“Walk to Wayne. Walk to Bryn Mawr.”
For Betty Angelucci, it’s just that simple. “A lot of people who want to move to the Main Line are coming from cities, where they can walk everywhere,” says the agent for Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach in Devon. “They want that amenity in the suburbs, too.”
While buyers may be intent on walking, the seller’s market continues at a runner’s pace. Average home prices in the area’s nine major municipalities and townships increased 9.6 percent in just a year—from $685,892 in November 2020 to $751,573 in November 2021. In Wayne, prices spiked by 15 percent. Right now, Haverford Township is especially attractive to first-time buyers, as it offers a quality school district and accessible prices. “You can break into Havertown for $275,000—a small house that needs some work,” says Erica Deuschle of Keller Williams Main Line.
The trend toward walking more and driving less predates COVID-19, when many of us transitioned from commuting to home offices, accelerating the trend. After two years of limited social interaction, lots of folks are looking for a friendly bubble where they can ride bikes with the kids and stroll to restaurants and shops. “The ability to live and work anywhere is exceptionally powerful,” Angelucci says.
Mike Croce and wife Julia Mikes were expecting their first child when they moved into a spacious home in Brandywine Overlook, an upscale development in West Chester. Thirteen years and five kids later, they were beginning to feel a bit squeezed. “We wanted some land, a place where our kids could get a little dirt under their fingernails,” says Croce.
They found it in a sumptuously renovated 300-year-old stone farmhouse on 8.5 acres only a few miles from their current home. The price tag: $1.7 million, precisely twice the $850,000 list price of the home they were selling.
Intent on getting top dollar for their home, the couple rigorously followed guidelines set down by Kit Anstey of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in West Chester. They spent two weeks clearing closets, packing personal items and weeding out clutter. They patched every ding in the walls and repainted every room on the first floor, doing the same in the finished basement and the garage. “Every Cheetos handprint, every smudge, every imperfection disappeared,” Croce says.
They hired a landscaper to powerwash the exterior and plant flowers. They brought in a home stager, who rearranged and edited furniture and accessories, highlighting such enticements as an expanded kitchen and a home gym. In all, the couple invested $10,000, hoping the home’s mint condition and stylish décor would entice bidders to go $50,000 over the list price. “It was gorgeous, absolutely irresistible,” Croce says.
Anstey and business partner Debbie West advised the couple to pack up the kids and go away for the weekend while they showed the house. They returned to 12 competitive offers, accepting a bid of $920,000, $70,000 above list price. And the buyer waived all contingencies. “In this market, you expect a lot of homes to sell above listing,” says Anstey. “And when you do everything right in making the home attractive to buyers, you can do extremely well.”
With the acceleration in home prices, it’s hard to get an edge. Sure, sellers are getting top dollar—but they’re paying more when they buy a new property. And while the Croce family knew where they’d be moving after selling their house, finding a new address is often a challenge in a market where would-be buyers far outnumber sellers. In the greater Philadelphia market, there were only about 9,500 homes posted in Bright MLS at press time. That’s an “all-time low,” says Anstey. “There’s a premium for homes in Paoli and east.”
In searching for a home for one buyer intent on living in Wayne, Anstey didn’t wait for a house to go on the market. He wrote personal letters to all 70 homeowners in the community, hoping to lure a seller off the fence. “Our buyer was willing to pay up to $2 million, and we didn’t get a single response,” he says. “I’ve been in this business for 34 years, and there’s never been a seller’s market like we’ve seen in the last 18 months. Every time a deal goes through, we feel like we’ve won a war.”
Even as some buyers are getting priced out of the market, the western suburbs continue to offer a more accessible price point than the proper Main Line. With a vibrant restaurant and retail scene, pedestrian-friendly West Chester and Kennett Square are popular destinations. “That nice $800,000 home in
West Chester would be $1.3 million in Wayne,” says Anstey, adding that the Wellington at Hershey’s Mill, a retirement community in suburban West Chester, “is hot as a firecracker.”
Turnkey houses spark the most interest. Deuschle recently logged 30 offers on a pristine property in Haverford, plugging bids and other incentives into a spreadsheet so her sellers could evaluate all the proposals. Still, some buyers are willing to make compromises on amenities to get a foothold in their community of choice. “They might forgo central air conditioning or a garage,” Deuschle says. “They might decide they can live with a smaller yard or a shared driveway.”
In previous seller’s markets, buyers were willing to roll up their sleeves and take on homes in need of extensive TLC. That’s not so much the case this time around. “Baby boomers were fine with fixer-uppers,” says Angelucci. “But millennials are so busy working and raising children they don’t have time to do repairs.”
Many buyers are thinking ahead, investing in properties that can serve a multigenerational family down the line. “We’re seeing a preference for housing with a home office and a full bath that can be easily converted to an in-law suite,” Angelucci says.
Financing is different, too. The days of easy mortgage money are over. Banks are mandating that buyers be on sound financial footing. Many first-time buyers are bolstered with cash donated by affluent parents and grandparents. “These young buyers are savers who have very good jobs,” says Angelucci. “They’re putting down more than 20 percent when they buy a home.”
While mortgage interest rates remain low, Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, expects the 30-year fixed rate to increase to 3.7 percent by the end of 2022. That’s still lower than the 4-percent rates offered before the pandemic. But many buyers are feeling pressed to seal the deal before rates inch up—and inflation is adding fuel to the fire.
With limited inventory and pent-up demand, competition for housing continues unabated. In Phoenixville, a large updated home on nearly an acre recently attracted 24 bidders, who drove up the price from $685,000 to more than $800,000. “Think about it. All those people wanted that house, and only one could actually buy it,” Angelucci says. “That means 23 buyers are still looking for a home.”