County transplants cite friendliness, rural qualities as reasons for move

September 11, 2005|By HEATHER KEELS


George Burgtorf, the Hagerstown branch manager for Long and Foster Real Estate, remembers a time when his agents used to have to work to market Hagerstown homes to people from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area, advertising that Washington County was a "hidden secret" full of "unknown pleasures."

"Well, the secret's out," he said.

A large portion of new residents is relocating from Frederick County, Montgomery County and the Baltimore-Washington area, where housing prices are higher, Burgtorf said. They're drawn to Washington County for its real estate market - in which prices are slightly lower, but properties rapidly are gaining value - and by the no-longer-secret charm of the county's slower-paced lifestyle.

Who are these new residents and what causes them to decide to call Washington County home? Three new families shared their stories.


The family: James Knight, military technology sales manager; Sandra Knight, pharmaceutical saleswoman; and their daughter, Saxon Cheyenne Knight, 3.

The new home: Brick two-story, four-bedroom 4 1/2-bathroom house in the new Cannon Ridge subdivision in Keedysville. Custom built by Dan Ryan Builders for $652,000.

Moving day: House is under construction, hoping to move in by Christmas

Where they're from: Frederick, Md.

What they're saying: "Frederick is just not the same Frederick it used to be. It's becoming more and more of a big-city feeling."

As James and Sandra Knight watched the value of the Frederick home they bought for $210,000 in 2001 rise, until it had more than doubled to $433,000, they decided to sell it and move to Washington County, where they could get even more house for their money and escape the big city at the same time.

The Knights later realized it would be a better investment to let the Frederick house continue to gain value and decided to rent it out for a few more years before selling it. In the meantime, the Keedysville house also could be a good investment - the base price went up $30,000 in the two weeks just before they bought it.

Keedysville was a natural choice for the Knights because it falls directly in the center of Sandra's sales territory, she said. Location was not an issue for James, who uses his home as his headquarters and travels all over the state.

Still, the couple did plenty of research before picking the site. They ruled out a house in West Virginia that would have been $100,000 cheaper because the schools didn't rank as highly, and spent some time getting to know the neighborhood before concluding that it was perfectly suited.

"We're both not really city people," said James Knight, who grew up in Panama City Beach, Fla., before it became a tourist town. James met Sandra, who had grown up in a small town in Germany and barely spoke any English, in 1993, while he was in the army and stationed near Frankfurt.

James was delighted by the fact that he was able to get into a long conversation with a stranger in a supermarket in Sharpsburg.

"We're both used to that small-town environment, and we liked Keedysville because it's more of a country atmosphere," James said. "People move a little slower out there, and that's not to say they think slower, but they take their time."

The family: Deno Gelmini, retired pharmacist, and Janet Gelmini, retired special education teacher.

The new home: Three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom rancher in the new Cannon Ridge subdivision in the Colonial Park East community in Hagerstown, near Robinwood. Built by Home Construction for $213,000.

Moving day: December 2002

Where they're from: Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County, Md.

What they're saying: "We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of Washington."

The Gelminis were the first family to move into their former neighborhood in Upper Marlboro and the last of the original residents to move out. Over their 37-year stay, during which they raised two children and watched their neighbors come and go, they began to feel that they were different from the typical transient Washington-area residents.

"The Washington area is very fast paced, with a lot of people and a lot of moving in and out," Deno Gelmini said.

Moving to Hagerstown 2 1/2 years ago, they felt they finally had found where they belonged. Here was a county full of small towns, where families had lived on the same land for generations and people have time to get to know their neighbors.

"The people are just so friendly," Deno Gelmini said. "They do things with a handshake, and they mean it."

He admitted he had to adapt his temperament and go from wanting things done yesterday to being content to wait until next week.

Another reason for the Geminis' choice of Washington County was that they wanted a one-story "rambler" for their retirement home, but didn't want a lot of land. Home Construction in Washington County was the first builder they found that would build to those specifications, Deno said.

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