Off-campus student housing sales strong

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Published: November 10,2008

For years, there’s been a growing trend for college students to live off campus. Often that means homes and condos purchased by parents. How has the current housing slump affected the student market in the towns that are home to the state’s largest three universities? There’s not a big change, say Realtors in Oxford, Starkville and Hattiesburg.

Although sales for all types of homes are down approximately 30 percent from last year in Oxford, Sharon Grace says parents are still buying off-campus housing for students with the majority of sales complete before Aug. 1.

“Many parents see buying as a means of saving money on high rental prices, and they hope to gain some appreciation,” she said. “They buy more condos and townhouses because those are turnkey and less maintenance. Their children can concentrate on getting an education rather than mowing the grass.”

The most popular locations are within two miles of the Ole Miss campus. A few of those locations include Edinburgh, Esplanade Ridge, Autumn Ridge, Aspen Ridge and The Mark where units are priced from $95,000 to $189,000.

Houses are still selling, too. Grace, who’s with REMAX Legacy Realty, says depreciation is not a problem even though there isn’t a lot of value appreciation. Recent years were good for home sales and values in Oxford.“Ole Miss freshmen are required to live on campus. I know the campus is trying to get older students living back on campus, thinking that will foster more of a community feel for them,” she said. “I don’t know what effect that will have on off-campus sales here.”

The return to campus living will also be watched in Starkville next fall when Mississippi State University returns to the policy of requiring freshmen to live on campus.

“I don’t know what impact that will have,” says Audrey McBride, Realtor/associate broker of Prudential Starkville Properties, noting that home sale numbers are still good in the area. “I think the national media has made the housing situation worse than it is. Typically, sales are slower this time of year, but I’ve already had calls for student housing for second semester. Many parents don’t want to keep paying rent and some are buying for investments as re-sales are good here.”

Condominium sales are a hot trend in Starkville with several new developments available. Some have golf courses, tennis courts and sports bars/restaurants that add to their appeal.

The hottest areas for home sales are in older areas of town, such as Longview and Greenoaks where prices range from $110,000 to $150,000. There are also several popular developments off Stark Road between U.S. 182 and Mississippi 12, a location that gives students easy access to campus.

“For all sales in Starkville, we were up 11 percent in September from the same month last year, and prices are up,” McBride said. “You have to have a great credit score but you can still buy a home.”

Sales for off-campus housing are also holding up well in Hattiesburg even though there is quite a bit of new construction. “Enrollment at the University of Southern Mississippi has also gone up so there’s still a need for student housing,” says Joe Woullard of Coldwell Banker Don Nace Realty. “Places that allow an easy commute to campus are the best sellers. Other considerations are price and safety concerns.”

Adam Watkins, president of the Hattiesburg Association of Realtors, notes that the area has always had a significant student population with USM and William Carey University.

“That means a lot of demand for student housing. There’s not enough on the campuses even though some new campus housing has been built,” he said. “We continue to see parents buy homes. I sold a townhouse last week even though most sales are in May, June and July.”

The average price of homes sold is the same as last year, which was up slightly from the previous year. Sellers, however, have to be more aggressive with pricing now. “The number of homes sold is about 20 percent less, but 2006 and 2007 were the highest sales years we’ve ever had; those were abnormal years,” Watkins said.

Much of Hattiesburg’s boom is attributed to relocations after Hurricane Katrina. The ensuing Gulf Opportunity Zone legislation also spurred building of rental units and condominiums. Watkins estimates at least a couple of dozen new complexes have been built. Some are geared to students with four bedrooms and bathrooms around a common living area.

Woullard observes that parents are buying to provide housing for their students but also because they want to invest in the community. “Hattiesburg is somewhat insulated, so we’re not seeing much of a downturn,” he said. “The yardstick is that they’re looking for something in the $120,000 range.”

Watkins, a partner with Delois Smith All Star Team, agrees that Hattiesburg is in good shape economically. “We’re fortunate that one thing doesn’t run the show with our economy,” he said. “We have academics, medical, timber, military and private enterprise, and they all compliment each other.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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