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Town By Town: Housing to meet varied needs and finances

Mention West Whiteland Township, and people outside Chester County are more than likely to draw a blank than a map.

A three-bedroom townhouse on Buttonwood Drive, listed at $294,900. ( ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )
A three-bedroom townhouse on Buttonwood Drive, listed at $294,900. ( ED HILLE / Staff Photographer )Read moreEd Hille

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

Mention West Whiteland Township, and people outside Chester County are more than likely to draw a blank than a map.

Adding the word Exton usually clears up the confusion, but that, Keller Williams Real Estate agent David Ashe says, means they know the mall or a highway exit.

Exton is just the better-known piece of the much larger township, which began a yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary on Feb. 26, with events scheduled throughout 2015.

Location plays an overwhelming role in the decision to buy here.

Kathleen McQuilkin, of Re/Max Professional Realty in Exton, says many people, especially relocating buyers, work in the pharmaceuticals industry along the Route 202 corridor, at the Eagleview and Great Valley Corporate Centers, and at QVC.

"We are half an hour from Center City, a half-hour from Wilmington, and, more recently, an hour from King of Prussia," quipped W. Whitman Ball, whose family firm, Ball & Ball, a maker of antique hardware, has been on West Lincoln Highway since his late father, William Ball Jr., bought the land in 1942.

Expansion of Route 202 to three lanes northbound and southbound, to be completed by mid-2016, will go far to reducing travel time to King of Prussia.

Amtrak and SEPTA's Paoli-Thorndale trains stop at Exton Station on Walkertown Road, which is due to undergo major improvement this summer, including construction of a station building on the inbound side with a ticket office, waiting area, and restrooms, State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) announced last week.

Although West Whiteland home buyers fall into every demographic, one-third are what Realtors Property Resource, a database for agents, calls "enterprising professionals," McQuilkin says.

These are young professionals with growing consumer clout, with an average age of 32.8, split almost equally between married couples and single people, according to the database.

The affluent buyer here is attracted, Ashe says, to a newer and larger house on a smaller lot "to reduce the amount of yardwork and maintenance" necessary.

Although there is plenty in West Whiteland to attract every buyer demographic, higher-end houses have pushed the township's median sale price to $312,000, McQuilkin says.

These detached single homes are sizable, she says - what the Realtors Property Source calls "suburban splendor" homes.

Yet there is a good mix of housing here, too, McQuilkin says, for younger buyers looking for their first homes and slightly older buyers who want to move up.

"A lot of people are downsizing into carriage homes," she says, "but they don't need to buy in over-55 developments since others have the amenities they are looking for."

McQuilkin has sold many of these to people in West Whiteland who were living in large houses on big lots during the last two winters, which have been cold and snowy.

"The bad weather seems to have made a big difference in helping them take this step," she says.

The most recently built large houses command the highest prices, $400,000 to $600,000, Ashe says.

Ball & Ball, Exton Square Mall, and the businesses on Main Street, among others, expand the tax base and keep taxes low here, McQuilkin says.

There is just not enough for sale - only 43 houses at the moment - which has resulted in modest price increases and multiple bids.

A property Ashe recently listed on a Wednesday had 25 prospects at a Sunday open house and two offers on Monday.

"It is frustrating," says Ashe, who has been unable to find houses for two relocations, both of whom have sold their houses, one in Virginia and the other in Maryland, and have started work locally.

Ten to 15 years ago, there was a lot of construction here, he says, but that's not true today.

"One of the problems with the market in the last couple of years is that builders haven't been pursuing the purchase of ground for new houses in the township," Ashe says, a vestige of the prolonged real estate downturn.

Typically, it takes two to three years to get all the approvals before you can begin building houses, Ashe says, and even builders who recognize that demand is increasing cannot meet it.

One piece of land on which houses are being planned is at West Lincoln Highway and Whitford Roads, where Waterloo Gardens' Exton outlet stood for many years.

BET Investments Inc. of Horsham, owned by builder Bruce E. Toll, bought the property for $4.67 million in 2013.

At its March 16 meeting, the township planning commission heard BET's latest plan for the site - 86 carriage houses on a single U-shaped road, says Ball, who attended the meeting and whose property is next door.

Ball was 6 years old when his father bought the property, and though he moved from West Whiteland to West Chester, he moved back when he married in 1959 and never left.

Asked what makes West Whiteland so special, Ball didn't miss a beat:

"It is home, as far I am concerned."

West Whiteland By the Numbers

Population: 18,389 (2014)

Median household income: $90,521 (2014)

Area: 18.3 square miles

Settlements in the last three months: 52

Homes for sale: 43

Average days on market: 53

Median sale price: $312,000

Housing stock: 6,748 units - condos, townhouses and single-family detached

School district: West Chester Area

SOURCES: Realtors Property Resource; Kathleen McQuilkin, Re/Max Professional Realty, Exton; David Ashe, Keller Williams Real Estate, Exton

215-854-2472 @alheavens