September 7, 2010

Where to move? Two-city couple tries to decide

Beth Green and fiancé Pete Jenior have a housing dilemma -- one that many folks in this region have faced.

She works in Washington. He works in Baltimore. Where should they live?

D.C. is off their list -- not only for price reasons, but because Jenior works longer hours than Green.

"He can't have a really long commute because he'd never be around," said Green, 29, an attorney. "So the two options are, I have a long commute or we live in the middle."

They'd really like to hear from people who have been there, done that. What upsides and downsides do you see for a D.C./Baltimore couple living in Baltimore or its southern suburbs?

For Green and Jenior, 27, it's not just about commute. They like city life -- he lives in Federal Hill and she's in Ridgely's Delight. But they're thinking of starting a family during the five years or so they plan to live in the home they buy, and they wonder if they'd be better off in the suburbs.

It's another oft-tread subject in the "where should we live" discussions that people around the region have every day, so I figured some of you would have thoughts to share.

Continue reading "Where to move? Two-city couple tries to decide" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: From home to work, Moving

April 26, 2010

Moving from D.C. to Baltimore -- and vice versa

The Baltimore metro area has cheaper home prices and rents than the Washington metro area, so you probably don't need me to tell you that more people relocate our way from D.C. than the other way around. 

But the recession, housing slump and credit crunch have had an effect on that northward migration. Our net gain from the Washington area sunk from about 10,000 in 2006 to 5,000 in 2008, according to the newest federal numbers.

Here's the story.

It's not just fewer D.C.-area folks coming our way that cut down on the net gain. It's also more Baltimore-area residents moving south. Jason Policastro, for instance, who took a job at American University's Washington College of Law a year and a half ago and relocated four months later.

He didn't want to leave Baltimore, "But boy, that commute, I couldn't handle it. Eventually I broke down and started looking and found something close to work."

He's so close now, he walks to campus. That takes him a grand total of 15 minutes. Before, it was taking him anywhere from an hour -- on those very rare days with no traffic -- to nearly three hours. One way.

The alternative of the MARC train didn't appeal to him because it was often delayed, he said.

Even so, "I just can't shake the thought of moving back," Policastro said. "I love it there. Everything about it. The personality of the city, the character -- the cost of living there is dramatically lower. So yes, I do think about that. The job market, though, you can't compare the two. Which is just a shame."

It's been interesting to read people's comments on the Sunday story. Several readers shared their personal experiences:

Continue reading "Moving from D.C. to Baltimore -- and vice versa" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: From home to work, Moving

March 25, 2010

Three ways of looking at housing affordability

We saw one way of measuring home-price affordability yesterday: What's the median price in your region, and how does that compare with the salaries for jobs such as police office and school teacher?

Another new report offers a different way: comparing typical income with housing costs plus the expense of getting from home to work.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology's H+T Affordability Index aims to get people thinking more broadly about the cost of living here vs. there, and whether settling far from work to save money is actually cost-effective.

Its page for the Baltimore metro area lets you look at two maps side by side: which parts are affordable based on the "spend less than 30 percent of your income on housing" rule of thumb, and which are affordable if you want to shell out less than 45 percent on housing and transportation combined.

By the center's calculation of the latter measure, few parts of the Baltimore metro area are affordable outside the city. According to the center, "increased transportation costs begin to offset savings on the cost of housing when commutes reach a distance of about ten miles."

"Families unwittingly shortchange themselves by being economical when it comes to housing
costs while taking on incremental travel costs that wipe out those savings," it says in its report, "Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish." (Very punny.)

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development takes a different tack: It analyzes affordability (or lack thereof) by offering up a stand-in for a first-time home buyer and a move-up buyer. By its calculations, move-up buyers in Baltimore can afford to purchase there, and likewise in the surrounding counties. But first-timers?

Continue reading "Three ways of looking at housing affordability" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Affordable housing, From home to work

August 9, 2009

Poll results: Location, location, location

Forget parks, snazzy restaurants, family and friends -- what you really want near you is your job.

That was the most popular answer by far in last week's Wonk poll, in any case. Thirty-six percent of you picked "close to work" as your locational priority in selecting a home. An additional six percent said your priority is splitting the distance between your job and your spouse or significant other's job, which means four in 10 of you have commute uppermost in your mind.

The next most popular answer (with 22 percent of the vote) was good schools.

Seventeen percent of you are most interested in having lots of fun things to do nearby.

Nine percent will make sure family and/or friends are close by.

And one or two folks each picked these answers as No. 1 priorities: lots of parks/trails/natural spaces, active community organizations, safety and "away from people." (The last two were write-ins.)

I didn't include safety on the list because I figured it's important to everyone. I wanted to see what people consider the key priority besides, you know, staying alive. Wonk reader Jelena summed up that imperative with this comment on the poll: "If I can't feel safe in my own home/community, the schools and commute don't really matter." (She included "healthy environment" in the overall category of safety -- "e.g. no highway in the backyard."

Real estate agents say schools are generally top-of-list for people with kids, so the "commute is king" results in this poll might mean that many of you don't have children. Or perhaps a number of you consider school options after you've narrowed down neighborhood choices based on commute time.

That's the thing -- I'm sure many of you have a number of need-this-near-me priorities. So what's better, living in a neighborhood that satisfies all of them partially, or giving up most of your locational desires in exchange for getting a few exactly right?

Continue reading "Poll results: Location, location, location" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

July 27, 2009

Poll results: From home to work and back again



Some of you are loving your commutes. Others not so much.

I know because I asked you to share in last week's twin polls, which asked how long your drive to work lasts and what you think of it.

Half of you have commutes that generally take you less than 30 minutes one way. (Most common answer: 20 to 29 minutes.) One lucky soul reports an 11-minute commute -- by foot.

The rest of you aren't so fortunate.

Eighteen percent have commutes that last 30 to 44 minutes one way.

Fourteen percent drive 45 to 59 minutes one way.

Thirteen percent report commutes that take anywhere from a hour to 89 minutes.

And 5 percent of you, poor things, have one-way commutes of at least an hour and a half. Yes, one way.

Despite the range, three-quarters of say your commutes are at least "OK." (Twenty-seven percent say "excellent.")

Eighteen percent say your commute is lousy.

Five percent of you say it's truly awful and you can't wait to move or switch jobs. (The same five percent who commute three hours a day round-trip, perhaps ...)

And one person says he or she hates the commute but gets to work from home a lot. So perhaps that averages out to an OK?

Nick T., whose workplace is only a few minutes from the place he's renting, commented on the poll with his personal calculation of the cost discount "required to buy with an extended commute (all else being equal)":

0-5 Minutes: -10% (would pay more!)
5-10 Minutes: No Effect - Base House
10-20 Minutes: 10%
20-30 Minutes: 20%
30-60 Minutes: 45%
+60 Minutes: It better be free!

What's your calculation?

And what do those of you with lousy or awful commutes do to get through the grind? Mine's just this side of lousy, and I listen to recorded books.

(Traffic photo by Sun photographer Jed Kirschbaum)
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

July 19, 2009

New real estate poll: Your commute

After some of you mused about acceptable distances between home and work, I started wondering how long your commutes are -- and what you think about them, since a 30-minute drive is in the eye of the beholder.

Share your experience in this week's poll. Er, polls. (If you commute to an institution of higher learning, feel free to participate, too.)

What do you like about your commute, if anything? What drives you crazy? If you're looking for a new place to buy or rent, how important a factor is commute time?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

July 18, 2009

Going the distance (for a house)

Amidst the interesting debate on this post about under-$250 homes is an offshoot that I thought was worth bringing to your attention.

Rob started it with this comment:

I bought in Cecil County. More house for the money compared to nearly any county. 45 minute drive to Baltimore on most days...not so bad to save a bundle. Plenty of homes for sale up here. Come on up!

Mighty Mouse (I love the 'Net names you come up with for yourselves) followed up:

Rob - I'm glad you found a house you like in Cecil.

Personally, I have yet to determine the quantifiable 'opportunity cost' (not gas) to permanently adding 1-2 hours a day onto my workday via commuting. (I've done both long and short commutes)

Right now I'm within a 15 minute walk from my office (2 minute drive). Previously I was commuting from Sparks to Annapolis everyday and I don't think I could go back to that - not even for twice the house...

On the other hand, my sister in LA has a 90-120 minute commute EACH WAY because she wanted to live away from the epicenter and is truly happy with her decision. (She has been doing the commute for 2 years)

But anyway, the point is that commute and distance from points of interest are an x-factor that I've never really been able to come to terms with during my house hunting. Does anyone have a distance to $'s ratio they use?

It's a good question -- there's no one-stat-fits-all answer. Mighty Mouse isn't talking about the dollar-and-cent commuting cost but rather the value of your time.

How far are you willing to drive every day for a house you like very much in all ways (cost included)? What are you willing to compromise on housing-wise for an ideal commute?

Have you found a housing/commute balance that suits you?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: From home to work, Housing market experiences
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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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