The Search

Baltimore_neighborhoods_mapI had this map up as a tab in my browser for ten months. Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods and even within them, a good block and a bad block can be separated by one street. But you begin with the neighborhood. I started with Charles Village, where I lived in college. I have such fond memories of the beautiful rowhouse we lived in then. That’s what I hoped for: something quiet and pretty in a charming neighborhood with good access to public transportation. And, of course, a rowhouse. The first time I took the train to Baltimore, I remember almost gasping at the view of all the houses attached to each other, wave after wave. That’s what Baltimore meant to me.

Well, that’s how I started. But houses in Charles Village were way, way too expensive for me. I moved outwards from there to houses in Harwood, Abell, and Remington. In my day, Hampden was a hillbilly neighborhood with cheap houses. Now it’s a hipster neighborhood with cheap houses at expensive prices. I did not really look there. Later, I looked at “The Waverlies” and Ednor Gardens. I did not find anything that worked at a price I could pay. Either it was beautiful and located on a terrible block or it was in terrible shape on a great block. And it was hard to do from afar because everything would look great and then you’d go and realize that it was utterly dead except for young men hanging around at two in the afternoon.

Of course I had a real estate agent, but he was less than helpful. He never once called me with any kind of lead. I would email him with a list of places I wanted to see and a date I wanted to see them. He’d add a few and we’d go off. He was faultlessly polite and would spend full days with me taking me from one place to another. At each house he’d stand back as I walked around and maybe make a comment or two. If I said, “I don’t think that’s the neighborhood for me,” he’d nod and we’d move on. For some people, this would probably be ideal. Not so much for me. He also didn’t seem to really know any of the neighborhoods we were looking at. Once, he suggested a house on probably the most dangerous corner in the area. I had to let him know that he probably shouldn’t suggest that house to anyone.

I did finally find a house I liked. With little guidance, I made a lowball offer and it was accepted. It was in Better Waverly, which is also called “Worse Waverly,” but it was a good street and a perfect location. It had a spacious kitchen and lovely sunroom. The inspection took over four hours and he wasn’t even done when I was forced to tell him to just stop. He found so many things wrong with it that it would have taken $25-$30k just to bring it up to a standard I could live in. Yikes.

My real estate agent had a family event and couldn’t come.

After that, I decided to get a new agent and wow, was mine amazing (as I said yesterday about my NY agent, if you need an agent in Baltimore, please contact me!). He sent me new listings pretty much every day. If I suggested something, he would say, “oh, I am not putting you there” or “we don’t live across from apartment buildings.” He also suggested neighborhoods I had never thought of, especially in Northeast Baltimore. There were houses he found that I really liked in Original Northwood, Lauraville, Hamilton, Beverly Hills, and Arcadia. One of the houses in Beverly Hills was literally in the parking lot of the Safeway. But that was because I had asked to be in walking distance of a supermarket. So there we were. But he taught me tons about the features of Baltimore houses, about the toilets in the basement and the Formstone and the history of the neighborhoods.

And we started to look at freestanding houses. In the beginning, as I said, I only looked at rowhouses. For one thing, they represented what I liked about Baltimore and the house I had loved so much in my college years. But I think as we looked, I started to remember what I had liked about houses growing up, and I dreamt bigger. I knew it would be harder to maintain from afar and probably more expensive. But if you are trying that hard to get away from an apartment, why stay attached to your neighbors?

As we looked, he got to understand me more and more, which my first agent really hadn’t. In fact, the first guy never emailed or called to find out why I had stopped contacting him, so I think he probably wasn’t all that interested in my business. But my new guy totally got me and thought looking for a vacation house in a nearby city was kind of darling. In the end, the house I bought wasn’t one my agent suggested; I found it myself. But I never would have even looked there had he not convinced me.

But this house grabbed me right away. It was freestanding on a block with all semi-detached and it was so light-filled that the first time I stayed there I kept thinking I had left the lights on in various rooms. It was on a quiet street across from a park and the front porch and master bedroom had a lovely view. And it had been foreclosed upon and was cheap. But earlier that week, I had seen another house I had loved in a highly sought after neighborhood. It had been lovingly maintained by a long time owner and had adorable touches and a back yard that resembled a wood. And it was a rowhouse with attentive neighbors nearby to look out for my house while I was gone.

So it was a tough choice. But in the end, it was the light that sold me. It took months of crazy wrangling (as I mentioned, it was a foreclosure) but now it is mine. I really wanted to cry at the closing but it was this dim room in a nondescript office park late on a Friday and I didn’t want to in front of the suits. Plus, I now realized that I was responsible for a house. With no super. Crazy!

And the craziest part was, this house really needed a car to make it livable. Did I mention that I haven’t driven more than a few blocks in ten years or daily in twenty? Good times!

Pictures and more on all this to come.