« August 2011 | Main | October 2011 »

September 30, 2011

One day left for Emergency Mortgage Assistance program

An emergency-loan program intended to help homeowners avoid foreclosure nationwide is likely to end up at best making half as many loans as Congress budgeted for -- $400 million to $500 million rather than $1 billion. But in Maryland, state housing officials have processed so many loans that they got about $20 million more to keep on going.

Today's the deadline to finish. Leaders at the state Department of Housing and Community Development say they're working frenetically to try to get every bit of the nearly $57 million committed, because what isn't approved for Emergency Mortgage Assistance loans by the end of the day must be handed back to the feds.

More in today's story.

One piece of the tale is that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn't start taking applications for the forgivable-loan program until June 20 in most of the country, a short window before the Congressionally mandated deadline to match the money with homeowners who qualified for it. (The deadline to actually apply was earlier this month.)

HUD spokesman Lemar Wooley said the agency went as fast as it could.

"As with any new program, it took some time to get it up and running," Wooley wrote in an email. He said the agency had to write regulations, identify contractors, put fiscal controls in place "and ensure the program was being run fairly."

Maryland and four other states were allowed to run their own versions of the federal Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program because they successfully argued that they had "substantially similar" ones already in place. (Pennsylvania's program was the model for the federal effort.) All five states think they can make enough loans to use their money up, Wooley said.

Maryland started taking applications about two-and-a-half months before HUD did elsewhere, which helped the state get more loans done.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

September 29, 2011

Firm: Baltimore-area 'shadow inventory' at 50,000 homes

Thousands of homes are on the market in the Baltimore region. But as the commercials say, wait -- there’s more.

Tens of thousands of Baltimore-area homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments. At least some of their homes will end up on the market too, either as short sales or repossessed foreclosures.

California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting, which does market research for homebuilders and banks, estimates this "shadow inventory" in the Baltimore region at 50,000 homes as of June. That’s how many properties the company believes will eventually become distress sales but aren’t yet listed.

"That equates to 14 months of supply based on the average resale sales volume for the area over the last 10 years," Wayne Yamano, a vice president at John Burns, said in an email. "The U.S. average is about 9 months of shadow inventory in comparison."

The sales volume was much larger for most of the past 10 years than it’s been in the last few. At the pace of June sales, it would take 21 months -- almost two years -- to find buyers for 50,000 homes.

The so-called visible inventory, the 17,000 homes actually on the market as of June, represents seven months of supply.

CoreLogic, the real estate data firm, is more optimistic than John Burns about the national shadow inventory, assuming you define "optimistic" as predicting fewer distress sales. This week the company estimated the size of it in July at 1.6 million homes, a five-month supply. That’s down from 1.7 million in April, the company said.

"The moderate decline in shadow inventory is being driven by a pace of new delinquencies that is slower than the disposition pace of distressed assets," CoreLogic said in a statement.

The company calculates shadow inventory differently than John Burns, though. CoreLogic looks at loans that are 90 days or more delinquent, calculating how many of those properties are likely to end up with banks, and adds any homes that have been repossessed by lenders but aren’t yet listed. John Burns doesn’t include the repossessed-but-not-listed; instead, it looks at all delinquent loans -- not just those at least three months behind -- and applies a "liquidation probability" to determine how many will likely hit the market.

Kenneth Wenhold, mid-Atlantic regional director for Metrostudy, another consultant to the homebuilding industry, thinks lenders have no incentive to rapidly turn the shadow inventory into actual inventory. It’s not just that they’re hoping for prices to improve down the road, either.

A foreclosure doesn't dent a bank's reserves until it's sold, Wenhold said. As long as it’s a non-performing asset, "they can keep kicking that can down the street." Add to that the fallout from robo-signing, which has made foreclosure resales a more time-intensive proposition, he said.

"It’s going to be a couple of years of this slow unwinding until the markets start picking up," Wenhold predicted.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Distress sales, Housing stats, The foreclosure mess

September 28, 2011

'Extreme Makeover' comes back to Md.



An Eastern Shore family learned today that their sagging house will be demolished and replaced, courtesy of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" -- which last year built a mansion for the girls of Boys Hope Girls Hope in Baltimore.

The Johnson-Goslee family of tiny Mardela Springs, in Wicomico County, got a knock on the door at noon. Their story is compelling: Wyzhir Johnson-Goslee, 16, lost his left hand last Christmas Eve while working with his grandfather to repair the 80-year-old house, which wasn't built with a dug-out foundation and has developed structural problems. On top of that, there are no working showers or bathtubs.

Now thousands of volunteers are ready to give the family a new home -- one that's "eco-friendly" and solar powered.

The Fusion Cos., an Annapolis modular-home builder, is leading the project. Wes Sims, who owns the company with brother Josh, said the door-knock "was, aside from the birth of my daughter, probably the coolest thing I'd ever seen."

"Everyone was overwhelmed," he said.

The neighborhood is tightly knit, so the project will include improvement work on at least seven other homes, Sims said. "It's basically going to be an entire community facelift."

Demolition on the Johnson-Goslee house will begin tonight.

Deadline to finish and "move that bus" to show off the results: Tuesday. But the construction schedule calls for finishing by Monday to give the design team time to make the interior spiffy. That gives workers a maximum of 106 hours to build, Sims said. Why yes, he's counting. Construction will go round-the-clock.

Fusion volunteered during an Extreme Makeover build in Virginia Beach during the last season, and Sims said that sold him on the idea.

Everything about it is fast. It was just over a month ago that show organizers asked his company to be the lead builder. The architect, Jeff Halpern of Halpern Architects, had a single day to work on the design. Hundreds of skilled-trades workers are on board to help -- and thousands of general volunteers, rallied to the cause by Salisbury University -- but Sims said they could still use more people with building experience, particularly carpenters.

Here's how to volunteer.

(Photo above is courtesy of Chic Communications.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:16 PM | | Comments (0)

Live Baltimore names new executive director

The nonprofit group that promotes Baltimore living is getting a new leader.

Live Baltimore's executive director of 4 ½ years, Anna Custer-Singh, is stepping down Friday and will be replaced by co-worker Steve Gondol. He's worked at Live Baltimore for four years, most recently as the business relationship manager.

Live Baltimore, best known outside of the city for its efforts to get D.C. denizens to relocate north, puts on twice-annual Buying Into Baltimore fairs, offers information about city neighborhoods and organizes various other housing-related events.

Custer-Singh, who announced in August that she was leaving, said the timing seemed right. Funding is in place for the fiscal year, which began in July. And it's time for the organization to begin working on a new five-year plan, to start next July.

It's been a difficult stretch for many nonprofit organizations, what with the rough economy and limited state and local funding. A group that focuses on housing also has the added headache of the housing bust.

"I won't deny it, it's been a challenge," said Gondol, a Patterson Park resident with a degree in urban planning. "But we have just been creative. Live Baltimore is a very positive, creative organization, so we just kind of continue to look at the silver lining in things and see if there are opportunities to adapt and take on new work."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Housing groups

September 27, 2011

Autumn home selling and buying

Home sales in the Baltimore area generally peak in June and slide pretty much for the rest of the year, so you can see why some would-be sellers pull their homes from the market with the idea of trying again the next year.

But some homes are always changing hands. Even during the anxiety-filled 2008, when the financial crisis had really set in, 1,339 homes sold in the weakest month (November). So yeah, there are buyers buying and sellers selling during the fall.

Are you hoping to be one of them?

If you're looking, why now? If you're trying to sell, what made you decide to stay on the market -- or go on it -- during this time of year?

On the flip side, if you've decided to stop looking or trying to sell, what was the deciding factor?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Question of the day

September 26, 2011

Carroll County's housing market

Pegging the start of the housing bust depends on how you're defining it. Home sales began falling in late 2005. Prices took longer to follow suit, peaking in 2007 in most of the Baltimore area.

But for Carroll County, the price impact came a year early.

I'm crunching numbers for the month of June to compare and contrast the counties over the years -- see Anne Arundel here, Baltimore City here and Baltimore County here -- and Carroll County is an interesting case. Even though average prices began falling sooner in that county, they remain higher compared with the late 1990s than some of the other jurisdictions in the region.

Both the average and median sale price in Carroll was about 90 percent higher in June than it was in June 1998. Compare that with Baltimore County's roughly 65 percent increase. (In Baltimore City, where foreclosures and investor activity are both high, the increase in median prices vs. 1998 is the lowest in the region -- 40 percent. But the city's average price increase tops Baltimore County's, which just goes to show that "average" and "typical" aren't always the same thing.)

Carroll County home sales, meanwhile, are down 45 percent since the 2005 peak -- pretty typical for the region -- and remain near recorded lows:




Here's a chart showing the change in prices:



Next up in this occasional series: Harford County, home of BRAC (but not all BRAC workers).

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing stats

September 22, 2011

Foreclosure crisis ebbing more slowly in Baltimore area than most regions

The Baltimore region is middle of the pack among large metro areas for its percentage of mortgages that are seriously delinquent -- 90 days or more behind. But our area saw a smaller improvement from the beginning of 2010 to the beginning of this year than most places.

Among the 100 largest metro areas, the serious delinquency rate dropped faster in 77 other regions than in the Baltimore area, according to figures from, which analyzed LPS Applied Analytics data.

Our region is among a half-dozen with the smallest declines -- a tenth of a percentage point. The Baltimore area's rate dropped to 8.4 percent in March from 8.5 percent in March 2010. Five regions showed no change. Twelve had increasing rates of serious delinquency.

The result is that the Baltimore area went from having the 44th lowest delinquency rate among the 100 largest regions to having the 54th lowest.

The metro areas with the biggest decreases in serious delinquency were all in worse shape than the Baltimore region and still are. Riverside, Calif., for instance, saw its rate fall to 14.6 percent from 18.7 percent.

But Grand Rapids, Mich., tied for the ninth largest drop, started off with the same rate as Baltimore's and ended up at 6.6 percent in March, a drop of nearly 2 percentage points.

Serious delinquency includes loans wending their way through foreclosure but not yet auctioned off.

It's not always clear why an area's rate is dropping. It could be more homeowners getting out of immediate trouble -- landing a job after months of unemployment, say, or negotiating lower monthly payments. But the seriously delinquent group can also shrink as homes are taken back by lenders. (Real estate data firm CoreLogic noted this type of maybe-or-maybe-not improvement in a recent report about negative equity.)

Why an area's rate isn't dropping, though, is usually more clear-cut. The employment situation has a lot to do with it.

Not much has changed here on that count. About 7,800 more people in the Baltimore metro area were employed in March than a year earlier, an increase of about half a percent, according to federal estimates.

That's unfortunately a drop in the bucket: about 73,000 more Marylanders were working three years ago. The gap between where we are now and where we would be if employment levels were equal to pre-recession days is huge nationwide.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: The foreclosure mess

September 21, 2011

The risk in asking too much for your house

If you're trying to sell your house and you figure your asking price doesn't matter all that much, consider this anecdote from Wonk reader elweedz.

A home originally listed at $525,000 sold almost a year later for $350,000, less than what he might have been willing to pay for it. "Since I thought the home was so overpriced ... I never bothered to go see it," he commented. So the owners lost out on a showing and a possible offer that could have been better than what they got.

"Realtors (and I know you are out there reading this blog) should print this and show it to their customers," he added.

Sometimes, too-high asking prices keep owners from getting any offers at all. But elweedz's experience shows how some homes end up selling for less than the owners could have received had they started off with a lower asking price to begin with.

I know it can seem counterintuitive, especially to a seller who is trying to account for the possibility of lower offers from buyers by making the asking price 10 percent higher than he would actually take. But in a market where sale prices are dropping and lots of listings are jostling for attention, pricing too high really hurts sellers.

Plenty of buyers will snort at the asking price and click on the next listing, rather than coming out to look and making a much lower offer the owner might have been willing to take. And some folks who would have been ideal prospective buyers won't even see the online listing information because it's in the wrong price category.

Here's a question I'd like to have buyers, sellers, real estate agents and general housing-market observers alike tackle: Have you ever seen a situation where a house is languishing on the market but the asking price is not the primary problem? In other words, lowering the price wouldn't make a difference?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: For sale

September 20, 2011

Baltimore County's housing market

Baltimore County home sales are way down from where they were at the height of the housing bubble, like the rest of the region. Unlike the rest of the region, the county's home sales are also way lower now than they were as far back as 1998.

For a (very) occasional blog-post series, I've been crunching numbers at a county level for the month of June to compare and contrast over the years. See Anne Arundel here and Baltimore City here. Today it's Baltimore County's turn.

The number of Baltimore County homes sold this June was down 30 percent from June 1998, when Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the region. That's the biggest drop in the metro area.

Pricey Howard County was close, with a 28 percent drop, but no other jurisdiction saw anywhere near that big of a decline. (One actually saw a gain in sales, but you'll have to wait until it's that county's turn to find out which ... or check the numbers yourself.)

Here's what Baltimore County's home sales looks like over the years:




And here's the change in average and median prices:



Prices are down 22 percent on average since the peak in 2007. They're down a bit more -- 26 percent -- if you're looking at the median sales price.

But by either measure, prices are still about 65 percent higher than they were in 1998.

Next up: Carroll County.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing stats

September 19, 2011

Open houses for rehabbed foreclosures on Saturday

Among the federal government's stimulus spending is money to help nonprofits acquire and rehabbing foreclosed homes, an effort to keep neighborhoods from falling apart as the housing crisis drags on.

You can see some of those results on Saturday.

Healthy Neighborhoods, a Baltimore nonprofit, is holding an event with open houses on Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to get prospective buyers to take a look. In addition to renovated homes, it has foreclosures in the not-yet-fixed stage that can be purchased by buyers who want to do that work themselves. More than 100 homes are available, the group says.

The properties are located in Belair-Edison, Better Waverly, Coldstream Homestead Montebello, Ednor Gardens, Patterson Park and neighboring McElderry Park, Old Goucher and Reservoir Hill. Eligible buyers can get up to $6,000 in closing-cost assistance for one of the rehabs. Eligible purchasers of a foreclosure still in need of fixing can get an interest free, forgivable loan (a loan that converts to a grant over time) of up to $25,000.

That help is part of the National Stabilization Program, which sets income requirements. A household of one can't make more than $71,000, for instance, while a three-person family can make up to $91,250. And sorry, investors: You've got to live in the home, not rent it out, use it as a summer place, etc.

Healthy Neighborhood has more details.

The group will be holding its event at the Patterson Park Public Charter School's cafeteria, 2726 E. Baltimore St. 

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renovation/rehab, The foreclosure mess

September 16, 2011

What happens to the homestead credit when a homeowner dies?

The state's homestead credit, a tax break designed to cap annual property-tax increases for homeowners, doesn't usually pass from one owner to the next. If Joe Schmoe buys a home from John Q. Public, Schmoe doesn't get Public's credit, other than for the rest of the tax year in which the purchased happened.

Turns out there is an exception, though. If the owner dies, his or her heirs inherit the credit as well as the house as long as they make it their primary residence.

Why? Because the typical condition for a change in the homestead situation is a "transfer for consideration" -- a sale involving money. Inheriting is not a transfer for consideration, says Robert E. Young, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. So the homestead credit calculation continues on as if there were no change in ownership.

"If ... you are receiving a homestead on another property, then you're not entitled to keep it," Young added. (Homeowners can receive a homestead credit on only one property, their primary residence.)

The inheritance quirk of the homestead law came up when I was looking into claims made about a Baltimore City Council candidate, which just reminded me that however much I think I know about property taxes, there's a never-ending supply of additional information out there.

The homestead program caps annual increases in owner-occupiers' taxable assessments to varying degrees across the state. In Baltimore and Baltimore County, it's 4 percent a year. Even with the drop in home values over the last several years, some homeowners' credits are sizable -- especially people who've lived in their homes for many years. So Junior could really benefit financially from inheriting a parent's homestead credit.

Some homeowners have been surprised by another homestead-credit exception: If you make more than $100,000 in improvements to your property, you get taxed on the full amount of those improvements. This quirk has caught up several years late to some homeowners who simply bought a newly rehabbed property, and it changed their bills in a big way. More on that here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Homestead Property Tax Credit, Property taxes

September 15, 2011

Most popular Baltimore-area ZIP codes among homebuyers

You can try to get at housing-market popularity a lot of ways. By one measure, the Baltimore region's most popular ZIP code is Pasadena, 21122.

The Anne Arundel County community is the one that got the most home searches last month on, according to the company that runs the site, Move Inc. No. 2: 21042, the western ZIP code in Ellicott City.

Here's the rest of the top five:

No. 3: 21784, Sykesville (a ZIP code shared by Carroll and Howard counties)

No. 4: 21043, Ellicott City's eastern ZIP code (Howard County)

No. 5: 21146, Severna Park (Anne Arundel County -- near Pasadena)

Does that match up with your sense of what's popular?

Another way to gauge buyer interest is the average length of time the homes in a community have been up for sale, though that's not foolproof (see this blog post for one reason why). Among ZIP codes with at least 20 homes for sale, here are the ones where shows the lowest number of average days on market:

1. 21104, Marriottsville (partially in Carroll, Howard and Baltimore counties) -- 46 days

2. 21163, Woodstock (Howard and Baltimore counties, next to Marriottsville) -- 63 days

3. 21046, Columbia's southeastern ZIP -- 65 days

4. 21111, Monkton (Baltimore and Harford counties) -- 73 days

5. 21042, Ellicott City's western ZIP -- 75 days

Ellicott City is the only community that showed up on both lists. Woodstock, No. 1 for shortest time on market, is 88th on's search ranking.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Housing stats

September 14, 2011

Looking to buy or sell a home?

As awesome as numbers can be to help shed light on the housing market, there's nothing like hearing a personal experience from someone who has been there and done that. So I'm interested in hearing from you if you're somewhere in the process of trying to buy or sell a home.

It's easier to find sellers than buyers, partly because there are more homes on the market than people actively looking and partly because sellers advertise and buyers don't. But buyers' perspectives on the market are pretty important, so I'd especially like to hear from you folks. That includes would-be buyers who aren't going beyond a basic monitoring of online listings, because why you're not buying yet is as interesting as why another buyer is taking the plunge.

You can either comment below and include your email address in the email-address line (which only I can see), or you can email me directly at jhopkins(at)

Everyone in the housing market these days has a story to tell. So don't worry if yours doesn't strike you as especially wild and crazy. It's one more window into what's happening out there.

Md. has seventh-highest share of underwater homeowners

Nearly one in four Marylanders with a mortgage owed more on those loans than their homes were worth this spring, worse than all but six other states -- and a large number of homeowners who can't easily sell or refinance.

That's according to new figures from real estate data firm CoreLogic, which estimates that nearly half the states have fewer than 15 percent of their borrowers "underwater."

But the state's nearly 24 percent figure -- essentially unchanged from the first three months of the year -- remains much lower than the hardest-hit states. Sixty percent of Nevada's homeowners with a mortgage owe more than their homes are worth. Nearly half of Arizona's homeowners are in similar straits.

Several factors are contributing to states' negative equity: Falling home prices, low down payments and loans homeowners took out against their properties when the market was hot. 

One result is homeowners stuck in place, unable to sell unless they bring money to the settlement table or convince their lender to approve a short sale.

"Since the 2005 sales peak, non-distressed sales in zip codes with low negative equity have fallen 61 percent, compared to an 83 percent sales decline in high negative equity zip codes," CoreLogic said in a press release. "The typical seasonal changes in sales volume in high negative equity zip codes is very muted, which indicates that non-distressed sales are being heavily impacted by the high levels of negative equity in their neighborhood, even if sellers have equity."

Another problem for the underwater crowd: Good luck trying to refinance to take advantage of low mortgage rates.

"Negative equity significantly limits the ability of borrowers to capture the benefit of the low-rate environment," CoreLogic notes.

The company estimates that nearly 75 percent of all underwater borrowers have mortgage rates that are "above market," or at least 5.1 percent, at a time when the going rate is 4.1 percent. That's eight million borrowers who could be paying less money on housing costs each month if they had enough equity to refinance.

Maryland has ranked in the top 10 on CoreLogic's negative-equity list for a while. The company estimated that the state was eighth in the country during the first three months of the year, but Idaho's negative-equity share has fallen modestly since then, dropping it from seventh to ninth while Maryland bumped up a notch. Virginia is between the two states, with 23 percent of its borrowers underwater, CoreLogic's estimates show.

The Baltimore region is better off than the state as a whole. Nineteen percent of the metro area's borrowers had homes worth less than their mortgages during the spring, about 121,000 in all, CoreLogic says. That's essentially the same as the situation at the start of the year. (Maryland's tally of underwater homeowners: 321,000.)

A shrinking share of underwater homeowners isn't necessarily good news the way most people would define it. Nevada's 60 percent share is down from 68 percent a year earlier, but CoreLogic notes that the reason "is the high number of foreclosures that led to lower numbers of remaining negative equity borrowers."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Mortgages, Underwater

September 13, 2011

August home sales in the Baltimore area

Here's August in a nutshell for the Baltimore-area housing market: Home sales up, prices down.

In a slightly larger nutshell, sales rose 6 percent in the Baltimore region vs. a year ago, while the average price slipped 5 percent.

The number of sales remains very low compared with the norm since the late 1990s, when Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the market. The number of homes listed for sale is dropping, though, so the time it would take to sell everything at the current pace is just under eight months -- close to what it was in August 2009, when the federal first-time home buyer tax credit was giving activity a bit of a boost.

Six months is generally thought of as a balancing point between demand and supply.

Wayne Yamano, director of research with John Burns Real Estate Consulting in California, emailed me some interesting thoughts about the buyer pool -- too late to make it into my housing-market story, but plenty of time for this blog post. Here's what he wrote:

A lot of people complain about not being able to get a mortgage, but the truth is that underwriting standards have not changed much since the beginning of the year. In fact, in the Fed’s latest survey of loan officers, standards had loosened slightly.

The real problem is that no one wants to buy a house right now, so they aren't even trying to get a mortgage. Mortgage applications have been down for a while now. A home is the biggest purchase that most people will ever make and there's just too much uncertainty out there right now. Economists can't even agree on whether there will be a double dip. We also don’t think there's a quality pool of buyers that’s just waiting to buy. Our builder clients tell us that most people that don't qualify for a loan don't have enough money for a down payment or have FICO scores that are too low. Both those issues don't improve overnight.

For today's story, I chatted with an Owings Mills retiree who would like to sell his home and an investment property, but not for the prices buyers are offering these days. That perspective -- and the flip side, buyers unwilling to buy at the prices sellers are asking -- gets discussed here a lot. I thought you all would appreciate his quote about would-be buyers and sellers waiting in hopes of better opportunities later:

"The question, of course, is who can hold out the longest," Bernardino Angel Gonzalez said.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Housing stats

September 12, 2011

As BRAC officially ends, a snapshot of where people live

All the federal jobs targeted for relocation to Maryland in the national military base reshuffling effort are in place now, in advance of Thursday's deadline.

So where is everyone?

Thanks to the Army and the Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor, we have a fairly detailed picture of where employees of C4ISR -- the acronym for the umbrella group of high-tech organizations that moved from Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to Aberdeen Proving Ground -- are now living.

The intel on Fort Meade newcomers is much less specific, but I've got some demographics from the largest agency to relocate there.

Aberdeen first:

The Army and the Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor surveyed C4ISR employees to find out where they are now. Drumroll, please:

Just over 60 percent -- 1,835 of the 3,024 survey-takers -- say they're living in Harford County, where the base is located.

Eighteen percent are living in Cecil, the county to the north.

Six percent are living in New Castle County, Del. (east of Cecil).

Five percent are living in Baltimore County.

Two-and-a-half percent (77 workers) are living in Baltimore.

Several Pennsylvania counties rank just under the city, though together, Chester, Lancaster and York counties add up to 4 percent.

Here's a PDF map showing the distribution.

These results are almost exactly the same as those from a survey taken last year, when the rate of relocation was revving up. About 8,000 jobs were moved in all, most with the original workers coming with them, some filled by new hires and (as of right now) some still empty.

This distribution doesn't get at everyone whose job transferred to APG. The C4ISR folks represent the largest group that moved there, but not the entirety. Contractors, meanwhile, weren't surveyed. And not everyone eligible to take the survey did (though 3,000 is pretty good).

Harford County makes sense as a place for the migrants to settle because it's where the base is located. But why are Cecil and Delaware more popular than Baltimore County and Baltimore?

Steve Overbay, the BRAC coordinator at the Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor, said some of it could be explained by dual-income couples trying to split their commutes.

"It may be you have one spouse working in Philadelphia," he said. Also, he noted, many BRAC workers "still have family in the New Jersey area or they still own homes there, so they choose to work a compressed work week and then commute back."

In fact, some workers haven't moved at all. "There are people ... taking a daily bus from New Jersey," said Bob DiMichele, a public affairs officer for the Communications-Electronics Command, the largest of the C4ISR organizations.

Some of the 127 survey-takers who gave addresses in APG's ZIP code, 21005, just have post office boxes there.

Most popular ZIP code: 21015, one of Bel Air's two ZIPs -- the one that's closer to the base. Just over 400 survey-takers gave that as their address. Havre de Grace -- 21078 -- and Bel Air's other ZIP code, 21014, were essentially tied for second, with about 280 each.

Rounding out the top five: Elkton (21921) in Cecil County, with 210 survey-takers, and Abingdon (21009) in Harford County, with 205.

Many of the movers who chose Baltimore settled in southeastern neighborhoods to be near an on-ramp to Interstate 95. Lisa Potteiger, a training manager at the Communications-Electronics Command, moved to Canton two years ago -- she was one of the earlier relocatees. She said it typically takes her 45 minutes to get to work.

That seems to be how long it takes a lot of the APG workers. Kent Woods, who as the G3 of the Communications-Electronics Command is essentially the agency's operations officer, said his commute from Newark, Del. is 40 to 45 minutes. Mitch Mayer, an electronics engineer who relocated from Fort Monmouth to Baltimore, said newcomers who settled in Bel Air complain that it takes them 40 minutes -- only five minutes less than it takes him, even though they're half as many miles away.

But DiMichele, who lives in Cecil County, said he can usually make it in 25 minutes.

It makes sense that commuters coming north or south to APG can get there with less time per mile than people living west of the base, which sits against the Chesapeake Bay. Jim Richardson, Harford's economic development director, said the county needs help with its east-west traffic flow on state roads. North-south is good, he said, except at "pinch points" caused by east-west problems. (See this story for some discussion about road projects near the bases, and why more haven't been started already.)

As for Fort Meade: The Defense Information Systems Agency transferred about 4,300 jobs there when it relocated its headquarters from Northern Virginia. Anne Arundel County officials figured workers would largely commute at first rather than move because it's a tough time to sell a home, it is possible (if not fun) to make that commute and DISA lets employees telework up to three days a week.

That's basically what has happened. “The number of Virginians that have moved is relatively small ... in the overall scheme of things," said David Bullock, DISA’s BRAC executive. "We’re probably looking at less than 1,000 that were actually willing to move."

But about half of DISA's workers now live in Maryland, compared with just 20 percent pre-BRAC. That's because the agency has been doing a lot of hiring the last few years, and a lot of those employees are Marylanders. Especially in recent months.

"Once the jobs started moving here, then we started to get many more people from Maryland accepting jobs," Bullock said.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: BRAC

September 8, 2011

Report: Baltimore region had one of the biggest drops in home prices in the last year

Home prices were about 9 percent lower in the Baltimore region in June than they were a year earlier, one of the largest declines among large markets, according to real estate data firm FNC.

The company says its latest analysis of 30 metro areas shows Baltimore with the sixth-largest loss in prices year-over-year, behind Orlando (down about 16 percent), Las Vegas and Atlanta (both down about 13 percent) and Sacramento and Tampa (both down about 11 percent).

Most regions saw price drops compared with a year ago, mind you. FNC said it found increases in only two large markets: Detroit -- yes, really -- and Boston, both of which posted gains of about 4 percent.

It's interesting to see how different the various measures of price changes have been lately -- all down, but not by the same amount. Here are some other recent figures, for comparison's sake:

CoreLogic, another real estate data firm, reports an approximately 3 percent drop in Baltimore-area home prices in June vs. a year earlier. (Here's a blog post about July numbers; the report it links to has earlier figures, including June.)

Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which runs the local multiple-listing service, shows Baltimore-area prices dropping about 7 percent on average. (Here's the link to its RealEstate Business Intelligence stats.)

At least some of the differences can be explained by different slices of the market being measured.

FNC's index tracks both new home sales and resales, but only the "non-distressed" part of the total. In an attempt to get at the true change in value, it uses appraisal data as well as sales records in a "hedonic" model.

CoreLogic's figure above is also non-distress -- no foreclosures or short sales -- but looks specifically at single-family houses and townhouses. The company's analysis considers repeat sales of the same homes over time in its effort to weed out apples-to-oranges comparisons ... which means by definition that they must be resales, not new homes.

MRIS, meanwhile, isn't applying any mathematical wizardry to try to get apples-to-apples. It's looking at all homes that sold through the multiple-listing service this year vs. all the ones that sold last year.

What numbers do you like to look at?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing stats

September 7, 2011

Wishful thinking in asking prices for homes

Many would-be buyers have complained here over the post-bubble years that homeowners trying to sell are often completely unrealistic about what their properties are worth.

Turns out that some economists agree.

Real estate data firm FNC notes in a research paper that its number crunching suggests "many homeowners are having a hard time dealing with the reality that home values have declined significantly."

"Homeowners continue to set price expectations that lag behind market declines, resulting in slower sales," writes Yanling Mayer, FNC's senior research economist.

"Those who are reluctant to lower prices to better match buyers' offers often end up withdrawing the properties from the market, only to re-list them again [at] a later date at reduced prices," he added.

As the housing market worsened, so did the gap between what sellers were asking and what they got. Nationwide, the typical asking price was about 8 percent higher than the typical sale price in 2007, 13 percent higher in 2008 and a whopping 24 percent higher in 2009, FNC says. The gap narrowed last year -- with asking prices 13 percent higher than sales prices -- but are on the rise again, averaging 17 percent in the first seven months of this year, the company said.

This accounts for all homes for sale vs. all homes that sold. FNC found gaps -- though not as big -- when it looked at different slices of the market:

"Excluding the listings of those remaining on the market, the gap between median list prices and median sale prices decreases but remains quite significant," FNC said.

I've heard from some buyers that they don't make offers they think are fair-market value on homes with asking prices that are way off -- they just keep looking. So it makes sense that FNC found a smaller gap between the typical asking price and sales price of homes that actually did sell.

FNC also compared individual experiences, looking at the asking price vs. the sales price for specific properties. Here's how that sorted out, according to the company's report:

During 2008 and 2009 when market conditions were rapidly deteriorating, initial list prices set by homeowners of non-distressed properties averaged 9-11% higher than final selling prices. They have remained relatively unchanged in 2010 and in recent months. Median time-on-market also continues to reach beyond 5 months.
In comparison, foreclosed properties' initial list prices were more than 25% higher than the final prices paid by buyers during 2008 and 2009, with a median time-on-market of 7 ½ -8 months. Since then, the list price markup has come down significantly, averaging 15-16% above final selling price and shaving 1 to 1 ½ months off time-on-market.

Buyers, what are you seeing out there? If you've been looking for a while, have you noticed any change in how reasonable or unreasonable asking prices are? Do you ever make a lower offer on a home you like with an asking price you don't, or do you just move on to the next candidate?

Sellers, have you had trouble determining a fair price to ask? Do you think homes that sit on the market for months are always priced too high, or do other factors come into play?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: For sale

September 6, 2011

'Bang For Your Buck' looking for Annapolis homeowners

"Bang For Your Buck," the HGTV show about renovations, is looking for a few Annapolis homeowners. Like, right now.

The show plans to feature three Annapolis homes with recent renovations to a "waterfront/coastal style great room" and award $10,000 to the one judged the winner -- best value for the money spent. Deadline to apply: Friday (Sept. 9).

The contact is Sami Hartman,

More details in this press release.

Local folks have been on "Bang For Your Buck" before. The owners of a Little Italy rowhouse got to show off their extensive renovation work, and a Patterson Park couple had their kitchen renovation featured.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Your name in lights (well, newsprint)

Baltimore on list of top places 'for working towards a home purchase'

The Baltimore region comes in second on a new ranking of the best places for buying a home -- based primarily on the strength of the job market.

The list of top places "for working towards a home purchase," put together by Move Inc., ranked metro areas by the number of job openings per capita. Regions with lots of job openings but unemployment above the national average were knocked out of contention, as were places where home prices recorded big drops in the past year. (The company, which runs real estate sites such as, was looking for relative stability.)

Why a ranking based primarily on the job market rather than the housing market? Because few people can afford a house if they don't have a job.

"Buying a home in an area with an established job market or expanding industry can help provide workers more security in the future, especially as the economy continues to fluctuate," Move's CEO, Steve Berkowitz, said in a statement.

Here's what Move said of the Baltimore region: "Baltimore has the second highest job postings per capita in the bunch with 104 postings per 1,000 people. It is home to energy and financial services powerhouses Constellation Energy and T Rowe Price. Competition for jobs isn't too fierce with an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent."

It's all relative, of course -- that feels like a heck of a lot of competition compared with pre-recession days. The jobless rate was 3.8 percent in 2007.

You won't be surprised by No. 1 on the Move list: Washington, with 147 job postings per 1,000 people.

Both the Baltimore and Washington regions have long been beneficiaries of federal spending, their economies boosted by contracting -- from defense to IT -- and big agencies with headquarters here. With the looming federal deficit, that future is cloudy. Contractors are already cutting jobs.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be easy for Uncle Sam to actually pick up and move, which gives this area one advantage over other company towns.

Here's the rest of Move's top-10 list:

Metro areaJob Postings Per 1,000 PeopleUnemployment RateMedian List PriceY/Y ChangeM/M Change
Washington, D.C.1476.2%$369,999 2.78%-1.07%
Baltimore1047.9%$244,500 -5.60%0.74%
Cleveland1028.3%$132,900 -5.00%2.23%
Hartford949.2%$254,900 -1.58%-0.89%
Denver928.7%$250,000 -3.81%-2.91%
Austin907.6%$224,900 2.27%0.00%
Boston847.1%$329,900 -2.86%-1.52%
Columbus818.2%$150,000 0.07%0.07%
Phoenix799.0%$144,900 -6.46%3.54%
Richmond777.1%$204,500 -2.62%2.25%

The job-posting figures come from Indeed, which does a regular ranking. (If you follow the link, you'll see that four metro areas on Indeed's top 10 didn't make it onto Move's list, which Move attributed to either especially high unemployment rates or big price drops. Baltimore is sixth on Indeed's ranking of the 50 largest markets.)

Did you move here within the last few years? How do the job and housing markets strike you?

On the flip side: Anyone about to leave -- and why?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: We're No. 1! (Or thereabouts)

September 2, 2011

CoreLogic: Baltimore-area price drops are the smallest in a year

Single-family home prices in the Baltimore region were 3.8 percent lower in July than they had been a year earlier, the smallest decline since last summer, real estate data firm CoreLogic says.

The year-over-year loss in prices ranged from a little over 4 percent to a little over 6 percent from August 2010 through June of this year, according to CoreLogic. And even those are less dramatic than the price drops in 2009 -- in July 2009, for example, single-family values fell 9 percent. (The company analyzes both detached and attached single-family homes.)

Nationally, CoreLogic said, single-family home prices declined 5.2 percent over the year. That's down a bit compared with the past several months. Subtract out short sales and foreclosures, and U.S. home prices were a lot closer to steady, down about half a percent.

Non-distress sales in the Baltimore area also showed a smaller drop, but it wasn't as big of a difference -- down 2.8 percent rather than the overall 3.8 percent decline.

So: trend or temporary?

CoreLogic, for its part, thinks the near future doesn't look good for price stability -- even though the very recent past, July vs. June, showed a small gain in prices nationwide.

"While July's numbers remained relatively positive, particularly for non-distressed sales which have been stable, seasonal influences are expected to fade in late summer," Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, said in a statement. "At that point, the month-over-month growth will most likely turn negative. The slowdown in economic growth and increased uncertainty caused by the recent stock market volatility will continue to exert downward pressure on prices."

What are you seeing out there?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing stats

September 1, 2011

Online rental scams hit vacationers, too

Ocean City police are warning folks who plan to rent a vacation spot and haven't gotten around to it yet to beware of online scammers trying to steal your money.

This is similar to the non-vacation rental scam we've chatted about here, where crooks pose as landlords advertising great deals to get you to send your deposit their way. The Ocean City police say they've received two complaints from people who paid several hundred dollars for craigslist-advertised "rentals" that did not materialize.

The agency isn't hopeful the money will be recovered because officials believe the fake landlords are outside the country. The police department's recommendation: Don't wire money -- real landlords should accept a credit card or personal check.

"Also, verify where you will go and whom you will see to pick up the rental key," the police said in a press release this week. "Make sure that the person and location are valid. Finally, if you have any suspicious concerns, follow your instinct. Even if you have to pay a fee, you are often safer dealing with a licensed real estate agent."

What makes the typical rental scam especially sneaky is that the baddies have swiped photos of actual local properties -- often ones for sale -- to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Come across any rental -- or for-sale -- scams lately?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting
Keep reading
Recent entries
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.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

Most Recent Comments
Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Sun Real Estate section
Archive: Dream Home
Dream Home takes readers into the houses of area residents who have found their ideal home.
Sign up for FREE business alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for Business text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Sign up for the At Home newsletter
The home and garden newsletter includes design tips and trends, gardening coverage, ideas for DIY projects and more.
See a sample | Sign up

Charm City Current
Stay connected