Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2018. It is being republished in conjunction with the start of Miracle on 34th Street’s holiday light display for this season. As of Nov. 23, only two homes on the block are for sale.
Rachel Rabinowitz sits on the porch swing at 716 West 34th Street, rocking gently outside the rowhouse she’s been trying to sell for months as a real estate broker.
Overhead hangs a canopy of Christmas lights, never mind that it’s almost August. Next door, a faded baby Jesus sits in a manger, just feet away from a sign on the lawn: “For Sale by Owner.”
Four homes are for sale on the 700 block of West 34th Street in Hampden, home to the residents’ annual “Miracle on 34th Street” display that attracts thousands of visitors each winter to stare in wonder at decorations as wild and vibrant as any Clark Griswold display.
But, while everyone wants to visit 34th Street during the holidays, not everyone wants to live there.
The three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home Rabinowitz is selling for $315,000 has been on the market for nearly three months. Two doors down at 712 W. 34th St., another house remains on the market after two months despite a price cut of more than $25,000 to $299,000.
The homes are languishing in an otherwise hot market in which homes are selling faster than they have been since before the housing bust a decade ago. The median days on the market for homes listed for sale in the Baltimore region was just 15 in June, according to monthly data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime based on listing activity from Bright MLS.
“Let me put it this way, anywhere else it would have sold by now,” said Kevin Carroll, the listing agent for the four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house at 712 W. 34th St.
Hoping to hook a Christmas-loving homebuyer, Rabinowitz has tried to play up the holiday in her sales pitch. Sales flyers are decorated with a Christmas light border. She organized a progressive open house with the other homes for sale on the block and reminded visitors that there were “just 196 days until Christmas.”
She’s optimistic the right home buyer is out there.
“I’m certain there’s someone who’s perfect,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s my Christmas wish that all these properties find new owners before the holiday season.”
Frieda Nicholls, the listing agent selling a house on the other side of the block, called the fact that four houses were on the market just a coincidence.
“I think it’s a selling point,” she said of the Christmas lights, calling it “ludicrous” to think new owners would be put off by it.
“I think it’s a price consideration,” she said, noting that she’d had several people interested in her listing, a three-bedroom, single-bathroom rowhome for $292,000, while two across the street were pricier.
A recent contract fell through, she said, but “give me a couple days and I expect it will go under contract.”
Potential buyers don’t have to embrace the annual festivities. There’s no city code or homeowners association forcing Christmas lights.
Yet nobody wants to be the Scrooge who fails to put up lights — and possibly disappoints the neighbors and everyone who visits the block during the holidays
Block residents do understand the wariness of those thinking of moving in.
“It gets a little hectic at times, especially on the [holiday] weekends,” said Patsy Dailey, who, at 84, proudly states that she is the oldest person on the block, and a lifelong resident. But, she said, “We know the children like it.”
Another homeowner, Riley Wilks, 35, shrugs at the suggestion that the Christmas display is a big commitment. He and Heather Franz, his wife, keep costs down by scooping up Christmas lights on sale after the holidays. LED lights keep the electric bill down, he added — it’s probably an extra $40 for the month that the lights go up. A timer makes sure the lights turn on when they’re supposed to.
When they moved onto the block a few years ago, he and his wife decided on a flamingo theme and have stuck with it every Christmas. His wife is from Florida; the theme was a nod to her roots as well as to Baltimore. They got a bargain on secondhand plastic flamingos from a Maryland Institute College of Art student who had used them for an art project, and add to the collection each year.
As if to make the point, Franz runs inside to retrieve two flamingo ornaments, recent gifts from friends.
Before they moved to 34th Street, “I wasn’t a big Christmas fan,” she said. “But moving here made me like it more.”
Darlene Hosier has lived on 34th Street since she was born nearly 70 years ago. In the 1980s, she and her husband, Bob, began to string lights overhead — across the street. Oftentimes, they’ll decorate houses that are vacant.
“Just like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ” she said.
Contrary to some visitors’ misconception, Hosier said, neither BGE nor the city pitches in for the cost of the lights or electricity. Everything comes out of their own pocket. But her reward is “the looks on the children’s faces.”
New residents say the event provides a sense of community that’s rare in this day and age.
Joshua Lamont, 28, knew what he was getting into. Even before he closed on his home on 34th Street last November, he began collecting Hanukkah decorations on Amazon — a 7-foot bear holding a dreidel, blue and white lights, an enormous electric menorah.
“I’d never strung lights in my life,” he said. “Jewish folk don’t often decorate the house.”
What might have taken an average Hampdenite two hours took him 10, he said.
But the effort was worth it. During the holiday season, every night that he could, he sat on the front porch of the first-ever Hanukkah house on Hampden’s West 34th Street, soaking up the electric joy of the people walking by.
Carroll hopes the enclave will find a like-minded buyer — or four — who are willing to embrace the spirit of 34th Street.
“I think for the average person, yes, it’s a turn-off,” he said. “For the person who loves Christmas, where else would you want to be?”
This story was featured in The Sun's Alexa Flash Briefing on July 30, 2018.