Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods.
And one is undoubtedly perfect for you.
By Ed Gunts
Illustrations by Alicia Corman
When people buy a home, they aren’t just investing in a single address, they’re also buying into a neighborhood, with its own qualities and characteristics.
For the best chance of success in any home search, local agents say it pays for buyers to take a hard look not only at a particular residence but the area where it’s located, as the neighborhood can affect their quality of life as much as the home itself.
“I think it depends a bit where folks are in their lives,” says Ken Maher, a realtor and vice president with Monument Sotheby’s International Realty.
For young couples, he says, the best place to look may be Rodgers Forge. But for singles, “Maybe Fells Point or Federal Hill or Hampden or Remington, with the caveat being they often move when kids join them, due to schools.”
Interest rates, which were as low as 2.5 percent during the pandemic, began rising last fall, shutting some would-be buyers out of the market. Much of 2022 seemed to be a seller’s market, with many homes getting multiple bids. Interest rates came down to around 6.75 percent in February from their high of 7.5 percent last fall and while the market has cooled some, inventory remains low and agents are preparing for a busy spring sales season.
For those in the market, agents say there are still good deals to be found, especially for buyers who expand their search area. “It’s about looking at other neighborhoods and being open to other neighborhoods,” says Dawson Nolley of Cummings & Co. Realtors.
To help, Baltimore asked local real estate agents to name what they thought were some of the best places in the Baltimore area to consider, in a variety of categories, including some hidden gems you may not have heard of before.
Besides Maher and Nolley, the experts who offered suggestions include Tracey Lee Clark of Compass, Dawson Nolley of Cummings & Company Realtors, Brandon Gaines of Berkshire Hathaway HomeSale Services, and Cindy Conklin of Monument Sotheby’s International Realty.
Here are some of their recommendations:
Best Place for First-Time Buyers
Rodgers Forge, a neighborhood just north of the city line in Baltimore County, was recommended for a variety of factors, including its strong public schools, easy access to shopping and entertainment, and county taxes ($1.10 per $100 of assessed value in Baltimore County, versus $2.248 per $100 of assessed value in the City next door).
Named after a blacksmith shop owned by George Rodgers and his family, “The Forge” contains more than 1,700 rowhouses built from the 1930s to the 1950s. It’s where Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps grew up, and it received widespread attention in 2020, when neighbors strung holiday lights across the 300 block of Dunkirk Road, with a sign reading “Love Lives Here.”
Rodgers Forge is an area not only where love lives, but where neighbors love to live. It has about 4,000 residents and a median
home sold price of $368,300 as of January 2023, according to Realtor.com.
Other recommendations: Parkville, Remington, and Hampden. Nolley, of Cummings & Co., names Canton and Hamilton, pictured. above. “The first offers the most amenities for the money,” he says, and “the other offers the most house for the money.”
Best Places to Raise a Family
Roland Park in North Baltimore, with its median listing home price of $532,500, is the bucolic community created starting in the 1890s by Edward Bouton’s Roland Park Company as one of America’s first “garden suburbs.”
It wins high marks for its top-rated schools and an always vigilant community organization, the Roland Park Civic League. For sheer conviviality and neighborliness, Maher says few places can beat “The Triangle,” the cluster of homes bounded by University Parkway, West 40th Street, and Keswick Road, where neighbors have an annual “alley rally” that starts on a Saturday afternoon and typically lasts well into the night.
Stoneleigh (median listing home price of $614,500), which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary, was recommended in Baltimore County. Like Roland Park, it’s a mature, leafy, well-planned historic district with a timeless quality, yet close to shops, good schools, and entertainment. Stoneleigh Elementary School has benefitted from extensive upgrades in recent years and there’s a popular community pool that doubles as a neighborhood gathering spot.
Also recommended: Rodgers Forge, Anneslie, and Old Lutherville.
Places for Architecture Enthusiasts
Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Fells Point, Reservoir Hill, Woodberry, Annapolis, Ellicott City, and Havre de Grace are known for their historic architecture and community efforts to preserve it. Some lesser-known locales for the architecturally astute include Olmsted-designed Sudbrook Park and Rockland Village, a preserved hamlet that dates back to 1706.
For something a bit more contemporary, midcentury modern homes abound in and around Pikesville. Nolley likes the architectural duplexes on Chinquapin Parkway. For homes with a contemporary vibe in a wooded setting, Conklin suggests Overlook Clipper Mill in Woodberry.
Hidden Gem Communities
Even in a region with houses more than 250 years old, where it may seem you’ve seen every neighborhood, there are always more places to discover. Compass’ Clark says,
“Can’t afford Roland Park or Guilford but love the architecture? Original Northwood and Ashburton, pictured above, offer similar houses at a more affordable price.”
Original Northwood is a high density suburban-style community featuring many of the unique architectural styles of Roland Park as well as mature landscaping. Yet it is tucked in near the Alameda, offering city-living amenities. Ashburton in West Baltimore features stately single-family homes. A historically African-American neighborhood, Ashburton has been home to many city delegates and a mayor.
Other hidden gems include Kernewood, east of the Loyola University Maryland campus, with its single-family homes and unusually large yards, and Dickeyville, a picturesque village of nearly 140 homes. Stone Hill and Brick Hill, two Jones Falls Valley communities that started in the 19th century as housing for mill workers, with duplexes as the primary building type, are also off-the-beaten-path winners.
Original Northwood was cited frequently as an often-overlooked place where buyers can get plenty of house for their dollar. The “pocket neighborhood” was the final major project of the Roland Park Company.
Set on a hill with Baltimore City College to the south and Morgan State University to the east, it consists of nearly 400 homes constructed between 1930 and 1953 in a variety of popular early 20th-century styles, including Tudor Revival, Georgian Revival, Williamsburg Revival, New England Colonial, Cape Cod, and English Cottage.
The median listing home price as of January 2023 was $335,000, but some duplexes in the area sell for $225,000 or less. Original Northwood is close to Northwood Commons, the recently upgraded shopping center that features the city’s first branch of Lidl, the German grocer that’s a favorite with value-conscious shoppers.
Other recommendations: Radnor-Winston, Ridgely’s Delight, Mayfield, Beverly Hills, Parkville, and Knollwood-Donnybrook.
Experts often advise homebuyers that if home prices in a neighborhood they like don’t match their budget, they should expand their search to include homes in nearby communities.
Some of the best finds are in “coattail” communities that are close to highly desirable neighborhoods, the way Evergreen and Wyndhurst border Roland Park and have a similar mix of housing sizes and styles.
Other examples of coattail communities include Hadley Square between Guilford and Tuscany-Canterbury, a pleasant ‘hood without the homeowners’ covenants of its ritzy neighbors, and Upper Fells, which is predominantly residential so residents can enjoy close proximity to the harborfront and all its entertainments without Fells Points’ crowds.
Lake Walker east of Cedarcroft, Medfield, tucked between Hampden and Roland Park, and Beverley Hills, south and east of
Lauraville, are other options
Places Having a Revival
The Village of Cross Keys is seeing renewed interest because a local developer, Caves Valley Partners, has been busy upgrading the retail and office portions of the community with new merchants, businesses, services, and infrastructure repairs.
Created by developer James Rouse starting in the early 1960s as a prototype for his planned community of Columbia, Cross Keys has grown into a highly walkable community with a mix of housing types that have a contemporary feeling, including “Zero-Lot-Line” houses set up against the edge of the property and a condominium building designed by noted architect Frank Gehry.
Constructed on a former golf course off the 5100 block of Falls Road, with the Jones Falls Expressway to the west, it feels like a gated community. According to Redfin, the median sale price is $249,950, up 32.2 percent year over year.
Public investments in Druid Hill Park, including a new master plan to guide improvements such as an elevated boardwalk and areas for swimming and boating, bode well for two historic rowhouse communities to the south, Reservoir Hill and Auchentoroly Terrace, pictured above, to rise again
Places on the Rise
A few years ago, Remington would have led this category, but judging from the many new businesses moving in and the redevelopment activity underway, it has pretty much arrived (although the median listing home price of $155,000 in January shows there are still deals to be had).
This year, two other rowhouse communities with somewhat larger homes, Greenmount West and Old Goucher, are benefitting from efforts to strengthen the area between Mount Vernon and Charles Village, especially with much-publicized improvements to and around Pennsylvania Station. Mayfield in Northeast Baltimore, which calls itself, “a hamlet in the heart of town,” is another community that’s still “under of lot of radars,” says Nolley.
Featuring a mix of detached homes, semi-detached homes, and rowhouses, Mayfield is also full of recreational opportunities, with Lake Montebello, Herring Run Park, and Clifton Park nearby
Places for a Car-Free Lifestyle
For those who don’t have a car or who want to drive as little as possible, neighborhoods near the city’s Charm City Circulator and Hopkins shuttle routes can be appealing, including Mount Vernon, Midtown, Station North, Bolton Hill, Old Goucher, Otterbein, Federal Hill. and Charles Village/Abell.
Cyclists value areas that have roads with dedicated bike lanes, which have spread to cover much of the city. A cycle commuter can now pedal from Roland Park to work in Mount Vernon almost exclusively on bike lanes. Commuters may choose to live close to stops along the light rail, Amtrak, or MARC lines.
But sometimes nothing beats two feet. Areas with a high walkability score (a measure that indicates how close homes are to shops, restaurants, schools, and parks) include Canton, Mount Vernon, Federal Hill, Otterbein and Charles Village.