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November 25, 2009

Hidden gem: The Villages of Montgomery Run


Neighborhood: The Villages of Montgomery Run

Location: Ellicott City (Howard County)

Average sales price: $200,000 (January through June)

Notable features: This condo community is like many other condo communities, architecturally speaking, but it's got location to recommend it if you want a good public school and quick access to highways. Montgomery Run is cradled between Routes 108 and 100. And it's in district for Bellows Spring Elementary School, which beats both the state and county overall on test scores for math and reading.

The neighborhood is next to a new shopping center, so you can walk to get your Starbucks coffee fix, and it's a short drive from the restaurants at Route 108 and Snowden River Parkway.

The condos might all look the same, but it's a pretty colorful place in the fall. Here, have a look.

A backdrop of green:


A goose about to take a dip in the water:


A splash of red:


Howard is the most expensive county in the metro area, so it's not exactly easy to find whole neighborhoods -- of any significant size -- with homes under $250,000. Harder still to find a neighborhood that qualifies on price and also sends children to an elementary school with higher test scores than the high Howard County average.

That's what clinched the Villages of Montgomery Run for me. (A grateful thank you to the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, which ran sales numbers for me so I could narrow in on neighborhoods that qualified on price.)

At Bellows Spring Elementary this year, 94 percent of students who took the Maryland School Assessment earned a "proficient" or "advanced" score in math. That compares with 88 percent of Howard County elementary students and 78 percent of Maryland elementary students.

On the reading test, 96 percent of Bellows Spring students earned a proficient or advanced score, also besting the Howard and state averages.

(The middle school for Montgomery Run, Bonnie Branch, also outperformed the state on the math and reading assessments. It had fewer proficient scores than Howard County overall, but more advanced scores.)


You can't always judge a school by its test scores, but Laurie Lerman, president of the Bellows Spring parent-teacher association, raves about the place.

"Parents love it. It's a fantastic elementary school," said Lerman, whose older daughter started at the school when it opened in 2003 and whose younger daughter is now a fifth-grader there. "The staff are very committed to the children. They work extremely hard, and they care about each individual child and making sure each individual child gets the absolute best out of their experience."

Do you have personal experience with the Villages of Montgomery Run? Do share.

And -- since this is an education-centric neighborhood profile -- what area do you think gives you the best bang for your buck in terms of public schools?

(If you want to see all the photos I took, check out the hidden-gem gallery.)  

Tomorrow: Village of Olde Mill.

(All photographs by Jamie Smith Hopkins / Baltimore Sun)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Hidden-gem neighborhoods


When we moved to Howard county from Montgomery County in 2004 our extensive search led us to Montgomery Run. Even though it wasn't really enough space for a family of 5 (the biggest condos are only 3 bedroom, 1200 sq ft), I was attracted by the "good school". After 2.5 years there we were happy to sell and move away. While there are some good things about it, there are also many drawbacks. First and foremost, good test scores don't always equal a good school. It was our experience at Bellows Spring which led me to my decision to homeschool my children. Also, the homeowners association issues are a bit strange. There are actually two completely different sections and HOAs in Montgomery Run. While I lived there one was deeply in debt and the other was very lax in rule enforcement and repairs. Condo fees were ever increasing due to the cost of delayed maintenance. Maybe it has changed in the past few years, but I have my doubts.

Thanks for the words of experience, Someday.

I've lived in Montgomery Run for 6 years now and it is true, it has its benefits and its drawbacks, but for me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
First, it's close to Route 100 and 95 and to Columbia, but since it's in Ellicott City, you don't pay any CA fees on top of the condo fees. And I was fortunate to move into a building with nice neighbors who follow the rules. You can't always say the same for other buildings though.
The drawback is the management. It is true the community is divided in half with a different HOA board governing each half. This is the first year since I've lived there that my condo fees have not increased. And our HOA does not do a good job enforcing the rules especially parking (I don't own my parking space so they won't tow unauthorized visitors out of my space, though restriping the parking lot and remarking the curbs so the building numbers are larger has helped dramatically to keep visitors from parking wherever they want) and they do not do a great job maintaining the property (mowing the lawn, pruning trees, etc.) And the last HOA meeting I went to I was so rudely treated by one board member that I had no desire to go back.
All in all, I like living there.

I lived at Montgomery Run for 11 years. It was a wonderful community when I moved there in 1996. I had friendly neighbors and everyone got along well. You could not beat the maintenance and up-keep. By 2003, the place started to go downhill. The condo association wasn't as quick to repair and maintain problem areas. Calls to the management company went unanswered and then many owners began to move out. When the renters moved in, the place went to pot. The renters did not care about the community. Trash was thrown around the streets, fields and sidewalks and never cleaned up. The police were constantly being called to address disorderly neighbors and domestic violence situations. People used the parking lots to store old and junked vehicles. The condo association never did anything to help the owners despite the fact that we paid a huge monthly condo fee. I was lucky to get out right before the market crashed and I have never looked back. It became an extremely unpleasant place to live. I would not recommend this community to anyone.

Yikes, Debra! I wonder if things improved since you moved out in '07. When I visited, I saw no trash, no junked vehicles and no signs of poor maintenance. But some of the problems you describe wouldn't be visible to someone stopping by, as I did.

I have lived in Montgomery Run for over 15 years and I am saddened by some of the comments here. Yes there are to management companies here because there are two sections that were built by different builders at different times. This is not any different then any other neighborhoods that may be built close to each other. The only thing we share is the pool which was built by Section I.
I am in Section 2. These communities were built over 20 years ago and yes the buildings had been showing signs of wear as all 20 year old building will. I was on the Board of Directors for over 5 years (I am no longer on the Board) and I know how hard the Directors and management company have had to work to maintain an aging property. Extensive studies were done to complete the work on the worst buildings first. And by the way, the Board of Directors is a volunteer position, no one gets paid so if anyone would like to help in making decision, volunteer your time. In the last several years, almost all the roofs have been replaced, rotting wood has been replaced, and hallways have been renovated with new paint or wallpaper and new floors. In most of the buildings. Section 2 is a large community so of course all the work cannot be done at one time. The buildings are on a rotating basis. And even with all the work that has been done to maintain the buildings and grounds our condo fees are relatively low for what is covered. If one owns a single-family house there is certain upkeep that must be done each year. which of course cost money. And with labor and supply costs going up each year, these repairs usually cost more and more each year. Same with condo associations, Therefore, condo fees usually have to go up a little to just maintain the basics. Since the major new roof costs and rotting wood areas and painting have been taken care of in the last few years, in fact this year the condo fee went down. With condo fees well under $200 a month I think it is a good bargain.

Have there been some problems? Of course. As there will be with a community this size. But I have always felt very safe living in this community and I am a single female. It is a quite, beautiful place to live. But as Debra pointed out we do have renter here, and as I do believe that SOME renters do not care for their properties as owners do, I have several renters in my building and they seem to care just as much as owners. We cannot make generalize about the renters.

And since we are literally across the street from Columbia, we get to actually live in the heart of Howard County without having to pay the additional CPRA taxes. The best of both worlds. We are close to all the major highways.

All communities do have problems and you cannot please all the people all the time, but I would recommend Montgomery Run to anyone. I have loved living here for the past 15 years. Would I rather have my own single-family house so I don't have to live with 11 other families in my building, and help pay for repairs, insurance, maintenance, etc for everyone's unit, of course, but in Howard County, that dream is just not available to everyone.

I recently moved in November '09 and I absolutely love it. In reference to the condo fees it actually has decreased so that was a major plus I wasnt expecting. My neighbors are very nice and I have not seen anything that makes me feel unsafe. It's very quiet and it's perfect for people who own dogs because there's ample space to walk them. All of the major shopping columbia has to offer is accesible to us in minutes. One of the major reasons my fiance and I chose this community was its location, but now I realize that it has so much more to offer.... schools, access to major highways, shopping, quiet neighborhood, and most of all at a reasonable cost.

My husband and I looked at Montgomery Run when we were buying 3 years ago. I was unimpressed once I stepped inside the buildings. We ended up buying a condo in Woodland Village on Old Stockbridge Rd. just a mile up 108 from Montgomery Run. The neighborhood is well maintained and beautiful. It's also closer to 95. My sister recently looked at Montgomery Run, and it just confirmed our wise decision to go with Woodland Village instead.

Thanks for sharing a personal experience, Kelly. Glad you found a home that worked better for you.

I am a professional single woman. I have lived in Section II of the Villages of Montgomery Run for almost 21 years - I bought my home before it was built. It's been a wonderful place to live. I cried when Route 100 was completed (we had a lovely wetlands behind us prior to the highway), but find the ease of travel is some compensation.

I have always felt safe here.. the outside of my home has been well kept up. Anytime I have called with a problem -- i.e. light bulb replacement in hall way, lock needing replacement on outside door, etc. -- repairs have been completed in a timely manner. Our hallways are kept clean and polished. The trees and shrubs are pruned and fertilized and the lawn is kept trimmed. We have had a problem with renters, but it was handled and they were asked to leave. Our current renters care just as much as owners about our home.
In short, I have loved living here.


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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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