When you think of the Baltimore housing market these days, you probably envision a thriving urban metropolis, with strong employment growth, a stable, diversified economy, and dozens of new communities under way. And you hit the nail on the head—Baltimore is all of these things. Business 2.0 magazine cited Baltimore as a top “boom town” market in its report last year, predicting an 8 percent job growth for the city by 2008.

Baltimore is ranked one of the top 50 housing markets in the country. Home building giants such as Ryland, Beazer, and Pulte are among Baltimore's top builders. Regional players such as Winchester Homes also are heavily competing for land with the big guys.

According to Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, Baltimore-area home builders saw a 17.6 percent increase in new home sales in the third quarter in 2005—rising to 1,464 from 1,245 in 2004. The strongest gains were seen in Harford County, with a 28.8 percent increase in new home sales, and Anne Arundel County, with a 48.5 percent jump. Baltimore County is one of the most active submarkets, with 324 homes sold during the third quarter.

NEAR IT ALL It's clear that Baltimore is a rising star in terms of home building potential and growth opportunities. Baltimore is a big lure to both builders and buyers alike, mostly because of its proximity to major metropolitan hubs and natural landscape. Washington, D.C., is a 55-minute drive from Baltimore, while Philadelphia is about a 90-minute drive, and New York is three hours away. The city also boasts a diverse age demographic. According to the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, there are 1.5 million residents between the ages of 20 and 64. The more diverse the buyer, the more dynamic the market.

FIRST TIME'S THE CHARM: Lakeside at Town Center in Columbia, Md., marked Ryland Homes' first foray into mid-rise condo development in the builder's 38-year history. The project opened last year and is sold out. Baltimore's urban environment not only appeals to young professionals, but surprisingly, the growing active adult and retiring baby boomer segments as well. In 2000, there were about 578,170 residents between the ages of 45 to 64 in the greater Baltimore metro area, according to the Maryland Department of Planning and the U.S. Census. In 2010, that number is projected to be 750,980 residents between the ages of 45 to 64. By 2015, forecasts call for a 32 percent increase in 15 years in the age group.

That speaks volumes to builders. Studies show more active adults and empty-nesters aren't flocking to the Sun Belt regions of Florida, California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Now, they're gravitating to more urban metropolitan areas, closer to family and friends and its age-restricted communities.

Charles Lewis, director of sales for Lennar Homes/Patriot Homes division in Columbia, Md., believes Baltimore is a good fit for the active adult buyer. “It's an ideal location for one to live in and commute to other major cities,” he says. Patriot, a home building division of Lennar, offers two active adult developments in the Baltimore market. One project—Hickory Overlook—located in Bel Air, Md., is sold out. The other community, Snowden Overlook in Columbia, Md., is being built with Ryland Homes.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER Ryland—well-known for building single-family detached and attached homes—stumbled upon the active adult realm as a result of a fluke insight. The builder launched a mid-rise condo product last year in the Baltimore market. It was the first mid-rise condo product in the builder's 38-year history. The project— now sold out—is called Lakeside at Town Center.

What's interesting is that Ryland didn't expect the project would resonate so well with active adult buyers. In fact, the builder didn't specifically target the active adult segment, until now. “We were surprised,” says Earl Robinson, vice president of sales and marketing for Ryland's Baltimore-Delaware division. The builder expected the majority of its mid-rise condo buyers would be young professionals, the 30-something attorney or doctor—the quintessential yuppie buyer. While the project did attract younger buyers, Robinson estimates that about 75 percent of its residents are active adults.

Ryland had struck gold. “We knew we had a winner with Lakeside,” Robinson notes. The builder realized that its mid-rise condo's design had something to do with it. The project's low maintenance design attracted lifelong Columbia residents who were looking to downsize and live within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and transportation hubs. Ryland anticipates closing about 900 homes in the Baltimore market next year.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Baltimore, MD.