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Patterson Park among Baltimore's hottest home buying neighborhoods

Heather Hurley doesn't shudder when she spots a moving van in her Patterson Park neighborhood.

If Hurley sees furniture being moved, it's likely being unloaded for a new neighbor and not a signal of urban flight. Patterson Park is one of Baltimore 's hottest home buying neighborhoods.

Proximity to one of the city's flagship parks in 2009, Forbes magazine listed Patterson Park among the 12 best city parks in America and an abundance of nearby restaurants, nightlife and cultural attractions rank the community high on Baltimorean homebuyer wish lists.

Hurley, president of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association, said the community's self-marketing and declining home prices have likely played a role in the neighborhood's popularity.

"We've been very fortunate to be one of the few neighborhoods that's still growing despite the housing market," Hurley said.

That's not to suggest the Southeast Baltimore community hasn't been affected by the Great Recession. It has seen median purchase prices decline about 50 percent since 2007 and in April they were down 30 percent from 2010 levels.

Lower prices and longer stays on the market are reminders the city is still feeling the aftershocks of a residential real estate meltdown.

However, Fells Point, Canton , Otterbein/Federal Hill and Patterson Park are still luring homebuyers. In fact, those neighborhoods combined to account for 34 percent of all Baltimore city home sales in April. Basement-level interest rates, depressed asking prices and in some cases tax breaks and incentives are steadily attracting offers in these communities. Investment properties are also starting to come back into vogue after many developers went down with the economy by purchasing properties to rehab and resell.

James Baldwin, a Realtor with Yerman Whitman Gaines & Conklin Realty, said buyers are in the proverbial driver's seat. But they aren't biting as much as he would expect considering the current market climate.

"We have buyers and inventory," Baldwin said. "I'm amazed there's not more buyers. But Realtors feel we're on a more positive swing than we were two years ago."

Rehabs and upgrades

Families and financial incentives are driving much of the activity Baldwin has seen in recent months. Baldwin, a Realtor since 2007, serves the Federal Hill/Otterbein communities. He said he has made three sales recently to Otterbein residents who were upgrading to larger homes to accommodate growing families.

Baldwin said South Baltimore is attractive for its proximity to downtown, parks and stores and restaurants.

"They are committed to living in the city and raising their families," he said.

Meanwhile, Baldwin said the market for houses in need of repair is heating up. He said tax credits, including those for first-time buyers, can make home ownership more attractive than renting.

Some young professionals are buying in Canton , Fells Point, Patterson Park and Federal Hill thanks to low interest rates and loan programs that allow them to borrow money to renovate properties in disrepair.

"I'm seeing a lot more houses that are being rehabbed," Baldwin said. "If they can get a tax credit, those houses are hot properties."

While federal programs assist first-time homebuyers, Johns Hopkins University 's Live Near Your Work and the city's Healthy Neighborhoods programs are available and spurring homeownership in areas like Patterson Park . Hopkins ' program offers up to $17,000 in financial aid to eligible homebuyers who purchase homes in the city.

Healthy Neighborhoods is a loan fund for Baltimore homebuyers who need funds to buy and renovate homes. Keller Williams Agent Chi Yan said those programs helped keep the Patterson Park residential real estate market active even during the recession.

Patterson Park and Canton share the 21224 zip code and, along with Fells Point, are among online real estate site Trulia.com's top three most popular Baltimore neighborhoods. Homes in Fells Point were on the market for an average of 128 days in April 2011, down from 140 last year, according to Real Estate Business Intelligence. Units sold for 2011 have also increased, rising to 34 in April compared to 23 in during the same time in 2010.

Canton and Patterson Park homeowners are selling their properties in less time and for more money than the city's average. The average home in Baltimore is on the market 138 days and selling for an average of $124,112. Homes in the 21224 zip code are selling for an average of $167,818 and on the market 129 days.

Yan said Patterson Park 's attraction lies in its open spaces for recreational activities, dog walking, special events and homes are generally less expensive than neighboring Canton and Fells Point. It's also close to local hospitals, he said.

"We are squeezed right between Johns Hopkins and Bayview," Yan said. "It's very convenient."

Reputations reign

Canton's appeal, like its South Baltimore peers, is its waterfront views, shopping and entertainment options, said Sheila Anderson. The East Baltimore community's home values did not experience the dramatic peaks and valleys other neighborhoods saw during the housing boom and ensuing crash, said Anderson, a member of the Canton Community Association's board of directors.

Anderson said Canton's reputation and stable home values are drawing new homeowners to the neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is well respected," Anderson said. "It stays hot because there are always new eateries and establishments. It continues to thrive even though our economy is trying to recover."

Cathy Werner said thriving neighborhoods generally offer easy access to eating and entertainment. That's particularly important for young professionals making their first home purchase, said the president of the Maryland Association of Realtors and broker/owner of RE/MAX American Dream.

"That's why those areas have worked so well and continue to do well," Werner said.

Taxing issues

While many Baltimore neighborhoods are seeing increased interest from homebuyers, a major hurdle still remains. The city's property taxes [$2.28 for every $100 of assessed property value] are more than double Baltimore County 's.

Reducing property taxes would go a long way in enticing more homebuyers to the city, Patterson Park 's Hurley said. Werner agrees. Noting this is an election year, she said creating affordable housing in the city and taxes will play huge roles during the mayoral campaign.

City Councilman Carl Stokes, also a candidate for mayor, proposed cutting the city's property tax rate in half earlier this year but his plan failed to gain traction among his council peers. Cutting revenue when the city is facing budget shortfalls is a hard sell.

"When a buyer looks at moving into the city versus moving into the county, it makes a huge difference in their expenses," said Werner of property taxes. "We've had buyers who have wanted to live in the city but couldn't afford to because it would put them over their budget."