Living in Atlanta: City or Suburbs?

Elevated view over Downtown Atlanta and Centennial Olympic Park
••• Getty Images / Gavin Hellier

So you’ve taken the plunge, packed your bags and are headed to Atlanta, but the million dollar question remains: Where will you live? Atlanta is such a sprawling city, and one that’s infamous for its traffic and long commutes, so many people choose to live in a neighborhood near their office. Of course, there are other important factors to consider, from cost of living and access to public transportation to the quality of the schools.

Lifestyle plays a big part in deciding where to settle down. Those seeking a true in-town experience may want to buy a condo in Midtown or a townhouse in Inman Park, whereas families looking for a big house with a yard on a quiet street may prefer a suburb, like Roswell or Smyrna. To wit, here's the essential neighborhood guide to Atlanta to help you decide which is right for you. Take a look.

The Perimeter 

The most fundamental distinction of Atlanta living may be the terms of The Perimeter: Do you want to be ITP (Inside The Perimeter) and OTP (Outside The Perimeter)? These terms broadly define the difference between living in town and living in the suburbs based on the city’s encapsulating freeway, the 285 Perimeter Beltway. What you need to know:

  • Those living ITP often live a faster paced, urban lifestyle complete with pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, access to public transportation, shorter commutes, a plethora of cultural attractions and world-class dining and shopping.
  • On the flipside, those living OTP often find a relatively lower cost of living (more house for the money) alongside communities with amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts and stellar public school systems.

Neighborhoods

Atlanta is a city of micro-neighborhoods—with 242 neighborhoods officially defined by the city, it can be overwhelming to decide where to live.

However, these neighborhoods are divisions of 25 citizen advisory councils (they’re the ones who handle zoning, land use, and other planning issues), two counties (primarily Fulton, and partly DeKalb to the east) and three main districts:

  • Downtown: Encompasses the following neighborhoods: Castleberry Hill, Five Points, Luckie Marietta and Peachtree Center, among others.
  • Midtown: Encompasses the following neighborhoods: Peachtree Street, Historic Midtown, Atlantic Station, Home Park, Georgia Tech and Technology Square, Loring Heights and Sherwood Forest, among others.
  • Buckhead: Covers the entire northern fifth of the city (north of I-75 and I-85) and encompasses the following neighborhoods: Chastain Park, Collier Hills/Brookwood Hills, Garden Hills, Lindbergh, West Paces Ferry/Northside, Peachtree Hills, Tuxedo Park and Peachtree Battle, among others.

There are also intown neighborhoods that have incorporated into their own cities, like Brookhaven (which is just north of Buckhead) and Decatur (which is far east), both of which are known for being family-friendly. There are other districts, like Southeast, Southwest and Northwest Atlanta, that have also been defined, and two of the most popular are:

  • East Side: Popular neighborhoods here include Cabbagetown, Edgewood, East Lake, Inman Park, Grant Park, Kirkwood, Old Fourth Ward and Virginia-Highland.
  • West Midtown: Popular neighborhoods here include Berkeley Park, Western Home Park, Knight Park/Howell Station and Marietta Street Artery.

Suburban Neighborhoods

The Atlanta metro area is home to dozens of suburban neighborhoods. Some of the popular suburbs include Chamblee, Dunwoody/Sandy Springs, Smyrna, Alpharetta, Roswell, Marietta, Kennesaw, Norcross, Duluth, John’s Creek and Stone Mountain. Though the suburbs are quite a ways behind the city in terms of cultural attractions and trendy restaurants, there are some neighborhoods (namely Alpharetta’s Avalon and Roswell Square) that have expanded their offerings beyond your basic chain restaurants and into charming, independently owned spots worth many return visits.

How to Choose 

Personal preference will be the biggest indicator of which neighborhood is best for you. For some objective advice, real estate expert Svenja Gudell, senior director of economic research for Zillow, helps to understand the financials of living intown versus the suburbs:

The decision of whether to rent or buy can also affect your decision of where to live. For those in the market to buy a home, the median cost of homes in Atlanta is $154,600 (compared to the national average of $178,500), according to Zillow. So the good news is, Atlanta is an affordable place to live. Though just how affordable will depend on where you choose to buy. Take a look at some of these costs from Zillow from January 2015 across various neighborhoods:

NeighborhoodMedian Home ValueMedian Home Value per sq. ft. ($)Forecast for Median Home Value Appreciation by January 2016
Dunwoody$372,100$154-0.60%
Decatur$410,300$2440.40%
Smyrna$192,200$1121.30%
Marietta$216,100$1071.50%
Roswell$312,700$1342.10%
Alpharetta$335,900$1342.20%
Buckhead (Buckhead Forest, Village & North Buckhead)293,767$2212.97%
Midtown$225,000$2413.80%
Downtown$155,000$1364.80%

 

So what does this all mean? “Essentially, it’s more expensive to buy in the suburbs, but you’re probably getting a larger house with a bigger yard on a more private street,” explains Gudell. So you’ll spend more money outright (column 1), but you’ll get more house for your money (column 2).

“When you look at the forecasted rate of appreciation over the next year, you’ll see that intown homes are increasing in value at a much higher rate than the suburbs, meaning you’ll get more money when you sell the house in these neighborhoods,” says Gudell. “In fact, Dunwoody is seeing a depreciation over the next year, so for short-term buyers, this wouldn’t be a wise investment.”

Bottom Line

Living in town is currently a better financial investment than living in the suburbs of Atlanta, but you’ll get more house for your money in the suburbs.

However, money isn't the end all be all when it comes to finding your perfect neighborhood. "Spend time in any area you're considering living in," advises Josh Green, the editor for Curbed Atlanta. "And that doesn't just mean having lunch there on the weekends. Investigate what the traffic patterns are, how active the community is. Go there in the morning, and at night. Pay attention to home-listing services in the area. See what the sales trends are. If you see a large number of homes or apartments being built, or older houses being refurbished, it's a pretty good indicator of strong desirability. If you see no construction activity in an Atlanta neighborhood right now, that's probably a sign that its matured, or a red flag that something's not quite right."