The Mississippi Coast, especially the western portion, is seeing a boom in the second-home market, which is returning after a post-Katrina dry spell. Louisianians from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette are building or buying homes, many replacing ones lost in the 2005 storm.
Some Realtors say the activity is a spillover from the red-hot housing market New Orleans is now enjoying. “Things are definitely coming back,” said John Schaff, a Realtor/broker with Latter and Blum in New Orleans and Bay St. Louis. He said there is “a lot of new money in New Orleans and young entrepreneurs are moving in” to the city in spite of high prices. He expects the Mississippi Coast real estate market will follow in a couple of years. “The Bay is going to be unbelievable,” he said.
He said the municipal harbor to be completed next year will be an enormous bonus for the city. “It’s a huge boom. People will want to come back over there. “
Schaff said friends from New Orleans who own a second home in Bay St. Louis introduced him to the town several years ago at Second Saturday, the monthly art walk in Old Town. “The first weekend I was there I saw two cousins and a couple of best friends who had been going to the Bay. We fell in love with it,” he said.
Schaff recently rebuilt his weekend home from the ground up to replace his 1940s cottage renovated just prior to Katrina that the storm destroyed. He visits every weekend. “We bring guests and we entertain a lot,” he said. “We know all the shopkeepers.”
Proximity is often cited by weekend residents as a reason to have a second home in the Bay area. “It’s just so easy,” Schaff said. “It’s 55 minutes door to door, and it’s a different world.”
Realtor Amy Wood of Amy Wood Properties in Pass Christian said, “For a second home, people look for close proximity to where they live. And we’ve got great climate and lots of recreational opportunities with the beach and fishing as well as entertainment and the casinos.”
Wood said several years ago Orange Beach and nearby spots in Florida attracted buyers but those areas have gotten so populated they’ve lost their appeal with some. “People found they can get a lot more for their money here, plus it’s closer to drive from Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans, so they can come here more.”
Wood said the housing supply on the Coast has a range of prices, from the $100,000 fishing camp to million-dollar property on Scenic Drive in Pass Christian.
“A lot of people think we are an undiscovered area,” she said. “Prices are so much more affordable.”
The Coast has been a getaway for New Orleanians for generations, Wood said. “The husband worked in the city and the family spent the summer here. Many properties on Scenic Drive are second homes.”
Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce said,
“We have a tremendous loyalty factor with people who used to spend weekends and summers here.”
Aging baby boomers are looking beyond weekend getaways and toward retirement. “Baby boomers are retiring and looking to downsize,” Wood said. “They’re getting a spot with plans to move here full time.”
Chet LeBlanc, the developer of Chapel Hill on Beach Boulevard in Bay St. Louis, said of
the 24 homes there, only seven are permanent residences. The rest are second homes.
Owners come from Lafayette, New Orleans and Baton Rouge as well as Jackson. Their commute to the Coast is far shorter than to Florida. “This is the first water you can come to,” he said.
LeBlanc, who modeled Chapel Hill on Florida’s colorful Seaside community, opened his development in 2000 and all the lots were sold by 2004. Then Katrina wiped out the small community.
But Chapel Hill buyers who visited the area before and after the storm saw something they liked in visits to Bay St. Louis and wanted to enjoy the shops, restaurants and lifestyle on a frequent basis.
“Typically they’re coming for the town,” LeBlanc said. “They came here for one of the holidays or Second Saturday and enjoyed it.”
Chapel Hill residents represent various age groups. “We’re getting younger families in their late 40s with teenaged kids coming in now. At the opposite end of the scale, the senior men are coming for golfing, fishing and some gambling while their ladies enjoy the quaint shops in Old Town,” he said. “There is truly something for everyone in Bay St. Louis.”