One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
Nothing can compare to a hike on a warm autumn day in Fort Washington State Park. Just you, 483 acres of woods, marsh, Wissahickon Creek, and an occasional flock of bird-watchers, binoculars trained on the tree tops of a nearby hill.
This is Whitemarsh Township, over the city line from Chestnut Hill and Andorra, and still, after more than three centuries, one of the most desirable addresses in Montgomery County.
"Buyers want to take advantage of the schools" - the Colonial School District, shared with Plymouth Township and the Borough of Conshohocken - "and location," says Gary Segal, of Keller Williams Real Estate in Blue Bell, who grew up in neighboring Springfield.
The location is a main draw for commuters and fun-seekers alike.
So close to the city that it was part of Philadelphia County for 80 years in the 18th century, Whitemarsh is just off Route 309, a quick hop to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the Blue Route.
It's also on the Schuylkill River Trail from Center City to Valley Forge, so bicyclists are always welcome.
McNeil Consumer Healthcare, one of the county's largest private employers, is located here. So are six golf courses: Whitemarsh Valley Country Club; Sunnybrook Country Club; Green Valley Country Club; the Ace Club; and two courses of the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
Sheaff Lane "is one of the most desirable streets in Montgomery County, comparable to what you will find on the Main Line," Segal says. The Highlands and Hope Lodge are 18th-century mansions that are now popular museums.
Diversity of housing styles and prices is a major driver in Whitemarsh.
"You can buy a condo for $100,000 or a $5 million house," says Segal, although in today's market, homes above $2 million anywhere in the region are a tough sell.
"I don't know why that is," he says. "People seem to be shying away from the larger homes that were popular six to eight years ago. That may be more sensible."
Whitemarsh's newer and higher-priced homes are closer to Blue Bell, he says, while condos and much of the multifamily housing sits along Ridge Pike between Andorra and Conshohocken.
Much of the local housing stock is single-family detached, built from the 1950s through the 1970s. Neighborhoods radiate off Route 73 and Germantown Pike, filled with houses on smaller lots.
"After World War II, Whitemarsh experienced a building boom," says Diane Williams, an agent with Weichert Realtors in Blue Bell who sells in the township.
"Then in late 1991, when the Blue Route was completed, there was another increase in building," she says, adding that light-industrial development also benefited from the construction of Route 476.
There is some new residential construction here, Williams says, including Whitemarsh Station, 2,618-square-foot single-family detached homes built by Sal Paone, with prices ranging from $529,000 to $555,000.
"Luxurious carriage houses" are being constructed, Williams says, by Judd Builders at the Reserve at Creekside in Flourtown, surrounded by the Cricket Club golf courses and Sunnybrook. Prices for the 2,652- to 3,100-square-foot homes are $554,900 to $670,000.
Williams says there are a few individual lots with new construction, and townhouses in the $350,000 range at Spring Mill Crossing, being built by the Borkowski family out of Conshohocken.
The higher-priced homes can be attributed to the high cost of land, Williams says, although the average sale price over the last year was $412,205, with 16 sales a month and, at that pace, four months' inventory.
Being close to Conshohocken and its younger population is beneficial to Whitemarsh, Segal says, because it provides first-time buyers trading up from apartments.
Whitemarsh's Lafayette Hill section is the most popular among buyers in a town where it's much easier to be a real estate agent than in many other towns in the area, Segal says.
"Houses there sell in a heartbeat," he says, with the sweet spot from $300,000 to $400,000.
Although suburban, Whitemarsh has large estates and horse farms, Williams notes.
Especially Erdenheim Farm on Stenton Avenue.
Breathtaking at sunset.
Population: 17,349 (2010)
Median household income: $102,007
Area: 14.7 square miles
Settlements in the last three months: 50
Homes for sale: 79
Average days on market: 53
Median sale price: $412,205
Housing stock: 6,372 units, ranging from 18th-century vintage to new construction
School district: Colonial