January 27, 2012

Fast home sales, slow home sales


Above: The homes that sold in the Baltimore region in December, organized by how quickly -- or slowly -- they went from listed to under contract.

The breakdowns come from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' stats arm, RealEstate Business Intelligence, which notes that yes, some homes really do come on the multiple-listing service as already sold -- hence the 34 properties in December in the "zero days" category.

But it's rare that someone had to have the house so badly that they snagged it from the owners before they were even thinking of selling. It more likely was for sale but not on the MLS -- a new home, say, or a for-sale-by-owner -- and an agent entered it into the system afterward.

So let's ignore the zeros. If you add up everything from one day to 30, that's almost 400 homes, close to a quarter of all (non-zero-day) sales that month. That's by far the most common period for a home to sell, comparing just 30-day stretches.

Continue reading "Fast home sales, slow home sales" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats

December 6, 2011

Still a lot of homes for sale, but fewer and fewer choices

Would-be homebuyers in the Baltimore region had more than 15,000 properties to sort through in October, a whole lot considering that the inventory of homes for sale was half as large seven years ago. But new choices are down to unusual lows.

Just over 3,200 homes were newly listed for sale in October, the lowest figure for the month in more than 14 years. (Metropolitan Regional Information Systems began tracking the metro area in late 1997, so anything earlier than that is hazy at best.)

Average for the month: more than 4,100. The next-smallest after this October was October 1997, when about 100 more homes hit the market in the city and five surrounding counties.

The total number of homes listed for sale is also shrinking. That 15,000-unit inventory is the lowest for the month of October since 2005, as boom was just giving way to bust.

Continue reading "Still a lot of homes for sale, but fewer and fewer choices" »

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Categories: For sale

November 24, 2011

Builder uses holiday-shopping tactics to land homebuyers

Think Black Friday and its spinoffs ("Small Business Saturday," "Cyber Monday") are about retailing and not homebuying? Here's a builder that's applying the doorbuster concept to a product with actual doors.

Dominion Homes is running a Cyber Monday promotion that promises "drastic discounts" of up to $80,000 on a dozen homes. The properties aren't local -- they're in Ohio and Kentucky -- so the odds are slim that you'd be interested in joining the buying pool. But I wonder what you think of the idea.

Does a holiday-deal approach aimed at homebuyers appeal to you or turn you off?

The Thanksgiving through New Year's stretch is typically a doldrums period for the housing market, the exact opposite of what happens to retailers.

On that note: If you end up out in the Black Friday scrum, you can make me a happy camper by shooting me an email about what you're seeing. Busy or not? Worth it or meh? I'm writing our story about the annual post-Thanksgiving (and this year, during-Thanksgiving) shopping craziness, and I can't be everywhere. Email: jhopkins(at)

Thanks, all. And happy Thanksgiving!

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

November 22, 2011

The Baltimore ZIP code with 500 homes for sale (down from 750)

Many Baltimore communities have lots of homes jostling for would-be buyers' attention, but only one has more than 500.

The 21224 ZIP code had 513, to be exact, on the market in October, according to The real estate search site's October housing summary shows nearly six dozen ZIPs with at least 100 homes for sale in the Baltimore region, just over two dozen with at least 200 and almost a dozen with at least 300.

The 21224 ZIP is pretty expansive, stretching from the Canton waterfront to several blocks north of Patterson Park, and -- west to east -- from the park to the city line. Many rowhomes are tucked within, so it's always going to be a candidate for Most Homes for Sale.

What's changing nowadays: The number of listings is plummeting. 21224's offerings are down more than 30 percent from a year earlier, when about 750 homes were for sale. Most of the Baltimore region's ZIPs are down too -- for a nearly 20 percent drop on average, same as the national trend.

Why? Robo-signing might be part of the answer. There's probably also some amount of "thanks but no thanks" among homeowners who don't like today's sale prices.

What are you seeing out there, and what do you think is driving these inventory drops?

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

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

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 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:

Continue reading "Wishful thinking in asking prices for homes" »

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Categories: For sale

August 30, 2011

Tax tips for home sellers (and would-be sellers)

If you're selling your home, you're probably not thinking of the income-tax implications just yet -- April 15 seems so far away. But it's always best to be forewarned.

Owings Mills-based accounting firm Glass Jacobson is offering some tips to that effect, including these:

1. Generally, you are eligible to exclude the gain from income if you have owned and used the home as your MAIN RESIDENCE for two out of the last five years prior to the date of its sale.

2. If you have a gain from the sales of your main home, you may be able to exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income ($500,000 on a joint return).

3. You are not eligible for the exclusion if you excluded the gain from the sale of another home during the 2 year period prior the sale.

You'll find all the tips here.

In case you're wondering: If you sell your primary residence at a loss, you can't deduct that from your taxes, Glass Jacobson says. Sorry, folks.

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

August 5, 2011

Stemmer House under contract, but you'll have to wait for details


Photo of the Stemmer House, seen through a garden arch, by Sun photographer Barbara Haddock Taylor


If you read the weekend piece about the 260-year-old Stemmer House and its lush grounds going up for auction Wednesday, you might have been curious to hear the rest of the story -- what happened.

The auction was canceled because a buyer got the Baltimore County property under contract the night before. But at the buyer's specific request, that's all the auction house can say.

"I can't divulge, unfortunately, the price or the person at this point," said Jared Block, a real estate auction specialist at Alex Cooper Auctioneers.

The extremely curious among you will have to wait for the deal to close and pop up in the public records, assuming of course that you don't have an inside source.

UPDATE: Alex Cooper's Paul Cooper says he can reveal that the family buying the property is looking forward to restoring the house and maintaining the gardens. "It's not their intent to develop the land,"  he said.

Colleague Susan Reimer, who wrote the weekend story, notes that owner Barbara Holdridge had the property on the market earlier and could not sell. The auction was set to begin at $1.4 million, "far below her original asking price," Reimer writes.

"I assume it is because of the economy," Holdridge told her. "You know, I have had generous offers over the years, and I just scoffed at them. I always thought I would die here."

Here's a photo gallery of the house and gardens to satisfy the lookyloo in us all. (Check out the aerial view via Alex Cooper.) And here's a letter from a reader who hopes the property will at some point be preserved.

The main house, a Georgian mansion, is 6,300 square feet. It sits on more than 27 acres.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Auctions, For sale

April 21, 2011

Selling Silo Point via the Seven Deadly Sins

Turner Development, which is selling the high-end Silo Point condos in Locust Point, is hoping to appeal to your greed. Also, your gluttony, pride and other baser urges.

The company's new marketing for the project -- once a grain elevator, now a residential tower with room service, a wine club and round-the-clock concierge coverage -- is based on the Seven Deadly Sins. The company launched the campaign about two weeks ago with a focus on avarice ("Silo Point Greed: It's OK to want more," say the Facebook ads).

A new sin will be rolled out every month or so, though you get a preview on the Silo Point site, where the sins switch up every time you reload the page ("PRIDE: Bragging Rights for Sale").

Eric Turner, who oversees Silo Point, said Turner Development wanted a new campaign that was "a little edgy, a little cocky, a little in your face" after two years centered around images of the tower and its units. Expect to see deadly-sin events as well as ads, he said.

"We wanted people talking about it," he said.

He thinks the early results are heartening, and not just because I heard of it through Facebook (via colleague Gus Sentementes) rather than from a press release. "The past two weekends, everybody that came to the door was like, 'I saw the ads, the ads were great,'" Turner said.

Here's the Facebook example:

Continue reading "Selling Silo Point via the Seven Deadly Sins" »

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Categories: For sale

April 13, 2011

3BR Victorian ISO new owners

You see homes for sale with their own websites all the time. But how about one in which the home speaks directly to potential buyers?

That's what Matt McDermott put together for his property in Baltimore's Lauraville neighborhood, a 1918 house with three bedrooms, tiered decks and a Koi pond that's on the market for $165,000. "I'm just an old Victorian looking for a new family to make me a home," the site declares, with page headers such as "pics of me" and "stuff around me." The house blogs and tweets.

It sets the scene in an autobiographical blog post:

I used to belong to an interior designer who was on HGTV. He put a lot of love into restoring me and making me beautiful.  That's why my current family fell in love with me.  I was the place where they cut their first lawn, where their boy took his first steps, where they had their first cookout.  But it's hard for them to keep up with a big place like me, especially when they have to travel so much for work.  They both work in and near DC.

So they're hoping we can find someone who can take care of me.  I'd like that very much, too.

McDermott gave more of the backstory in an email. It's a housing-bust tale that anyone who bought toward the end of the boom days will probably sympathize with.

Continue reading "3BR Victorian ISO new owners" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences

December 16, 2010

Prices reduced on 40% of Baltimore homes for sale

Baltimore homes for sale with at least one price reduction now make up 40 percent of the market, according to real estate site Trulia.

That's higher than all but three of the country's large cities -- Minneapolis (44 percent), Mesa, Ariz. (43 percent) and Phoeniz, Ariz. (42 percent). Nationally, 27 percent of homes for sale have had at least one price drop.

Average reduction in Baltimore, according to Trulia: 12 percent, or more than $23,000.

Trulia focuses on cities rather than suburbs, but there are plenty of homes in the counties around Baltimore that are listed for less than they once were, too. (You can find pages and pages of "reduced!" listings in Annapolis, Columbia, Owings Mills and other communities.), a separate site that looks at what people are asking for their homes, says the typical listing price so far this month is $222,000 in the Baltimore metro area as a whole. It was $325,000 in December 2006 -- a more than $100,000 change in four years. (Unfortunately, doesn't go back much farther than that.)

While we're on the subject of home prices:

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats

December 13, 2010

Finding city-owned property in Baltimore to buy

Looking for an abandoned property to call your own? Baltimore housing officials launched a site last week listing some of the city-owned properties for sale -- a very small number of them, though they say that will change.

The site, part of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's "Vacants to Value" effort to move more properties into the hands of private owners, "will get more interactive as time goes on," housing department spokeswoman Cheron Porter said.

"We decided to offer a limited amount in order to make sure the mechanics of the website were solid before we increased the volume," she said in an email, adding: "Visitors will see more listings in the coming weeks."

Wonk reader JuanitaBeasley, who visited the site last week, was disappointed to find only a small percentage of the roughly 4,000 total vacant buildings the city owns. (I counted 27 over the weekend, though Porter quoted a higher figure on Friday.)

JuanitaBeasley was also struck by the prices. This SCOPE home in Broadway, for instance, is listed for $25,000, which would just be the start of the costs a buyer would need to cover.

"Renovation etc is going to be costly," she wrote, referring in general to the vacant properties.

Prices vary, though. This one in Upton is listed at $7,000.

Porter said prices are based on such factors as comparables, square footage, condition and neighborhood. "Our staff tries to set a fair price based on these criteria," she wrote in her email.

But the set up is supposed to be just like any other for-sale listing: If you're interested but think the price is too high, suggest another figure.

"Reasonable offers will be considered," Porter said.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: For sale, Vacancies

December 9, 2010

Jenna Bush's Baltimore rowhouse up for sale (for more than '08 purchase price)

Jenna Bush, daughter of the former president, is trying to sell her Baltimore rowhouse, as colleague Laura Vozzella notes.

What might interest you folks more than the gee-whiz celebrity factor: The asking price is about $35,000 more than what she and her husband paid in early 2008 for the property, in Riverside on the south side of Baltimore. (Average sale prices have fallen 25 percent over that period in her ZIP code, though obviously individual mileage has varied.)

The 2,000-square-foot rowhouse, on the market for $474,900, looks nicely renovated and appointed in the listing photos. But of the five homes that changed hands in or around the area in the last few months for $400,000 or more, none broke the $450,000 mark, according to real estate search site Trulia -- including three properties with substantially more space.

On the other hand, some smaller places have sold for more per square foot than Bush is hoping to get. One home in Riverside, for instance, went for $360,000 in August -- the equivalent of $319 a square foot, which makes Bush's $222-per-square-foot price look positively cheap.

Have you seen homes bought in or after 2005 sell for a higher price this year without the aid of substantial improvements? I'd be interested in examples. The reverse trend is, as we all know, a heck of a lot easier to find. (That $319-a-foot home in Riverside? Its August sale price was about $20,000 below what it last sold for in 2005.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences

November 17, 2010

Price reductions hit (recent) record in Baltimore



Nearly 40 percent of Baltimore homes listed for sale have had at least one price reduction, compared with 27 percent nationally, according to real estate site Trulia.

Baltimore's figure is a record high for the city -- at least for the last 18 months, which is when Trulia started tracking asking-price movements. Fourteen other cities broke their previous records as well. Check out the map above, which Trulia put together. (The message that went with the asterisk didn't copy over, but it's just a heads-up that the records go back a year and a half.)

Baltimore ranks fourth among the 15 cities with record highs. Minneapolis is No. 1 with price reductions on 46 percent of listings.

Continue reading "Price reductions hit (recent) record in Baltimore" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats

November 5, 2010

Asking price for Md. estate: $30 million

In the market for a 6,250-acre estate? A hedge-fund founder has listed his -- in Cambridge on the Eastern Shore -- for $30 million.

The Wall Street Journal reports that owner Paul Tudor Jones (net worth: $3.2 billion) has used the property as a hunting retreat.

The house is a 14,000 square feet "lodge," with 11 bedrooms, 10-and-a-half bathrooms, several fireplaces and amenities ranging from a home theater to an indoor basketball court. The property also has a barn, stables and a "private lake," according to the Sotheby's listing. (The site helpfully lets you convert the asking price into anything from Aruban florins to Turkish liras.)

The guest living room has trees -- presumably not live -- along the walls, branches stretching up to the ceiling.

I don't normally blog about homes for sale, but then I don't normally see homes for sale with a $30 million asking price. And interior trees.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:56 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: For sale, Unusual homes

September 22, 2010

How much are home sellers dropping their prices?

With the ongoing tug-of-war between home buyers and sellers, lots of people are curious to know how much homeowners have to drop their prices to get a contract.

Here's the answer for those in the Baltimore region who sold in August: almost 9 percent on average. (That's the difference between asking $323,000 and getting less than $295,000.)

So says Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, which runs the multiple-listing service used to buy and sell homes in this part of the country.

Now, I was under the impression that this list price vs. sales price statistic looked at the last asking price, which means it wouldn't capture any and all of the price drops along the way to the final figure. But I asked  MRIS recently -- you know what They say about assuming -- and learned that the company compares the original and final asking price before using the higher of the two.

In this sort of market, that almost always means the original figure.

What if a home is pulled off the market for, say, three months and put back on at a lower price? Then which figure matters when it sells? That I don't know. (Oh, the questions that occur to me after hours.)

Buyers think some homes are closer to the right price than others, which probably explains why 31 percent of properties were on the market for a month or less while 24 percent sat for four months or more.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: For sale, Housing stats

September 21, 2010

Homeowners more optimistic about their values than agents

Think your home's value rose or at least stayed even in the last year? You have that in common with nearly 40 percent of Marylanders polled by HomeGain.

Less than 25 percent of the Maryland real estate agents the site surveyed, however, said the same of their clients' home values.

Agents surveyed by HomeGain were also more pessimistic about where the market is headed. Forty percent expect prices will fall over the next six months, compared with 28 percent of homeowners. 

Agents have complained pretty much from the start of the housing bust that sellers aren't realistic about their property values, though that doesn't apply to everyone. Some homeowners pick asking prices that get them contracts toot sweet, while others languish on the market for months -- even years -- with no offers.

Continue reading "Homeowners more optimistic about their values than agents" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats, Survey says ...

September 15, 2010

Price cuts on Baltimore homes for sale: $44 million

Here's a just-reduced sign for Baltimore's housing market: "$44 million off!"

That the collective cut real estate site Trulia calculated on city homes for sale as of Sept. 1. Any home with an asking-price reduction over the past year -- except foreclosures -- added to the grand total.

Baltimore was ninth among large cities for its share of homes with asking-price cuts, at 34 percent. That's par for the course for the city, which has been in the top 10 for a while now.

The average asking-price reduction among Baltimore would-be sellers was 12 percent. Market statistics show that the average homeowner who sells is getting less than he or she was asking for, too. So there are a lot of people out there settling for a significantly lower price than they originally thought they could get.

Continue reading "Price cuts on Baltimore homes for sale: $44 million" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats

September 14, 2010

As fewer buy homes, more are trying to sell

Falling home sales aren't good news for would-be sellers. When the number of would-be sellers is rising at the same time, that's even worse.

This is the story in the Baltimore area, points out Kenneth Wenhold, Mid-Atlantic regional director for Metrostudy, a homebuilding market researcher. As sales fell 16 percent in August, homes listed for sale rose about 8 percent.

In raw numbers: About 330 fewer homes changed hands compared with a year earlier in the metro area, but 1,550 more homes were for sale. (Grand total on the market in August: 20,200.)

"Baltimore ... is sliding backwards," Wenhold wrote in an analysis of the resale market. "Listings grew throughout the summer, a time when they typically decline. ... All of the positive gains and trends which were established in 2009 are now gone, replaced with negative trend lines which continue to deepen." 

It would take 10.5 months to find buyers for all the homes on the market if sales continue at the average pace of the past year. That average includes a lot of homebuyer-tax-credit months, and most of those credit-fueled deals have already closed.

The D.C. area is -- probably not surprisingly -- better off. 

Continue reading "As fewer buy homes, more are trying to sell" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing stats

September 9, 2010

Zillow: 13% of Baltimore-area homes selling at a loss

Thirteen percent of homeowners who sold in the Baltimore metro area in July let the property go for less money than they paid for it, real estate information site says.

The trend peaked in early 2009 with 15 percent of homeowners selling at a loss. But three years ago, the sales-at-a-loss share was less than half as large as it is now.

In the "could be worse" category: 26 percent -- just over a quarter -- of U.S. homeowners sold at a loss in July, according to Zillow.

These figures don't include foreclosures or resales of foreclosed properties, Zillow says. That would obviously increase the loss number quite a bit. (The analysis also doesn't take into account the transaction costs of selling -- just the price the homeowners accepted from the buyer vs. what they paid to the previous seller.)

Zillow doesn't mention short sales one way or another, but I'm guessing that's a big piece of the story. These homes sell for less than the amount due on the mortgage, with bank approval. It's the lender rather than the borrower shouldering the loss, unless the lender decides to seek a deficiency judgment for the difference. (Either way, the borrower leaves with damaged credit, so there is a financial hit involved.)

By Zillow's calculation, some communities are seeing a lot more sales at a loss than others.

Continue reading "Zillow: 13% of Baltimore-area homes selling at a loss" »

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Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences, Housing stats

August 24, 2010

Silo Point and Westport

I know how much you salivate over updates on large real estate projects. So while I was chatting with developer Patrick Turner about BRAC, I asked for details on Silo Point -- the converted grain elevator in Baltimore's Locust Point neighborhood -- and Westport, his planned mixed-use redevelopment in Southwest Baltimore.

"We've got over 50 percent of the building sold," he said of the 228-condo Silo Point. Ninety of the luxury units have settled, according to state records, and another "20-some" are under contract, he said.

When I last checked in April, 74 condos had closed and almost 40 others were under contract.

The Westport project, an effort to capitalize on waterfront in a rough part of the city, had wetlands planted about a month ago. Turner is looking to start on the infrastructure, such as roads and sidewalks, around the end of the year.

Construction can begin 12 months after the infrastructure work gets underway. First up: townhouses, offices and a 200-unit apartment building.

Landex Development will build the apartment complex. Turner says he has a national homebuilder on tap to build the townhouses, but he can't announce the name yet because the contract is still being finalized.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For sale

August 19, 2010

Ritz reduces asking prices

The Ritz-Carlton Residences in the Inner Harbor has lowered the asking prices on 30 of its condos by about 30 percent.

The luxury development, conceived in good times and delivered after the housing market slammed on the brakes, has closed deals on just 24 of its 190 units. About a dozen more are under contract. That leaves a lot more to sell.

The discounted units represent about 20 percent of the condos that haven't either sold or gone under contract. (Hat tip to The Daily Record, which had it first -- though you'll need to sign in to see the story.)

New prices on the 30 units range from $499,000 to $2.1 million, says Greg Harris, a spokesman for the developer, RXR Realty. It's not the first reduction: When the development opened, asking prices ranged from the upper $800,000s to $5 million.

Back when a bunch of the Pier Homes at HarborView were being auctioned off, I asked the Ritz-Carlton developers what effect their next-door neighbor's big price drops were having on them. In a statement, they said the development "has seen a record increase in traffic in April, May and June." 

Harris said Wednesday that the auction results had nothing to do with the Ritz-Carlton's decision to discount some of its units.

"It's not a true comparison of projects," he said. "The list of amenities and the finishes and the lifestyle that people are looking for at the Ritz-Carlton don't compare with any other project in Baltimore."

It's an interesting question for both appraisers and buyers: How different do luxury products need to be before they're not competing against each other for the same prospects?

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

July 30, 2010

Finding historic properties

More than 2,300 of the 5,800 homes for sale in Baltimore are in historic districts. Wouldn't you like to know which if you're house-hunting in the city, so you can -- depending on your preference -- focus in on the historic homes or avoid them?

Now you can. Metropolitan Regional Information Systems just added "historic district" to the classifications on the multiple-listing service in Baltimore.

MRIS thinks this will cut down on confusion, headaches and missed opportunities.

"Many homeowners that did not know their homes were classified in a historic district were understandably frustrated when the City of Baltimore told them to undo or redo remodeling projects because they were unaware of historic construction restrictions," the company says on its blog.

It also notes that the MLS designation should help buyers understand when they're eligible for historic tax benefits, so they don't miss out.

The designation isn't self-reported. The city and the Baltimore City Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation provided data to MRIS about local and federal districts.

I checked out MRIS's HomesDatabase site for consumers last night to see if "historic district" was a search option there, and it looks like it isn't. But anyone with access to the multiple list itself -- real estate agents, for instance -- will be able to use it in searches.

What are your thoughts on homeownership in an historic district? Love the idea or hate it?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For sale

July 21, 2010

An update on the Pier Homes at HarborView

Buyer's remorse being what it is, people sometimes get cold feet after purchasing a home at auction.

The auctioneer who handled the Pier Homes at HarborView sale in Baltimore last month says one of the 18 buyers backed out during the rescission period, which ended last week. One more is in an extended rescission period while both sides work out pricing on some extras for the unit. The remainder are now in a hard-contract period and will lose their sizable deposits if they walk away without closing.

Jon Gollinger, co-founder of Accelerated Marketing Partners, which handled the June 28 auction, said another buyer signed a contract at the development overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor after the event.

He called a one-out-of-18 rescission unusually small.

"It’s rather unprecedented for us," he said. "It’s remarkable."

He attributed it to buyers doing their homework in advance, "and I think the other thing it clearly states is that people think they’ve got a good price."

The luxury townhouses were conceived during go-go times but delivered as the housing market soured. Nearly half the 88 units were unsold going into the auction.

The development team ended up putting 18 on the block rather than the 11 originally planned. Winning bidders got them for as much as $1 million off the advertised last asking price.

I say "advertised" because, as a reader pointed out, a few of these units were once on the multiple-listing service with prices lower than the "last asking price" in the marketing materials for the auction. Bidders were told the last asking price for one of the units on Pier Pointe Landing, for instance, was $1,479,000, but it was on the MLS for a time in 2009 at $1,290,000. (It ultimately sold for $637,000.)

Gollinger, who notes that this question also came up at the "practice auction" held for registered bidders the day before the real deal, says the asking prices he provided to interested bidders were the ones the development team gave him. But he argues that it doesn't matter much in the end.

Continue reading "An update on the Pier Homes at HarborView" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: For sale

July 14, 2010

Asking price reductions on Baltimore homes

The number of price-reduced homes for sale increased in many large cities over the last month, with no $8,000 tax credit to lure buyers. But Baltimore? Here, the share of places with asking-price cuts dropped.

Not enough to kick the city out of the top 10, though, where it's been for many months.

So says real estate search engine Trulia, which tracks price-reduction trends.

Last August, 32 percent homes for sale in Baltimore had asking prices that were lower than their starting point, one of the largest shares among large cities. In January? Almost 30 percent. It was the same story at the beginning of April, the last month to sign a contract and qualify for the first-time buyer tax credit.

The share of price-reduced homes in Baltimore rose to 35 percent May 1, where it stayed over the next month. But at the beginning of this month, it had inched downward to 34 percent.

That decrease goes against the grain. Trulia said nearly half of the top 50 cities have price-reduction levels at 30 percent or more, compared with 10 at the beginning of June.

"We’re seeing more and more sellers reduce their home listing prices to attract potential buyers, who definitely have the upper hand in negotiations this season," Pete Flint, Trulia's CEO, said in a statement. "The slow start to the summer season is a major concern that we are heading towards a double-dip in the second half of this year."

Here's how the city ranks among the country's 50 largest cities, along with the average cut from the original asking price, according to Trulia:

Continue reading "Asking price reductions on Baltimore homes" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: For sale, Housing stats

June 4, 2010

New-home sales after the home buyer tax credit

Another postcard from May, the first month sans the first-time home buyer tax credit:

Metrostudy, which does market research for the home building industry, says early figures show a big falloff in new-home contracts signed in May in once-bubbly markets such as Las Vegas.

But not here.

Kenneth Wenhold, director of the Mid-Atlantic region for Metrostudy, said numbers for the Baltimore-Washington area suggest "traffic and contracts per project has changed very little from April to May, implying that we should not have a significant 'hangover' from the tax credit expiration."

"On average, traffic and contracts are trending similarly to what we saw during this time of year in 2009, resulting in a conversion ratio which is also on par with 2009," he wrote in an email.

About a week into May, Crofton-based homebuilder Caruso Homes told me it was seeing a pop in sales after the tax credit. People who'd just sold their homes were looking to close on a new place quickly.

May contract numbers for resales (and any new homes on the multiple-listing service) will be released next Thursday, so we'll see how the wider market fared.

Some of you shared what you've noticed in your community:

Continue reading "New-home sales after the home buyer tax credit" »

June 2, 2010

A big price cut -- potentially -- on 11 HarborView homes

HarborView's developer is hitting the reset button on the Pier Homes.

Eleven of the luxury waterfront townhouses in Baltimore will be auctioned off June 28 with minimum bids 55 percent to 75 percent below the most recent asking prices. Accelerated Marketing Partners, which is handling the auction, says the minimum bids are the reserve prices -- meaning the developer will accept them if no one bids any higher.

The unit with the highest recent asking price -- nearly $2 million -- is tagged with a minimum bid of $665,000. The lowest minimum bid is $329,000 for a unit with an asking price of $1.2 million.

Of the 88 townhomes, 44 have sold and two are under contract. That leaves a lot still to sell. The goal of the auction is to drum up interest and get buyers to break up the logjam -- one that exists across the high-end market.

"In declining markets or markets that are reasonably uncertain, there tends to be a disconnect," said Jon Gollinger, co-founder of the Boston-based Accelerated Marketing Partners. "The only one who can cause traction on prices is the consumer." 

Read more in today's story, including the impact this has on other sellers and homeowners.

In Gollinger's mind, the decision to slash prices and let buyers bid them up from there (if the builder is lucky) is no more complicated than Economics 101. "Let the market determine value," he says. "These 11 units are going to set a value."

Continue reading "A big price cut -- potentially -- on 11 HarborView homes" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: For sale

March 9, 2010

And the winner is ... nobody


Photo of Phoenix raffle house by Baltimore Sun photographer Amy Davis


The contest organized to raffle off a $1.6 million house in Baltimore County sounded good to some people -- enough to sell 12,000 tickets at $100 a pop. But organizers needed about 20,000 ticket sales to make it worthwhile, and they were hoping for 35,000.

So: no raffle.

Steve Scarborough told me that he got a refund for the two tickets he bought, but "they kept $5.96 per ticket."

"I suppose that could add up to a tidy profit for them even if they only sold half of the 35,000 tickets," he wrote in an email. "I may want to look into an opportunity like this."

Now, the charity organizing this event warned in advance that the raffle would be canceled if too few tickets were sold, and it said it would keep a 1 percent processing charge if that happened. But 1 percent of $100 is $1, not $5.96. I checked in with the builder of the house, who partnered with the nonprofit Universal Peacemakers Foundation, to find out what was what.

Alan Klatsky, president of Prestige Development Inc., said the extra money didn't go to the charity. It went to Wall Street.

“The credit card companies who processed the charges (remember there were several) have their own charge which is passed on," he said through a spokeswoman.

UPDATE -- I chatted with the charity that organized the raffle, and here's what it says:

Bob Brantley, president of the Universal Peacemakers Foundation in Upperco, said one of the online credit-card processors he used charged a refund fee. It's not a fee he was passing along -- the processor held the ticket money until the event was canceled, and then sent it back to the ticket buyers with a bite, he said. "We'll do our very best" to reimburse ticket buyers who prove that they didn't get their full $100 back, he said.

Continue reading "And the winner is ... nobody " »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: For sale

January 20, 2010

Visit that for-sale home in the dark, and other tips

Remember our lively conversation about misused words in real estate listings, like "cozy" for "rooms the size of closets"? The Wall Street Journal suggests that buyers take everything sellers tell them in this difficult market with several dozen grains of salt. "This is a quiet neighborhood," for instance:

Sellers may play down distractions that could drive you crazy, such as barking dogs or idling buses. A charming park by day could be a teen hangout at night. Your best bet is to view a property at different times of the day. ... Talk to neighbors and peruse the local newspapers and blogs to get a feel for a place, and check with police for crime.

What have you done (or wish you'd done) when checking out a home you ended up buying or were thinking of buying?

Sellers, have you ever told buyers something less than flattering about your home or neighborhood because you thought it was the right thing to do, legally or morally?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:30 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: For sale

December 22, 2009

For 34th St., the most wonderful time of the year (to sell?)


700 block of 34th Street. Photo courtesy of Results 1 Realty.


Thanksgiving to New Year's is not a big time for home buying. Some sellers just take a break and try again later. Who wants to be marketing bricks and mortar when most people have food and presents on the mind?

Residents of Hampden's 34th Street, that's who. Two owners on the "Miracle on 34th Street" stretch -- the one lit up to high heaven and decorated to a fare-thee-well -- put their homes on the market this month.

One listing notes its location on the "WORLD FAMOUS 34TH STREET." The other points out, "Here's your chance to live on 34th Street in Hampden!"

I chatted with Sharon Burke, who owns the latter property, pictured above, and she said she thinks this is the best time of year to put a home on that street up for sale.

"We have approximately 45,000 people that come through 34th Street during the holidays," she said. "That's the estimate by the police. It's so many people on the street. More people get a chance to see it, I think, ... than we would be able to do during the regular [home buying season of] April or May."

Continue reading "For 34th St., the most wonderful time of the year (to sell?)" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences

December 9, 2009

Price reductions on homes near you

Real estate search engine Trulia tracks asking-price reductions among homes listed for sale, and it's been saying for a while now that Baltimore has a lot. Today the company issued new figures, and it calculates our share of homes with lowered prices at ninth-highest among large U.S. cities.

Thirty-two percent of Baltimore homes on the market -- about a third -- have seen at least one asking-price reduction, Trulia says. Average drop: 11 percent.

In Minneapolis, which tops the list, 40 percent of homes have been price-reduced. At the other end is Fresno, Calif., with 12 percent.

Some reductions really add up. The owner of this Canton condo, for instance, is listing it for $400,000 less than the original asking price. Of course, the original asking price was $3.4 million ...

I'm curious whether price drops make buyers more or less likely to check out a home. I know "20 percent off!" can work for retailers hawking clothes, but agents have said over and again to me that it's critically important to set the asking price at the right spot the first time.

Are there second chances in this market? As a buyer, are you more likely to expect further price reductions from an already reduced home than from one that's just hit the market? Or is price history secondary to whether you think the current price is in the ballpark?

And here's the $64,000 question: What do you think about overall prices in the Baltimore-area market now, four years into the housing slump?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: For sale

December 7, 2009

So when you say "pristine" ...

"Pristine" is a favorite in real estate listings, but here's the funny thing about the word: It could mean so fresh and clean it is (or seems) new ... or it could mean "belonging to the earliest period or state." So technically, the owner of a 30-year-old house with original roof, appliances and shag carpeting could call it "pristine" without a qualm.

This got me thinking about other listing words. Like cozy. Or charming. Or fixer-upper.

What do these words mean to you? What have they turned out to mean in reality?

Buyers, what words are actually helpful to you in deciding whether to go see a home, and which ones do you wish agents would strike from their dictionaries? Or do you ignore the verbiage and just look at the photos?

Sellers, what would you tell people about your homes if you could just have a friendly chat with the potential buyers out there?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: For sale

December 6, 2009

Real estate listings everyone can enjoy

You might think there's no point looking at online ads for homes if you don't actually want to buy a home, but Lovely Listing begs to differ. Under the heading of "Odd finds in Real Estate Listings," the website shares photographs of -- well -- odd finds in real estate listings.

For instance, this home for sale with a photo showing the vines of a philodendron growing up the wall of the living room. And, in another photo, the ceiling. And in yet another photo, out into the hallway and ... is it going into a bedroom?

"Arghhh!" writes poster Sarah K. "How can the pictures end there? What happens next? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?"

(Commenter Xay, riffing off Little Shop of Horrors, writes: "Feed it a dentist and see what happens.")

Other finds include a house with a sea-monster theme, a pad with a nausea-inducing carpet, a place with a disgusting bathroom to end all disgusting bathrooms, and, of course, the "swordfish interrogation room."

It's LOLcats for the real estate set.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For sale, Housing humor

November 19, 2009

Owner of 5-bedroom house hopes to downsize

I've told you about this story on the difficulties of downsizing in today's housing market, but I was so busy today that I didn't get a chance to point you toward the extras that go with it: a photo gallery and video of Bob Kean's Roland Park house.


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences

Two faces of the housing market

You might be excused if, reading the paper today, you wondered what on earth is going on with the housing market.

On the one hand, there are owners of larger homes having a hard time downsizing because -- agents say -- it's a hard-hit part of the market. On the other hand, the Ritz-Carlton Residences just sold a nearly 12,000-square-foot penthouse condo -- a unit that was originally three separate penthouse condos -- for a record-setting $12.6 million.

Does the really, really high end have more going for it than the merely high end?

Before you start adding thousands of square feet to your home in hopes of attracting a buyer, remember that few have the financial heft of novelist Tom Clancy, who (The Daily Record reported in a keen scoop) is the buyer of the huge penthouse.

How big is 12,000 square feet? As big as five typical new U.S. houses.

But the prevailing trend is smaller, not bigger -- as you might expect during a prolonged downturn. Last year, the median new house was smaller than it was the year before, the first drop since 1995.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences, Unusual homes

September 22, 2009

The eighth-most viewed home for sale

The photos don't make it look prepossessing -- mismatched paint job, random items on the floor, a small hole in the wall -- but this Maryland property was one of the most viewed homes for sale nationwide on last week. It's eighth among homes listed within about $45,000 of the U.S. median price (roughly $220,000).

I'm guessing that it's price racking up the hits for this five-bedroom brick rambler in the Prince George's County community of Clinton. It's a short sale listed for $180,000, half of what the owner paid two years ago. (You can see larger photos here.)

This got me thinking about short sales, because some of you have said they are definitely not for the faint-hearted buyer. Or, for that matter, a buyer with any sort of deadline.

Short sales are the question mark of the housing market. You could offer the asking price, be the only interested buyer and still not end up with the property. Though the homeowner sets the asking price, it's up to the lender to decide whether to accept. That's because the homeowner is hoping the lender will let the property sell for less than the mortgage amount and forgive the difference.

With short sales, the asking price might be reflecting the home's true value. Or -- some real estate agents are warning -- it might be set waaaay low to grab attention.

"There’s a reason that short sale listings have the statement 'lender approval required,'" writes real estate agent Cindy Bowers of Arizona in this blog post.

On the other hand, as Wonk reader terp05 pointed out last month, you just might end up with a good deal. After a frustrating six-month wait, terp05 said, "in the end I [got] the home with the features I was looking for and some perks that I wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For sale
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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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