2732502989 98ca366314 300x202 A March Madness Look at College TownsI’m on my way this week to Louisville and Knoxville for two major Coldwell Banker regional events.  I must admit that as a huge college basketball fan, my trips to these two great places is tinged with sadness.  Because Louisville and Tennessee are in the NCAA Tournament, I’m sure I’ll be met by a full force of March Madness fever.  But my Illinois Fighting Illini are not in the Big Dance.  I don’t know how they got left out.  They took eventual Big 10 champ Ohio State to double overtime in the conference tournament semifinals before losing.  Yet somehow, we are left out and going to the NIT.

I know this isn’t a basketball blog, but when given a forum like this I have to stand up for my Illini.  So I figured today’s blog should be about college towns.

Let’s start with Champaign-Urbana.  It is a special place.  Since I go back as often as I can to my alma mater to see football and basketball games, I recently bought a condo there that serves as a home base for my wife and I, family and friends for our reunion weekends.   And I am part of a trend.

You see, college towns have gained in popularity over the years because of their vibrancy, access to culture and sports, steady economic base and often-times more affordable housing than major markets.

Let’s start with affordability.  The recent Coldwell Banker College Market Home Price Comparison found 62 percent of the markets that are home to major college football schools were below $250,000 for a 2,200 square foot, 4 bedroom, 2 ½ bath home.  And that list includes such great places as Syracuse, South Bend, Athens, Oxford and Knoxville.  And college towns usually have a pretty steady economy buoyed by the university itself, major medical and research facilities and even state capitols.

Baby boomers – and I am one –  are flocking to their alma maters.  Whether it is to retire or buy a vacation home (like I did), many have recognized that their school plays a major role in their lives.   So why not go back.  And as retirement havens go , iconic college towns offer plenty to do.

Even younger families are getting in the action.  I can’t tell you how many stories we have heard at Coldwell Banker about a family falling in love with the college their son/daughter attends.  They buy a home to visit for the four years, go to games and campus events and after graduation come back over and over again.   That home essentially became an investment in the family’s lifestyle.

And finally, there is a trick those in real estate have known for years.  Buy don’t rent.  When a real estate agent’s son/daughter completes his/her first year at college, many forego dorm life for the family investment.  Mom and Dad will buy a home for their child to live in and generate cash flow from roommates paying rent.  This becomes a solid real estate investment.  And remember, these real estate agents know the areas to buy in and often times don’t purchase what we might call a “traditional” off campus home that may be neglected over time.  Instead, they are buying in good locations and trust that their child’s roommates won’t destroy the home.  The condo I bought in Champaign-Urbana was sold by a family who had bought it and used it throughout their son’s year at U of I.

So as the games begin on Thursday afternoon, it’s OK to think about how a great college town might figure in your housing future.

Photo: Flickr user pagedooley