Thinking About Living in Newtown?
What can you tell me about Newtown?
Newtown is an historic neighborhood just north of downtown Salisbury, Maryland. It consists of about 240 properties, most of them single-family detached dwellings, although there are some duplexes, some apartment buildings, some houses that have been converted into multi-unit dwellings, and one terrace of row houses. Newtown was Salisbury’s first designated historic district in recognition of its historic and architectural character—most of Salisbury’s elite lived in Newtown, and they built many fine homes, most of which survive. Although Newtown has a few houses that date from the late 18th century, and some that pre-date the Civil War, the bulk of the neighborhood was built between the end of the Civil War and 1930. Three Newtown houses are on the National Register of Historic Places, but Newtown’s homes, large and small, run the gamut of architectural styles popular in the U.S. between 1865 and 1930.
What about Salisbury—where is it, exactly, and how big is it?
Salisbury is the largest town on the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes the eastern shore portions of Maryland and Virginia and the southern portion of Delaware. The metropolitan population is slightly more than 30,000, and the service population is about 100,000. Salisbury is located on the Wicomico River and is about a 40-minute drive to the resort town of Ocean City, Maryland and the state and federal parks on the island of Assateague, known for their magnificent, unspoiled ocean beach. Salisbury is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Washington and Baltimore, slightly more to Norfolk and Philadelphia, 170 miles from Williamsburg, and 220 miles from New York. Salisbury is home to a well-respected state university, an excellent full-service hospital, and abundant retail, dining, and recreational venues.
Why live in downtown Salisbury?
Obviously, it’s an individual choice. Downtown Salisbury is increasingly active with festivals, concerts, a library, retail stores, diverse restaurants, and it’s a short walk from Newtown. Some Newtown residents work downtown, at Salisbury University or PRMC, and enjoy walking or biking to work. Newtown’s central location makes shopping resources in all directions more convenient to reach. Others enjoy the diversity of Newtown’s residents in terms of age and interests. And of course, many residents simply like the architecture and ambience of the old houses near to downtown.
What are the advantages of living in Salisbury over other places on the Eastern Shore?
There are a lot. Salisbury is the largest town on the Eastern Shore. As such, it offers shopping and activities that other towns can’t, and it offers them year ’round. It has three golf course courses nearby, a zoo, a symphony, and a shopping mall with cinemas. In addition to casual dining, it has real restaurants, including ethnic ones (and ethnic food shopping, too). The University offers concerts, lectures, fine art films and theater. Peninsula Regional Medical Center is a comprehensive facility. Interest-related groups support the library and Pemberton Hall (a 1741 historic house). There are dance clubs and book clubs, and bus trips to Washington, New York, and other places of interest. There are churches of virtually every denomination, a synagogue, and a mosque. While Salisbury is only 30 miles from the Bay and the Atlantic, it is far enough away from the coastline that storm surge, flooding, and evacuation from hurricanes is not a concern, although areas in Salisbury’s downtown near the river and other riverfront properties do occasionally experience flooding. If you are a sailor, a marina is a twenty-minute drive; if you own a power boat, a marina is even closer, including one in downtown Salisbury. You can fish or crab at a variety of locations. If you are a hunter, there is excellent wildfowl and deer hunting. Wicomico County’s recreation department offers softball, kickball, volleyball, and tennis and stages a beer fest, a wine fest, and the annual Pork in the Park festival. Salisbury University’s Seagull Century is an annual biking event in the fall that attracts thousands of cyclists from around the world. Salisbury is Maryland’s coastal college town!
I see a lot of negative online crime statistics for Salisbury. Aren’t the suburbs safer?
Statistics posted online at real estate and crime tracking sites that concern Newtown and Salisbury are misleading, and only recently has the city begun efforts to correct an impression that is simultaneously out-of-date and erroneous. First of all, Salisbury voluntarily reports its crime statistics while many—perhaps the majority—of comparably-sized cities do not. (A look at crime watch sites will quickly show that some cities and counties seem to have no crime at all because they choose not to provide crime reports!) Admittedly, Salisbury had some relatively serious crime issues a number of years ago, and the resulting notoriety stubbornly survives on the Web. But Salisbury today is by any standards a safe and secure place to live. An additional issue with crime sites on the Web is that localities that do report don’t necessarily classify illegal activity the same way, and Salisbury tends to be more stringent in this regard. This has also had an effect on the false impression that Salisbury is crime-ridden. There are unquestionably crime hot spots in parts of Salisbury as there are in any urban area.
As for Newtown specifically, it is a close-knit community in which neighbors watch out for one another and one another’s property. Such crime as occasionally occurs in Newtown tends to be petty in nature: thefts from vehicles left unlocked at night or bicycles left out and unsecured. But you would encounter such incidents in many neighborhoods these days, including many affluent suburban ones.
Newtown itself is located midway between Salisbury police headquarters to the west and a neighborhood police station to the east, and the patrol car response time is only few minutes. Visit www.salisburypd.com for further information and official crime statistics.
I want to live in a neighborhood with a sense of community.
That’s Newtown! We’ve had an active neighborhood association for decades. We look out for one another. We socialize. We have an annual block party, and a holiday house tour every other year. We have a new community vegetable garden. We pitch in to maintain public spaces in the neighborhood, and many residents are social and get together on a regular basis.
In the suburbs you can drive through and pretty much tell what your neighbors will be like. What are the neighbors like in Newtown?
Newtown is a mix of young families, older families, “From Heres,” and “Come Heres.” Some are new arrivals to the neighborhood; some have lived here all their lives. Some work at the University, at the hospital, at Perdue, or in retail. A number are self-employed and work from home. Some use their homes in Newtown as second homes and have a primary residences elsewhere. Generally, Newtown is a friendly, and neighbors look after the neighborhood and one another.
I have young children. I want them to receive a quality education.
Frankly, the quality of public education in Salisbury varies, as it does on the Lower Shore generally. Unquestionably some of the schools offer quality education by dedicated teachers, and graduates from Salisbury’s public high schools are accepted by upper tier colleges and universities. There are also distinguished private alternatives to the public schools, notably The Salisbury School, The Salisbury Christian School, and Worcester Academy (in Berlin, MD).
How can I talk to someone who lives in Newtown?
Contact us through our website, tell us what you’re like and what you are interested in, and we’ll find a neighbor for you to talk to.
Why are so many houses for sale in Newtown?
Nationally, the real estate collapse and the Great Recession were disastrous for older neighborhoods. Many people in prosperous times renovate older houses on the assumption that their investment—be it solely financial or one augmented by sweat equity—will be made whole by a rising real estate market. Neighborhoods like Newtown have been slow to recover, and the real estate market in Lower Eastern towns has been slow to recover its pre-2008 vitality. In Newtown there are vacant, bank-owned houses that the banks ignore and fail to properly market. Others are prime opportunities just waiting for homebuyers to rehabilitate them.
I like old houses, but the costs of renovation worry me. Can I afford it?
Renovation can be expensive, especially if you pick a property that requires more renovation than you can afford. You need to carefully evaluate what you can afford and carefully assess what work needs to be done to a house you find attractive but in need of renovation. However, there are financing advantages to renovating a house. HUD’s 203(K) FHA Rehab Mortgage insurance allows you to include the costs of renovation in your mortgage provided the work is done by professional contractors. Once completed, the property will not be reassessed for 10 years—which means that essentially the appreciated value of the house will not be added to property evaluation for that period. There are also grants available from the Maryland Historic Trust for certain types of renovation.
I understand that Newtown is a locally-certified historic district. Does this mean that I will have to get local government’s permission every time I want to do anything to my house?
In a word, no. The interior of the house is not the concern of the Historic District Commission; the main concern is the exterior, particularly the front façade. (By the way, unlike many historic districts, in Newtown paint colors are not regulated.) Remember that the reason Newtown became Salisbury’s first historic district was to protect the character of the neighborhood from those who would cut houses up into apartments and do cheap renovations with no regard for the historic nature of the neighborhood. The members of the Commission, who are all Salisbury residents, some of whom live in Newtown, take into consideration the nature and significance of the property and its adjacent properties, the renovations previously done (and when), and the cost of materials and their suitability.
Aren’t the property taxes higher in Salisbury than in the county?
Yes, but depending on where you live now, you’ll find them quite reasonable. If you live in Newtown you may pay substantially less for a house that meets your needs than you would outside the city, and if you renovate a house in Newtown, your tax rate will not change for 10 ten years!
How do you find reliable, cost-efficient, and quality contractors who work on older homes?
It’s easier than you might think. Your Newtown neighbors are first resource. By experience they know which contractors are willing—even enjoy—working on older houses and are honest and reliable. Many of these contractors will save you time, worry, and money. The Newtown Neighborhood Association maintains a list and, while the Association can’t assume responsibility for the contractors, it can at least say that those listed have done satisfactory work on houses in the neighborhood.
What about monthly utilities costs and can old houses be made energy efficient?
Many of the houses in Newtown were designed to be comfortable and efficient in the days before air conditioning, heat pumps, and dual-paned windows. Energy efficiency approaches used in new construction can be expensive, disruptive, and often may not yield the energy savings expected. Significant efficiencies can be gained by installing efficiency-rated furnaces, hot water heaters, and ductless air-conditioning units. With attic insulation, high-efficiency lighting, windows sealed with removable caulk, weather-stripping and interior storm windows, efficiency gains can be substantial.
I want a low maintenance house. What does an older home require?
Modern balloon frame, vinyl-sided houses are not built to last more than a generation without experiencing major structural issues, and the quality of finishes inside and out means those houses will require regular maintenance. In contrast to today’s houses, Newtown houses are over-built and constructed of quality materials (particularly lumber) that are no longer available. That said, many of the houses in Newtown are of wood frame construction. If the house exterior still has its original wood, it will require painting at some point. How frequently depends on how well it has been maintained; quality preparation and quality paint properly applied can last many years. But painting is work that requires an investment of care and time by the homeowner or the willingness to pay a reputable contractor to do the work properly.
How much of an issue is lead paint?
Lead paint is like asbestos—a serious problem that is distorted by misinformation. Like asbestos, lead paint is only a problem if it is disturbed in dust or chips and ingested. Removed properly or covered in a stable overcoat of other non-lead paint it represents no active hazard.
Any suggestions for making the right decision about which house to buy?
There are some. One—get a qualified, experienced house inspector, accompany him or her on the inspection, and ask questions. Two—many houses in Newtown are large, so factor in energy costs when calculating your future household budget or consider what steps you would take to reduce energy costs, and the cost of those changes. Do not assume that an expensive effort—such as replacing all the windows with new dual-pane glass, or installing a heat pump system—will necessarily be an investment that will pay off. Three—if you are buying an inexpensive house with the intention of renovating, make a budget that accounts for surprises or one that has a sizable contingency for unforeseen issues. Be honest with yourself about what you can properly and reasonably do personally and what will require a contractor.
Is real estate in Newtown a good investment?
At least for the time being, the real estate market in Salisbury and on the Lower Shore in general is in the doldrums. It is not 2006 anymore, and considering that the market in 2006 was a bubble fueled by irresponsible lending, 2006 is not the market we want again. In the long-term, the Lower Eastern Shore and Salisbury in particular possesses many of the requisites for an appreciating real estate market. On this basis, Newtown properties, part of a defined neighborhood filled with distinctive architecture within walking distance of a downtown showing concrete signs of renaissance, should resume a pattern of modest but solid appreciation over time.