For all that New Orleans means to her residents, to tourists and to the repeat visitor, from jazz revivals to Greek Revival architecture, it is the city’s uniqueness within the modern United States that make it so exotically appealing. You may not need a passport to get here from the rest of the country, but you certainly can expect a change in latitude — and attitude. Let the good times roll.

What is it known for?
Beignets, beads and Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, Mississippi mud pie and Creole cuisine, and sadly now Hurricane Katrina. That disaster cut the city’s population in half and displaced a larger proportion of the black population than the white, due to the city’s poorer neighbourhoods taking the brunt of the flooding. However, now the city has returned to three-quarters of its pre-Katrina population. And tourism is flourishing.

The magic of New Orleans is that its pace is tied to Old Man River, the Mississippi that just keeps rolling along. The Creole culture, mixed with Irish and Italian, means spectacular restaurants and inventive cuisine. The jazz tradition, from Preservation Hall to hole-in-the-wall clubs, attracts famous musicians and music lovers from around the world. The New Orleans Museum of Art and the National WWII Museum make the city a cultural hub for the Gulf South. But it is the people of New Orleans that give the place its soul and true joy.

Where do you want to live?
The areas that remain strongly popular are the historic districts, which became known as “the silver on the river” after they did not flood in Katrina. The land they are on is only a few feet above sea level, but it was enough. These districts include Bywater, Garden District and St Charles Avenue, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and the Irish Channel area. “New Orleans is a city of neighbourhoods,” said Sterling Joe Ory, ex-officio of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors. “The market is like the weather — it’s rarely raining everywhere.” The historic district market is currently brisk, according to Ory, who said they attract the large influx of young professionals who have moved to the city.

New Orleans has a unique mix of housing characteristics where affordable houses are cheek-by-jowl with wealthier blocks, and 19th-century architecture spans different price ranges. Some people are attracted to fixer-uppers or condo units in converted grand Victorian homes. “Even our slums are Greek Revival, so bargains are out there,” said Ory. But rentals are not. The inventory is very scarce at the moment and there are fewer places for rent than for sale.

Side trips
New Orleans proximity to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama and even Florida makes the city a popular weekend and second-home destination, and many New Orleanians own condos along the Gulf. South Louisiana is also popular for hunting and fishing, and some people go camping or own boats.

Airfare from New Orleans to Caribbean destinations is usually reasonable and there are direct flights to Toronto and some summer service to Central American destinations. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was also one of eight approved this year for charter flights to Cuba, but it is unknown when those will begin.

Practical info
New Orleans bucked the national trend and had fewer foreclosures than many other cities in many other states. “Tourism, the port and the teaching hospitals keep us ‘recession resistant’,” said Ory. “And we’ve experienced a large influx of young professionals with disposable income who appreciate the cultural uniqueness of New Orleans.” But house prices are abetted by low interest rates on long-term mortgages. “With 30-year interest rates hovering at 4%, money is at 1960 prices,” said Ory. 

In the city, an 1,800-sq ft house can sell for as low as $240,000 with a monthly payment of under $900, while three-bed rentals can be as high as $2,500 a month. Many people buy to realize the best return on their investment. One quirk of buying in New Orleans, however, is that the city’s legal system operates under the Napoleanic Civil Code, which can mean that some laws governing commercial transactions are different from the rest of the country. Some out-of-state lenders will bail out of the loan process because there are rules and regulations that you do not have elsewhere in the country. It best to work with a local realtor and a local lender who can help you navigate the regional differences.

“We do things differently here,” said Ory. “But that’s why we are a number one destination. The city truly is hitting on all cylinders now.”

Further information
: news and Times-Picayune content
: city weekly with news, restaurant and arts reviews and blogs
: New Orleans magazine about Louisiana music, food and culture