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From the dorm to downtown

Reasonable rents and better amenities make L.A.'s urban core attractive to students.

August 15, 2004|Allison B. Cohen | Special to The Times

College senior David Kirtman thinks he's got a pretty good deal.

Having lived on campus his first few years at USC, the 21-year-old ventured north last year, hoping to find a decent rental in downtown Los Angeles.

He liked what he found: reasonable rent and amenities.

Kirtman is among a growing number of students in schools near downtown who are taking advantage of the downtown's expanding housing market and relatively stable rental rates.

"I was looking around school," said Kirtman, who plays on the USC football team. "Around school, they jack up prices because they know students will pay it."

The fullback figured that for about the same amount of money, he could get more living downtown. Turns out he and his roommate, Will Zellerbach, liked their arrangement so much that they've signed another lease.

For his share of the $1,450-a-month rent, Kirtman doesn't have a view of the sparkling downtown skyline, but he does overlook the pool. And then there's the hot tub, workout room and all-important good parking.

"It's a lot fancier than what I can find at school," he said. "It's not luxurious, but compared to what I can find on campus, it is."

Over the last few years, leasing agents throughout downtown have seen an uptick in students renting at such complexes as the Medici, Grand Tower, Bunker Hill Tower Apartments, the Pegasus, Museum Tower and Promenade Towers.

"More and more students are looking at downtown as a viable option," said Jeff Urdahl, director of housing services at USC. "Downtown has become more interesting, and it's just a 25-cent bus ride from there to school."

Students can find two-bedroom units at a wide range of prices -- as low as Kirtman's $1,450 a month to a more realistic average of $2,200 a month, according to Evan Fujii of Metro Realty. Prices for downtown leases, Fujii said, have risen only moderately in the last five years.

"The rental market downtown is relatively stable, especially as more apartments come on line," he said. "It keeps prices low. Competition is a lot stiffer."

It's not like dorm living, but Kirtman said there are enough of his classmates around to keep things fun.

"There are students here," he said. "I've got friends living downstairs, and two other football players live across the way."

While some students are renting downtown, a few are learning the ins and outs of homeownership.

Although it's rare, some parents are buying condominiums for their college-age children as they discover that monthly mortgages at today's low interest rates can run on par with rental costs. Alluring to these parents is the potential for appreciation, as well as the yearly tax write-offs on the mortgage interest.

Sean and Suzi McDevitt experienced what they called "sticker shock" while looking for a rental for their son Jason, who will be starting at Loyola Law School this fall. The Scottsdale, Ariz., couple decided to buy a condo for him instead.

"When we compared what we could be paying for rent in downtown versus what we could pay in a mortgage, the numbers worked out," said Sean McDevitt, a clinical psychologist.

The couple made a $100,000 down payment on a $384,000 unit in Promenade Towers to get their son started.

After that, he will have to come up with half of the $1,503 monthly mortgage -- his parents will pay the other half -- and all of the $540 monthly homeowner's fee.

"It's an investment for my parents and for me," said Jason McDevitt, 23. "I am very grateful they were able to help me in this way."

Jason McDevitt recently moved into his one-bedroom, one-bath unit, which is a short walk to his full-time job at a nearby bank. He will attend law school at night.

After he graduates, the family will decide whether to sell.

But if and when they do, the McDevitts said Jason would share in any appreciation -- creating a kind of nest egg to get him started.

For Jason McDevitt, four years from now is a long way off. He's just getting used to his new digs, which he said are quite different from the "Animal House" living arrangement he had with three friends last year in Pasadena.

"You walk into my new building, and there are chandeliers in the lobby," he said. "It's going to definitely be a change of pace."

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