Born in Wisconsin, Collette McDonald moved to Atlanta over 20 years ago and has since become one of the Georgia capital’s top brokers.
Ms. McDonald, 48, was the official broker of the Atlanta Falcons football team from 2013-2016 and now works with some of the team’s executives.
Ms. McDonald appears on HGTV as one of the network’s real estate experts on shows like “Design to Sell,” “My First Place,” and “Bang For The Buck.”
We caught up with her to discuss Atlanta’s established and promising high-end neighborhoods, the city’s affordable luxury and more.
Mansion Global: Describe your dream property.
Collette McDonald: Instead of spending $10 million on one, I’d spend it in many places.
I’d want a condo in a high-rise building in central Buckhead, in an area that’s like Rodeo Drive, which used to be called Million-Dollar Mile. I’d want anything over the 20th floor. You can get a 3,000-square-foot flat for $1.5 million to $2.5 million there. It’s not really a great investment, though; that’s the thing I advise people on. The best investment in Atlanta is land, because we have such sprawl.
But there are beautiful lakes around here, too, which are great for a second home location.
MG: Do you have a real estate property that got away?
CM: You always have those. There was a traditional home I fell in love with that was on a cul de sac. It had been renovated from the studs out. There was astroturf around the pool, an outdoor kitchen, the bathrooms and kitchen were all redone. The only reason I didn’t purchase it was because I knew the neighbor was a little crazy. I didn’t purchase it, but I took the house that I was living in, and completely renovated it to be exactly the same.
MG: What does luxury mean to you?
CM: To me, it means simple perfection. You don’t have to think about anything. When you walk in it just feels perfect. High-end finishes are important, obviously, but we’re seeing a much more simple style of luxury.
In Atlanta, we’re seeing custom builders making homes with simple lines—almost industrial-style. They’re simple and well thought-out.
In Atlanta, specifically, the luxury threshold is really anything over $1 million.
MG: What area do you think is the next hub for luxury properties?
CM: You need to look at luxury into different sects. When it comes to luxury for a family, Johns Creek, about 20 miles from financial and business center of Buckhead, has big, traditional subdivisions.
Then there are downsizers, who are coming back inside the city. Buckhead has always been high end, 60% of the city’s luxury real estate is there. The city of Brookhaven, which became a city less than five years ago, offers a huge opportunity, for low-, mid- and high-density. In low density areas, luxury is coming, and you’re seeing lots are half an acre. People are knocking down houses and building multi-million dollar homes there. It’s great for transportation, too, because there are metro lines there. You don’t have the estates like you do in Buckhead, but you have high quality homes with smaller square footage.
MG: What’s the biggest surprise in the luxury real estate market now?
CM: People are not tearing down houses as much. Instead we’re seeing more high-end renovations, because the older houses offer great floor plans. And people don’t necessarily want more square footage.
More square footage not done well is actually a detriment. If done well, it can get more price per square foot.
I recently sold a house in Dunwoody [a suburb of Atlanta] at a loss, which people thought was too big.
MG: Where are the best luxury homes in the world and why?
CM: Luxury in Silicon Valley is interesting. You’re seeing smaller square footage, and simpler homes that are more technology smart. It’ll be interesting to see how that resonates in two decades when we look at those properties. I always look to the West Coast, because I think they trend in a different way than we do in the south.
We have the technology revolution going on, and it rules the way we live today.
MG: What’s your favorite part of your home?
CM: The kitchen/family room/dining room combination, which overlooks the pool. Two sides of my house are all glass, so I can see outside and it all flows together. I have no artwork, because my artwork is my landscaping and my exterior.
Light makes people happy, and the more windows, the better. Even if you have only 8-foot ceilings, it makes a difference.
MG: What best describes the theme to your home and why?
CM: Modern farmhouse—understated, high end, quality.
MG: What’s the most valuable thing in your home?
CM: Besides my kids, my dog.
It’s also important to have secret spaces to hold valuables. People don’t realize that.
MG: What’s the most valuable amenity to have in a home right now?
CM: It’s always going to be a kitchen. It’s got to be a central point, a place where people want to hang out, even if they don’t use it to cook.
The second spot is the master bathroom. It has to be luxury and spa-like.
Third would be outdoor space—that it is functional for entertaining.
MG: What’s your best piece of real estate advice?
CM: In Atlanta and elsewhere, it’s all about location. You can fix everything else. When you ignore that is when you run into problems. Buy for your home’s location.
MG: What’s going on in the news that will have the biggest impact on the luxury real estate market?
CM: For us, it’s Fortune 500 companies relocating in Atlanta. That will impact our luxury market.
We’re starting to compete with L.A. for the movie productions. Fortune 500 companies and entertainment are feeding our luxury market.
People are renting out their homes to movie studios, too. And while celebrities aren’t buying here yet, they’re definitely living here.
MG: What is the best area now for investing in luxury properties?
CM: Just outside the midtown area, because that’s great for [vacation rentals like] VRBO. Companies like Equifax will rent high-end properties for their executives for a couple of years.
They want areas in Atlanta that are safe and near business centers.
MG: If you had a choice of living in a new development or a prime resale property, which would you choose and why?
CM: Prime resale here in Atlanta because it would be in a better location.
MG: What area currently has the best resale value?
CM: Buckhead and Brookhaven, which abut each other.
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