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Seven Factors that Affect Residential Land Values in Baltimore County

If you have land for sale in Baltimore County, you may be surprised at what your land is worth for residential development. While there are many factors that determine the value of any given parcel of land in Baltimore County or elsewhere, here are a few variables that contribute to the value of your property. For a more detailed, no-obligation opinion of value of your land located anywhere in the state of Maryland, please contact Stephen Ferrandi at 410-925-4566.

  1. URDL—The value of your property has everything to do with its location inside or outside the Urban Rural Demarcation Line or URDL. The URDL is a ring that snakes throughout the outer suburbs of Baltimore County. It was was created by the planning and zoning folks in 1967, and it forms the backbone of Baltimore County’s master plan for development. The county created the URDL as a means to direct development to areas with convenient access to infrastructure and public utilities. The end result is that the urban land inside the URDL can be more densely development than rural land. Bottom line: land that can be more densely developed is worth more money.
  2. Zoning—Baltimore County, like many other Maryland counties, has a county specific zoning classification for all of the land contained within its borders. Properties approved for residential development and located within the URDL line receive a classification beginning with the letters DR (Density Residential) and then a number, which signifies how many density units that property can support per acre. Land zoned for low-density development will be classified as DR-1, which permits one single-family house per 40,000 square feet of land area. A property zoned DR-2 allows for development at a density of one single-family house per 20,000 square feet of land area. A parcel of land zoned DR-3.5 allows for single family houses to be built at a density of up to 3.5 homes per acre (43,560 square feet). If your property is zoned DR-5.5, then your land is allowed to be developed with single-family attached units (townhomes), built at a density of 5.5 townhouses per acre. There are few vacant parcels of land remaining of land zoned DR-10.5 or DR-16, but if your property is zoned with this classification, then your zoning allows for the development of multi-family housing on your land. A very rare zoning classification is that of RAE. RAE-1 and RAE-2 stand for Residential Apartment Elevator 1 permitting 40 units per acre, and RAE-2 permitting 80 units per acre. If you find that you have this zoning classification, please call me immediately and then call your travel agent to book a luxury tour around the globe. Your property is as valuable as a Mega Ball winning lottery ticket.
  3. Zip Code—Let’s face it: most people of a certain social or educational station want to live with others they perceive to be like them. I teach classes to graduate students and real estate investors, and I have always found that the following example brings this point home. If your rich uncle died and left you a fortune of $20 million in cash, where do you build your new eight bedroom house with the basement movie theater and the indoor putting green? Do you build such a house in Arbutus 21227 or Dundalk 21222? Or are you more likely to build in Baldwin 21013, Stevenson 21053, or Upperco 21120. Unless you are tied to living in a specific zip code, you will be building such a house in areas where other wealthy people live. Zip codes are important to residential homebuilders for the same reasons. People judge areas by their zip code. When residential agents say that value is determined by location, location, location what that translates to when it comes to your land is zip code, zip code, zip code.
  4. Schools—Another key factor in determining land values is which schools (elementary, middle, and high) serve the property. If your property is served by Millford Mill Academy, Overlea High, Kenwood High, or Woodlawn High—all ranked in the bottom third of high schools in Baltimore County—your property will be less valuable than if your property were served by Pikesville High, Franklin High, or George Washington Carver High—all ranked in the top third. If a home buyer is going to spend $500,000 to purchase a new home, that consumer is going to be discriminating as to where they buy; and schools always prove to be one of the key factors. Consequently, homebuilders build the more expensive houses where the best ranked schools are located. Builders will pay more for property in good school districts. <
  5. Public Utilities—As discussed in the paragraphs on zoning and URDL, the fact that your property is served by public utilities or not is a strong determinant as to what value your land has. The more houses per acre a developer can lay out on your property, the more dollars per acre your property is worth. Since zoning allows for intense development only on land served by public utilities, access to public water and sewer has a direct impact as to the value of your land.
  6. Crime—Not surprisingly, zip code desirability and school ranking tend to be tied into the crime rate, whether perceived or real for a given community. If your property is located in an area that has a high crime rate, then builders will see that they can build only lower-priced houses, and the value of your land is lower than if your land was located in an area with no crime issues.
  7. Other New Homes Communities—Home builders who build in an area that proves to be successful want to build other communities in that same area. The success of one project tends to attract other homebuilders who want to build in the same neighbor or community. If you have vacant land in an area where a homebuilder as recently discovered success, your property is worth more to the homebuilder community than land in an area where builders may be more cautious in their pricing of the houses and valuation of what they feel land is worth.

To view more detailed map of Baltimore County Growth Tier, please click here.

Still have questions on property valuation in Baltimore County? Email me at

What would Clint Eastwood say?

On the wall in my home office hangs a Somerset Tribune news article from 1940 stating the terms and dates of an agricultural sale to occur in the West Princess Anne area. I don’t know the outcome of the sale other than I know the family did trade the land and equipment that day and did not stay in the agricultural business. It is interesting to consider the reasons and circumstance behind the family’s decision to sell the farms and equipment and even more interesting to consider the opportunities that continuing to farm the land might have created for that family.

There are a myriad of economic forces that drive agriculture today and much like the decisions that family faced in 1940, families today face similar challenges as agriculture continues to become more and more competitive. Recently, someone called what I do the “land wars” which seems accurate because at times being a Land Broker feels like a contact sport. It is my understanding there may even be a movie coming out soon about farming and the struggle to keep the farm in the family. I somehow picture Clint Eastwood standing on the edge of a field stating a strong well phrased one liner that stops the banker cold in his tracks as he attempts to serve the farmer with a foreclosure document. Clearly, that could be entertaining!

While Hollywood may sensationalize today’s farming industry into a box office hit, the challenges for farming today are not without real drama and the stakes are high for farmers to keep or purchase every acre they can manage. It is an oversimplified statement to say farming is about scalability but it is an economic force driving the fundamentals of the profits and long term sustainability of producers in the business. To increase scalability you must either improve the land you farm, the equipment you own, or the efficiency of your farm operation.

While improvements of production and efficiency have been a cornerstone for producers to meet the food demands of recent decades, new challenges lie ahead as demand for food increases dramatically in many parts of world. To meet this demand production agriculture is ramping up and farm families are working to grow their farms.

The financial principals of modern farming for big agribusiness producers are equal for small farm families to compete as consolidation of farmland and agricultural input costs continue to drive the profitability of farming. This is a function of scalability and daily I speak with farmers seeking to increase the scale of their operation.

One of the best translations of the process of increasing scalability is what I see as generational farming. I have been fortunate to work with many farmers working to support their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. This is perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of my work in understanding this important motivational factor of a farmer buying additional ground to ensure his families future in farming. It sometimes can be quite emotional as we hunt and peck for land around the existing operation or move into another county away from their home operation.

Farmers understand the importance of scalability and they recognize that it is going to take more than what they grew up farming to compete, remain profitable and thrive in the competitive agricultural sector in coming years. I consider this fact each time I sit down with a farmer and I work to understand what their needs are and how I can best help them accomplish their goals.

The family that placed that ad in the Somerset Tribute in 1940 was my own family, and it would have been an amazing opportunity to have been a part of their discussion; perhaps I would have been a helpful voice in keeping the farm and staying in agriculture. Clearly, that was not meant to be and perhaps this history in my family has helped me understand the difficulties in the farm business and hold great respect for the families that work each day to feed other people.