Top 5 havens from US real estate storm

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    Brad Pitt's 'Make It Right' project rebuilt this home and many others in New Orleans. Despite (or perhaps because of) hurricane Katrina, the city has escaped most of the real estate debacle. Only 4 percent of its homeowners owe more on their homes than their homes are worth, a new study found.
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New Orleans – the city partially built below sea level – is one of the least "underwater" when it comes to real estate.

Only 3.8 percent of its homeowners owe more on their homes than those homes are worth, according to new survey released Wednesday by, an online real estate marketplace. That's the second-lowest rate of the 160 metropolitan areas surveyed.

Of course, it's easy to buck the trend when a major hurricane wipes out a good portion of your housing, pushes out a third of your people (especially the poor), and causes federal and state governments to pump in millions of dollars in aid.

Low underwater rates

But take a look at the other metro areas that have become havens from the real estate storm: Augusta, Ga., where only 2 percent of homeowners are underwater; Cumberland, Md., (5.0 percent); Corvallis, Ore., (5.3 percent); and Oklahoma City (6.3 percent).

Their numbers would look a little worse if they included just mortgageholders, rather than all homeowners. But they come nowhere near the national average (21.9 percent) or the shocking rate in some cities like Stockton, Calif., (51.1 percent) or Las Vegas (67.2 percent).

What makes the haven cities different?

Slow growth helps. While the population of Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County grew by more than a third this decade, New Orleans (of course) and metro Cumberland lost population. Augusta and Richmond County, Ga. were flat. The most growth any of the havens saw was 7 percent in Oklahoma County, Okla.

Not exactly a boom.

Four of the cities have lower unemployment rates than their state average – but higher poverty rates. All have median household income roughly the same or lower than the state average. And of course, most of the real estate bubble passed them by.

Five-year appreciation

While the nation has seen no housing appreciation on average in the past five years (click on the chart above), homes in each of these haven cities are still worth more than they were in 2004, according to Oklahoma City has seen no decline at all from its peak, the survey found.

Perhaps what stands out most about these cities is that they don't stand out. They're small and mid-size metropolises. They didn't get caught up in the growth mania of the go-go years. If you'd driven through them earlier in the decade, you might have yawned.

Now, they occupy the high ground – a perfect place to ride out the economic storm.


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