Has Baltimore become turnaround city? Home sales: Older homes moving briskly in certain neighborhoods, but overall picture remains spotty.


LATEST REAL estate data show a whopping 61 percent increase in the sales of existing city homes over June 1997. Other metropolitan jurisdictions also recorded healthy gains. But Baltimore's figures are particularly dramatic in part because its market had been so soft.

Houses are moving briskly in such high-end neighborhoods as Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland and Bolton Hill, where properties often had been priced below replacement cost.

The bad news is that "For Sale" signs saturate many less desirable neighborhoods, with hardly any properties changing hands. No wonder some sellers put faith in St. Joseph, hoping that burying statues of him will miraculously bring would-be buyers.

Successful real estate marketing depends largely on optimistic news and a belief that reports of quick sales help motivate further transactions. It's like the story about a Bolton Hill house that was snapped up as soon as it was listed and resold for $20,000 more the very next day.

Increased sales in Baltimore's high-end neighborhoods suggest three things: Property owners in the city are trading up; buyers relocating to this area are finding compelling values; and suburban families, tired of bad rush-hour traffic, are moving closer to private schools.

Sales in North Baltimore are not the whole story. A number of initiatives sponsored by the city and state -- including subsidies and loans that cover down payments and closing costs -- enable middle- and low-income families and individuals to buy in Baltimore with virtually no out-of-pocket outlays. Those programs help sales in less expensive neighborhoods.

In real estate, good news travels fast. Taking advantage of the headlines, the city ought to conduct joint promotions with the real estate industry to spread interest to neighborhoods where houses languish on the market.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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