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March 31, 2009

Q&A: Fair housing

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. and the University of Baltimore School of Law have teamed up to put on a fair-housing symposium this Friday. (Interested in attending? Go to law.ubalt.edu/fairhousing. It's free, but organizers recommend you pre-register.)

Michele Gilman, a professor who directs UB's Civil Advocacy Clinic, talked to me last week about the event and the housing issues her clinic is seeing.

Q: Why did you decide to organize the symposium with BNI?

It's their 50th anniversary, so they wanted to do something big and statewide. We thought it was a great opportunity to do something and come together. …

Fair housing is always an issue, but at a time of recession, it's an even more urgent issue. We're seeing that in our docket of cases at the clinic. It's exciting to be part of something that's really tackling these issues head on. Our keynote speaker is James Carr, the chief operating officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and he's going to be focusing on the intersection of fair housing and the foreclosure crisis.

Q: What is that intersection, in your experience?

The foreclosure crisis has disproportionately impacted low-income Americans and Marylanders, which is also the population that I serve in the clinic. ... And it tends to be more moderate- and low-income communities that are also bearing the brunt of dealing with the foreclosure crisis, as far as … abandoned and foreclosed properties and all the harms that flow from that.

But it's also an issue because we have an affordable-housing crisis in this country, and yet at the same time, we have all these empty shells of homes that aren't being used. Certainly, there could be affordable-housing strategies that better take into account what's happening on the foreclosure side. …

We're seeing a unique issue in the clinic where there are clients who are being evicted from homes because their landlords are being foreclosed on. There are so many unintended consequences and ripple effects of the foreclosure crisis.

Q: What is your clinic doing for those evicted tenants?

I had a student who just testified before the General Assembly on proposed legislation. … There are a couple of bills floating around. Some would give tenants better notice; some would give them a substantive right to stay in the property ... If you were the bank and you foreclosed, you would have to let that tenant stay there for 90 days after the foreclosure. …

My students also testified last year in the General Assembly on tenants' rights. ... Eventually people realized, 'Oh my god, it really is a problem.' This year, working on the issue, there's so much energy and empathy. Not only did you do nothing wrong, you're not getting your security deposit back.

Q: Aren't tenants in that situation legally entitled to their deposit?

But they're not getting it back. Because if your landlord isn't making his mortgage payments, your security deposit has been spent long ago. ... The odds of getting it, for someone who's been foreclosed on, is just really low.

I'm just really happy that attention is being focused on the problem this year. ... On the tenants who are truly the innocent victims in the whole thing.

Q: I thought I heard about a recent change meant to improve a renter's lot if foreclosure looms.

The Court of Appeals made some rules changes that are going to provide better notice for tenants. And those go into effect … sometime this spring.

Q: How many of the clinic's cases are housing-related?

I'm running a general practice clinic. We kind of do it all. ... But right now, probably a third to a half of our docket is dealing with housing issues in some way. I have to say, I'm seeing a lot more housing right now than I have in the past. This is my eleventh year here, and I think it's the economy.

Q: Homeowner or renter housing issues?

Mostly it's renters for us. And we do focus on tenants. Traditionally, homeowners were not the people who needed free legal assistance. I realize that's changing now.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Q&A
        

March 30, 2009

The Simpsons notices the housing crisis

The phrase Bart wrote over and over on the chalkboard for his detention on last night's Simpsons: "My piggy bank is not entitled to TARP funds."

(A lot of the troubled assets in banks getting Troubled Asset Relief Program money are mortgage-related, so I'm calling this housing humor.)

Simpsons fans will recall that a few weeks ago, the family's adjustable-rate mortgage adjusted and they lost their home to foreclosure. Hijinks with neighbor Ned ensued.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor
        

March 28, 2009

Conversation starter: Baltimore revitalization

Sometimes Wonk readers will email me directly and say, "Hey, I'd like to see a discussion about such-and-such, because I think it's interesting/important/controversial, and here's what I think about it." My go-to response is, "All right -- I'll let you start."

Here's the conversation starter offered by Mike B.:

 

I've been contemplating moving from the distant burbs of DC to Baltimore for some time, but keep running smack dab into the wall of facts -- my income tax rate would go up by more than 4%, my real estate tax would be close to double what I would pay here, and the risk of crime goes up. It makes me think ... what exactly would it take to renovate a city? To bring it back to life where everyone wants to live there and no one feels like moving there could be a big financial mistake. I'd like to hear some suggestions from bloggers.

I think phasing out the ground rental issue definitely helps. As does having sports teams and mass transit. But fundamentally there are more expenses and not enough sources of revenue. So what to do? What do readers suggest?

I know you have your own opinions. Discuss away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:43 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Neighborhood improvement
        

March 27, 2009

Baltimore homebuyers get new hope, settlement date

Remember BethAnne Hoffmann and her fiancé, who have been stuck in limbo waiting for settlement on a home in Baltimore's Mayfield neighborhood? The lender foreclosed months ago, but the title is caught up in the defaulted homeowner's bankruptcy case. Well, she's now hopeful that the ownership uncertainty is coming to an end.

This week (after much prodding) the lender filed a "lift-stay" motion to allow the sale. It expects a ruling April 17.

"They are hopeful that things will get ironed out by the end of April," she wrote me in an update. Her apartment lease -- the one she had to extend after the lender couldn't settle on March 6 as agreed -- is up April 30.

What prompted this development, since Hoffmann's repeated requests to fix the situation weren't getting her anywhere? She thinks it was her appeal to Rep. John Sarbanes' office. A Sarbanes official called the lender. Tuesday, the lender filed the motion.

"That rattled some cages," she said in her email.

The situation was odd because lenders aren't supposed to list foreclosures until they own them. But if you're looking to buy a bank-owned home and want to make sure a property is really, truly bank-owned, here's a way to check:

Go to the state's Real Property Data Search to see who's listed as the owner. If it's not the lender, go to the Maryland Judiciary Case Search site and search on the name of the person who is listed as the owner. Presumably a foreclosure case will pop up. Click on it and read through to see if the property has been auctioned and if that auction has been ratified. That ought to be enough, but since it wasn't in Hoffmann's situation, you might also make sure there's no line in there like, "Notice of Filing of Case in Bankruptcy Court."

I doubt this check is foolproof. But if you turn up a red flag, you'll at least know to ask questions.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:12 AM | | Comments (3)
        

March 26, 2009

Tracking home sales on your street

While we're on the subject of comparable sales:

I decided to try a simple same-house comparison on my parents' street in Columbia, with two-story houses built in 1973, some with basements and garages and some without. Specifically: What did homes sold in the last year bring the previous time they changed hands?

One sold last March for $345,000. It last sold in 2004 for $299,000.

One sold in April for $398,000. It last sold in 2005 for $304,000.

And finally, one sold in December for $350,000. Previous sale? Two months earlier, for $195,000. That's not precisely comparable because it was a buy-and-fix-up deal -- which just goes to show that flipping (the legal kind) ain't dead.

Want to play the same game in your neighborhood? Go to the state's Real Property Data Search. If it's a small street, you can choose the "Street Address" option and look up each property to see the details of previous sales. Or you can choose "Property Sales," enter your street and specify the timeline -- and then go look up the details of those recently-sold properties via the "Street Address" choice. (EDIT: You'll get better results if you uncheck "Non-Arms Length Other" while you're on the Property Sales page.)

You're welcome to share your findings in the comments.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
        

March 25, 2009

Getting a handle on Baltimore-area home prices

If you track home sales in neighborhoods near you, you probably have some idea why average and median price changes aren't always helpful measures. Even streets with apparently cookie-cutter houses have variations -- this one is updated, that one is pure '70s. In communities where the homes range from two-bedroom rancher to 4,000-square-foot manor, what sells one year might have no relation to sales the next.

That's why home buyers, sellers and agents (and state officials sorting through property tax appeals) focus on "comps." What's actually comparable?

If you want to know how Baltimore City or Carroll County or any individual jurisdiction fared in any particular month, you're basically stuck with average and median. That's what Metropolitan Regional Information Systems reports.

But there are other figures you can look at, if you don't mind waiting and/or taking the bigger perspective of the metro area overall.

The much-watched Case-Shiller index doesn't include Baltimore (Washington is as close as it gets), but the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight tracks the area. OFHEO measures repeat transactions -- changes in price to the same home over time. According to its number-crunching, prices dropped almost 6 percent in the Baltimore metro area during the last three months of 2008, compared with a year earlier.

The downside: a time lag, as you can see. Also, the figures include only single-family homes bought or refinanced with "conforming" loans, which means it's not capturing the universe of subprime and jumbo.

Real estate information company First American CoreLogic also tracks "increases and decreases in sales prices for the same homes over time," but it includes nonconforming mortgages. By its reckoning, prices in the Baltimore metro area dropped 8 percent in January vs. a year earlier.

That's precisely the same as the median price drop according to MRIS, as it happens. So sometimes the different measures do agree.

I've just mentioned a few, of course. There are others -- Zillow, for instance. Have you seen any you especially like?
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 24, 2009

Marylanders' income in 2008

Income is an important part of the housing-affordability equation, so it's worth noting that Marylanders' personal income rose last year. So says the Bureau of Economic Analysis in an announcement today.

The figure increased 3.5 percent in 2008, to about $48,000 for every man, woman and child. (The federal government includes not just salary in "personal income" but also pension contributions, interest, rental income and the like, which is why it might seem high for a per-capita stat.)

Maryland's income per person was fifth highest in the country, same as the year before.

Here's the good news/bad news breakdown:

Good news: The state's increase was large enough that it wasn't entirely eaten up by inflation, which rose 3.3 percent last year, according to the BEA's reckoning. Nationwide, per-capita income rose 2.9 percent -- less than inflation.

Bad news: The state's increase was a lot smaller than in 2007, when income per person jumped 5.9 percent.

Good news: Maryland personal income didn't slide in October through December of last year. It did in most states, compared with the prior three months.

Bad news: Last year wasn't so hot for local residents in fields hurt by the recession. Much of the state's overall increase in personal income was due to the people working in government, health-care and professional services. Real estate, finance, construction and retail all had a downward effect on per-capita income.

I hope you and yours had more good income news last year than bad.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 23, 2009

Baltimore homebuyer stuck in limbo

Empty, foreclosed properties aren't good for a neighborhood. So BethAnne Hoffmann, 25, figured she was doing her part for revitalization by choosing a foreclosure as her first home.

It's ended up a lot more complicated — and stressful — than she ever expected.

She and her fiancé made an offer on the home, in Baltimore's Mayfield neighborhood, in January. The lender, which had foreclosed on it several months earlier, accepted the $170,000 contract.

But the March 6 closing date came and went.


Hoffmann said she discovered from the title company — not the lender — that the home couldn't be sold because the title isn't clear. The home is tied up in the defaulted owner's bankruptcy case, she was told, and the lender needs to file a motion to allow the sale.

But the lender hasn't done so. Hoffmann has no idea if the new April 20 closing date will also come and go.

She's beside herself about the delays, uncertainty and lack of communication because she got all her ducks in a row to move by the end of February. She paid to service the furnace and hot water heater so the home could be de-winterized and inspected, a necessary step for closing. (The home's being sold as-is, putting the repair cost on her rather than the lender.) She packed her belongings; her fiancé moved his things into a storage unit. Worst of all, they both got out of their apartment leases.

She said they're lucky that the new tenant for her apartment agreed to let them stay through April.

"Here we are, inconvenienced in our personal lives, and now, inconveniencing complete strangers who were supposed to live in my apartment," Hoffmann said. "We are very uncertain that we will be able to move by the end of April."

I turned to Barry R. Glazer, broker for Century 21 Downtown in Baltimore, to see if this is the sort of hassle that buyers of foreclosures should brace for — and whether Hoffmann has any recourse. Glazer, an attorney, once owned a title company.

He said it's not uncommon for homeowners to file for bankruptcy right before their foreclosure auction, as his research shows the previous owner of the Mayfield house did.

That's part of the reason buying a foreclosure listed for sale shouldn't be quite the roller-coaster ride that buying at auction can be. Lenders aren't supposed to list a property until it's theirs, he said. That means not just taking it back at auction, but also having that ratified by the court.

Here's the real head-scratcher: The records show the court ratified the lender's repossession of the home Nov. 13. So it appears that the lender does own the home.

"It seems odd, to say the least," Glazer said. "It's clear that once it's ratified, ... whoever previously owned that property and defaulted has no more rights. So it was ratified. If it was ratified incorrectly, I would have thought they would have filed a motion in this [bankruptcy] case to strike that ratification. That was not done."

He added: "I would want to know more about this bankruptcy. I would get this information, if I was her."

I passed that along, and Hoffmann checked with her title company about the ratification. She said she was told it isn't valid while the home is caught up in the bankruptcy.

The law firm that handled the foreclosure is trying to get the lender to file a "lift stay" motion so the home can be sold. Hoffmann doesn't know why the lender hasn't done that already, other than corporate disarray.

"If our country has any hope of turning around this mortgage crisis, the banks that own the homes will need to do a better job of unloading their backlog," she wrote in an email.

Glazer said it depends on the contract, but "she may have legal rights against the bank."

Hoffmann would be happy if she and her fiancé could just move. "We're both running out of patience and energy to do this," she told me. "We went to [Rep.] John Sarbanes' office yesterday and said, 'Can you help us?' It's ridiculous that we have the money ... and they can't close on the deal."

Have any thoughts for Hoffmann? Comment away.

And as always, comment here or email me if you'd like to share your own housing-market story. All sorts — good, bad, amusing — happily accepted.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences
        

March 21, 2009

Poll: What you said about low mortgage rates

This week's poll asked what you think about the Federal Reserve's efforts to lower mortgage rates by purchasing $1.2 trillion in debt from Fannie and Freddie and in mortgage-backed securities. Good idea or no? Here are the results, as of right now:

--Thirty-nine percent chose, "No, because it's only delaying the pain"

--Twenty-four percent opted for, "Yes, because I need to sell/buy/refinance a house"

--Twenty percent said, "No, because mortgage rates ought to reflect the market"

--Fifteen percent voted for, "Yes, because it will help with the recovery"

And one Wonk reader wrote in an answer: "This will further devalue the dollar and further set the stage for greater inflation." (This story points out several "early indications that that was happening.")

So: about 60-40 in favor of a thumbs down.

On a related note, I thought it would be interesting to show how much costs for a $250,000 mortgage can range depending on the interest-rate environment. Here are some different monthly payments, rounding to the nearest 10:

--$1,310 at 4.8 percent

--$1,470 at 5.8 percent

--$1,630 at 6.8 percent

--$1,800 at 7.8 percent

--$1,980 at 8.8 percent

--$2,160 at 9.8 percent

Even a change of half a percentage point (which happened between Wednesday and Thursday mornings) really does affect a borrower's bottom line. And sellers too, indirectly.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls
        

March 19, 2009

'Making Home Affordable' site launches

Wondering if you're eligible for refinancing or loan modification under the Obama administration's "Making Home Affordable" program? The federal government has launched a new site that's supposed to help you find out.

At makinghomeaffordable.gov, you can take the eligibility test (including instructions on how to find out if your loan is owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac). Also there: a "payment reduction estimator," warnings about foreclosure rescue scams, a list of homeowner help events (there's one in Howard County April 18) and similar resources.

Thoughts on the plan? Comment away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:24 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Mortgage rates drop

The Federal Reserve spent a lot of money yesterday to make mortgage rates fall even lower. So far it's gotten its wish.

Interest rates for 30-year fixed mortgages have dropped to 4.8 percent this morning, according to quotes given on the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. Yesterday, rates were as high as 5.3 percent before the Fed announced that it's purchasing more mortgage-backed securities and debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (How much? What $1.2 trillion can buy.)

The Sun's story today notes that this is aimed at lowering interest rates to combat recession. I know some of you Wonk readers have strong opinions about low mortgage rates, so weigh in:

The order of answers is randomized. And you're welcome to add your own, though no one but me will be able to see your answer unless you also note it in a comment.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls
        

March 18, 2009

New home starts: up

U.S. builders started more new homes in February than the month before, the first increase since June, as Michael Dresser points out in a story today. And permit numbers didn't fall. (They were either up or steady -- there's a margin of error in the Commerce Department statistics.) Dresser talked to local homebuilders, who say sales are "edging up."

As always when there's a one-month housing upturn, the question is bottom or blip. I'd be interested in your thoughts, and your sense of how new-home deals compare with homeowners' asking prices.

I was also curious about how things stand locally on new home permits, which is something the Maryland Department of Planning tracks. Local figures aren't adjusted for normal seasonal variations, so you can't really compare them to the previous month -- just the previous year. With that in mind, here's the lowdown:

In January, the most recent figures, builders got permits to construct 224 homes and apartments in the Baltimore metro area. That's down 64 percent from January 2008, when builders took out permits for more than 600 homes.

The year-over-year comparison for the U.S.: Permits were down 50 percent in January from a year earlier.

Here's the local permit breakdown in January: 51 units in Anne Arundel, 11 in Baltimore City, 107 in Baltimore County, three in Carroll (yes, three), 21 in Harford and 31 in Howard.

John Kortecamp, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, told Dresser that a number of builders still have inventory to sell.

"They're building enough to stay in business but not enough to get ahead of themselves," he said.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:27 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 17, 2009

Q&A: Paul Cooper, auctioneer

Paul R. Cooper, a real estate agent and vice president at Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc. in Towson, said his philosophy is straightforward: Only take on clients with realistic price expectations.

Here's what he had to say when we chatted last week.

Q. So how many potential clients are you turning down?

A lot. ... They can't sell. They owe too much. There's nothing they can do. ... Most people don't have any equity in the properties. They acquired them in the last two, three years.

What's successful are the estate sales — somebody passed away. They have equity.

Q. How do sellers respond if you say they need to lower their price?


"Yeah, but I'd be giving it away." I say, "Do you want to sit or do you want to sell?"

Q. They have a reason for the amounts they want, right? Perhaps the asking prices of other homes?

That kills me, that totally kills me. "I see someone else listing their property" — well, do you need to make the same mistake? ...

People may not agree with me — they may not want to sell their house at that value. ... Many people opt to just hold. And that's, by the way, the reason you see active listings decline from 20,000 to about 18,000. ... Basically people just backed out of the marketplace. People said, "If this is all I can get for my real estate, I'm not selling."

But I'm shocked many times when people call me up and say, "The house has been listed for two years." ... You have to basically give them a reality check.

Q. What's your take on the housing market overall?

Prices are still too high, and as a result, sales volume is decreasing in the Baltimore metro area. There are some pockets, certain neighborhoods, where property values are holding up very well and supply and demand is in equilibrium, but a lot of areas that aren't. ...

Certain price ranges are doing better — lower prices, say $200 to $350. ... But once you get into what I call "jumboland," which requires jumbo mortgages, oh, it falls off big time.

Q. What's the selling plan for the clients you do take on?

Our strategy now is to multiple-list concurrent to marketing for auction.

Q. How many homes sell before auction?

A large majority.

Q. Give me a few examples of your pricing philosophy at work.

I just listed something for $199 in Ridgely's Delight. Well, the competition's in the low $200 range. I got a contract in a week.

I listed something over in Coldspring Newtown at $199 — really no competition, because it was one of the more modern townhomes over there. I got an offer in a week.

The point is, if the price ranges are $165 to $200, why list it for $175? I've had these discussions with many home sellers. Someone calls me up and says, "I'm looking for $329." [I say], "Not a house exceeded $300. Not a house. Why do you deserve $329? And why list it for $329?"

There was a house out Liberty Road, a little Cape Cod — it was only 1,200 square feet — and they had it listed for $205, and it's been listed for over 400 days. [When they approached me] I said, "Do you realize there's a 1,500-square-foot house that sold for $205? ... Here's some 1,200-square-foot homes: $150 to $175."

You have to understand what is selling and the price range. You have to understand what your competition is. Just because five other people are asking $225 for a similar house doesn't make it worth $225. It depends on what's selling.

You have to price the property correctly. ... And that's what I don't see happening in this marketplace. ... People are not adjusting their values quick enough to keep up.

Q. What about foreclosures?

I had 14 properties I did [Wednesday] that were investor-owned. We sold those at the Baltimore City courthouse, and we sold all 14. So there's buyers out there.

Q. What will it take to get more buyers to buy?

I think we need to be back to 2003 prices. ... Look at the October '04 stats, and you'll find ... median prices went up 25 percent. It's huge. ... You can't go up 25 percent in one year. It just doesn't make any sense. So that affected a lot of stuff. ...

Really, real estate should only increase at the cost of living. What, 3 percent? ...

What we have is a train that stopped. If we only have 1,071 sales [in a month], I can't sell my house so I can't buy a house. ... You've got to get the train moving, and the only way to get the train moving is by lowering the prices. Otherwise you're stuck in the station.

Q. What's your takeaway advice for homeowners who want to sell?

Some people are a step behind on the marketplace: ... The market drops to $195, you drop to $205. The market drops to $185, you drop to $195. ... You need to be one step below.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Q&A
        

March 16, 2009

Maryland: Fifth for mortgage fraud

Maryland ranked fifth in the country for reported mortgage fraud last year, the Mortgage Asset Research Institute said this afternoon. The report -- made to the Mortgage Bankers Association -- said fraud is worst in Rhode Island, followed by Florida, Illinois and Georgia.

Rounding out the top 10:

6. New York

7. Michigan

8. California

9. Missouri

10. Colorado

The institute bases its rankings on a state's share of U.S. mortgage fraud compared with its share of U.S. mortgages originated last year.

The most common problem is application fraud, according to the report. Fraudulent tax returns and financial statements were also high on the list.

Maryland's ranking is a big change for the state, which came in 15th in 2007, 16th in 2006 and in the high 20s the previous two years.

Fraud used to be lower than you'd expect for the number of loans processed in Maryland, the institute said. But last year, Maryland's share of U.S. mortgage fraud was 70 percent higher than its share of new mortgages.

In a press release, Mortgage Bankers Association chief John Courson said the data "shows that mortgage fraud is more prevalent today than it was at the height of the boom in mortgage loan originations." Why? The report authors blamed "desperation" and opportunity.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Mortgage fraud/scams
        

March 15, 2009

One solution for money problems: roommates

Two decades ago, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore began matching up homeowners in need of roommates and people in need of an affordable place to stay. Now -- with rising mortgage defaults and recessionary job troubles -- it looks like that "homesharing" program's time has really come.

Scott Calvert reports today that St. Ambrose made one more match since July than it did in all of 2007. People are advertising for their own matches, too.

He tells the story of Laura Rogers, who is sharing her home in Southwest Baltimore because the $400-a-month rent makes a big difference financially. As in not losing her home and car.
"Thank God I was getting the money from my roommate," said Rogers, 45, a temporary worker on contract with the state. "I would have never thought about trying to live with anybody, except for this economy."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:31 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting
        

March 14, 2009

Looking for an apartment in Baltimore?

Live Baltimore Home Center, which organizes tours of city homes for would-be buyers, has a similar event for renters next month.

The City Living Rental Tour runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 4, starting with an informational program at the Baltimore Convention Center and ending with bus tours of apartment complexes. About 20 complexes are part of the event so far. Some of the apartment owners are offering a month's free rent to participants.

If you're more interested in city buying than renting, other upcoming Live Baltimore events are geared toward the buying crowd.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting
        

Head of Baltimore Realtor group resigns

Back in the days when home sales were booming, people flocked to real estate investing like it was a sure thing. Some of the seasoned rehabbers in Baltimore shook their heads and wondered who would end up without seats when the game of musical chairs ended.

At least one of the seasoned ones, as it happens.

Vito Simone, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and principal of Baltimore Rehab Services, recently filed for bankruptcy. Yesterday he resigned as president of the Realtors group.

He lists debts -- his and his wife's -- of $3.9 million, Lorraine Mirabella reports. As she notes, "Much of Simone's debt to 66 creditors stems from several real estate companies and from residential rehab projects in areas such as Baltimore's Reservoir Hill caught up in the housing market slowdown."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:17 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 12, 2009

Md. unemployment jumps upward

Maryland's unemployment rate went from 5.4 percent in December to 6.2 percent in January, as Lorraine Mirabella reports today. That's a big jump in one month, and high for the land of pleasant living.

What made me go "whoa," though, was the job-cutting. The state had about 40,000 fewer jobs in January than it did a year earlier, according to the most recent Labor Department figures. The federal government significantly revised its 2008 job figure in Maryland so instead of a gain it's a loss.

Jobs and housing are inextricably linked, which is why I'm mentioning it. I'd like to hear from job hunters: Are you seeing openings in your field? How's the search going? And if you're out of work and a homeowner, how are you dealing with the mortgage?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: The economy
        

March 11, 2009

New guide for homebuyers, sellers

Kiplinger.com's 2009 Home Guide is out, with tips, stories and quizzes for buyers and sellers (and some homeowners who aren't going anywhere). Topics include "Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal," "True Cost of Owning a Home" and "Time to Refinance?"

The quiz for sellers included this true-false poser: "Setting a fair price and refusing to bargain is the best pricing strategy."

So, folks: True or false? And what do you think Kiplinger's explanatory answer was?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:31 AM | | Comments (3)
        

March 10, 2009

February home sales in the Baltimore metro area

The housing market in the Baltimore metro area in February, by the numbers:

31, 6.6 and 89.

OK, fine, I'll give you more than just the numbers.

The first figure is the percentage drop in sales from a year earlier. About 1,070 homes changed hands, compared with more than 1,500 in February 2008.

The second is the percentage drop in average price, bringing it to about $282,000.

The third is the percentage that sellers got compared with their list price -- that is, 11 percent less than they were asking for.

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which released the statistics today, has more home sales numbers (including county by county) here. Lorraine Mirabella has a quick housing story here and is working on a full one for tomorrow.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats
        

Figuring out where your house leaks energy

You've heard about high BGE bills. Maybe you're seeing them personally. Today, Scott Calvert tells the tale of energy "auditors" going through homes to figure out where, exactly, warm air is escaping and cold air is getting in.

One homeowner, Kim Glaun, signed up not only to find out why her monthly bill is hovering around $1,000 but also because she's tired of always being cold in her house.

A state official says this is a growth industry -- one that out-of-work folks from a contracted industry could get in on:

"We do not have enough auditors and retrofitters trained in Maryland to do all this work," said Maryland Energy Administration Director Malcolm Woolf. "An unemployed construction worker in a matter of weeks can get retrained so he learns about insulation and ductwork and gets put to work implementing these retrofits."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Home maintenance
        

March 9, 2009

Can a home seller see the appraisal of his own home?

We've had some homebuyers share their experiences. Now comes a seller.

Scott Frank had a contract on his Pikesville townhouse — a large model in a gated community — for $465,000. Then the appraisal came in. For $425,000.

Frank, a real estate auction specialist, said he suspected the appraiser came up with that figure by comparing to sales that weren't really comparable. Two other models in that community are much smaller, he said.

But he can't tell, because he never got to see the appraisal. And not for lack of trying.

He asked the lender and was told it doesn't usually share the document with sellers. So he asked the buyers. He says they gave permission for the bank to release a copy, but no one from the bank returned his calls before settlement at the beginning of this month. (Final sale price: about $433,000. The buyers agreed to pay more than the appraisal.)

"I was so infuriated," Frank said. "It's OK that it appraised for less, and if the comps worked out and that's the guy's findings, fine, that is what it is. But it's almost like they were hiding something from me. ... Why on God's green earth are you not entitled to see a copy of something that affects you so greatly?"

That seemed like a question other sellers might be asking right about now, so I called the state for an answer.

Kathie Connelly, executive director of the Maryland Real Estate Commission, said a buyer can see the appraisal because he paid for it. And the lender involved can see it because it's supplying the mortgage. No one else gets to without their say-so. "It's their prerogative," she said.

But she understands why sellers would want to see appraisals that come in lower than the price they negotiated with buyers. She thinks the key is what — if anything — the contract says the seller is entitled to if that happens.

Frank's contract didn't have an addendum about providing a copy of the appraisal, and he said he's never heard of anyone else having one, either. "Why can't we make future sellers aware such a clause is needed?" he asked.

For some sellers, an unexpected price drop days before settlement could be a disaster. Frank, at least, wasn't on the hook to buy another house with the money he'd expected to get from the Pikesville one. "Thank God," he added.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:54 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Housing market experiences
        

March 8, 2009

Good news: savings rate is up

Personal finance columnist Eileen Ambrose points out today that Americans are -- at long last -- saving more:
Government figures released last week showed that the personal savings rate in January rose to 5 percent, a level not seen for 14 years. Only a few years ago, the savings rate was briefly negative.

"Americans used to save money once upon a time," says David Wyss, chief economist with Standard & Poor's. "From 1950 to 1990, it averaged almost 9 percent."

Retailers are feeling the pinch -- it's meant less shopping -- but saving more is good for individuals. And eventually, good for the whole country, one hopes. In housing terms: Savers are more likely to have money for down payments, for their mortgages, for unexpected expenses like a broken washing machine.

Do you find yourself saving more now than you did a few years ago?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:25 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 6, 2009

Maryland mortgage delinquencies

The good news is that 89 percent of Maryland borrowers weren't behind on their mortgages at the end of last year. The bad news? Only 89 percent of Maryland borrowers weren't behind on their mortgages at the end of last year.

That's the smallest share since the Mortgage Bankers Association began keeping track 30 years ago, and it means more than 100,000 borrowers in trouble.

A record percentage of prime and subprime mortgages in the state weren't current -- either behind a bit or to the point that the lenders were trying to foreclose. The prime group is actually larger than the subprime -- 56,000 vs. 46,000 -- but there are a lot more prime borrowers in the state than subprime.

The share of Maryland subprime loans in trouble is staggering. Take a guess. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Waiting ...

Waiting ...

OK: Almost 40 percent.

Some 6.7 percent of prime mortgages in Maryland are past-due or in the foreclosure process, a much smaller share than subprime but still unusually high. It was 3.7 percent as recently as the beginning of last year.

You can find national delinquency statistics here.

If you'll recall, delinquencies and foreclosures began shooting up as a result of problematic lending standards and falling home values. Lorraine Mirabella reports in today's mortgage delinquency story that the new problem is the one that would normally be to blame for foreclosure:

"Employment is the issue," Jay Brinkmann, MBA's chief economist, said during a conference call. "It's not an issue with changes in payment structure or payment resets. As jobs go away, you first see this show up in" subprime, fixed-rate lending. Then it works its way up to the less-risky prime loans.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:08 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: The foreclosure mess
        

March 5, 2009

Where the under-$250k homes are in the Baltimore area

If you're looking for a home and can't find anything in your price range, there might be nothing that you'd want at that price. Or maybe the homes aren't in the neighborhoods you're keeping an eye on.

For everyone in the second group -- plus the generally curious -- I've put together a list of places where the average sale price was less than $250,000 last year.

The suburban areas are by ZIP code, or more precisely by the parts of ZIP codes in the suburbs. In ZIPs that overlap into the city, only the suburban sales are included. That's because people identify more with neighborhoods in the city than with ZIP codes, so I did a separate list organizing city sales neighborhood by neighborhood. That follows the suburban stats.

The suburban list is pretty short, but the city list includes many neighborhoods. Read on for the lowdown. EDIT for the readers I've confused: Remember, the first page below is suburbs-only -- even the ZIP codes that say "Baltimore" include (in this case) only those sales that fell outside city lines. Scroll to the next pages to see the city neighborhoods in the under-$250k group.

Under250city&Burbs

Home sales data is from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, crunched by me for this story. Wondering where those ZIP codes are? Go to the Maryland State Data Center's ZIP code maps. To track down city neighborhoods, try Live Baltimore's neighborhoods page.

If you'd like to know about other price ranges, go to this post, which has links to a searchable database for ZIP codes and an Excel file for city neighborhoods.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:05 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Housing stats
        

March 4, 2009

Baltimore homebuyer explains his method

Wonk reader Kevin responded to the call -- by a fellow Wonk reader -- to weigh in with housing-market experiences. He bought a rowhome in the Upper Fells Point/Butchers Hill area of Baltimore last year and offered these thoughts:
During our experience in buying a home in Baltimore City -- Fells Point/Butchers Hill/Canton/Federal Hill areas -- we found that the easiest common denominator to compare homes was price per square foot. City homes don't have that many variables. You get the rowhome and that's it. All you can compare is that rectangle plot of land and all of the livable space. We ended up plotting out homes we saw onto a graph and saw how the price/sq ft compared to one another. Then once we narrowed our search, we got the recent sales or comps in the area and did more comparisons. I'm not sure that Realtors have thought of this when they price homes, but there just isn't much variety in rowhomes aside from a rooftop deck or potential for a finished basement.

When it came down to it, we weren't going to pay a certain price for a 12-foot-wide place when you can pay the same price for a 14-foot-wide place. We might have over-analyzed it, but we ended up with a house at a good price point. Our offer price was determined in another spreadsheet, calculating final sale price (with concessions) versus asking price (both initial and current listing prices). This helped us put in an offer. The owner balked at the initial offer, but two days later, he accepted. It's hard to argue with numbers and hard data.

I would advise people to do their homework. Don't rely too much on Realtors and what they hear. It's a bit more work, but it is worth it. Utilize all data sources. Of course our experience was easier with homes in the city. County homes actually have acreage and "curb appeal" to deal with, so our system might not work as well, but people should try to compare apples to apples. I always cringe when I hear that people make offers on just a Realtor's suggestion. It's just an uneducated way to do things. Do people go into Best Buy and buy a TV without doing homework? Would they take the salesperson's word? They might make a suggestion, but ultimately you have to live with your decision. For a TV, that might be $1,000-$2,000. A house is a bit more than that.

We paid around $300,000. … I believe the price per square foot was around $165. … The home was rehabbed around 2000, so things weren't up-to-date, but definitely livable. We could do our upgrades and see some potential return on the investment.

The seller kicked in $9,000 for closing. I think the original asking price was $375,000 and the property sat on the market over nine months. The house went off the market for a bit, came back on at a lower price, went under contract but that fell through, and when we first saw it the price was around $320,000. I think the owner was pretty happy to see a solid deal from us with financial documents.

We ended up calculating that the recent sales in the area were about 7-9 percent below list price for all types of homes. With this, we put the offer in at a 9 percent reduction (factoring in the concessions). A bit nerdy being data-oriented, but it's tangible.

Most homes we saw ranged from $150-$225/sq ft for the two- and three- bedroom rowhomes. The homes that sold for the upper range were "pretty" with all of the latest upgrades (granite, stainless steel, bath + shower in the master). Some probably were worth that price; some definitely were not. We saw some homes that were above that range and sure enough, they sat on the market. This was definitely for two-bedroom places. People thought that if they "did the place nice" then they could ask for $300k+. Would someone really pay $300k for a two-bedroom rowhome? Maybe in the future, but not right now or back then.

 

Thanks, Kevin, for sharing. If you've got a buying or selling experience you think readers should hear, comment below or send me an email at jamie.smith.hopkins(at)baltsun.com.

 

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences
        

March 3, 2009

Comment policy

My philosophy of Internet commenting has always been "be nice, especially when arguing." Nothing kills a conversation faster than insults. And since this blog is best when it's a conversation between people interested in housing -- homeowners, renters, buyers and sellers -- I've updated the blog policy to reflect my philosophy.

Here's how it reads now: Suggestions, thoughts and criticism related to the post you're commenting on are welcome. General abuse is not and will be deleted.

To be clear, this doesn't mean I don't want you to debate amongst yourselves or correct me. Debate away. And if you think a post is missing information, let me know. Even better: Include what you think is missing. But do stay on topic for the post you're commenting on. ("Hey, could you post about [thus-and-such subject]" is always on topic here. "You suck" or variations thereof is not on topic.)

If a comment you've written doesn't appear on this blog, it means one of two things: The blog system ate it and it never got to me -- this occasionally happens, in which case you should try again -- or you need to rethink your comment. (Well, there's one more option: I'm away from my computer and haven't seen it yet. Give me time. I do have a lot of non-computer things to do right now.)

A blog is always more vibrant with a lot of commenters, so please do comment. Just don't say anything here that you wouldn't say in front of your mother, and all should be fine.

Thanks, guys. Carry on.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

What you said about the mortgage-interest deduction

As of a few minutes ago, half of you think the tax deduction for mortgage interest is good just the way it is.

Just over 20 percent of you believe higher-income homeowners shouldn't get the full deduction, 16 percent say no one should get a tax break for paying a mortgage and 10 percent say homeowners should continue getting their break if renters get one, too.

Of the remaining two votes, one was for lowering the tax break for all homeowners and the other was a write-in: "why not for renters too, but I also dont like any taxes period!"

As Wonk reader Tim points out, the limit the Obama administration proposed isn't the first cap on the mortgage-interest tax break -- it's a lower one. Right now, the limit for fully deducting your interest is $1 million for a mortgage and $100,000 for a home equity loan.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls
        

A real estate hurricane

A commissioner in Florida's St. Lucie County wants to declare it a disaster area and tap into the community's natural-disaster fund.

What hit St. Lucie? Not weather. Foreclosures. Lots of them.

The Associated Press reports:

"This is a manmade disaster," County Commissioner Doug Coward acknowledged. But he said that is why "we've got to do something. Clearly, the economic crisis of the country far exceeds the ability of local governments to solve it, but we're trying [to] be a part of the solution."

Maryland doesn't have the extent of Florida's problem. But in neighborhoods with ill effects from foreclosures, what would you recommend people -- neighbors or elected officials -- do?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:42 AM | | Comments (5)
        

Federal Hill wins national award

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Federal Hill one of its 2009 "Great American Main Street" winners, calling it the "Hip Side of the Harbor."

The trust praised the nonprofit Federal Hill Main Street Inc. for helping to drive down vacancies and pump up investment.

Of the group, the trust said:

Its popular street festivals like the Spring Block Party, the Jazz & Blues Festival, and the Street Beat Festival attract thousands of people by offering live music and activities for young and old alike. Unique boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and trendy bars give festival-goers reasons to come back and keep the district humming all hours of the day and night.

The other honorees: El Dorado, Arkansas; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; Broadway in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Livermore, California.

All the winners, the trust says, "are truly the commercial and cultural hearts of their communities."

What Main Streets appeal to you?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:29 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: We're No. 1! (Or thereabouts)
        

March 2, 2009

The place to find a cheap home

You can get homes for less than $100,000 in Baltimore City -- 1,806 as of January. But what about for less than $10,000?

A Chicago Tribune story points out that the median -- median -- price of a Detroit home in December was $7,500. That means half were less expensive. (As the story notes, that's a purchase price you can swing with a credit card.)

Yeah, I wondered if perhaps that wasn't right. So I went to the Michigan Association of Realtors site. The MAR reports averages only, which are generally higher than median home prices, but in December the average Detroit home seller got $17,700. In January, the figure was less than $14,000 -- down 43 percent from January '08.

Sales are up, though.

Thanks to reporter extraordinaire Stephen Kiehl for the heads-up.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats
        

Buyer? Seller? Step right up

Wonk reader Frank makes a good suggestion for future posts:

I'm interested in how people are deciding what to offer. Are they looking at comps? Is the appraisal coming in at the level of the offer? Is the real estate agent telling them what to bid? How are sellers deciding what price to take?

If you're a buyer or seller and would like to chat about your experience, leave a comment below or email me at jamie(dot)smith(dot)hopkins(at)baltsun.com.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing market experiences
        

Q&A: Vera Ballard, personal moving consultant

The number of homes sold in the Baltimore metro area last year was the lowest in at least a decade, since Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the region. So what's a would-be seller to do?

I asked Vera Ballard, personal moving consultant for Charlestown, a retirement community in Catonsville. Her job is to advise people about preparing their home for sale so they can downsize. (To Charlestown, of course.) It's trickier for downsizers because in most cases they need a buyer who not only likes their house but has already managed to sell his or her own.

Ballard, a real estate agent, has been Charlestown's personal moving consultant since August.

Q: So, what recommendations do you make to homeowners who want to sell?

What I do is go out and do an in-home consultation, really assess the house, the needs, what kind of plan they need to put into action. Staging is the new thing for the market -- people really taking a look at their house and wanting to put a good product on the market. The staging is from the outside in.

The curb appeal, absolutely -- working on the outside; decluttering inside. Depersonalizing, making sure there's neutral colors. … Clean: They can't clean enough. Today's buyers are looking for a well managed, clean home.

What I've seen a lot is people actually get a storage unit and put excess furniture in the storage units so they can open up the space in the house. … They want to get those floors clean in the closet. The more floors someone can see, the more depth perception they have. It looks larger.

[A lot of furniture] might be great for living, but it's just not great for selling. We're not selling our stuff, we're selling the space. … We want the buyers to visualize their things. We want them to say, … "This is where I can put my furniture, and this is what we can do with this room."

Q: Should owners just empty out their house completely?

No. I think it's always nice to have some furniture. Even if a house is empty, we try to go in and stage it with some greenery, anything we can use. … Less is more, so it really doesn't take a lot.

Q: What do you see when you look at homes for consultations?

A lot of colors or wallpaper from the past. So what I recommend and do is neutralize their colors. Removing wallpaper. … Today's buyer does not like wallpaper. They're looking for clean surfaces.

Q: What do you mean by neutral colors? White?

It doesn't necessarily have to be white. Taupe colors are good. What we want to do is bring colors using accessories and not the walls. If they have a beige color or an off-white color wall, then you can always dress up that room with colors in something else. Like pillows or shades.

Q: How problematic is a home that's not clean or not updated?

I think that's a huge problem. And I think that if you're priced right, there are little things that you can do that will make a huge difference. And cleaning is one. What I recommend to our potential residents here is, have a cleaning company come in. Have professionals come in and do it. You want your product to be the best product [it] can be, just like if you were going to sell your car.

Fresh paint can make all the difference, in your house or the house down the street. …

Today, it's the best time to start doing all of this for the spring market. You need to get a head jump on starting to prepare for the spring cleaning and doing that painting that needs to be done. I think sometimes sellers jump in and get overwhelmed and think, "I can't replace this carpet, I can't paint, I can't do all this cleaning." … Just do it one at a time.

Q: What do you mean by curb appeal?

Just simple things, like making sure the lawn is cut, making sure the walkways are clear, the shrubs are cut back. … Just making sure that your outside is as clean as the inside. And removing personalized things like doorknockers or garden gnomes.

You definitely want to start on the outside, because a buyer -- they create an opinion about the house within the first 15 seconds of seeing the house. We want it to be inviting. We want them to pull up and say, "I must go in to see this house."

Sellers will know if the things they have done have paid off, because they'll immediately begin to get showings.

Q: What about price? Does it trump all else, including the condition of the home?

I think if you can put this equation together, with the price, with the staging, getting your house ready, that's going to be your success. Pricing to sell: You need to get a good real estate agent in there who knows the market, who can do the comparables for you. …

But if you are priced to sell and you go through and do these little things of staging and getting your house ready for the market, you can be very successful in a short amount of time. You only have one chance to make a good first impression, so that's why I encourage our future residents to act now, get this done before you put it on the market. Because you want every buyer to be your potential buyer. You don't want to eliminate anyone.

Q: How long does it take homeowners to sell after you advise them?

It's definitely less than those who don't do anything. … It's ranged from five days to two months.

Q: What do potential Charlestown residents say about the idea of trying to sell in this market?

Everybody has anxiety right now about the housing market, about the economy. … Word on the street is no one's selling their house right now, and that's just not true. I go to their homes and show them -- people are selling their homes, but these are the things you have to do to make it happen.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&A
        

March 1, 2009

Portrait of (would-be) Baltimore-area home buyers

Natasha and John Rossbach want to buy a house. That hasn't been nearly as easy as it might appear at a time when so many people want to sell.

If you read today's story about the housing market, you know that part already. But I thought the Rossbachs' experiences were illuminating, so read on if you'd like to know why two attorneys are having trouble getting a house in the Baltimore metro area.

What was supposed to be a temporary stay in a relative's Baltimore rowhouse has turned into years. Prices rose too high for the Rossbachs and haven't dropped enough since, they say.

Natasha Rossbach, 38, figures she's seen more than 70 houses in the last year of serious looking for a single-family house. Some are too cramped. Some are badly maintained. And the rest are too expensive. The Rossbachs' limit is $375,000.

They're looking in communities across Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and Howard. They considered the city, too, but Natasha Rossbach said they were concerned about moving from one too-small home to another. They have a son and want room in case they expand their family.

So far they've put in one offer — $350,000 for a three-bedroom Catonsville house listed at $425,000. Natasha Rossbach checked loan records beforehand to make sure the owners could sell for less. But "could" and "would" aren't the same thing.

"They didn't even do a counteroffer," she said. "They just said they would not accept anything less than $400, and we were not qualified for $400. And honestly, even if we were, I don't think the house is worth $400."

That was November. Since then the owners pulled the house off the market, she said.

As for maintenance issues, here's a trio of listings she saw in Linthicum:

--A foreclosure covered with "disgusting" graffiti. Closet doors and kitchen drawers had been ripped out. Price: $285,000. "I had nightmares about it," Natasha Rossbach said.

--A home that was "completely dirty," with dog hair everywhere and a hole in a wall that looked like it had been done with a fist. Price: around $350,000.

--A property in better shape compared with the other two, but a blast from the past. As in '70s and '80s. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, was done to update this house," Natasha Rossbach said. Price: $439,000.

She offered these snapshots as examples of homes with problems one would expect an owner to fix before listing:

 

ColumbiaHome.jpg

 

 

(Above, a Columbia house listed for $450,000. Below, a Catonsville house listed for $324,000. Besides the problem you can see in that refrigerator, it's rusted.)

 

CatonsvilleHome.jpg

 

"When people say 'this is a great time to buy,' I'm like, 'Yeah, maybe in California. Not here. Not yet,'" Natasha Rossbach said. "I'm hoping that it's a matter of time, but ... some of them have been on the market for a year, and they have maybe gone down in price at the most $50,000, but at the height of the market, I think a lot of them went up 100 percent. So I don't know what we're going to do. ... I'm just hoping we get lucky and we find something that's right for us."

John Rossbach figures they'd be getting better deals if they had $600,000 to spend, because homes that were once much pricier have dropped into that range. He thinks owners of mid-price homes are hanging tough on their asking prices because "that's all they have -- that's their asset."

"They don't want to believe their house is worth less," agreed Natasha Rossbach, whose work includes helping people file for bankruptcy. "Because let's face it -- their 401(k)s and all their savings have probably really diminished. So they're probably thinking, 'Well, I have the house.' They don't want to let go of that hope."

Have your own story as a buyer or seller? I'd like to hear it, whether your experience was good, bad or just plain funny.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:18 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Housing market experiences
        

Baltimore real estate: prices, sales by ZIP and neighborhood

I took a little vacation from maternity leave to help out with today's home sales story, which charts the market in ZIP codes across the metro area and in Baltimore's neighborhoods.

It is mapalicious.

You can see how last year's average prices changed compared with 2007 by ZIP code and also compared with 2005. Why 2005? Because that was the peak of the buying boom. Prices continued to rise for a while after that point, but now they're below 2005 levels in a number of places. City neighborhood price changes vs. 2007 and 2005 are here.

Graphics whiz Christine Fellenz also put together maps showing the change in the number of homes sold by ZIP code — vs. 2007 here, and vs. 2005 here.

If you still want more after all that, you can play with our searchable database of ZIP code home-sale stats, courtesy of programming guru Annie Frank. Or for more detail about home sales in city neighborhoods, download this Excel file.

And there's a video here of a homeowner talking about trying to sell.

As always, what happened on average in one community or neighborhood won't necessarily match up with your individual experience. Got a story to tell? Comment away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing stats
        
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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