The Keys to Buying an Intown Home
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) If you're one of those middle-aged suburbanites moving back into the city for convenience, or a young family trying to save money and time getting to work, the idea of "location, location, location" means more than ever before.
I've been an intowner all my adult life, first in Houston, later in Atlanta. I've raised a family intown. I've written about real estate for some of the local papers I worked for and I've made a profit with my major real estate buy.
Here is what I've learned. Location intown is based on three factors. These factors are:
First, direction. What's behind you, outside of town, will determine whether your property has a chance to appreciate. If a city's wealth naturally grows in the direction of the home you're looking at, if the market is hot further out from where you are, you can move closer in and have some hope of change.
For instance, Atlanta's wealth grows mainly north and east. The south side leads to the noisy Atlanta Airport; the west side's suburbs don't get attractive until you're 20 miles out. But areas like Buckhead, to the north, and Inman Park, to the east, have always been solid. If you look on the periphery of such areas you can find bargains.
This is true in Houston as well. There, west is the direction you want, away from the Houston Ship Channel. You can deviate to the north a bit, or to the south a bit, but the intown neighborhoods that have become most attractive over the decades have been on the west side.
Moving toward town, when there is solid suburbia or even wealth behind you, is usually a winning strategy. The rate at which things improve will depend on the local economy, but over time they'll improve first in the direction wealth lies behind.
This is true regardless of the quality of the housing stock. The Cabbagetown area of Atlanta consists of what were once called "shotgun shacks," tiny houses on miniscule lots that were rented by factory workers. Because it's due east of downtown, prices there are growing faster than in Grant Park to its south, where the city's gentry lived at the turn of the last century.
Second, control. Intown neighborhoods that are separate from the city, that are their own cities, always have a chance to boom once people start coming closer to the city. Alamo Heights near San Antonio, West University Place outside Houston and Decatur near Atlanta all attracted money before nearby neighborhoods that were part of the city.
There are two levels of control. Control of the police, the fire services and the roads is one thing. Control of local schools is something else. Upper middle-class families want to know that, if they're paying big tax bills, they're getting value for their money.