Theater productions, sporting events, art exhibits, well-known speakers—life in a college town has all sorts of perks. "There is always something going on because of the university, and the students keep you young," says Shannon Overby, the executive director of the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau, which covers the area where Texas A&M University is located. But if you've always dreamed of moving to a college community, buying low is a key ingredient in a successful real estate investment, as any freshman economics major can tell you. In order to identify the college towns with the most undervalued real estate markets, we turned to IHS Global Insight's first-quarter 2009 House Prices in America report. The report uses population density, household income, and other data to compare a housing market's current value with where it should be on a purely statistical basis. Using this data, U.S. News put together the following look at 15 great, underpriced college towns:
(Quick note: We used a liberal definition of the term "college town" in order to include certain cities—such as Houston—that, although they have strong schools, aren't necessarily defined by their association with a given university.)
1. Houston: Among the handful of colleges located in Houston is Rice University, which ranks 17th on U.S. News's Best National Universities list for 2010. With just 3,102 undergraduate students, Rice prides itself on its intimate educational experience; it has a 5-to-1 student to faculty ratio and a median class size of 14. The presence of this top-notch university benefits the greater community in a number of ways. For example, Rice's continuing education initiatives provide a host of noncredit courses—covering topics such as foreign languages and professional development—and even a degree-granting Master of Liberal Studies Program. And in the summer, Rice hosts a two-week summer program for high school girls designed to boost confidence and enthusiasm about computer science studies. The median home price in Houston was $120,000 in the first quarter, which IHS Global Insight considers 37 percent undervalued. James Gaines, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, expects future job and population growth to drive home price appreciation going forward. "The medium- and long-term prospects for Houston are extremely good," Gaines says. The city has "good demographic growth, job growth, and a reasonably balanced housing market," he says.
2. Atlanta: The Georgia Institute of Technology—or Georgia Tech—is one of several universities in the greater Atlanta area. Located on a 400-acre campus smack in the middle of the city, Georgia Tech is considered among the best research universities in the country and clocked in at No. 35 in U.S. News's most-recent Best National Universities rankings. Atlanta residents can take advantage of the university's presence through a number of programs, including the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute, which uses science and technology to help entrepreneurs build successful start-ups and established companies compete more effectively. The median home price in Atlanta was $148,000 in the first quarter. According to IHS Global Insight, that's 24 percent undervalued.
3. College Station, Texas: Situated in College Station, which has a population of about 86,000, Texas A&M University has the nation's largest student body not located in a major metropolitan area. The university, with more than 46,000 students, was ranked 61st on U.S. News's Best National Universities list for 2010. The community offers a safe, family-friendly quality of life, which is only enhanced by the university, says Overby. "Aggie sports is a big deal," Overby says. "Whether or not you went to school here, if you live here you can't help but be an Aggie." In addition, local residents can take advantage of the programs and events at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, which is located in College Station. "They bring in world-renowned speakers and dignitaries throughout the year for different things," Overby says. The median home price in the Bryan-College Station area was $107,000 in the first quarter, which IHS Global Insight considers 21 percent undervalued.