Sun Q&A

Jamie Smith Hopkins on real estate's rising tide

March 24, 2005|By Jamie Smith Hopkins

Reporter answers selected readers' questions on the region's housing boom

Nick G. Marulli, Baltimore: I just purchased a remodeled rowhouse in Upper Fells Point. I understand that the area is becoming very popular. However, I have noticed a lot of empty remodeled properties around there. Why are there so many empty remodeled rowhouses in the Fells Point/Butchers Hill area, and do you think home prices in that area will continue to climb?

Hopkins: Sometimes homes that appear to be fully remodeled aren't quite finished yet -- some rehabbing jobs take more than a year to complete as contractors wait for inspections or juggle multiple projects. Realtors, who have access to the multiple listing system, could tell you if these rowhouses are truly languishing on the market.

Bill Cassidy, sales manager for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Fells Point, suspects that sellers are waiting until April to list their homes because spring is traditionally a busy time, so you might see some activity soon.

To answer your other question, no one knows for certain if prices will continue to rise in a given neighborhood, especially one that has seen large increases in recent years. Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.'s statistics show average sales prices increasing about 145 percent in the Fells Point ZIP code between 1999 and last year.

Mike, Baltimore: Do you think that from 2005 up until the 2010 census, that the city of Baltimore will have any rise in population from the approximate 643,000 residents that live there today?

Hopkins: It's possible, because Baltimore's population loss is leveling off. (To put that in perspective, in the 1990s, the city lost nearly 85,000 people.) The Maryland Department of Planning's most recent projections suggest that population in the city will rise by 4,600 in the next five years and continue increasing at least through 2030.

Jami, Silver Spring: From one Jami(e) to another, thanks for such an informative three-part article on Baltimore's housing market. Your article is right on time because I am seriously considering moving from Montgomery County to the Baltimore area to buy my first home. My concern is the school system.

Where are the best neighborhoods for schools? Please include city and ZIP code. In the Washington Post Express paper, there is an organization that solicits seminars about buying homes in Baltimore. What is the name of that organization?

Hopkins: That organization is probably Live Baltimore, a nonprofit that markets Baltimore living and has been advertising in the Washington area. Its Web site is

As for schools, it's a deeply personal decision -- and so it's always a good idea to do a bit of research. You can look at test scores by school at, though test scores don't tell the whole story.

You can also call schools that interest you to ask for more information or to schedule a visit. While you're online, feel free to search The Sun's property sales database at to get a general idea of which areas you can afford.

Mike, Bel Air: I am going to be selling my first home. It is a townhouse in Bel Air. I have never done this before, and I am concerned I will be taken advantage of by the agent selling my home. What is the best way to educate myself and not let this happen?

Hopkins: Interview several real estate agents to see how each would market your home and how much they think it could bring. You can also hire an appraiser to put a dollar figure on your home.

For comparison's sake, the average home sold in the Bel Air ZIP codes of 21015 and 21014 last year cost $274,000 and $256,200, respectively -- though of course that's the combination of all types of homes. You can look up recent sales in your area on the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation's real property data search online, at

Reggie, Baltimore: As the number of Washington residents have become interested in areas close to the light rail, so have the costs of housing risen in the area of Reservoir Hill. At present, what is the average cost of housing in that area as well as the housing in the nearby Auchentoroly Terrace neighborhood?

Hopkins: The statistics we analyzed from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. are compiled by ZIP code, and of course there can be a wide range of prices within a Baltimore ZIP. In 21217, which includes both neighborhoods, the average price last year was $115,600. The nonprofit Live Baltimore, which tracks prices for many neighborhoods, shows an average price of $135,400 for Reservoir Hill during the first half of last year -- up 116 percent from 1999.

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