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One unit not enough? Supersize it!

Back when they first toured the 4,000-square-foot apartment in Canton that soon would become their home, Sloane Brown and her husband, Steve Sobelman, were awestruck by the sweeping views of Baltimore’s waterfront.

Making the point more dramatic was the fact that the vista was enhanced by two balconies, the result of a real estate trend of combining multiple units into one supersized dwelling.

“We don’t ever end up being claustrophobic,” says Brown, a local media personality and jewelry designer, of the airy apartment in Canton Cove with windows that extend from floor to ceiling and the second kitchen serves as a laundry room and catering kitchen. “It’s a really nice home that flows.”

Throughout the Baltimore metro area, realtors say such hyper-apartments and even expanding row houses and duplexes are springing up as families seek to live in the city, but in mega dwellings rivaling the size of luxury and land-enriched “McMansions” in Baltimore’s surrounding suburban counties. The practice is usually undertaken by wealthy homeowners, some realtors say, who have expendable income for renovations and repairs that can extend the purchase price by six figures.

The most famous condo-consolidation was the November purchase of three luxury Inner Harbor penthouse units by best selling author, video game developer and Orioles part-owner Tom Clancy.

Clancy, a former insurance salesman turned author of such hits as “The Hunt for Red October,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “The Sum of All Fears”, purchased three adjoining units at the swank Ritz-Carlton Residences on Key Highway to combine into an 11,959-square-foot top-floor dwelling.

With only 23 of 191 units sold this fall, sales at the luxury complex, which opened in May 2008, had been stymied by the collapse of Wall Street and the recession.

Clancy’s $12.6 million purchase made headlines and the end result – a four-bedroom, six and a half-bath luxury pad with a home theatre, three semi-private elevators and a half-dozen balconies – is the stuff of local legend, said Bob Merbler, a realtor with Yerman, Witman, Gaines & Conklin Realty of Federal Hill. Overall, the super-unit will be the size of five “typical new U.S. houses,” according to a November 19, 2009 article in The Sun.

Soon, workmen will return to the Ritz-Carlton Residences to begin the process of merging the three Clancy units, joining electrical and plumbing work and breaking down walls.

Merbler, who specializes in luxury homes near the Inner Harbor, said combining units into one large house is often a labor of love. Along with the added square footage comes a higher property tax and utility bill as well as certain historic and architectural design expenses.

“Generally if people are looking for more space, they end up moving to the burbs,” Merbler said. “But to stay in the city and go through the conversion process, the rules and regulations of historic concerns and city taxes, it’s a chore. You really have to want to do it. It’s a lot easier to go out and buy a piece of land.”

Merbler said the phenomenon of combining dwelling units is not limited to apartment buildings.

Two years ago, he had a client who lived in a row house in the trendy 200 block of East Montgomery Street who then purchased two additional row houses flanking the original abode. With a trio of dwellings, and permits in hand, the owner hired contractors who began the process of knocking down walls and rewiring electricity. The construction took about a year, but the end result was a spectacular conversion, made unique because the dwelling still looks like three separate row houses from the street.

“It is truly magnificent,” Merbler said, of the property.

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