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Six Reasons Not To Buy A Baltimore House

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One of the things many young professionals face in the Baltimore region is whether to buy a home in the suburbs around Baltimore or in one of the hot young neighborhoods in Baltimore. Federal Hill, Canton, and Fell’s Point are essentially the three hubs of social activity in the city of Baltimore for anyone between the ages of 21-30 (i.e. lots of bars). When I made the decision, I opted for the suburbs of Columbia because of crime, prices, and taxes.

Anyone who says they feel 100% entirely safe walking the streets of Baltimore at night, any street, is either packing a weapon (even then you’re not safe, you just feel safe), a fool, or incredibly lucky. Anyone who owns a car parked in Baltimore that doesn’t have comprehensive insurance is also a fool. Of my friends who live in the city, at least seven have had their cars broken into. One saw a stranger moments after being mugged. Two have told stories of their friends being mugged. Finally, my girlfriend wouldn’t feel safe walking around if I wasn’t around. The City of Baltimore Police Department website has a resource for looking up crime, but it doesn’t appear entirely accurate.

2. Hot Today, Not Tomorrow
Canton, one of the hot areas, sits next to an area called Patterson Park. Canton has nice renovated homes while Patterson Park has falled into a big of disarray. The actual park of Patterson Park is nice during the day but as one friend put it, he wouldn’t “be caught dead in that park after dark.” Twenty years ago Patterson Park was the swank, posh neighborhood and Canton was the dump by the docks. You don’t get rich buying high and selling low… every nice neighborhood in Baltimore City is high right now.

3. Baltimore City Property Taxes are 2.308%
The second highest property tax rate in Maryland is 1.11% in Baltimore County (Columbia is 1.044%). For a $300,000 home, you will be sending the City of Baltimore a fat check of nearly seven thousand dollars a year!

4. Baltimore Is Not That Nice
If you’re under 30, single, and looking for some nice bars – Baltimore has some nice spots for you. If you’re dating someone and want to show them a good time… you have about half a dozen dates available (plus however many Hippodrome shows come through town) and after that you’re basically left to your wits and some pretty good restaurants. It’s not like a New York City or a Boston in terms of character, history, and wealth of things to do on a Saturday afternoon.

5. Homes are too small for too much
While I don’t expect a home in the city to be the same size as a home in the suburbs, I do expect the prices to be within reasonable spitting distances in terms of square footage. It is widely believed that paying between $120-130 per square foot is a reasonable price in this area (when you don’t have a garage). My friends have homes that are 11′ wide and they’ve paid way over that benchmark (one has paid $160 square foot, but that doesn’t count a roof deck). I think it’s the case of young professionals, with no concept of home value, seeing what the sizzling hot market rate is and just simply paying it. Granted, I paid $295k for a townhouse with 2400 sq ft. so some would say I am a foolish young professional who has no concept of home value.

6. Who Would You Sell It To?
No one with kids is going to buy your house in Baltimore City, the schools aren’t good. No one in retirement is going to buy your house in Baltimore City, the crime is too prevalent and there isn’t enough to do. No one under the age of 20 is going to buy your house in Baltimore City because they don’t have the means to buy a $350,000+ home. That leaves young professionals between the ages of 20-35 as your potential market and home prices are getting to close to the max they’re able to afford. Suburbia is friendlier to retirees and families.

I think those are six compelling reasons against buying a home in Baltimore. I’m not anti-Baltimore, in fact I like it quite a bit, but I just wouldn’t buy a house and want to stay there for a long time. Columbia offers much more than Baltimore including extensive open green spaces with trails through the woods and around lakes. There are nice amenities like nice libraries and a stronger sense of community. Ownership percentages are a little higher in the suburbs and it shows, less garbage on the streets (if any) and better upkeep of the homes. While a lot of these may be subjective, it was enough to convince me that suburbs were a better choice.

{ 35 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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35 Responses to “Six Reasons Not To Buy A Baltimore House”

  1. Perry says:

    all i gotta say is that…is exactly why i opted not to buy in the city. When it came down to what mattered at the time. I’d rather rent in the city and find something nicer in the counties.

  2. Miller says:

    \#6 is the big, big reason to me. I agree with your thought process (did we discuss this? I know I talked about it to someone…). \#3 is big “hidden” reason in my opinion.

    Now, with all that being said, if you want to live in the city, the alternative is renting. I’ve run those rent/buy calculators, and if you consider buying a house with friends (effectively having roommates, and in the calcator adding everyone’s rent together instead of just yours), it breaks even in a couple years (assuming VERY modest appreciation — none of this 12% a year forever stuff). Hmm, a couple years… hey, just about the right time to buy a house in the surbs and settle down! =)

  3. jim says:

    There’s nothing wrong with renting… I think all the “renting is like throwing away money” is BS anyway.

  4. W says:

    1. I guess I’m an incredibly lucky fool. While I wouldn’t say I feel 100% safe walking the streets of Baltimore at night, I don’t know of any American city where someone would feel 100% safe. I feel safe enough, though- I don’t feel as if I’m being reckless or taking my life into my hands when I’m out at night alone (I’m female, in my 30’s). I don’t have a car, so this isn’t an issue for me, but my friends in the suburbs of Baltimore/Washington DC haven’t been immune from having their cars broken into.
    2. Real estate is cyclical. Few neighborhoods stay hot (this holds true for the suburbs as well). If you’re buying in a “hot” neighborhood and expecting to get rich, you’re probably in for a disappointment. As for not being caught dead in Patterson Park at night, do you really find yourself traipsing through the woods and lakes around Columbia MD at night? I wouldn’t say you’d be “100% safe” doing that either.
    3. I agree Baltimore property taxes are very high. Luckily, the city does have some tax breaks and incentives. Because I live in a newly constructed house, I get a tax break for 5 years (save 50% on taxes 1st year, 40% 2nd year, 30% 3rd year…etc) but even at a discount, taxes are still higher than the suburbs.
    4. OK…Baltimore is not NYC or Boston, but then neither is Columbia MD or any other suburb. Your article is comparing life in Baltimore city to life in the Baltimore suburbs, so compare the nightlife and attractions of the two. If I substitute “Columbia/Baltimore suburb” into your last sentence: “[Baltimore’s] not like a Columbia MD in terms of character, history and wealth of things to do on a Saturday afternoon.” Could you seriously write that without laughing?
    5. In the “hot young neighborhoods” you mentioned, you’re probably right about prices being too high for their size. I think better deals can be found in neighborhoods that aren’t “hot” right now, although I wouldn’t even try to predict which neighborhoods are going to be the “next big thing.” In general, I think the real estate in the Baltimore/Washington DC market is overpriced, so I don’t know if there are any good deals left. Most people in their 20’s would probably be better off renting than buying an overpriced house in the city OR suburbs. Too many people seem to think that real estate only goes up in value, and that can lead to some unrealistic expectations.
    6. You’d sell to other people that don’t want to live in the suburbs.

    You make some good points, but it all comes down to preferences- suburbs vs. city. I grew up in NYC, and then lived in the suburbs of DC for a few years, and I prefer cities. I’m very happy that I bought a townhouse in Baltimore ($87/sq ft, not including an unfinished basement), but it’s not in any of the neighborhoods that you seem to think are the only viable ones for young professional people. There’s more to Baltimore than the 3 neighborhoods you listed. Like I said above, Baltimore is not NYC (what city is?), but I find plenty of things to do on the weekend.

    By the way, I found your website through the NY Times article, and I really do enjoy it, so I hope I haven’t come across as harsh, it’s just that I’ve become quite protective of my adopted hometown. Also, I happen to think the Enoch Pratt (Baltimore’s public library) is pretty good- but I haven’t been to the library in Columbia, so I can’t really compare.

    • Roman says:

      Aman sister! Tell it like it is. This suburbanite sounds like he is just trying to convince himself that he made the right choice.

  5. jim says:

    Thanks for your comments and compliments, you didn’t sound harsh at all, spirited conversation is what this is all about. If I’m wrong, I want to know… you shouldn’t go through life believing the wrong things to be truth. 🙂

    1. My concept of crime is biased in that it’s based on only statistics, my general “feeling,” and the number of crimes my friends have witnessed, heard about, or been a victim of.
    2. I’ve actually have been traipsing around the woods at night (I can walk to the grocery store within a few minutes) and I feel at ease even walking in the dark with a flashlight. Of course, I think believe I’d be okay walking around Patterson Park 99% of the time at night … I just don’t like that 1%. Plus, I quoted a friend’s opinion specifically because I think I’m biased. (since I bought in the suburbs)
    3. I didn’t know about those tax breaks, thanks for the tip.
    4. Yes, Columbia in all its planned glory doesn’t have much more than Baltimore but I do believe it does have more. Many people equate living in Baltimore with the joys of “city life” (maybe just my friends) and I would argue that a lot of “city life” just isn’t there in Baltimore.
    5. I totally agree with you on this one, I just believe (perhaps incorrectly) that it’s safer in the suburbs where you have the protection of good schools, lower crime, etc.
    6. The point of \#6 was that you would have fewer buyers, not that you wouldn’t have any buyers whatsoever.

    I think my numbers are all skewed because my friends only consider buying in Federal Hill, Canton and Fell’s Point where there are no $87/sq ft homes. Many neighborhoods in Baltimore are more affordable and are great for young professionals. At my company, we snag a lot of college grads and most of them are taught to believe (by accident) that those three neighborhoods are where all the action is.

    I really do like Baltimore, it reminds me a lot of a younger aged Pittsburgh (where I went to school), but I see the constant flipping of property as a dangerous entry point when buying your first home.

  6. W says:

    My post above was actually the first one I’ve made to a website, and I wrote it because I thought you geniunely want to learn and inform people. Glad to see that I was right!!

    Actually, I think we basically agree – Fells Point etc., are overpriced and Baltimore is more of a “second tier” city in the vein of Pittsburgh and anyone expecting a ton of “city life” would probably be disappointed. The term “flipping” pratically originated in Baltimore, so I have to agree with you on that as well. But hopefully people will see websites such as yours, and become inspired to educate themseleves financially and avoid major pitfalls (such as ignoring the basic fundamentals of any market: real estate, stock,…)

    I hope it’s not inappropiate to post it here, but has lots of useful info for people thinking of moving to Baltimore (I’m not affliated with them, I think they push the whole “city life” thing a little too much, but it’s still a good resource).

  7. jim says:

    Your first post to a website huh? Well I for one am glad you did, I rely on readers as much as I want to believe they rely on me for information. A lot of people have written comments when I’ve misinterpreted something and I am very grateful to them for doing so.

    Yes, I think we do agree. When I see $400k+ homes in Federal Hill that barely crack 1400 sq. ft., it makes me sick. The flippers probably paid $150k, put in $100k in renovations, and will pocket $150k (and good for them! without them, neighborhoods of Baltimore wouldn’t improve as quickly as they have, personally I salute them.) because someone who doesn’t understand fundamentals has the cash to make that mistake.

    I haven’t been to in a while but I poked my head in after reading your comment, it looks a lot better (less commercial and ad-driven) then it used to.

    It’s not inappropriate to post it, in general I don’t have a problem with people posting links (even to their own sites) if it provides some sort of added benefit. I dispise those “Great blog! Check mine out!” type posts though. 🙂

  8. Tool Man says:

    Can I make a comment or is this a two person conversation here!? No, I am just kidding. I bought a house in the suburbs of Baltimore, Catonsville to be exact, and I felt absolutely, 100% safe. In my biased opinion Catonsville is the best suburb outside the beltway (isn’t that what makes it a suburb? I don’t know). Catonsvillians, as I call them/us, have the best loyalty and passion about the town. It is cool to see. Most people grew up there and continue to live there. I love it. Now, having said that, I am moving into the city. Hah, strange twist, eh? I had a life event and now I want to experience different things, one of which is city living. I’m going to rent or sell my townhouse in the ‘burbs.

    I believe that finding a place in the city requires knowledge about neighborhoods and streets. Basically, I feel if you were moving into the city after graduating college or from another city you would be at a disadvantage. You have to experience Baltimore for a while in order to learn which areas are good and “not so good”. That is why young professionals assume Feddy Hill, Fell’s, and Canton are the only places to live that are “cool”. I recommend that anyone that comes to Baltimore do extensive research if they really want to buy right away, otherwise, live in the city for a while, then figure out where, and if, you want to buy.

    Anyways, I agree with your points Jim. The hidden cost is that super high property tax. My biggest concern is who is going to buy these super nice townhomes 5 years down the road if people are paying upwards of $600K for some in Federal Hill? I think it is impossible for those THs to increase in value at the same rate as the lower priced houses in the area. My feeling is that the Baltimore market will plateau very soon possibly even drop a bit.

    Did I make a point or did I just ramble?

  9. jim says:

    I mentioned crime as the #1 reason, here’s a story about a friend of a friend being mugged in Federal Hill last night:

    “Last night at 7:30 PM, a Tuesday, a young man was held at gun point, mugged, and kicked in the face for not cooperating fast enough. This was someone I know and it was across the street from my house at 107 East West Street! This area has been poorly lit in front of the church and at 11:30 PM last night ONE lamp post had been lit. Upon talking to detectives this has become a more common occurrence in the recent weeks throughout Federal Hill, even in front of the older folks home on Hamburg and William Street there was an attack, as well as on Randall Street and in front of the West Street Garage, all within a week or so and around 7:30/8:00 PM.

    I am sure most people have heard a lot of police helicopters as of late and last night there were 2 other instances right around the same time in Federal Hill. Please, please, please, be aware of your surroundings, this person thought that it was just a couple walking behind him. There were two African American males in their 20’s, no facial hair, one was about 6’ and the other 5’10 and one was carrying a revolver! The detectives believe they are coming from an outside neighborhood. Although the detectives said these 2 men are not exactly the same description (height), there are still 2 men believed to be behind several muggings and violent attacks.

    Make sure if you are on a cell phone you are still aware of your surroundings, do not walk alone and walk in the street instead of the sidewalks. Please let your friends know that live in the neighborhood, these attacks are not in the news and the police said, those living in Federal Hill do not know the frequency and likelihood of attacks. These attacks are not happening in the middle of the night; they are happening when people are coming home from the gym, from work or meeting friends in the neighborhood. PLEASE BE SAFE! “

  10. KJM says:

    The same can be said for most big cities especially those on the east coast. Such thoughts are very narrow minded but they should be as they come from one indiviual. Good luck in Columbia…

  11. jim says:

    That is true and I don’t disagree and I actually like going into Baltimore on the weekends. Having not actually lived there, I don’t have a full perspective on the city and I accept that. All things being equal, especially housing prices, I felt Columbia offered a better value.

    I wasn’t saying Baltimore is worse than any other city, just that it lacks some of the cultural and historical aspects found in older cities. I bet if I lived in NYC I’d have the same complaints (minus the cultural/historical aspects) because crime, expensive homes, and other factors are indicative of a large city.

  12. KJM says:

    I had fears similar to yours regarding crime, and resale value. I am happy to report, I have yet to fall victim to a crime (cross fingers – SMILE) and my house has increased in value 1/3 of its purchase price in less than 6 months. I am aware of the many potential down falls of buying in Baltimore but the same can be said anywhere (as you point out). Especially with the housing market cooling off in several key regions.
    One more point, I am not sure where you looked but one of the main reasons I bought in Baltimore was the price to square footage was great. This is contrary to your reason #5. I bought a 4 level brownstone with more than 3000 sq feet, 6 bedrooms and off-street parking for pennies compared to what D.C resident would pay.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Baltimore is a wonderful city. I love living here, and no it’s not a place for kids, or retirees, etc… But it is perfect for some people. So get over it!

  14. gunshy says:

    We moved to Baltimore County from San Francisco and started looking for a place to buy in the City…only to find w/ dismay how VERY bad the crime and poverty is and how overpriced the nicer neighborhoods are (Roland Park etc ). People who have been here for a while are used to it, so they all shrug it off. Maybe they don’t understand that I’ve lived in 7 different states and cities and it is not like this in other places! What people will learn to live with is amazing to me. I completely agree w/ your article, and even though I have found a condo that I am in love with, I am considering not putting in an offer because of all or your reasons, especially #6. My husband is in a job field that could mean we would move in 3 yrs. If we couldn’t sell, we would be up crap creek.
    Thanks for the article!

  15. Paul Day says:

    This post makes me so angry. A couple of points:

    1) There are more than 3 hubs of social activity in Baltimore. You obviously have never been there… Mount Vernon, Charles Village, Bolton Hill, Hampden, Midtown, Patterson Park, the Inner Harbor, and the Govans areas come to mind… There are others if you aren’t a wealthy white person.

    2) You are never 100% safe anywhere. Yes, Baltimore – like most big cities – has crime. But most people aren’t affected on a daily basis. The threat of crime is always the tradeoff with urban living. If crime avoidance is your top priority, you definitely aren’t an urbanite.

    3) Property taxes are always higher in the city because of white flight. Wealthier white people avoid the city (perhaps upon recommendations like yours) and limit its tax base. The counties have a lower property tax rate, but higher revenues than the city as a result of more rich people.

    4) There are numerous tax credits and incentives to buy into Baltimore if you investigate that make it worth it.

    5) It’s hard to compare Baltimore or any city to NYC or New England in terms of history, but compared to other non-east coast cities, Baltimore has a lot to offer.

    6) Homes are too small for too much? Welcome to the city. Baltimore is the most affordable metropolitan area in the Northeast.

    7) Not every Baltimore school is bad, you just have to investigate your options. Oftentimes, “Bad schools” is really just code for “Black kids”. If you want to raise a coward, head for the suburbs.

    8) Not everybody is buying a home to sell it for a profit. This is one reason why we’re in this housing mess.

    I’m not even going to discuss the race/class assumptions about this post.

    • Maya says:

      I totaly agree with what you are saying. No one can really say what’s wrong with Baltimore unless they’ve seen it all and of course they havnt. It makes me upset wen other’s make sterotypes toward balcks and thier communities. For all they know our schools, communities and even the houses their selves may come to be even better than what they seen to be dealing with there.

  16. Leon says:

    Jim, I have really take offense to this article. Most of the reasons that you have described here apply to most of urban areas accross the country.

    You commented on the size of the houses in only 3 neighborhoods. (Canton, Federal Hill, and Fells Point. Much of the reason that these places are not the safest is due the very reason, that you said most people under 30 would like them and that is the social/bar scene. Wherever you have drunks roaming the streets late at night after a night of parting, you are going to have some problems. You said that Baltimore is not like NY. Baltimore has plenty of history. You may have to do a little research on the matter, but if you want to look for some cool date things to do, check the City Paper or the Baltimore Times.
    During the warmer months, there are many outdoor festivals to hit. You forgot to mention the Lyric, the Meyerhoff, The Arena Stage, and about a half dozen other little theaters that host shows of all kinds.
    Scattered Throughout the city, there are plenty of small club/bars that would provide a safe fun time. You may not like, because they cater more to dancing and with you date rather than trying to see how hammered you can get with her.
    What do you mean that Baltimore is not that nice? The architecture of many of the buildings here is some the best. A lot of the neighborhoods here are diamonds in the rough, but that the epitome of urban life. Anytime that you watch House Hunters on HGTV, the buyers that buy in urban settings know that they may have to put a couple of dollars into the space to make it right, but that is part of the charm. That is why they call Baltimore Charm City. If you do not know why that it is, then you definitely do not belong here. It would probably be best that you go out to one of the surrounding counties like Howard.

    • Jim says:

      Leon, I agree. When I wrote it, I was new to the area and had a very limited knowledge or understanding of the city. In the several years I’ve lived here, I have to take back much of what I said. Thank you for sharing your opinion, you are right on all counts.

  17. Maya says:

    Well I would like to comment on #5 and 6. The saying that houses are too small for too much is just an opinion. You all may be looking in the wrong places and that housing prices are fairly reasonalble. The saying about baltimore isnt that nice, well that’s true but EVERY CITY has their own flaws. EVERY CITY

  18. Homegirl says:

    This entire article is both offensive and complete B—S— and you should be ashamed of yourself for writing inaccurate negative information without doing your research. Baltimore city may not be perfect but it’s not as bad as you have made it out to be. (I have lived all over the US and oversees so you can’t pull that crap off on me). Your article is very misleading not to mention elitist and racist.

  19. GB says:

    The article is very accurate. I am in my early thirties and rent an apartment in Bolton Hill. I have been thinking about buying a place for sometime now but with the bad schools I have decided against buying in Baltimore. As far as crime is concerned in Baltimore, this is the scariest city I have lived in. Mind it I have stayed in Saint Louis, Los Angeles and have grown up in a city that has over 18 million population. Baltimore is definitely one of the worst cities as far as crime is concerned. Sorry to say but not every city is like Baltimore. As far as crime s concerned Baltimore has no comparison with any other city! As much as I love city life, I will never buy a home in Baltimore even if it means traveling 1.5 hours each day staying in the suburbs.

  20. Karana says:

    I have been living in Baltimore City for over 18 years. I live in Fells Point near Harbor East. I must say that the crime has decreased in Fells Point compared to years ago. I think the big problem with places like Harbor East, which is where I live, is that there are these house that are nice and pricy, but not too far down the road is the projects. Honestly, that is a problem. The nice city neighborhoods are being surrounded by project houses. I think Baltimore would be 100% better if the projects were not so close. I would love to stay here, but I will move because the projects is a nuisance to a decent living environment. Thanks to all the liberals who disagree.

  21. Tony says:

    Baltimore city sucks, the main reason is the high property taxes. We were looking to buy a house in Federal Hill, but when we check the taxes, OMFG!
    My advice, stay away from the city and check other places such as; Towson,Parkville,Pikesville,Catonsville,Ellicott City,Lutherville,all North Baltimore county is good.

  22. Karana says:

    I live in Baltimore City and I agree with everything you say. I have had my bicycles stolen and my cars broken into. I have also seen people get mugged. Worst of all the politions who run the city are all idiots.

  23. rw says:

    I agree 100% with this post. And I saw no racism in any of the post for the ignorant posters who said otherwise. He in no part of the article mentioned anything to do with race. Those comments are from people who probably graduated from the wonderful schools of baltimore and do not know how to read and comprehend.

  24. Augiedog says:

    I grew up in Baltimore in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I moved to Columbia in the 80s. I like Columbia, but I have no idea how anyone can say this area has more culture than Baltimore unless you consider the variety of big block stores.

  25. Vincent33 says:

    Baltimore rocks, and real estate is on fire sale here. I’m buying and selling waterfront condos for 130k in premier communities, tenant ready investment homes for 8-15k, Multi units for 20-40k, nice fed hill canton row homes with parking 120-180k!!! I’m an agent, resident,

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