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.