A robust supply pipeline that is outpacing relatively strong demand has lifted vacancies and weighed on rent growth in the Cherokee County Submarket. The vacancy rate here has increased to 10.7% from 4% less than two years ago. As a result, year-over-year rent growth has fallen to 0.5%, better than the market-wide average.
Cherokee County has benefited from robust population growth in recent years. The county has added roughly 50,000 residents since 2010, representing a 20% increase in population. Median incomes are some of the highest among suburban submarkets in the metro, and the county is commutable to job nodes in North Fulton and Cumberland. However, apartment absorption leveled off rapidly since the second half of 2022.
Average pricing here is slightly above the metro average, and assets typically sell for similar pricing to comparable properties in other northern suburban submarkets such as North Fulton and Sandy Springs/Dunwoody. National and institutional investors have targeted some of the submarket’s newest properties. Investment has fallen off considerably, though, as elevated interest rates and economic uncertainty put many deals on hold.
Cherokee County Vacancy
Vacancies are likely to rise in the near term in Cherokee County, as roughly 1,500 units are under construction, accounting for 13.1% of the submarket’s inventory. That comes after 1,100 units delivered over the past year, including the 363-unit The Knox at Buice Lake, which completed construction in July 2023 and is nearly 30% occupied, as well as 252-unit Linz at Holly Springs, which is about 70% occupied nearly a year after delivery.
Workers are concentrated in the education and healthcare, professional, scientific, and management sectors, and the percent of adults who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher roughly matches the Atlanta average. A high proportion of workers commute to major job centers in neighboring Cobb County. These commutes were helped by the recently completed I-75 Express Lane project.
While this area has seen strong population growth in recent years, driving demand for housing, household formation has leveled off recently. Still, the submarket has well-regarded public schools, strong retail and healthcare nodes, and easy access to I-575. Cherokee County has traditionally been a bedroom community to the Atlanta metro, and much of its growth has been spurred by those seeking more affordable for-sale homes, which offer some competition for rental options here.
Cherokee County Rents
While slower absorption and increasing supply have kept recent rent growth muted, longer-term rent growth in Cherokee County has been substantial. Rents have increased by about 67% over the past 10 years, converging with Atlanta’s market-wide rates at around $1,690/month.
Most recently, the submarket saw a 0.5% change in rent year over year, flat compared to the decreasing market wide average. Competing with new construction, the submarket’s 4 & 5 Star buildings experienced a decrease in year-over-year rent at -1.6%, the area’s 3 Star building increased by 3.9%, and the 1 & 2 Star properties had a 5.6% increase.
Rents on new assets are significantly lower than those in closer-in suburban submarkets. Some of the newest deliveries in Cherokee County, like the 147-unit Residences at Hunter Trail and the 252-unit Linz Holly Springs, are asking about $2,000/unit. In comparison, rents in top-of-the-line new builds in submarkets like Cumberland/Galleria, Sandy Springs/Dunwoody, and North Fulton typically seek $2,300/unit or more.
The number of Cherokee County market-rate apartments keeps growing. More than 4,000 units have opened in the last five years, representing more than a 50% increase in the submarket’s inventory. Roughly 1,500 units are under construction. Recent softness in leasing rates and financing challenges presented by elevated interest rates have led to a slowdown in new construction starts market wide, but the drop in new activity is not so pronounced in Cherokee County. About the same number of units broke ground in 2023 as 2022, both above the 10-year average.
The largest project to complete recently was The Knox at Buice Lake. The 363-unit property completed construction in July 2023 and has about 75% vacancy with average asking rent at $1,700/unit. It is one of three midrise projects with around 300 units to deliver last year. The other developments were townhomes or single-family homes for rent. These have average asking rents between $2,000 and $2,600/unit.
Multifamily sales in the small, but growing Cherokee County submarket can be sporadic. Few deals have closed recently as economic uncertainty and elevated interest rates have kept investors on the sidelines. Annual sales volume fell to $193 million from a peak of about $430 million in 2021.
The 145-unit Lancaster Ridge sold for $26.1 million or $180,000/unit in October 2023. The 1994-built property was 96% leased at the time of sale and the buyer, Toronto-based private equity firm Emma Capital, plans to update amenities and unit interiors. The seller, Minnesota-based developer Dominium, originally bought the property in 2012 for $5.1 million or $35,000/unit, making the recent sale more than four times the previous value.
The few other recent deals that have closed have included newly delivered assets, such as the 100-unit Brighton Woodstock, which sold to Virginia-based institutional investor Capital Square for $38.2 million or $382,000/unit in January 2023. A substantial pipeline of under-construction properties could increase deal making as those properties deliver over the coming years.
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