When word spread three years ago that Mark Building Co. was putting up homes in Columbia's newest village, people began putting their names on a waiting list to buy them. They knew prices would be the lowest in town.
Mark has obtained 12 lots in the Pheasant Ridge section of the village of River Hill, which is under development in the southwestern part of Columbia. Four of the single-family homes DTC will sell for $145,000 each. Eight larger homes will sell for more.
That's almost unheard of in Howard County these days, which boasts a wealth of new single-family homes from $250,000 and up and rivals Montgomery County for the highest housing costs in the state.
But that's the tradition of Larry Rosenberg, president of Mark, who is continuing a family tradition, industry officials and planners say. His father, Lee Rosenberg, owned Howard Homes, which for years was known for its high-quality, low-priced homes.
Each of Mark's $145,000 River Hill homes will be built on quarter-acre lots and contain 1,800 square feet of space, not including an unfinished basement, Larry Rosenberg said recently. They will feature New England architecture with cedar siding and three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a garage, an eat-in kitchen and a family room.
By comparison, the average price of single-family homes -- new and existing -- in Howard County sold for $186,744 last month, according to the Howard County Association of Realtors.
Larger homes being built by Mark will sell for $161,500 to $210,000, with the most expensive ones containing 2,815 square feet and more features.
So how can Mark sell so cheaply?
"We don't have the fancy offices with models," Larry Rosenberg said. "We don't advertise. Our business comes word-of-mouth. We're don't have all the excesses that other builders have, and as a result, we're saving about 25 percent in overhead. And our company has never raised prices to what the market will bear."
Larry Rosenberg added that his profit margin is slightly lower than most builders.
He said his company, which has built 380 homes in Columbia and Owings Mills since it went into business eight years ago, has found it easier to sell homes priced under $200,000 because few people can afford more expensive homes.
"There's a triangle," he said. "There are more people at the bottom of the triangle than at the top."
Vivian Feen, president of the Howard County Association of Realtors, said that Mark has earned a good reputation for its quality. She said homes that Mark built years ago that are on the market for resale command a greater price than comparable ones being built now.
"They do put up a darn good home for the price," Feen said. "These people, like Howard Homes, have always operated at much lower prices than the norm."
Cindy Mander, a county planner who is working on River Hill, said Mark is building on smaller lots than larger builders in the first section of River Hill that is being developed, which has 158 lots. She also noted Mark's reputation.
"People called here a year ago wondering if Mark Building was going to be in River Hill," Mander said.