March 23, 2011

New apartment complex to offer electric-car charging stations

Need a place to charge your electric car? There's an apartment complex for that.

The Arbors at Baltimore Crossroads, a 365-unit development under construction near White Marsh, will have charging stations along with a variety of other high-end and unusual amenities: a pet spa, a dog run, a multi-tiered swimming pool, a Zen garden and a "Texas doughnut" layout of units and parking garage that will let residents park on the level their apartment is on.

This made me wonder what else you can find in the pricier complexes in town.

The Zenith touts its "cultured-marble vanities" and floor-to-ceiling windows. Several Baltimore complexes, including Symphony Center, have a gourmet kitchen in their community areas. Assembly Apartments has its own fire pit. Crescent at Fells Point has boat slips. 39 West Lexington offers free limousine rides around downtown. And the Palisades of Towson, in addition to its organic dry cleaning service and complementary yoga classes, parks your car for you with its automated garage.

Continue reading "New apartment complex to offer electric-car charging stations" »

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

February 28, 2011

Land prices haven't followed home prices off the cliff

Land is a critical part of homebuilding. Those homes have to sit somewhere, right? But while house prices have fallen significantly -- about 19 percent in the Baltimore metro area since peaking, according to Moody's Analytics -- the cost of the ground, not so much.

"Land and lot prices have not declined substantially in most of the Baltimore metropolitan area," said Kenneth Wenhold, Mid-Atlantic regional director for Metrostudy, which does market research for homebuilders. "Perhaps to a degree in the exurban areas (Cecil County, Washington County, Eastern Shore), but for the most part, prices are surprisingly close to where they were at the peak."

Why? In an email interview, Wenhold blamed it on "very tight" lot supplies, "to the point of seeing bidding wars between builders who need to refill their pipelines." The Baltimore region is "among the tightest markets" for available lots, similar to places such as San Francisco and southern coastal California, he said.

"The result is that builders are constructing smaller, less feature-rich homes on very expensive lots, skewing the lot-to-home [cost] ratio to over 40 percent in some cases, as compared to 28 percent to 30 percent during the peak (2003-2005)," he said. "Builders are only able to do this as they have cut overhead to the bone, are spending fewer dollars in sticks, bricks and labor (since it is a smaller house), and accepting much thinner margins."

Typical lot prices in the region range a lot:

Continue reading "Land prices haven't followed home prices off the cliff" »

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

November 1, 2009

Sprinkler-system requirement survives challenge

Should sprinkler systems be installed in every new single-family house? Fire safety advocates think so. Home builders aren't nearly as enthusiastic, noting the cost.

It's a national argument that last week came to Baltimore, during hearings held by the International Code Council. The ICC -- the organization that writes the building-safety rules adopted by states, counties and cities across the country -- entertained a proposal by the National Association of Home Builders that sprinklers be a "mandatory option" rather than a mandatory non-option. (A mandatory option might sound like an impossibility, but it would mean a feature that builders have to offer as an add-on, leaving the choice to buyers.)

Under the ICC's current code, sprinkler systems will be required in newly constructed single-family homes by 2011. The home builders are trying to get that changed, but sprinkler proponents outvoted sprinkler opponents. (Though it's not a done deal until the ICC's conference in May, it was a key vote.)

Sprinklers are already mandatory in all new townhouses in Maryland. Would you want sprinkler systems installed in all new single-family houses? What do you think of them, if you've had up-close and personal experience with them?

Given a choice, would you pay extra to have them in your home?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: New developments

September 24, 2009

A sign of life?

The first new construction along the Westport waterfront in Baltimore will be -- wait for it -- a luxury apartment complex. That's the plan, at least: Developer Patrick Turner has a contract to sell an acre of land to Landex Development LLC for that purpose, Lorraine Mirabella reports:
Landex, based in Linthicum, plans to build a 200-unit, six-story, glass-facade building that will have balconies and terraces, secured underground parking and concierge services. Construction is slated to start during the last three months of next year.
The site is 1/50th of the Westport land Turner intends to transform into a mixed-use community with businesses, homes and a hotel. I thought it was interesting that the first piece is high end, even in this downsizing, penny-pinching economy. (Of course, they're high-end rentals, not condos.)
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: New developments

July 24, 2009

Back to the drawing board: Luxury project goes affordable

At the frothiest part of the housing bubble, builders began turning apartment complexes into for-sale condos. When sales plummeted and prices fell, some of them quietly U-turned back to apartments.

Now comes the news that a luxury condo project planned for Baltimore's west side is being reimagined as affordable "work force" housing.

Lorraine Mirabella reports that Oak Street Developers has revised its plans after the recession -- and financing difficulties -- kept construction from starting on the proposed "M on Madison" condos at North Howard and Madison streets.

It's not as stunning a turn as an already built condo high-rise with penthouses and rooftop terraces getting marketed to residents with decidedly unluxury-sized bank accounts, but I thought it worth noting.

Mirabella reports that the developer "plans to write down the cost of the project with the help of state low-income housing tax credits." That will put restrictions on the target audience.

According to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, projects getting those tax credits "must elect to set aside, at a minimum, either 20% of the housing units in the project for households with incomes of 50% or less of the area median gross income, or 40% of the housing units in the project for households with incomes of 60% or less of the area median gross income." (Sixty percent of median income is about $40,000 for a two-person household, according to the state's calculation.)

What sort of housing -- price range and type -- would you like to see a builder taking on?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: New developments

July 12, 2009

Silo Point

A year ago, I wrote a tiny post that linked to a story about Silo Point prices. And goodness gracious, you've had a lot to say since then on the subject of the development in Baltimore's Locust Point neighborhood that transformed a grain elevator into condos. You're still commenting on the prices -- and the condo fees, sales numbers, etc.

I mention this because Lorraine Mirabella has a condo story today that includes details about Silo Point. No doubt all you commenters will want to take a look. In between commenting here about Silo Point, naturally.

Some of those details:

At the 228-unit Silo Point, [developer Patrick] Turner says he has 75 contracts, including 46 buyers who have settled and moved in. He says his strategy of setting prices as the condos are completed, rather than selling pre-construction, has preserved sales that otherwise might have been lost if buyers backed out of contracts after values declined. Last month, Turner opened sales in the final section of the now-completed project, where units feature huge windows, soaring ceilings, granite kitchens and exposed concrete columns.

And now, a few excerpts from the debate among you readers.

The frequent commenter is Baller, who says he (I'm assuming here on "he") is a future resident and calls the development a "masterpiece" that fits his housing requirements (including parking, deck and a good neighborhood). In a tough market for new condos, Baller said, it's selling well: "I find the price very reasonable considering what you pay $/per sq. ft. and the modern amenities (that are usable compared to those of The Ritz)."

When Tye2K called the price too high, Baller challenged him to go see the property in person. Tye2K reported back Saturday that the amenities appealed to him but not the surroundings: "Rusted trains and a working shipyard is not my idea of a view." But the real issue for him was his calculation of monthly costs: "Silo Point would be close to $1,400 in fees and taxes. - So, why would I *buy* a property just to pay in taxes & fees what I currently pay in RENT? - And remember, if something breaks, *you* are responsible for it."

Another commenter, Jaded, said he loves Silo Point and intended to buy there but was also turned off by price and property taxes. So, he said, he opted for a choice that doesn't cost him anything in city taxes -- he moved to the county.

What's your take?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:24 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: New developments

June 19, 2009

Inner Harbor Ritz condos: 21 sold, 171 to go

People frequently wonder how well (or poorly) a development near them is selling. Today Lorraine Mirabella has an update on the pricey Ritz-Carlton Residences at the Inner Harbor: 21 of the 192 condos have sold so far, according to tax records. A year ago, the developers said they had 113 contracts -- which suggests a lot of cancellations, a lot of delayed settlements or both.

Mirabella notes this in a story about lead contractor Bovis Lend Lease petitioning for a lien because it says the developer has missed $1.37 million in payments. Subcontractors aren't happy either, as you might imagine. (Developer Midtown Baltimore, in a statement about the Bovis petition, said it is "working closely with them to complete the close-out process and to amicably settle any outstanding matters in a timely manner.")

It's not an easy time to sell expensive homes, and these are definitely upscale for our area, complete with valet attendants and doormen. When the first residents moved into the Ritz condos last summer, the units were priced from the upper $800,000s to $5 million, Mirabella reports.

I took a look at homes in the Baltimore metro area listed for $800,000 or more through Metropolitan Regional Information Systems last month. There were 1,384. Home sales in that price range? Thirty-three. If that pace continues, it would take three-and-a-half years to move all currently for-sale $800,000-plus homes into buyers' hands.

Is this a reflection of difficulties in the jumbo mortgage industry? Of concerns about the economy (including stock portfolios)? Of too few people who can sell their not-quite-so-expensive homes and move up? Or is it just about too few people who have the money to buy upscale, period?

The answer is important for a development like the Ritz. Because the million -- or rather $1.37 million -- question for the developer is this: Will the condos do well when the economy improves, or are they ill-suited for the Baltimore market?

I'm not claiming to know. What do you think?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:29 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Housing stats, New developments

June 3, 2009

A development proposal, despite it all

Amidst the drumbeat of delayed and canceled residential projects comes a -- well, whatever the opposite of a drumbeat might be: A developer is proposing to build something. Yes! Really!

As Edward Gunts reports today, Baltimore-based A&R Development Corp. wants to turn several properties, including city-owned land, into "a $17 million apartment and retail complex" near Little Italy. The Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, gave the company the right to exclusively negotiate for the property:

A&R proposed combining the city land with several privately owned parcels to create a five-story mixed-use project containing 107 rental apartments, 156 parking spaces and 18,000 square feet of street-level retail space at the intersection of Central Avenue and East Lombard Street.

A proposal isn't the same as starting construction, of course. But it does mean a developer sees light at the end of the tunnel -- no matter how far off.

What sorts of things do you want to see built in the region? Or are you of the opinion that less construction is good?

And help me out here: What is the opposite of a drumbeat?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: New developments

May 16, 2009

State Center project: New developer, but no go?

Maryland replaced Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse -- which is dealing with debt woes -- as the lead developer for the reimagining of the State Center complex in Baltimore. But state officials are now wondering aloud whether this recession is really the time to redevelop their offices.

Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp says the state could top its debt limit within a decade if it goes forward with the $1.4 billion mixed-use project, Laura Smitherman and Lorraine Mirabella report. That touched off a debate about what's better -- spending money to help the economy or saving at a time when the state budget requires further cuts.

One side:

"We see this whole project as an economic stimulus when this economy really needs this kind of private investment," said Michael A. Gaines, a project manager at the Maryland Department of General Services. ... Gaines said more than 60 percent of the project's capital costs would be borne by private developers, and that the state has time to back out of the deal.

And the other:

"If we think we're going to go into a long depression, it would be kind of stupid to do such a development," said Sen. David R. Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: New developments

April 30, 2009

The Struever saga continues

As Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse grapples with millions in debt and related woes, the state is worried the Baltimore developer won't be able to handle its lead role in the long-discussed State Center redevelopment, Annie Linskey reports today.

From the story:

Maryland officials still hope to ask the Board of Public Works to approve in June a master development agreement that would allow the project to break ground by late 2010, said Michael A. Gaines Sr., assistant secretary for real estate in the Department of General Services. But Howard Freedlander, an aide to State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, said "we've been told that the state is examining the structure of the development team in light of what everybody knows" about Struever Bros.

Meanwhile, the city is letting the developer "walk away from $700,000 in loans" on another project. From the same story:

On Wednesday, the city's Board of Estimates renegotiated a loan it granted Struever 25 years ago to redevelop Church Square Shopping Center in East Baltimore.

The travails of the housing market and economy at large make this a difficult time for most developers. There's been a lot of crystal-ball pronouncements from economists lately about when we can expect things to improve.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's, offered a forecast at a recent National Association of Home Builders conference. He said sales have probably bottomed and prices will likely stop falling at the end of the year, with foreclosures peaking at the beginning of next year, according to the NAHB Nation's Building News. (This is nationally speaking, of course. Experiences can vary at a local level.)


From peak to trough, there will be a 36% decline in prices, and it will be more than a decade before home prices return to the highs recorded during the recent housing boom, he added.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing forecasts, New developments

April 25, 2009

A week's roundup of interesting real estate numbers

First interesting number: 11.9 percent. That was the "national mover rate" in the United States last year, a record low. The Census Bureau has tracked the rate since 1948. (The actual number of people moving was 35.2 million, down 3.5 million from the year before "and the smallest number of residents to move since 1962.")

Second interesting number: 34.1 percent. That's the share of people defaulting on Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans in January who gave "curtailment of income" as the reason, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. "Excessive obligations" came in next at 19.8 percent, followed by unemployment (8.1 percent), illness (6.5 percent) and marital problems (3.5 percent). (Those were the most common reasons, but there were others.)

Third interesting number: $16.3 million. That's how much K Bank, an Owings Mills company that a number of rehabbers turned to for loans, lost during the fourth quarter. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Friday that it has required the bank to "stop issuing construction and development loans and raise more capital," Andrea K. Walker reports today.

Fourth interesting number -- OK, numbers: $360,000, $360,000 and $420,000. That's how much Scots Glen condos sold for at auction yesterday after a lender foreclosed on builder Dale Thompson, according to Realtor Pat Hiban. Hiban says on his blog:

The 420k was the former model with 4 finished levels and an elevator. The model was last listed at 740k and the other two were in the mid 600's. ...

The lots in Highland drew even more bidders. Out of the 7 lots for sale, 4 sold at prices acceptable to the bank. The sale prices on the lots were 250k,255k,290k and 295k. The other 3 got bids of 150-180k and Columbia Bank chose not to accept those. It was quite an experience and it was good to see so many serious buyers there in earnest.

At one point the auctioneer yelled out "These are going for way less than the market!!!" and the guy next to me yelled back "Your looking at the market buddy!!! This is your market, right here right now!!!"

Thanks to David Hobby for pointing out Hiban's post -- I would have missed it otherwise.

Have other interesting housing-related numbers to share? Comment away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:33 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Housing stats, New developments, The foreclosure mess

April 24, 2009

Foreclosed: newly built homes

It's not just homeowners who have to worry about foreclosure -- builders do, too.

As Lorraine Mirabella reports today, "Two separate lenders have foreclosed on 35 of Dale Thompson Builders' unsold homes, building lots and unfinished houses in Columbia's Scot's Glen townhouse development. One lender also foreclosed on seven lots in a neighborhood of $1 million homes in western Howard County, according to public records detailing property auctions."

As the price tag suggests, these are upscale homes. You can see a photo of Scot's Glen -- and a map showing the numerous unsold properties -- on Dale Thompson Builders' website. The company is local, based in Howard County.

It's a tough time to sell, but that's not the only issue facing homebuilders. It's also not an easy time to keep the financing flowing for a homebuilding project.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:07 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: New developments, The foreclosure mess

April 12, 2009

The market for new condos in the Baltimore area

Asking prices for new condos in the Baltimore metro area were down 10 percent in the first three months of the year vs. the same period a year earlier, according to real estate information provider Delta Associates. The company's new report on the new-condo market says asking prices dropped most in Baltimore's northern suburbs (more than 16 percent) and least in the city (4.8 percent).

Some of the more eye-popping factoids:

--At the pace things are moving right now, the northern suburbs have enough new condos for sale to last buyers through 2022, according to Delta.

--In Baltimore City, contract cancellations in the first three months of the year outnumbered sales. (The same thing happened in Washington's Fairfax/Falls Church area.)

Delta addresses these supply vs. demand issues in the report:

The inventory of condos in the Baltimore metro area is still too high compared to sales velocity, and as a result, more projects have been removed from the pipeline, and this trend will likely continue over the period ahead.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing stats, New developments
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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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