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August 6, 2009

BRAC folks in demand

If you're trying to sell a home in Harford or Anne Arundel counties, you're probably eager to see some of those much-discussed BRAC people. You know, the government and government-contractor employees whose jobs are being relocated to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

But there's competition. Delaware's New Castle County wants to benefit from the base realignment and closure, too, and it said this week that it's put together a 52-page relocation guide for incoming APG workers. (You can see the website version here.) The county promises "modest property tax rates and fees when compared with counties in adjoining states," and a "great mix of urban, suburban and rural."

Baltimore, in between the two bases, is also hoping for BRAC movers. Live Baltimore, the nonprofit that promotes Baltimore living, has its own come-on-over page with promises of $6,000 incentives for BRAC people.

And as you can imagine, real estate agents, builders and real estate investors in other spots -- like Cecil County and Lancaster, Pa. -- are sticking "BRAC" oh-so-hopefully in their websites.

Where do you think most of the relocating workers will end up living? Where are you looking, if you're a BRAC person?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: BRAC


I can tell you that the majority of these folks are targetting Bel Air or north. Baltimore/Baltimore County won't be getting a taste of these cheese. However, North East, Harve de Grace, Aberdeen, Elkton and north will get a nice little boost by 2011.

How much do you think government employees make? At best- this should only help the market for under $200,000 homes. Am I missing something?

Hi, Lloyd -- many of the BRAC workers are supposed to be on the higher end of the salary spectrum, government-wise, plus a number of them currently own homes.

Government employees make plenty, Lloyd. Especially when DE and Coatesville, PA keep pumping cheap homes and lower taxes, etc. Harford County and Cecil County have been aggressive in their marketing, but DE and PA are coming off as big time, cheap alternatives.

Meanwhile, New Jerseyians see Baltimore as The Wire and lump Baltimore County into that boat because they don't understand our county system well enough to differentiate. Who will win? Bel Air, Harve de Grace, Aberdeen, Elkton have the best shot in MD. But PA and DE will probably pluck up the most.

Lloyd, my understanding was that a lot of the "BRACers" are defense contractors (private sector) or have advanced degrees so I'd be guessing close to or above six figures. Could be wrong.

BRAC people aren't made of money. You have no idea how much sticker shock and complaining there is about the real estate market around here. Apartments in the area will get a boost, but real estate in this area has more to fall. Many BRAC people are very upset that $150k buys a mcmansion where they live but can't even cover the cost of a townhouse in this area. Everyone thinking the BRAC will magically solve this area's real estate woes is in for a big surprise.

I just recently bought a new home in Havre de Grace. The sales staff has told me that they are getting most of thier foot traffic and sales from BRAC, people moving in from NJ. The NJ people think MD housing and tax strutures are a bargain.

I too don't see Baltimore City getting most of the sales, given its reputation. I see Harford and Howard counties getting the biggest long-term bumps.

Working for several government contractors myself, I think the number of contractors earning over $100k is pretty small. I would say they're doing extremely well if they are making that much. My guess is that these are O&M contracts and the technical people are floating around $70k-$80k. R&D would pay better.

This is mainly a concern for people going to Fort Meade. They're going to get sticker shock when they see prices in the immediate area. I think a lot of those people are going to consider Baltimore for housing.

BigDragon - I would love to see the McMansion you would buy in Ocean or Monmouth County, New Jersey for 150K.

BRAC is great for sellers that missed the bubble in 07/08. It's also great for Goverment contractors and employess with large six figure salaries that they can sink into real estate. Unfortunately, it IS NOT great for average potential homebuyers without six figure Government salaries. My fiance and I have excellent credit and make $90K a year combined. Yet after an exhaustive search that started in March, we still not been able to find a suitable house to buy in AA Co. We have looked at 50 houses or more, and put bids in on a dozen. But every time, we are either are outbid by people with people willing to pay more than market price, or the house is in as is condition and needs more repairs/updates than we can afford on top of a mortgage. And don't even think about expecting seller to negotiate the price based on the condition. There's not incentive to negotiate because are too many other people willing and able to pay $200K+ for the house, and then sink another $50K-$100K. The last place we bid on for $240K turned out not to have a functioning HVAC system whatsoever when we had it inspected, even though it was listed as having one. We pointed this out to the seller (a bank) and asked them to either give us an allowance for the HVAC repairs or take that amount off the sales price. Their response: "Are you kidding me?! It's 'as is'!" So we walked away, and the bank was not the last bit concerned.

Moral of the story:
If you aren't making six figures a year, and you don't want to pay over $200K to live in a crappy house in a crappy neighborhood, don't bother trying to buy a house in MD.

I partially disagree with some of the comments previously posted. Yes, typically the host county (Harford or Anne Arundel) will receive the lion-share of new residents given their close-proximity to the installations, yet we continue to see a healthy stream of BRAC personnel interested in the additional amenities that come with living in the city, such as walkability, affordability, and the abundance of arts, culture, parks/recreation, dining & nightlife.

While it is easy to say people won't consider the City because of The Wire, it is more surprising to see their reactions when they tour neighborhoods ranging from Lauraville to Roland Park, Ten Hills to Ashburton. I think you would also be surprised to know we already have early movers in the City and they love it.

Our average home price of $183,000 is very attractive to first-time homebuyers, and especially to BRAC employees looking to make their equity from NJ or VA go further. We have a lot of great neighborhoods (as proven by Jamie’s list of hidden gems) with exceptional residents that love the city and their neighborhoods. We expect that enthusiasm will have an effect on individuals interested in what the City has to offer.

You are missing something Lloyd:

1. You don't know their salary and total household income

2. You don't know how much money they can put down

I must be delusional, because my thinking is that a 200k purchase price with 20% down, or a 160k mortgage at 5% with PITI = roughly 1100 per month, depending on the county, assessment, your insurance and a few other variables.

Are there really " bears" who are unable to afford $1100 per month on their salary, or are they speaking about others. Speak up, please, because $1100 a month seems really cheap to me.

Llyod, Darwin Rules, others: is $1100 outside of your budget?

BRACBmore - I find your statement "Our average home price of $183,000 is very attractive to first-time homebuyers" to be a bit disingenuous. Have you recently taken a look at the 183K homes in Baltimore City? I'm sure that these professional folks from NJ are not interested in moving to the ghetto! Yes, there are homes in the city for 183K but I'm not willing to risk my life just for the "honor" of owning a cheap house!

JTK, not everyone is coming from New Jersey.

Little Debbie, while there are decent $200k properties around Aberdeen, the same cannot be said for the areas around Ft. Meade. $200k covers a small condo or tiny townhouse with high monthly HOA and/or condo fees. I don't see Anne Arundel, Howard, or Prince Georges doing any better because of the BRAC. People are needing government and corporate handouts just to move into the area.

Jaded-Yes I have taken a look at these neighborhoods, and my neighborhood isn't too far from that price point (Patterson Park), nor is Lauraville, Highlandtown, Medfield, Mayfield, Kernewood, Hamilton, and several others.

I wouldn't classify any of the homes in these neighborhoods as being in a ghetto, cheap or risking one's life. A $183,000 home doesn't imply it is "cheap" when just the opposite, many of these homes have quality craftsmanship and architectural details not found in modern home construction.

I'm proud to be a resident of the City, but find it troubling when non-city residents feel the need to discredit the positive gains our neighborhoods and city have made in the past several years. If you don't like the city, that is fine, but I don't see the need to pass judgment on a subject you are ill-informed about.

I'm native to Harford county and home prices have not fallen that much from highest levels a couple years back - especially in Bel Air area. Property taxes are starting to eat us alive as assesments are killing us. We hear that mostly Tech folks GS 13 and above are moving to our area. Around $100K income or better. I think we are becoming a pretty pricy place to live. We are also starting to see more gang activity in South County area and along Route 40 corridor. Odd combination - High prices with higher crime.

"Little Debbie" - well put.

BRACBmore - I am sure some BRAC folks will come to Baltimore to be sure. It does have the advantage of the reverse commute for the APG crowd. However, it is also pretty far away from APG. I would dare say a majority of the BRAC folks from NJ are targetting Bel Air and north east from there. If I was selling a house in Forest Hill right now, I would feel pretty good. If I was trying to peddle homes on the golf courses in Havre de Grace and North East, I'd feel pretty good. But, for the most part, the New Jerseyians don't want anything to do with the hidden gems of Baltimore City.

Hey Little Debbie -

I forgot. You are right. Most government employees probably do have a spare $40,000 to plop down on a $200,000 house. They will just sell the home they are living in currently for a healthy profit since the housing market has rebounded so much recently. Good call!!! It is not like buying a house is very risky in this enviroment. Maybe they can do a loan modification if they end up not being able to afford it.


Remember it is "Little Debbie" not Little Debbie. :)

One never knows the backgrounds of these people, but surely saving up $40,000 and making an 1100 a month payment isn't much of a feat.

Do you actually think an 1100 a month payment is high? Or 1300 if it is a condo with an HOA? Or 1500 with an FHA and HOA fees. Do you really consider those to be high payments?

BTW: I never said "most government employees." Besides what is the median household income for these government employees? You seem to know.

THIS OLD HOUSE magazine, not known for bestowing honors on marginal towns or neighborhoods, just named Lauraville (in Baltimore City) as the Best Place in Maryland to Buy an Old House.

You can darn surely get a big house with a yard and porch and great walkable bars and restaurants for under $200k here, and it's a six-minute drive to I-895. Crime is low, trees are high, three parks and a nationally-reknowned public golf course are nearby. And there's nothing like reverse commuting.

City life kicks, well, you know . . . .

The standard for Townhomes in AA county usually starts at $250K. Howard I believe $270K. Anything else and your talking condos. Anything in the city would be out of the question. The taxes are way too high and its turned in to Beruit with all the shootings and robberies.

I don't know where they'll go, but I'd sure like to tell them where to go.

I am originally from NJ which has helped me land some BRAC buyers over the past year. From my experience with them, most buyers have been focusing on Bel Air, Abingdon, Forest Hill and Fallston. The buyers are particular about schools and feel that these areas have some of the best in the county.

Another item BRAC buyers have been asking for is to not be on well or septic. They also prefer gas heat (Heat pumps scare them because they don’t know the cost to run them. They don't have them in NJ).

I have had a few potential BRAC buyers stop searching, as they were able to find another government job in NJ that they could transfer to. If they can stay up there, they want to.

Finally the BRAC buyers I have worked with all have made $80k or more. Most are targeting $300k or more homes.

Interesting details, Jim -- thanks for sharing them.

Why doesn't everyone just sit back, relax and wait and see what is to come...Baltimore City/Baltimore County doesn't have a chance considering all the crime, not to mention the traffic, that alone is a nightmare! Harford County is running close seconds with Baltimore in that the real estate is still way over priced. Delaware doesn't have much of a chance either due to the similarities of Baltimore and the quality of people, crime and traffic. BRAC, BRAC, sick of hearing about BRAC , I've shown a few homes to BRAC folks and to me, they're all snobs & liars! Quiet frankly I could care less if any of them move here....they should all just commute via AMTRAK, that would take care of much of the traffice problem anyway!! Face it...real estate will never be the way it was 4 years ago!

I agree with Cindy. Further, look at the public information on "housing allowances"-I believe a married military couple with or without dependants gets about $60,000 a year for a mortgage. These are not small "perks". I know active duty people who say they have not been deployed in 7 years - just raking in the money while I guess someone else goes in their place. We Marylanders are smart, maybe we're seeing this whining group of elitist "military" for a we finally say No Blank Check For Endless War.

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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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