Baltimore -- Where the Living Is Easy
It's a common quest – everyone is always looking for ways to stretch their dollars further. It might come as a surprise that some Baltimoreans think just living in the city is a step in the right direction. Not only is the housing market extremely affordable compared to other major cities, Baltimore also boasts a myriad of cultural gems, dining options, parks, and recreation activities.
"In other large cities, you have to spend more on housing, amenities, and eating out," says Dr. Bryan Rogoff, who bought his house on the border between Charles Village and Station North in 2008 after nearly 10 years in the DC area.
"If I bought a house like the one I bought here in the DC market, it would have been well over a million dollars," he says, which makes his Baltimore home's $575,000 price tag quite a steal.
It's not just the lower price of homes in Baltimore, according to Rogoff, but the property taxes are also a big factor adding to the city's affordability. For his 3,000 square foot former home in Potomac, Maryland Rogoff paid $5,800 in taxes. Compare that to the $2,900 in taxes for his 4,000 square foot Baltimore home.
"On top of that, I have a two-car garage with a small yard and a roof deck, which I didn't have before," he says.
Living it up in Baltimore
At Live Baltimore, an organization that works to educate people about the affordability and quality of life in Baltimore City, they've found that Rogoff's story is not unusual and that many Baltimoreans are getting more bang for their buck. "Baltimore is the most affordable jurisdiction in the region. Our statistics show that it is 66 percent more affordable than living in Washington DC," says Anna Custer, Live Baltimore's executive director. "And when you compare us to New York or Philadelphia, you can enjoy major savings, especially when you consider the quality of the house you'll be getting."
DC and NY city residents will find that some Baltimore neighborhoods are similar to popular areas in the nation's capitol. Custer likens Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood to DC's Georgetown because of its upscale dining, shops, and nightlife, or Baltimore's Bolton Hill neighborhood for its similar housing style. "They call it a brownstone, we call it a row home and you save about half," she says. Or if you're looking for an experience more like New York's SoHo district, try Station North where Custer says you can get a 2,000 square foot loft for a song compared to the real SoHo.
Commuters for whom daily travel from Baltimore into DC seems impossible should think again. Custer says the MARC train offers a convenient commute that downtown Baltimoreans can use without even getting on the roadways. "A monthly pass is around $150 which is affordable, too," she says.
Of course a commute from within downtown DC to another part of downtown DC would likely be faster, but recent Baltimore transplant Anna Conger says the affordability of Baltimore's housing outweighs the difference in time.
"We asked ourselves, is it worth a faster commute if we're living just within our means or maybe even beyond our means, which is what would've happened if we had bought in DC."
Conger looked at houses in DC and found some great neighborhoods that had a lot of appeal but the cost made her give Baltimore another look. "I found that we could get more house for less in Baltimore. It's so much cheaper than living in DC or even Annapolis, but it's also so close to everything. We can easily jump in our car and go to DC but we don't have to pay the price to live there."
Ditch the car
It's true that a relatively short ride in the car from Baltimore can get you to lots of other great cities in the area, but most Baltimoreans also appreciate that its easy and inexpensive to get around without a car. "One of the things I love about DC is how walkable it is and I thought we'd have to have a car in Baltimore. But its way more walkable than I thought and I'm surprised by how little we've used our car since we got here," says Conger.
For Andrea Shelby and her family, who live in Federal Hill, getting around without the family vehicle is often part of the adventure. "The downtown sailing center is within walking distance of my house. You can go and rent a sailboat for the day for super cheap and have the boat to yourself and just sail," she says. "It's a really cool thing. You don't have to own a boat to feel like you do for a day."
Or if she feels like sailing for the day without any of the work involved, Shelby says she and her two kids will spend the day cruising around the harbor on the water taxi. "You can hop on and ride it all day long to go to different areas of town. We go to South Point and get ice cream, or Fort McHenry, and then get back on the boat to go to Port Discovery. You can criss-cross across the harbor," she says.
Rich culture (without the rich pricetag)
Whether by car, water taxi, or on foot, another area where it's possible to find some steals is in Baltimore's multitude of cultural offerings. "There are so many beautiful parks that are free, and there are tons of festivals throughout the spring, summer, and fall when the weather is nice," says Federal Hill resident Judy O'Brien. "At the festivals, almost everything is free and they have lots of activities for kids. We go to one every few weeks."
O'Brien and her family also spend a lot of time at Baltimore's diverse museums. She recommends finding your favorites and getting a membership. "We spend a lot of time at the aquarium and the Science Center. Once you're a member it's really affordable – if you go twice in a year it pays for the membership."
Or you can spend as much time as you like in places like the Walters Art Museum, where admission is free, or Enoch Pratt Free Library without spending a dime. "Enoch Pratt is one of the jewels of the city," says O'Brien. "My husband and I enjoy it with our children but we also go to adult-only events like cocktail events or when world renowned authors come to visit."
Fall is also an especially good time for Baltimore residents to experience the city's cultural highlights as more than 70 organizations participate in the citywide Free Fall celebration. The arts extravaganza offers visitors an array of free creative arts events including dance and musical concerts, classes and hands-on projects, lectures, history and heritage tours and theatrical shows. Residents and visitors can choose free activities in venues offering more than 300 events for the entire month of October.
If the price is right
One of Shelby's favorite cultural events is the annual Lotta Art fundraiser for the School 33 Art Center. "For the price of your ticket, which is around $150, all kinds of local artists have their pieces on display and you walk away with an original piece of art at the end of the night. It's such an amazing way to get great artwork for your home," she says. "I've gone three years in a row and have three amazing pieces in our house."
Baltimore native Pauline Harris added a touch of art to her home without spending a fortune. She didn't opt to put art up on her wall, but rather turned her wall into art. "I have a mural on the wall in my kitchen that was done by two artists from MICA," she says. "It's stunning and it would have been extremely expensive to have a muralist come in and do that."
Harris, who has lived in Baltimore her whole life, says that what keeps her here is the mix of all that Baltimore has to offer at prices that won't break the bank. "It's an easy place to live, and affordable, too."
Homeowner Pauline Harris poses for a portrait beside a mural in her kitchen - Arianne Teeple
Homeowner Dr. Bryan Rogoff poses with his home elevator - Arianne Teeple
Homeowner Judy O'Brien poses for a portrait in her home - Arianne Teeple
Homeowner Dr. Bryan Rogoff poses on a spiral staircase in his home - Arianne Teeple
Interior of Dr. Bryan Rogoff's home