Renters By Choice

Amenities, Flexibility To Move Keep Some Out Of The Housing Market Even Though They Have The Means To Own A Home

September 13, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,

Stacey Katz could buy a house. In fact, she does own one and co-owns another out of state as investment properties. But the Baltimore resident has opted to rent the home where she lives.

Katz, a 44-year-old education consultant who is single, chose to rent a high-rise apartment near the Inner Harbor three years ago instead of buying because it afforded her amenities, lifestyle and location that would otherwise have been out of reach. She doesn't regret her decision not to buy.

"Thank God I didn't during all the craziness of the past few years," said Katz, who lives on the 11th floor at Spinnaker Bay at Harbor East. "I have a million-dollar view for the price of an apartment. I can walk to work. I walk everywhere. I get a gym and don't have to pay. If I sign a year's lease, it includes parking, and I don't have to pay. And you have all the restaurants and places to go downtown."

In a time of declining house values, rising foreclosures and uncertainty about jobs, many who may have jumped into the housing market in a better economy are content to rent instead. Some view renting as more of a longer-term option instead of merely a steppingstone to home ownership. Others simply want the flexibility of being able to move without having to sell a house in a tough market.

In a survey by apartment listing Web site Apart, half the nearly 2,000 respondents said they rent because it is a more affordable living option than home ownership, with its taxes, repairs and interest that gobbles up the lion's share of a monthly payment in the early years of a mortgage. More than a third of those who responded to the September 2008 survey said they have been renting for a decade or more. And the listing service is seeing an uptick in interest from families, with the number of online searches for units with three bedrooms or more up by about 7 percent this spring.

"A lot of people are choosing to rent over home ownership because it affords them a more affordable living option while allowing them to live the kind of lifestyle they want," said Tammy Kotula, a spokeswoman for "Renting allows people to live in top neighborhoods where they may not be able to afford to purchase a home."

That doesn't mean that demand for apartments is on the rise everywhere, especially as job growth has slowed or decreased in many areas, and new projects have continued to open.

The demand for rental housing had moderated as of midyear in the Baltimore area as job growth decreased and apartment supply increased, according to Delta Associates, an Alexandria, Va.-based commercial real estate consulting firm. Vacancy rates for Class A apartments - newer or updated units with extra amenities - were flat, at 5.4 percent, and average rents remained essentially the same as midyear 2008, at $1,353, Delta's most recent apartment market report shows.

Delta's report does not break out rents by type of unit. But according to data tracked this year in the Baltimore metro area by, rent on a one-bedroom apartment averages just over $1,000, while rent on a two-bedroom unit averages $1,285.

In the current job and housing market, renting has become the most logical choice for Jordan Hamilton, a 27-year-old title underwriter who works in Columbia.

Hamilton looked at houses when he first moved from Tennessee to Maryland in October for a new job. But uncertainty over where his career might take him has kept him out of the market.

"Some of the houses were somewhat affordable, but I just don't know where I'm going to be as far as my job, and I'm new to my industry," Hamilton said.

Initially he thought, "I don't want to continue to throw money away on rent," he said. "But then I had to weigh my options, and thought maybe I'm not throwing money away on rent. There were more pros to continue to rent for right now. I may not eventually be building any equity, and I'm worried about how much money I would lose if I need to sell it for a job move."

If a move were required, "I don't want to put up with having to sell a home," he said.

This spring he moved to an apartment at Mariner Bay just outside Annapolis, a 208-unit building that opened in April at the new Annapolis Towne Centre. The 2 million square-foot mixed-use development is designed around an urban-style main street with the Mariner Bay apartments, as well as a separate condo tower, some offices, restaurants and shops.

Residents of the Mariner Bay building have access to a 12th-floor club level, with a wine-tasting room, yoga room, fitness center and pool and landscaped terraces.

There, Hamilton said, "You're in the thick of everything."

A neighbor of his at Mariner Bay, Nycole Shealy, a 32-year-old physical therapist, said she had been about to buy a house in California but decided to move to Maryland, where she now works at a Baltimore hospital. With the relocation, she put off plans for buying and moved into the apartment complex in May.

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