Singles falling in love with life in the 'burbs

While many young, unmarried professionals are moving to the city, others are finding affordable homes and appealing amenities in the counties.

September 11, 2005|By Ryan Basen | Ryan Basen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Paul Taylor works full time downtown, where he goes to happy hours and other social events and plays in organized city sports leagues.

When it comes time to go home, though, Taylor, a 33-year-old single statistician, hops in his car or onto the Metro and heads 20 miles northwest to his two-bedroom condominium in Owings Mills' New Town community.

With house renovations in full force and new condos and apartments sprouting all around downtown Baltimore, thousands of single young professionals have flocked to neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon, Federal Hill and Canton, attracted by proximity to restaurants, pubs, night life, sports stadiums and the stylish aura of urban life. But many others, like Taylor, are eschewing city life for the land of strip malls and TGI Fridays, seeking quiet, cleanliness, familiarity or amenities such as a pool and gym. And, with the real estate market surging, many of them are looking for an affordable investment.

"I would love to live in the city," Taylor said. But "I do like it out there. It's very inexpensive compared to the city."

The movement of young people to the suburbs has accelerated as the suburbs in Howard, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties offer more amenities and night life options.

"More activities have moved out to the suburbs," said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, as well as "more jobs, more night life."

The city lost about 15,000 residents ages 20-34 between 1995 and 2000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, while roughly 27,000 in that age group moved to Baltimore County. Though later figures are not available, experts say the trend has continued and even intensified since 2000.

Single young professionals cite numerous reasons for moving to the suburbs, including amenities, space, quiet, familiarity, proximity to family and friends, and improved suburban night life.

But the No. 1 reason is to jump on the real estate, propelled by low interest rates and skyrocketing property values.

"They read stories about rapid appreciation in home prices and the message they get is: `Wow. If I own a house, it's going to appreciate 5 or 10 percent a year,'" said Mike Inselmann, president of Houston-based Metrostudy, which researches housing and demographic issues. "It seems like a no-brainer" to buy.

That's what drove Todd Brandes and Bryan Porter to become first-time buyers while still in their 20s.

"Why I moved was much more of a business decision than anything else," said Brandes, 26, who bought a townhouse in Owings Mills with his brother. "I wanted to be a homeowner. ... I wanted to capitalize on [the market] right now."

"I wanted to buy as soon as I could," said Porter, 23, who recently closed on a three-bedroom townhouse in Middle River. "Renting, to me, is throwing your money away."

Porter chose Middle River in part because of nearby attractions, such as the night life in White Marsh and Towson, and because he couldn't afford a downtown place.

"I looked in the city," Porter said. "But it was too expensive, and it was hard to get something for a reasonable price in a good area."

Land of garages

Others said they prefer suburban homes because they are generally more affordable and in better shape, and offer a safer environment and more garages.

"I wanted a new house so I didn't have to deal with repairs," said Kristen Fink, 24, who recently closed on a three-bedroom townhouse in Middle River. Noting safety concerns, she added that "being in the city, not having parking near your house and living alone, as opposed to being in the suburbs - that was something for me to consider also."

Single young professionals also move to the suburbs because property taxes are lower and because they are familiar with them, even when it means they are trading proximity to their downtown jobs for a lengthy commute.

"I think there's some nesting going on," said Bob Lefenfeld, principal analyst with Real Property Research Group in Columbia. "People aren't necessarily looking to get away from where they grew up any more. ... If they grew up in Owings Mills, they'd like to stay in Owings Mills - this generation at least."

Kate Brannan, for example, grew up in Columbia and, after graduating from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in May, is looking to buy a condo in Howard County. Many of her friends also plan to move back near home, she said.

"We all grew up here so we like it," said Brannan, who relishes the restaurants, lake and bike paths in Columbia. "The city is not that appealing to me. I don't think there's anything in the city that I don't have in the suburbs."

Todd Young, a systems analyst for T. Rowe Price, moved from Baltimore to New Town two years ago. Going from a four-block commute to one averaging 40 minutes "was definitely an adjustment," he said. "But I can deal with that."

Nichole Wright and Lynette Jackson recently closed on three-bedroom townhouses in Belcamp, far away from their jobs.

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