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It's the most profitable time to sell your home ... but here, don't count on too much cash

Why do Philly-area homeowners earn so much less on their investment than the rest of the country when they try to sell? It all comes down to the suburbs.

For those of you who were fortunate enough to hang on to your houses in one of the worst recessions our country has ever seen, I come (finally) bearing some good news: If you're planning to sell any time soon, there's a good chance you could pocket a decent chunk of change.

So much so, in fact, that it's considered the best time to sell a house in nearly 10 years.

That's according to a recent study from Attom Data Solutions, a nationwide real estate data company that tracks everything from rents to foreclosures to home sales. U.S. homeowners who sold their properties in January through March earned, on average, a profit of nearly 24 percent on the original purchase price, or about $44,000 -- the highest amount in terms of both dollars and percent since third quarter 2007, the study found.

But before you get too excited, Philadelphia metro area, I have to warn you: Compared with the rest of the nation, our returns -- kind of like our Eagles record -- are a bit more disappointing.

According to Attom, in the first quarter of this year, the average Philadelphia-area seller earned about 8 percent back on the purchase price of his or her home. Not too shabby -- that amounts to about an average $12,000 profit. Yet compared with other places across the U.S., such as the San Jose area, which earned a nearly 71 percent return (about $356,000 on average), this region's returns feel a bit like a drop in the bucket.

Now, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's be clear: First, the Philadelphia metro area -- which for Attom includes the city; Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties in Pennsylvania; Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem Counties in New Jersey; Cecil County, Md.; and New Castle County, Del. -- could be a lot worse. For example, homeowners who sold in Baton Rouge, La.. lost nearly 10 percent of the value of their homes in the first quarter, amounting to an average of about $15,000.

And, steadily, the Philadelphia area has enjoyed an increasing gain in profits over time. Only a year ago, area homeowners earned just 4 percent back when they chose to sell their homes (an average of about $6,100). Which means that in just that year's time, the typical homeowner has been able to get nearly double the profit.

Why does the Philadelphia region -- which ranks 19th worst out of 97 metro areas, according to Attom -- lag so much further behind the rest of the country?

As it does in so many cases, it all comes down to the suburbs.

For years now, many U.S. cities have been enjoying a lengthy victory lap -- Philadelphia included. After decades of hemorrhaging population as residents fled to the suburbs seeking better schools, and typically, cheaper homes (not in this area), the urban lifestyle has been making a comeback.

Driven by a surge of tech jobs, a growing millennial population, and an increased affinity for transit-oriented living, more homeowners and investors have returned to cities, scooping up cheap properties amid increasingly tight supply. According to a recent survey of sale prices, home values in Philadelphia have risen nearly 45 percent since 2012.

As a result, Attom's findings for the area are largely dragged down by the suburbs, which have failed to see the same resurgence. According to Attom, the largest losses in profits in our region were in Burlington and Salem Counties, where homes lost an average 13 percent and 24 percent on the purchase price.

"A lot of homes are underwater there, and New Jersey's biggest problem is its foreclosure process," said Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow at Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.

Indeed, Attom found that the Garden State processes foreclosures at the second-slowest pace in the nation: In fourth quarter 2016, it took an average of 1,383 days.

"As you know," Gillen said, foreclosures can have "a spillover effect" on surrounding properties' value. So the more properties that remain in foreclosure, the more depressive they can be when a nearby homeowner tries to sell a home.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania suburbs fared much better, with Bucks County homeowners earning an average 18 percent gain ($40,000) in the first quarter, while Montgomery and Chester Counties both earned 14 percent. Still, Attom found, Philadelphia emerged as the most profitable, based on percentage, earning an average 44 percent return on purchase price, or nearly $38,000.