Condos rise from doldrums

Housing: Condominium units, often consigned to an auctioneer's gavel only three years ago, are enjoying a remarkable resurgence in Baltimore.

April 25, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When Jim and Ann Bailey moved almost four years ago as part of the Cleveland Browns' relocation to Baltimore, they knew they wanted a home with a water view.

In Cleveland, they owned a duplex condominium overlooking Lake Erie. In Baltimore, they were hoping to get a similar unit, but not knowing the market here, they were unsure if they would be able to find something along the Inner Harbor.

But in the end it was easier than they thought. With the condo market in the doldrums, the general counsel for the Ravens and his wife had their pick of a half-dozen properties and finally purchased in Canton Cove.

Yet if they were coming to the Inner Harbor today, instead of 1996, the condominium market they would find would be humming along rather than being ho-hum.

"There are so many more downtown opportunities here than where we are from," said Ann Bailey. "It's just so much more suburban in Cleveland, and there just weren't that many waterfront condominiums."

Since breaking ground in Baltimore in the 1980s, the condominium concept never gained much strength here. In Baltimore, the rowhouse or townhouse is king. But as lifestyles change and the economy rebounds, the downtown condo market has been resuscitating.

"The market started to turn around three years ago," said Ted Rouse, a developer with Struever Bros, Eccles & Rouse, the Baltimore-based developer.

Since 1996, sales of condominiums in Baltimore have been on the rise, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information System, the multiple list system used by area Realtors.

The MRIS reported:

In 1996, 264 units sold (average price $101,399).

In 1997, 305 units sold (average price $100,982).

In 1998, 346 units sold (average price $122,383).

Rouse, who played a major part in the development of Canton Cove and Tindeco Wharf, a harborside luxury apartment complex, remembers a time when many of Baltimore's condominium complexes were being auctioned to the highest bidder.

The recession of the early 1990s slowed sales in HarborView, and units at The Colonnade, near Johns Hopkins University, and at Scarlett Place, between downtown and Little Italy, went the way of the gavel.

"It put a damper on the condominium market," he said.

But, Rouse adds, the business development in Baltimore created momentum in the condominium market, and he believes the trend will continue.

Some luxury units are commanding nearly $1 million for 3,000 square feet, and others, from the Inner Harbor to Guilford, are selling instantly for prices previously unheard of in Baltimore.

"I get calls several times a week from Realtors looking for units in the $250,000 to $350,000 range," said Cindy Conklin, who sells in Federal Hill and along the Inner Harbor for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA.

Although people are buying condominiums at a more rapid pace this year, the irony is that construction of the complexes has essentially come to a halt in the city.

With the announcement last month that HarborView will scrap its initial plan of adding three more towers to its existing condominium and rental buildings along Key Highway, all plans for new condominium homes have diminished. It's a move Angel Stevens, a condominium specialist for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., said "will continue to help the market rise."

Record year of sales

It's only April, and Stevens has had a record year of sales -- more than $7 million since Jan. 1, all in condominiums. Last year, she sold $6 million. Things have been so hectic that when she had a baby Jan. 22, a Friday, she went back to work the following Monday after spending the weekend in the hospital.

Her sales include Peter Angelos' former penthouse at Harbor Court, which sold for $1 million. She is also the listing agent for the other 27th-floor penthouse duplex in the prestigious Inner Harbor building, listed at $990,000. While there are six penthouses, only two of them are duplexes.

"When something comes on, I'll have three or four contracts in two days," she said about Harbor Court.

Ten years ago, according to Rouse, condominium complexes were going into defaults and heading to the auction block.

Scarlett Place, an impressive stepped-brick building, has had its share of troubles. The complex at 250 S. President St. has been enmeshed in a lawsuit since 1993.

Raymond Daniel Burke, an attorney with Baltimore's Freishtat & Sandler, said the council of unit owners of Scarlett Place Residential Condominium Inc. -- an entity that represents all residents of the 149-unit complex -- have filed complaints about leaky roofs and walls.

Some repairs made

Although there have been some repairs made to water-damaged units, Burke said the resident council is asking for "a comprehensive renovation" of units that were determined to be defective by engineers in 1998. "There are units that people actually had to move out or remove the carpets."

Since the developer of the complex lives in Baltimore County, the case is in Baltimore County's circuit court system. A trial date has not been set.

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