Buy a Home in One of Our Winning Olympic Cities

BOSTON ( MainStreet) -- The whole world has turned its eyes to London to watch the 2012 Olympic Games, providing publicity that can boost a city's image -- and property values -- for years to come.

"Hosting an Olympics can definitely be a positive, especially for smaller communities that hold Winter Games," says Julie Reynolds of Realtor.com, which recently found that five of the six U.S. cities that have held Olympics saw above-average price gains over the past year.

Atlanta (1996 Summer Games), Los Angeles (1932 and 1984 Summer Games), Salt Lake City (2002 Winter Games), Lake Placid, N.Y., (1932 and 1980 Winter Games), and Squaw Valley, Calif., (1960 Winter Games), all saw median asking prices rise more than the 2.7% U.S. average in the 12 months ended June 30. Only St. Louis (1904 Summer Games) trailed the nation as a whole.

Reynolds says big cities such as St. Louis generally get less of a boost from the Olympics than tiny markets such as Squaw Valley.

But she says some locales large and small have managed to hold on to gold-medal gains for years by using facilities built for the Games for other purposes.

"Smart towns find that they can use infrastructure built for world-class Olympic events to drive such things as tourism," Reynolds says, noting that Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park -- built for the 1996 Games -- has especially become a hub of local economic activity.

Here's a look at real estate in all six American cities that have hosted Summer or Winter Games over the years.

All pricing figures reflect median asking prices as of June for properties listed on Realtor.com, the National Association of Realtors' official listing site.

Atlanta
The 1996 Summer Games breathed new life into Atlanta's once staid downtown, says Realtor Debra Johnston of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby's International Realty.

Johnston says construction of the downtown area's Centennial Olympic Park as a hub for the Games "took a totally urban, 9-to-5 environment and made it into live/work space. Now a whole bunch of attractions have gone up around it."

Centennial Park's fountains continue to attract residents and tourists alike, as do the later additions of the nearby Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola ( KO) museum.

Johnston says such facilities helped attract high-rise condos and loft space to the downtown area.

"If we had never had the Olympics, it would have taken a lot longer to create that kind of live/work environment," she says.

Realtor.com sees Atlanta's housing market as recovering nicely from the U.S. real estate bust. Median list prices rose 6.5% over the past year there to hit $170,000.

Lake Placid, N.Y.
Hosting the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games put tiny Lake Placid, N.Y., on the map, says Roby Politi, a former mayor who runs local realty firm Merrill L. Thomas.

After all, the town went down in Olympic history as the site of 1980's "Miracle on Ice," when the U.S. hockey team famously beat the heavily favored Soviets in the middle of the Cold War.

"Lake Placid is probably the one place people associate the most with the Olympics," Politi says. "Los Angeles also hosted two Olympic Games, but does anyone remember that?"

The broker says Lake Placid has maintained most of the 1980 facilities, and keeps the Olympic momentum going by regularly hosting world-class summer and winter sporting events.

The U.S. Olympic Committee also has its main Eastern U.S. training facility in 2,500-population Lake Placid, which is some 290 miles north of New York City in the Adirondack Mountains.

All of that has helped the community's real estate sector, which consists primarily of vacation homes. Median list prices rose 7% in town over the past year to reach $464,450, according to Realtor.com.

Los Angeles
The City of Angels hosted the 1932 and 1984 Summer Games, but Realtor.com's Reynolds thinks that was too long ago to have much effect on home prices in a community as big as Los Angeles.

"You definitely see the biggest impacts on the smaller cities," she says.

Still, Reynolds was a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles during the Games and says the community did a good job of reusing the athletic facilities afterward for local sporting events.

"They spread the Olympic events out throughout city and were able to use the infrastructure long after the Games ended," she says.

According to Realtor.com, median Los Angeles list prices rose 6.1% over the past year to reach $350,000.

Salt Lake City
Utah broker Sandy Straley of SunView Homes believes the 2002 Winter Games helped Salt Lake City weather the Great Recession by bringing in lots of winter-sports tourism.

"Salt Lake City hasn't been hurt as much as other big Western cities like Los Angeles or Seattle because we have such a great recreational economy," she says. "All of that skiing and skating helps us."

Straley adds that many of Salt Lake City's 2002 venues remain today, from the Kearns Ice Oval to the Olympic flame that still burns outside the University of Utah stadium that hosted opening and closing ceremonies.

Salt Lake City uses the sites for lots of winter-sports competitions, and has also opened up the speed-skating and ski-jump facilities for public use, she says.

"That's pretty neat," Straley says.

Realtor.com found that median Salt Lake City asking prices rose 8.2% over the past year to reach $210,000.

St. Louis
St. Louis hosted the 1904 Summer Olympics so long ago that Realtor.com's Reynolds doubts the Games had any economic impact that remains to this day.

"I think the effects really depend on how far back you're looking," she says.

Realtor.com found that St. Louis median asking prices rose only a paltry 1.25% over the past year, to $166,000.

The Gateway to the West has some things going for its housing market, though.

For instance, the city's 7.5% May jobless rate beat America's 8.2% overall rate, while the number of local homes listed for sale on Realtor.com dropped 18.1% over the past year. Those factors are usually positive signs for future home-price appreciation.

Squaw Valley, Calif.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe some 200 miles northeast of San Francisco, Squaw Valley was developed in the 1950s specifically with an eye toward capture the 1960 Winter Games.

"There's no question that the Olympics put Squaw Valley on the map," says local broker Bill Deitz of Tahoe Luxury Properties. "We're a very different community because of the Games."

Now a vacation destination for winter-sports enthusiasts, Squaw Valley maintains its 1960 slalom and giant slalom courses "so you can pretend that you're an Olympic skier," Deitz says.

The town also attracts summer-sports lovers with mountain camping and hiking, as well as water sports on Lake Tahoe some two miles away.

"Squaw Valley has done a good job of parlaying the energy behind the Olympics and carrying it forward into the future," Deitz says.

Median list prices for the community (which is officially known as Olympic Valley, Calif.), rose 10.7% over the past year to hit $602,500, according to Realtor.com.

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