One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
It was a Sunday morning in Runnemede, and everyone in the Camden County borough seemed to be at the Phily Diner, which rises, with the Phily Sport Bar, from the intersection of Clements Bridge Road and Black Horse Pike.
Everyone, that is, except the people who were mowing the lawns surrounding their pre-World War II bungalows and postwar ranchers - postage-stamp-size yards that remained green thanks to a rainy summer.
On this particular Sunday, a brilliantly sunny one in mid-August when you'd think folks would be at the Shore, Phily Diner owner Petros Contos had opened his doors to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono. She walked from table to table, filled with multiple generations of families, to chat.
Contos, who came here from Greece in 1970, ventured from his office, escorted by Runnemede attorney Robert A. Del Sordo, to meet Buono.
"If you'd like to have a fund-raiser here this fall, we can have it here," Del Sordo told Buono.
Contos, whose place is a destination for students from Camden County College up the road, many of whom also work at the eatery, affirmed the offer.
In Runnemede, where everyone knows everyone else and has for years, his generosity was hardly unusual.
When people move here, they tend to stay, and their relatives usually follow.
Councilwoman Patricia Tartaglia-Passio has lived here all her life and calls Runnemede a place with "deep roots."
"My parents came here from Philadelphia, and then my aunts and uncles followed," she says, "adding up to seven families."
"It isn't uncommon for people to have been living here 50 years or more," says Tartaglia-Passio.
Like any number of locales in South Jersey, Runnemede remains in the housing doldrums - what veteran agent Patrick Bocchiccio, of KingsGate Realty in Mount Ephraim, calls a "soft market."
"There is still a lot of inventory and, as is the case in many blue-collar neighborhoods, still a lot of short sales and foreclosures that tend to pull down comparable prices," says Bocchiccio, who has been selling real estate for the last 17 years.
Short sales are transactions in which the mortgage lender agrees to accept less than the seller owes on the house. Though such sales have decreased with the improving market, some towns in which prices increased more than was sustainable over the long term have had trouble whittling down distressed inventory.
Many real estate agents say communities such as Runnemede have an oversupply of short sales and estate sales, the latter because some homeowners in these places live in the same houses all their adult lives.
"When we do land a nice price for a house, we have trouble meeting appraisal, which often is not the problem just a couple of towns over," Bocchiccio says.
Runnemede's houses are older and smaller, with almost nothing newer than 55 years old, he says.
"It is a resale market," Bocchiccio says, with prices averaging about $190,000 to $210,000.
With most of what's available under $200,000, "people who buy here aren't looking for more than three bedrooms and 21/2 baths," which is what they will find, he says.
Condition depends on how individual houses have been maintained by the owners, with distressed sales probably not in good shape. Most houses show just the normal wear and tear.
Harris Gross, of Engineers for Home Inspection in Cherry Hill, says he likes inspecting houses in Runnemede because they tend to be uncomplicated.
"The houses don't usually have crawl spaces, they are smaller, and issues are usually similar: horizontal wall cracks and plumbing leaks, for example," Gross says.
Typically, buyers here are first-timers - the group, Bocchiccio says, that has been most affected by the changes in home financing that followed the housing bubble's pop: stricter debt-to-income ratios, and the drop in seller-assistance allowances to 3 percent, from 6 percent.
"Getting a mortgage has become increasingly more difficult for first-time buyers," he says, "and when fixed interest rates go up one percentage point, it will take many of them out of the market."
That said, Bocchiccio notes that interest rates are better than they have been in the 17 years he has been selling real estate and "this is such a great time to be a buyer."
Those who live here see Runnemede as a good bet.
"As a government, we try to do our best for residents," Tartaglia-Passio says two days before Christmas, as she waits for an engineer to inspect the borough's new restrooms.
"We try to be as transparent as possible, and our meetings are videotaped and posted on YouTube," she says, listing some of the things the borough offers: a week for students to observe government (including a free trip to Washington); a Christmas tree lighting, and a Halloween party at the community center, among others.
Businesses, too, stay in town for years - not only Contos' enterprises, but also Mister Softee, which the Conway brothers brought from Philadelphia in 1958, and Deluxe Italian Bakery, opened by the Racobaldo family in 1949.
"They are icons," Tartaglia-Passio says.
By the numbers
Median income: $62,899 (2010)
Area: 2.12 sq. miles
Homes for sale: 97
Settlements in the last three months: 22
Median days on the market: 110
Median sale price
(all homes): $128,000
Housing stock: Bungalows and rowhouses, most built pre-World War II
School district: Runnemede
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Zillow.com; Berkshire Hathaway Homes Services Fox & Roach HomExpert