Live Baltimore to open storefront to encourage buying homes in city

Nonprofit's downtown site to be staffed by Realtors, banks, neighborhood buffs

January 11, 2004|By James Gallo | James Gallo,SUN STAFF

Live Baltimore Home Center is building a storefront for homebuyers as the nonprofit group keeps working to increase interest in city living.

The group expects to open its renovated complex at 343 N. Charles St. on Jan. 19. The center will be staffed by real estate agents, lenders and others who can help buyers learn more about city neighborhoods.

"The center aims ... to offer customers the immediate opportunity to begin the process of purchasing or renting a home in the city," says Tracy Gosson, Live Baltimore's executive director.

Live Baltimore began in 1997 as a Web site that offered information about Baltimore's history and neighborhoods. The group also holds home-shopping fairs, and it has created advertising campaigns and developed kits about moving to Baltimore.

It promotes city living and Baltimore real estate to Washington commuters, suburbanites and others in the market for area houses. About 20,000 people a month use the Web site, Gosson said, up from about 13,000 a year ago.

The organization plans a television campaign and an essay contest after the new center opens. It finds itself competing for homebuyers who have plenty of choices in the Baltimore area. And concerns about crime and public education have discouraged some people from looking at houses in the city.

Last year, Hampden resident Tom White used Live Baltimore online to find the right neighborhood for him and a real estate agent. Live Baltimore helped convince him that living in Baltimore would not add much time to his daily commute to Washington, he said. And he liked the group's overview of area neighborhoods.

"If I take the train down, it takes me one hour," White says. "If I lived around D.C., I would also have to sit in traffic for an hour, and essentially the cost of my train ticket is the same as when I would pay for a parking spot down there."

Area real estate agents said the storefront will link more buyers to city properties.

"I think the center will really be good for both consumers and Realtors alike," said June Piper-Brandon of Champion Realty in Severna Park.

"There are nice neighborhoods in the city that you just can't find in the suburbs, plus you get more house for your money in the city."

The storefront renovation work will cost about $300,000 and will be paid for with city, state and private funds. Developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse and Design Collective architects are among the businesses that have donated services for much of the construction.

Gosson said Baltimore modeled its new home center design on similar efforts in Cleveland and Boston.

Cleveland opened its Living in Cleveland Center last year. Darlene Norwood-English, administrative marketing assistant in Cleveland, says the goal of her organization, much like that of its Baltimore counterpart, is to educate homebuyers and offer neighborhood information. Cleveland's storefront does not offer personal service.

"It's more of a self-help thing where people can come in and pick up pamphlets and information on homes and mortgages," she said.

City Living Help

Live Baltimore Home Center's new storefront is at 343 N. Charles St.

Opens: Jan. 19

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Phone number: 410-637-3750

Web site: www.LiveBaltimore.com

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