Hot spots are old, elegant Sales: Four of the finest neighborhoods in the Baltimore area are drawing a swarm of buyers these days, say real estate agents

Midyear Report: Existing Home Sales

July 26, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

There are a lot of legendary sales stories making the rounds in Baltimore real estate offices this summer. Names and addresses are scarce for the stories -- but they are backed up by some sizzling sales trends in the area's oldest, most elegant neighborhoods.

There's the story about the couple who have bid on houses five times. They've lost out every time -- but they're not giving up on finding a place to live in Roland Park or Homeland.

There's the one about the Homeland house that sold in three hours -- for more than the asking price.

And then there's the story about an open house where 60 people showed up and two contracts were offered for the property within 24 hours of the first showing.

Properties in Guilford, Homeland, Roland Park and Ruxton are so hot, say local real estate agents, that it has become common for buyers to offer contracts promising to pay $5,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000 over any other offer -- protecting themselves against a later, better offer by someone even more eager. "In this market, when a nice property comes on, there's going to be a line of people waiting to get in," said Jake Boone, a real estate agent with Hill & Co. "You have to be prepared to move fast. You've really got to beef up that offer."

"It's hot everywhere," agreed Brandon Gaines of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA's newly acquired W.H.C. Wilson & Co. in Roland Park.

The four hottest neighborhoods have much in common. Guilford, Homeland, Roland Park and Ruxton are undeniably well-established and well-to-do. Most of the houses are priced between $250,000 and $1 million -- hardly a "must buy now" price range.

But a strong stock market, a muscular national economy, confident consumers and a desire to trade a commute for a neighborhood have combined to energize buyers and create a brisk, competitive market in four of the Baltimore area's best neighborhoods. "Open house" showings of properties in those areas have become crowded, vibrant events. The momentum has spilled over to contracts, which are sometimes being offered by eager buyers within hours of a property's first showing.

"You're seeing a significant number [of properties] with either zero days on the market or less than five days, which often means the same thing," said Arthur "Otts" Davis, president of Chase Fitzgerald & Co. Inc., a Roland Park-based realty company. Very often, he said, a property may be listed on a Thursday, shown on Sunday and sold on Monday -- which is officially recorded as a five-day sale period but is in reality only a 24-hour one.

Start of trend

Most real estate agents say the four neighborhoods began to heat up about a year ago, and the market has strengthened steadily since the beginning of the year.

Buyers still looking weren't talking about the search. But one new resident of Homeland was happy to share his story. Not only did he catch the wave early, buying a house in January -- but the house has shown a dramatic rise in value since he bought it.

"I didn't consider it a steal when we bought it," said Ted Jenkin, who with his wife, Gena, paid $265,000 for a four-bedroom home on St. Albans Way that was listed for $279,900. "But then [our Realtor] called us back about a month later and said, 'You would not believe what is going on inside of Homeland and Roland Park. You have probably have made $15,000 to $20,000 on your property.

"I said, 'No, you've got to be kidding me.'

"He said, 'You cannot find a house now in Homeland or Roland Park. You could probably resell that thing right now.' " Jenkin, a vice president who was transferred from Bethesda by American Express Financial Advisors to open a Towson office, first looked in Baltimore County -- Ruxton and Lutherville -- but the charm and the value of the older homes in the city caught his attention.

"That whole Homeland, Roland Park, Guilford area is just going like wildfire. I've seen it all along St. Albans Way and in that area and around the lakes it just seems like every time a home is listed it's just gone. I think afterward the guy was kicking himself a little bit for not holding out a little longer," Jenkin said.

"It's a cycle -- the city is hot, and then it's not," Boone said. "It's hard to gauge when the opportunity is going to be there, but it's certainly there now. Buyers have had to get creative in this market."

And they have, Boone said, pointing to the newly popular contract-with-an-addendum.

"If there's concern on a buyer's part that there's a lot of competition, they will add an addendum which said they will offer 'X' number of dollars over any other higher offer up to a certain cap," Boone said. In the last year, he said, he has seen that addendum turn $450,000 houses into $500,000 ones.

"There would be no need for it if there weren't such a strong market," he said.

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