One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
Martin Millner, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hearthside, sums it up this way: When the talk turns to real estate, the only thing Newtown Borough and Newtown Township share "is the name Newtown."
Notes Sharon Spadaccini, who sells real estate out of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors' New Hope office: "There are two different types of people" who buy in these Bucks County municipalities.
Borough buyers "love the housing styles and the walkability," she said. Those who buy in the township, meanwhile, like the borough's amenities but want to be farther out, where there is more open space.
"The borough has more of a cachet," said Millner, who is based in Yardley. Turnover of houses there isn't as great as in the township, where the buyers tend to be young families enamored of the Council Rock School District.
"The borough is not as affordable nor draws as many families" from Philadelphia and elsewhere as Newtown Township, said Spadaccini. "Younger buyers do like the idea of walking to everything in town," but in the township, people are buying for the homes and schools, not the lifestyle.
Housing style, age, and - most important - price aside, the communities actually do have quite a bit in common: history, a fire department, the school district, and geography - Newtown Township surrounds Newtown Borough, which became a separate entity in 1838.
The township is, of course, much bigger in area and has almost nine times more people. Which means Newtown Township invites more development, has more homes for sale and more closings - and, with a wider variety of housing choices, lower median prices.
One older development, Newtown Grant, was built in 14 sections from the late 1980s to 2000 by Orleans Homebuilders Inc. It is slightly larger than the borough, has more residents (3,600), and has more than 1,000 condos, townhouses, and single homes.
"You can buy a nice condo here for $220,000 or less," Millner said. The sweet spot for townhouses and condos is $275,000 to $325,000, and $550,000 to $650,000 for singles.
Toll Bros. maintains a presence here, one that offers a chance to measure in dollars how the two real estate markets differ.
Over the years, and aiming to lure buyers with the easy commute on I-95 to New York and Philadelphia, Toll built Chapman's Corner, Overlook at Newtown, Linton Hill Chase, the Reserve at Newtown, and Newtown Station. It also is constructing Delancey Court, a townhouse development started by another builder.
Newtown Station was different, "a new concept for the borough," Millner said: 47 attached homes, seven condos in a conversion of an existing building, and three single-family homes.
Just outside the borough, Toll built Newtown Walk, said division president Chuck Breder - the same product with the same floorplans as Newtown Station. But because the township doesn't command the same value as the borough, "we adjusted the price."
How does that translate? Millner said the brick townhouses of Newtown Station sold for $900,000 or more. Breder said all but one of the 102 houses in Newtown Walk have sold, and for about $800,000.
"There is a borough premium," Millner said of the prices.
Yet, Millner and Spadaccini said, houses in Newtown Borough that need work linger on the market unless the seller is willing to lower the price to accommodate.
"Most of my sellers cannot understand why their house isn't 12 percent higher in value, like they hear about in the rest of the country," Spadaccini said.
Both markets, however, suffer from a common 2014 real estate malady: not enough homes for sale, a nagging problem that appears to have been something neither housing economists nor the industry thought about when predicting a complete turnaround after the booming spring of 2013.
Of the 70 houses on the market in Newtown Township, 43 are in the $300,000-to-$700,000 range, while the rest run from $180,000 to $300,000, Millner said.
"Condition and proper price are the keys," he said, adding that of six pending sales in the borough, three spent just 24 days on the market while three spent "130 days or more."
"It is a curious market," said Spaddaccini, who sells with her husband, Michael, in the rest of Bucks County and Northeast Philadelphia.
"Last year was a consistently good one for us," she said. "This one is unpredictable. I have $200,000 condos that I thought would fly off the market. There have been a lot of showings, but no one is ready to pull the trigger."
When houses are priced appropriately, there are bidding wars, Spaddaccini said, but, as in most places, the final number is always close to or just slightly above the asking price.
She represented a buyer in a competition for a $230,000 house that the listing agent purposely priced below what it would appraise for.
When one of the eight bids came in at $249,000, the listing agent had to toss it out, because the appraisal would not go that high for the purposes of obtaining a mortgage. In the end, the house sold at just above asking price.
"You need to recognize the limits of appraisals," Spadaccini said.
Town By Town: The Newtowns by the Numbers
Population (2010) 2,248 19,299
Median income (2009) $63,571 $80,532
Area 0.6 sq. mi. 12 sq. mi.
Settlements in last three months 4 55
Homes for sale 13 70
Median days on market 121 57
Median prices (all homes) $511,750 $325,000
School district: Council Rock
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Report