Your realtor drives you to a home near the Perimeter and it’s perfect — the right style, the right size, the right school district and close to the right price. Unless the place is a total wreck on the inside you’ve decided to make an offer.

There’s pressure to move fast. Maybe it’s a popular area, or maybe the kids need to get settled in a new school. In the rush to make it happen, buyers sometimes brush off its challenges despite distant warning bells in their heads.

The best time to ponder those quality-of-life tradeoffs is before you buy. Here are three of the biggest conundrums faced by Atlanta-area home buyers…

1. Traffic Tradeoffs

Like any major metro area, Atlanta has its share of traffic woes. When my wife and I lived in the Lawrenceville-Suwanee area, her commute was about two hours each day. The time investment wasn’t ideal but our new-ish ranch home provided a home we loved at a value that helped us add to savings.

Eventually, my wife was spending more time in the car than she was awake and it was time to make a change. When we looked at homes closer to Atlanta, our tradeoffs for less traffic were a more expensive home, no yard and less money to squirrel away. What we got in return was more quality time at home, less money spent in fossil fuels and better proximity to more employers. It works for us.

Whether you’ve made an offer or have narrowed down your target areas, get out there and make the drive – to and from work, school, soccer practice, music lessons – morning, noon and night. The length of traffic lights change by time of day and can drastically affect your commute. Once out of the carpool lineup, is there another backup on the road to the soccer fields? It all adds up.

Assess the pros and cons and be honest with yourself and each other. Balancing what’s best for the family with individual sacrifice is never easy. Just remember that the quality-of-life for one member of the family affects everyone in the home.

2. Neighborhood Newness

Areas of Atlanta with older homes have been popular for their relative affordability and closeness to the city. In the past decade, however, those neighborhoods have undergone transitions: So-called urban “infill” has seen the building of new, larger homes among the neighborhood’s original bungalows and two story traditionals.

Infill itself is not bad, nor is it specific to Atlanta. In fact, the changes can often improve a neighborhood’s appeal can lead to appreciation. Yet infill does create circumstances that homebuyers need to consider.

If you buy an older home for the location knowing you’ll eventually add-on or rebuild, then buying in a neighborhood with infill may be a solid investment. But if you want to live in an older home indefinitely, as is, will you be okay with buying a new A/C unit when the next buyer will probably tear down the house? Will it bother you if your bungalow is shadowed by million dollar homes on each side? 

Those are not trick questions; you may be just fine with either one. And while you may never get a direct return on investing in home improvements, the value of your lot may increase over time.

At the other end of the infill issue are buyers of newly-constructed homes, condos or townhomes. The empty lots owners look over while drinking their morning coffee will likely be filled with new buildings, sometimes seemingly overnight. The new structures could block their sunlight and eliminate privacy – and maybe reduce their home’s value. But, if their biggest goal is to find an affordable place within walking distance to work, none of that other stuff may matter.

In short, no home will have everything you want, and no purchase is a guaranteed slam-dunk. The trick is to keep your eyes open to both good and not-so-good and understand your tolerance for change.

3. Zigzagging Zoning

Few things stress-out homeowners more than a zoning sign. You’ve seen them along the road – the ones with hard-to-read type and strange-looking codes. Proposed residential changes are often requests to increase density, which is a fancy word for smaller lots and higher home occupancy than current zoning allows. Commercial changes are typically high rises or live-work communities.

Like urban infill, there is nothing inherently bad about zoning changes. What gets homeowners going is the unknowns about how much traffic they will add or the potential impact on home prices or neighborhood aesthetics. While certainly some changes may not be welcome, the new and updated construction can also bring an influx of new jobs, better roads and conveniently located merchants.

The bottom line? Take an active role. Talk to potential neighbors out walking their dogs. Make an appointment at the local zoning commission. Subscribe to Atlanta Business Chronicle and the Facebook pages of local communities for development updates. Zoning changes are unavoidable in a growing metropolis like ours. It’s important to be aware, but not afraid, because change can often be a real positive for a community and its homeowners.

As a realtor committed to honesty and integrity in all I do, I cannot tell my clients where to buy or what kind of house to buy. That has to be a personal decision based on individual or family needs. But with tools like this blog, I am happy to share knowledge that can help you understand your options and make the exciting but sometimes difficult decisions we all face as Atlanta homeowners.

Steve Jamski, Realtor Keller Williams First Atlanta stevejamski@kw.com

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Steve Jamski is an Atlanta-area realtor with Keller Williams First Atlanta. All opinions and insights expressed are Steve’s and reflect his experiences as a 20+ year homeowner in the Atlanta metro area.