One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
If it weren't for a Chester real estate agent named John Cochran and the clergyman/author Henry Ward Beecher, Delaware County might not have a Norwood.
It was Cochran who bought two large farms in part of Ridley Township in 1873 and hired a Boston landscape architect to lay out streets and two parks and a couple of farmers to do all the heavy lifting.
An auction, typical of 19th-century real estate practice, drew buyers by train from Philadelphia, who spent an average of $125 for one of the 50 lots sold.
By 1877, there were 30 "cottages" and a train station in the community, named for Beecher's popular 1868 novel Norwood, or Village Life in New England, of which Cochran apparently was fond.
According to www.ridleytownshiphistory.com, a cottage could be yours then for about $3,800.
Today, the average price of a house in Norwood is $130,000, says Gina Toldero, an agent with Weichert Realtors who lives there.
She's lived there twice, in fact, this time for nine years. Toldero originally moved to Norwood at 14.
"I had no choice the first time," she says, laughing. "I find it comfortable, homey, with the neighbors friendly but not always on your back."
Norwood is another of those older communities that people rarely leave, with several generations of the same family living on the same street or within blocks of one another.
"It's a community of neighborhoods," Toldero says, and of people who like to get together, whether at block parties or Community Day festivities, in its seventh year.
Yet first-time buyers from out of town find their way to Norwood, attracted by the affordable prices, she says.
There are 32 active listings, ranging from $75,000 to $165,000, Trend Multiple Listing Service data show. Toldero put the average asking price at $141,000.
Anne D. Hanson of Coldwell Banker Preferred in Media says that of the 15 houses sold in the last three months, prices ranged from $45,000 to $259,000.
Seven that sold for less than $123,000 were bank-owned foreclosures, Hanson says, and "were likely sold to investors who will renovate and resell." Of the remainder, $150,000 to $180,000 is the most popular price point, she says.
"I think the average sale price would be closer to $159,000 or $165,000 if there weren't still some bank-owned houses in the mix," Toldero says.
The real estate downturn produced "quite a few" distressed houses in Norwood, "where prices took a big hit" when the market caught up with people who had bought at the peak in 2005, Toldero says.
New construction, which is rare there and limited to infill sites, tends to bring the highest price, about $270,000, she says.
Hanson says sellers are a mix of families moving to larger homes or new areas and retirees selling family homes and downsizing.
"My buyers for Norwood have typically been first-time buyers who have been renting," she says. "They like the neighborhood, [and] school district and saw Norwood as a nice place to raise a family."
Covering less than a square mile, the borough is divided by Chester Pike, Toldero says. Larger and older homes generally are in Upper Norwood, twins and bungalows typically in Lower Norwood.
Age and size are relative terms in older communities. In Lower Norwood, along Love, Martin, and Circle Lanes, stand what she calls "the Love Houses," bungalows built 75 to 80 years ago by a man named Love. Sprinkled among them are larger and relatively newer ranchers.
Norwood's taxes are high, as is the case generally in Delaware County. A new townhouse for sale for $135,000 has an annual tax bill exceeding $4,000. A $90,000, 720-square-foot two-bedroom house built in 1942 has a $3,568 annual property tax.
Many older and smaller houses have just two bedrooms and are proving a difficult sell these days, Toldero says, "not just in Norwood but in Ridley."
Most buyers want at least three bedrooms, area agents say.
"Even though a couple or person does not necessarily need three bedrooms, they all like the extra room for guests, or an office or den," says John Duffy of Duffy Real Estate on the Main Line. "And the difference in price is usually not that great."
Yet Chris Somers of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties says he believes smaller homes on smaller lots "are a national trend that will continue to pick up steam."
In his city markets, "two-bedroom houses are not a tough sell but provide a buyer another option, typically a more affordable one than paying for a larger three-bedroom property," Somers says, noting that they're more suitable for a first home for a single or a couple looking for something to trade up from quickly.
First-time suburban buyers might be looking for more, but as Martin Millner of Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Yardley recently observed about his market, "they seem to be staying away from 5,000 square feet in favor of 2,500 or 3,000."
Norwood is well-located, Hanson says, convenient to Philadelphia International Airport and Center City by train.
"There are lots of parks, local athletic leagues for kids, and some local shopping within walking distance," she says. "It has a small-town feel and is affordable."