On East Coast, Baltimore stands out for affordability

Among big cities along the East Coast, Baltimore puts out an enticing "welcome" sign for first-time home buyers.

Few cities with more than 500,000 people offer the sorts of prices that prompt real estate analysts to place the area on their most-affordable lists, but Baltimore does. Last year both the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and RealEstate Business Intelligence (RBI) ranked the Baltimore area favorably in annual surveys of affordability, and more recently RBI released a list of 20 Baltimore-area neighborhoods offering prices likely to attract first-time buyers.


The new list includes neighborhoods in the city, as well as Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, with median selling prices ranging from $69,900 in West Baltimore's Edmondson/Beechfield area to $260,000 in Anne Arundel County's Linthicum Heights neighborhood. Roughly in the middle range is the city neighborhood of Hampden and three areas in Baltimore County — Parkville, Rosedale and Halethorpe — all with median prices in the mid- to high-$170,000s.

The national median, RBI reported, is $199,600.

RBI says it put out the list to highlight neighborhoods that first-time buyers might overlook.

"We've tried to create a road map for buyers that will expand their horizons to include neighborhoods they may not have considered," John Heithaus, an RBI marketer, said in a statement. "Baltimore is full of attractive and affordable neighborhoods to fit every lifestyle."

The list includes the Hamilton area, well known as a good spot for first-time buyers, and also Gwynn Oak, Woodlawn, Randallstown, Dundalk, Aberdeen, Essex, Nottingham, and Edgewood.

The Baltimore area has recently ranked well in national affordability surveys of metropolitan areas. Last fall, an annual report by placed Baltimore sixth most affordable among the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, topped only by Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

According to the report, the median household income in Baltimore topped the income needed to buy a home by 11 percent. The report moved Baltimore up on the list from 17th in 2013 to sixth, in part because home prices fell. Median home prices, particularly in the city, have lagged because of the large number of sales of distressed properties, meaning short sales and properties owned by lenders.

Also late last year, the NAR ranked the Baltimore-Towson area 65th in affordability out of 176 metro areas, said spokesman Adam DeSanctis. The list shows that the only East Coast city with a population over 500,000 close to Baltimore's score for affordability is Jacksonville, Fla. A number of most-affordable cities on the list were clustered in Ohio and Illinois, including Youngstown, Akron, Toledo, Springfield and Peoria. The least affordable were Honolulu and several cities in California, including the Los Angeles areas, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose.

The RBI first-time-buyer "hot spots" list appeared in March, a few months after the organization released a national study last fall showing that first-time buyers made up the smallest portion of buyers in 30 years. The study found that first-time buyers made up a third of all buyers, down from 38 percent at the same time a year before and from the historical norm of 40 percent.

The study gave an array of reasons, including low wages for young people, persistent uncertainty about the job market, tighter credit standards since the real estate market collapse, and student debt.

But in the Baltimore market, especially in the city, first-time buyers seem to be bucking the national pattern. Local agents said in the fall that while first-time buyers seemed somewhat scarce in the suburbs, they were abundant in the city, attracted by relatively low prices and the urban way of life.

"In the city, in the gentrified nighborhoods first-time buyers are very apparent," said Ross Mackesey, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. They may be less conspicuous in the suburbs, he said, where there are pockets of affordable homes.

The new list spotlights some of those areas as the market heats up for spring.