Realtors Refocusing on City Homes

October 10, 1992

For many families trying to sell their houses, this has been an extremely difficult year. Even though mortgage rates have plummeted to lows not seen since the 1970s, many residential listings seem to languish on the market without even serious nibbles. This has had an adverse psychological impact in Baltimore City, where some residents interpret their inability to sell as a reflection of the city's long-term future.

For these reasons, we welcome the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors' decision to join the Schmoke administration in developing more aggressive marketing strategies for residential property in the city. There has been no great publicity about this major sharpening of focus. Within the next few weeks, there will be.

A housing summit is being planned by the end of the year. A $2.5 million bond question on the Nov. 3 ballot would authorize the city to lend settlement costs to those buying houses between $16,000 and $100,000. There is talk about the private industry taking over the city's Homeownership Institute, which counsels first-time homebuyers and helps them secure mortgages.

Real estate interest in the city is strong. It was evidenced this week when the political action committee of the Board of Realtors for the first time held a breakfast meeting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn and Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership. About 130 Realtors attended.

"I am as determined as you are to sell houses in Baltimore," Mr. Schmoke told those at the meeting. He acknowledged such city problems as a high property-tax rate, poor schools and high crime. Despite these consequences of "Washington's current steadfast blindness" to the needs of cities -- as he called them -- the mayor thinks the city is offering attractive home buys.

Overall, the number of settled residential sales in Baltimore City is up considerably from last year's dismal levels. The situation is "likely to be better after our national economy starts to grow again," Mr. Schmoke told the Realtors.

The story of America and its cities is marked by ups and downs. A consistent lesson is that one person's decision to sell becomes another's opportunity to buy. It would be foolish to interpret the current difficulties of the city's real estate market as signifying a protracted or irreversible trend.

Baltimore City homes have often been inadequately promoted in the past few decades as the flow of the middle-class has been to the suburbs. A decorators' show house, for example, has not been held in the city since 1983. This ought to change. Baltimoreans should follow the example of Washington, where the current show house is an in-town mansion.

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