Don't ask -- you can't afford it

2b

December 29, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Baltimore is a condo town after all. How else could The Ritz command condo fees approaching $7,000 a month?

Yes, a month. That is not a misprint. Nor is it the mortgage. Also called "common charges," the fees cover those little extras - lush landscaping, a fancy fitness center, white-gloved doormen - that will make living at The Ritz feel like, well, living at The Ritz.

No one is actually shelling out yet, since the 192-unit development is under construction at the harbor. And the fees - about 58 cents per square foot - will be cheaper for most units. The average size is about 3,000 square feet, which works out to just $1,740 a month. Peanuts!

Listing broker Michael Yerman said several prospective buyers, working with architects and designers, are thinking seriously about combining two, three, even four units. That would create homes as large as 12,000 square feet - about 1/10th the size of a Wal-Mart, to use an analogy that's surely lost on anybody home-shopping at The Ritz. Monthly fees on a condo that big: $6,960 a month.

That, of course, comes on top of the sales price. For the bigger units, developer Jack Cayre said, prices will be "easily in eight figures" - $10 million or above.

Backwards, it spells "Arpoc"

So who's window-shopping at The Ritz? Nobody's naming names - or confirming the rumor that one of them rhymes with "copra." (Hey, it's a real word. I found it on rhymezone.com, which says it's the "dried meat of the coconut from which oil is extracted." It also sounds a whole lot like a certain talk show queen with Baltimore roots and the bucks to blow condo fees, should she be so inclined.)

And what, exactly, will Ritz residents get for those hefty fees? A spa, a fitness center with a pool, 24-hour concierge service, a private "luxury" (read: no sticky spilled-Coke patina on the floor) movie theater, and a French parterre garden, whatever that is.

"There's never been a building like it, in Baltimore anyway, where a concierge will order theater tickets," broker Michael Yerman said. "Call for the car, and the car will take you to the airport. Nobody has that."

The fees will cover heat and air conditioning, but owners will have to foot their own light bills. Room service and housekeeping are extra, too. "If you call room service and order a case of Cristal," said developer Jack Cayre, "they're going to charge you for it."

Bargain rates just next door

How do those Ritz fees compare to another luxury condo project planned just around the corner on Key Highway, on the same, once-gritty Baltimore shore?

Pinnacle at HarborView intends to charge 37 cents to 39 cents per square foot for monthly fees, said Michael Hettleman, HarborView's director of sales and marketing. For that, residents will get a doorman, concierge service, valet parking, a salon - not to mention a private movie house that must be even swankier than The Ritz's since in an e-mail, Hettleman spelled it "theatre."

Since the Ritz is a low-rise project and the Pinnacle plans a 17-story tower, Hettleman said the views from the latter "will be far superior."

Asking price for the Pinnacle's 7,560 square foot penthouse: $5.9 million. Condo fees: a low, low $2,797.20 a month.

Fees at either building would look like a bargain to Manhattanites, said Jared Weiner, director of brokerage services for Triumph Property Group in New York.

Common charges at a fancy new building in Manhattan's Gramercy Park area, for instance, where somebody just paid $1.3 million for a one-bedroom about the size of four parking spaces (805 square feet), range from 73 cents to $1.15 a month, Weiner said.

A 58-cent fee might seem pricey in Baltimore, but in New York, it'd be a blue light special. Said Weiner: "Certainly here, I think you'd struggle to find that."

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