New Orleans Real Estate Market Upbeat in Right Location, Location, Location

NY Times:

A surprisingly healthy real estate market in the New Orleans metropolitan area is proving to be one bright spot in an otherwise stagnant local economy.

The market is not sizzling hot, at least by comparison to New York and San Francisco in recent years. Still, it is stronger than anyone might reasonably expect four months after Hurricane Katrina, with prices for houses in many areas at or above prestorm levels.

"Right after the storm, if I had heard myself talking like I am now, about setting records in some offices and posting three record-breaking months in a row, I would've wondered what Kool-Aid this guy was drinking," said Arthur Sterbcow, the president of Latter & Blum, an 89-year-old New Orleans real estate firm that bills itself as the largest on the Gulf Coast. "But every day it gets crazier and crazier in a positive way." The last few months of 2005, Mr. Sterbcow said, have proven to be "the best period in the history of our company."

The market is spotty, to be sure. In areas hit hard by flooding, such as the New Orleans East and Lakeview neighborhoods of the city and other communities that ring the southern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, home sales are down dramatically, as only the bravest speculators are buying in these distressed communities.

But there are plenty of buyers, with some seeking investments and others just needing a place to live after losing a home. Most people are buying "high and dry," to borrow the term on every broker's lips since Katrina, but even that seems a surprising vote of confidence in the long-term prospects of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes. In the West Bank area, which lies west of the Mississippi, November sales were up 99 percent, in dollar terms, over November 2004, according to data provided by Latter & Blum. And in the high-priced Garden and Warehouse districts, the firm's November sales more than doubled.

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