Waterfront house desirable address despite flooding

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For developers and owners of hundreds of luxury and renovated townhouses strung like so many pricey pearls along Baltimore's waterfront gold coast from Canton to Fells Point, Isabel has made life more complicated.

Many of the million-dollar homes with water views became soggy waterfronts. Water surged through garages, basements and up to front-door sills Friday. But builders of homes under construction and residents of some new houses said almost no living spaces were touched.

Real estate agents say they expect the harborside to remain one of the city's hottest real estate markets once things are cleaned up and dried out. They point to waterfront areas in North Carolina, Florida and California where real estate booms have prevailed despite problems such as flooding and earthquakes.

Such is the charm of water.

But brokers concede that the flooding is likely to make at least some potential buyers more cautious.

"Fells Point being near the water is always going to be one of those things in high demand," said Frank Lanham, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage whose office is in Fells Point. "I think people are just going to be conscious of the flooding issue."

Waterfront rowhouses in Fells Point and Canton have commanded prices of more than $500,000 recently, and real estate agents said buyers couldn't get enough of them. Until now, most agents said, few buyers asked about flooding problems along the cobblestone streets where much of Baltimore's most popular nightlife is found.

But that's likely to change - at least in the short term.

Home shopper Doris Valentin-Meyer yesterday pulled her car into the construction site of the North Shore at Canton along Boston Street to see if the townhouses - priced up to $1 million - with waterfront views experienced any flooding. A resident and building supervisor at the site said that only the garage areas were affected by water surges and that living spaces remained dry.

"There's no way I'm going to spend a half-million dollars to have flooding problems," she said. "That's what I wanted to check."

In neighborhoods that date back centuries, the area's charm and waterfront have been luring developers and buyers for years. And until Friday, storm surges like the one that pushed portions of the Chesapeake Bay to the front doors of many of Baltimore's most expensive houses hadn't been seen in decades.

"You get a hurricane like this once every 50 years," said Ed Darda, who is selling a home on Fleet Street and expects demand to stay high despite the recent floods. "And the young people really like it down there."

Deni Tabor moved into her new Fells Point townhouse on Bond Street in June and has a front-door and rooftop view of the harbor across Thames Street. The development is part of Fells Landing, a collection of townhomes also being built on Caroline Street by Struever Rouse Homes. Many are selling in the $600,000 range.

Streets around that construction site flooded Friday, but Tabor said sandbags, wood planks and good caulking helped her home and the ones surrounding it stay dry. A Struever supervisor said no homes under construction have basements and none flooded.

"I had heard that when it rains really bad that the streets get flooded," said Tabor, who also works for Struever and was one of the first residents to move in. "We like the ambiance and energy of this place. And we love this community."

Other homeowners vowed to stay put.

"I'm not moving," said David Martz, an agent with Long and Foster Real Estate in Fells Point who just renovated his South Ann Street house and whose basement flooded Friday. "You have to put up with something once in a while."

His three-bedroom home was built during the 1880s and has a renovated kitchen, roof deck and private back yard. Martz said the house he bought for $220,000 three years ago likely is worth $550,000 now.

His neighbor, Anne Gummerson, was like others who reflected on their real estate with humor, even though the flooding brought headaches.

"It's really waterfront property now," Gummerson joked while sitting on her front stoop overlooking the harbor. "The water was right here."

Fells Point renter Ilana Glazer was house-shopping a few feet away, making mental notes about the flooded homes and the dry ones.

She and her husband have been looking for their first house in the neighborhood for six months and worried about rising prices. So she surveyed each street's flooding, hoping the new information works in her favor.

"I think it will hurt real estate prices," Glazer said. "But it is one of those one-in-a-million type things that happens."

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