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Pros/Cons: Real Estate Guru Dishes On All Things Buckhead

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Today, Mary Anne Walser, Esq., a Realtor and licensed attorney, answers questions posed by Curbed Atlanta's astute readership last week. Walser was the top individual agent at Keller Williams Buckhead for 2012 and is a member of the esteemed Multi-Million Dollar Club. Topics range from the noise levels around Chastain Park to the attractiveness of Buckhead's public schools. Partake, enjoy, learn ...

Question: I'm curious to know what the top reasons buyers choose Buckhead over points north or south. Also, which neighborhoods within Buckhead do you see as the most competitive with surrounding options?

Marry Anne Walser: Buckhead has a great reputation near and far — and it is known for its high number of wealthy residents. In fact, it contains the zip code 30327, the zip code with the most affluent residents in the state. It also contains our tony shopping district, the Governor's Mansion and some of our highest priced homes. It's very convenient to downtown and Midtown and all major freeways.

The neighborhoods in Buckhead which have the most affordable homes include Collier Hills, Peachtree Park, Channing Valley and Ridgemore Heights — so in that sense, they are more competitive with outlying neighborhoods with respect to lower priced homes. The neighborhoods that are most competitive in terms of stature and prestige include Kingswood and Mount Paran-Northside.

Question: Where do you see the best value appreciation in the next three years in high-rise condos? I'm a young professional looking to buy a 1/1 or 2/2 condo in the next 18 months.

MAW: Keep in mind that there are high-rise condo projects "in the works" — set to spring from the ground (or convert from apartments) as the market gets better. So generally speaking, a single family home is a safer investment if appreciation is what you are looking for. Also keep in mind that your resale is going to be much better for a 2/2 than a 1/1 — since more buyers would prefer having more space.

That said, I see amazing deals in all the highrise condos right now. What you want to look for is the least expensive condo in the most expensive building you can afford — in other words, those foreclosures in the nicest buildings. But also factor in the view/location of that condo. Views are key in highrise condos. So those on the lower floors or with poorer views may not be great deals even if they are low priced. Also look into the Homeowners Association for the building — is it healthy? Do they have good reserves?

Question: I've always liked the Chastain area, especially very near the park. I plan to start house-hunting with my family soon, and I'm torn between there and Ansley Park (also, obviously, near a wonderful park). Is there anything that most people don't know that could persuade us to choose Chastain?

MAW: Wow, you have asked a VERY tough question of me, since I love both of those areas very much! Let me just list what I see as the pros and cons of each relative to one another, and perhaps that will help you:

First, if you're below the $1 million price range, you are more likely to find a home that you can afford with more square footage in the Chastain area — in other words, it's more affordable generally speaking. Where you work is big factor in my mind; many of the executives who work in Midtown or Downtown would prefer to live in Ansley Park because it is much easier to get to; you could even go home for lunch easily if you live there and work in Midtown or Downtown.

Don't forget in Chastain that there is LOTS of activity — which can be good or bad. The good is, you are near the youth sports, the concerts, the art classes, etc. The bad news is that the traffic for those things can be frustrating. If you live too close to Chastain Park, the noise may bother you. None of the homes in Ansley are close enough to Piedmont Park to make the noise much of a problem. Finally, the Ansley Golf Club — if you belong there, Ansley Park is the place to be. There's no comparable "club" in Chastain, although the Capital City Club is nearby on West Paces Ferry.

Question: What's your opinion on the ultra-luxurious high-rises in Buckhead, namely the Sovereign, the Ritz-Carlton Residences, the Residences at Mandarin Oriental and the St. Regis Residences? Which one is your personal favorite and why (location, amenities, floor plans, etc.)? Which building do you think has the most potential in resale value?

MAW: I love them all! But that's not helpful to you, is it? My best advice is to go visit them all and decide for yourself what fits you the best. I personally love the architecture and style of the Sovereign and the Residences at Mandarin Oriental. St. Regis' amenities are unparalleled. In my view, the Ritz Carlton is at the perfect location: easy to get in and out, and yet central to everything.

I have a soft spot for the fact that the Sovereign has large outdoor terraces, and you can have grills and fireplaces on those terraces — a plus that many buildings cannot provide. In terms of resale, again, your best approach is to look for the absolute best deal you can get at this time in the best building you can afford. We are recovering from what I believe is the lowest point in the real estate market we will see in our lifetimes. If you choose carefully and wisely, you cannot go wrong.

Question: I am new to the city and people have told me that Buckhead's elementary schools are the best in the city and middle schools are pretty good too. What happens at North Atlanta High? Do you think the new campus will improve the education system there? Where do all the great students go after middle school? Private schools?

MAW: This is the age old question! Lots of Buckhead residents DO send their kids to private school after elementary school, and even more after middle school. However, the downturn in the economy has been good for our public schools. More children who might have gone to private school in the past are staying in public school longer.

Now, North Atlanta High School gets a bum rap among some, but good students can still get a great education there. You may have heard about the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (or "IB Program"). It's a program for gifted students that is very highly regarded, and North Atlanta has had the program available for years. Add to that a diverse student body and a brand new campus in the works, and I think it'll be the place to be in a few years. Many value diversity highly. At North Atlanta you get diversity and a good education for those students who work for it ... I think it's a great combination.