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Edited by Amy Mulvihill
Photography by Mitro Hood. Illustration by Stephanie Shafer.

Home & Living

Best of the 'Burbs

Your real estate guide to the best neighborhoods in the most desirable communities—around the beltway and beyond.

Over the last decade, one of the most fashionable sociologic narratives has been about a nationwide return to city living. The logic goes as follows: Saddled with expensive mortgages, interminable commutes, and Sisyphean yard work, Americans are rejecting the blandness of the ’burbs in favor of the vibrancy, convenience, and relative affordability of the city. It’s a seductive theory. There’s just one problem: In Baltimore, at least, it’s not true.

We've selected 10 of the region's most popular suburbs, highlighting neighborhoods that are ideal for every tier of buyer.

For starters, the city's population declined by 6,700 people between July 2015 and July 2016. By contrast, during that same period, Baltimore County attracted more than 26,000 additional residents—and Anne Arundel and Howard counties experienced similar growth. And really, why wouldn’t they? Baltimore’s ’burbs are not the tract-housing wastelands of Central Florida or Nevada, so there has never been a reason for residents to reject them. Our suburbs boast highly rated schools, historic neighborhoods, easy access to major transportation hubs, and, increasingly, walkable downtowns with a variety of shops, services, and entertainment options. No wonder local real estate professionals predict a hot market this year.

“It [was] the strongest December we’ve had since [the housing bubble burst] in 2008, so it’s looking like 2017 is going to be even better,” says Cindy Ariosa, senior vice president and regional manager at Long & Foster and the chairwoman of the board of directors for MRIS, the mid-Atlantic’s real estate multiple listing service. “Contracts are already up in January. The volume was up 9 percent. . . . The average price is up 4.5 percent. Everything’s up.”

Ariosa attributes this to numerous factors, including low unemployment and interest rates, high consumer confidence, and a rebounding stock market that is buoying the high-end buyer. Demographic shifts are also at play, as millennials enter the market and boomers look to downsize. All that’s missing, says Ariosa, is inventory. “It’s the lowest that we’ve had in a number of years,” she says. But rather than acting as a deterrent, Ariosa sees this scarcity focusing buyers. “They know that if they want to move or have to move, they [need to] take action quicker,” she says.

That’s where we come in. We’ve selected 10 of the region’s most popular suburbs and then designed a buyer’s guide for each, highlighting neighborhoods that are ideal for every tier of buyer, from first-time to high-end. We hope this will help buyers zero in on their future home that much faster, so they can get down to the business of living.

*All homes pictured were either for sale as of press time or have sold within the last year.

Relevant ZIP codes 21401, 21403

We can hear the complaints now: “Annapolis isn’t a suburb of Baltimore! It’s its own place!” That’s true, it does have a culture all its own. And that’s exactly what makes it so attractive to people who work in Baltimore or D.C. but want a more relaxed vibe at home. Unfortunately, the secret is out—housing prices in Annapolis are sky-high. If you want to be anywhere near downtown, you’ll be lucky to find anything larger than a shoebox for under $400,000. And if you want waterfront, you’re talking $1 million, easy. “Any waterfront neighborhood is going to have a luxury component,” says David Orso, a real estate agent who specializes in the Annapolis and Severna Park markets. Our advice is to forget about what you’re paying and focus on what you’re getting: historic charm, cultural happenings, and, of course, water, water everywhere.

Relevant ZIP codes 21228, 21229

“Life is great in 21228,” proclaim the bumper stickers—and who are we to argue? (There’s a sliver of Catonsville in the 21229 ZIP code, and life seems pretty swell there, too.) Indeed, Catonsville has a lot going for it. For starters, it is home to Western School of Technology, a public magnet high school that, according to U.S. News & World Report, is the 11th best public high school in the state. Higher ed choices abound too, at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville. Then there are the 14,000 acres of Patapsco Valley State Park, the town’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza, and easy access to BWI, I-695, and I-95. Better yet, all this comes reasonably priced. “Price points are fairly low, especially compared with Howard County,” says Jeff Berman, a real estate agent with RE/MAX. “[It] has that small town feel.”

Relevant ZIP codes 21029, 21042, 21044, 21045, 21046

Opened in 1967, Columbia was designed as something of a progressive social experiment—a way of proving that people of various backgrounds could live together in peace and style. Fifty years later, waves of upwardly mobile professionals continue to flock to its 10 distinct villages. “They’re coming for all the conveniences—the pools, the tennis courts,” explains Creig Northrop, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. And though buyers pay for these conveniences through homeowners’ association fees, Columbia’s density and varied housing stock keep prices on a fairly even keel. “You don’t really have a ton of high-end,” says Northrop. “It’s built to be affordable.” The exceptions are in neighborhoods zoned for coveted public schools, like River Hill High School. But a revitalization of Columbia’s Town Center promises to bring high-end living to the community’s core, too.

Relevant ZIP codes 21041, 21042, 21043, 21045

Want to talk Ellicott City real estate? First you must talk schools. “If you . . . find people’s perceptions of the school [a property is zoned for], it will show you what the value of the house is,” explains Bob Lucido, a real estate agent with Keller Williams. Lucido stresses that all Howard County public schools are considered “good,” but acknowledges that three high schools—Centennial, Marriotts Ridge, and River Hill—have particularly stellar reputations. U.S. News & World Report named them the 10th, ninth, and seventh best public high schools in the state, respectively. So houses zoned for these schools tend to fetch higher prices. But Ellicott City is more than its schools. Its historic downtown—mounting a valiant comeback after last summer’s flooding—is quaintness personified. There’s the convenience of Route 40, I-70, and I-695, plus the woodsy splendor of Patapsco Valley State Park. Ellicott City is a town for all seasons.

Relevant ZIP code 21093

Trying to ascertain the exact boundaries of Lutherville-Timonium is difficult. Most agree that it starts at the intersection of Falls Road and Seminary Avenue and runs north to Padonia Road. But the east-west borders are more amorphous, sometimes including Mays Chapel and/or Loch Raven Reservoir. Wherever it is, everyone agrees it’s a great place to live—especially if you live the preppy life. “It’s really sort of country living without the commute to the country,” says Karen Hubble Bisbee, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate/Christie’s International Real Estate, who lives there herself. This Goldilocks location—plus the 12th best high school in the state, according to U.S. News & World Report—means the market is always competitive. “If it’s priced well . . . be prepared to step up quickly,” advises Hubble Bisbee.

Relevant ZIP code 21111

Monkton/Hereford is a bit of a special case. Its proximity to I-83 makes it catnip for commuters, but much of its land is zoned for either agriculture or conservation, meaning it will never be chock-full of houses and condos—and that’s fine with residents. “[Homebuyers] are choosing it because they like the space,” says real estate agent Ashley Richardson, whose parents live in Monkton. Indeed, the NCR Trail attracts joggers and bikers year-round, and in the summer, the Gunpowder River is full of tubers. For services, residents head to Hereford’s village center. And as with most suburbs, life largely revolves around the schools. Much of Monkton/Hereford feeds into Sparks Elementary, Hereford Middle School, and Hereford High School, all of which have been named Blue Ribbon schools by either the state or the U.S Department of Education.

Relevant ZIP codes 21208, 21209, 21153

In many ways, Pikesville’s real estate market is typical. People want to live near their children’s school or major transportation hubs, but without sacrificing privacy or prettiness. But for members of Pikesville’s sizable Orthodox Jewish community, there’s an extra item on the wish list—proximity to their synagogue. Talmudic law prohibits work on the Sabbath—and driving counts as work. Thus, neighborhoods that fall within walking distance of a shul are highly coveted by Orthodox buyers. For homebuyers (Jewish and otherwise) without religious considerations, Pikesville offers a spectrum of choices, ranging from the semiurban bustle of the Reisterstown Road corridor to the verdant suburbia of Stevenson. In fact, once you drift east toward the Green Spring Valley, things get downright bucolic.

Relevant ZIP codes 21136, 21071

Located at the end of I-795, and adjacent to the Worthington Valley, Reisterstown can feel more rural than suburban. “Reisterstown is a very community-oriented area,” says Cookie Stone, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, who has been selling Reisterstown homes for more than 40 years. Community life receives a boost from the town’s historic Main Street, which is being revitalized. “You can . . . get an ice cream, sit on a bench, wave at somebody that you know,” says Stone. During the summer, you’re almost guaranteed to see a familiar face at The Cow—Main Street’s venerable frozen custard stand—or at the Glyndon Swim Club, a community pool in the town’s Glyndon Historic District. Such hominess often doesn’t come cheap, but in Reisterstown, “they’re going to be able to buy more here than they will in Towson or Timonium,” says Stone.

Relevant ZIP codes 21146, 21108 (Millersville)

According to real estate agent David Orso, buyers are flocking to Severna Park for two things—water access and the schools. “We have a renaissance going on,” he says. “You’ve got 35- to 45-year-old buyers coming to town with one or two babies. . . . You see a lot of people coming from South Baltimore, Canton, and they’re establishing their families.” High home values indicate these ex-urbanites are satisfied with what they’re finding. The schools are generally well regarded, with all eight of the area’s public schools (six elementary schools, a middle school, and a new high school) having earned Blue Ribbon designations from the state or the U.S. Department of Education. As for water access, most Severna Park neighborhoods have beaches, boat launches, community docks, or some combination thereof.

Relevant ZIP codes: 21204, 21212, 21286

It has an increasingly vibrant downtown, great parks, easy access to I-695 and I-83, and—according to U.S. News & World Report—two of the best public high schools in the state. No wonder Towson is perennially popular. While not every area of town is equally affordable, there are plenty of places where homebuyers with smaller budgets can enter the market. These “starter neighborhoods” offer such excellent value that many homebuyers never leave. “Some people stay for two or three years, other people stay for 30 years,” says Ashley Richardson, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. For buyers who do want to move up, there’s an abundance of mid- to high-end real estate, ranging from tastefully upper-middle-class to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-level lavishness.

Since 1975, Owings Mills has been promoted as the next great Baltimore suburb. Will a new round of development fulfill its promise or add to its woes?

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