Monday, June 29, 2015

Town By Town: Small borough makes a big impression

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On Runnymede Avenue , a $539,000 home. While Jenkintown has large homes, it´s better known for its twins. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
On Runnymede Avenue , a $539,000 home. While Jenkintown has large homes, it's better known for its twins. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
On Runnymede Avenue , a $539,000 home. While Jenkintown has large homes, it´s better known for its twins. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer Gallery: Town By Town: Small borough makes a big impression

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

For those who have lived here, Jenkintown is a gift that keeps on giving.

Ask Adam F. Goldberg, who has assembled memories of growing up on Newbold Road in the 1980s into half-hour sitcom packages for ABC-TV.

"Jenkintown may have been small, but life there always seemed so big," says Goldberg, creator and executive producer of The Goldbergs. "I knew all of my neighbors, had block parties, and rode bikes until it was too dark to see."

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  • Though downtown Philadelphia was just a hop away - three train lines serve the Jenkintown-Wyncote station - "I always felt that Jenkintown had it all," says Goldberg, who joins actor Bradley Cooper as an early 21st-century notable from this Montgomery County borough.

    The show's Newbold Road is much more suburban Los Angeles than the real thing, with its large houses and yards and where, Weichert Realtors' Susan M. Yannessa says, "$700,000 homes are found."

    Long on memories, yes, but like many local communities Jenkintown is short on houses for sale. Last week, there were just 31 active listings, 12 of them condos - mainly at Beaver Hill, the nearly 50-year-old, 470-unit complex on Florence Avenue.

    The borough is better known for spacious three-story twins, some as large as 2,000 square feet, that traditionally have housed very large families. Re/Max Keystone broker Kurt Werner ticks off the names of some that had as many as 18 children.

    "The twins are big and old and often need much work," says Werner, who recently sold one that required an $11,000 outlay to remove outdated knob-and-tube wiring.

    "The sellers helped because they understood the issues," he says.

    Yannessa says Jenkintown's "demographics have changed significantly in the last 10 years," with fewer buyers willing to spend the money to fix up the older homes and choosing condos instead.

    That includes Beaver Hill, where two Fridays ago a family with two children settled on a unit on a floor that already was home to a family with 3-year-old twins and another with three children under 10, says Yannessa, who owns a condo there.

    Yet some condominiums are also a drag on the local market, Werner and Yannessa say.

    "There are just too many one-bedrooms, and they are difficult to sell," Werner says. (Days on market for condos average 83, twice that of non-condos.)

    The condo market "tanked" after the housing bubble burst, Yannessa says, with units that once sold for $295,000 going down to $100,000 and a tide of foreclosures and short sales.

    "It it weren't for the condos, we'd be averaging sales in the $300,000s rather than the $200s," says Werner, adding sales are healthy now despite that.

    In the first quarter, according to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach's HomExpert Market Report, the median price for all nine sales in the borough was $88,000 - below what agents consider real value here.

    Three-bedroom units accommodate young families, says Yannessa, and that lure boosted condo prices incrementally, from $104,000 in December to $140,000 in early July.

    Commercially, the market is thriving, with new restaurants and businesses opening.

    "To us, 'downtown' was the little strip of stores on Old York Road, where we would visit Martin's Aquarium, the hobby shop, and Elliott's toy store," says Goldberg. All those businesses are gone now.

    When Willow Grove Park Mall opened, "it siphoned the stores, and filling those spaces is still somewhat of a problem," says developer Marshal Granor of nearby Elkins Park, whose family bought the old Liberty Building on Old York Road more than 50 years ago.

    One key to the downtown's resurgence, Granor says, was the Hiway Theater, a Goldberg favorite - he dedicated a full episode of the TV show to it.

    "It was damp and moldy and shabby," says Granor, "but was rescued by a neighborhood nonprofit and is a lovely place now."

    Two years ago, Lindy Communities bought a building in foreclosure across Leedom Street from its corporate offices, one with storefronts on Old York Road "that had been empty for years" and "gave a blighted feel in the center," says president Alan Lindy.

    Piazza on the Square, on which $1 million was spent for renovations, was the "tipping point" for the borough center's renaissance, Lindy says, and his company is moving its corporate offices there, along with businesses, restaurants, and Uptown, a nightclub due in September.

    Werner moved to Jenkintown from Northeast Philadelphia when he was 12. Even though he went to Bishop McDevitt High School, "I hung out at Oswald Drugs [closed in 2006] and had a lot of friends" at Jenkintown High School.

    In an episode of The Goldbergs, Werner says, Adam Goldberg used his brother's name, Chris Werner, for a character who was "the hottest guy in high school."

    Jenkintown shows up in unexpected places, too.

    "My wife and I were dining in a restaurant in Hawaii, celebrating our 25th anniversary, and it must have been something I said because the waitress said, 'I'm from Jenkintown, too,' " Werner says.

    "I knew her brother."

     


    Jenkintown By The Numbers

    Population:

    4,443 (2012).

    Median income:

    $64,980 (2012).

    Area: 0.6 square miles.

    Settlements in the last 90 days: 15.

    Homes for sale: 31.

    Average days on the market: 65.

    Median price (all homes): $200,000.

    Housing stock: 2,085 units; large singles, twins, and older condominiums.

    School district: Jenkintown.

    SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Susan Yannessa, Weichert Realtors; Kurt Werner, Re/Max Keystone

     


    aheavens@phillynews.com

    215-854-2472 @alheavens

     

    Inquirer Real Estate Columnist
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