With close to 50 years in the New Orleans real estate industry under his belt, Wade Ragas shares his thoughts on the present — and likely future — of the market.

Through hard work and years of experience, Wade Ragas has become the leading expert in the New Orleans real estate industry and throughout the country. Since 1982, his business, Real Property Associates Inc. has worked with large-scale property owners, lenders, law firms and corporate clients, providing a wide range of services including complex property valuations, economic impact studies, estates, real estate market/feasibility studies, litigation services and environmental damages.

Ragas authored or coauthored more than 30 articles in national publications. Many people may know him as author of the “New Orleans Real Estate Market Analysis,” a 100-page semiannual review of residential and commercial market conditions on the Gulf Coast. When he worked at the University of New Orleans, from 1978 until 2005, he wrote 35 volumes of this influential guide.

While at UNO, Ragas also directed a wide range of applied real estate research projects through the Real Estate Market Data Center. As a research and full professor, he taught all aspects of real estate to thousands of students and more than 30,000 real estate professionals.

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A Jefferson Parish native, Ragas holds a doctorate from Ohio State University in real estate and urban analysis (finance) and professional credentials with the Member Appraisal Institute (MAI) and as a Senior Residential Appraiser (SRA). He’s also provided expert opinions in more than 70 court cases at the State and Federal District Court levels as well as the Federal Circuit Court of Claims. Additionally, he’s served as a consultant to the Louisiana Real Estate Commission, Louisiana Appraiser Certification Board and Louisiana Tax Commission.

BIZ: When did you get interested in real estate?

My father sold real estate, so when I was 11 years old or so I started helping him. When the newspaper ads came out on Saturday mornings, we’d be either showing property or looking at property. I enjoyed doing that with my father and think it began my love for this business.

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BIZ: When did you decide real estate was going to be your chosen profession?

In 1969 I graduated from the University of New Orleans with a degree in economics. Then I took a job with Smolkin-Siegel Corp., a national business that did real estate market research, and I began doing research all across the country. That was the beginning. I was interested in a job that used my skills, and I am good at math so this was a good fit. My next job was as an assistant vice-president in Pringle-Associated Mortgage Corp. There I gathered many skills and became qualified in mortgages and loaning and learned about both residential and commercial lending. I profiled properties and tried to identify niche markets that had demand. Then when I was working on my doctorate at Ohio, I worked more in the field of urban analysis. In 1976 I began teaching at UNO.

“Metro New Orleans average [home] prices have risen from $102 per square foot before Katrina to $121 per square foot, or by 18.6 percent.”

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BIZ: What did you enjoy about teaching others about real estate?

God gave me a few talents and it’s richly rewarding to use those to help others. Our programs helped students discover and enhance their career paths. I worked with a wide variety of people in the business such as agents, bankers, contractors, developers and appraisers. I also wanted to help those people who were selling real estate to become independent brokers.

BIZ: Tell me about the other work you did at the University of New Orleans.

I helped develop the Real Estate Research Center, which serves the real estate community and the general public. We had three main areas of services: professional real estate education, primary real estate market data and contract research. Also, in 1990 I was asked to create a seminar for professionals in the real estate industry. So we did a four-hour look into the future of the economy and real estate. It was the New Orleans Economy and Real Estate Market Forecast. We routinely had 600 people attend. I did that for 15 years until I retired.

BIZ: What have you been doing since retiring from UNO?

Many things. One thing is five years ago we began providing housing market analysis for the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors that focuses on data by ZIP code. The latest one came out in July and the next will be in February. I’ve also been involved with another annual symposium.

BIZ: Can you tell me a bit more about that?

It’s the Annual Economic and Real Estate Forecast Symposium. The Commercial Investment Division of the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors presents it. This will be our fifth symposium, and it will be held on Oct 12 and 13 at Roussel Hall on the Loyola campus. We will have two well-regarded national economists presenting at the symposium. The first is Adrienne C. Slack, the vice president and regional executive at the New Orleans Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Her topic will be The Economy: Insights from Rubbing the Federal Reserve Crystal Ball. The second is Paul Bishop, VP of research for the National Association of Realtors. His topic is Economy of Housing: Forecast for America. Both these speakers will have a lot to offer.

We will also have some of the area’s top real estate experts who will look at jobs, housing interest and so much more.

We really try and focus our individual presentations because we want to leave room for questions and answers. So we usually have a short presentation with lots of visuals and then we leave room for the questions. That’s where the learning happens. The symposium is open to the public. My topic is In Search of Value: Rates, Return and Rationale. I will present with D. Wesley Moore, vice president of Cook, Moore and Associates.

“No other city in the southern coastal area has the protection we have…
New Orleans is a very good place to invest.”

BIZ: What do you think is going to happen if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates?

The rates have not gone up in nearly a decade, and we really don’t know what the Federal Reserve will do. If it’s a one and out that won’t be a big problem. For example, if they raise it a quarter point it won’t make a big difference. That results in a 10 percent increase in a monthly mortgage. That’s not great, but the bigger problem is if it looks like this will be one at the start of many more increases. Right now, the stock market is very volatile, so you usually try to avoid raising interest rates. Also, keep in mind that typically the stock market performs poorest during the month of September.

BIZ: How does the New Orleans real estate market look 10 years after Katrina?

It looks good. For example, one of the things our most recent report looked at was the housing market, and it showed that that market has fully recovered in levels of housing prices and sales volume. Just for example, the metro New Orleans average prices have risen from $102 per square foot before Katrina to $121 per square foot, or by 18.6 percent. So the average price of a house in the metro area in 2005 was around $196,000, and now it’s around $234,000.

BIZ: How is New Orleans meeting the need for affordable homes?

Since Katrina we’ve built 20,000 affordable units that are new or renovated. In public housing we’ve built more than 8,000 Section 8 units. Most of those were for elderly housing. One of the problems is that New Orleans has a very large low-income population, and there is a real lack of higher-paying jobs here.

BIZ: What impact do businesses such as Airbnb have on the New Orleans real estate market?

At this point it’s probably not making that much difference. We have 36,000 hotel rooms in the New Orleans area and Airbnb rentals are 2 or maybe 3 percent of the market, with most of the concentration in the French Quarter. The main thing, I think, is to make sure we have a regulatory structure in place for these units that looks at fire safety, cleanliness and parking, and creates a set of guidelines.

BIZ: With the potential for hurricanes is New Orleans a good place to invest in property?

No other city in the southern coastal area has the protection we have. If you look at downtown Tampa or Miami, they don’t have the floodwalls or the pumps we do. It’s dangerous to look back 40 years to forecast that Katrina-type hurricanes will happen again in the next 40 years. The weather has so many more global factors and issues. The bigger issue is the sea rise. It may be risky to buy property on the water in places like Biloxi, Miami or Houston without the kind of protection we have in New Orleans. New Orleans is a very good place to invest.

Do you sell property? No, I think it represents too much of a conflict of interest and since 1980 my firm has been interested in consulting others.

Ragas will be a featured speaker at this year’s Annual Economic and Real Estate Forecast Symposium, which focuses mostly on the commercial market.

BIZ: Do you do any volunteer work in the community?

I’ve served on many boards and committees. Since 1984 I’ve been on the board of directors on the Mutual Savings and Loan in Metairie. I’ve also served on the Rummel High School Development Committee.

BIZ: What advice would you give the average investors?
If you are purchasing a home, find a location you love and that you know you will live in for an extended time. There is almost always appreciation on a well-maintained property. And for the most part, your home will be a better investment than the stock market or gold. If you are buying property to rent, be realistic. Make sure your rent will fully cover the loan and other expenses such as repairs and property taxes. Some of my clients have bought rental properties every couple of years and now they can retire with a fairly comfortable income.

BIZ: What do you do in your free time?

The truth is I don’t have much free time. I’m lucky, I believe my work is not work. So much of what I do on a day-by-day basis I find really enjoyable.


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