Home by the slopes Attraction: Buyer's and seller's markets for vacation ski and lakefront homes are just a few hours' drive from Baltimore in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania.

February 09, 1997|By Anna Jones | Anna Jones,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bob White wants you to buy his vacation home.

It's near a lake and a ski resort. But alas, his family doesn't need it anymore - hasn't since he first put it on the market six years ago. But the Poconos are flooded with 4,000 other vacation homes competing for the buyer's attention. And so, he waits.

"I'd like to get rid of it, but I'm not willing to take a huge loss," said White, whose six-bedroom house is listed at $129,000.

Supply and demand for second homes in the Poconos, although more extreme, is no different than other major ski resort areas within 200 miles of Baltimore. So, if you ever dreamed about owning that little chalet with the sparkling fireplace overlooking the slopes, now just might be the time.

"A house a year or two ago that would have sold at $145,000 might only be worth $125,000 because there are so many houses on the market that are being sold at a lower price," said Patt Potter, an agent with Century 21 Ruggiero of Blakeslee, Pa. "If enough people sell at a lower price just to get out, it affects the whole market."

Potter and other Realtors say the '80s were a wonderful time to be in real estate. Many people were building and buying. Then the '90s came along and the term "downsizing" entered people's vocabularies, making them afraid to extend themselves. But now, they say - they pray - the market is coming back.

"We're back to less [business] than what we were before, but it's not dramatic like it was in those five years [1990-1995]," said Dottie Taber, a Realtor with Pocono Mountain Real Estate.

Though there may be an avalanche of homes in the Big Boulder area, the same can't be said for three other areas: Wisp Four Seasons Resort in Garrett County; Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Pa.; and Ski Liberty ski area in Carroll Valley, Pa.

Vacation homes near Wisp seem to be holding steady in value. In the last 10 years, sales have picked up as more second-home buyers travel from the Baltimore-Washington area. In fact, the area has become so upscale that, in November, it listed its first million-dollar home.

Figures from the Garrett County Board of Realtors show there were 61 lakefront properties sold in 1996, 10 more than in 1995.

According to Realtors, prime lakefront lots have jumped from $80,000 to $235,000 in a decade, and lakefront homes from $250,000 to as high as $775,000 last summer.

"It's still a seller's market because properties are holding their value," according to Larry Nesline, a Realtor with A&A Realty/Better Homes & Gardens. "It's not a depressed market."

The housing market at The Villages at Seven Springs on the grounds of the Seven Springs Mountain Resort appears to be the healthiest of all the ski resort areas within 200 miles of Baltimore. Supply is meeting demand.

Ken Plummer of Chambersburg, Pa., calls Seven Springs the best ski resort, by far, in the mid-Atlantic states.

Plummer owns two properties at The Villages. In 1988 he bought a furnished condo for $128,000 and immediately put it in the rental pool. But it was being rented so often they couldn't use it themselves and decided to buy a townhouse a year later for their own use. He said the condo is like having a savings account, because the worst he does every year is break even.

"I've researched all over the country and most of them don't break even," Plummer said. "[For] most of them the numbers don't work; you have to subsidize them."

If you want the slopes right outside your door all year long, the closest ski area is Ski Liberty, 90 minutes from Baltimore near Gettysburg, Pa.

Although still a vacation-home and four-season area, in the last 10 years it has become a primary residence for people who work in Baltimore or Frederick and want to get more house for the

dollar, plus save on taxes.

It's a buyer's market in this area as well.

Charles Dalton, owner of Century 21/Mountain View Realty, said newer homes are moving quicker than older homes. Most buyers are younger, first-time buyers.

"There's a large inventory of homes and there's a choice for people. [The older homes are] very competitive with the newer homes and because of that they can't demand the higher prices," Dalton said.

Charlie Frederick recently bought in the area because of lower real estate prices and taxes, and for its resort-like atmosphere. He and his wife, Kathy, are teachers in Carroll County and don't mind the commute to work.

In the summer they spend their time at their second home, a cottage on Deep Creek Lake near Wisp. They say they have "the best of both worlds."

"The reason it appealed to us here is it's actually very much like Garrett County," Charlie Frederick said. "Our friends, when they come to visit, often say this is like living at Deep Creek Lake, only 2 hours closer."

Frederick said his second home at Wisp has appreciated 30 percent in the last 10 years, but that is secondary to the reason he keeps the property.

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