average Commute Time (36-Shortest Time, 1-Longest Time)

Median Home Value Appreciation (2013-2017) (36-Greatest Appreciation, 1-Smallest Appreciation)

Median Change in Yearly Housing Costs (2013-2017) (36-Smallest Cost Change, 1-Greatest Positive Cost Change) — The formula for this metric is:

(((Monthly Housing Costs for 2017 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2017))/ ((Monthly Housing Costs for 2013 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2013))-1)

3: An average score was then calculated for each MSA based upon the scores received for each metric.

4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical areas were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 36 (Worst) based on their average scores.

5: All metrics were ranked equally.

Data:

All data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. More information on where the data came from is provided below:

2017 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2017 Unemployment Rate and Median Commute Time

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Selected Economic Characteristics – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2013 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
 

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