Homebuyers find variety of styles, lower prices in Harford

Bargain: Affordable housing, good schools and attractive amenities draw new residents.

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

David and Jaclyn Paris decided Harford County would be where they would hang their hats after first searching for a house in the Perry Hall and White Marsh sections of Baltimore County. What they found was more house for their money, good schools and a great landscape.

"We feel like we are in the country here, yet we are so close to the stores, the malls and the center of town," said Jaclyn Paris. "Harford County is just beautiful. The more we explored it, the more we loved it."

The couple bought a house in the new Ryland Homes community of Stone Ridge. The development, with homes starting at about $300,000, is nestled in the hills of Bel Air overlooking a preserved farm and the Maryland Golf and Country Club.

The couple said the community was just what they were looking for.

"I refer to it as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," said Jaclyn Paris, referring to the children's television show. "You walk down the street and everyone has kids. We have six moms that walk together every morning."

More than 50 homes in the community sold before a model was opened.

"By sales volume, Harford County is our most successful county," said Earl Robinson, vice president of sales and marketing for Ryland Homes. "Our sales success in Harford County continues to be excellent, and we expect it to remain that way as access to Baltimore improves. What used to be considered a long drive is now very commutable."

Robinson said the attraction is easy to see.

"Harford County is the best of the old and the new. It gives you both urban shopping and a rural feel," he said.

Robinson said a Ryland house in Howard County is likely to cost between $70,000 and $100,000 more than the same house in Harford.

Harford County was the most affordable county for new single-family homes last year, with an average home price of $215,878, according to the Meyers Group, which tracks the sales of new homes. In Howard County, new home prices averaged $392,130; in Anne Arundel County, the average was $379,720; in Baltimore County, the average was $282,177; and in Carroll County, the average was $219,272.

Harford County remains a bargain for existing housing as well. Last year, the average selling price for a home in Harford County was $158,200, according to the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., which tracks the sales of existing homes. In Howard County, the average selling price was $234,372; in Anne Arundel County, $211,428; and in Carroll County, $193,985. Only Baltimore County was less expensive, with an average selling price of $156,348.

"In a nutshell, relative to other markets in the Baltimore region, Harford County has more affordable home products available -- both new and resale," said Anna Pitheon of the marketing research company Pitheon Marketing Products. "The market there is going very, very well. There's been some job growth in the last two years, so I really see that market growing. As long as the lot situation remains constrained in the adjoining markets, I see this market's capture rate expanding."

Under the county's Master Plan for Growth, the main policy document for land use, a development envelope is targeted for the Interstate 95 and U.S. 40 area extending east and west, and Routes 24 and 924 extending north and south. This corridor can accommodate industrial, commercial and residential growth well into the future. Large areas in the northern end of the county are reserved for agricultural use.

The Master Plan is reviewed every six years, with the next review scheduled to start in January.

"There continues to be lots of development opportunities in the county," said Joseph Kocy, planning director for Harford County. "Development occurs for a reason. Many jobs are moving here to Harford County."

Businesses typically relocate for three reasons, said Kocy. These include a good transportation network, a high education level of current employees and good educational facilities to train the future work force.

"Harford County has all three," he said.

Another reason for Harford County's success is the variety of the housing, says Diana Hirschhorn, a real estate agent with Long & Foster in Bel Air.

"There is something for everyone here. It truly runs the gamut from very modest single-family homes to townhouses, condominiums and very luxurious custom homes," said Hirschhorn. "Many people are just looking to be within a certain commuting distance of their jobs. A lot of times Harford County offers people a little more for their money. And it's a great place to live."

Dave Stromberg, past president of the Harford County Association of Realtors, agrees.

"People seem to like what Harford County has to offer. We are still, dollar for dollar, the best house value in metropolitan Baltimore, except for the city," said Stromberg. "Your dollar goes farther here, plus we have the amenities people like."

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