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Can you score living near a baseball stadium?

By   |  Posted in First-Time Homebuyers

As the 2012 Major League Baseball season approaches, the annual fantasy that your team can make it to the World Series starts anew, and living near one of the 29 ballparks in the United States -- or the one in Canada -- sounds like a lot of fun. What fan wouldn't want to live near the excitement of a baseball park, walk to games and be near restaurants and all of the excitement that comes with crowds of people having a fun time at the ballpark?

But because a new stadium is often built in an older section of a city on land that nobody wants, it can be difficult to attract developers and homebuyers who want to take the risk of building and living in a neighborhood that hasn't matured yet.

On the flip side, "unless a place is downtown, you're not going to build condos in the middle of nowhere," says Evan Weiner, a New York-area journalist who covers the business of sports.

Most ballparks don't have condos around them because a lot of land is needed for parking, and most are built in old neighborhoods that aren't safe, Weiner says. "Building out has been pretty much a failure, wherever you go," he says.

Nevertheless, condos have been successful near a few ballparks, such as in San Francisco, Denver and San Diego, which were industrial areas before the ballparks were built. Without much housing in the neighborhoods, developers were able to revitalize areas that didn't already have a lot of people living there.

AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, opened in 2000 and kickstarted the neighborhoods around the park. Julianna Wahlmeier and her husband bought a two-bedroom, two-bath condo a block from the park in March 2011 for $680,000, less than the approximately $700,000 it sold for at the height of the market when the complex was built. The casual baseball fans bought because it was near public transit, is in a kid-friendly neighborhood and has great restaurants. After they moved from Oakland, the Giants became "our new home team," Wahlmeier says.

"Definitely the fact that the ballpark is there was a big part of our decision," she says.

They attend a few games a month and haven't had any problems with Giants fans near their home, although the heavy crowds make driving home from work difficult on game days, she says.

The recession and the Padres

The San Diego Padres stadium, Petco Park, opened in 2004 on land that had been full of warehouses. "It was a huge catalyst for rebuilding in the area," San Diego real estate agent Chad Dannecker says of the ballpark.

Condo prices in the area hit a peak in mid-2005, with some now down 30 to 50 percent, Dannecker says. Many were bought by speculators or as second homes by people who used them for home equity loans and have since left, he says. Last year, 74 percent of condo sales downtown were for less than $450,000, a price that attracts buyers without further depressing the market, he says. This year there are fewer condos for sale at that price -- about a one-month inventory -- while condos at $600,000 or more have a 10- to 16-month supply.

That's where the deals are, says Dannecker, who last year paid $550,000 for a condo that the previous owner had a $1 million mortgage on and had taken out $200,000 in cash on the $800,000 condo.

Dannecker says he enjoys living near the ballpark, although he admits that many residents may be bigger fans of the atmosphere than they are of the Padres. "A lot of people love the energy that goes along with the ballpark," he says.

South Florida jumps into the market

Generally, condo development near new ballparks may lag by a few years, as infrastructure, restaurants and neighborhoods develop first. As one of the areas hardest hit by the housing disaster, Miami hopes to begin the revitalizing process this year. The Miami Marlins will open the 2012 season in a new stadium three miles west of downtown Miami in April, and turning around their new neighborhood will be a challenge. The stadium is in a poor, rundown neighborhood that is six miles inland without a view of the ocean -- a big selling point for homeowners, says Michael Light, a real estate agent at Miami Condo Investments.

"In Miami, everyone wants to be right near the water," Light says.

A condo near the stadium can be bought for about $40,000, Light says, although his company doesn't sell near there. "Other than the stadium, there's nothing around there," he says. The ballpark hasn't affected housing prices so far, he says, and the closest neighborhood to the park that he sells in is two miles away. A two-bedroom condo there currently costs $350,000.

"If somebody built a new development there," Light says of the Marlins' stadium, "I don't know anyone who would want to buy in that area" because of the high crime rate.

"If you go to a ballgame in Miami, you want to get the hell out immediately after the game," he says.

Will Miami benefit from its new stadium? Give it some time. For the few cities where ballparks have paid off and the surrounding neighborhoods are doing well, it's a lot of fun, as Wahlmeier realizes every time the Giants play at home and she doesn't have to fight traffic to get to a game.

"It really is amazing to be able to walk to the game," she says.

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