December 29, 2011

Homebuying for the holidays

The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's is usually housing-market downtime. Most would-be buyers are busy purchasing other sorts of things at the malls. Would-be sellers sometimes pull their homes off the market entirely to wait for the much brisker spring market.

But this year, some real estate agents are reporting a spike in business.

"I've been really busy over the last month with clients, out either looking for houses or under contract and closing," said John Kantorski, a real estate agent with Cummings & Co. Realtors in Lutherville.

He even got a call about one of his listings that was pulled off for the winter. Buyers wanted to come see it. "That's unusual," he said.

When we chatted last week, Kantorski was about to show another client several homes -- three days before Christmas. "Usually this time of year, I have plenty of free time. Now, not too much," he said.

Continue reading "Homebuying for the holidays" »

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

November 16, 2011

Waiting to sell until home prices ... fall?

You hear all the time about homeowners waiting for home prices to rise before trying to sell. But what about waiting to sell until prices drop even more?

Some homeowners who don't intend to sell or buy next year say that's the basic plan. "I own a home and want to wait for prices to fall further before buying elsewhere" is actually the most popular answer so far in this week's poll for those who aren't in the market.

"That makes no sense," Wonk reader George wrote in a comment. "Waiting for prices to fall further just hurts you more on the selling side. Logic would dictate you sell now, rent then buy later if you feel prices will fall further."

I offered that as a poll option because Wonk reader elweedz has mentioned that he would have gone the sell, rent, buy route but he couldn't get his wife on board with the plan to not be homeowners for a while. So he's simply waiting to sell.

"Equity is not found money. I have 100k in 'equity' in my home but, I cant spend it without selling my home," he wrote in a comment. "If I sell my home and want to stay in the same community then I will need it to buy the next home. Now, if both my current home and my next home were worth 100k less then it wouldnt make a difference to me."

Are you also waiting to sell until prices drop further? What are your reasons?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:18 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

September 14, 2011

Looking to buy or sell a home?

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

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

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

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

August 29, 2011

Delays on the way to the settlement table

Sarah Parker was all set to close on the sale of her Timonium home at the end of May. Instead, she settled about 10 days later -- after a problem with the buyer's mortgage that almost upended the deal.

Marney Kirk, her real estate agent, says settlement delays are popping up frequently these days, often because the loan underwriter wants more information at a late date.

"Most settlements are not taking place on the day they were supposed to happen," said Kirk, with Keller Williams in Timonium.

The delays are usually for days rather than weeks, she said, and typically end with the deal closing after all. Just later than planned.

For Parker, it meant extra stress thrown into the mix of a cross-country move that came soon after she and her husband married.

Continue reading "Delays on the way to the settlement table" »

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

August 11, 2011

A would-be home seller on the decision to get off the market

Would-be buyers frustrated about asking prices comment here with semi-regularity. But I hear from frustrated would-be sellers, too, especially those who have dropped their price without getting any interest.

One reader from Baltimore's Mount Washington neighborhood emailed this week to share her experience:

Last December, my husband and I fell in love with a two-bedroom condo in an up-and-coming city neighborhood that put us within walking distance of our commutes (Penn Station for one of us, a nearby office building for the other). After 20 years of homeownership, and with our only child in college, we were primed and ready to downsize downtown. We hired a reputable local Realtor and put our home on the market in March, 2011.

Flash forward to this August. Countless brokers' open houses and house showings later, we've taken our house off the market and asked for a refund on our condo deposit.

What happened? The home shows very well; that's not the issue. Our street has some rough edges--but it's in one of the most coveted neighborhoods in all of Baltimore, with a great local school and amenities. So that's not the issue. We lowered the asking price twice. So pricing wasn't the hold-up. I placed extra listings on a couple of key websites and prepared extra flyers for visitors, highlighting the great school. Yet we didn't get a nibble; not one.

The culprit is timing. A quick survey on Zillow shows an astonishing glut of area homes in our price range languishing for half a year or more, unwanted. Despite historic low mortgage rates, prospective buyers on the modest end of the market--where we're priced--just aren't taking the bait. Looking back, there's nothing we could have done differently, short of giving the house away. Lesson learned. We live to fight another day.

I hear frequently from real estate agents that just about any home will sell if the price is right. In volatile times, though, it's not always easy to figure out what that price is. And a homeowner might not be willing to accept that amount -- whatever it may be -- if he or she has reason to believe the value should be higher and will get there in the near term (or if, as frequently happens, he or she is underwater).

This all gets back to the idea of "pent-up supply," homeowners who sure would like to sell but aren't on the market.

If you haven't had enough of housing yet today, check out the story about July home sale statistics and how the craziness of the last week has seeped into the local market.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Housing market experiences

July 15, 2011

Pent-up demand vs. supply

If everyone who's holding off on buying a home and everyone who's holding off on selling a home got together to commiserate over a beer, we'd need a heckuva big bar.

It's just one of the many outgrowths of the difficult housing market, not to mention one of the uncertainties the market is facing. People nervous about the possibility of continued price drops or unable to get a mortgage or worried about the stability of their job aren't running to the settlement table. Homeowners who can't sell for as much as they owe are cooling their heels, too -- along with some number of folks who aren't underwater but want to gain back some of their vanished home value before letting go. And some folks, of course, are in both camps -- they can't buy because they can't sell.

Wonk reader chappy10 figures pent-up supply, the would-be sellers who aren't selling, are "the larger group by leaps and bounds" compared with the pent-up supply of would-be buyers. "A lot of people *would* sell, but are unhappily stuck where they are," chappy10 writes.

So: Where do you fit? Would you like to buy, sell or sell and buy, or are you happy with your housing lot in life?

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

May 26, 2011

Keep or scrap? The home seller's dilemma



Most people put their own unique stamp on their homes in some way. But the advice when you sell is depersonalize, depersonalize, depersonalize, right down to the paint on the walls and carpet on the floor.

That's probably an excellent idea when it comes to getting rid of the cruddy beanbag in your living room. But are sellers better off keeping some touches?

It was precisely because I didn't question the rule of thumb that I wasn't wild about my husband's plan to put wallpaper in our toddler's room last summer. Wallpaper! Buyers hate wallpaper. This was no mild pattern, either, but a colorful jungle scene across the entirety of one wall.

And what happened once it was up? Well, I was completely won over. I went into the wallpapering knowing that it would have to come down before we ever tried to sell (someday), but now some tiny part of me wonders if someone else would enjoy it as much as I do. So I can well understand how sellers think, "But I love this -- surely the right buyer will, too!"

Buyers, set the record straight: Do you find yourselves connecting better with homes that are an off-white blank slate for you to superimpose your own tastes, or does lack of personality leave you cold on the walk-through? What homeowner touches have you liked -- if any -- and what did you hate?

Maybe we should have a "thumbs up or down" feature here for would-be sellers.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Question of the day

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" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences

April 5, 2011

For sale: House with fabulous closet

My awesome colleague Justine Maki, who lives in Hampden, had an amusing looky-loo experience recently. Once I heard it, I wanted you all to enjoy the fun, too.

Here's her tale:



Now that homes are regularly available for tours 24/7 — thanks, Internet! — open houses seem a little quaint. Sure, nobody's going to buy a house without going inside and seeing the space, but those "open" signs also attract a lot of nosy neighbors.

I'm not casting stones here — I'd love to buy a house in my neighborhood, but I'm not planning to sign anything for a year or more. So a few weekends ago, I checked out an open house across the street from my apartment and noticed something funny.

The helpful flier and online listing said the place had four bedrooms. But there were pictures of only three.

When I climbed the staircase, the case of the missing bedroom was solved: It was a closet!

Continue reading "For sale: House with fabulous closet" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Guest post, Housing market experiences

March 31, 2011

Pat Hiban: Surge in part of Md. housing market as buyers, investors leap



When I did a Q&A with real estate agent Pat Hiban at the beginning of 2009, he said foreclosure resales were about to hit in a big way, prices would continue to head downward and the higher end of the market had been "severely beaten up."

Now he returns as a guest blogger -- the first of what I hope will be many -- to talk about a new market shift he's seeing.

Hiban (pictured above) has been in the business for more than 20 years and runs the Pat Hiban Real Estate Group with Keller Williams Crossroads Realty. He's a billion-dollar agent who focuses primarily on Central Maryland and as far south as Washington, and he has a book coming out later in the year.

Take it away, Pat:



Very recently, the market has taken a major turn upward with regards to activity. I have one property on Nursery Lane in Gaithersburg with 23 offers on it -- multiple offers escalating the list price significantly. This is a single-family home listed at $630,000.

I currently have 51 properties pending whereas I am used to about 30. As I write this, we are negotiating 12 offers on 12 different properties and on an average day we may only be negotiating two or three.

The housing statistics for the state of Maryland show pending units are up 34 percent compared with February 2010. Because the number of active listings has only decreased by a mere 7 percent, this tells me that it's not an inventory shortage that has created a frisky market but a large increase in buyers.

Why have so many buyers come out of the woodwork?

Four very technical factors exist today that didn't even a year ago:

Continue reading "Pat Hiban: Surge in part of Md. housing market as buyers, investors leap" »

February 15, 2011

Falling home prices? Inconceivable!

A reader had a bone to pick with a blog post last week about declining local home prices -- such an artfully crafted picked bone that other readers weren't quite sure whether it was meant seriously or with tongue in cheek:

"My husband and I bought our home in 2007 for $450,000 in Baltimore County, made some major upgrades (granite counterstops, fancy faucets, painted, new carpets, new fridge -we even planted a tree)," wrote Beverly Banzer. "We have had another child and were planning on moving this Spring due to an addition to the family (WOOT WOOT) We are going to put the house on the market for $750,000 next month. When we sell, we are going to use the profits as a down payment on our dream home - (a bigger home in Baltimore County) This article about decrease in home values is ridiculous and makes me mad. it is like some people don't understand real estate values at all. it is local, local, local. My home has been every well taken care of and how could it LOSE value? Give me a break. Stoocks are roaring, gas is up, food is up. Why would this type of article come out about housing? Why does the media hate the housing market so much. Come armed with facts about prices, Ok!!"

Frequent commenter Jaded shot back: "Beverly: Sarcastic vs. delusional? I can't tell. Whatever the case I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I'd love to sell you!"

Sparky enjoyed it either way: "'We even planted a tree.' LOL."

"Too bad it wasn't the tree of knowledge," Adam joked.

Beverly roared back to defend, or more likely "defend," herself:

Continue reading "Falling home prices? Inconceivable!" »

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

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

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" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: For sale, Housing market experiences, Housing stats

August 11, 2010

What kind of home your money will get you

HGTV's "What You Get for the Money" compares metro areas to show you what sort of home $300,000 -- or whatever the amount -- will buy. The thing is, there's a lot of variation just within a metro area. Ours, for instance.

Wouldn't it be interesting to get examples of homes at various price points across the Baltimore region? I think it would make a fun and informative feature here. But I'll need your help if I'm going to make this work.

If you bought a home this year (or late last year, even) in Baltimore City or Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford or Howard counties, I'd like to give Wonk readers a virtual tour of your place. I'm especially looking for homes purchased for around $150,000, $200,000, $250,000, $300,000, $400,000 and $500,000. (By "around," I mean "in the very general vicinity," not "within $1,000 or less.")

You don't need a showcase home. Average is perfectly fine.

Want to participate? Email me at jamie.smith.hopkins(at) -- with @ substituted for (at), of course.

Got suggestions? Comment away. 

August 8, 2010

The Baltimore-area housing market in 2010


Photo by Sun photographer Kenneth K. Lam


Want to see what the housing market in the Baltimore metro area looks like down to the city neighborhoods and suburban communities?

You're in luck. Words, maps, photos and databases -- take your pick:

--Read about the trends I saw when I crunched all the January-through-June home sales.

--Check out these nifty interactive maps of the region: prices here, sales figures here. Three cheers to Alex Tribou on the Sun's graphics team for tackling this time-consuming effort.

--Enjoy the photo galleries of housing-market extremes. Priciest places here. Other top 10s, including most sales and biggest price drops, here. Huzzahs to editor Liz Hacken for turning the data into a visual tour of the region.

--See all the price and sales data in ZIP codes and city neighborhoods that interest you. Here's the searchable database for ZIP codes, and here's the database for city neighborhoods. (Areas had to have at least five sales in the first half of this year and the first half of last year to be included in the analysis, and thus the databases.) Applause to web guru Lauren Custer for creating the databases.

Hope you find it all informative and interesting.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Housing stats

August 4, 2010

What should this homeowner do?

Wonk reader allen shared his tale of housing woe today:

i live in mount clare, bought a nice house in 07 and i regret everyday. My taxes are high, i live next to drug addicts and dealers all around me, and i fear for my life everytime i walk up the street. Baltimore wants people investing, but they don't want to do something about the drugs that deter people from investing in areas of high potential such as mount clare. It's a shame, i've had many home buyers see houses in the area and say it's the people that keeps them away. i am so depressed, do i walk away from my home and rebuild or stick it out?

If you were in his situation, what would you do? Can anyone with neighborhood-improvement experience offer specific advice?

June 20, 2010

The housing market's impact on (would-be) sellers

There's a lot of pent-up supply out there -- homeowners who would sell, if only they thought the market would cooperate. That's what Zillow concluded after surveying Americans recently, and many of you said as much in the newest Wonk poll.

Just over a third of homeowners who took the poll in the last week -- about whether market conditions have interfered with plans to sell -- said they're delaying putting their home on the market as a result. That was the most popular answer by far.

Tied for second were "Yes, I tried to sell and couldn't" and "No, I had no plans to sell," each with about 21 percent of the vote.

Eight percent of homeowners who took the poll said they decided to stay put long-term because of market conditions. Seven percent said they sold with minimal issues. And the rest said they either had a headache of a time selling or ended up in a short-sale situation (of course, the latter is usually also the former).

Difficulty selling has real consequences for people. Duane commented, "I had 2 homes on the market in 2008 when this thing first started. They were on the market for over a year, not one buyer, and the banks wouldn't even work with me to do a short sale or deed in lieu...One went into foreclosure, and I have no idea what Chase is doing with the other. Chase has agreed to do a deed in lieu on my primary home in Baltimore city though, I am moving back to D.C."

I sympathize with everyone feeling jerked around by market conditions -- would-be sellers and buyers both. 

Renters didn't get to participate in last week's poll, so this one is just for you folks:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

June 13, 2010

Real estate poll: Trying to sell and can't?

To sum up the month of May: The number of newly listed homes for sale in the Baltimore metro area was more than double the number of new pending deals.

It hasn't been easy being a seller for, oh, several years now. Many people have felt the sting of the market reversal -- especially those who purchased in the crazy days when it wasn't easy being a buyer.

What about you? Share your tale of woe, or at least take this week's poll:

Don't worry, renters. You'll get your turn next week.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

June 5, 2010

A thumbs-up (sort of) to buying

Three-quarters of Americans polled for the National Apartment Association said renting is preferable to owning in the current market. But another large group of Americans -- close to two-thirds polled by Fannie Mae -- of are the opinion that now is a good time to buy.

So I asked you to break the deadlock.

Is now a better time to buy or rent? Or does neither have a clear advantage these days?

Forty-six percent of you say it's a better time to buy, the most popular answer -- though a plurality rather than an absolute majority.

Thirty-nine percent say it's a better time to rent.

And the rest -- about 15 percent -- say "six of one, half dozen of another."

There's been a lot of discussion about prices, rents, property taxes, tax deductions and the like, but I'd be interested to hear about how the process of finding a place to buy or rent has gone for you in recent months. Difficult? Easy-peasy?

Did you intend to buy, get frustrated midway through and switch to renting -- or vice versa?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Housing market experiences, Renting

April 25, 2010

Home buyers and would-be buyers

I asked you recently if you planned to buy a home in the next year, since I'm nosy that way. Forty percent of you said yes -- no doubt a higher share than a scientific poll would get, since I'm asking people reading a blog about the housing market.

The results are more involved than just that, though. Many of you are would-be buyers. As in, you'd like to buy in the next year but probably can't.

About 22 percent of you said that describes your situation. Most in that category are currently homeowners, not renters.

All told, 61 percent of renters who took the poll expect to buy in the next year.

Just 28 percent of homeowners said the same.

A number of you said in a past poll that you're underwater on your mortgage -- that's a major factor keeping people stuck in place.

Wonk reader M writes, "I have 20% down for a new house and have been ready to move for the past year. However, my house/mortgage is just about level and maybe a little under water and I don't want to deal with renting it out and possibly going a couple months paying two mortgages if I can't get it filled right away. So I am holding off for now, which is disappointing. If I could at least break even I would move."

What's your reason, if you're in the "want to move but can't yet" group?

Is anyone doing home-improvement projects in lieu of relocating?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Underwater

April 17, 2010

Silo Point -- a question, an answer

Wonk reader Andy thought about buying in Silo Point last summer and decided against it, but he's still curious about the project, which turned a grain elevator in Locust Point into a 24-story luxury condo tower with 24-hour concierge service and penthouse units as large as exurban McMansions.

He emailed recently with a question in the subject header: "Silo Point Empty?"

"I was driving on 95 the other night and noticed that Silo Point looks about 90% empty," he wrote. "I just checked real property, and it looks like only 50 units have sold and the majority are on the lower floors."

I checked with a spokeswoman for the developer, and she says 74 condos have sold -- it takes a while for the deals to show up online. Almost 40 more are under contract, including 15 scheduled to close in less than 30 days.

That means a third of the 228 units are in the hands of new owners. Add in the units under contract, and developer Patrick Turner is about halfway done with sales -- if all the deals close, of course. Units have been for sale since the fall of 2008.

(Fun fact: a quarter of the 208 condo sales in Baltimore last year were Silo Point deals, according to Turner's spokeswoman. It hasn't been an easy road for Baltimore condo builders, though sales numbers have been improving this year.)

Andy was also curious about the asking prices these days, so I asked. They range from $269,900 for the one-bedrooms to $4.2 million for one of the penthouses. The monthly condo fees start at $300. 

Silo Point kicked off a long-running conversation amongst yourselves. Check it out here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing market experiences

February 23, 2010

Puzzling home prices

"Just reduced!" might work great at a department store, but not with homes -- assuming you Wonk readers are representative of the buying public.

Just 7 percent of you said in a Wonk poll that your first instinct is the just-reduced home is a deal (minor or major). More than half assume the home is STILL overpriced.

Wonk reader Michele wrote in recently with some concrete examples of homes that sure appear to be in the latter category -- real head-scratchers, in her opinion.

"When I look at these houses, I have to ask: In what sense is this house for sale?" Michele writes. "These houses are on the market officially, part of the inventory, but I wouldn't be inclined to look at them, because the pricing seems to make no sense."

She adds, "I imagine that there can be some debate about whether a house is overpriced. I'm talking about houses where the pricing history suggests a kind of cluelessness that I can't see as subject to much debate. These houses must be overpriced because their pricing history is hard to explain any other way."

Here are some of the puzzles, all in Bel Air -- with addresses redacted to protect the apparently clueless. (Her details, like days on market, are up to date as of about a week ago when she wrote me.)

Continue reading "Puzzling home prices" »

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

February 22, 2010

Have you bought or sold a home recently?

Calling all chatty folks: If you've bought or sold a home somewhere in the Baltimore metro area within the last six months, I'd be interested in hearing about your experience.

Email me at jamie.smith.hopkins(at)

Thanks, folks.

February 17, 2010

What counts as a real estate contract?

Rich wrote in recently with a question/plea: Did he have any recourse in a home-sale deal that fell apart?

He says his family made an offer on a Catonsville home, and the seller said by email that she accepted the terms, had signed the contract and had forwarded it to her agent. Somehow, the contract never ended up in Rich's hands. Instead of sending another one, he says, the seller accepted a different buyer's offer.

He's very frustrated.

"I feel that after our offer was accepted via email [it] constitutes a binding contract," he wrote.

I'm not in a position to resolve disputes, but I thought it was an interesting question that other buyers and sellers might run into occasionally. So I put it to two local attorneys for their general thoughts.

Continue reading "What counts as a real estate contract?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Housing market experiences

February 15, 2010

The snow's effect on real estate

Winter's not a hopping time for the housing market under normal circumstances. So you can imagine what more than 40 inches of snow in February does to buying and selling.

Actually, you don't have to imagine. Here's what real estate agent Jamie Mason shared last Thursday when I asked for stories about the snowstorms' economic impact:

"I have a closing scheduled for next week that is still scheduled to take place, but the seller is having to rent his house back from the buyer because his movers can't get their truck down his block to pack up his belongings," wrote Mason, with Long & Foster's Fells Point office.

"Because many secondary roads in the city still haven't been plowed, buyers and their agents can't get in to tour houses. I have an open house for one listing that we have now rescheduled twice, and I have two more upcoming listings that we've postponed putting on the market because of the inability for buyers to get to them. I had noticed buyer activity picking up in January, but now it's all but nonexistant."

Of course, that was last week. It's a whole new week now. With whole new snow predicted. (At least the National Weather Service downgraded its forecast to four inches or less.)

You can read the full economic-impact story here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Weather

January 26, 2010

Housing-market bidding wars

File this one under "I" for "I thought we were in a housing slump": My colleague Hanah Cho shares this story about trying to buy an Ellicott City townhouse with her husband:

"The place was listed at $329,900 on Jan. 21 and in four days, the sellers received 6 offers, including ours. That's right, six. We just put in our final and best offer above the asking price. What's going on here?"

We both suspect the first-time home buyer tax credit is a factor. It's set to expire after June 30, and buyers have to have signed contracts by April 30. "I know we're trying to make that deadline!" she says.

But she also notes that the house seemed to be priced right "and showed really well."

Anyone else out there seeing bidding wars, either from the buying or selling side?


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Housing market experiences

January 13, 2010

A Q&A with Real Estate Intervention's Aubrey

As co-host of HGTV's Real Estate Intervention show, Mike Aubrey offers reality checks to homeowners having trouble selling. As he says on one episode set in Fells Point, people "need to be reactive to this declining real estate market that we're in."

Touring the competition and re-evaluating whether your asking price is anywhere near what buyers would pay -- a far cry from all the house-flipper programming of the bubble days.

Aubrey, a North Potomac real estate agent who got into the business in 2002, chatted with me recently about what he's seeing in the market these days.

Q. You're based in the Washington suburbs. Do you work in Baltimore at all?

Because of the work that I do on Real Estate Intervention, I end up in Baltimore a lot. We do a lot of shows in Baltimore. That is probably because, sort of the format of this show, at least the first two seasons of the show, has been a little bit dark, and things have been tougher in Baltimore than they’ve been in the D.C. area.

Q. Why?

I think that Baltimore City was ... gentrifying a lot of the areas inside the city during the real estate boom, [neighborhoods] that never necessarily got to complete that gentrification. And so those areas that were in transition are the areas I think really got stymied as we saw the market fall off. Places that I think, had the market not turned in Baltimore, would ... be flourishing right now. 

Continue reading "A Q&A with Real Estate Intervention's Aubrey" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Housing market experiences, Q&A

January 11, 2010

Dispatch: Home buyers walk away

Peter Arrabal has been sharing his tale of trying (and trying and trying) to buy a foreclosure with girlfriend Karen Parlee. Now he presents his final -- or at least final for now -- dispatch from the home-buying front:


We bailed out. Maybe we wimped out. We finally backed out. But no one seems to be able to help us out.

As documented last month, my girlfriend (who, as of New Year's Eve, can be called my fiancée) and I were attempting to buy a townhouse to be closer to our jobs in the D.C. area. We needed relief from our two-hour commutes from Ellicott City.

Through three months, we had submitted four offers and been rejected four times. The fifth time worked, or so it seemed.

Continue reading "Dispatch: Home buyers walk away" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Dispatches, Housing market experiences

January 3, 2010

Off-putting real estate question of the day

When people ask questions on real estate search engine Trulia, the queries are usually along the lines of, "How can I fix my credit so I can buy a home?" or "Do sellers have any liability after selling their house?"

Not so common: "Will the murder of a homeowner inside the home being auctioned or sold affect either the auction price or the selling price of the home?"


The Baltimore buyer asking the query has his or her eye on a home that last sold for $950,000 in 2007.

Would you be put off a house because something bad happened there, even if the crime was unusual for the neighborhood? Here, take the poll:

UPDATE: Forgot to mention this is a multiple-choice poll. Feel free to care about all the scenarios mentioned.

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

December 28, 2009

The housing-market decade nears its end

The aughts -- or whatever you want to call 2000 to 2009 -- were in many ways the Decade of Real Estate. First the boom. Then the bust, and all the unpleasantness that came with it.

This decade changed the national perception of homeownership not once but twice. Most of us entered the decade thinking that buying a home was about having a place of our own to live, and probably a good investment besides. Halfway through, many -- many, many -- Americans saw homeownership as a no-lose speculation, an ATM that never ran out of cash, and why buy just one if you could leverage it for three more? And now here we are at the end of the '00s, and I've lost track of how many people have told me that they no longer see real estate as any sort of investment at all.

The bubble years also changed Baltimore's landscape, and those changes weren't erased by the bust. As my colleague Jill Rosen pointed out in a story about notable Baltimore-centric things that happened in the past 10 years, "stainless steel, granite, roof decks and parking pads" came into "such working-class bastions as Canton and Locust Point":

The decorator appointments cracked the neighborhoods' Formstone-encrusted hearts and lured a new breed of city dweller: younger, ambitious, professional.

Longtime residents shook their heads at the endless parade of yuppies and U-Hauls and watched, bewildered, as microbrew pubs replaced corner bars and boutiques moved onto Broadway and the Avenue - our Main Streets.

Just east of downtown, Baltimore's new fashionable neighborhood, Harbor East, was created from whole cloth - that and the imagination of H&S Bakery magnate John Paterakis. High-rise offices. Expensive condominiums. Hotels. Chic stores and restaurants. A movie multiplex.

So much concentrated action and corporate investment mixed with designer bags, fine wine and sushi that it effectively pulled downtown's center of gravity eastward.

As Rosen notes, Baltimore didn't get the multiple new downtown skyscrapers promised during better times -- or at least it hasn't gotten them yet -- but Harbor East is still Harbor East, and all those Canton rehabs are still there, too. (Vacant, perhaps, but there.)

Do you think that change was for the better? What do you expect the city (or 'burbs or the whole state) will look like when the bust is well and truly over? And what do you consider the most notable changes to the local landscape?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing market experiences

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 21, 2009

A home buyer's recommendation

Wonk reader fronesis just shared a local home buying experience that should be of interest to all buyers -- and sellers:
We looked for our place for almost a year, and I'd say that on average, 70% of the Baltimore market is WAY overpriced.

In terms of what things are actually selling for in Baltimore right now, I don't think the market has all that much further to fall. But for those people that still have their houses listed at or just a little below 2007 prices - they aren't even close to reality.

A lot of buyers are told not to make low offers, but in many cases that's the only way to get the market moving. We offered 100K LESS than the 300K asking price on our place and eventually closed at just a few thousand dollars above our offer.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:07 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Quote of the day

December 2, 2009

Dispatches from the home-buying front: Part III

You might expect that a home listed for sale can legally be sold. But as Peter Arrabal and girlfriend Karen Parlee discovered after they signed a contract on a foreclosure, that's not always so.

Here's Part III of Arrabal's home-buying tale, the final dispatch -- thus far -- of a head-spinning experience:

Continue reading "Dispatches from the home-buying front: Part III" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Dispatches, Housing market experiences

December 1, 2009

Dispatches from the home-buying front: Part II

Ellicott City resident Peter Arrabal, 22, is trying to buy a house with girlfriend Karen Parlee. And as he related for us all on Monday, getting something for $206,000 or less in Montgomery County hasn't been easy.

Today he shares Part II of his tale, which picks up after they'd made several offers -- most on foreclosures -- to no avail.

Continue reading "Dispatches from the home-buying front: Part II" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Dispatches, Housing market experiences

November 30, 2009

Dispatches from the home-buying front

Reporters can relay home-buying story after home-buying story, but sometimes it's better to hear them directly from the people doing the buying. So I recently asked if any of you would like to write some dispatches about your experiences.

Peter Arrabal, 22, answered the call. The Ellicott City resident, a health-care worker, is trying to buy a house with girlfriend Karen Parlee, 24.

"Trying" is the operative word. But here, let him tell you about it:

Continue reading "Dispatches from the home-buying front" »

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

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

October 15, 2009

How not to sell a house

It might seem self-evident at any time, let alone four years into a housing downturn. But real estate agent Daniel V. Iampieri, director of career development with Weichert, Realtors - Caton Properties in Ellicott City, says he sees evidence that sellers still need to be reminded that a too-high asking price isn't going to do any good.

If your pricing philosophy is, "hey, somebody could pay that," he thinks you ought to reconsider.

"Anybody could do anything, but properties need to be priced at what somebody would pay for them," Iampieri. "I think we're starting to get there, but you still see a lot of properties [that] as an agent and as a buyer, you skip over. If your property isn't being shown, your price is too high."

Continue reading "How not to sell a house" »

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

October 12, 2009

Moving back in with family (and other reactions to a rough economy)

Housing costs are a big part of most people's budgets, so I'm curious to hear how the economy has affected your living quarters. Have you made any changes, whether in reaction to a job loss, cut in income or general uncertainty about where things are headed?

I've heard some folks say they're doubling up with friends in rented space. Some are staying with their parents post-college; others are moving back in. Some folks are downsizing ahead of schedule. And some are staying put when they'd rather move.

What about you?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:27 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Renting

October 11, 2009

Selling your home at a loss

If there's one assumption about homeownership that was pretty universal before this decade, it's that you'll at least equal your purchase price when you sell. Now, though, many aren't managing that.

In the Baltimore metro area, more than a third of homes bought this decade and resold in the first half of this year went for less than the sellers originally paid for the property. That's not counting closing costs at either end, mind you.

I crunched data from the state Department of Assessments and Taxation to put together this analysis of resold homes. You can read the full story about selling at a loss here.

Want to see more statistics? Go here and here.

Did you sell a home for less or buy a home in this category? Share your tale.

Here's one couple's story:



Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:40 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Housing stats

September 21, 2009

Finding the right home in an unexpected place

Wonk reader John emailed recently to say he just "moved from the 'disgruntled renter' camp to the 'new city homeowner' camp." He and his partner found a home they love that happens not to be in one of the city neighborhoods they were checking out at the start.

Here's his tale:

The most important thing I learned from this real estate market is that I had to adjust my preconceived notions about where I would be happy living. At the beginning of our house hunt (we have seriously been looking for more than 3 years), we were only willing to live in the tonier parts of 21210, 21212.

But we found that the sellers in those areas were--comparatively--the most unrealistic about price. I can't begin to describe the poor quality of the homes for which the owners wanted [more than] $230 [per square foot]--and all of them would have required at least $50,000 in repairs (not upgrades--repairs).

And of course, all of those neighborhoods are also car dependent--which I view as a negative. (Having lived in Mount Vernon for the past five years, I am not willing to give up my walking lifestyle.)

So where did they go instead?

Continue reading "Finding the right home in an unexpected place" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing market experiences

September 13, 2009

Happily renting

Some people can't wait to own their own home, but others are perfectly satisfied being tenants. Lorraine Mirabella has a story today about those folks, noting that in this "time of declining house values, rising foreclosures and uncertainty about jobs, many who may have jumped into the housing market in a better economy are content to rent instead."

She shares the story of Jordan Hamilton, 27, who moved to Maryland from Tennessee in October:

Initially he thought, "I don't want to continue to throw money away on rent," he said. "But then I had to weigh my options, and thought maybe I'm not throwing money away on rent. There were more pros to continue to rent for right now. I may not eventually be building any equity, and I'm worried about how much money I would lose if I need to sell it for a job move."

Any happy renters out there? Or are you in the aggravated-renter category?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Renting

August 24, 2009

A tale of two Baltimore buyers (OK, three)

WillBefore.jpg WillAfter.jpg

The boarded-up rowhome -- above, left -- is what Will Cocks, 28, saw when he signed a contract to buy. The prettified one that's above, right? That's what it looks like now.

The Bowie-turned-Baltimore resident is one of the people I interviewed for Sunday's housing-trends story, and I thought you all might enjoy the before-and-after comparison. (Photos taken by the new homeowner.)

Because Cocks agreed to purchase the Greenmount West home from a real estate investment company before rehab work began, he got to design "pretty much everything." And take lots of photos.

Here's a "during":


"I basically watched them build it from the framing up," said Cocks, who paid $265,000 for the home.

You can find a video here, if you're interested in seeing the interior.

Amy Lincoln MacDonald and husband Paul MacDonald, both in their 20s, also moved to Baltimore this year. Here's a photo of the home they sold in Glen Burnie for $215,000:

Continue reading "A tale of two Baltimore buyers (OK, three)" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing market experiences

August 20, 2009

Jamie Smith Hopkins: Live chat with economist Celia Chen on Baltimore-area housing market

August 17, 2009

Small is the new big?

Sunday's Dream Home feature shines a spotlight on Ken Smith's six-room house in Kingsville. Not six bedrooms. Six rooms, total.

The size was part of the appeal for Smith, who liked the idea of an equally small heating and cooling bill and less space to clean.

This reminded me of an interesting conversation I had recently with appraiser Michael Casella, a partner with Muller-Casella Associates in Towson. Small -- or at least smaller -- is where the action is, he said.

"Two years ago, it was all about building a bigger one," he said. "'I can build a bigger one than you can.' Really in a relatively short period of time, it has stopped. There are areas where the 2,800 square-foot houses are selling for what the 4,000 square-foot houses are selling for."

He figures people are pricing in the electricity costs, taxes and maintenance, and opting for less than buyers did a few years ago. He also thinks a lot of people are downsizing.

(Want to look at Smith's small house? The photo gallery is here.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:37 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing market experiences

July 31, 2009

For sale: three bed, three bath geodesic dome



The listing for the Ellicott City house pictured above is getting a lot of hits on, and you can probably see why. It's the sort of thing that people, once stumbling upon it, will forward to everyone they know with "can you believe this?!" in the subject header.

In a sea of Colonials and split-levels, a geodesic dome does tend to stand out.

I talked this week to real estate agent Kevin Willner, who represents the couple selling the home, and he said eight or nine people had been to see it since it hit the market two weeks ago. It's listed at $340,000.

What do prospective buyers think of the place, I asked?

"Either they love it or they hate it," said Willner, who is with ReMax Sails in Federal Hill and supplied the photo above. "One couple came in and it was funny -- he loved it, she hated it."

He passed this detail on to one of the owners, who quipped: "Well, that means we're halfway there."

Continue reading "For sale: three bed, three bath geodesic dome" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Unusual homes

July 26, 2009

What a real estate agent can and can't tell you

Ask a real estate agent about schools, and you might get nothing more than a pained smile and a school-information website or two.

"I list homes in a neighborhood that boasts the highest rated schools in the country and I can't even say it!!!" one Virginia agent wrote on Trulia, in response to a frustrated buyer who wants to know why Realtors won't "answer questions regarding where the best schools are" near Bel Air.

Agents are afraid they're going to get into trouble with the federal Fair Housing Act, that's why. The law aims to stop housing discrimination, including the steering of people to or away from neighborhoods based on factors like race, gender and religion.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, putting agents to the test during the housing boom, filed complaints against real estate companies for allegedly telling white clients -- but not minority clients -- to avoid certain neighborhoods because of the schools.

"'Good schools’ and ‘bad schools’ are the new code words used by some real estate agents to discourage Whites from considering integrated neighborhoods," the alliance said in a 2006 press release.

Such testing -- and federal-complaint-filing -- has not gone unnoticed by agents. When I interviewed Realtors for today's story about the impact of school test scores on such non-classroom matters as home values, there was some squirming over the phone line.

Continue reading "What a real estate agent can and can't tell you" »

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

July 16, 2009

What's 'affordable'?

In this week's story about more homes listed for under $250,000, I included a bit of income number-crunching to show why sellers will probably have more luck in that price range than above it. Here's what I wrote:
The typical household in the Baltimore metro area earns about $71,000. Buyers getting a low-down-payment FHA mortgage can comfortably afford a $250,000 house with today's rates as long as they make at least $65,000, by themselves or as part of a couple.

Some of you took issue with the "comfortably" that's placed oh-so-innocently right before "afford." Reader Jay, noting property taxes and other housing costs, wrote: "Wouldn't a $250K home in Baltimore City end up in monthly payments of 50% plus of a $71K income? Isn't that how the country ended up in the housing crisis that it's in -- people spending way more than they should on their homes?"

No question, Jay, that was a big part of the problem. (Also cash-out refinancing, but that's another story.) More about the "comfortably" in a moment. First, here's how I calculated affordability:

Continue reading "What's 'affordable'?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:07 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Housing stats

June 8, 2009

How do you know when it's time to buy?

Two Wonk readers just posted questions about the same thing: Is it time to buy or wait?

Josh Alexander asks:

Should I buy real estate in a down market? Our area has seen a drop in home prices, so is now the time to buy?

Frequent commenter Kevin R, meanwhile, writes in response to the "asking price" poll:

I'm a renter looking to buy. I was convinced that home prices would continue to drop this year and in to next year and decided to hold off buying. Wouldn't you know it, a great home with a close to reasonable price came on the market. In spite of my previous decision to wait, I put in what I thought was a fair offer on the home only to be outbid by someone offering more than listing price.

While I said "yes" to answer this poll (as did half of voters), seeing the growing number of "Under Contracts" makes me wonder if asking prices are indeed too high. People are buying these homes right? Granted, I can't know what the contract price is until the home actually closes, but the point is that it looks like the market is moving. Am I missing the boat? I'd be interested to hear what other buyers on the sidelines are thinking and seeing out there.

Normally, the answer to "is it time to buy a home" is "it all depends on you" -- meaning, are you financially ready. Real estate professionals like to say you can't time the housing market. But it's not hard to see why some folks are worrying that prices will continue dropping if they do buy and start rising if they don't.

I've seen a lot of conflicting answers to Josh and Kevin's question. What do you all think?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:57 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Housing market experiences

May 30, 2009

A modest proposal

Homebuyers and sellers are both looking to strike a deal, but by definition they're on opposite sides of the bargaining table. Buyers want the lowest price possible for the house they're eying. Sellers want the highest price possible. If you're in one of those groups and see the other as unreasonable people standing in the way of your dreams, well -- we're all human.

But you know, it doesn't cost you anything to see things from their point of view just a little bit.

You're a seller aggravated at buyers who keep tramping in to see your place but never make an offer? Well, imagine how they feel, going to look at house after house that doesn't suit or is priced too high.

You're a buyer annoyed at sellers who won't budge on price and haven't done a thing to the property since they bought it? Well, imagine how they feel, effectively trapped because they bought too much house and don't have enough money to replace the roof, let alone pay the difference between what you think is a fair price and what they still owe on their mortgage.

Sure, this doesn't apply to all buyers and sellers, but you get the idea.

Having a bit of sympathy for the person on the other side of the housing-market coin doesn't require you buyers to pay more than you think is fair, or you sellers to take less than you believe your house is worth. It just keeps you from forgetting that they're human too. It makes you think twice before you say or write something cruel.

Now, some of you would-be buyers are shaking your heads at me because you're angry at sellers. You're angry at homeowners, period, especially the ones who bought during the boom and thus helped run up the prices. You waited because you didn't want to buy something you couldn't afford. You waited, and you waited, and you waited. But here it is 2009 and you still can't afford anything and -- dagnabbit -- prices can't come down fast enough. Nothing would make you happier than hearing that homeowners are losing their shirts, and possibly their homes too. Serves 'em right, you say.

But here's the thing: Those folks who bought during the run-up in prices? Unless they were downsizing from something more expensive, they probably haven't seen any benefit from the frenzy -- particularly the poor souls who bought at the very peak.

Imagine, if you will, a couple very much like you would-be buyers. They also waited, and waited, and waited. Except they finally gave in and got an adjustable-rate loan and a smaller house than they had in mind because -- dagnabbit -- the longer they delayed, the higher prices went, and everyone they knew was telling them that waiting was exactly the wrong thing to do, and they couldn't believe they were still renting when they'd intended to buy three years earlier. And now here it is 2009, and they lie awake at night, wishing one of the three other buyers they had to outbid for their lousy place with the leaky basement would have gotten it instead.

(I invented this couple, by the way, but I'd be very surprised if they don't exist somewhere.)

There's plenty of housing-market angst to go around, that's what I'm saying. Plenty of renters and homeowners alike wish the housing bubble never happened.

And that's my modest proposal: Remember that you have more in common than it might appear at first glance.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:58 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Housing market experiences

May 27, 2009

What do homebuyers, sellers and agents want?

Readers got into a spirited discussion last week about the value (or lack of value) real estate agents offer. This raises a larger question, I think: As a homebuyer or seller, what do you want from a Realtor? What would you consider good and helpful service?

And for you agents out there: What do you want from your buyer and seller clients? What behavior and expectations are reasonable?

To kick this off, here's part of a comment by reader Semiconscious: "My home hunting experience has taught me that I do all the heavy lifting. If I don't buy within the 1st 10 houses I see, the realtor starts to grumble. I've written several contracts so far, and a lawyer can do just as well as a realtor."

A recent opinion article about "buyer etiquette" by Renee Porsia, a Philadelphia Realtor, happens to address the same how-many-houses-are-enough issue from the other side:

Seeing 25 homes is not very good buyer etiquette and also just shows your Realtor that you really do not know what you are looking for in your new home. It will also only wind up confusing you and chances are, the home will not be there by the time you decide that you liked home number one. Viewing approximately 8-10 homes on average is plenty of homes to view.

And what's enough is just one issue. Should an agent and potential client set ground rules before doing business together? Would agents, buyers and/or sellers be happier if the agents were paid a set fee for specific services rendered over a specific time period rather than a commission at settlement?

Talk amongst yourselves. Talking through problems is the first step to solving them, right? Call it relationship counseling for the housing-market set.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:28 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Housing market experiences

May 22, 2009

ISO square feet

Buyers want to know a variety of things about homes for sale. Size, for instance. But a Wonk reader wrote me yesterday to say that the seller philosophy on square footage around here seems to be that it should be seen, not listed:
One thing that totally annoys me about the Baltimore real estate scene is that the size of the house in square feet is not typically revealed in descriptions (for instance on Redfin). In other places we've lived, this information [is] right up front, and is critical to comparisons and part of the value calculation. I know I can do work to find it, but why?

We asked our agent about this back when we were looking and the answer was, "We've never shown square feet in Baltimore."

I searched a few popular real estate sites and can see what she means. Redfin, for instance, has categories for square footage and cost per square foot, but they're mostly blank for Baltimore-area homes.

Still, there does seem to be some variation depending on the site. I couldn't find a mention of square footage for one listing on MRIS's HomesDatabase, but when I threw the MLS number into a search engine, had the answer (3,360).

Buyers, is square footage something you want to know upfront? Sellers, do you have concerns about including that information?

Update: Realtor Jonathan Benya has a succint explanation for why you often won't see square feet, but sometimes will. See his answer in the comments.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:59 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Housing market experiences

May 4, 2009

Q&A: Epiphany in Baltimore

Some of you read blogger Epiphany in Baltimore and have followed his efforts to buy a home. (Thanks to the Wonk reader -- whose name now escapes me -- for pointing me that way. Let me know who you are and I'll credit you properly.) I thought it would be interesting to chat with him about his experience, since every buying story can help other would-be buyers … and often would-be sellers, too.

Throughout the interview below, I've included links to his blog for all who would like to see how each step unfolded in real time. And that's why I'm identifying him by his online name: He's a teacher whose personal blog links to a blog about his job, and he therefore prefers to stay anonymous.

Q. When did you close?

I just closed on Thursday! I've been living in the house for a couple of weeks, though, with a pre-settlement agreement.

Q. What did you end up buying -- the Baltimore rowhome rehabbed by St. Ambrose that you were serious about?

Yes, I ended up going with the St. Ambrose rehabbed rowhome in Belair-Edison. It's three-bedroom, with a balcony, finished basement, and a nice yard with a private fence.

Q. How much did you pay?


Q. Which "first-time buyer" grants and/or mortgage programs did you use? How easy or hard was it to line everything up? Do you have any advice for others?

Continue reading "Q&A: Epiphany in Baltimore" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:09 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Q&A

March 23, 2009

Baltimore homebuyer stuck in limbo

Empty, foreclosed properties aren't good for a neighborhood. So BethAnne Hoffmann, 25, figured she was doing her part for revitalization by choosing a foreclosure as her first home.

It's ended up a lot more complicated — and stressful — than she ever expected.

She and her fiancé made an offer on the home, in Baltimore's Mayfield neighborhood, in January. The lender, which had foreclosed on it several months earlier, accepted the $170,000 contract.

But the March 6 closing date came and went.

Continue reading "Baltimore homebuyer stuck in limbo" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:47 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences

March 9, 2009

Can a home seller see the appraisal of his own home?

We've had some homebuyers share their experiences. Now comes a seller.

Scott Frank had a contract on his Pikesville townhouse — a large model in a gated community — for $465,000. Then the appraisal came in. For $425,000.

Frank, a real estate auction specialist, said he suspected the appraiser came up with that figure by comparing to sales that weren't really comparable. Two other models in that community are much smaller, he said.

But he can't tell, because he never got to see the appraisal. And not for lack of trying.

He asked the lender and was told it doesn't usually share the document with sellers. So he asked the buyers. He says they gave permission for the bank to release a copy, but no one from the bank returned his calls before settlement at the beginning of this month. (Final sale price: about $433,000. The buyers agreed to pay more than the appraisal.)

"I was so infuriated," Frank said. "It's OK that it appraised for less, and if the comps worked out and that's the guy's findings, fine, that is what it is. But it's almost like they were hiding something from me. ... Why on God's green earth are you not entitled to see a copy of something that affects you so greatly?"

That seemed like a question other sellers might be asking right about now, so I called the state for an answer.

Kathie Connelly, executive director of the Maryland Real Estate Commission, said a buyer can see the appraisal because he paid for it. And the lender involved can see it because it's supplying the mortgage. No one else gets to without their say-so. "It's their prerogative," she said.

But she understands why sellers would want to see appraisals that come in lower than the price they negotiated with buyers. She thinks the key is what — if anything — the contract says the seller is entitled to if that happens.

Frank's contract didn't have an addendum about providing a copy of the appraisal, and he said he's never heard of anyone else having one, either. "Why can't we make future sellers aware such a clause is needed?" he asked.

For some sellers, an unexpected price drop days before settlement could be a disaster. Frank, at least, wasn't on the hook to buy another house with the money he'd expected to get from the Pikesville one. "Thank God," he added.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:54 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Housing market experiences

March 4, 2009

Baltimore homebuyer explains his method

Wonk reader Kevin responded to the call -- by a fellow Wonk reader -- to weigh in with housing-market experiences. He bought a rowhome in the Upper Fells Point/Butchers Hill area of Baltimore last year and offered these thoughts:
During our experience in buying a home in Baltimore City -- Fells Point/Butchers Hill/Canton/Federal Hill areas -- we found that the easiest common denominator to compare homes was price per square foot. City homes don't have that many variables. You get the rowhome and that's it. All you can compare is that rectangle plot of land and all of the livable space. We ended up plotting out homes we saw onto a graph and saw how the price/sq ft compared to one another. Then once we narrowed our search, we got the recent sales or comps in the area and did more comparisons. I'm not sure that Realtors have thought of this when they price homes, but there just isn't much variety in rowhomes aside from a rooftop deck or potential for a finished basement.

When it came down to it, we weren't going to pay a certain price for a 12-foot-wide place when you can pay the same price for a 14-foot-wide place. We might have over-analyzed it, but we ended up with a house at a good price point. Our offer price was determined in another spreadsheet, calculating final sale price (with concessions) versus asking price (both initial and current listing prices). This helped us put in an offer. The owner balked at the initial offer, but two days later, he accepted. It's hard to argue with numbers and hard data.

Continue reading "Baltimore homebuyer explains his method" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences

March 2, 2009

Buyer? Seller? Step right up

Wonk reader Frank makes a good suggestion for future posts:

I'm interested in how people are deciding what to offer. Are they looking at comps? Is the appraisal coming in at the level of the offer? Is the real estate agent telling them what to bid? How are sellers deciding what price to take?

If you're a buyer or seller and would like to chat about your experience, leave a comment below or email me at jamie(dot)smith(dot)hopkins(at)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing market experiences

March 1, 2009

Portrait of (would-be) Baltimore-area home buyers

Natasha and John Rossbach want to buy a house. That hasn't been nearly as easy as it might appear at a time when so many people want to sell.

If you read today's story about the housing market, you know that part already. But I thought the Rossbachs' experiences were illuminating, so read on if you'd like to know why two attorneys are having trouble getting a house in the Baltimore metro area.

Continue reading "Portrait of (would-be) Baltimore-area home buyers" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:18 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: 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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