Alumni boosters like Janet and Dave Murfin are putting a new twist on the hunt for off-campus housing. Photo: Chris Mullins for The Wall Street Journal
When it comes to a vacation retreat, most home buyers pick somewhere they can sunbathe, ski or play golf. Janet and Dave Murfin chose somewhere they can watch basketball.
The Murfins—both alumni of the University of Kansas—bought and remodeled a circa-1940 colonial home in Lawrence, across the street from the university’s campus. From there, they can cheer on the Jayhawks.
“It’s our game-day house, and we are so excited to have it—we go to all the football games, and probably three-fourths of the basketball games,” said Ms. Murfin.
The dining room of Janet and Dave Murfin’s house in Lawrence, Kan.—home of their alma mater, the University of Kansas. Photo: Chris Mullins for The Wall Street Journal
The couple, who live in Wichita, about 170 miles southwest of Lawrence, spent more than $400,000 to buy and remodel the three-bedroom house in 2012. “It’s tastefully done but it still has KU colors—with a red door and blue shutters,” she said.
Alumni boosters like the Murfins are putting a new twist on the hunt for off-campus housing, purchasing getaway homes in seemingly unlikely spots: Lubbock, Texas; Spokane, Wash.; East Lansing, Mich.—or wherever there is a big university with a top-ranked team and rabid alumni.
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“Just in the last five or six years, we’ve seen people buying places that, except for game times, are vacant,” said Martha Bashore, a real-estate agent in East Lansing, home to Michigan State University. The Spartans are a dominant force in the NCAA—the basketball team has appeared in the Final Four nine times, bringing home two championships.
“Spartan spirit is just savage,” Ms. Bashore said. “I’m working with a couple from Arizona—they want to come to as many games as they can. They are just waiting for a two-bedroom condominium to pop up in this particular building, and they’ll buy it, sight unseen.”
The benefits of a game-day house go beyond basketball season, alumni say, citing university towns’ vibrant lifestyle.
“It’s like being in college without the pressure,” said Ms. Murfin, who painted the opening words of KU’s alma mater—Far above the golden valley…—over her front door.
College Sports Fans’ Game-Day Homes
Alumni of universities with top-ranked sports programs eschew hotels in favor of buying homes near basketball arenas or football stadiums.
The kitchen of Janet and Dave Murfin’s house in Lawrence, Kan.—home of their alma mater, the University of Kansas. Alumni boosters like the Murfins are putting a new twist on the hunt for off-campus housing, purchasing getaway homes in towns with big universities with top-ranked teams.
Chris Mullins for The Wall Street Journal
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Spotting an untapped market, developers have begun targeting well-heeled alumni. Splinter Creek, a new lakefront community with homes priced from $850,000 to $1.5 million outside Oxford, Miss., has pursued graduates of nearby University of Mississippi with full-page ads in its alumni magazine and launch parties timed to coincide with big home football games.
Dale and Cheryl Swinburn, who own a commercial farm in Tulia, Texas, considered buying a vacation home in New Mexico before deciding to build a brick townhouse in Lubbock—home to Texas Tech and its Red Raiders basketball team.
“We see all the home football games and all the basketball games—it’s a rarity that we miss one in Lubbock,” said Mr. Swinburn, class of 1965.
The Swinburns’ 2,500-square-foot house, which they built and furnished for about $400,000 in 2008, has a Red Raider room (scarlet walls, black leather couch) and an enviable location less than a mile from the stadium.
Mark Blaufuss, who graduated from Michigan State in 1990, has had season tickets for football and basketball for years, but struggled to nab hotel rooms in the college town.
Dale and Cheryl Swinburn built a brick townhouse in Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech—Mr. Swinburn’s alma mater. Photo: Amy Mikler for The Wall Street Journal
“I knew the exact day the Marriott would open up a room for reservations for each football game,” said Mr. Blaufuss, a mergers and acquisitions consultant.
Although he lives about 75 miles away in Plymouth, Mich., he says he prefers not to drive home after games.
“There could be inclement weather,” he said. “Beer—that adds another layer to it.”
So in 2016, Mr. Blaufuss and his friend and fellow alum, Mike McNamara, who lives about 90 miles away in Rochester Hills, bought a two-bedroom condominium for $230,000; many of the previous owner’s Spartan-themed furnishings, including logo-embossed leather bar stools, were thrown in with the purchase. They decorated their man cave in Michigan State colors—green and white—with a pair of 55-inch television screens, a Kegerator and a patio barbecue for pre-tailgate parties.
Dale and Cheryl Swinburn, who spent about $400,000 to build and furnish their Lubbock townhouse. Photo: Amy Mikler for The Wall Street Journal
Kris Snow, president of Cisco Capital at Cisco Systems, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, didn’t attend a single game when she was a student at Gonzaga University’s School of Engineering.
“I was studying all the time,” said Ms. Snow, who is on Gonzaga’s board of trustees and whose daughter is currently enrolled as a junior. “Now, I’m a major NCAA basketball fan.”
Last April—just days after Gonzaga’s men’s basketball team lost the national championship game to the University of North Carolina—Ms. Snow and her husband closed on a 1926 Tudor with three bedrooms in Spokane for $520,000, which they are gut-remodeling.
“The homes on both sides of us have Zag families,” she said, using the nickname for Gonzaga grads. “When we go back to Spokane, we feel so welcomed in by the Gonzaga family.”
The renovation will be completed next fall; the bigger challenge is finding a seat in the Kennel—Gonzaga’s basketball stadium—to watch her beloved Bulldogs play. There is a long wait list for season tickets.
“We beg, we borrow,” Ms. Snow said. “Even for those who are as committed as we are, tickets are hard to find.”