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New London — Special home-financing deals, depressed real estate prices and innovative magnet schools were among the reasons cited Wednesday evening during a community forum for why the time is now ripe to buy a home in the city.
The three rules of real estate have always been location, location, location, said forum moderator Frank McLaughlin, project manager of the Renaissance City Development Association and chairman of the city’s Economic Development Commission.
“Now it’s New London, New London, New London, and we’re here to prove it,” McLaughlin said.
The forum, attended by about 60 people at the Thames Club on State Street, was the brainstorm of Linda Mariani, head of the Renaissance City Development and a member of the city’s Economic Development Commission, but it was spurred in part by a presentation given earlier this year by Keith Turner of McCue Mortgage.
Turner, an expert in options for first-time homebuyers, told the crowd that very few cities in Connecticut have the broad range of financing help available to people willing to invest in New London real estate — even if they aren’t first-time buyers. Programs include several that offer 30-year home mortgages with no money down at interest rates below 4 percent, and the offers are available anywhere in the city and to virtually anyone buying a home below $400,000 that they plan to inhabit.
“You could be making $1 million, as long as you’re living in the city,” Turner said. “It’s sort of a diamond in the rough real-estate wise.”
Someone buying a multifamily home might get a deal that would essentially allow them to live in the city for free as long as they could rent out the other units, Turner suggested.
Byron Lazine, a real estate agent with Seaport Realty Group, said New London’s real estate prices are currently about 23 percent below where they would have been during a normal market, giving consumers another reason to think about buying a home here. The $88 a square foot that buyers are currently paying for city real estate, on average, is the lowest in 10 years, he said.
“We’re very close to the bottom, if we haven’t hit it already,” Lazine said.
Tony Silvestri, developer of New London Harbour Towers, is currently working on a condominium project called City Flats that is among the city’s affordable real estate options, enabling homeowners to get newly renovated units with energy-efficiency upgrades for under $100,000 at the low end. He said there is currently a priority list of more than 30 looking to buy into units that at the high end are in the mid-$100,000 range.
“You hear the naysayers and this and that about the city,” Silvestri said. “I only see opportunities.”
Driving some of the opportunities, according to Louis Allen, director of the Science & Technology Magnet School, is an improving educational system. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio outlined a vision during his campaign of turning New London into a place dominated by magnet schools tied to various disciplines, and Allen’s school currently has about 150 students who elect to attend classes there from outside the city.
“Magnet schools transform entire neighborhoods,” Allen said.
Finizio said the expansion of magnet schools is just one area where the community has developed a consensus. Other projects gaining widespread support, he said, were the planned erection of a new National Coast Guard Museum as well as the redevelopment of Parcel J at the corner of Howard and Bank streets that will bring a grocery store and more apartment dwellers into the city.
“We have a consensus to move these things forward; they will happen,” Finizio said. “New London is a good bet.”
City Councilor Michael Passero said one key to the city’s future is adaptive reuse of some of its older buildings, such as Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson’s project to convert the old Coca-Cola plant on Bank Street into a motorcycle showroom. He said the city must decide what to do with several other buildings, such as the Lighthouse Inn and the Martin Center on Broad Street.
Other speakers included Barbara Neff, who produces several major events for the city, and Steve Sigel, managing director of the Garde Arts Center.