WASHINGTON- EDee Merriken says she is not familiar with much of Maryland beyond the Eastern Shore. So as the Talbot County real estate agent reads from her agency’s guest list, she does not seem aware of the fact that she has just compiled a list of Montgomery County’s most affluent communities.
“Bethesda, Potomac, Gaithersburg, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Darnestown,” she reads from the list of visitors to Cook’s Hope near Easton.
Montgomery County has by no means sent the most people to Talbot County over the past 10 years. That distinction goes to neighboring Caroline County, which had 2,365 residents move to Talbot from 1992 to 2001, compared to 536 from Montgomery County.
The migration from Montgomery to Talbot is instead remarkable in the amount of wealth that it has brought. Over the past decade, Montgomery County residents who moved to Talbot County brought $42 million in taxable income with them, according to Capital News Service analysis of Internal Revenue Service data.
Thomas Campi Jr. said Talbot County is a natural for well-off Montgomery County residents looking to retire.
“Traditionally speaking, this has been a haven as a getaway retreat for these folks, but now as they’re approaching retirement there is a push to convert their homes to full-time residences,” said Campi, a wealth management adviser with Bay Wealth Retirement and Family Advisory.
Campi, who moved to St. Michaels from Manhattan himself, also recognizes that many see their waterfront properties as secure investments.
“Waterfront is in demand and God only made so much of it,” Campi said. “They understand that more than their equity portfolios.”
Dawn Lednum, a broker with the Blakeney St. Michaels Re-Max, agrees that in a fluctuating economy well-off investors are turning to real estate.
“They see that their stocks were not paying out and are investing in property,” Lednum said.
She said that people leaving the Washington metropolitan area probably account for 50 percent of her business. Washington, Fairfax and Prince George’s contribute to that mix, she said, but Montgomery dominates in terms of income.
Ten years ago, the median income of Prince George’s migrants to Talbot was $25,500, compared to Montgomery’s $21,000. But even then, the smaller group of Montgomery migrants brought $180,000 more in aggregate tax dollars with them.
By the 2000/2001 tax year, the median income of Montgomery County residents moving to Talbot was $72,499, more than 50 percent higher than the median of migrants to Talbot from any other county in the state.
By comparison, the 2001 median income of new Talbot residents from Caroline County was $21,028; Queen Anne’s County, $25,937; Dorchester County, $19,473; Baltimore City, $24,999; and Anne Arundel County, $29,999. Migrants from Howard, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties that year had median incomes of $47,499, according to the IRS data.
The median income is the middle point on the income scale, not an average of all the incomes. So while Anne Arundel County had twice as many migrants to Talbot as Montgomery County did over the decade, their aggregate income was only 40 percent of the Montgomery migrants — which suggests that Montgomery incomes stretch farther on the high end of that scale.
The fact that Talbot boasts the lowest tax rates in the state means that the migrants hold on to more of their wealth after they move. Property taxes are 55.3 cents per $100 in Talbot County, according to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. In Montgomery, they are 75.4 cents per $100.
But Lednum said the lower tax rates do not mean that the ex-Montgomery residents are buying mini-mansions on the Shore.
“They are scaling down,” she said. “They come here for the waterfront.”
While Talbot does have the waterfront, it does not have all the services that the newcomers are used to.
“These are folks who come down here with the finest automobiles, they take vacations in Europe but they cannot go down and find a Banana Republic that’s within 50 to 60 miles of here,” Campi said. “The setup is certainly a far cry from when you go down to the main pike in Bethesda or Chevy Chase.”
He said that the newcomers will still go out of county for some things. Medical care is an example.
“They make relationships with local service providers, but in case of serious need they keep up relationships with the hospitals in the major metropolitan areas they came from — be it Johns Hopkins or Cornell of New York,” he said.
But Campi points out that, in addition to their incomes, Montgomery’s retirees are bringing the tremendous talent and resources of former attorneys, doctors and non-profit managers. He hopes that both will be used toward “a higher level of planning” to accommodate the growth that all the newcomers will require and “getting politicians hands around what to do, not to be shortsighted.”
Campi speaks to the historical charm of Talbot’s small towns and the appeal of protected shore areas that drew him and others here. At the same time, he acknowledges that there is a push-pull relationship between growth and preservation.
“I’ve heard that this is like Long Island 40 years ago. God forbid we become Long Island (today),” he said.