Second homes: The good times roll non-stop in New Orleans

Second homes: The good times roll non-stop in New Orleans
December 16, 2010
By Larry Olmst
USA Today

New Orleans is thriving better than many people could have imagined five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina wrought destruction so vast, its survival was in question.
Although some residential areas are still in disarray, its main tourist areas — such as the French Quarter, Garden District and Warehouse District — are revitalized, so much so they attracted 7.5 million visitors last year, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau says. The Superdome, home to the defending Super Bowl champion Saints, has had a face lift. And much of the other attributes that make New Orleans attractive to people seeking a second-home escape are back, too:

•Food. There are 1,119 restaurants, the Convention and Visitors Bureau says. That's about 300 more than before Katrina. The famous names — including Emeril's, Commander's Palace, Arnaud's, Galatoire's, Brennan's — are back and joined by new ones, offering Cajun, Creole, Southern and about every other cuisine imaginable.

•Music. It's back in full swing and pretty much around the clock. Few places in the world host as many festivals in a year. The city's ability to celebrate — even at funerals — is a big part of its charm and earned it a variety of nicknames, such as the Big Easy, a Feast for the Soul and the City That Care Forgot.

"Most of my second-home buyers are people who visit multiple times annually and have some reason to come down, like for our many music festivals," says Eric Bouler of Prudential Gardner New Orleans. "A lot have a pre-existing attachment, maybe they went to Tulane (University) and just love the place.

"We draw (second-home owners) from particular places like New York and San Francisco, who get it and love the energy, appreciate what we offer, whereas it's a hard sell for people from Houston or Dallas who are not used to anything like this. I get guys from New York who get Saints season tickets and come down all eight weekends. It's cheaper for them to get the tickets and the flights than to get just season tickets at home."

Cheap is another advantage New Orleans has. It offers amazing values in meals. Its drinks are less expensive than in Las Vegas. Many attractions, including live music venues and festivals, are free. Hence another nickname: a European city on a po' boy budget.

"Before Katrina, people wanted to be in the French Quarter, but now it is much more spread out," Bouler says. "Most of downtown was spared, and 95% of the condos I sell were unaffected by the storm."

Condos dominate the downtown housing market, though the city lacks high-rises or condo hotels. Studios and one-bedroom condos are most common. Two-bedrooms command a premium, and larger units are rare.

"You have to remember," Bouler says of the city, whose population is about 355,000, "New Orleans is not very big ... a lot smaller than most people think."

A look at three New Orleans neighborhoods

•Warehouse District. This former industrial neighborhood adjacent to the French Quarter houses art galleries, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Emeril's restaurant. "A lot of the good new hotels are here, so visitors who don't know the neighborhood find themselves walking around and start thinking about second homes," says local real-estate agent Eric Bouler. "It is mostly two- to four-story warehouses that now house galleries or stores at street level with renovated condos above. One appeal is that most condos here have parking, and prices start at $160,000, while two bedrooms are harder to find, from $300,000 to $400,000."

•Garden District/Uptown. Uptown is home to Tulane and Loyola universities. "This is for people who want a historic feel, and prices are lower than the Warehouse District or the (French) Quarter," Bouler says. "There are a lot of homes turned into condos, old Victorian and grand Southern mansions. Your apartment might be one of five in an antebellum mansion, no doorman, no pool, no fitness area, no parking." Studios start under $120,000.

•French Quarter. The city's most famous area isn't especially conducive to residential living. Traffic is bad, streets are crowded, parking is nearly impossible, and it is generally loud. Bourbon Street is a non-stop party. "The buyers are people who have a romantic vision of it, always wanted to live there, and won't look anyplace else," Bouler says. "There are very few high-quality condos, mostly small units in small buildings." It's also expensive. One-bedroom condos start at more than $300,000; anything under $400,000 needs updating.
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