The city's decision to hire Atlanta-based auctioneers, Hudson & Marshall, to market some 200 vacant housing at a three-day Baltimore Home Festival presents one of the most exciting residential revitalization prospects in recent memory. It recalls the early 1970s when so many buyers wanted to get a shell of a house for $1 that lotteries had to be conducted.
Despite many problems, that earlier homesteading push magically transformed such neighborhoods as Otterbein, Barre Circle and Stirling Street. Two decades later, they continue to be vibrant and viable neighborhoods.
The vacant houses to be sold at the Home Festival April 23 through 25 will be scattered around the city. In bidding for them, a would-be homebuyer will also be bidding for the neighborhood, which is why city housing officials hope to have 300 booths at the Convention Center featuring various communities, home-related services, financing options and real estate professionals.
If done right, the festival could become an annual event showcasing the full scale of housing opportunities in Baltimore City during one of the busiest home buying months of the year.
Even though Baltimore's housing market shows signs of recovering, the long recession has produced a powerful buyers' market. Those who are clever enough and knowledgeable can take advantage of some of the best deals in decades. Prices are often eminently negotiable, while interest rates are still at comparatively low levels.
Baltimore housing officials and the real estate industry should use the Home Festival as an opportunity to draw people from the Washington area to the city. Not as absentee investors but as residents.
Compared to the District of Columbia area, Baltimore is a real-life city. It has neighborhoods, municipal markets and an urban texture that is missing from Washington. Yet the housing stock is solid, prices reasonable. Recent improvements in MARC train service have made economical commuting an attractive option.
In recent years, out-of-towners have discovered the Inner Harbor and Oriole Park. Baltimore's neighborhoods await to be discovered. Last year, the city tried to auction 1,500 vacant houses through a cumbersome tax sale. This time, the process will be simple and swift. The April auction should be used as a region-wide enticement.