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‘Cosmopolitan Mayberry’ condo sales increasingly popular

Oxford — How about owning a condo in “cosmopolitan Mayberry?”
Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine named the City of Oxford as an ideal retirement destination in its March 2005 issue, affectionately calling Oxford a “cosmopolitan Mayberry.” The article touted the town Square and the reasonable cost of living in Oxford.

“The presence of a college provides any city, especially a small one, with youthful vitality, new ideas and a town-and-gown symbiosis that fosters the arts, restaurants, bookstores and high-quality medical facilities,” said the article by Patricia Mertz Esswein.

Articles such as the one in Kiplinger’s have helped draw attention to Oxford. Christy Knapp, assistant director of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, said Oxford has been highlighted in more than 45 national publications since its retiree recruitment program started in 1993.

“One that just came out is that Oxford is highlighted in the book, ‘The Absolute Best Places to Retire in the U.S.,’ by Joe Yogerst,” Knapp said. “Oxford is one of two cities in Mississippi listed in the book. We have also attracted the attention of publications like Money Magazine, Fortune, Time and U.S. News & World Report.”

Since the recruitment program began 12 years ago, Oxford has attracted more than 530 retiree households. While most re-locating retirees are looking for a traditional single-family home, condominiums are also popular.

“There are more and more retirees now, as baby boomers are aging,” Knapp said. “They are looking for ways to make investments, and real estate is always a good investment. The more the baby boomer population ages, the more we will see of this.”

Making an investment

A number of apartments in Oxford have been converted to condos in recent years, and those condos are particularly popular with alumni of the University of Mississippi. The condos are also sometimes purchased by parents (who may also be alumni) looking for living quarters for their children going to college.

“Over the years, real estate in Oxford has appreciated, and if you have one or more kids you are putting through the university, a condo is not a bad investment to either hold onto for retirement later, or to sell after four to eight years making some money on it as an investment. In my opinion, there are more people buying condos for other reasons rather than to live in during retirement. Many of the people buying the condominiums are people looking for second homes.”

Alumni who have moved away may keep a condo in order to have a place to stay when they are in town for sporting or cultural events.

“There is always something going on in Oxford,” said Will R. Knotts, president of the North Central Board of Realtors and broker/owner of Mississippi Real Estate Exchange. “Oxford has a lot to offer culturally with the activities at the university. Our condo market is really like no other. Alumni like Ole Miss so much that many buy second homes here. They are attracted by the ambiance of Oxford. It has great restaurants, and most are locally owned.”

Knotts said the leadership behind the city and the university drives the market because they make sure that Oxford maintains its small town charm while having so much to offer with the university.

“The Oxford leadership does a great job of exploiting the resources we have here,” he said.

Oxford is a small town, and being located near the Square is considered premium. Since the amount of residential property in the heart of town is limited, that helps properties such as condos appreciate in value.

Development trends

Knotts said in the past several years older apartment complexes have been converted into condos. The highest and best use of the properties was converting them to condominiums rather than taking them down and starting over.

“It is a matter of trying to keep up the integrity of the town while meeting the needs of the housing market,” Knotts said. “They have done a good job in making sure the condos fit in with the character of Oxford. It is not the typical three-story apartment complex looking like a beachfront home. There is a wide range of development with condos starting at around $100,000 and going as high as $800,000. There is a lot to choose from whether you are looking for medium priced or upper echelon condos.”

It is difficult to say exactly who is buying all the condos. The North Central Board of Realtors is trying to get firm statistics on who is buying the condominiums. But Knotts said the market it so fast paced, it is hard to keep up.
Colbert Jones, director of planning, City of Oxford, said in the past month alone the city has issued permits to build 80 new condominiums.

“Our main market here for condos would be for retirees and people who have an affection for Ole Miss,” Jones said. “Oxford is just a great place to live.”

The apartment-to-condo trends hasn’t just been seen in older apartments, but also in newer apartments. Jones said the condos are primarily redevelopment and infill on lots that have been passed over earlier for development or held by an estate for a long time.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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