The average sale price of a home in Hall County in 2021 was nearly $417,000, up almost 22% compared to 2020.
Fueled by high demand during the COVID-19 pandemic and a supply shortage, average Hall County home sale prices hit record highs, increasing faster than anywhere else in the state.
Brad Abernathy, principal partner of Abernathy Cochran Real Estate Group, which compiled the data, said these sales weren’t just reflective of expensive lakeside properties. The whole county saw big rises in property values for single-family residences, including townhomes and condos, from downtown Gainesville to South Hall. Only 6.5% of sales were properties worth over $750,000, and 80% of sales were homes $500,000 or less, according to Abernathy Cochran data, compiled through multiple listing services.
But anyone now seeking homes for less than $250,000 is likely out of luck.
“It’s almost impossible if you’re looking in Hall County,” Abernathy said.
In 2016, the average price of a home in the county was just $245,000, Abernathy’s data show, and 10 years ago, the average home sold for less than $150,000.
Total home sales were down slightly, but still near 2020’s historic high mark. About 2,935 homes were sold in the county in 2021. In 2020, 3,083 homes were sold, 400 more homes than 2019.
Hall County’s median sales price, or middle sales number that helps control for high outlier sales, in 2021 was $346,990 which was 21% higher than the previous year, Abernathy Cochran data shows.
Georgia’s median sales price increased 19% to $315,000, and the average sales price increased 17% to $370,698 in November 2021 compared to the previous November, according to the latest available data from Georgia Association of Realtors.
“The real estate market here used to be, you would sell a house to somebody moving from one side of town to the other, one part of the county to the other,” he said. “Nowadays, the market has changed such that we're not just selling to people from one side of town to the other, we're selling people Gainesville and Hall County for the first time, because they're moving here from outside of our area.”
According to data from an internal Norton Agency survey, its agents sold Hall County area homes to people coming from 38 different states and 11 different countries in 2021. Abernathy said he’s never seen so many people move to the area for the first time in his 28 years in real estate.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a contributing factor, but not the whole story.
“A byproduct of COVID is the fact that a lot of employers have figured out how to let their employees telecommute,” said Tommy Howard, vice president and partner at Norton Agency. “So that person that might have been living in Gwinnett County (with) ‘X’ amount of dollars, they might be able to move to a Habersham County or another county that's less expensive.”
Reasons for the national housing boom include low interest rates, a shortage of homes available, and rising construction and land acquisition costs, but Hall County’s appreciation outpaced the rest of the state. The Gainesville metro area has seen the largest percent increase in housing price index, a broad measure of the movement of single-family property prices, of any metro area in the state since the beginning of 2020, increasing by 21.8%, according to Federal Housing Finance Agency data.
“In Georgia, it's just because of the growth of Metro Atlanta, and just the amount of people coming into our state,” Howard said. “It just has to continue to spread out, so it will continue to go to … less dense markets just because that’s where the opportunities are going to be.”
Dianne Hicks, an agent with Red Bow Team in Hall County, said the rapid boom has been a long time coming for Gainesville because of its proximity to Atlanta as the suburbs keep growing outward, and industry has continued to grow in the area. Downtown developments in Gainesville have also driven up the price of nearby properties, Abernathy said.
“Downtown growth and parks and trails and hospital growth and stuff like that is really bringing people downtown,” he said. “We're seeing average sales prices downtown through the roof.”
Strong economic growth is also a factor for Hall County. In the Selig Center for Economic Growth’s end of 2021 report, it predicts the Gainesville metro area’s economic growth will outpace the rest of the state and add 3,200 new jobs in 2022. The report cites planned business expansion projects, growth in the medical and tourism sectors and strong population growth as key factors.
North Georgia may be more attractive to people from expensive markets in other states, because they can get more space for less cost here. This leads to more cash offers that can inflate prices.
“We have people moving here from California and New York,” Hicks said. “They’re used to paying outrageous for just a one bedroom/studio. And then they come in here, and they’re able to pay cash and that beats out a lot of people in our area, because we’re used to our economy. We’re not used to New York economy or California economy.”
If someone buys with cash, and they don’t need a loan from a bank, then they likely won’t need to hire an appraiser, Howard explained.
“You’re, say, coming in from California, you’re willing to pay over asking price,” Howard said. “All you want to do is be able to buy the house.”
A person who is buying a house traditionally, with a loan from a bank, may be more limited, because they’re valuing the home based on the appraisal, he said.
The market may be starting to level out in recent weeks, but the supply of homes in Hall County will remain low.
“Even though inventory is still as low as it was, houses are not selling in hours,” Hicks said. “They're still selling, but it's more like, in a few days. It’s not that cutthroat, try to get a bidding war going.”
But even if the market softens slightly, don’t expect the housing shortage to resolve quickly.
“I don't believe this is a 12 to 18 to 24 months thing,” said Howard, citing supply chain and labor force issues that delayed construction over the past two years. “We're probably going to feel the effects (of) this for the next three to five years. … They don’t have the supplies and they don’t have the people.”