Magnetic charm

Magnetic charm

Homebuyers find Old South neighborhoods of Southdowns and University Gardens retain their attraction and value.


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When the house at 3400 Hyacinth Ave. went up for sale at $399,000 in April, the couple that later bought it put in an offer on it in less than 24 hours. They lived in their first home off Perkins Road only a couple of miles away.



The homebuyers—who prefer anonymity—say they had been watching the market in University Gardens for years, had always wanted to live there, and were waiting for the right house to become available before making a move. They closed on the house in May at $374,625. It is less than 20 years old and tucked between East Lakeshore Drive and Morning Glory Avenue.



Burns & Co. Inc., which sold the house, says the purchase is illustrative of the magnetism old southwest Baton Rouge holds for homebuyers. Besides University Gardens, that area includes Southdowns.



“It's almost like its own TND,” says Vicki Spurlock, a co-owner of Locations Real Estate, referring to a designation that the area deserves for providing residents with parks, lakes, recreational opportunities, entertainment and short routes to work.



“You can walk and go get a daiquiri at Zippy's and go get your haircut,” Spurlock says.




University Lake and City Park Lake beckon walkers, joggers and bicyclists. The LSU campus is just a couple miles away. The Perkins Road Overpass area has restaurants, bars, eateries and boutiques. And the annual St. Patrick's Day parade ties it all together each March, drawing visitors from across the city to catch beads along the route.



Homes in the Southdowns and University Gardens area retain their value well, Spurlock says. And there are on average about 30 homes in Southdowns and 20 homes in University Gardens on sale each year, proving the attachment that owners have for their homes.



The house at 3400 Hyacinth Ave., in fact, was an estate sale.



Paul Burns, owner of Burns & Co., says both neighborhoods are tough to pin down as far as home values go. Most homes are decades old, and there is a lot of variance in renovation and upkeep.



“You can have one that's redone and sells for $250 a foot, or you can have one that's not redone and sells for $90 a foot,” Burns says.




University Gardens mostly predates World War II and has homes with high ceilings and unique architecture.



SOUTHDOWNS REAL ESTATE

2012 [Year to date]
$225,000 median sale price
$256,211 average sale price
$133 average price per square foot
76 average days on the market

FIVE YEARS AGO [June 2006 through May 2007]
$220,000 median sale price
$268,168 average sale price
$136 average price per square foot
57 average days on the market

Southdowns, however, was largely built in a dash after the war to supply the demand from soldiers returning home with GI Bill in hand to plunk down on loans. The boom didn't necessarily lend itself to a lot of creative building, which most real estate agents agree upon but don't want to say publicly.



Steady prices

The variances make it difficult to compare one neighborhood to the other in average and median sale price, or to compare one neighborhood's current prices to those of several years ago.



“There could have been a slew of houses that needed work,” says Spurlock, which would lessen the significance of any multiple listing service data pulled for houses that sold in the area at a particular time.



In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, homebuyers from New Orleans flooded Baton Rouge's real estate market and floated prices beyond realistic values before reaching a high-water mark in 2007.



Some neighborhoods, like Southdowns and University Gardens, had sale prices grow by 15% or more with closures commonly happening at $175 per square foot.



UNIVERSITY GARDENS REAL ESTATE

2012 [Year to date]
$300,000 median sale price
$318,961 average sale price
$140 average price per square foot
134 average days on the market

FIVE YEARS AGO [June 2006 through May 2007]
$260,250 median sale price
$270,693 average sale price
$142 average price per square foot
46 average days on the market

“After Katrina, everything just skyrocketed,” Spurlock says.



Baton Rouge is loath to admit the nationwide recession had much of an effect on real estate and the economy. But some real estate agents say housing slowed in 2009. While no one knows for sure whether that was particularly due to market forces, an ebbing of the Katrina bump, or a combination of both, the bubble had burst.



“Those days are over,” says Sandra Jones, a real estate agent with Burns & Co. “We're back to a 2% growth rate.”



Jones says she now has to educate some sellers about the reality of the market: Not all homes in these neighborhoods are worth an initial listing of $250,000.



Multiple listing service data, Burns says, show that median prices in the Southdowns area have stayed relatively the same since the Katrina bump—about $225,000—while growing to $318,961 in University Gardens by the beginning of June 2011.



“I don't think prices have gone down,” Burns says.



That much, for Southdowns and University Gardens, many real estate agents can publicly agree on.



“It's a great location in great demand,” Burns says. “That's the bottom line.”



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