One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
"You know. Something like Manayunk."
In the last two years, there hasn't been a conversation reported in this space about a reemerging suburban borough or a hopeful city neighborhood that did not include at least one reference to the "Manayunk experience."
That's Manayunk, translated from present-day Philadelphian as trendy and hip, as opposed to Manayunk, from a Lenni Lenape word meaning river (in this case, the Schuylkill).
The Northwest Philadelphia locale's transition from post-industrial and stable to a place others wish to emulate was not easy, especially early on.
Until investors and developers saw a chance to replicate South Street in a part of the city closer to the suburbs in the early 1980s, Manayunk remained one of those Philadelphia enclaves where multiple generations lived within a block of one another, "a family neighborhood with family morals," as one resident described it in 1992.
There were battles over parking and noise, and fears of higher taxes and being priced out.
In 1992, the median price of a two- or three-story rowhouse was $72,000; the annual tax bill, about $1,700.
In 2014, the median is about $290,000. Prices go from $100,000 for a fixer-upper to $500,000 for a new townhouse. What is built typically comes with a 10-year tax abatement.
Today, Manayunk draws young professionals and even empty-nesters being priced out of Center City neighborhoods, says Keith Adams, of Elfant Wissahickon Realtors.
"New construction is what they want, and they are selling for record prices," Adams says. "Yet what they can get here for $500,000 would cost them $600,000 to $700,000 in Center City" and adjacent neighborhoods.
There is added value here, he says, when you combine the comparatively lower prices with the tax abatement.
"The city is just a five- or 10-minute drive away on I-76, and many people commute to jobs in the suburbs, as well," Adams says.
Most builders in Manayunk are home-grown and young, in their 30s and 40s, he says. They build two or three townhouses at a time on infill lots, sell them, and use what they make on them to build more.
Adams represents Smick Street Townhomes L.L.C., which has just completed three on Smick near Green Lane. Two are available at $499,000 each, and he sold one in August for $490,000.
The builders, who have completed and sold more than two dozen townhouses in the last two years, by Adams' estimate, are getting ready to build a gated community of 10 to 12 homes across the street, for prices in the high $500,000s to low $600,000s.
Of the 94 active listings here, prices range from $119,000 to $500,000, with 120 days on market the average, he says.
Though new construction seems to have takers, Matthew Donnelly, an agent with Coldwell Banker Preferred, says the housing market in Manayunk has been slow lately.
"The spring market was decent, but it died around June," Donnelly says, adding that it was difficult to pinpoint the reason why.
"There are a decent amount of listings and inventory is going up," he says, a far cry from earlier this year, when most real estate agents were scrambling for willing sellers.
"It certainly isn't interest rates," he says. Despite predictions of a spike similar to the one in June 2013 that stopped the market in its tracks, rates remain at historically low levels.
Donnelly says buyer interest here is in the price range of $200,000 to $225,000.
"The first-time buyer is looking for a half-decent updated home, but there is a lot of stuff on the market that is outdated and is just sitting there," he says.
There are rehabbed properties at $225,000 to $250,000, Donnelly says, but they haven't been selling right away.
Manayunk, he says, is inundated with renters in their mid-20s who are living in properties that owners kept rather than sold when they moved on.
"There are so many of these properties that it has driven down rental prices," and this has been reinforced by townhouse builders who also have rented rather than sold the units they built, Donnelly says.
Though some areas have been having trouble finding buyers for two-bedroom homes, Manayunk is not one of them, Donnelly says: "There is a pool of mostly single buyers looking for smaller homes [who] don't need a lot of space."
Adams agrees that older rowhouses, many of them well over 150 years old, "are not as popular among buyers as they used to be."
"They want everything new," he says. "They don't want fixer-uppers, even though many of these nice stone rowhouses on these hills have character."
Adams has just sold new construction to people from Center City who had owned a loft condo and were looking for better value convenient to the city, "but not exactly in the city."
Donnelly says most people who move here are "young professionals whose first contact with the neighborhood was Main Street."
"It doesn't bother them," he says.
By the Numbers
Population: 14,028 (2012)
Median income: $73,349 (2011)
Area: 0.955 square miles
Settlements in the last three months: 35
Homes for sale: 94
Days on market: 120
Median price: $290,000
Housing stock: Older rowhouses, condos, townhouses, and rental apartments.
School district: Philadelphia
SOURCES: City-Data.com; Keith Adams, Elfant Wissahickon Realtors