One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
Some call Lower Gwynedd Township "the New Main Line." Many are enamored of the slogan, but veteran real estate agent and longtime resident Diane Williams isn't certain of its origin.
"Perhaps it is our mature trees, or our two train stations" on SEPTA's Lansdale/Doylestown line, says Williams, who has lived in a carriage-house community here for 16 years and works for Weichert Realtors' Blue Bell office.
Residents of this Montgomery County community truly like it, all its parts (Penllyn, Spring House, and Gwynedd Valley), and especially its "relatively low taxes and the responsiveness of the township when you call them with a problem," says Sharon McNew, who with husband Chuck traded a single in Horsham for a carriage house six years ago.
After Hurricane Sandy struck last year, McNew says, she noticed that trees on township property adjacent to her house weren't in good shape and reported it.
"They were there the next day, agreed that there was a problem, and said they would be back in November to remove them - and did," she says, adding, "The level of service is much higher than what we pay in property taxes."
Lower Gwynedd's pluses haven't been able to clear just yet all the cobwebs remaining from a downturn that stopped the township's housing market in its tracks, Williams says, citing data from Trend multiple-listing service.
"Sales are averaging about 10 a month," she says, with 79 current listings and a median price of $378,900, based on those sales."
That's a seven-month supply, close to the point that turns a buyer's market into one accommodating sellers.
In December 2008, considered the depth of the real estate downturn, four houses and two condos sold. The median price for the single-family houses was $534,900, and three of the four sales fell into that bracket, Williams says.
The condos were selling for $184,000 in December 2008, Trend shows.
All the condos here are at Georgetown, near the Penllyn SEPTA station, and they're selling for about $159,000 now, Williams says. "Many of them are being rented," she adds.
In a place where prices range from "zero to $9 million," as Williams puts it, what isn't selling is new construction. There isn't much these days since buildable land is at a premium in Lower Gwynedd.
"There are 16 new homes for sale, ranging from $569,000 to $1.6 million, and not one has sold in six months," says Williams, again citing Trend.
"Everything above $600,000 is pretty slow," she says, with the sweet spot still the carriage-house resale market between $400,000 and $550,000, where sale prices are about 95 percent of the "last list price."
Certain popular parts of town sell better, with houses that are properly priced selling in three or four days, says Williams. Days-on-market determinations don't take into account houses that were relisted or whose prices were dropped, "and there is a lot of that going on."
That doesn't make Lower Gwynedd unusual, since real estate is generally recovering - not booming - at different rates throughout the region.
The people who move here, live here, and run businesses here believe the market will recover and aren't planning to move soon - especially Sharon McNew, who wrote a thank-you note to the township for the quick response to the tree issue.
"I grew up in Scranton, and my neighborhood here reminds me of where I grew up - people watching out for one another and caring about what happens," she says.
Joan Kahn moved to Lower Gwynedd with her husband, Harry, who founded Jonns Contemporary Furniture in Montgomeryville in 1960. They lived first in an apartment near the Penllyn station and later built a house.
"We liked the area because of its access to the city and to New York," Kahn says, adding that considering the amount Lower Gwynedd has grown since they arrived, "it has been controlled, not crazy development."
The Kahns loved the open space, she says, especially her late husband, who liked riding horses. (There are still horse farms in the township).
"A lot of open space has been purchased and preserved, which has maintained Lower Gwynedd's character," Kahn says.
Noting the proliferation of carriage-house developments since her arrival, Susan Adair, who has lived in Lower Gwynedd since the mid-1960s, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Feast & Fancy on Bethlehem Pike in Spring House and is active in the recently resurrected business association.
"We need to jazz things up here," Adair says, pointing to empty space along the Bethlehem Pike corridor.
Adair adds that the push to boost local business fortunes comes as Dow Chemical Co. has announced its intention to move its research-and-development facility and 800 employees from Spring House to Collegeville at 2014's end.
"The township is searching worldwide to find a replacement," she says.
In 1995, Mary Cullom opened her restaurant, Arpeggio, in the Spring House Village Shopping Center on Sumneytown Pike. She attributes its longevity to a loyal customer base created by Lower Gwynedd's growth in the years since.
By 2002, she was ready to expand but had to change where she would add on when Starbucks sought the space she wanted.
"It was a good decision," Cullom says with a laugh. "[For] me and Starbucks, as well, because Starbucks wanted to be close to us."
By the numbers
Population: 11,405 (2010)
Median income: $91,496 (2009)
Area: 9.2 square miles
Homes for sale: 79
Settlements in the last three months: 51
Median days on market: 57
Median price (single-family homes): $378,900
Housing stock: From 18th century to the present day; many carriage-house developments.
School district: Wissahickon
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, City-Data.com; Realtor.com; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report; Diane Williams, Weichert Realtors