Location, location, location. That mantra has remained a proven constant over the past four years—even when the real estate market has been, in a word, tumultuous. Alas, you can change almost anything about a house but its location. Lucky for us, the Main Line and its western suburbs have a surplus of prime locales. Each town, however, has its own personality and reputation. “It takes a full day to drive around with a prospective client and explain the county lines, the township divisions and school districts—and how the towns blend into each other,” says Narberth-based realtor John S. Duffy. “With Main Line towns, you can’t generalize because there are so many different sections to them. They all shift and evolve into different areas.”
Here’s a closer look at what 29 of them have to offer.
Click here for a list of the area’s hottest neighborhoods.
Click here for real estate stats on your town.
Click here for a list of local realtors who contributed to this feature.
+ Home to the Ardmore Farmers Market, Trader Joe’s and trendy Suburban Square, plus the many other shops and businesses along Lancaster Avenue, Rittenhouse Place and beyond.
+ A perfect Main Line starter neighborhood, Ardmore Park offers twins starting at $250,000 and single homes at $300,000 or higher. North Ardmore boasts larger lot sizes and more spacious stone Colonials—for a price (up to seven figures).
+ New condominium options for singles, empty-nesters and other nontraditional buyers include Cambridge Square and Ardleigh.
+/- North Ardmore is in Montgomery County (Lower Merion School District); South Ardmore is part of Delaware County (Haverford School District), with its higher taxes.
+ Quick commutes (20 minutes, tops) to Center City via SEPTA’s Cynwyd and Paoli/Thorndale lines.
+ Home inventory in Merion encompasses everything from larger twins priced in the high $300,000s to multimillion-dollar estates.
+ An affordable part of Bala Cynwyd, Belmont Hills may be the best way for first-time homeowners to buy into the esteemed Lower Merion School District.
+ With its improved restaurant scene, Bala Avenue is becoming a destination for something other than its ’20s-era movie theater.
+/- Some see the proximity to the city as a draw; for others, it’s a hassle—especially the traffic.
+ Fairly reasonable home prices, lower taxes and access to the well-respected Tredyffrin/Easttown School District.
+ Berwyn’s small but active business district along Lancaster Avenue boasts coffee shops, bars, antiques stores and fine dining. Handel’s ice cream shop is a magnet for kids and families in the summer months.
+ Train stations in both towns offer a largely hassle-free commute to Center City via the Paoli/Thorndale line.
+ The internationally renowned Devon Horse Show (in May) is a Main Line institution.
– Few new-home communities in Berwyn or Devon. Saybrook in Berwyn is an option, but prices start at $1.6 million.
– Blink and you’ll miss Devon’s “downtown.”
+ Marple Township’s lower taxes.
+ Affordable homes for first-time buyers ($175,000 to $225,000).
+ Close proximity to the Blue Route (I-476).
+ A large number of parks and recreational areas.
– Many houses are 30 to 40 years old and require major updates, especially the kitchens and bathrooms.
– West Chester Pike snuffs out any prospect of a quaint downtown.
+ Education, education, education. Bryn Mawr and neighboring Rosemont are home to several prestigious private schools, including Shipley, Baldwin, School of the Sacred Heart, Rosemont School of the Holy Child and St. Aloysius Academy. And buyers have the best of both worlds, with access to the top-ranked Lower Merion School District. Colleges include Rosemont, Harcum and nationally acclaimed Bryn Mawr.
+ Bryn Mawr Hospital’s recent expansion has prompted new residential development. Whitehall offers 28 luxury townhouses priced from the low $600,000s. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer this new option to buyers who aren’t looking for the traditional single-family home,” says one local realtor.
+ A walkable downtown fully loaded with amenities, including numerous fine-dining restaurants and neighborhood taverns, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and many posh boutiques.
– What you see is what you get. “If a client is looking for a new house, it’s harder to find because there’s not a lot of available land,” says one agent.
+ Buyers are drawn to Chester Springs’ beautiful topography, its history and the charmingly restored Chester County farmhouses.
+ The area is under an intense conservation watch—one that promotes responsible development to preserve open space. “Zoning is taken rather seriously,” says one local realtor. Regardless, plenty of new construction coexists with the old.
+ Several quaint up-and-coming villages, including Yellow Springs and Kimberton.
– No commuter rail service and an abundance of two-lane roads means there’s no getting around weekday traffic congestion.
+ One of the fastest-growing areas of Chester County, with great deals for homebuyers.
+ Close proximity to Routes 30 and 202, along with a commuter rail station in the borough.
+ A number of new residential developments, plus more established neighborhoods with older stone Colonial homes. Take your pick.
+ The highly ranked Downingtown School District.
+ Downtown Downingtown’s slow but steady revitalization. And just down the road, big-box stores aplenty.
– Route 30 often doubles as a parking lot during rush hour.
+ The Main Line’s “it” zip code, and home to many local celebrities (76ers’ bad boy Allen Iverson and Oscar winner M. Night Shyamalan are former residents).
+ Minutes from the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76).
+ The pre-2007 building boom has left a large inventory of multimillion-dollar homes for sale.
+ The village of Gladwyne offers the perfect mix of basic amenities and upscale treats. The venerable Old Guard House Inn is one of the best eateries on the Main Line. “The downtown has a unique, exclusive feel that the other Main Line communities simply don’t possess,” says one local agent.
+ A highly regarded retirement community and assisted-living facility, Waverly Heights has a years-long waiting list.
+/- New construction in Gladwyne has come to a near-standstill due to the number of homes available.
– No train station in town.
+ Move-up buyers have catapulted Glen Mills into a higher-end real estate bracket, thanks in part to the reputable Garnet Valley School District.
+ A veritable explosion of retail and restaurant development along Baltimore Pike (Route 1) between Routes 322 and 202.
– In this once-affordable area, deals are now fewer and further between.
+ A stone Colonial paradise, Northside Haverford is considered the more prestigious section, with the main draw being Merion Cricket Club. Many of the traditional properties date back to the early 1900s. Homes are $800,000 and up.
+ Northside is commonly referred to as the center of the Main Line and is close to many of the private schools, Haverford College and Suburban Square. Many residents are second-, third- and fourth-generation families.
+ Northside is in Montgomery County and the Lower Merion School District.
– Southside’s Haverford School District is in Delaware County, with its higher taxes.
– Buyers should expect to put some work into older Northside homes.
+ A desirable area for first-time homebuyers, with its abundance of large twins for $150,000 and up, plus singles starting at $275,000.
+ A lively business district that features restaurants, shops and the popular Skatium indoor ice rink.
+ Convenient access to West Philadelphia, Center City, multiple local shopping centers and the Main Line.
– Part of Haverford Township, where taxes are significantly higher than in neighboring Marple.
+ “The Mushroom Capital of the World” is attracting plenty of attention from homebuyers in the market for new construction. “The area provides a wide inventory of homes at various price points,” says one agent.
+ Downtown Kennett Square offers historic charm and walkability. “The town itself is certainly on an upswing,” says a local realtor.
+ World-renowned Longwood Gardens draws tens of thousands of visitors a year.
+ Educational options include decent public schools and private schools in nearby Delaware.
– Long commutes to Center City, no commuter rail service and congestion on Route 1.
+ King Street, the nexus of the borough’s downtown area and home to a number of antiques shops, home décor stores, clothing boutiques, and a great restaurant or two.
+ Family-friendly annual events like Malvern’s Victorian Christmas and the Malvern Blooms spring festival.
+ A commuter rail station that falls on SEPTA’s Paoli/Thorndale line.
+ The Radnor Hunt/Willistown section of Malvern, with its breathtaking estates and acres of protected open space.
+ Two words that mean a lot to some prospective buyers: Wegmans and Target. And just 6 miles down Route 30, Exton Square Mall offers a less-hectic alternative to mighty King of Prussia.
– We’re still waiting for the highly anticipated King Street revitalization project to get underway.
+ Media has managed to remain hot, despite the trying real estate market of late. “Houses in the borough are in high demand,” says a local agent. “Some sell before they’re put on the market—primarily bought by investors who turn them into rentals.”
+ Its small-town feel, walkability and many dining, shopping and cultural offerings on and near State Street. Beyond the borough, Media is split into Upper Providence, Nether Providence and Middletown townships. School districts include Rose Tree Media and Wallingford/Swarthmore, both equally desirable.
+ Convenient access to both train and trolley lines.
+ Rose Valley, a charming hamlet filled with Arts and Crafts-style homes, older estates and new construction.
– Nether Providence has the highest taxes of the three townships.
+ A perfect option for buyers looking to make the transition from city to suburban life. “You have the train station and walkability to the shops and restaurants in downtown Narberth,” says one local agent. “It truly has a small-town Americana feel.”
+ Stable real estate prices, because there’s always been a demand to live in Narberth. Within the borough, twins start in the high $200,000s; large, single Victorians are priced in the mid-$500,000s and up. Many homes need work, but it’s worth the investment.
– Land is hard to come by. “Houses are primarily on smaller lots, and you’re going to be closer to your neighbors,” says one realtor. “It’s more of an urban feel than a lot of other towns on the Main Line.”
+ Episcopal Academy’s relocation to Newtown Square has been a boon to the residential real estate market. Ten years ago, large homes were common in the area because of the surplus of land, but sales were slow. Now, several high-end neighborhoods are experiencing swift sales, thanks to buyers who want to be close to EA.
+ The eventual development of the old du Pont estate, which should prompt new residential construction.
+ The Terrazza luxury condominium complex is an attraction for empty-nesters looking to downsize.
– Heavy traffic in Newtown Square’s center (at Routes 252 and 3), which will only get worse with further commercial and retail development in the area.
– The closest train station is more than 6 miles away in Paoli.
+ Though not as quaint and walkable as Malvern, downtown Paoli is nonetheless thriving, thanks to two expanded and upgraded shopping centers filled with a mix of national retailers and locally owned businesses.
+ Daily trains to New York City via Amtrak, and local service via SEPTA’s Paoli/Thorndale line. “It’s amazing how many people are commuting to New York from Paoli,” says one local agent.
+ In just two years, the Paoli Blues Festival has evolved into a not-to-be-missed fall event that draws music fans from throughout the region.
– Big plans for the Paoli Transportation Center have been in negotiations for almost two decades. In the meantime, the existing train station continues to crumble before our eyes. C’mon already.
+ A first-time homebuyers’ paradise, with affordable prices—and not too far (10 miles) from the western fringes of the traditional Main Line.
+ An impressive, revitalized downtown that’s home to a surprising number of great restaurants. The historic Colonial Theatre hosts movies, plays, concerts and special events for all ages.
+ French Creek offers more than 35 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
– With nothing but two-lane roads in and out of town, commute times—especially south and east—can get dicey. Better mass transit would help. “The fact that the train ran to Phoenixville before makes it comprehensible to think that it can return,” says a local agent.
+ A higher-education surplus: Villanova University, Eastern University, Cabrini College and Valley Forge Military Academy and College.
+ Villanova boasts some of the most desirable neighborhoods on the Main Line, with a unique mix of magnificent stone Colonials and more contemporary residences.
+ Access to Center City in all three towns via the Paoli/Thorndale line.
+/- St. Davids and Radnor are in Delaware County, with its higher taxes. Villanova is split between Delaware and Montgomery counties.
– Some potential buyers see the close proximity to so many schools and universities as a deterrent, due to congestion.
+ Once attractive only to the equestrian set, the Unionville area now encompasses the preserved acreage of West Marlborough Township and new development in East Marlborough. “People are coming to the east side of Unionville for the school district, and the west side for the open space,” says a local realtor.
+ The sought-after Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.
+ “It’s a cohesive community,” says one realtor. “The love of space and horses really brings people together.”
+/- Home prices in East Marlborough range from $500,000 to $3 million. West Marlborough boasts many farmhouses on large tracts, most with 20-acre zoning ordinances.
– Increased popularity means increased traffic—and not a train station in sight.
+ Residents of the highly sought-after South Wayne neighborhood can walk to downtown’s movie theater, shops and restaurants. It’s also within walking distance of Wayne Middle School and trains to Center City. “Wayne has the strongest sense of community on the Main Line,” says one local agent.
+ Strafford features a more affordable selection of homes, many of which are within walking distance of the chic Eagle Village Shops and the wildly popular Lancaster County Farmers Market.
+/- Homes within walking distance of downtown Wayne command considerably higher prices—and many buyers are willing to pay for the convenience.
+/- Wayne is the only town on the Main Line that dips into Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties, so expect a diversity of price points—and taxes.
+ A thriving downtown that benefits from West Chester’s status as a county seat, a long tradition of historic preservation, and the academic and cultural offerings of West Chester University.
+ Buyers looking to purchase a new home within walking distance of the restaurants and shops of downtown West Chester suddenly have plenty of options, with two townhome communities in the works: Union Station at West Chester ($269,900 and up) and Highpointe at Shanahan (starting in the mid-$300,000s). Beyond the borough, single-family homes range anywhere from the high $300,000s to more than $1 million.
+ Chester County taxes are reasonable, especially compared to Delaware and Montgomery counties.
+ Three excellent school districts, including West Chester, Downingtown and Unionville-Chadds Ford.
+/- A 20-percent residential tax increase in the borough will be tough for residents (and potential buyers) to swallow in 2012—even if borough taxes are shockingly low to begin with.
– No commuter rail service—inexcusable for a town that’s a county seat.
+ The Penn Wynne section of Wynnewood, comparable in price and housing options to South Ardmore, with twins starting at $250,000 and singles priced at $300,000 and up.
+ Wynnewood’s Short Ridge Park, where you can walk to the playground, train station and Wynnewood Shopping Center. It has attracted baby boomers looking to trade their larger homes for something with less maintenance and upkeep—namely a split-level Colonial priced at $500,000 or higher.
– The conspicuous absence of a walk-around downtown, à la nearby Ardmore and Narberth.
The Conestoga-Woodlea neighborhood, including Blair, Margo and Keller streets, and Mountview Road. Residents can walk to the train, schools and shops.
Northside neighborhoods on Carisbrooke and Caversham roads, plus Gatcombe, Garden, Colebrook and Potts lanes.
Clovelly Lane and Beaumont Road are highly desirable for their large lot sizes and close proximity to The Willows park and downtown Devon and Wayne.
Fenimore, a new development built by Don and Todd Pohlig and Bernie Drueding. Its 24 estate homes — designed to resemble an established Main Line neighborhood—are situated on 22 acres of open space and close to the 33-mile Bridlewild Trail.
The cluster of private Northside Haverford thoroughfares that includes Cheswold Hill Road and Cheswold and Elbow lanes. All have meticulously maintained homes on spacious lots within walking distance of Merion Cricket Club. On the south side, the popularity of the 55-plus community Athertyn at Haverford Reserve continues to grow as more empty-nesters downsize.
The tight-knit community of Deepdale is proud to have the oldest civic association in Pennsylvania. A great selling point in both Deepdale and Strafford Village: a Wayne address in Chester County—and that means lower taxes.
Kit Anstey, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, West Chester, (610) 431-1100, ansteyteam.com.
Craig and Mac Brand, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, Haverford, (610) 649-4500, craigandmacbrand.com.
Dana and Laura Caterson, Joseph Scott McArdle, Missy Schwartz and Julia Ward, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, Devon, (610) 651-2700, prufoxroach.com.
John S. Duffy, Duffy Real Estate, Narberth, (610) 667-6655, duffyrealestate.com.
Georgiana Hannum Stapleton and Mark Wilcox III, Country Properties, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, Unionville, (610) 347-2065, thecountryproperties.com.
Geoff Paine, Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, Media, (610) 892-5710, prufoxroach.com.