Low-cost York is attracting Baltimoreans


People will commute 45 miles when average sales price is just $52,857 Neighborhood profile

October 26, 2003|By Faith Hayden | Faith Hayden,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

YORK, Pa. - Rapidly rising home prices in the Baltimore area have prompted officials and other boosters in York, Pa., to champion their city as an affordable spot for homebuyers who are willing to look farther north for housing.

Several young families and professionals in the Baltimore area have bought homes 50 miles away in York, even though commuters are frequently snarled in traffic on Interstate 83, the main route between the two cities. York residents said the traffic gets heavy when they hit the Baltimore area.

The average sales price in York is $52,857, according to real estate sales figures compiled by the Realtors Association of York and Adams counties. Subdivisions have been multiplying in southern York County during the past few years, with prices averaging $157,501 in the past 12 months.

Prices in York and southern York County are 7 percent and 13 percent higher, respectively, than they were a year ago. Rural areas such as Shrewsbury, New Freedom and Glen Rock are among those that have grown.

The average sales price in Baltimore and its five surrounding counties was more than $210,000 last month, a 10 percent increase in the past year.

"You can get a lot of house in a small urban atmosphere," said Betsy Buckingham, homeownership coordinator for the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties. "It's the same sort of flavor as Baltimore but on a smaller scale."

The York area has long had an affiliation with Baltimore, which offers the amenities of a big city.

"I can be in my seat at [Oriole Park at Camden Yards] within 45 minutes," said Phil Briddell, a real estate agent of Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff Co., which is renovating 19th century lofts in York.

Among its businesses is York Barbell Co., which was founded in 1932.

The city's history includes the 1969 racial riots that were brought to the forefront last year with several trials, one of which resulted in the acquittal of a former mayor. He was found innocent of charges that as a police officer he offered encouragement and bullets to white gang members who killed a black preacher's daughter.

With a population just shy of 41,000, according to the 2000 census, York has grown about 12 percent in the past eight years.

Major renovations in the city include the Strand Capital Performing Arts Center, which reopened last month, and Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff's loft project, which began in 2001 in an effort to preserve buildings that date to the late 1870s.

Pam Zerba, who moved from Towson to York in 1999, said house prices were her main motivation. She sold her Towson home for $120,000 and bought a townhouse in York for $70,000.

"[Towson] is just so expensive," Zerba said. "We can do practically the same thing here in York [that we could in Towson] for a third of the money."

She notes that although York doesn't have as much nightlife as Baltimore, there are things to keep residents busy, from the York Little Theatre, the city's community theater, to the Central Market House, an old-time farmers' market. The area also has antique shops, York College of Pennsylvania and historical sites such as the Fire Museum.

Resident Walt Yurek, who moved to York from Baltimore in 1998, paying $64,700 for his home, noted that: "The downtown is going through somewhat of a renaissance right now. There is a lot more to do than there was when we first moved."

York, Pa.

Population: 41,000

Drive time from downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes to an hour Homes on the market: 289

Average list price: $51,178 *

Average sales price: $52,857 *

Percentage of sales price compared with list price: 96.67% *

Based on 371 homes sold during the past 12 months as compiled by the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties

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