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Housing Market Percolates in New Orleans

Startling as it may seem to outsiders, the housing market in New Orleans could reasonably be called "hot," or at least warm.

The city's biggest residential brokerage firm -- Latter and Blum -- reports that just this past week buyers signed contracts on 673 properties. That compares to 544 properties the same week last year.

The company uses contracts signed as an indication of consumer confidence. Contracts this January were up 46 percent over last January.

And that's not just people trying to get away from flood-damaged homes, but plenty of people trying to buy them.

John Hazard is in the market for real estate. He's an investment banker who sees post-hurricane New Orleans as an opportunity that needs to be seized. The New Orleans native is buying hurricane-discounted properties in the city's historic Uptown neighborhood, an area filled with shops and restaurants.

Lakeview is a newer, upscale neighborhood. It's built alongside a natural canal: Bayou St John. But it was the man-made 17th Street Canal that "did in" Lakeview, swamping the neighborhood with up to 10 feet of water.

These days the air is filled with the sounds of pounding and scraping. The streets are filled with contractors' trucks.

Elgar Webster is gutting the first floor of a large two-story brick house in Lakeview. It has four large white columns that give it a touch of graciousness.

Webster is buying this home from the judge whose family has employed Webster over the years as an electrician and handyman. The elderly owner is not ready to start over again and Webster is ready to step in and bring the home back to life.

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Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.