Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Town By Town: Location is just the starting place

A home for sale on Colonial Avenue. Lower prices are drawing younger buyers, agents say. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
A home for sale on Colonial Avenue. Lower prices are drawing younger buyers, agents say. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)
A home for sale on Colonial Avenue. Lower prices are drawing younger buyers, agents say. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer) Gallery: Town by Town: West Deptford

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

Real estate textbooks have a lot to say about the importance of a good location. They might well be talking about this town.

Across the river from Philadelphia International Airport and accessible to everywhere by I-295, location is one of West Deptford's biggest selling points.

"That's it," says Beth English, of Century 21 Hughes-Rich in Woolwich, who has been selling real estate in Gloucester County for 16 years.

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  • But location is much more than just proximity to highway and airport, English says: It's also a school district and "a competitive tax base."

    The quality of the West Deptford school system, especially its athletic programs, has drawn buyers for many years, says Gary Schaal, now a consultant to area builders, who was in charge of sales at many of the developments Robert K. Scarborough built here from the 1960s to the 1990s.

    Scarborough's 1,000 homes - in developments such as Sherwood, Sherwood Green, Country Creek, Mervyn Farms, and Pennfield - "drew young families from Camden and Burlington Counties, as well as Philadelphia, looking for schools, reasonable taxes, and lower prices," Schaal says.

    "Younger buyers could find good-sized singles in the $80,000-to-$90,000 range, which was $30,000 to $40,000 cheaper than comparable houses in Voorhees," he says.

    Property taxes in West Deptford are lower than in many municipalities in South Jersey, owing to a substantial corporate presence along Crown Point Road in Thorofare, including Checkpoint Systems Inc., Albert Tire's distribution center, and Cento Fine Foods.

    For more than 60 years, the 1,000-acre Eagle Point refinery was a major contributor of taxes and employment. The refinery shut down in 2010.

    "That was a huge revenue piece," says Weichert Realtors agent Deb Andrews, who has lived for 12 years in the active-adult community Reserve at RiverWinds, built by J.S. Hovnanian. "We need tax ratables, and there has been renewed discussion of turning it into a distribution center."

    Fifty-one percent of West Deptford is residential, with the rest almost equally divided between commercial and industrial uses, Andrews says. In 2012, the total property-tax bill for a house assessed at $207,966 was $5,228.26, according to an example supplied by the township.

    Home prices here remain low, says English, who has a "little rancher" in the Thorofare section of the township under contract for $140,000 to first-time buyers. She just sold a larger single in the Pennfield development for $355,000, she says.

    "Unlike places such as Mullica Hill, it is hard to get much above $400,000 here," English says.

    "About $140,000 to $350,000 is typically the price you'll pay," she says, acknowledging with Andrews that prices fell during the real estate downturn but seem to be recovering faster than elsewhere.

    "I just sold a townhouse in a day," says Andrews, a retired educator from North Jersey. "All my listings are getting activities like crazy."

    Although West Deptford attracts "educated buyers who have done their homework" from other parts of Gloucester County and Philadelphia - mostly families looking at the school district - a large share of sales involve people moving within the township.

    "They just like it here," English says. "We have kids who grew up here buying starter houses here. There are plenty of houses with a large amount of square footage that can accommodate growing families."

    Because of that buyer base, she says, "a house properly priced won't stay a week on the market."

    Active and passive recreation is a major industry in West Deptford - another draw for buyers. Nearly 500 acres of the township is parkland, with the largest concentrations on Metropolitan Avenue and RiverWinds Lane and at Union Field.

    The township's community center at RiverWinds offers a variety of classes and activities to residents year-round, Andrews says, noting that the township is working to make the center "a profitable venture."

    "It is second to none," she says, adding that the township went to Colorado for the model and is looking for ways to operate it more efficiently.

    In addition, talk has resumed about building townhouses near the center, and about a marina hotel originally planned there, Andrews says.

    If anything, West Deptford is short of shopping areas within its boundaries, English and Andrews say. There has been renewed discussion of commercial development at a 57-acre tract off I-295 that was once a drive-in theater, Andrews says.

    Except for the Reserve at RiverWinds, much of the housing here dates either from the 1930s or 1960 to 1990, though the area was settled before the Revolution.

    Much of it, therefore, is dated by today's standards. And that has long provided a fertile field for remodeler Jay Cipriani, of Cipriani Builders in nearby Woodbury.

    "I kind of got my start in West Deptford," he says, adding that often "the structure is still adequate and will likely last another 20 or 30 years."

    "There is a lot of upgrading going on here, especially kitchens and bathrooms," says Cipriani. "There aren't many additions, however," given that many of the singles built in the 1960s through 1980s were larger homes.

    "People are focusing on the interiors of the houses, where they spend most of their time," Cipriani says. "They say that since they aren't going on vacation or buying Shore houses, they might as well do things at home."


    Town By Town: West Deptford By the Numbers

    Population: 21,677 (2010)

    Median income: $69,316 (2010)

    Area: 17.8 square miles

    Homes for sale: 79

    Settlements in the last three months: 45

    Median days on market: 68

    Median sale price (single-family homes): $175,000

    Median sale price (all homes): $175,000

    Housing stock: Pre-World War II bungalows, new construction, mobile homes.

    School district: West Deptford

    Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Realtor.com; Movoto.com

    Contact Alan J. Heavens

    at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or @alheavens at Twitter.


    Inquirer Real Estate Columnist
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