Advice to a future Alpharetta relo

Alpharetta signMy blog’s name was inspired by a New York Times article, and later a book, about  corporate relos who migrated to Alpharetta by the thousands. So I really enjoy getting emails like the one below as they bring Roots back to its roots, my original theme. And with Joe’s permission, I’ve posted his email below.

Joe writes…

Hi Lee.

My family will be moving from Colorado to the Atlanta area in a few months due to a corporate relo. My job will be in Buckhead right next to the Lindbergh Center MARTA station.

My question is where should we buy a house?

Our budget is $500K and we are used to living in the affluent burbs. Is the commute from Alpharetta to Buckhead too far/difficult to consider? I’ve done a lot of research on the Atlanta metro but still feel lost/confused regarding where to live. We have a four year old son who will be starting Kindergarten next year.
Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated.
What advice do you have for Joe and other future relos to Alpharetta? Leave us a comment.

28 Responses to “Advice to a future Alpharetta relo”

  1. Valerie Manley August 13, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Hi Joe: my family relocated to Alpharetta from the Northeast over 25 years ago — wow, have we seen some changes! We raised our family here, and we found it to be a good place to do so, with a few reservations. As in any affluent suburb, parents may find themselves in tension with the perceived sense of entitlement evident in our kids’ peers. That said, if you’re prepared to say “no” and deal with the aftermath, Alpharetta has a lot to offer families. Regarding commutes: our recent college graduate is now commuting from Alpharetta to Buckhead, and I’m now a college student at Georgia State University downtown. She drives, and I take MARTA. If MARTA is a viable option based on the location of your office, do it! Greater Atlanta is infamous for its dysfunctional traffic and aggressive driving behaviors — don’t go there if you don’t have to. MARTA isn’t perfect, but it’s cost-effective and functional. Access to MARTA from Alpharetta is workable now and may eventually improve if service extends further north. Consistently good schools, good housing options at decent prices, and an expanding cultural scene in Alpharetta make the commute worth considering. In the interest of full disclosure: Alpharetta is a live/work community, with thousands commuting into and out of Alpharetta every weekday and clogging local roads. But then, that’s true of much of the greater Atlanta area. You may be tempted to look closer to Buckhead, but you’ll find higher home prices and even more traffic. To make a long story short, Joe, in a world of trade-offs, Alpharetta should be a good deal for you.

  2. Andrea August 13, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Hi Joe,
    I live in Alpharetta and work in Buckhead, and I do not recommend the commute. I love Alpharetta, but the traffic on 400 is unbearable. Unless you are the type that enjoys spending at least 2 hours in your car each day. With a budget of $500k, and a desire to capitalize on public schools, I would target the southern East Cobb area. My coworkers that live in that area are much happier than those of my coworkers that also make the commute from Alpharetta.
    Wishing you all the best,
    Andrea

  3. Caren and Bert Goode August 13, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Move to Alpharetta and ride Marta into Buckhead.

  4. Jon S August 13, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    Hey Joe
    Alpharetta is a great place to live and a great place to raise a family. With that said,I would not recommend that commute. The only way I would advise that is if you lived very close to 400 and you could take Marta to your job.

  5. Joe August 13, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    Thanks for all of the advice.

    So to travel via MARTA from Alpharetta to Lindbergh Center, I would drive to the Windward Park and Ride in Alpharetta then take the bus to the North Springs station and hop on the train which stops right next to my office.

    Does anyone actually do this?
    Looking at satellite photos of the Windward parking lot, it only seems about a quarter full.

    Is that Windward lot safe?
    Is there security?

    1 hour each way not including the drive to the park and ride and home seems painful, but at least you can read a book or something and just relax.

    Thanks again for all of the tips.

    Joe

  6. J August 13, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    The traffic dependis on your work hours. I leave the house by 6:20 when school is in and make it to perimeter area 6:45-7:00 am. I would make Lindbergh in only about 10 more minutes. If you don’t like getting up early or the schedule can’t make that happen you will be in much heavier traffic as others have stated. I would recommend the West side of 400 as opposed to the East side as I find roads much more congested east of 400.

  7. Roy August 14, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    No one with a 500k house budget is doing the marta thing from Alpharetta. No way I would do it. I live in Alpharetta and work in Alpharetta, basically living the dream (minus my commutes to the airport).

    If you have flex schedule, I would:
    -Leave at 6:15am-ish….enjoy 30 min commute
    -Leave at 4m-ish….enjoy 30 min commute
    -Login at night

    Public school and buckhead won’t go together, so spending 500k on a house in buckhead (not hard to do) + private school fees will be $$$.

    If you move to Norcross area and get zoned to Simpson elementary you may be in good shape through elementary but are screwed come Jr high.

    Other area to look at would be Dunwoody area.

  8. Josh August 14, 2014 at 12:23 am #

    Joe,
    I commuted from Alpharetta/Johns Creek to Buckhead (Lenox Park) for several years and it boils down to this: If you can have a shifted schedule and leave the house by 6:30-6:45 and leave the office by 4ish, you will be fine. Friday’s will always be a mess getting home, unless you leave by 3 or so…

    However, it is totally worth it to live in Roswell/Alpharetta/Johns Creek. We lived on the East side of 400 (near Mt. Pisgah church on Old Alabama Rd.) and the worst part of my commute was just getting to 400, probably 20 mins to go 2.5 miles, then another 30 mins to go the remaining 15 miles. Now we live on the West side of 400 (Crabapple area) and I work from home (or drive to airport), but commute to Buckhead from there would be roughly the same. We bought a house right around your price range and love the area (but equally loved the other side of 400). If you worked from home, I would say move to South Forsyth, but with your commute you are better staying closer to exit 7/8/9. I have 6 and 3 year old and the community is great, lots of like-minded parents (good old fashioned “normal” people).

    Regarding MARTA. . . I personally would NEVER ride a MARTA bus, and I have to say I only know of one person in the 25 years I have lived in Atlanta that rode a MARTA bus and that was because he lost his license for a while (long story). If you are going to ride MARTA (which I ONLY take to the airport during rush hour), I would drive to the North Springs MARTA station. I would guess that A.) Windward lot DOESN’T have security (it’s Windward, not necessary) and is very safe. Probably always looks empty because no one takes the bus and they all drive to North Springs train station if they are taking MARTA.

    Hope this helps a bit. . .

  9. JViv August 14, 2014 at 7:34 am #

    Hi Joe; I am lucky that I don’t have to make this commute, but I did have to commute into Atlanta when I served jury duty. For the most part, using Marta was uneventful. But – there was one hair raising day where I learned what all the regular commuters already knew……’You’re in a hurry – MARTA isn’t’.

    RE: Security in the park/ride lots? I haven’t seen any at the Mansell lot, but I do think there are cameras. I haven’t heard about problems at any of the parking lots/garages and we use Sandy Springs quite a bit when traveling to the airport (no problems so far).

    Honestly, though, if you don’t make use of MARTA, driving from Alpharetta to Buckhead each working day is not going to be a happy experience.

  10. AB August 14, 2014 at 8:21 am #

    If you’re on the west side of 400, you can fly down Westside Parkway, turn on Mansell, and get on 400 there. If you’re only on 400 between Mansell and North Springs, it’s not so bad. Surface roads east of 400 do tend to be worse during commuting times. Southern East Cobb is nice but prices are higher and (more importantly) available inventory tends to be lower.

    I work at Perimeter and take GA-9 in the mornings and 400 in the evenings. Departing from Milton at 6:45a, I’m in before 7:30a. About 35 mins via 400 and Haynes Br. in the evenings. Not so bad.

  11. Sewducky August 14, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    My dad did a park and ride lot for a week, it took him longer via MARTA to get to work and back than driving. He used the Old Milton lot, and went to Lindbergh. The timing to get from the lot to Northsprings (the northernmost station) was the time suck because you wait for a bit for the bus/train 2 times to get to you and bring you to your next destination. If you take 400 to the station you’ll get a more consistent commute, but that chunk from exit 9 to Northsprings station on 400 will be a time suck still.

    My advice if you commute, look at the arteries and where you can cross the river (why SE cobb works great for some). Reduce them as much as you can, and live in the funky shape they form. I lived in Johns Creek then moved 15+ miles away into Cumming. My commute to Roswell is somehow 15 minutes shorter, from further away because I moved to the same side of 400 as my work. There’s less bottlenecks I deal with. I can use the artery when it’s not covered in bad traffic, or jump onto a lesser noticed streets like Westside Pkwy (not for long though, with Avalon opening, and more) and forget arteries at busier times.

    Best way to look, is pull up the google map durring rush hour(s) and look at your potential commutes. Major Arteries I’m familiar with (there are more): Major Highways(285, 75, 85) and SR-141 (S of 120, N of 285). Some like SR-9, SR-92 and SR-120 can be okay, but generally jam up at a certain capacity because of so many lights along them. Others just have a constant jam like SR-141.

  12. DRW August 14, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    I’ll second what Josh said but add that if you hit the snooze button one too many times you might as well call in and tell them you’ll be there for lunch. As for 4ish in the afternoon, at least for me 4:00 is OK, 4:03 doubles the commute time. It really does go that bad that fast, so if you tend to get stuck in the office factor that in.

  13. A August 14, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    I don’t do this commute, but I can tell you that if you’re on 400 anytime after 7 a.m. going southbound, you’re screwed. I have to drive into town from Milton a few times a year, and that’s the only sane way to do it. Once you hit 7 a.m., forget about 400 until 9 or even 9:30. And you’d think Friday traffic would be lighter with people doing 4-day work weeks with longer hours, but somehow it’s much worse on a Friday. Go figure.

    We must be scaring this poor guy off from the Alpharetta area, but I definitely would not commute to Buckhead from so far.

  14. Lionel T August 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    I’ve lived here for over 25 years, first in Roswell, now Alpharetta, and it was bad back then driving down 400, but I do not envy anyone making that drive now. I’m fortunate enough to work in Alpharetta, but drive over 400 each day and lament at all the traffic wanting to get off the Windward exit in the morning and night. During the storm in February, which admittedly is a fluke, going up North Point Parkway to Windward, turning left was almost no wait at all, but people wanting to turn right into the affluent areas around Lake Windward? Forget it, not moving at all.

    I cannot speak to the school systems, but as mentioned, living close to the office is going to be a huge boon in quality of life, and Alpharetta is great, no question, but I’m not sure it’s great enough to do that every day. If you get a chance to come out early to look for a place, the best thing you can do is find your office, find ABOUT where you want to live (say Windward for example) and sample the commute for yourself.

    As for MARTA, yeah some people ride it, but you’ll be adding a lot of time to your commute as far as buses go since they are going to be stuck on 400 as well (even if they can drive on the breakdown lane).

  15. Kate August 14, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Alpharetta and nearby cities have a great quality of life and great schools. But personally I wouldn’t want a commute that long. I used to drive 2+ hours a day, and life is way better not doing that.

    Could you work from home a few days a week? Can be the best of both worlds and is very common around Alpharetta. As others noted, flexible timing can also make it work.

    Otherwise you’d be in for at least an hour each way, sometimes far more. Driving to the North Springs station would be the best MARTA option.

    I would suggest also considering Dunwoody (Vanderlyn, Austin, and Montgomery Elementary schools rate highly).

    Anywhere you look, try for a neighborhood with the most direct route to highways (and/or MARTA stations), and good alternate routes. One bad intersection can add 15-20 minutes to a drive.

  16. Chris August 14, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Rent for a year. You won’t regret it, but you might regret buying something on the wrong side of 400 if you’re not used to that commute.

  17. Chris August 14, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    And not location based, but to plug a really great blog for family activities check out occupymyfamily.com for a lot of activities for young kids all over metro Atlanta. This has been invaluable to our young family since we moved here 3 years ago.

  18. Joe August 14, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    Great advice — thanks!

    I’m starting to get pretty nervous about the Alpharetta to Buckhead commute considering all of the advice above.

    What about driving to the North Springs MARTA station and then hopping on the train?
    It drops off right next to my office, so that part is great.
    Also, my employer has private parking in the NS station so security would not be an issue.

    As an alternative, can anyone recommend a good area ITP or just slightly OTP with a good elementary school and a decent commute to Lindbergh Center?

    Thanks again,

    Joe

  19. The Guru Of Good Times August 14, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    Joe- I work for AT&T at the Lenox Park campus, guessing you are at AT&T at Lindbergh? If so, sounds like flexibility with working from home is on the horizon for us. I spent many years, driving from South Forsyth to Buckhead, it will absolutely eventually start taking it’s toll on you mentally and physically. I later moved to Alpharetta/Johns Creek right off Barnwell/Jones Bridge and drive to the AT&T Lenox Park campus…and it’s VERY manageable. I wonder how painful (or not) it’d be to take Barnwell, Spalding, Winters Chapel and either 85 or Buf-Hi to Sidney Marcus? I know it won’t be pretty, but ‘betcha it’ll be a lot better than 400. Last note, we get a lot of relos in the office. I tell them to look at a map, put a dot where you work, then start working your way outward until you find a good balance of housing and schools. If there is ANY flexibility to spend more on the house and live closer, DO IT…you’ll save it in time, gas, wear and tear on both your car and your body and mind! Chris above mentioned renting…if you are new to Atlanta, not a bad idea at all until you get an idea of the lay of the land.

  20. Jon S August 15, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Driving to the north springs station is not bad at all, depending on what time you leave. If you can be on 400 before 6:30 you’ll be fine. My dad has done this everyday for 15 years and it has worked great. Otherwise I would second the dunwoody option, closer in to drive or take the train and a solid community.

  21. Travis Allen August 15, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    I think you should stick with Alpharetta/Milton. Schools are great, with maybe on a few exceptions. Quality of life is excellent.

    For traffic, the trick is getting as far South as you can before hopping on 400. Avoid the far right side until after Holcomb Bridge, move over a bit until you’re past North Ridge, then back to the right for the North Springs station.

    Only root for the Braves and Falcons when they are doing well, and forget about the Hawks, most people don’t know they exist. Heck, walk into a Kohls store and you’ll see Braves, Falcons, UGA, Georgia Tech, and the MIAMI Heat merchandise, go figure.

  22. Chris August 15, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    I will second that Dunwoody/Sandy Springs suggestion by Kate. You’re going to have to be careful about the school ratings around here. Common Core has thrown everyone into flux so what’s been done in the past is not necessarily what’s happening now. The Fulton County Schools web site is a bit overwhelming, but there is a lot of good info there: http://www.fultonschools.org/en/news/Pages/FCSNews.aspx?item=41

    There are also a slew of new principals and leadership:
    http://www.fultonschools.org/en/Pages/FCSSpotlight.aspx?item=56

    Fulton is transitioning to being a charter school system-wide, which you can find out more about under their “community” tab.

    What we discovered around here is that the schools people tend to believe are better are also pretty homogenous in population. If diversity is important to you, good luck. There are schools that have great scores on paper, but residents will tell you they’re not good based on past experiences. You really have to decide what experience you want for your family and base it on that, but if you think you’re going to be relo’d again, buy where you can sell. There are a lot of good private options too, if that is what you want, but many have wait lists. If you think you’re going to have any special needs concerns, then you really need to look at where you’re moving. Some of the schools handle that better than others.

    The commute thing is going to be your bigger issue, but don’t discount your school needs.

  23. Alpharetta Bob August 15, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

    Does your company offer flex hours? I work 7-4, and traffic is tolerable. 10 minutes later on either end, and it is misery.

    I would not recommend the commute if given a choice. Park n Ride will take a long time…a neighbor of mine leaves at 5:30am from Windward and gets to work shortly before me, and I leave at 6:30.

  24. Jen August 17, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    Alpharetta is popular because it is a true live/work community. My family lives in Alpharetta because we work here. If we were to get jobs closer to Atlanta, I would definately leave Alpharetta and move further south. It would be hard to leave, but life without traffic is key for us. We do private school in Alpharetta because we like the consistency (as newer areas always seem to be rezoning schools due to rapid expansion). Buckhead is great and with your budget I would look at Dunwoody and you’ll have easy access to Perimeter and Buckhead. The houses may be a little older, but still beautiful and there are affordable swim/tennis neighborhoods in Dunwoody. If you’re looking at Roswell, I would stay away from holcomb bridge exit (it’s very backed up). If you do want to live in Alpharetta, try to find a house as close as possible to 400. The highways are bad, but surface (east/west) traffic is worse. Greater Atlanta is wonderful with tons of great areas.

  25. Ron August 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    I have done a few different commutes from the are you are talking about. I have lived in the following cities while I worked in Buckhead: Cumming, Johns Creek, Alpharetta and Alpharetta (near what is now Milton). I currently live on the west side of 400 near the Roswell/Sandy Springs border and my girlfriend commutes to Buckhead daily.

    What hours are you going to be working?

    The rule of thumb for 400 South commuting for me has always been South of Exit 7 (Holcomb Bridge Rd) by 7am and you are fine. Marta into the city from NS Station if available is not a bad option, but it is not always consistent. I took Marta into the city this weekend (Piedmont Park area) and got hit with 2 delays – one at Lindbergh Center. As you won’t be transferring, this may not be a huge issue. Your PM commute leaving buckhead at 5pm will put you at NS Station, merging on to 400 NB around 525-530. If you choose to live off Exits 6-10, you should be fine with an additional 20-30 minutes as long as you are not terribly far from the highway.

    Assuming you work 8-5: In my opinion, it comes down to PM commute and kids events (sports practice, games, etc). It is tough to make when leaving Buckhead at 5PM (driving or taking Marta). As long as you are fine getting to work 15-20 minutes early every day, you should be fine with anywhere between exits 7 and 11 within a few miles of 400. You can find a lot of house is great neighborhoods with great schools.

  26. Denise August 20, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Hi Joe,

    I commute from JohnsCreek/Alpharetta to Buckhead. I live on the East side of exit 10(Old Milton Pwky), my office is across the street from Lenox Mall (Exit 2 GA 400 South bound). I support all the replies I see above. If I leave after 6:20-25am you’ll have to deal with horrible traffic ( my commute this morning: I left at 7:05 am and made it around 8:12am). On average, my commute is 1hr-1:10min door to door. One thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned above is that traffic on GA 400 unclogs around North Springs Marta Station, so even when I have to go downtown, it is not worth to take MARTA as all traffic is up to North Springs Marta Station. However, I have to say, I do love JohnsCreek/Alpharetta.It truly is a great place to live and raise a family (we moved from Oklahoma 2 years ago) but the commute is terrible.If you want to ease your commute Dunwoody is a nice area and their exit is the first one after North Springs Marta station (in other words no traffic) but I don’t think you can rely on their school system. I would pay for private schools if I moved there.

  27. Bob August 28, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    I leave the house at 7:45 to be to work by 9 and sit in heavy traffic from Mansell Road down to North Springs, where it seems to open up. However, the return commute at 5:30 has me parked between the 400 tollbooths and the 285/400 interchange for at least 45 minutes, plus whatever traffic is on 85 and OTP on 400. With the plans to have the interchange tore up for three years, I highly recommend checking out Brookhaven, Dunwoody, or ITP Sandy Springs, your car, your family, and your sanity will thank you.

  28. Julie Hogg October 5, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Wow – I’m way too late to reply to this, but if poor Joe hasn’t found a place to live yet, here is what I would say. Hands down, and with a housing budget of 500K, he needs to live in city of Decatur. Great schools, neighborhood, close to Buckhead, walkable, best restaurants in Atlanta, close to cultural events of all shapes and sizes. No, I don’t live there now. I did in the 1980′s. Now, I just eat out there and regret that I ever moved.
    OTOH, if suburban life is for Joe, and Alpharetta is the epitome of suburban life, with all the great things only a suburban life can give you, the commute down very 400 is actually very bearable, indeed, delightful, if you leave Alpharetta at 6:00 a.m. – no later than 6:10 a.m. Getting home is another story, but at least I solved his morning commute.

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