Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, many with their own distinct appeal and history.
For homebuyers, the city offers a dizzying array of choices, but its overall appeal appears to be on the upswing. Last year, Baltimore saw 6,123 so-called standard sales, nearly 900 more than the year before, according to Live Baltimore, a nonprofit charged with promoting living — and homebuying — in the city. A standard sale is one in which the home will be owner-occupied as opposed to an investment to be rented out.
Despite the increased activity, homes in the city remain relatively affordable with the median sales price for standard sales essentially unchanged at $174,900, Live Baltimore reported in its 2016 year in review.
"I think what people are seeing is that the city continues to be an affordable place to call home," said Steven Gondol, executive director of Live Baltimore.
While many of the city's most popular neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Canton, Hampden, Roland Park and Mount Washington saw continued growth, the organization highlighted in the report a handful of what it called "most improved" neighborhoods, some of which are off the beaten path for home buyers. These neighborhoods, which include Woodbourne-McCabe, Belair-Parkside, Seton Hill, Milton-Montford, Wrenlane and Bridgeview/Greenlawn, saw large percentage gains in the the number of standard sales and/or in the median sales price.
Woodbourne-McCabe spans roughly six blocks east of York Road, between — of course — Woodbourne and McCabe avenues in Greater Govans. It's a transitional neighborhood with both single-family houses and rowhomes where the median sales price increased four-fold to $52,500 last year from $13,000 in 2015. The number of homes sold jumped to nine in 2016 from just one a year earlier.
The North Baltimore neighborhood is near Loyola University Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland campuses and within walking distance to entertainment, shopping and dining areas such as Belvedere Square and the Senator Theatre.
Gondol attributed the area's uptick to the city's Vacants to Values program, in which properties are demolished, rehabilitated or redeveloped. Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake has been doing homes in the neighborhood as part of the program.
In East Baltimore, Milton-Montford saw similar gains. Several blocks east of the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus, Milton-Montford is also a neighborhood in transition. The number homes sold there nearly doubled to 21 in 2016, from 11 the year before. The median sales price soared more than three times to $44,000.
The neighborhood likely saw a boost due to the Station East redevelopment, which is revitalizing the community with renovated homes and green spaces, Gondol said.
While the cause for increases were apparent for the Woodbourne-McCabe and Milton-Montford neighborhoods, there was no clear reason for sales growth in the other four areas except for market trends, Gondol said.
Wrenlane, another tiny North Baltimore pocket neighborhood, saw sales of its rowhomes double from two to four in 2016. The median sales price nearly tripled to $93,750. This sliver of a neighborhood off Cold Spring Lane, just east of York Road, is also close to Loyola University Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland campuses.
Belair-Parkside, a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes in Northeast Baltimore, runs along the north side of Herring Run Park. While it had just one standard sale for $49,500 in 2015, last year it saw six sales with a median price of $135,658.
Close to the commercial and commuting corridors along Belair and Harford roads, the area's park-front properties offer "incredible value," Gondol said. With the park on one side and Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery on the other, the neighbood's other added benefit, he joked, is "quiet neighbors."
Closer to downtown, Seton Hill saw seven standard sales with a median price of $210,000 in 2016, up from just two a year earlier with a median price of $83,500.
The small neighborhood just west of Mount Vernon borders Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, allowing for easy access to the busy connecting road. Close to Mount Vernon Marketplace eateries, the light rail and the Howard Street Dog Park, Seton Hill is "a little neighborhood that packs a lot of amenities," Gondal said. The area also has a host of nearby arts and cultural attractions such as the Walters Art Museum and Maryland Historical Society and is within walking distance of such academic institutions as the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of Baltimore.
Kate Barnhart, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Gateway, who has handled sales in Seton Hill , said that even though rowhouses along the tree-lined streets tend to be on the smaller side, it's an inexpensive neighborhood compared to Mount Vernon.
"It's smaller, but the location can't be beat. … You're just a few blocks out of the hustle and bustle of downtown," Barnhart said.
In West Baltimore, Bridgeview/Greenlawn is a mixed neighborhood of rowhomes and light industrial properties that includes St. Peter's Cemetery. With moderate-sized rowhomes near, but away from such east-west corridors as Route 40 and North Avenue, the area saw saw seven standard sales in 2016, up from two the year before. The median price more than doubled to $45,000 from $21,000 in 2015.
While other areas like Locust Point and Remington maintained a healthy sales pace in 2016, Gondol said the improvement in additional neighborhoods is a good sign for Baltimore's housing market.
"It's one thing to say our eight to 10 well-known neighborhoods continue to do well. But if that's the only trend you have over 5, 10 years, you're not really growing," he said.
"You want to see that progress and growth is reaching beyond a core area. I think it's really encouraging that we are continuing to climb with our sales, that we're seeing this impact reach more neighborhoods, which is good for everyone in the city to see that prosperity and stability is coming to more neighborhoods."
City's most improved neighborhoods
Where: North Baltimore in Greater Govans
2016 standard sales and median price: nine, $52,500
2015 standard sales and median price: one, $13,000
Benefits: Near Loyola University Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland as well as entertainment, shopping and dining areas such as Belvedere Square and the Senator Theatre.
Where: Northeast Baltimore near Herring Run Park
2016 standard sales and median price: six, $135,658
2015 standard sales and median price: one, $49,500
Benefits: Beside Herring Run Park and close to the commercial and commuting corridors along Belair and Harford roads.
Where: North Baltimore near intersection of York Road and Cold Spring Lane
2016 standard sales and median price: four, $93,750
2015 standard sales and median price: two, $37,500
Benefits: Near Loyola University of Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland and the York Road and Cold Spring Avenue corridors.
Where: Central Baltimore, just west of Mount Vernon
2016 standard sales and median price: seven, $210,000
2015 standard sales and median price: two, $83,500
Benefits: A historic neighborhood that's walkable to amenities such as Mount Vernon Marketplace, the light rail and Howard Street Dog Park as well as the universities around downtown.
Where: East Baltimore
2016 standard sales and median price: 21, $44,000
2015 standard sales and median price: 11, $12,980
Benefits: Within walking distance of Patterson Park and the Johns Hopkins Hopsital campus.
Where: West Baltimore
2016 standard sales and median price: seven, $45,000
2015 standard sales and median price: two, $21,000
Benefits: Accessible to Route 40 and North Avenue.