A place to call home

October 10, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

WASHINGTON COUNTY - While new home costs in the area continue to climb, buying a house in Washington County is very attractive for people from neighboring counties who are willing to commute to work in exchange for the area's rural surroundings and more affordable housing.

Last spring, Timothy Bell and his fiance purchased a four-bedroom home in Hager's Crossing. Bell said they discovered the community during a weekend shopping trip.

"We were having dinner at Ryan's restaurant when we saw the trailers," Bell said. Ryan Homes and Patriot Homes opened marketing trailers at the community's entrance in September 2003.


After speaking with a sales representative, the Montgomery County Public Schools employee said his family was eager to sell its Frederick, Md., home and head west.

"The homes are cheaper here," Bell said. "To get something like this in Montgomery or Frederick County, you'll pay an arm and a leg."

Bell represents a growing number of home buyers who are taking advantage of low interest rates and attractive financing incentives, said Lenn Harley, a real estate broker with in Frederick.

Harley said the median price for a new home sold in Washington County is $350,000. The median price for a new home in Frederick County is $460,800, while in Montgomery County, the figure soars to $630,000.

She said she expects the housing demand to continue as more employment centers locate outside Washington, D.C., and nearby counties.

"If developers go one county removed, they're finding more sensible land development and a more sensitive permitting process," she said.

Several homeowners, who have purchased homes built by Ryan Homes and Patriot Homes, agree.

Many of the single-family homes and townhouses in Hager's Crossing range in price from $175,000 to $450,000, according to marketing representatives with Ryan Homes and Patriot Homes.

"The same house that we offer here in the $300,000 range, if you were in Howard County, it would cost $500,000," said Charles Lewis, a Patriot Homes marketing manager.

Lewis said in the last year, his company has launched 15 communities in six Maryland counties and in nearby Loganville, Pa.

"We're looking at opportunities up and down the (Interstate) 81 corridor on the Maryland side and the Pennsylvania side," Lewis said.

In Washington County, the average price for a new home in the first six months of 2004 was $281,467, compared with $227,878 for the same period in 2003, according to Hagerstown real estate broker Roger Fairbourn.

Bell and his fiance, who works as a nurse in Frederick, don't mind the commute, and he said the community is ideal for raising their two children, who are 12 and 6.

While the cost was attractive, Bell said the serenity and security he feels living in Hagerstown is priceless when compared with Prince George's County, where he grew up.

"I'm getting safety for my kids and the home I wanted," Bell said. "Everything was well worth it to me. I'll be here for a while."

Bell's neighbor, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Glen Lattie, is affectionately known as "The Mayor" by some Hager's Crossing neighbors.

Bell said Lattie earned the title as the first person to buy a house in the planned community.

Lattie, whose military career spans 20 years, moved to Hagerstown in October 2003 following a transfer from Louisiana to Fort Detrick in Frederick.

"My wife and I looked at homes within 30 to 40 minutes from the base," Lattie said.

Like Bell, he said location, convenience to retail shopping and home prices all were key in his decision to buy in Hagerstown - where he said he probably will retire.

And while Lattie's neighbors call him "The Mayor," he said he looks forward to getting involved in a community where he said he feels welcome.

"Local politics has crossed my mind," he said. "I think the people here have been very friendly. I thought I'd run into some people who wouldn't approve of outsiders, but it's been excellent."

The lower home prices also are attracting local people such as Erica and Raoul Aranha of Williamsport, who are shopping for their first home.

"I think the prices are reasonable," Raoul Aranha said. "They aren't overpriced."

Hager's Crossing is one of several communities the couple is considering.

"It's very convenient to shopping, and you can't beat the location, but we're still in the not-sure stage," Erica Aranha said.

While the location offers a two-minute commute to their jobs at First Data Merchant Services, the couple said they are searching for the best investment before they make a decision.

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