Putting the Charm Back in Charm City: Baltimore’s Housing Revival – Next City

Putting the Charm Back in Charm City: Baltimore’s Housing Revival

Baltimore is a classic American city with a rich history. Despite its recent tribulations, the residents of Baltimore are proud of its roots and optimistic of what the future has to offer. Calling ‘Charm City’ home is a commitment to working with others for the common good in order to bring our beloved city back to the thriving cultural hub that it is meant to be.

Baltimore is Worth the Effort

One of the unique and beautiful parts of Baltimore is that it’s a major city with a small town feel. Every neighborhood feels like a tight knit community with its own personality and proud history. For the many years that I’ve lived in Baltimore I have always had a love for the historic Dickeyville neighborhood. The turn-of-the-century homes and the cobblestone streets make you feel like you’ve just stepped back in time. It was for this reason that I was ecstatic when I received a call from a we buy houses company in Baltimore. They had picked up a restoration project in Dickeyville and wanted me to help.

A historic gem with the original 1920s fireplace. (Credit: AE Home Group)

The project was the cornerstone house of the neighborhood. Located right at the entrance of town, it was one of the oldest and most splendid homes on the street. Sitting at four stories high, the home featured a stone exterior with the original single pane windows. Built in the 1820s, the farmhouse boasted wide plank wood floors that hadn’t been cared for in years and a historic fireplace that acted as the only heat source when the house was constructed. Having sat vacant for years as a foreclosure, it was a physical representation of the damage caused to Baltimore by the previous housing crisis.

The stone farmhouse showed a microcosm of Baltimore City’s struggle to maintain its history in the wake of its broader housing deterioration. As the population dwindles, it becomes critical that we rally around the neighborhoods that make us great in order to prevent losing the core of our city. Dependable Homebuyers, founded by Evan Roberts, is one of many Baltimore real estate companies that understands that the way we bring Baltimore City back is by focusing on more than just profit. It’s about making a difference in these quintessential neighborhoods and helping to contribute to Baltimore’s revitalization.

In Baltimore It’s about Restoration, not Renovation

As real estate professionals in the Baltimore market it’s our responsibility to ensure that these historic homes are restored properly. This means taking time to work with the local historical societies and ensuring that everything about the home is period-correct. Working with the societies enabled us to discover accurate paint colors for exterior wooden trim, identify the proper time-specific process for staining mortar, and even find archived photos of the property’s barn so we could recreate the long lost barn doors in line with the ones from the turn of the century. When you’ve been given the privilege of working on these historic Baltimore homes, everything comes down to the details.

To make historic restorations financially viable, Baltimore began offering a financial incentive to homeowners and rehabbers in 1996. This initiative, known as the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), allows for a historically restored property to lock in the current home’s tax assessment value for a span of 10 years. In a high property tax city like Baltimore this has been a great way for the city to meet developers half-way and reward those who responsibly restore Baltimore’s historical real estate.

Mixing Old With the New

An old silver spoon will look dingy and discolored if not properly cared for, much like the Dickeyville farmhouse. But, with a good deal of polish and a lot of elbow grease, that spoon can shine like new again.

While we would love to have restored the entire home to historic specifications, it’s important to balance historical appeal with modern amenities. Likewise, we have the opportunity — and the obligation — to revitalize Baltimore by highlighting its iconic charm while also integrating a fresh look and feel in and around the many Baltimorean communities.

At AE Home Group, we’re Maryland real estate agents and we have a fiduciary responsibility to protect our clients’ best interests. A fully historically accurate home is beautiful, but if it’s not a viable residence for a family then we’ve done our clients a disservice. We worked with Dependable Homebuyers to come up with a plan to incorporate modern amenities in a way that doesn’t detract from the home.

Sometimes you need to be creative to mix the old with the new. (Credit: AE Home Group)

One of the most blaring ways to mess up a restoration is to cut corners. You have to take the time to ensure that ductwork was ran in a way that minimized bulkheads. Electrical needs to be fished through the walls in a way that retains as much of the original plaster as possible. It’s taking the extra time and consideration that can be the differentiating factor between a disappointing renovation and a jaw dropping restoration. For example, in the bathroom we went with a custom double glass shower. While the idea was a little out of the box, it ensured that nothing detracted from the room sightlines and kept the focus on the home’s original charm.

It takes a lot of work and perseverance, but what could be better than being a part of a citywide revival?

Getting Involved With Restoring Baltimore

There are so many places to get started in Baltimore, it can be overwhelming. Foreclosures, auctions, short sales, and abandoned homes with unknown owners. The important thing is to pick a neighborhood you’re passionate about and get to know the community. Every neighborhood has a rehabber hard at work gutting houses and restoring them to their former glory and they’re not hard to find. Drive around and look for a roll-away dumpster parked in front of a house, it’s a sure sign that someone is about to turn the neighborhood’s blight into its most desirable abode.

Contact that rehabber and offer to help in any way you can. Learn the ins and outs of the restoration process and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Attend community events, farmers markets and festivals. Learn everything you can about the neighborhood’s history and research what makes the residents most proud.

Never cut corner and poor your heart into the project and you’ll find success. (Credit: AE Home Group)

When you’re finally ready to participate, don’t step in, leap in with everything you have. Pour your heart and your passion into the project and others are bound to see the value of your vision. While it’s easy to get swept up in the experience, never sway from your roots. The goal of the movement is to restore, not displace. As rehabbers we’re there to restore and protect the community, not transform it to our own ideals. It is a fine line between restoring a community and gentrifying it to where the people who make it great can no longer be a part of its renaissance.

A Baltimore City Revival is Right Around the Corner

Baltimore residents’ sense of community is already one of the most robust — a non-resident can feel their own chest swell with pride when listening to residents (native or transplant) gush about their hometown. Working to get restoration projects underway can only serve to bolster that sense of satisfaction and delight. Take part in something extraordinary. Now, isn’t that charming?

Jeff Miller is a realtor with AE Home Group.