ATLANTA—Atlanta has officially crossed the line from hard-hit to hard-hitting. In other words, the southern city that struggled to rebound after the Great Recession is now hitting on all cylinders.

Vacancy is declining across all commercial real estate sectors. Rent growth is holding its own. Atlanta is officially one of the hottest markets in the nation. Multifamily, office, hotel, and industrial developers are rushing into the market, even building on spec in some areas of the metro.

“It still interesting how multifamily continues to lead us out to of the doldrums,” Thad Ellis, senior vice president and Atlanta market leader for Cousins Properties, tells “The past 24-plus months have been very good months to lease office in Atlanta, but multifamily developers are controlling of a lot of what were formally very good office sites.”

Indeed, Marcus & Millichap reports accelerating multifamily rental demand and a focus on urban living are driving development of multifamily assets in the core of Atlanta. While over 8,700 apartments were completed over the past year, vacancy fell to its lowest levels of the current cycle.

At Cousins, Ellis and his colleagues spend quite a lot of time talking with its developer clients. That's because it's very challenging to find a site on which to build.

“I don't know that the investment world really realizes how difficult it is,” Ellis says. “In the past, it was true that you could go find land and start a new project easily. “In Atlanta today, there are tougher barriers to entry than ever before.”

M&M reports vacancy will reduce 120 basis points to 16.4% by the end of 2015. Last year, vacancy fell 110 basis points. Average asking rents will reach $20.12 per square foot this year, a 1.9% increase. In 2014, rents advanced 3.3%. Developers will finish 626,000 square feet in 2015, down from the 1.4 million square feet completed last year.

Cousins has boots on the ground looking for retail strip centers that it can buy and control, scrape and go vertical with new office space. That's just how challenging it is.

“Again, it's the multifamily industry that has lifted the land values for all of us and I don't think it's necessarily negative,” Ellis says. “We are all still scratching our heads and kind of wondering when the multifamily market will be oversupplied. I don't even pretend to speculate.”


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