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Honing in on Homes 

A buyer's guide to hot neighborhoods in metro New Orleans

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods.

This can be said of many older cities across the United States, such as New York, Boston and Chicago -- all towns with distinct landmarks and boundaries and enough character to give their neighborhoods a distinct feel, look and vibe. But rarely is the concept of neighborhood so defined, revered and still relevant as it is in New Orleans. From the early settling era of the city when the local disdain for the settling "Kentucks" compelled the two factions to move in different directions, this has remained the case. Hence, the Creoles made Esplanade Avenue their grand promenade, the Americans built mansions along St. Charles Avenue, and the trend of sectionalized growth has continued.

A rapid proliferation of suburban residences has occurred over the past few decades, which also melds into local real estate's latest movement -- restoration of the city's inner wards. But despite the natural ebb and flow of New Orleans' history, preserved qualities of the neighborhoods are intact, and a guide providing an overview of several key areas in the city is helpful in calculating decisions regarding real estate.

Ask your average New Orleanian on the street to define the boundaries of Uptown, and chances are they'll be stumped. While generally considered the area enclosed by Louisiana Avenue upriver to Carrollton Avenue and closed off to the north by Claiborne Avenue, pockets of different areas within -- the Black Pearl, for instance -- give Uptown a diverse flavor. The homes are typically late-19th and early-20th century, with a number of factors combining to make Uptown properties arguably the most in-demand anywhere in the city.

"The real estate market in Uptown is hot," says Louis Lederman, Realtor with Prudential Gardner's Uptown office. "Listings that are priced right, in desirable areas, sell right away. This is true even though prices are at an all-time high. There is a major push to buy in Uptown, and this in connection to the fact that interest rates are at 30-year low makes for a lot of activity."

Lederman adds that the high demand for properties in Uptown is met with the reality of a limited housing stock. Thus, he says, conditions are ripe for selling a property, as low interest rates are helping buyers manage their monthly mortgage. "It's a seller's market right now, but the buyer still wins."

Lederman also says that the growth is witnessed in virtually all types of houses, from small shotguns and owner-occupied doubles to mansions. He says there are many reasons explaining why living in Uptown is so popular.

"Uptown has a lot of charm and character," he says. "People love the houses, the architecture and the properties. And it's close to the universities, Audubon Park, St. Charles Avenue and its streetcar. The ambience is what people want."

But, Lederman warns, the historic homes do present their own share of problems. "There are certain types of people who don't want to buy an older home and have to deal with all the maintenance issues. Those people go to Metairie and buy new construction. When you buy a older home, you know it'll have some flaws that you'll have to work with."

Also exuding as historic a charm as Uptown is Mid-City, which currently is rebounding thanks to renovations of its housing stock and with the resurgence of key commercial enterprises. Bounded by Tulane and Orleans avenues, and City Park and Claiborne Avenue, Mid-City enjoys two of New Orleans' favorite landmarks. City Park -- the nation's fifth largest municipal park and considered the world's largest oak grove -- beams with the New Orleans Museum of Art, playgrounds and other attractions. Nearby, Bayou St. John flows lazily beside grand historic homes such as the Pitot House.

Still boasting some of the city's most affordable housing, Mid-City has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years and successfully maintained its characteristic diversity and family-friendly reputation, even in the face of waves of young people investing in properties here. Recent developments include the conversion of the mammoth American Can Company from a factory into sleek, modern studio apartments; the Sav-A-Center grocery store on Carrollton Avenue; and the much-anticipated return of the streetcar to Canal Street. Each of these factors accelerate the return of Mid-City to prominence in New Orleans.

"The prices of homes for sale in Mid-City keep going up and up," says Val Vallero, who handles zoning issues for the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization. "But there's still plenty of affordable stuff, renovation projects of doubles that need fixing up, that are bringing people back. They're coming back because it's still a friendly neighborhood in the heart of the city."

Vallero identifies Mid-City's central location as a key amenity, along with an infrastructure that includes major arteries that make drives to wide-ranging points across the metro area such as the airport, West Bank and Chalmette all accessible in 15 minutes. He cites the main reasons for the resurgence as the attraction of increasingly bustling restaurants and nightlife, and people's renewed desire to live in the city.

The economic diversity of the area -- houses are priced from $20,000 to $1 million -- is another selling point, as is the neighborhood's ethnic diversity, which includes solid representations of white, black, Hispanic and Asian residents. Vallero says that the boom Mid-City is experiencing is city-wide, a fact he notes from monthly meetings at the Preservation Resource Center he attends on MCNO's behalf with more than 80 different neighborhood groups from across New Orleans.

"People want to live where's there's activity," Vallero says. "This is great because it brings back young people who are going to invest in property with the preservation mindset and stay and raise families."

Another appealing area to potential homeowners is Lakeview, a large swath of land bordering Lake Pontchartrain. Lakeview combines the bustle of city life with the convenience and calm of suburbia, with enough restaurants, shopping, churches and schools to give it the feel of a separate community.

"Lakeview is the place to live," says Freddy Yoder, speaking with authority as a 40-year resident of the area. Yoder recently served as president of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association and now serves on the board of directors of the Lakeview Crime Prevention District.

"We've got all the qualities of a small town," Yoder adds. "Here, there's everything you need as far as groceries, shops, service stations and restaurants. A lot of people like it because it's centrally located; you can make it downtown or to Metairie in only five minutes in either direction. Yet it stays a community because of its natural boundaries, with City Park, the lake and the 17th Street Canal tying it in."

Yoder says Lakeview is a popular choice for prospective homeowners because of its family-friendly reputation. Lakeview is also known for its relative safety, which recently has been secured by the mid-1990s creation of the Lakeview Crime Prevention District, recently re-approved by the neighborhood's voters as a special taxing district that levies a $100 per year fee on residents to pay for additional police protection.

Echoing a pattern found across New Orleans, Yoder says Lakeview "is going through a renaissance." But the growth is different, as the newer area doesn't have the codes that protect historical houses in other neighborhoods. This means there's less resistance to new construction, and many lots are being renewed with the demolition of typically smaller homes in favor of new, larger and more grandiose houses. Building on existing lots is a common practice in Lakeview, in part because of the high cost of land, but this new construction has brought its share of controversy. Some Lakeview residents are protesting the size of some of the buildings. A zoning measure blocking such construction is currently headed toward City Council.

Yoder says a lot of the new homes are being built for young homeowners. But even with the new surge of young residents, Yoder says Lakeview remains a family place. "We have more churches and schools per capita in Lakeview than anywhere else in the city," he says. "That's what Lakeview is -- a great place to raise families."

East Bankers often overlook Algiers as a part of Orleans Parish because of its separation by the Mississippi River. Once a quiet rivertown, the area was first laid out in the 1719 sketches of M. de Serigay. Now incorporated into the city, the area breaks down into three distinct neighborhoods. In addition to Algiers proper, there's Old Algiers, or Algiers Point, a collection of homes boasting historic, New Orleans-style architecture. Finally, English Turn is a rising development in an area named for the quick turn-around retreat of British naval ships approaching (and then avoiding) Bienville and Iberville's entrenchment in present-day New Orleans.

"The Algiers Point area is doing great," says Vic Palazzo, a real estate broker with Red Door Realty. "People want to live there because it's a community, and it has the ambience and charm with the old homes and the classic New Orleans architecture. It's being done with people turning over their own renovations, a feat possible now with the many types of financing available."

Palazzo says many prospective homeowners looking at Algiers Point apply for a renovation -- or 203k -- loan and essentially become the contractor themselves. Taking care of the work yourself is a big money saver, as the loan amount is calculated based on an appraiser's estimated value of the home post-renovation.

While Palazzo says activity in Algiers is steady amid all the growth, he points especially to a recent boom in restaurants and shops that for West Bankers is making a drive over the bridge less necessary. Algiers is also seeing growth near Opelousas Street with the new construction by Harbor Development of a 10-acre tract that is a gated community with 10 houses already built.

The biggest growth, Palazzo says, is in English Turn, a recently developed gated community anchored by the English Turn Golf and Country Club, home to the annual PGA Tour's Compaq Classic event. A 24-hour manned security gate ensures seclusion and security. Homes in English Turn are typically in the $500,000 to $600,000 range. Palazzo says the area has already surpassed its 2001 growth, and still has another 10 years of planned development to go.

Another area considered ripe for development is eastern New Orleans, which holds roughly 50 percent of the land of Orleans Parish. Recently, many New Orleanians have begun moving to the area because of its larger lots and new construction. Much of this movement is among first-time homebuyers, says Bobby LeDuff, manager of Prudential Gardner's eastern New Orleans office.

"There's so much room in the east for people," LeDuff says. "New construction is the thing people here are looking for, and with all the financing available and geared toward low- and moderate-income individuals, many can afford to buy that home."

Eastern New Orleans' potential is just now being realized, LeDuff says, with developers quickly purchasing vast tracts of land in a trend started by a successful rooting of gated communities and planned subdivisions in the area.

Scenic treasures of the area include the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, and the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center. Still to come in eastern New Orleans is the wide variety of dining and nightlife options that are enjoyed in other parts of metro New Orleans. But efforts are well underway, including additions to Lake Forest Plaza Mall and a planned megaplex theater called the Palace of the East. Two of the most promising signs of growth in the area are the planned multi-million-dollar practice facility for the New Orleans Hornets and the recent acquisition of Jazzland by the amusement park powerhouse Six Flags.

The predominant suburb of New Orleans is Metairie, a population center for the area that boasts a plethora of shops and large stores, restaurants and nightlife. While there is little physical room for continued growth, Metairie does benefit from Jefferson Parish property taxes far favorable over those in Orleans. This, combined with amenities typical of a suburb, make it ideal for many looking to settle into a home.

"The Metairie market is doing really well," says Bill Drumm, a Realtor with Prudential Gardner. "It's been strong all year with lots of activity in sales and purchases, spurred by the low interest rates."

Drumm adds that Metairie is a sound investment as property values have appreciated at a minimum of 5 percent a year over recent years. Metairie remains popular for its central location in the metro region with key arteries like Veterans Memorial Boulevard and I-10. The soon-to-be completed West Napoleon Avenue extension is expected the alleviate some the notoriously tough traffic in the area.

"People like Metairie for all the amenities," says Drumm, a life-long resident of Metairie. "You have the schools, the movies, the shopping -- people come from New Orleans to do their shopping here."

Drumm says the typical Metairie home on the market right now costs between $150,000 and $200,000, though some are listed as high as $1.2 million. In this market though, he says, "anything priced right will sell in a heartbeat."

The abundance of condo units in Metairie makes ownership possible for young people taking advantage of luxury condo units that start as low as $120,000. And Drumm sees the future of Metairie real estate as renovations and purchases of existing properties. "There are no new subdivisions out here, because there's a lack of land," Drumm says. "That causes old homes to be torn down and new homes to go up. But that's good for property owners, because with very little land left to build on, it keeps prices of existing houses high."

As the suburban areas of Jefferson Parish no longer have the capacity for continued growth after decades of development, many are seeking homes on the Northshore, the state's fastest growing area. When the 24-mile Causeway Bridge became four lanes in 1969, it spurred the growth of bedroom communities such as Covington and Mandeville, which have now developed into their own entities that no longer rely on New Orleans as an economic, cultural and civic base. In many ways different from New Orleans in terms of pace of life and even terrain, the Northshore and specifically western St. Tammany Parish hold their own historic and unique charm.

St. Tammany has for years boasted the state's best school system, and the recent proliferation of shops, restaurants and cultural activities makes the area more diverse in its offerings. This has translated into a healthy real estate market.

"The real estate market on the Northshore is fabulous right now," says Stevie Mack, a Realtor with Stirling Properties and a born-and-bred resident of Covington. "Activity is really happening in all price ranges."

Mack says the real estate purchases are more diversified than in recent years, when new construction in planned subdivisions was the norm. Now, she says, people are going for the historic homes of Covington and, to a lesser extent, Mandeville. In Covington, the most desired homes are in the town's quaint downtown, along with high-end historical properties or homes situated along the waters of the Tchefuncte and Bogue Falaya rivers. In Mandeville, she says, the majority of homes are new constructions with price tags in the $200,000 to $300,000 range.

And despite all the recent growth, Mack predicts no slowdown will occur. "People love the better selection of schools, the slower pace and quality of live. And safety is definitely a factor, especially for families. It's booming out here; it seems like we have waves of new people moving in every week."

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