E. Passyunk a hot property

A thriving restaurant scene and family vibe are shooting house values and sales skyward.

Along Mifflin Street, one resident said, "asking prices $275,000 to $325,000 are the norm." (STEVEN M. FALK Staff Photographer)

Click on a Google map of East Passyunk Crossing, a South Philadelphia neighborhood a few blocks from the explosive restaurant and retail scene of East Passyunk Avenue. Then zoom in on the territory bounded by Broad and 11th, Tasker and McKean Streets.

You're looking at one hot real-estate micromarket. Arguably, the hottest of all the spots south of Center City now jumping off the sale-price charts, as documented by local Realtors and residents, Philadelphia transaction records, and a database of city property information available at philly.com/prop.

"Things have really escalated there in the last two years," said Sam Sherman, executive director of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp.

Prices have skyrocketed, said Mickey Pascarella, an agent for Keller Williams Real Estate, who also owns a home there.

Median prices in East Passyunk Crossing have risen 7.7 percent over the last three years, and climbed 28 percent from first quarter 2014 to first quarter 2015, according to an analysis of city sales data by Kevin Gillen, chief economist of Meyers Research and senior research fellow at the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University.

The median price for the neighborhood in the first quarter was $226,900 (half the houses sold for more, half for less), Gillen said. To compare, for South Philadelphia as a whole, the median first-quarter price was $149,646; for all of Philadelphia, it was $102,717.

"There's just a handful of houses for sale . . . no teardowns, no board-ups, little construction, just solid single-family houses that if properly priced go in a couple of weeks," said Pascarella.

That handful of houses is going for $245,000 to $389,000. And the largest, the almost-as-big-as-singles twins on Castle Avenue, "sell in the $400,000s," he said.

Which has many longtime East Passyunk Crossing residents shaking their heads.

"Little houses on my street are going for $300,000 and more," said Joseph DiDio, who paid $42,000 for his two-story on Sigel Street when he moved back to South Philly 24 years ago. If DiDio were to sell his house for $300,000 today, it would represent a 600 percent boost in value, with the bulk of that increase realized in just the last four years.

Kat Musicianesi is selling, for $252,900, the 814-square-foot house in the 1800 block of South Watts Street that she bought eight years ago, so that she can be closer to family in Pittsburgh.

"My neighbor, who has lived here all his life, told me he paid, I think, $14,000 for his," Musicianesi said.

Noted Marsha Shiflet, who lives with husband Robert Santoro in the house in the 1300 block of Mifflin Street that they bought in 1981: "Asking prices $275,000 to $325,000 are the norm. There's a house that sold for $330,000 - 2,000 square feet and a garage - at Mifflin and South Juniper Streets.

"You can't touch a shell for under $150,000," Shiflet added - if, indeed, you can find one. Ten years ago, she and Santoro walked away from an investment property because the owner wanted $85,000 and they wouldn't go higher than $65,000 for it.

East Passyunk Crossing is hardly an emerging neighborhood, not like Old City was in 1990 or Graduate Hospital (also known as Southwest Center City) in 2004. For decades, this stretch of South Philly has been a solid, stable, largely Italian-American neighborhood, residents and Realtors say.

These days, it's even more. As Center City has been reborn as a place where people live as well as work, so too have the neighborhoods radiating out from the center been reborn. Add to that a restaurant scene that's the talk of the town.

"East Passyunk has been rated one of the best restaurant streets in the country," said Jeff Kurtz, who with his wife, Erika, moved to a two-bedroom house on McClellan Street from University City in 2012.

Though property values there have increased markedly, "we were sold on the amenities," Kurtz said, adding that they had looked at other neighborhoods "with more room for appreciation."

With two children now - Maya, 8 months, and Millie, 3 - "when we move for more room, it will be within the neighborhood," he said.

In East Passyunk Crossing these days, getting the most information on a property as quickly as possible is critical, whether it's one just listed or the one next door to the house you hope to buy.

The database at philly.com/prop offers a power search: details on property ownership (whether the seller is actually the owner, for example), tax delinquency, sheriff's sale history, and more.

Finding the true owner of a property was vital recently, Shiflet said. Neighbors were able to exert enough pressure to turn a problematic house on a solid block into a rehab.

Many folks, such as Santoro and DiDio, grew up here, then left, then moved back. And they cite the revitalization of the East Passyunk Avenue corridor as the agent of change today.

"When I was growing up, East Passyunk was hot, but when the big-box stores came along, it went dead," Santoro said. "The renewal of East Passyunk Avenue has been wonderful."

Franco Borda, owner of FrancoLuigi's and the High Note Cafe at 13th and Tasker Streets, bought a house across the street from his restaurant, renovated it, and moved back from Chalfont, Bucks County.

"See the house next door," Borda said as he watered the plants that line his second-floor balcony. "They bought it for $190,000, resold it for $385,000" in August.

Some younger buyers also have local ties.

Thirtysomething Vienna Baldino moved to a rehabbed two-story house in the 1300 block of McClellan Street in 2011, coming "all the way" from 12th and Tasker Streets.

"It was walking distance from my mother," Baldino said as she hugged her nearly 2-year-old daughter, Ava.

Using the database at philly.com/prop, it's easy to see how Baldino's block illustrates changes in price over time.

There are several $1 transactions going back to the 1970s, reflecting the transfer of properties among relatives. Perhaps most interesting, however, is that prices there did not break the six-figure mark until 2000. In December, the most recent house on the block to sell went for $203,000.

"These houses are two stories and 14 feet wide," Pascarella said. "Because people want to stay, you may start seeing third stories appearing."

Newcomers are buying pre-owned homes rather than new ones. They are attracted by what they see around them, such as generations of a family such as Annie Cafiso, her daughter and son-in-law, and two granddaughters living in a two-story, 800-square-foot house.

The people moving in "are community-oriented," said Stacy Fahnestock, who with husband Scott Evans bought a Mifflin Street house in 1985. (The restoration inspired them to open Anastacia's Antiques at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets.)

"They seem committed to bettering things," she said, "like working toward seeing a food co-op come to fruition, and regular clean-up-the-block events, and purchasing properties to live in, not just flip for the profit."

One example: the gate at the end of South Watts Street, installed to discourage drug users and prostitutes from using an alley as a route from South Broad Street. E-mails to neighbors raised $3,500 for it practically overnight, Shiflet said.

Cafiso will be 84 in June. She moved into her house at age 16 and remembers when "Tony Push-Push" owned a neighborhood grocery.

"Of course," she said, "things have changed from when everyone spent every night after dinner sitting on the steps. But the people here today are very nice, too."


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens