Condos are a spacious new nest for empty-nesters

Construction: Harford County developers offering roomy dwellings free of maintenance hassles.

October 27, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Joe and Veronica Behan decided to scale down from their Harford County Colonial, they choose a penthouse condominium in the Shores at Water's Edge development along U.S. 40 in Belcamp.

"It's absolutely beautiful, and you don't have to do yard work," said Veronica Behan. "We're older, and it's just the place to go and not have any upkeep. And when we tell people how big it is, just under 2,500 square feet, they can't believe it. We are just water nuts, and I can't believe we found something like this here."

Their condominium includes three bedrooms, living room, foyer, family room, kitchen and a wrap-around balcony overlooking the Bush River.

When the 200-acre community with 2.5 miles of waterfront is complete, the villa and garden homes will be complemented with 400,000 square feet of commercial space including offices, restaurants and retailers. Other amenities will include walking trails, a putting green and clubhouse.

"Everyone told us we were crazy to build this," said Clark Turner, whose Clark Turner Companies developed the property. "I saw it as a beautiful site with the water. And to maximize the amount of people who could enjoy that view, we stacked up four stories tall and kind of built ranchers in the sky."

Thanks to low interest rates, the individual home and townhouse markets seem to be dominating the Harford County landscape these days because buyers can get more for their money. The condominium market also is attracting a fair share of buyers seeking time for themselves instead of time spent mowing the lawn.

Turner said the development was an instant success, hitting the nail on the head for empty-nest buyers who were looking for homes with little upkeep but nice square footage, architectural detail and great views. The garden homes or condominiums are now selling in the high $200,000 range and villas or townhouses are selling in the mid-$400,000 range.

Although Turner has targeted the empty-nest buyer for many years in the Harford County area, this was the company's first venture into the condominium market. That will be repeated in two projects currently in the planning stages for the Bel Air area.

"In the past, condominiums were always like apartments and were geared towards the very affordable range," Turner said. "The new condominium market is elevator-units geared towards empty-nesters that don't want the maintenance but want something nice. This has changed the whole design and features that go into condominiums and is fueled by the huge demographic market boom of people reaching 50 years old."

But first-time buyers and professionals also are attracted to the easy lifestyle a condominium offers. And many times the starting price on a condominium is perfect for people looking to make their first leap into homeownership.

Harford also traditionally offers more bang for the buck when it comes to housing, and condominiums are no exception.

The Meyers Group, which tracks new home sales, said the average price of attached townhouses and condominiums in Harford County was $133,571 last year. This is a drop from the year before, when the average price was $151,433, but an increase over 1999 when the average price of an attached home in Harford County was $121,093.

The average price of an attached townhouse or condominium in the overall metropolitan Baltimore region was $157,267 last year, $144,872 in 2000 and $131,684 in 1999, according to the Meyers Group.

"The bulk of the market in Harford County is the mid-line consumer," said Anna Pitheon, principal of the marketing research company Pitheon Marketing Products. "That is where we are seeing a lot of condominium development that sits well with young consumers as well as empty-nesters. With limited land availability and constrained lot situations in other markets, it really leaves new home builders with nowhere else to go other than markets like Harford County."

Gemcraft Homes just closed out its first Harford County condominium community, Waterford Commons. The company, based in Forest Hill, traditionally has focused on the townhouse and single-family home markets in Harford County. But this project was a success for the company, says Dale Hevesy, vice president for Gemcraft Homes.

"In Waterford Commons, we designed condominium-townhouses that were 34 feet wide, with garage, first-floor master suite and a condominium association," said Hevesy. "It's definitely what people want. That project targeted the empty-nester market but also gave them the space. Many times they go from a single-family home to a basic two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot condominium. This community let us give them the same square footage they had but with a lot less upkeep."

The homes sold in the upper $200,000 range.

Hevesy said the county is attractive to buyers looking for open space in a convenient location.

"Harford County has just always had a great reputation for schools and for being the kind of area where people grow up and stay," said Hevesy. "There is so much to do here, and it's still a pretty open area, without traffic lights everywhere."

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