A friend of mine, Abe, who has been renting in Fell’s Point for almost two years now, has recently started looking to buy a home.
“I want to be making an investment, rather than just making payments I’ll never see again,” he said.
Abe said that he began looking for a house without really knowing what he was doing, beyond “looking at houses.” Over the last few weeks, however, he has seen dozens of houses in Fell’s Point, Upper Fell’s, Butchers Hill, Washington Hill, Patterson Park, Highlandtown, and Canton. He has agreed to share some of his lessons learned with the Baltimore Guide.
Know what you want
Abe: Knowing what you want doesn’t mean that you have some kind of concrete vision that you stick with no matter what. It means that there are a few characteristics that you would really like to have in your home. I have two kids, so my wife and I figured that at least two full bathrooms would be necessary in order for everybody to get out of the house in the morning. My wife has tons of clothes and can’t live without tons of closet space, so we need at least one big closet in every bedroom. Once we knew what we wanted, to a certain degree, we could narrow our search. We told our agent to only show us houses with at least two full bathrooms and a lot of closet space.
Know what you don’t want
Abe: You can save a lot of time if you have a good sense of what would make you unhappy living in a house. I hate driving around looking for parking, so I didn’t want to see any houses fronting main streets such as Pratt or Lombard. That eliminated a bunch of showings right there.
It’s also a good idea to trust your immediate sense of a place. We walked into one old house in Highlandtown, and the floors were a little wavy. The ceiling also sloped unevenly. The old home had been certified structurally sound, and the less-than-square construction could have been taken as one of the charms of 19th-century construction, but it made us feel seasick. So instead of hemming and hawing, we just left, and spent the time looking at more likely candidates.
Be prepared to compromise
Abe: Our son goes to school close to the water in Fell’s Point, so we initially concentrated our search over there. But we found that as you go north, prices go south. In our case, we realized a place farther north would be farther away from his school, but at the same time we can afford a place with off-street parking up there, so getting him to school and picking him up is less of an issue.
Taxes credits are your friend
Abe: In Baltimore City, you have to accept high property taxes as a given. Some houses, however, have “10-year historic tax credits,” or other temporary tax relief measures in place. Make sure you take taxes into account when you are calculating the monthly payment you could expect for a home you would potentially purchase. Since taxes are so high, a credit can substantially reduce your monthly payment. We have looked at a few homes just above our specified price range, because those homes have tax credits that would reduce our mortgage.
Of course, you have to consider that tax credits expire, and when they do, your payments go up.
Talk to your potential neighbors
Abe: Again, parking is a big concern of mine, so I have been talking to the neighbors of homes we are considering. I just knock on their door and ask, “How’s parking here after 6 p.m.? If they tell me that I’ll be driving around for half an hour, I’ll move on. If they tell me that I might end up a block or two away from my home after searching for just a few minutes, then I can live with that.
by Erik Zygmont