Live Baltimore Home Center will roll out the welcome mat again Saturday as the group holds its 10th homebuying fair to help boost Charm City as a great housing buy.
The fair is concentrating on the city's east side, where hundreds of homes will be listed for sale. Bus tours allowing visits of specific homes will be available. Prices for most homes range between $75,000 and $175,000, according to Tracy Gosson, Live Baltimore's executive director.
Grants of up to $3,000 will be offered to the first 50 people who attend the fair and buy homes within 90 days. Information about buying a home, budgeting, choosing a real estate agent and securing a loan also will be available.
The fairs have been successful in the past five years, in part because of a real estate boom that has been fueled by three years of healthy price appreciation and extraordinarily low mortgage rates.
The average sale price of homes in Baltimore broke the $100,000 mark last year, the first time in history, according to Live Baltimore, the 5-year-old nonprofit group that promotes city living.
About 450 people have purchased homes through past buying fairs.
Baltimore has been targeting certain types of buyers, including Washington renters, first-time buyers and homeowners who have traded up or down in housing sizes and values. Live Baltimore has had two fairs a year since 1999. The spring fair focused on the west side of town.
"We have had over 5,000 people attend our buying fairs, and we have given away $1.35 million in grants," Gosson said.
But the group has new challenges ahead: Washington is embarking on its own advertising campaign to lure homebuyers there, and experts predict the real estate market will cool in the next few months given the rise in interest rates.
Baltimore continues to face challenges - concerns about crime and the public education system have kept some shoppers from buying in the city, real estate agents said.
But Gosson is undeterred. More than 450 people have taken advantage of the $3,000 grants in the past and the city's housing stock offers a diverse mix of styles and values, she said.
Her group is expanding its downtown offices at 343 N. Charles St. Also, Live Baltimore plans to keep targeting Washington buyers, pointing out the price differences between the two cities.
The National Association of Realtors reports that the median price for a home in Baltimore was $109,000 last year, compared with $269,900 in Washington.
That's what lured Elizabeth Nicholas to the last home-buying fair in May. Nicholas was renting in Washington before she purchased a $60,000 home in Baltimore's Yale Heights in June.
"I was able to make a house payment for less than the rent I paid," Nicholas said. "Even though I have a 45-60 minute commute to work, by train, I have made a decision to never live in D.C. again."
Live Baltimore started a campaign two years ago to focus on Washington renters. The group reports that more than 3,000 people commute by train from Baltimore to Washington daily.
In June, Washington's Office of Planning and Economic Development began an advertising campaign to entice Washington workers to stay put. District officials said Baltimore's campaign was one reason they decided to start their own campaign.
"In the future, D.C. officials plan to aim their campaign at residents as far away as Baltimore," said Chris Bender, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office.
Michael Kelmar and his wife Shoshana were renting in Baltimore when they discovered last year that they might be able to afford a home, given the interest rates and financial incentives.
The $3,000 home-buying grant caught Michael Kelmar's attention and his family took advantage of the offer, buying a house in Upper Park Heights for $75,000.
"I love the neighborhood because it's family-oriented," he said. "I love homeownership."
The Buying into Baltimore Home-Buying Fair and Neighborhood Tours are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Baltimore City College, 3220 The Alameda at 33rd St.
The tours will focus on Baltimore east of Charles and Russell Streets.
Bus tours will leave every 10-15 minutes and can hold up to 24 people. The tours begin at 10 a.m.; registration begins at 9 a.m. Participants will receive listings of all homes for sale within their tour and each tour will have four homes to walk through. Each tour will last about two hours.
The fair also will be host to 30 exhibitors including lenders, homeownership counselors, neighborhood associations and classes on the home-buying process.
For more information, call 410-637-3750 or log on to www.livebaltimore.com.