For some, it’s the roar of the crowd as the home team scores a touchdown on Saturdays. For others, it’s the quiet, tree-lined sidewalks on the quad or the ability to meet new people at different events at any hour of the day.

Everyone has their own reason to wax rhapsodic about their college town. But even if it’s not home to your own alma mater, college towns and cities throughout the U.S. offer a high concentration of opportunities packed into a small area. Whether it’s the academics, food options, theater or business opportunities, life in a college town is not just great for the students, it's beneficial for full-time residents as well.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, is an example of this kind of college town. Home to the University of Arkansas and its more than 26,000 students, Fayetteville becomes an annual mecca for Razorbacks fans, as the college and its sports teams have strong support throughout Arkansas as the only major state school. The attention the Fayetteville area receives, combined with its regular influx of new students and faculty from other parts of the country, contribute to its appeal to potential residents who may or may not be associated with the school itself.

“We get this global perspective, and we get this intellectual base and diversity that the average small town, particularly in rural Arkansas, wouldn’t get otherwise,” says Anthony Clark, owner of Clark Partners Realty Group in Fayetteville.

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But some of the most loved college towns for residents and students alike have factors outside the academic institution that contribute to the economy and cultural variety of the area.

Fayetteville's metro area hosts large companies such as Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., which serve as major local employers and also attract related businesses to the region.

Durham, North Carolina, is home to Duke University, one of the anchors of the “Research Triangle,” a hub for health and tech companies that benefit from close proximity to Duke, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University in nearby Raleigh. While the surrounding universities contribute to the the area's overall prosperity, Durham and its neighboring cities also benefit from many entrepreneurs outside the institutions, notes Joan Austin, Realtor and owner of Marie Austin Realty in Durham.

“Duke hasn’t brought in the restaurants and all the activities, but Duke has helped support all the new restaurants and activities,” Austin says.

When college towns flourish outside campus grounds, the community gets even stronger, as students find work after graduating and become locals themselves. In Boulder, Colorado, for example, the city has served as a draw for many recent grads from the University of Colorado–Boulder, not to mention their friends and family.

“A lot of times, students graduate and end up staying here. Their families come and visit them for the four years while they’re in school, and we have a lot of parents of students who end up packing up their lives and relocating here later because it’s a great town for so many other reasons once they’re here,” says Marybeth Emerson, broker associate for Colorado Landmark Realtors in Boulder.

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Whether you’re moving to a new town or city for the proximity to its school or other reasons, here are a few tips to help you navigate real estate in a college town.

Expect a tight real estate market. Because a portion of residential real estate in college towns is often taken up by off-campus student housing, there will likely be a lower inventory of homes than it may seem at first. Real estate markets across the country are experiencing low inventory for single-family home sales, and this is even more likely near a college.

Dale Carlton, owner/broker of Carlton Realty in Fayetteville, notes student rentals create a smaller market of entry-level homes: “[Off-campus student] housing absorbs some of the stuff that would be sold to young families.”

Inquire about the atmosphere during all seasons. Many college towns based exclusively around the local college or university will see a big drop in population once summer hits, leaving what may seem like a ghost town until fall classes begin.

But not all college towns are the same. Boulder’s proximity to the Rocky Mountains and other outdoor attractions bring a whole new group of people to the city during the summer months while the majority of students are gone.

“What happens in the summertime is the students go home but the tourists come in,” Emerson says.

Before you relocate to a college town, ask locals how the city is influenced by the academic calendar.

Prepare for Welcome Week. Even if the town doesn’t experience a significant decrease in activity during the summer, be ready for the influx of students, parents and siblings for those few weeks when students are moving in at the start of the fall classes.

Carlton notes the only negative he finds from having a large university nearby is the increased traffic, though he says, “I’m sure a lot of people from other parts of the country would not consider anything we have to be ‘traffic.’”

Whether it means avoiding your local Target or Bed Bath & Beyond for a couple weeks in the early fall or taking your summer vacation to coincide with the nearby college's start date, preparation is key to avoiding any potential downsides to the newly refreshed student population. It's also worth keeping graduation weekend and homecoming in mind as busier times in the community.

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Learn to love the school. To make life in a college town easier, it might help to let yourself become a fan – though that may be easier said than done if you’re a diehard University of Michigan fan living in Columbus, Ohio, home of the Ohio State University Buckeyes.

Even if you’re not supporting the sports teams, accepting the student population itself can make you dread three-quarters of the year a little less.

Fayetteville residents “are embraced by the community – we actually see them as a big benefit to the area,” Carlton says. He also encourages a stronger connection between on- and off-campus activities. Local residents should follow the school's events calendar to take advantage of activities open to the public, from student theater productions to cultural food expositions.

Tags: real estate, housing market, colleges, housing, home prices, existing home sales, renting, University of Arkansas, University of Colorado, Duke University


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.