February 24, 2012

'Severely' overburdened homeowners, renters

How many people spend more than half their income on housing costs? More than you might think.

In the Baltimore area, one in five households with workers pulling down middle-income or lower-income wages fell into that pinched group in 2010, according to a new report by the Center for Housing Policy. That's nearly 85,000 households "severely burdened by their housing costs."

But it's not quite as bad as the nation overall, with nearly one in four of what the center dubs "working households" falling into that category.

The center, which looked at regions and states across the country, considered all renter and owner households with adults who made no more than 20 percent over their area's median income and worked at least 20 hours a week on average in 2010. That means retirees weren't part of the calculation -- and neither were those who were out of work or had their weekly hours cut below 20, a situation that plenty of Americans were stuck in that year.

Continue reading "'Severely' overburdened homeowners, renters" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Affordable housing, Housing stats, Renting, The economy

February 7, 2012

Renting by default or by choice

As the homeownership rate drops, the renter ranks swell. Some are renting because it's the only option, except possibly crashing with family, but others could buy and have decided against it -- either for now or indefinitely.

So, tenants, which group are you in? 

Take a quick poll to share the top reason (realizing you might have a bunch) that you're renting:

I'm taking a much-needed week off, by the way. So please forgive the short posts.

Talk amongst yourselves, OK?

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

January 18, 2012

Report: Rents increased 5% in Baltimore region in 2011

The typical rent for a two-bedroom rental in the Baltimore region rose 5 percent last year, according to real estate search site

The company, which compared advertised rents for apartments and homes at the beginning and end of 2011, said that's the fifth-biggest increase among the 20 largest metro areas in the country. Collectively, rents for two-bedroom properties rose 3.75 percent, HotPads said.

Typical rent on a two-bedroom in the Baltimore metro area: $1,285.

Another view of the market comes from real estate data firm Delta Associates, which tallies only the upper-end apartment complexes for its rent measure but drills deeper into those numbers. (To get at the actual amount renters are shelling out, Delta accounts for "one month free!" and other specials.)

The company says average effective rent was $1,491 in the Baltimore region at the end of last year, up 2.2 percent from a year earlier.

Continue reading "Report: Rents increased 5% in Baltimore region in 2011" »

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

January 10, 2012

Stokes tries again on property taxes, the Tremont tries again with apartments

City Councilman Carl Stokes' proposal last year to cut the city's property-tax rate in half didn't get anywhere, but he's trying again now. And he said he'll likely launch a signature drive to get the measure on the ballot in November if the rest of the City Council remains opposed to the idea.

Scott Calvert has more in this story, the crux of which is that Stokes wants a charter amendment voted up or down by city residents -- whether the council puts it on the ballot or citizens do. He said he would need 10,000 signatures by May 31 if he goes the petition route.

Like last year, Stokes is pairing the plan to reduce the city's rate from 2.268 percent to 1.1 percent with a proposal to temporarily raise the cap on homeowners' annual increases in property assessments.

The Homestead Property Tax Credit now limits increases on city homeowners to 4 percent a year. Stokes would increase that ceiling to 6 percent, then 8 percent and finally the state maximum of 10 percent, holding it there for five years before dropping it back down to 4 percent. (More on that in a bit.)

Also like last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration is saying this change would not be a good idea. The major sticking point is whether a dramatic drop in the city's rate would bring in enough new residents and businesses to avoid cataclysmic cuts to services. You could see why this possibility might keep officials up at night. (The city's finance department said last year that Baltimore would need more than 500,000 new residents to make up for the revenue loss of a 1.1 percent rate, though some lower-rate proponents contended that this overstated things.)

And in the same category of everything old is new again, the owners of the Tremont Plaza Hotel in Baltimore are planning to bring it mostly full circle. William C. Smith + Co. converted the building from apartments to a hotel in the early 1980s and is now proposing to use it as apartments and long-term-stay suites.

Continue reading "Stokes tries again on property taxes, the Tremont tries again with apartments" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Property taxes, Renting

December 14, 2011

More student debt, fewer homeowners

FinAid's Student Loan Debt Clock is just as alarming, in its way, as those clocks that relentlessly tick up the national debt.

The FinAid clock is fast approaching $1 trillion, ratcheting up at the pace of nearly $3,000 per second. Americans owe more on student loans than they do on their credit cards, a switchover that happened last year.

Consider that the amount you can borrow to buy a home depends not only on how much you earn but also how much debt you already have, and you can see what the student-loan boom has to do with the housing market.

Rick Palacios Jr., senior research analyst at John Burns Real Estate Consulting, wrote recently that homebuilders should beware.

"Faced with mounting student loan debt, poor job prospects and stagnant wages, an increasing amount of 25 to 34 year olds (a prized demographic for the housing sector) have moved back in with their parents," he wrote.

Continue reading "More student debt, fewer homeowners" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Renting

December 13, 2011

Bozzuto breaks ground on Union Wharf apartments


Union Wharf rendering courtesy of the Bozzuto Group


The Bozzuto Group, long interested in building apartments on a parcel alongside the Fells Point waterfront, is officially breaking ground there today for a 281-unit upscale complex.

The project, part of the Union Wharf mixed-use development, will include nearly 5,000 square feet of commercial space that Bozzuto expects will be used by a restaurant.

The apartment market is yin to the housing-market yang, with rents rising and vacancies improving over the last few years while sale prices have fallen. Bozzuto builds for both markets, and CEO Tom Bozzuto explained in today's housing-market story why he thinks residents in their 20s will be heavily in the renter demographic.

More on Union Wharf:

Continue reading "Bozzuto breaks ground on Union Wharf apartments" »

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

November 3, 2011

Hey, builders: Don't forget the average folks

In response to this post about a call to convert downtown Baltimore office buildings into apartments, a reader offered this plea:

"What the downtown area really needs isn't just more apartments. It needs more affordable apartments where young single people can live alone in a nice place without dropping $1700 a month for a 500 sq ft studio/1br plus parking. There's really no middle ground between the high end apartments that aren't as nice as the rents would suggest and the never-renovated dumps. But that middle ground is a huge market. I know so many people who would ditch their 2 and 3 roommate row houses if more reasonable apartments were available."

It reminds me of the frustration expressed by middle-income home buyers that they can't find anything suitable in their price range.

The question I have for builders is, can you build homes or apartments aimed at people in the middle? If not, what's standing in your way?

The median household income in the Baltimore region is about $67,000, according to the Maryland Department of Planning. In Baltimore proper, it's $40,000. If you agree with the notion that 30 percent of your pre-tax income is the maximum you should be spending on housing, that's $1,675 a month for the typical household in the region and $1,000 for the typical city household.

Are you typical? What do you think of your housing choices?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Affordable housing, Renting

November 1, 2011

Downtown Partnership to office building owners: Convert to apartments


Photo courtesy of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore


The downtown vacancy rate for offices is nearly 18 percent. For apartment complexes? A lot lower. (It's 10 percent if you count newer buildings that are still working to get leased up, according to real estate data firm Delta Associates, and just under 2 percent for the rest of the upscale complexes downtown.)

The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is trying to convince owners of older office buildings to make the leap from Group A to Group B.

Kirby Fowler, president of the nonprofit group, which runs downtown-improvement programs and markets the area, said downtown has some "aged, obsolete buildings that need new plans." Partnership officials are making the rounds to office owners, lobbying them to think residential and connecting them with developers.

One of the skyscrapers he'd like to see convert to apartments is the "iconic" Bank of America building at 10 Light St., which law firm Miles & Stockbridge plans to exit in 2013 for Transamerica Tower down the street.

"The majority of owners are receptive," Fowler said. "Some are out-of-town owners of properties that don't seem to understand what's going on. ... We've given them the statistics."

Namely, that downtown and environs already have a lot of residents. More than 40,000 people live within a one-mile radius of Pratt and Light streets, the Downtown Partnership says.

The census tract that stretches from Pratt to Franklin streets (south to north) and from President to Paca streets (east to west) -- "the older skyscraper district," Fowler calls it -- was the fastest-growing in the city over the last decade. It jumped from 1,700 residents in 2000 to 4,000 last year, according to a Maryland Department of Planning analysis.

Continue reading "Downtown Partnership to office building owners: Convert to apartments" »

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

October 6, 2011

Average monthly rent in Baltimore City: $1,350

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Average monthly rent in Baltimore City: $1,350" »

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

October 4, 2011

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Average rent for newer Baltimore-area apartments: $1,500" »

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

September 1, 2011

Online rental scams hit vacationers, too

Ocean City police are warning folks who plan to rent a vacation spot and haven't gotten around to it yet to beware of online scammers trying to steal your money.

This is similar to the non-vacation rental scam we've chatted about here, where crooks pose as landlords advertising great deals to get you to send your deposit their way. The Ocean City police say they've received two complaints from people who paid several hundred dollars for craigslist-advertised "rentals" that did not materialize.

The agency isn't hopeful the money will be recovered because officials believe the fake landlords are outside the country. The police department's recommendation: Don't wire money -- real landlords should accept a credit card or personal check.

"Also, verify where you will go and whom you will see to pick up the rental key," the police said in a press release this week. "Make sure that the person and location are valid. Finally, if you have any suspicious concerns, follow your instinct. Even if you have to pay a fee, you are often safer dealing with a licensed real estate agent."

What makes the typical rental scam especially sneaky is that the baddies have swiped photos of actual local properties -- often ones for sale -- to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

Come across any rental -- or for-sale -- scams lately?

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

August 19, 2011

Buy or rent? Trulia says buying is cheaper here (but not everywhere)

Trulia, comparing the cost of buying in Baltimore with the cost of renting, says buying is cheaper. The costs are more in favor of buying vs. renting here than they are in most large cities, according to Trulia's figures: We're No. 10.

Trulia is using asking prices and rents from its site -- it has both sides of the housing coin -- and runs them through a calculation we've talked about before: Divide the asking price by a year's worth of rent.

If your number is 15 or lower, buying is better, in Trulia's book. If it's above 15, advantage renting -- especially the higher that number gets.

Baltimore's figure is 11. Lowest of all is Las Vegas, at 6. At the other end is New York with a whopping 36, which Trulia (in what seems like an understatement) dubs "much more affordable to rent."

Patrick Killelea outlines a different rule of thumb on his housing-bubble-and-bust site

Continue reading "Buy or rent? Trulia says buying is cheaper here (but not everywhere)" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Housing stats, Renting

August 3, 2011

Moving to Baltimore, needing advice about where to rent

Here's a reader question that anyone who has moved cross-country can relate to -- how do you figure out where to live if you don't know anything about your new community? The mother of a soon-to-be Baltimore resident emailed this week with a plea for help:

My 23 year old son just got a job and will be moving to Baltimore from Atlanta. He will be looking to rent a one bedroom apt for about $850. We plan to come up in about 2 weeks to look - can you make any suggestions about neighborhoods? He will have a car so he needs parking but his job is sales so he doesn't have a specific area where he needs to live. It also just so happens that his girlfriend is doing an internship at Johns Hopkins so she will be in that area but Michael will be in Baltimore for at least 18 mos. He's active, needs a gym (former track athlete) but also likes space and a washer and dryer.

What do you think? Renters, which areas have you enjoyed living in (neighborhoods especially, not necessarily specific apartment buildings) and why? Homeowners, you can weigh in, too -- it's not hard to find houses for rent these days, and some are near gyms.

I lucked out when I moved from Maryland to Iowa for my first job out of college: A colleague I hadn't even met yet called me up after I took the offer and said he'd find me a place to live. (Best co-worker ever.) But most folks relocating to a new area can't count on that sort of out-of-the-blue help. Advice from people in the know is the next best thing.

An explanation of how you zeroed in on an area that suited you would be helpful, too. There are a lot of apartment-search sites and homes for rent sites these days. But that gets you only so far.

New residents in need of crime and safety information have a variety of options, at least. This post links out to local government statistics sites. And this one notes some of the .com places with crime information.

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

July 18, 2011

Most figures show rents going one way -- up

Renters beware and landlords rejoice: Monthly rents keep going up.

An analysis of higher-end apartments in the Baltimore region shows average effective rents -- what tenants actually pay after factoring in concessions -- are up by nearly 6 percent compared with the middle of last year. Separate reports also show significant gains.

The one type of rental that doesn't seem to be doing so well for owners? Houses.

The report on higher-end apartments by real estate information firm Delta Associates focuses on the so-called "Class A" category, newer complexes that come with amenities. Delta says the average effective rent for such apartments in the Baltimore metro area is about $1,450 a month, up 5.7 percent from a year ago.

Here's the breakdown by area:

Continue reading "Most figures show rents going one way -- up" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 11, 2011

Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords




The difficult housing market has turned a lot of homeowners into landlords by necessity. They can't sell, at least not for the price they require, but they still need to move on -- so they're renting out their former homes.

For these "accidental landlords," and really any new landlord with an older home in Baltimore, trying to figure out how to comply with lead-paint rules seems daunting. One reader has a whole host of questions, and I thought a number of you would love to know the answers, too.

Enter Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning in Baltimore. She kindly agreed to do a Q&A guest post, with input from other staffers at the nonprofit.

She has run the coalition for 18 years.


Take it away, Ruth Ann:


Question: How does one best go about the process of getting square with the Maryland Department of the Environment lead rules for renting? Do I test the place myself first? Call MDE first? Call an outside contractor first?

Continue reading "Q&A: A lead-paint primer for new (and accidental) landlords" »

June 16, 2011

Renters: eviction-prevention seminar next week

If you're a tenant in need of help budgeting, saving money by saving energy and generally avoiding a situation where you can't pay your rent, the University of Maryland Extension suggests carving out time next week to sit in on its eviction-prevention seminar.

The event, from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Friday 6/24, will include sessions on energy conservation, increasing savings through budgeting, tenant resources and renters' rights when their landlord gets foreclosed on.

It's scheduled to be held at Pleasant View Gardens, 201 N. Aisquith St. in Baltimore. To register, call the extension at 410-856-1850, x128 or email

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting

June 13, 2011

Q&A: Renting

You asked for answers to renting questions. Nokomis Johns kindly volunteered.

She's the senior tenant/landlord counselor for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that has a hot line just for questions in this arena. A BNI employee for more than seven years, her mission is getting "more people informed on the correct laws and procedures before they get into a bad situation."

BNI counselors often provide information about tenant/landlord laws, but they're not attorneys -- and of course the answers to the questions below aren't legal advice. They're designed to point you in the right direction.

Take it away, Nokomis:



Question: What is considered "normal wear and tear" in a rental agreement? I am thinking about what a landlord can deduct from a security deposit and what he cannot deduct.

Answer: Normal wear and tear are things that result from coming and going. They are things that cannot be prevented. For example, the carpet wears down as you walk on it, or after a while the paint starts to crack and peel. These types of things cannot be prevented and the landlord cannot charge you for replacing the carpet or repainting due to ordinary wear and tear. If you do not agree with what is deducted from your security deposit, you can sue the landlord.

Q: I'm really concerned about rising rental costs. Are there rent consumer advocates to help us fight for our rights? For instance, it would be useful for consumers to determine if the rent is fairly priced for the area and amenities. When there's a rent increase, is the amount fair?

Continue reading "Q&A: Renting" »

June 7, 2011

Report: More need for lower-priced rentals, but less of them

It's getting even harder for low-income renters to find housing they can afford -- not that it was ever easy.

In a new report, Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies says there were 6.8 million more U.S. households among the renting poor in 2009 than the number of units priced for that demographic and not occupied by higher-income tenants. That's up from 5.6 million in 2003, its report says.

That change is driven by more demand plus less supply -- an increasing number of renters with very low incomes even as the number of available units dropped by 200,000. And the problem is poised to get worse.

"With little new supply of multifamily units in the pipeline, rents could rise sharply as demand increases," the center warns. "Regardless, affordability is likely to deteriorate further over the next few years as persistently high unemployment limits renter income gains."

Renters as a whole, not just the lowest-income tenants, have felt the pressure. Renter income dropped in the last decade, hitting a level in 2009 that was actually lower -- in real terms -- than what renters were earning in 1980. But the cost of monthly rent is up.

Rising energy costs aren't helping, either. They accounted for 15 percent of all renters' housing costs in 2009, up from less than 11 percent at the beginning of the decade, the center says.

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

May 31, 2011

Right-sizing the house

Size matters when it comes to the cost of housing. More space means forking over more money, both for energy and for the rent or mortgage.

The constraints imposed by the housing bust/financial crisis/recession trifecta put downward pressure on the ever-expanding size of new houses. After increasing in floor area by more than 40 percent between 1980 and 2007, the typical newly built single-family house in the U.S. shrunk 6 percent over the next two recessionary years, according to the most recent Census Bureau data.

But that's a minor change, not a major one. At 2,135 square feet, the typical single-family home built in 2009 was still substantially larger than the 1,595-square-foot new homes people were buying a generation earlier.

It's not just homes for sale. Apartment units have also gotten bigger over the years. Thirty-four percent of U.S. units built in 2007 were 1,200 square feet or larger, compared with 21 percent in 1999. (Those were the most recent and oldest years available from this Census Bureau report.)

Do we really need that extra space?

Extra amenities inside homes and outside, in the development or apartment complex, drive up costs, too. When I wrote about high-end rental amenities in the region earlier this year, Wonk reader BB noted that average complexes have felt the need to spruce up -- and then raised the rents.

"Many of the $650-750 apartments are now asking $800-900+. They ALL were boasting 'new' kitchens, and a free LCD wall mount tv in the living room," BB wrote. "There was nothing wrong with the old kitchens, and I do not need a TV - Can I go back to paying $700 a month please? To me this is a major disincentive that is just driving up the cost."

I'm curious whether the new (or newly renovated) homes and apartments in the region fit your idea of the right balance between quantity, quality and affordability. Would you do something entirely different if you were in charge? Or is everything peachy?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Affordable housing, Homebuilding, Renting

May 27, 2011

Homeownership vs. renting -- a roller-coaster decade

Two-thirds of the state's occupied homes were owned by the people living in them last year, the same as in 2000, according to new Census Bureau figures.

If we had only the decennial census to go by, it might seem like a remarkably stable decade. But the reality was just the reverse, of course.

A separate report from the agency that tracks homeownership quarter by quarter showed Maryland's rate hitting 74 percent at the beginning of 2006 before foreclosures and the rough economy sent it tumbling to 68 percent.

Hard-hit Florida, meanwhile, overshot. The homeownership rate was 67 percent last year, lower than in 2000, when it was 70 percent, according to the decennial figures.

The Census Bureau released another report recently that dug into a far more interesting question than how many Americans moved between 2009 and 2010: Why they moved. Some did so for work, for family reasons and the like, but more than 40 percent said housing itself was the motivating factor.

About 4 million said they moved to get a nicer place. Plenty of others, though -- 3 million -- moved in order to get cheaper digs. Just over 1 million were making the switch from renting to owning.

What's more important to you these days: nicer or cheaper?

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

May 18, 2011

Renters & landlords: To-do's and not-to-do's

Both tenants and landlords lurk here, and I've been wanting to get a discussion going that I thought both groups could appreciate: to-do's and not-to-do's in rental life.

Tenants, what things do you want landlords to do -- and not do? Landlords, what's your list for tenants?

Some things are obvious. Landlords want to be paid on time and don't want to find the property trashed. Renters want maintenance problems dealt with promptly and don't want their security deposit withheld for issues they didn't cause.

Is it as simple as that? Weigh in. You might get people to rethink the way they do things.

The last discussion about renters and landlords grew out of an appeal to both groups by a property owner, who wants each side to treat the other better.

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

May 3, 2011

Free housing!

Nearly half of men under 25 -- at least those surveyed by -- are paying zilch for their living arrangements. It's no great secret how: They're depending on the kindness of family, or in some cases friends.

They're not the only ones.

The recession and sluggish recovery have put many more people in the category of living with Mom and Dad (or Sis or some other relative with a roof over their heads) out of financial necessity, regardless of age. And in good times and bad, there are always those who move in with family to take care of aging or ill loved ones.

Is this you -- or was it? Is it more upside or downside -- more togetherness or stress?

While we're on the subject, have a poll:

Along with its survey, released a Top 10 list of cities for bachelors. Houston was No. 1. No. 10? Baltimore.

"Baltimore, MD attracts singles with charming and scenic Inner Harbor bars and restaurants," the company said in a press release. "Statistics say there are plenty more single ladies than men in this city, and it’s both affordable and unique."

Not being a bachelor, I can't possibly weigh in on this one. What do you think?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls, Renting

April 27, 2011

Baltimore rents up, home prices down

Rents in Baltimore (and many other places) are climbing, while typical home prices -- thanks to foreclosure sales -- are way down.

Here are just two of the implications:

--Affordability problems for renters. Twenty-seven percent of renter householders in the Baltimore region were spending more than half their pre-tax income on housing and utilities in 2009, up from 19 percent in 2000, according to a new report by Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. And rents have only increased since.

That's a "severe" cost burden, but plenty of others are feeling pinched. Nationwide, just half of renter households were spending less than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities in 2009, the center said.

"In the last decade, rental housing affordability problems went through the roof," co-author Eric S. Belsky of the joint center said in a statement. "And these affordability problems are marching up the income scale. In real terms, it means more people have less money to spend on household necessities such as food, health care, and savings."

--New grist for the buy vs. rent debate., a real estate site that shows both rental and for-sale listings, says rents in Baltimore have jumped nearly 5 percent in the last year while asking prices for city homes on the market have slumped nearly 30 percent. That's lowered the "rent ratio" -- its buy vs. rent calculation -- to the point that buying is "more favorable" than renting, the company says. The median home price is 7.8 times higher than a year's worth of rent in Baltimore, down from 10.7 a year ago, HotPads says.

Continue reading "Baltimore rents up, home prices down" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: First-time home buyers, Housing stats, Renting

March 28, 2011

Renting vs. owning in a battle royale

If anyone is delighted by the paradigm shift that came with the housing crash, it's apartment owners. They'd been arguing for years that renting isn't a waste of money, but few people seemed to agree until a lot of folks who bought during the market's height ended up way underwater on their mortgages.

Five years after the housing bubble started deflating, many more people are renting -- some by choice, some not. The homeownership rate in the Baltimore metro area, for instance, peaked at 75 percent at the beginning of 2006 and is now down to 66 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates. Homebuying activity is on the rise again, but from a pretty low bottom.

Loyalists on both sides of the own vs. rent debate are continuing to fight it out for hearts and minds.

Continue reading "Renting vs. owning in a battle royale" »

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

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

March 16, 2011

Landlord to tenants: Let's break the vicious cycle

Renters complain about landlords. Landlords complain about renters. If you're been on one side of the fence for a while, chances are you've dealt with someone on the other who burns your biscuits.

So I was interested in the response that one landlord wrote to a question of the day aimed at people renting their home out. Steve, who's from Baltimore and works at a university in town, owns a few rentals on the side and wanted to share an off-topic point by email. I figured it might interest you all, too.

Here it is:


I am a landlord. I believe I am a good landlord. My initial cause was to improve the reputation of landlords in Baltimore City while still making investment incentives for myself. After almost six years of property management, I'm gradually understanding how landlords and tenants in Baltimore get jaded, get sloppy, and ultimately, make their rental counterparts pay for their ignorance.

My current cause has evolved. I still want to improve the reputation of landlords. More importantly, I want to help landlords and tenants understand how things can get ugly and that, by one step in the wrong direction, a snowball of negativity can start rolling down a long hill -- an effect that can gradually grow and influence many landlords and tenants, though undeserving. As far as my investment is concerned, it's a losing one, but one I'm not willing to let go as a complete failure.

Continue reading "Landlord to tenants: Let's break the vicious cycle" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Landlording, Real estate investing, Renting

March 15, 2011

What renters need to know about foreclosure

If you're renting a home, don't assume foreclosure won't affect you.

As tenants across the country have discovered the last few years, you can end up with a bank wanting to throw you out if your landlord doesn't keep up with the mortgage payments. Some residents who never missed a rent payment have been caught completely by surprise.

The Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition and the Public Justice Center are launching a new education campaign to put renters on guard and remind them of their rights if a foreclosing bank starts talking about eviction.

About 40 percent of Baltimore homes in the foreclosure process are investor-owned, so that does happen all the time. Some landlords get behind because their renters aren't paying, but others simply overextended themselves.

"Tenants are often the forgotten and unintended victims of foreclosure," Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said in a statement about the campaign.

The key things to remember:

Continue reading "What renters need to know about foreclosure" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Renting, The foreclosure mess

February 4, 2011

'Homesharing' to help make ends meet

The recent story about older, unemployed workers in financial straits got me thinking of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center's "Homesharing" program, which matches homeowners with room to spare and people needing a room to rent. I blogged about the effort a few years back, when the recession was just getting going. Have more homeowners needing income and renters needing cheaper digs connected since?

Before I could pick up the phone to ask, program director Annette Leahy Maggitti emailed to say that this is just what's happening. (She's not clairvoyant -- she read the older-worker story.) 

"It has been a steady increase in matches," she said. "FY2008 we made 49 matches. FY2009 we made 78. In FY2010, 102."

One trend Maggitti is seeing: more would-be renters -- "seekers" -- who can't afford more than $400 a month even as many homeowners, "because of the economy and the utility bills," ask for $500 or more.

"Loss of employment seems to be the reason for sharing for homeseekers and the cost of living and keeping a home is the reason for homeowners," she added.

Continue reading "'Homesharing' to help make ends meet" »

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

January 31, 2011

Rental scams still flourishing -- beware

If you're in the market for a new rental home, make sure you don't get conned by a scammer using a seemingly sweet deal as bait.

Online fraudsters posing as landlords -- advertising real properties they don't actually own -- are grabbing prospective renters' deposit money. Other scammers go the other route, pretending to be renters in order to steal from legitimate landlords.

It's a subject we've talked about before, but it's worth a reminder because it's still happening -- as Robert H. Leininger, a real estate agent with Real Estate Professionals Inc. in Baltimore, discovered recently.

"I received a call about a week ago from someone who said they had seen one of my listings on a 'For Rent By Owner' web site," he told me in an email.

He hadn't advertised there. But a scammer had -- using the listing information from a property he had already helped an owner rent out.

Continue reading "Rental scams still flourishing -- beware" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Renting

January 4, 2011

Apartment market takes turn for better (for owners) in 2010



There's a lot of hand-wringing over the less-than-roaring economic recovery, the housing-market mess and the foreclosure crisis. But here's a group that's not complaining: apartment owners.

Employment is growing again, but not strongly enough to encourage people to relocate if they're already renting, which has kept turnover low. Home sales are way below where they were even a decade ago -- a plus for the guys offering an alternative to buying. And foreclosures are pushing people back into the rental pool.

I've got a story about the results here. Bottom line: Average "effective rents" are up more than 6 percent in the Baltimore metro area, according to one research firm, while rents in the upper end of the market rose 7 percent. That's being driven both by rising monthly rents and falling concessions, i.e. "first month free!" (Fewer concessions, in fact, are nearly half the story.)

The figures focus on apartment complexes, but rented-out homes make up a significant part of the rental market. That's trickier to measure. But it appears those rentals aren't seeing the same sorts of gains (if any gains at all) because there's so much supply in the form of homes up for rent by owners who can't sell.

I'm sure that varies a great deal depending on the neighborhood.

Speaking of neighborhoods, here's a photo gallery that biz editor Liz Hacken put together using data on monthly rents in Baltimore communities. If you work your way through the gallery, you'll see which neighborhoods RentJungle says are the priciest. Most at the very top are pretty obvious, but one of the top five surprised me.

Continue reading "Apartment market takes turn for better (for owners) in 2010" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

December 29, 2010

Hey, renters -- share your experience

If you switched rentals or saw your rent change in the last few months, I'd be interested in hearing your story.

Leave a comment (with the email-address line filled in, so we can connect), or just email me directly at jhopkins(at)baltsun(dot)com.

Thanks, all.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting, Your name in lights (well, newsprint)

October 27, 2010

A smaller rent increase for a wider swath of Baltimore apartments

One firm that tracks apartments found a nearly 10 percent increase in rents among the snazziest complexes in the Baltimore metro area this summer, compared with a year ago. But that's probably not the case for folks in rank-and-file units., a housing search engine that tracks ads for rentals of all types, says it found that average rents this summer were up less than 3 percent from a year ago. The site looked within a 10-mile radius of downtown Baltimore, compiling ads on sites ranging from to craigslist.

Jon Pastor, CEO of RentJungle, wasn't surprised that a Delta Associates report on "Class A" (read: upscale) apartment buildings showed a much bigger increase. "We look at all buildings," he said.

Continue reading "A smaller rent increase for a wider swath of Baltimore apartments" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Renting

October 7, 2010

Report: Baltimore-area rents up -- a lot

Average rents in the Baltimore metro area this summer jumped nearly 10 percent from what they were a year ago, according to real estate research firm Delta Associates.

Holy moly.

"Demand for rental housing in the Baltimore area has improved and fundamentals are looking strong as supply comes into line with demand," the firm says in its newest apartment report, out this week.

The average rent during the summer was about $1,470 a month, Delta Associates says. This is the "effective" rent, the average once concessions and rent specials are subtracted out. The value of these deals is dropping, pushing up the total.

Also behind the increase: fewer empty units.

Delta Associates, which surveys the nicer garden and high-rise complexes known as "Class A," says the vacancy rate is down slightly to 3.6 percent in the metro area. That compares with a national rate of 6.6 percent. (What that vacancy rate doesn't include are buildings still in the process of initial lease-up.)

Effective rents rose 7.5 percent year-over-year in Baltimore's southern suburbs, 12.7 percent in the northern suburbs, 3.4 percent in downtown Baltimore and nearly 16 percent in the Fells Point/Inner Harbor area, Delta Associates says.

Continue reading "Report: Baltimore-area rents up -- a lot" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

September 28, 2010

Apartment market might be stabilizing

It's been a pretty good couple of years to be a tenant. Annual rent increases, about 5 percent in the Baltimore metro area right before the recession hit, fell to practically nothing by some measures (and into negative territory by others) as job losses and doubling up caused vacancies to mount.

But a summer survey by suggests that the balance of power has stopped shifting toward renters. Just over 40 percent of rental property owners say their vacancy rates are dropping, the site says.

Thirty-six percent are offering a free month of rent or more as an incentive, but that's down significantly from the 65 percent doing the same last year. Sixty-three percent with properties in the Northeast and 50 percent in the Southeast thought rents would rise in the next 12 months.

Red Capital Group, a multifamily financier, said in a separate report that demand for apartments in the Baltimore metro area -- which was falling in the first quarter -- rose in the second.

For all the landlord optimism, they're seeing a trend that normally bodes ill:

Continue reading "Apartment market might be stabilizing" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Renting

August 17, 2010

202-unit apartment complex could lose license

Are apartment owners responsible for crimes committed by tenants?

Many think they aren't, "but in fact, they are," says Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano. "And they must take specific actions to address these egregious criminal acts."

Graziano said late Monday that lack of owner action is why he has issued a notice of intent to revoke the license of the Madison Park North Apartments in Reservoir Hill, a 202-unit complex the city calls a haven of drug dealing and violence. If the license is pulled, no one could rent there anymore and residents would have to move.

A hearing is scheduled for September to determine the fate of the property. The city says its housing agency and the federal government will help relocate renters if the license is revoked -- the law-abiding ones, that is.

More details in this news story.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 27, 2010

Tenants' rights when rentals go into foreclosure

Renting a home or apartment that's wending its way through the foreclosure process? The Public Justice Center in Baltimore is holding monthly workshops to explain your legal rights, from how long you can stay to details on negotiating a "cash-for-keys" deal with the owner's lender.

The next workshop is Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. at the center, 1 N. Charles St., Suite 200.

Call 410-625-9409 to reserve a spot. And remember to bring your lease, foreclosure information and any other relevant documents with you.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Renting, The foreclosure mess

June 27, 2010

Poll: Home buyer tax credit extension -- yes or no?

Most of your chatter here in the last few days has been about the as-of-yet failed attempt by the Senate to extend the closing deadline for the home buyer tax credit. Those caught up in loan, title, short-sale or other tangles really want more time. Those upset about the money doled out already want the credit to end June 30, a date that was itself an extension.

Sounds like a poll, don't you think?

Here's a sample of the pro- and anti-extension commentary:

Continue reading "Poll: Home buyer tax credit extension -- yes or no?" »

June 19, 2010

Eviction-prevention workshop

Many, many workshops have been organized for homeowners facing foreclosure. Now there's an event for renters interested in avoiding eviction.

The University of Maryland Extension is holding its Eviction Prevention Seminar this Wednesday -- June 23 -- from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe St. in Baltimore.

The extension will talk about budgeting to allow for savings and avoid eviction. The Public Justice Center will offer information about legal service rights and foreclosure issues for tenants (because tenants can feel the ripple effects of foreclosure). And Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. will hold a workshop on saving money by conserving energy.

To register, call the extension at 410-856-1850 or email

Know of other housing-related events? Please share.

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

June 16, 2010

Harvard's housing snapshot

Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies paints a less-than-rosy picture of the market in its newest State of the Nation's Housing report, out this week.

For instance:

One of the biggest drags on the housing market is the high joblessness rate. ... Unfortunately, most economists predict that the unemployment rate will remain elevated as discouraged workers reenter the labor force amid slow gains in jobs.
The overhang of vacant units for rent, for sale, or held off the market (including foreclosed homes) is another serious concern. Despite production cuts of more than 70 percent since 2005, the overall vacancy rate hit a record in 2009. In addition, many current owners are effectively trapped in homes that are worth less than the amount owed on their mortgages. If these distressed owners want or need to sell, their only choices are to walk away from their homes or write a check at the closing table. This will inhibit a recovery in repeat home sales.

Oh, is that all?

No, actually.

The Harvard folks note that even the Treasury Department expects 40 percent of people getting loan modifications through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program will re-default. And once number-crunching is complete, typical U.S. household incomes will "almost certainly" prove to be lower at the end of 2009 than they were at the beginning of the decade, accounting for inflation. And mortgage debt "has never been higher relative to home equity."

The report also notes a problematic trend in the rental market:

Continue reading "Harvard's housing snapshot" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing stats, Renting

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

May 29, 2010

A thumbs-up to renting

What's better, renting or owning?

Three-quarters of Americans surveyed for a National Apartment Association poll say renting -- "in the current real estate market," at least. Reasons noted by respondents: no responsibility for maintenance, no exposure to the "unpredictable" housing market and "not being susceptible to foreclosure." (Renters can be affected by foreclosure, of course -- if their landlord loses the property they're renting -- but their credit report won't be.)

The survey, conducted by pollster Harris Interactive, is a shift from how people responded when asked in 2008, at a time of falling home sales and prices. Slightly fewer people thought renting was preferable that year.

Of course, Fannie Mae also has a poll. It says that 64 percent of Americans believe it's a good time to buy a house.


OK, it's probably no surprise that a poll commissioned by a trade group for apartment owners shows a proclivity toward renting, while a poll handled for a mortgage financier suggests lots o' housing-market love.

So here, weigh in on a poll just for you:

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

May 7, 2010

Housing scams aren't just about foreclosure

Because so many homeowners have been scammed out of money or even their home in a bid to avoid foreclosure, it's easy to forget that tenants can be targets of con artists, too.

The Maryland Attorney General's office says about 500 people were allegedly scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in a pyramid scheme that included promises of a year's free rent in exchange for upfront payments toward a supposed business venture.

Liz Kay and Gus Sentementes have the full story here.

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

April 23, 2010

Getting rich off the housing crisis -- in song form

Bet Against the American Dream from Alexander Hotz on Vimeo.

Because what credit default swaps really need are some jazz hands: The Avenue Q folks have put together a song to go with a This American Life story about a hedge fund that turned the collapse into cash. Catchy! ("The housing market's losing steam / And all we gotta do / To make our dreams come true / Is bet against the American Dream!")

On another note, The New York Times suggests that you use the "20" rule of thumb if you're deciding whether to buy or rent. That is, divide the home's sale price vs. a year's rent for a comparable place. If it's above 20, you're probably better off renting. Below, and you could be better off buying. (The Baltimore metro area, it says, dropped from 21 in 2005 to 18 last year.) Thoughts?

On yet another note, RelocateAmerica's Top 100 Places to Live in 2010 -- which this year focused on "communities poised for recovery and future growth" -- includes Baltimore.

Happy Friday.


April 14, 2010

Finding a roommate

While researching this story about finding a roommate, I spent some time clicking through craigslist "roommate wanted" postings. I was curious to see what Baltimore folks say they want from a roommate, and what they say about themselves.

Here's what caught my eye:

One woman looking for a room near the harbor describes herself as "pulchritudinous" -- a 15th-century word for beautiful, so hey: lovely and smart.

Two men living in Canton, advertising the third bedroom, ask for the usual in a roommate -- be respectful -- but hope for more: "It would be great if you like to go out with us or join in community sports teams so hopefully we can all not just live together but be friends as well."

A 25-year-old man sharing a city home with a 21-year-old woman says they're looking for another roommate -- female only: "I have had much better girl roommate experiences than ones with guys revolving around household responsibility. I'm a guy but I pick up my end of the chores!"

Someone advertising a $425-a-month room for rent bucks the trend of asking for quiet types: "Have to be outgoing. The people in the house are 21-22 [and] they party all night."

But it's not all laughs.

An Anne Arundel County man, offering a free room to someone who will watch his son during the day and help his school-aged daughter with her hair, writes: "I am a single Dad in need of help. childrens mother deceased."

And a 22-year-old Cecil County resident with a 1-year-old daughter is desperately searching for a place she can rent for $400 a month. "I will be homeless within the week," she writes.  

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting, Roommates

April 7, 2010

Trulia launches rental-search option

Trulia, best known as a search engine for people looking to buy homes, said today that it is getting into the rental-search business.

You might see it as a "making lemonade out of lemons" strategy -- the lemons part being that fewer people are buying these days than they were in 2005.

"With the burst of the housing bubble, more consumers than ever are considering renting as a housing option," Pete Flint, Trulia's chief executive, said in a statement.

You might be interested in two stats Trulia included in its press release:

--"30 percent of self declared 'home buyers' are considering both renting and buying at the same time" (that is, they're not sure which way they'll go)

--"60 percent of adults strongly/somewhat agree that renting currently makes better financial sense at this point in their life" (this, according to a recent survey by Trulia and Harris Interactive).

The company said users will be able to search by property-description keywords (such as "pool" or "covered parking"), access information on mobile devices and get details on schools, amenities and the like near rentals that interest them.

There are lots of rental-listing sites out there. What do you want to see when you're looking for a new place to live?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting

April 5, 2010

Finding (and living with) a roommate

Live Baltimore has a roommate match-up planned during its rental event this Saturday -- think speed-dating, except for non-romantic cohabiting purposes -- and that got me wondering about rental-sharing successes and failures.

Are you renting with a roommate (or -mates)? How carefully did you pick them -- and how is it going?

Tell me, tell me. Best-bud stories, horror stories, "will you stop leaving your dirty socks on the floor" stories.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:30 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Renting

March 5, 2010

What rights should renters have?

A new report in Montgomery County asks the government to tip the rental balance of power more toward tenants than things currently stand -- including a cap on rent increases.

The Montgomery County Tenants Work Group, appointed by the county executive after renters advocated for improvements to their lot, is in favor of a law that would "maintain reasonable and predictable rent increases."

"Tenants who move for reasons of greater affordability report that they cannot anticipate remaining in a rental unit or complex for more than one or two years, due to the unpredictable nature of rent increases," the group writes in its report. "More than 43 percent of renters in the Renter Satisfaction Survey [commissioned by the group] reported that they are not confident that they will be able to afford to live in Montgomery County in the future."

In that survey, almost 20 percent of renters said their annual rent increases topped 7 percent. About half said their annual rent increases were in the 4 to 7 percent range.

The group, in case you're wondering, includes renters, renter advocates, government officials and two people representing the landlord point of view -- a property manager and an Apartment and Office Building Association representative. (UPDATE: The Apartment and Office Building Association notes that it, the property manager and the county officials didn't vote on the recommendations -- those were made by the renters.)

Takoma Park already has a rent stabilization law, the group notes. (New York is probably the city best known for its controls on rent increases.)

UPDATE: The Apartment and Office Building Association's W. Shaun Pharr takes issue with the idea. In a statement this morning, he said: "Rent control is a failed social and housing policy that has been outlawed in 34 states because of the damage it causes to a community's housing stock by discouraging investment in rental housing." 

I thought this might spark discussion among Baltimore renters -- and landlords. What do you think of the recommendation?

The tenant group, by the way, suggests that any law include an allowance "for renters to contribute reasonable additional payments beyond the cost of rent to cover the cost of unit improvement."

Other suggestions from the group:

Continue reading "What rights should renters have?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

January 16, 2010

The cost of renting is going down

Renters: Are you paying less to live in an apartment than you were a year ago? A year-end report by real estate research firm Delta Associates says average effective rents in the Baltimore metro area -- including concessions, in other words -- are down 1.3 percent from a year earlier, to $1,375 a month.

But that's more a city phenomenon than a suburban one. Rents declined 6.1 percent in the Fells Point/Inner Harbor area and in downtown, where apartments abound.

In the suburbs, the decrease was largest in Columbia -- down almost 1 percent. West and Northwest Baltimore County rents fell 0.3 percent, Anne Arundel County was essentially flat, North and Northeast Baltimore County rents rose 0.8 percent and Harford County rents were up almost 2 percent.

These are so-called Class A apartments, the nicer options out there.

Delta Associates, noting that the pipeline of planned apartments is shrinking, expects that "rent growth is likely to return over the next three years."

Seen any good deals out there?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

January 6, 2010

Q&A: Homeownership incentives, and what they mean for renters

Years of efforts by Democrats and Republicans alike to promote homeownership for everyone have come in for their share of criticism in these post-bubble days, now that we've seen what can happen when no attention is given to whether prospective buyers are financially ready or the loans they're getting are reasonable for their life situations.

Paula M. Cino, director of energy and environmental policy at the National Multi Housing Council, a trade group for the apartment industry, has strong opinions on the topic, as you might imagine. I asked her to share in a Q&A.

Q. How does government support for homeownership compare with government support for renting?

Cino: Federal homeownership subsidies outnumber rental support 4 to 1 or about $230 billion to the renters’ $60 billion. If subsidies were adjusted to reflect the true distribution of households that rent vs. own, rental housing subsidies would have to increase by about $36 billion. The unbalanced nature of our housing policy is even more obvious when you consider that the richest 20 percent of the population claimed more than a third of the homeownership subsidies through the mortgage interest deduction.

Q. Why does it matter if the government offers more breaks and incentives for homeownership?

Cino: The current allocations simply don’t reflect the diversity of housing needs nationwide. One third of all Americans rent their housing. Moreover, changing demographics and consumer preferences show an increased demand for apartments. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancy Survey shows that 2.83 million new renter households were created between 2004 and 2008. In 2008 alone, 63 percent of net new households were renter-occupied.

For decades, married couples with children dominated housing markets. But today those families make up less than 25 percent of all households. Apartments are needed to accommodate the growing number of young professionals, empty-nesters and childless couples seeking smaller, centrally-located, more affordable homes that don’t necessitate a long-term financial commitment.

Q. What role do you think government policy played in the housing bubble and bust?

Continue reading "Q&A: Homeownership incentives, and what they mean for renters" »

December 30, 2009

Renters feel the sting of foreclosure

It used to be a largely unmeasured problem. But now we have some hard statistics on how often local renters are finding themselves caught up in foreclosure because their landlords fell behind.

It happens a lot.

Of the approximately 5,000 Baltimore properties starting the foreclosure process in the 12 months ending June 30, nearly 40 percent -- 1,900 -- were occupied by renters. That's according to the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition.

And the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which started a hot line in May for renters in this situation (877-775-0357), has been averaging almost 600 calls a month for help.

I have a story today on the subject, or more specifically about the seven-month-old Maryland law requiring lenders notify renters as they seek to foreclose, and the equally young federal law giving renters time post-foreclosure before lenders can order them out. (Attorneys working with tenants say that lenders, or their contractors, are frequently neglecting to mention this.)

The question I know some of you have is how often renters are innocent victims, and how often they contributed to the landlord's default by not paying. The state has interesting statistics on that topic:

Continue reading "Renters feel the sting of foreclosure" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:30 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Landlording, Renting, The foreclosure mess

October 19, 2009

Negotiating your rent

Over at the Consuming Interests blog, Liz Kay is offering useful advice to renters who want to negotiate a lower monthly payment. And some words of caution, too -- for instance, keep in mind before you issue ultimatums that switching apartments costs money.

If you missed it, you can read here about how a Baltimore County resident negotiated her rent increase down from $100 a month to $25 a month.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

October 16, 2009

Average rents: down

Here's some good news if you're a renter -- and bad news if you're a landlord: Average rents in the Baltimore metro area were 3.6 percent less this summer than they were a year earlier.

That's according to a new report from real estate research firm Delta Associates, which said the average was just under $1,400, or $1.35 per square foot. (These figures are for so-called "Class A" apartments -- nicer places.)

The declines ranged depending on location:

Effective rents in the southern suburbs dropped 2.4% from third quarter 2008 and the northern suburbs fell 3.7% from last year at this time. Effective rent growth in the Baltimore City submarkets was negative over the year, falling 6.1% in both the Fells Point/Inner Harbor and Downtown submarkets.

Another report -- this one from rental listing site -- focused on property owners and managers. In a survey, more than 70 percent said they're seeing more vacancies. Most blamed job loss as a factor, while half "said that tenants moved out because they were trying to save money on rent, or could no longer afford it at all."

Continue reading "Average rents: down" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

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 6, 2009

Tenant negotiates a smaller rent increase

Shireen Gonzaga was not at all happy when she discovered -- at lease renewal time -- that the rent for her apartment just north of Baltimore was going up $100 a month. In 21 years in the neighborhood, she'd  never seen a rent increase of more than $25.

Renters, take note: She fought back with facts. And won a major concession.

Gonzaga went on and looked up the rates -- regular rates, not move-in specials -- for nice rentals near her. Here's what she pointed out to her apartment manager:

Continue reading "Tenant negotiates a smaller rent increase" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:11 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Renting

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 15, 2009

Rental vacancies here and elsewhere

About one in every eight rental units in the Baltimore metro area was empty this spring -- a vacancy rate that puts us on the higher end of the scale nationwide.

Baltimore's 13 percent rate topped 54 of the 75 largest metro areas, according to the Census Bureau's estimates.

The good news? Vacancies shrunk during the spring, dropping 21 percent vs. the winter. That's one of the larger improvements among large metro areas.

The Census Bureau says the vacancy rate is highest in Memphis -- a whopping 26 percent of units are empty there -- and lowest in Bakersfield, Calif. (2.5 percent empty).

Of course, we have to take all of this with the grain of salt required when dealing with estimates. Does this match up with your sense of things, if you're a renter or landlord?

These numbers, in case you're wondering, include both apartment complexes and single-family homes. And foreclosures could be in the mix: "If the unit is classified as 'vacant for sale only', it will be included in the 'vacant for sale' category," the Census Bureau notes. "If the unit is for rent or 'for sale OR rent,' it will be included in the 'vacant for rent' category."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:29 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 30, 2009

FBI: Tell us about rental scams

A few months back, I warned you to be on the lookout for rental scams. Now the FBI, concerned about the problem, is asking people to report potential or definite rental scamming to its Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Here's what the FBI is seeing:

You can’t believe your good fortune—you find a rental home in a nice area through a Craigslist classified ad at an unbelievably low rate. The landlord—who had to leave the country and travel to Nigeria—asks that you wire him two months’ worth of rent. You arrive at the home on the agreed-upon date, but there’s just one small problem—the house is not actually for rent and its owners know nothing about your agreement.

Or the home is for rent, except not by the "landlord" who has your money.

Scammers are going after landlords, too. Wonk reader Lisa says she's had lots of scam replies to her rental ads: "Most typically, the scammers are in a huge rush to move, want to send a deposit immediately and so request your bank info."

The FBI offers these suggestions to avoid falling victim:

Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;

Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;

Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;

Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;

Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

You know the drill: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

July 29, 2009

Lenders into landlords?

As the feds press lenders to avert foreclosures by modifying more mortgages, an economist at a Washington think tank has been advocating a different solution: Let the borrowers stay in their homes -- as renters.

Economist Dean Baker with the Center for Economic and Policy Research says such a move will help keep vacant homes from piling up on the housing market and dragging down neighborhoods. His "right to rent" proposal suggests that homeowners-turned-tenants be guaranteed the option to stay in their homes for a "substantial" time, such as five to 10 years, as long as they pay market rent.

Many borrowers would have an easier time paying rent than a mortgage, Baker says, because rents are significantly lower than the ownership costs of the typical home purchased in many markets in 2006 and 2007. In the Baltimore metro area, he says, the monthly fair-market rent is $1,037 for a two-bedroom unit while the monthly ownership cost for a starter home is $1,666.

(The fair-market rent figure comes from HUD. Baker is calculating ownership costs by assuming that a home equivalent to a two-bedroom rental will be valued at 75 percent of the median home, and he's including property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs along with principal and interest. He assumes a 6 percent interest rate.)

The $629-a-month savings he calculates for struggling Baltimore-area homeowners becoming renters is more than some markets, like Cleveland ($126) and Philadelphia ($274). But it's less than pricey places like New York and Washington (both more than $1,000).

But what about the tax benefits of homeownership? He says owner-to-renter savings would dip to $475 a month in the Baltimore metro area if you take that into account, assuming a 25 percent income tax bracket.

Baker, who co-authored the July report with Hye Jin Rho, writes:

During ordinary years, homeowners would not gain much from having a right to rent, since the gap between ownership costs and rental costs is usually not very large. However, because of the run-up in house prices during the housing bubble years, ownership costs vastly exceeded rental costs in many bubble markets. ... Right to Rent offers the advantage that it could immediately benefit all homeowners facing foreclosure without any bureaucracy and would require no taxpayer dollars.

What do you think of this proposal? Does it make financial sense for a lender to turn landlord rather than home seller -- and would homeowners be willing to become renters to avoid a forced move?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Renting, The foreclosure mess

July 4, 2009

Tougher times for renters, landlords

We all hear that layoffs and salary reductions are bad for homeowners and will probably keep foreclosure numbers from dropping anytime soon. But the cuts aren't good for renters, either. And what's not good for renters -- in this case -- is bad news for landlords.

Half of U.S. property managers are having more trouble filling their units with "qualified renters," according to a new TransUnion survey. Eight out of 10 say they're worried about how the rest of the year will go. (TransUnion, a credit-information company that sells renter-screening services, said it surveyed more than 870 property managers last month.)

But what about the people who got foreclosed on? Aren't they in need of a place to rent? As it happens, only half the surveyed property managers reported an increase over last year in applicants leaving foreclosed properties. TransUnion speculates that "many consumers coming from these circumstances are moving in with family members or friends to share expenses."

Local landlords, how are things going for you? (Come on, now. I know some of you are reading. Well -- maybe not on the Fourth of July, but I'll wait.)

Renters, have you needed to make a change -- moving to a cheaper apartment, bringing in a roommate, going back to live with parents -- to deal with tighter finances? (Or are things going so well that you're moving to a nicer place?)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Landlording, Renting, Survey says ...

May 21, 2009

Renters, landlords: scams to watch out for

So you're a renter and you've found an ad for a place with a price that's fabulously low. Or you're trying to rent out your home and just got an email from a prospective tenant willing to send you a deposit sight unseen.

Uh oh.

A word to the wise: Scammers have infiltrated the rental market. It's a slightly more sophisticated effort than the "help me get my money out of a bank account and I'll pay you millions" emails from Nigeria. has examples of questionable emails from supposed renters and landlords. The typical scammer-renter sends a cashier's check that's too high, says "whoops" and asks you to refund the difference -- and after you do, you find out that the original check was a fake. The typical scammer-landlord asks you to send a deposit and promises to send you the keys -- but never does.

Here's what the site says to watch out for in emails.

The major red flags of any scam are:
* Outside of the US
* Misspellings
* Wanting Payments – Cashiers Check, FEDEX, etc
* Unable to personally show you the property
* Is traveling on business and will just send you the keys

Has anyone run into a scam like this?

A colleague once showed me emails from someone claiming to want to buy his house, and it had all the hallmarks. "Send me your bank account information to faciliate the transaction," etc. So home sellers: Keep these warnings in mind, too.

Update: Wonk reader Matt Gonter says he sees ads for suspiciously cheap Baltimore apartments -- like a newly renovated two-bedroom, two-bath, heated two-car-garage condo for $600 a month -- all the time on Craigslist.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

April 14, 2009

Bill aimed at renters fails to pass

You may recall if you read this fair housing Q&A that the General Assembly was considering a bill to help tenants whose landlords get foreclosed on. HB 733 proposed that any lease would continue in force for three months after the foreclosure, unless it expired earlier. But that bill is dead, as The Daily Record reports.

The foreclosure bill that did pass was HB 640, which "allows local governments to pass ordinances requiring lenders to report foreclosure filings to local governments within five days of filing them, instead of two weeks before evicting tenants," the Daily Record says.

There's a delicate balance between protecting the rights of tenants in a foreclosure situation -- if they were paying their rent, they're innocent victims -- and the rights of lenders, who have repeatedly said they don't want to be landlords.

What do you think is the right balance?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:05 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Renting, The foreclosure mess

March 15, 2009

One solution for money problems: roommates

Two decades ago, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore began matching up homeowners in need of roommates and people in need of an affordable place to stay. Now -- with rising mortgage defaults and recessionary job troubles -- it looks like that "homesharing" program's time has really come.

Scott Calvert reports today that St. Ambrose made one more match since July than it did in all of 2007. People are advertising for their own matches, too.

He tells the story of Laura Rogers, who is sharing her home in Southwest Baltimore because the $400-a-month rent makes a big difference financially. As in not losing her home and car.
"Thank God I was getting the money from my roommate," said Rogers, 45, a temporary worker on contract with the state. "I would have never thought about trying to live with anybody, except for this economy."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:31 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Landlording, Renting

March 14, 2009

Looking for an apartment in Baltimore?

Live Baltimore Home Center, which organizes tours of city homes for would-be buyers, has a similar event for renters next month.

The City Living Rental Tour runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 4, starting with an informational program at the Baltimore Convention Center and ending with bus tours of apartment complexes. About 20 complexes are part of the event so far. Some of the apartment owners are offering a month's free rent to participants.

If you're more interested in city buying than renting, other upcoming Live Baltimore events are geared toward the buying crowd.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Renting
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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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