One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.

A tip of the hat to Hatboro is in order this Sunday morning: March 1 marks the 300th anniversary of the 1.7-square-mile Montgomery County town.

Don't make too much noise, however. Many borough residents will have danced late into Saturday night at the black-tie Tricentennnial ball at Spring Hill Manor in Ivyland, kickoff of a yearlong observance focusing on the arrival from England of a hatmaker named John Dawson, whose house became a tavern where George Washington dined in wartime.

History, it seems, goes hand in hand with real estate to make Hatboro a desirable destination for home buyers, "a thriving small town with character," says Chris Suhy, an agent with Weichert Realtors in Blue Bell.

In fact, Suhy says, Hatboro is one of the few remaining choices in the area for buyers looking for a small-town lifestyle.

That "and our viable main street," adds Mayor Norm Hawkes, referring to the prospering business district anchored by older businesses such Sid Gamburg's furniture store and Lochel's Bakery, as well as some new ones.

Kathleen Lochel and her husband, Rob, have been baking in Hatboro for 20 years, "and we're not leaving," she says. Their business "has seen tremendous growth" thanks to residents who walk from their houses daily to shop in downtown stores.

For Hawkes, a big part of Hatboro's viability is "our walkable access to SEPTA's Regional Rail system [the Warminster Line], which has direct access to Center City and the airport," he says.

Affordability is the key to Hatboro's front door, says Suhy. Starter homes reflect "modest pricing in the low-$100,000 range and offer varied styles, with a few newer homes, as well as condos, twins, and singles."

"Other places have a greater range of prices, but Hatboro's fall between $100,000 to $260,000," Suhy says, "putting the borough solidly into the middle-income range" attracting first-time buyers and move-ups from nearby Northeast Philadelphia.

Of the 68 homes that sold here in the last year, "nothing was over $349,000," he says.

In recent years, the highest sale price was for something one-of-a-kind: Louis I. Kahn's 1967 Norman Fisher House, which sold in 2012 for $618,000.

Deborah Paul, of Re/Max Services in Blue Bell, says single detached houses run from about $225,000 to $350,000, which she considers "the ideal range for first-time buyers."

"There are ranchers that are attracting older buyers looking for one-floor living that is close to their kids," she says. "It is walkability that is the attraction."

Right now, if you're looking for a lot of new homes, you have to venture into the adjacent towns. Although Paul notes that the housing stock here is not ancient - Victorians and a lot of 50-year-olds - vintage listings often instill uncertainty among first-time buyers, Suhy says, "and I need to help them appreciate what Hatboro has to offer."

The borough is "very dense, with little if even any room to expand or develop," Councilman Robert H. Hegele says, though there is expansion in both Hatboro's factory areas and in the business district.

When Stephen M. Barth signed on as manager of Hatboro Main Street in 2011, the business district's occupancy rate was 76 percent, with some storefronts and even entire blocks vacant for three to six years.

Now, it is 99 percent-plus occupied, and Barth has been able to add two national chains - John Deere and Aaron's Furniture - to the mix.

Even locals have expanded, he says, including Hatboro Federal Savings, which bought an 1870s bank building at the end of Byberry Road and renovated it for corporate administration and information-technology departments.

"We've attracted some nice specialty stores," said Barth, naming a "Brooklyn-style Italian bakery" and a wholesale/retail gourmet sausage company among the recent entries.

There are now 24 eateries in the town center and more to come, as well as "interesting little boutiques," Barth says.

Even the Hatboro YMCA is growing, he says. The Miller family donated a home it has occupied since 1791 for the YMCA summer youth program expansion, and an old barn on the Y's property is being renovated.

In the former industrial area along South Warminster Road, there is both transit-oriented residential development and conversion of old factories to new business uses, Barth says.

In 2010, an abandoned stoveworks factory was turned into Hatboro Lofts apartments. In an old motorcycle factory next door, 87 high-end LEED-certified condo units are under construction.

The former Richardson Vicks plant is now Station Park, with the luxury consignment firm Linda's Stuff, solar-power start-up Alencon Systems, and Parigi Children's Apparel and others employing about 1,000 people, Barth says.

Another transit-oriented project, with 72 townhouses starting at $300,000, is planned on six to eight acres nearby, he says.

If that weren't enough, the Hatboro Rotary Club and the borough are fund-raising to make a 10-year-old plan for a performing-arts pavilion (a band shell) at Eaton Park a reality.

As Hegele explains, Hatboro is a place residents continually try to make even better, "if we can."

By the Numbers

Population: 7,407 (2013).

Median household income: $44,901 (2009).

Area: 1.4 square miles.

Settlements in the last three months: 18.

Homes for sale: 25.

Average days on market: 82.

Median price: $230,000.

Housing stock: 3,121 units, single-family detached and townhouses.

School district: Hatboro-Horsham.

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report; Diane Williams, Weichert Realtors

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