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October 31, 2011

Up for auction: 103 rowhouses in Patterson Park


Photo courtesy of Sheldon Good & Co.


A major property owner in the Patterson Park area is seeking to auction off its 103 rowhomes in the Baltimore neighborhood.

Silver Spring-based Grady Management wants to sell its Harbor House portfolio in bulk rather than in pieces, according to the auctioneer. Mark Troen, chief operating officer of Sheldon Good & Co., said the suggested opening bid is $3,750,000 -- just over $36,000 per house.

He called that a "compelling opportunity," saying the average price for investor properties in the area is about $100,000. A buyer might want to continue renting all the units out or sell some, he said. The vacancy rate is 12 percent.

"Management has done really a pretty darn good job of purchasing these homes, renovating them," Troen said. "It's a good, stable housing stock."

Grady Management wants to sell in order to "redeploy their capital," he added.

I last wrote about homes being auctioned off in Patterson Park when a dozen properties owned by the Patterson Park Community Development Corp. were sold in 2009 as part of its bankruptcy proceedings. They were sold one at a time -- for $70,000 on average -- in back-to-back auctions on site.

The Harbor House portfolio is a take-it-all-or-leave-it proposition, with the auction scheduled at the Westin BWI hotel in Linthicum Heights on Dec. 6.

The first open house for the properties is Tuesday.

A few stats that might interest you:

Though it's 103 homes, a few have multiple residences inside them, so the unit total is 108. The average unit is just over 1,100 square feet and rents for $975 a month, utilities not included -- a window into the market there. Sheldon Good says the homes were extensively renovated between 2000 and 2008. (Much of Patterson Park was extensively renovated between 2000 and 2008.)

One way to judge what's happened to values: The owner appealed the property assessments recently and got them collectively lowered by more than $1.5 million, a drop of about $15,000 per home.

Here's where the properties are located (click on the image for a larger version):

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Auctions

October 28, 2011

Greenmount West organizes neighborhood vacants tour


Photo of Greenmount West homes courtesy of the New Greenmount West Community Association


Boosters in Baltimore's Greenmount West organized a tour last weekend that included homes that are far from neighborhood showpieces but  -- they hope -- will get there in the foreseeable future.

The New Greenmount West Community Association organized the "Vacants to Value" event to drum up interest in the idea of buying a property in disrepair and breathing new life into it. The tour drew about 80 people, said Marian Weaver, a board member with the association.

Group leaders coordinated with several partners, including the city -- which launched the Vacants to Value program last fall to try to get more of Baltimore's thousands of abandoned homes back into productive use.

"When the Vacants to Value Program first went live, we recognized that this would be a great opportunity to leverage the city's willingness to sell vacants that they'd otherwise refused to for the past 30 years, and hope that we could funnel interest into turning these houses into the glorious homeowner occupied dwellings that they once were, rather than more inefficient and poorly managed apartments," Weaver said in an email.

Greenmount West -- next to Penn Station and I-83 -- is flush against North Avenue, bounded on the west by Hargrove Alley and on the east by Greenmount Avenue. The neighborhood is working to attract artists (it's in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District) and stamp out its vacancy problem. A March "vision plan" for the neighborhood says it has 150 vacant homes (about a third of which are city-owned) and 120 unimproved lots (mostly belonging to the city).

The weekend event showcased incentives for buying and rehabbing vacant homes. (The association is offering $6,000 apiece on eight properties it feels are best positioned to be fixed up by homeowners. That's separate from the Vacants to Value incentives the city is offering.) And, of course, it showcased the vacant homes. 

"Since most of the available houses were in various stages of disrepair (some without roofs, some without walls) we decided that a key component of the tour would be to have rehabbed homes in the area on display along the walking tour, so that you could visit the 'before' and then visit the various 'after' possibilities," Weaver said in her email.

"We had an industrial-style rehabbed house open, a modern open floorplan house open, and a house that fulfilled the requirements for the Historic Tax Credit. Also had projected rehab costs for each house available on site from a Vacants to Value representative. ... Being able to see what can be done in these homes (some of the biggest in the city) really got everyone's creative juices flowing."

The average Greenmount West home is about 2,400 square feet, she says -- the size of the average new house. Many are three stories, she says.

Are you looking for a rehab project? Or will your next home need to be move-in ready before you sign on the dotted line?

October 27, 2011

Dave Skaff: Time to refinance?



There's nothing like 30-year mortgage rates near 4 percent and 15-year even lower to make homeowners daydream about refinancing. But not everyone would come out ahead if they did. And borrowers with little (or negative) equity are in a tight spot -- though changes to the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program announced this week are aimed at increasing their chances of getting approved.

Today's guest poster, Dave Skaff, wants to shed some light on the subject. He's an M&T Bank regional mortgage manager responsible for loan officer staff in the mid-Atlantic.

Take it away, Dave:



Mortgage rates are at historic lows. For millions of Americans, now could be the right time to make a move to improve their monthly cash flow. But getting a home loan in today's mortgage world is not as easy as it once was. Declining values and stricter documentation guidelines make it challenging for many folks. For anyone who is interested in refinancing, there are several key points to consider:

1) A small drop of just 1 percent could make it worthwhile to refinance for someone with a large loan balance. A few hundred dollars per month could be saved on a $300,000 loan, for example. On a lower loan balance, the monthly savings could be outweighed by the costs involved. It is best to consult with a mortgage specialist to see if refinancing makes sense for you.

2) As a first step, it's a great idea to utilize an independent source, such as a local Realtor, to help you determine the value of your home. Once you do that, you'll be able to see what options are available by contacting a mortgage loan officer to analyze the data.

3) Generally speaking, someone could refinance their home with as little as 5 to 10 percent equity in their home. FHA mortgages allow for just 2.25 percent equity. Additionally, there are many loan programs available today to help people who are "underwater," such as the HARP program, which was introduced by the Obama administration last year and amended this week.

The changes to the HARP program could enable more borrowers whose mortgages are backed by Freddie and Fannie and owe more than their home is worth to take advantage of low interest rates and other refinancing benefits. There are a series of changes that could make the program more attractive to these borrowers, including the removal of the current 125 percent loan-to-value ceiling for fixed-rate mortgages backed by Freddie and Fannie.

4) Many people are even considering changing to a 15-year term from their current 30-year term. This may make sense for a lot of homeowners as rates have dropped so much that in some cases changing to a 15-year term does not increase their monthly payment by much, if at all. In doing so, a homeowner can save tens or sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life of their mortgage, depending on the size of the loan.

5) Another option that may be available to some homeowners is the ability to take cash out of their house for home improvements, to pay for college education, etc. To do so, one would need to have plenty of equity in their property. Typically, the maximum amount would be limited up to 75 to 85 percent of the value of the home, depending on the loan program.

The mortgage industry has become extremely complex in recent times. The requirements that go into determining what type of loan may be possible for someone have become very elaborate with many factors involved. All of the items mentioned above vary depending on things like credit scores, property type, equity that is available in a property, etc. So, anyone who is thinking about a refinance (or a home purchase, for that matter) will need to take the time and sit down with a mortgage loan officer to review all of the options, because it's not as easy as it once was.

Interest rates will likely remain at historical lows through the end of the year. It remains to be seen what might happen in 2012. But as an economic recovery gains momentum, interest rates will likely rise accordingly. Which means that if refinancing makes sense for you, do not wait so long that you miss the window of historically low interest rates.



Thanks, Dave!

Thoughts, questions, arguments? Comment away.

If you'd like to write a guest post -- either to share expertise or to share an interesting housing-related personal experience -- please drop me a line. Details here.

And if you've got questions you'd like to see a guest poster address on another subject, ask away right here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Guest post, Mortgage rates, Mortgages

October 26, 2011

Did you get a 'certificate of extinguishment' on ground rent?

Hey, homeowners -- if there was a ground rent on your property that went unregistered and you applied for a "certificate of extinguishment," colleague Andrea Siegel would like to hear from you. (This week's Court of Appeals decision brings all the extinguished ground rent back to life, rendering the certificates invalid, the state says.)

You can email her at asiegel(at)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 3:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Ground rent

Court: Extinguishment of ground rents is unconstitutional

Just in time for Halloween: Night of the living ground rent.

Maryland's high court ruled 5-2 Tuesday that the state law extinguishing ground rents that weren't registered by last fall violates Maryland's constitution, bringing potentially tens of thousands of them back from the dead. The Court of Appeals said it's fine to require that ground rent owners register with the state, but not to take their property without compensation if they fail to do so.

Here's reporter Andrea Siegel's story about the ruling. Here's columnist Jay Hancock's take, that the decision was the right one. And here's the ruling itself, both the majority decision and the dissent.

Ground rent is a Colonial throwback. If you buy a home with a ground rent on the property, you must pay rent for the ground -- usually twice a year, and generally fairly small amounts. A series of Baltimore Sun articles about people losing their homes over unpaid ground rent prompted the General Assembly to pass several laws intending to reform the system, one of which was the registration statute.

The court's decision makes some people very happy and aggravates others.

On one side are ground rent owners who didn't register in time, some who say they had no idea the law existed and just wanted a second chance. (Ground rent owners don't all live in Maryland, and a variety of them don't own much. I heard from some elderly folks with one or two.)

On the other side are homeowners who thought they were free of ground rent, some of whom went the extra step of requesting a "certificate of extinguishment" and paying a fee to file it in the land records.

UPDATE: Robert E. Young, director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, says the ground-rent registry should reopen tomorrow -- Thursday 10/27. Meanwhile, homeowners who applied for a certificate of extinguishment will be receiving a letter from the agency informing them of the court's decision and what it means.

"It means ... that certificate of extinguishment is not valid," Young said.

Here are some of the quotes from the majority decision of the court:

"Maryland's Constitution, Declaration of Rights, and long standing relevant case law provide specific prohibitions on the retrospective application of statutes that lead to the abrogation of vested rights and the taking of property without just compensation. ... If a retrospectively-applied statute is found to abrogate vested rights or takes property without just compensation, it is irrelevant whether the reason for enacting the statute, its goals, or its regulatory scheme is 'rational.' ...

"This seems a rather extreme regulatory overreaching to remedy anecdotal problems (not demonstrated to be systemic or endemic) as revealed by the 2006 newspaper articles and the legislative committee testimony in 2007. ... An example of an alternative statutory approach that would not be impermissibly retrospective in a similar registration scheme might have been one where failure to register a ground lease triggers an interim consequence, such as restrictions on collecting rents prospectively or a denial of access to the courts for enforcement of unregistered ground rents, until registration occurs. ...

"In addition to being a retrospective statute that impairs vested rights, [the law] takes private property impermissibly from the ground lease owner and transfers it to the lease holders [homeowners], without just compensation. ...

"Regardless of how repugnant some of the individual anecdotes of outrageous settlement costs or unfair ejectments reported in the local print media or recounted to legislative committees, the General Assembly does not have the power to fix even an assertedly broken system, or eliminate it altogether, by transferring a ground rent owner’s reversionary interest to a leaseholder without just compensation. Real property and contractual rights form the basis for economic stability, such as it is, has been, and will become again hopefully. Allowing the 'mere will of the Legislature' to shift drastically the fee simple ownership of land or cancel contractual obligations will shake further the confidence of citizens in their constitutional protections from government interference."

And a few quotes from the dissent, written by Judge Sally D. Adkins with Chief Judge Robert M. Bell agreeing:

"I believe that the Maryland Declaration of Rights and Constitution permits the state to impose prospective conditions on the retention of a vested right so long as the holder of the right has an objectively reasonable time and opportunity to protect it by complying with the statute. Accordingly, I would not strike down the legislature's enactment of [this law], which is a legitimate, rational law designed to regulate the ground lease system.

"I submit that we should adopt the reasoning of the Supreme Court that legislation does not cause the loss of a right or property interest if the loss results from the holder's failure to comply, after notice, with the statute's reasonable requirements. ... No holder is required to forfeit his or her ground rents. Only by failing to comply with reasonable and simple registration requirements would an owner lose his or her property."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Ground rent

October 25, 2011

New listings down to lowest point on record for month of September



Hey, would-be homebuyers -- if it feels like there's less to choose from these days, it's not your imagination.

The number of homes on the market in the Baltimore region last month is still high compared with the pace of sales, enough supply to last about eight-and-a-half months. But listings are down 16 percent from a year earlier, according to statistics from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems.

And perhaps more significantly for buyers, new listings were down 23 percent to the lowest level for the month of September since MRIS began tracking the area in 1998.

Just over 3,200 homes were newly on the market in September, compared with almost 4,200 last September, 6,000 in September 2005 -- right before the overheated market began to show signs of slowdown -- and about 3,500 in September 1999, the previous low.

Buyers frequently complain that a not insignificant number of homes on the market aren't really on the market because the asking prices aren't anywhere close to realistic. So here's a question for lookers and lookyloos: Does it feel as much like a buyer's market as the low sales figures and dropping prices suggest? Are you happy with your options?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: For sale, Housing stats

October 24, 2011

Cash deals for half the homes sold in Baltimore last month

In half the home sales in Baltimore last month, the buyer paid cash -- or the equivalent to it from the seller's point of view.

Cash and cash-like deals are much more common in the city, where investors are buying foreclosures and can't easily get bank financing, than in the counties around Baltimore. Still, nearly 15 percent of the suburbs' sales -- about one in seven -- fell into that category in September.

That's according to statistics from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' stats arm, RealEstate Business Intelligence.

So what's the deal with "cash-like"? 

"Hard money" loans to real estate investors from other local investors look like cash at the settlement table and are usually recorded as such, folks in the trade say. (Hard money loans tend to be short-term and high-interest.)

The city's level of cash purchases has been high for a while, as this story notes. September of last year was basically on par with last month, with 188 cash deals vs. last month's 185. Last month's percentage was a bit higher -- 51 percent compared with 48 percent a year earlier -- because the total number of sales fell.

Perhaps not surprisingly with so many cash-y deals, nearly 40 percent of homes sold in Baltimore last month went for less than $50,000 -- about 140 in all. Nearly 1,000 more were up for sale in that price range as of September, in case you're looking.

Are you looking for a fixer-upper, or do you want the seller to do the fixing?

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

October 21, 2011

City asks state to strip homestead credits from 2,157 homes

Heads up, city residents: If you're receiving a property-tax credit you're not entitled to, your days of artificially lower tax bills could be numbered.

Baltimore's Finance Department is asking state assessors to strip homestead credits from 2,157 properties, saying the owners don't live there even though they're collecting a tax break meant for owner-occupiers. The city intends to bill for the $1.3 million in additional taxes for the current year, plus back taxes for up to seven years.

The homestead program has for years been plagued by the problem of people receiving credits on homes they don't live in, or homes they spend some time in but don't occupy as their primary residence. Sometimes property owners collect homesteads they're ineligible for knowingly, sometimes not.

Buyers in the last few years have had to specifically apply for the credit, but longer-term owners have until the end of next year to follow suit. Until the 2007 application law, the state granted homestead eligibility based on whether the land records indicated that the property would be the purchaser's principal residence.

Here's an August story about vacant homes receiving homestead credits, follow-up No. 1 and follow-up No. 2.

If you're confused about whether you're getting the homestead credit on your property, you can look at your tax bill. Baltimore bills are available online here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Homestead Property Tax Credit, Vacancies

October 20, 2011

Housing-market intel for Baltimore and 'burbs

Ross Mackesey, sales manager of Long & Foster Real Estate's Greenspring office, writes a monthly commentary on the local housing market, and the newest one -- about September -- is packed full of interesting tidbits. Here's an observation or two for each part of the region:

Anne Arundel County. He notes that the number of sales was up, the time to sell them was down and the average price rose ever so slightly. "Everything looks better than it did a year ago," he wrote.

Baltimore. Foreclosures accounted for at least a quarter of sales in 15 of the city's ZIP codes, he says. (That's about half of the ZIPs.) "Foreclosures at this level dictate value to the extent that market rate transactions must compete with foreclosure pricing," Mackesey wrote. "This makes these zip code areas a high risk for investors who have been buying foreclosures, rehabbing them and then selling them at the high end of the arms-length transactions. They can no longer get an appraisal to support a palatable annualized return on their investment. ... There are still some neighborhoods where the investor rehabber/flipper can make their economic model work, but the number is rapidly diminishing. However, buy to rent still works well."

Baltimore County. Foreclosure sale activity here is "a West and East side serious issue and barely (seldom) seen in the central corridor," Mackesey says. "There were 73 bank owned properties settled in September, only one of which was between Towson and the Maryland line."

Carroll County. On the one hand, sales were up about 14 percent compared with a year earlier. On the other: "The market is soft over $600K and there were no transactions over $800K." 

Harford County. "The BRAC party may not be over but the life of it has gone home," Mackesey wrote. "Months-to-absorb the inventory at the present sales pace continued its growth from the 3 year low in June (6.6 months) to September's 9.0 months."

Howard County. "We are starting to see some distressed properties impact corners of the market. Over 16% of the active listings are either bank owned or potential short sales."

What market intel do you have on the areas you're paying attention to?

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

October 19, 2011

Overhaul planned for Fannie, Freddie foreclosure-attorney network

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are a big part of the mortgage market. So it probably won't shock you to know that some of the robo-signing and general rule-breaking in foreclosure cases was done by mortgage servicers and attorneys handling Fannie and Freddie loans.

Now the federal agency overseeing the two mortgage financiers says they must make improvements to their current system for how their servicers select foreclosure attorneys, an announcement that comes after U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore pressed for reform.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency said Tuesday that Fannie and Freddie must "transition away" from their current system of law firms approved for servicers' use to a setup in which servicers choose firms that "meet certain minimum, uniform criteria." The agency said that is in line with its April order that the two companies improve their requirements for servicers handling delinquent loans.

"FHFA believes these efforts will lead to greater transparency and benefit delinquent borrowers who become subject to the foreclosure process," the agency said in a statement.

An inspector general report released earlier this month, prompted by a request from Cummings, said the Federal Housing Finance Agency failed to stop abuses of struggling homeowners by Fannie- and Freddie-approved attorneys despite warning signs that not all was well.

Cummings, a Democrat, has been active in foreclosure-prevention efforts for years and was not happy to discover that a law firm accused of filing bogus affidavits in Maryland court cases was on the approved list. (So was another firm that acknowledged last year that it had done so.)

On Tuesday, Cummings said in a statement that some firms "were able to engage in abusive and illegal behavior that violated the rights of borrowers, in part because of deficient oversight by FHFA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac."

The Federal Housing Finance Agency's statement is vague about what the new system could look like, saying only that changes will be made at some point after getting feedback "from servicers, regulators, lawyers and other market participants." (No idea if homeowners and former homeowners fall into that "other market participants" category. Here's the agency's contact information, if you'd like to add to the feedback.)

Cummings said the agency's explanation of next steps was insufficient.

"I remain concerned ... that FHFA has not provided specific details about how mortgage servicers will select and oversee law firms to ensure that abusive behavior is prevented," Cummings said in his statement.

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

October 18, 2011

Harford County's housing market

For a little while, Harford County's housing market had a double shot of federal stimulus -- the first-time homebuyer tax credit plus New Jersey workers relocating to the region thanks to BRAC. (The base realignment and closure process sent thousands from Fort Monmouth to Aberdeen Proving Ground.)

But the credit expired last year and all the government workers were in place by September. As you can see, the uptick didn't last:




Sales fell 13 percent in June compared with a year earlier, after increasing 15 percent in June 2009 and 13 percent in June 2010.

Why June? Because this is part of an occasional (OK, irregular) blog series looking at Baltimore-area jurisdictions during that month. I'm looking at statistics for June back to 1998, when Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the region.

See Anne Arundel here, Baltimore City here, Baltimore County here and Carroll County here

What's significant about Harford: Even though the number of home sales is far off the housing-bubble peak, more homes changed hands in June of this year than in June 1998, when MRIS began keeping records. Regionwide, sales were down 18 percent.

The price situation in Harford is pretty interesting, too:



Harford's average sale price is down 20 percent since peaking in 2007. The county's median -- typical -- price is down a less dramatic 14 percent from the peak, which happens to have hit a year later.

But here's the really notable stat: The median price in June 2010 was almost back to the county's bubble-year peak before falling again afterward. (It reached $259,950, compared with $261,000 in June 2008.) As you can see from the graph, the average price also headed back up last year but didn't get quite as close to the peak.

For comparison's sake, the median price in the Baltimore region as a whole was 14 percent lower in June of last year than it was at its peak three years earlier. The drop from the peak to this June was nearly 19 percent.

If you're especially interested in Harford County, check out this piece about where workers with the biggest organization BRAC'd to Aberdeen Proving Ground ended up moving. And you can see all the sales statistics by going to MRIS's stats arm, RealEstate Business Intelligence.

Next (and last) up: Howard County.

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

October 17, 2011

Two Howard County real estate agents on top 10 lists

Pat Hiban and Creig Northrop, whose respective real estate teams compete for clients in the pricey Howard County market, both made it on top 10 lists in the past month -- very different sorts.

Northrop's team moved up to No. 1 on the REAL Trends ranking of real estate teams nationwide based on transaction volume. (He and the rest of the agents on his large team were No. 2 last year on the ranking, put together as a special advertising section in The Wall Street Journal.) The team is No. 3 for the number of transactions.

Hiban, meanwhile, just hit the New York Times bestseller list with his new how-to book for Realtors, 6 Steps to 7 Figures. The book was No. 6 in the paperback advice and miscellaneous category for the Oct. 16 NYT Book Review. (The list is compiled in advance.)

Both agents have done Wonk Q&As. Here's Northrop's from last October and here's Hiban's from 2009

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (2)

One in four homes in Baltimore region selling for a loss

Twenty-five percent of homes that sold in the Baltimore region over the summer changed hands for less than their owners paid for them, up from 21 percent a year earlier, real estate search site Zillow says.

The share of homes selling at a loss is down from the spring, however, when it peaked at nearly 28 percent. (Zillow shows the percentage of losses generally spiking in the first half of the year, dipping in the summer and then heading back upward.)

The situation is worse nationally, with just over a third of homes -- 34 percent -- selling for a loss.

The calculation excludes foreclosures. Zillow crunched transactions from June through August, putting the most weight on sales in the most recent of the three months.

Oh, and it looked at the new sales price vs. the previous price, so that doesn't include homes that were a net loss for the owners after taking into account transaction expenses (like transfer taxes and real estate commissions) or money spent on renovations.

So what's the breakdown at a more local level? It varies a lot, as you might expect, though most places are seeing losses rise.

Thirty-two percent of Baltimore homes that sold this summer went for less than the previous purchase price, Zillow says. That's up from 26 percent during summer 2010.

Annapolis is at 26 percent, Ellicott City's at 24 percent and Columbia is at 20 percent (though Columbia has been all over the map, zigging as high as 31 percent this spring before zagging back).

At the low end among communities Zillow tracks are Arnold in Anne Arundel County and Parkville in Baltimore County, where fewer than 10 percent of homes are selling for a loss.

At the high end: Odenton -- next to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel -- with almost 40 percent of homes selling for a loss, Zillow says. The community was at 30 percent two years ago and 24 percent in August 2010.

Does that match up with your sense of things, folks?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing stats, The foreclosure mess, Underwater

October 14, 2011

Survey: 'Rattiest' neighborhood in Baltimore is downtown

Which Baltimore neighborhoods are especially popular with rodents? It's not an easy question for residents to answer unless they've lived far and wide, but 200 took a stab in a survey for a pest-control company.

Almost half -- 46 percent -- named downtown when asked by d-CON about the "rattiest" neighborhoods, the company said Thursday. Other popular choices: Fells Point, the Inner Harbor and Canton.

Perhaps it's the waterfront. Of course, these are all popular neighborhoods for people, too, so a survey is bound to get a fair number of residents from those areas.

d-CON surveyed residents of four other cities as well, 1,000 people in total, zeroing in on Baltimore, Detroit, Nashville, Houston and Charlotte. (The company named most of those cities as high-risk areas for rats in reports from 2007 and 2009.)

The National Center for Healthy Housing said in a separate 2009 report that nearly one-third of Baltimore homes had mouse problems -- more than any of the other central cities the Columbia group studied. Eek.

So: Have rats and/or mice made appearances in your neighborhood, and is the problem getting better or worse?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Yuck

October 13, 2011

Priciest Baltimore-area home sale in August: $9.5 million


Photo of Butler Road near Falls Road by Tenney Mason of Patuxent Publishing


Here's an eye-popping stat to start your day: A Baltimore County property sold for $9.5 million in August, by far the region's most expensive sale of the month.

It's not an all-time record -- author Tom Clancy spent $12.6 million in 2009 on a huge Ritz-Carlton Residences penthouse that was originally three separate units. (Clancy went on to purchase three more condos at the Ritz to round it out to six.)

But $9.5 million is still really unusual for the region.

The property, on Butler Road where Reisterstown and Sparks Glencoe meet, is more than 100 acres with a four-bedroom, seven-bathroom house. The listing says 144 acres; the property records suggest 108. A few more details here, including an aerial view. (The photo above is in the general area.)

The buyer was Michael Lund Petersen, presumably the same Michael Lund Petersen who bought a condo for $2.7 million in 2008 ... at the Ritz. Small world.

I called jewelry company Pandora yesterday to see if this is also the same Michael Lund Petersen identified in past years as the company's president -- and one of the selling shareholders when Pandora went public last year -- but did not hear back. Pandora is best known for its high-end charm bracelets.

All told, 20 properties in the Baltimore region -- the city and its five surrounding counties -- sold for at least $1 million in August. 

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats, Priciest home of the month

October 12, 2011

Three housing events you might want to know about

If you're trying to cut your utility bills, find a less expensive place in live in pricey Howard County or get a loan modification from Wells Fargo, you might want to check out these events:

Energy conservation. The Fuel Fund of Maryland is partnering up with Direct Energy and The Loading Dock to hold a weatherization fair on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

They promise a hands-on look at subjects ranging from fixing leaks to installing weather stripping and caulking. Oh -- and an intro to "vampire energy," just in time for Halloween.

Where: The Loading Dock, 2 N. Kresson St. in Baltimore.

Affordable housing. Howard County's Moderate Income Housing Unit program is taking applications through Oct. 31 for people hoping to snag a less-pricey home for sale or rent there. Eligible purchasers must have a household income no more than 80 percent of the county's median income, while eligible renters have to be at 60 percent or below. (It ranges depending on family size -- more details here.)

What do they mean by less expensive? For rentals, the monthly cost ranges from $1,147 to $1,376, including utilities.

There's an informational event scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tonight, Oct. 12. 

Where: The Other Barn's Teen Center, 5853 Robert Oliver Place in Columbia. Call 410-313-6497 to register or get more information.

Foreclosure assistance. Wells Fargo is holding a two-day "Home Preservation Workshop" for struggling borrowers in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia on Oct. 20 and 21 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The company said it has invited almost 16,000 customers to attend.

Homeowners can simply show up, but Wells Fargo "strongly" recommends registering by Oct. 18 -- next Tuesday -- to be sure to get one-on-one time.

Where: The Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center, Prince George's Exhibition Hall, 201 Waterfront St. in National Harbor. For more information: 800-405-8067.

Know of other interesting housing events? Please share in the comments.

UPDATE: Make that four events -- see Rosa Cruz's comment below.

October 11, 2011

September home sales in the Baltimore region

Here's the quick take on the Baltimore region's housing market in September: Compared with a year ago, average prices fell a little less than 1 percent, the number of homes sold increased a little more than 1 percent and the supply of new properties hitting the market tumbled.

The 23 percent drop in new listings was the second-largest decline since Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the area in the late 1990s. Colleague Liz Kay has more in this story, including one agent's suspicion that the market was not the only factor pushing down the number of homes newly listed in September.

On another note, columnist Jay Hancock writes here about the "misery index" -- unemployment rate plus inflation -- and how some are coming up with new ways to take into account the other economic miseries out there. Like a rough housing market. (Which is obviously more miserable for sellers than buyers.)

If you're looking for Baltimore data on one of those miseries -- foreclosure -- then you'll want to check out the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance's statistics page, which has just been revamped. The data, compiled for the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition, include maps, charts and the actual addresses where foreclosure proceedings have been started. You can also see how many of those cases end up as ratified foreclosure sales (not all do). (BNIA offers updates about its data, foreclosure and otherwise, on its Facebook page.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing stats

Weigh in on a reader's housing dilemma

Pete writes in with a too-common housing dilemma:

Our household income has been hammered by 50% during the recession due to job loss/changes. We no longer can afford our mortgage and have our house up for sale. Obviously it has been sitting but is priced right according to our agent (reduced twice). If we sell at current listing we will be lucky to walk away with 10 – 20K proceeds. This represents a loss of $170k in down-payment and equity. HUGE loss!

Our 401k is now the means by which we are able to keep our mortgage current while waiting to sell. Our fear is we will burn up all savings trying to maintain credit. Should we stop using 401K money to make payment and let our credit go – but preserve what little savings we have left or chew up savings to maintain credit rating? There is a real possibility of using up all savings and still having credit ruined by going late/or default on mortgage in 2012.

What would you do?

If you've been in a similar situation, what did you do -- and did you regret it?

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

October 10, 2011

Where home prices are rising

Falling home prices might be the norm, but they're not dropping everywhere.

New figures from real estate data firm CoreLogic are a reminder of that fact, showing price gains in 13 states in August compared with a year earlier.

Maryland isn't one of them, mind you. Most of these states aren't ones that made headlines during the housing bubble years. Kansas, up 1 percent. North Dakota and Wyoming, up about 3.5 percent. West Virginia, up an eyebrow-raising 8.6 percent.

At the other extreme were Nevada and Arizona, states that did make headlines during the housing bubble and all the years since. Prices in each state declined more than 10 percent.

Maryland was in the middle, with home prices declining 2.1 percent.

When I crunched home-sale numbers to see trends at a local level during the first half of the year, some ZIP codes showed price gains -- on average, at least. Here are the bigger communities that fell into that category:

Place nameZIPJan-June salesJan-June avg priceChg salesChg price
HAVRE DE GRACE21078112$258,25930%8%
MOUNT AIRY2177153$373,443-29%5%
GLEN BURNIE21060168$215,80320%4%
SEVERNA PARK21146130$490,2461%1%

CoreLogic's figures are drawn from a repeat-sales analysis, which tries to avoid apples-to-oranges comparisons by looking at the same homes over time. The local sales figures above -- drawn from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems -- are a tally of all transactions on the multiple-listing service, so the apples and oranges problem is always possible.

For instance, if most of the homes selling in your community this year are four-bedroom houses while most that sold last year were two-bedroom condos, that would drive the average price way up even if every home lost value. I'm sharing the ZIP codes with at least 50 home sales to try to cut down on that sort of skewing, but that's definitely at least part of the story for 21401 in Annapolis -- the ZIP with the 14 percent gain.

During the first half of this year, five homes there sold for at least $2.5 million -- including one for more than $5.6 million. First half of last year? Zippo. (That $5-million-plus property did sell for more than its last purchase price in 2003, though not 14 percent more. The increase came to 2.7 percent.)

Havre de Grace in Harford County, meanwhile, got a boost from BRAC, the military base relocation effort. The final flurry of relocation wrapped up this summer, though contractors might continue to move jobs to the area over the next few years.

To those familiar with any of the markets above: Are you seeing actual increases in prices?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats

October 7, 2011

35% increase in vacant housing in Md. in last decade

A big jump in the number of empty homes for sale and rent helped push up the number of vacant housing in Maryland over the last decade by 35 percent, new Census figures show.

More than 222,000 homes were vacant during the count in April 2010, an increase of nearly 58,000 properties.

The nationwide increase in vacancy was even bigger than Maryland's -- 44 percent. Nevada's number of unoccupied units more than doubled, which underscores just how hard that state has been pummeled by the housing bust.

In addition to an increase in vacant homes for sale and for rent, Maryland saw growth in vacant vacation homes and a category that includes foreclosures not yet on the market. Here's the breakdown:

Vacant homes on the market for sale or rent both ballooned nearly 50 percent -- for-sale homes to almost 33,000 and for-rent to nearly 62,000. (Yes, 62,000. That's an eye-opener.)

Homes owned for seasonal, recreational or occasional use that were vacant at the time of the census count increased by 43 percent, to almost 56,000.

All other vacants -- including bank-owned homes that aren't on the market yet -- rose by 26 percent, to 61,000 units. This includes abandoned and effectively abandoned properties.

All told, nearly as many homes were vacant in April 2010 as the 234,000 housing units built during the last decade.

Compared with the state and nation, Baltimore's vacancy situation was almost stable, up 10 percent to about 47,000. Most of the increase came in homes for sale or rent, which together rose by 5,600. The category for off-the-market foreclosures, boarded-up homes and the like rose by 1,800 units, to 23,000.

If you're interested in more, check out this story about the new figures, contrasting the city's situation with fast-rising vacancies on the Eastern Shore.

How has vacancy affected you?

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

October 6, 2011

Average monthly rent in Baltimore City: $1,350

Average rents in the city -- counting everything, from apartments to rowhouses -- have risen about 9 percent this year, according to Cazoodle, a site that gathers rental listings from across the Internet.

That's pushed the average monthly rent to just over $1,350 in September, Cazoodle says. (The median rent -- the point at which half the listings are pricier and half are cheaper -- was $1,200 last month, up 8 percent.)

It's another way of looking at what's happening in the rental market, which -- like the housing market -- can be measured in a variety of ways.

Delta Associates, which tracks newer apartment complexes with amenities, puts the average at $1,700 in the city (higher than in the Baltimore suburbs as a whole). That's the "effective" cost, after concessions such as a month's free rent are factored in.

The downside of Delta's calculation, if you're interested in the broad rental market, is that it's just apartments and specifically just the nicer ones -- the so-called "Class A." In the city, these are the complexes downtown and in neighborhoods near the Inner Harbor.

On the flip side, though, Delta accounts for concessions and calculates rent growth based on changes in the same units over time, so its year-over-year figures aren't skewed upward when a new complex opens. Delta shows a 5.5 percent growth in rent in the city during the summer, compared with a year earlier.

So -- like the housing market -- you can probably get a better grasp of the rental market by looking at a variety of figures. Triangulating for the big picture.

Here are the changes Cazoodle is seeing in rents by number of bedrooms and apartment vs. house:

TypeAverageJan.-Sept. '11 vs Jan.-Sept. '10
1 bed$1,23716%
2 beds$1,4598%
3 beds$1,371-9%

Both the median and average rent dropped significantly among three-bedroom listings, but the average actually fell below the figure for two-bedroom properties. No idea if that's a reflection of too much supply or just very different sorts of three-bedrooms this year vs. last year.

Also, properties advertised as "houses" are listed for a bit less in rent than those advertised as "apartments." Pete from Highlandtown got at just that issue in a recent comment, suggesting that the best rental bang for the buck isn't an apartment if you're looking in the city:

"Its been my experience that Baltimore is one of the few places where houses rent cheaper then apartments," he wrote.

Part of the issue these days is that the financial crisis put the brakes on apartment construction. That's pushing rents up now because apartments that otherwise would have been built over the past few years weren't.

But construction is picking up in the region, said Grant Montgomery, a vice president with Delta Associates. Based on building plans and the current economic climate, he thinks the landlord's market will shift to a renter's market in about two years as supply catches up with and overtakes demand.

"That will vary from submarket to submarket," he said. But "invariably the market will overbuild. That’s what happens in every cycle, and then it corrects itself."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Renting

October 5, 2011

Survey: About one in three have just a month (or less) of savings for housing costs

Here's a sobering statistic: Nearly a third of Americans surveyed in September said they would at most be able to pay their rent or mortgage for a single month if they lost their job.

The survey of 1,021 adults was conducted for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which together are trying to promote better financial planning. (Free financial-planning events have been scheduled across the country, including in Baltimore.) 

I've often heard six months suggested for emergency savings -- to have enough money socked away to cover expenses for that long.

Considering the way a stretch of unemployment can last these days, more would be even better. (About 58,000 Marylanders have been out of work so long -- more than 18 months -- that they could be eligible for newly extended unemployment benefits.)

A survey released in June by had fairly similar findings in terms of savings: Twenty-four percent said they had no emergency savings and an additional 22 percent said their savings added up to less than three months of expenses.

"Those most likely to have six months' expenses in an emergency fund are higher-income households and people in their 50s and 60s, but even among these groups, at least half do not have six months' expenses in an emergency fund," said at the time. "People younger than age 30 and the lowest-income households are the most likely to report having no emergency savings at all."

Yikes. Where do you stand?

I hope if you don't already have generous emergency savings, you're in a position to put more away. Or to take on a roommate to cut your costs.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Survey says ...

October 4, 2011

Average rent for newer Baltimore-area apartments: $1,500

The average monthly rent for "Class A" apartment complexes in the Baltimore region was $1,500 over the summer, up 1.7 percent from a year earlier, according to new figures from real estate data firm Delta Associates.

Class A is made up of newer apartment buildings with common-space amenities.

Delta Associates measures the "effective" rent, the monthly charge minus any concessions -- like "one month free!" Those concessions are half as valuable now as they were last summer because apartment owners aren't hard-pressed to find tenants. Vacancy is at 3.4 percent.

The average effective rent comes to $1.50 per square foot a month. Renters: How does that compare with your digs? (For that matter, homeowners -- what's your monthly cost per square foot?)

Downtown tenants felt the region's biggest year-over-year increase in monthly rent, according to Delta -- 6.7 percent. The Fells Point/Inner Harbor increase was 3 percent.

Rents increased 2.6 percent in the suburban communities south of Baltimore, while north of Baltimore, rents actually dropped 1.1 percent, Delta says.

What's happening in your neighborhood?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Renting

October 3, 2011

Firm: Baltimore-area prices close to historical norm

Four years ago, a housing affordability index that stacks metro areas against their own histories showed the Baltimore area at its most unaffordable point on record.

Two years ago, it had worked its way down from the ranks of "significant affordability concern" to good ol' "affordability concern."

Now the index, put together by John Burns Real Estate Consulting, pegs the Baltimore region at just about its historical norm -- measured over a stretch of time starting in the early 1980s. It's slightly on the "underpriced" side now, making it an area of "less affordability concern," the California company says.

But the Baltimore area's price drops have been so muted compared with some regions that it's one of the least underpriced areas, compared with their own histories. Of the 183 areas John Burns tracks, 171 are more underpriced than Baltimore. More on that in a moment.

The index -- which melds prices, incomes, mortgage rates and down payments -- isn't meant to predict what home values will do at any given time, so you probably shouldn't hold your breath for a quick return to rising prices. (A separate Johns Burns analysis suggests a very large "shadow inventory" of distressed properties not yet on the market, for instance.)

But the company believes its index is a useful measure of where you can expect prices (compared with incomes and rates) will be long-term.

"Typically, things fall in line with their historical norms," said Erik Franks, a senior research analyst at John Burns. "That's basically true of any commodity."

Here's how the index works -- and how Baltimore compares with other regions:

John Burns compares median annual income in an area with the annual mortgage payment for the median-priced home, so changing mortgage rates over time affect the affordability index just as changing prices and incomes. (Rates are very low now and were very high in the '80s.)

The company calculates the mortgage payment off a 20 percent down payment, because that's what you always used to have to put down on a conventional loan. But it tries to account for that outlay by adding one-seventh of the down payment to the mortgage tally, under the rationale that people tend to stay in their homes about seven years.

When a metro area is at its least expensive time to buy, it hits zero on the affordability index. Most expensive warrants a 10. Five is the dividing line between overpriced and under-.

The Baltimore area is at 4.6 at the moment and has bounced between 4.5 and 5.5 since last November, Franks said.

Forty-one metro areas, meanwhile, are at zero -- the cheapest time in their histories. They range from the Sunbelt usual suspects, like Las Vegas, to Bridgeport, Conn. and Tacoma, Wash.

Eight places are on the overpriced side of the line. No. 1 on that list: Bethesda, at 5.7.

In case you're wondering, the Baltimore area's zero moment came at the end of the '90s, right before the bubble.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
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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