Town By Town: Palmyra has a lot to offer first-time buyers

A property at 334 Berkley Ave., Palmyra. (David M Warren / Staff Photographer)

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

If a wealthy descendant of the original Swedish settlers had not dug in his heels, this borough on the Jersey side of the Delaware River from Tacony would still be called Texas.

But landowner Isaiah Toy considered that name, given to the stretch of Burlington County shoreline by the Camden & Amboy Railroad, "inappropriate" and, the official history says, used his clout as a stockholder to have it changed in 1849.

His choice: Palmyra, after the ancient city in Syria. Toy was a history buff.

Call it what you will, the railroad workers who built their houses in what had been farmland for nearly two centuries considered the real estate here a bargain. That hasn't changed.

In Palmyra - situated off the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, and not that far from the Betsy Ross or the Ben Franklin - "you get a lot of house for a low price," says Val Nunnenkamp, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach in Marlton.

"The schools are not in demand," Nunnenkamp says, but Palmyra is affordable and is attracting workers from the casinos across the river, who "are buying there so they won't have to move to the city."

Roseanne Gentile, of Weichert Realtors, lives "a few steps away" from Palmyra in Cinnaminson and has been selling real estate here and in nearby communities for 25 years.

For a comparatively small community, as most of those on the east bank of the Delaware are, Palmyra's sales have skyrocketed in the last 12 months, rising by about 32 percent from 2013, with 102 closings, Gentile says.

Currently, about 70 houses are listed for sale. Based on recent transactions, prices start at $60,000 for smaller properties in need of updating. The average sale price here is about $156,000, she says, when you combine singles, twin homes, and townhouses.

Single-family homes in move-in condition and priced properly bring in about $225,000, Nunnenkamp says.

The priciest recent residential sale, he says, was the former American Water Co. building on Morgan Avenue near Bank Avenue. It settled in May for $485,000.

"It is pretty impressive, especially the views," Nunnenkamp says of the three-bedroom, 21/2-bath, 5,180-square-foot dwelling.

Palmyra has a lot going for it, real estate agents say, especially easy access to Philadelphia via the bridge and the River Line light rail, which connects riders to the PATCO High-Speed Line in Camden and the Trenton Transit Center.

Since it opened in 2004, "the River Line has made Palmyra [and the other shoreline communities] more accessible," says Gentile. "I see students taking it to Rutgers in Camden, and it is the easiest way to get to events at the Susquehanna Center" and the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton.

The station is on Broad Street in Palmyra's six-block downtown and has lots of parking, she says.

As with many area communities, people who grew up in Palmyra and moved away come back, if not to live here then to attend Fourth of July events and Halloween parades.

"Some families have lived here forever," Gentile says.

These days, there is no new construction to speak of, so what's on the market are detached houses and twins, primarily 75 or more years old.

Recently, Gentile says, she has been working with a lot of first-time buyers, many from Northeast Philadelphia, who are attracted by the affordability.

The housing market, as it did in most regional communities, took a hit when the economy tumbled.

"We were hoping the market correction would be quick, but it has taken much longer than we thought," Gentile says, adding that appraisers are still being careful in supporting list prices.

"We'll never see the days of 25 percent appreciation in a year," she says, adding that she and other agents would be satisfied with 3 percent to 5 percent, as in normal markets.

Because many homes for sale need work and younger buyers - saddled with student-loan debt - are struggling to raise 3 percent to 5 percent down payments, Gentile and other agents are persuading sellers to put money into their houses so that they'll sell quickly.

Along the river are two newer townhouse-style condominium communities: the 500-unit Palmyra Harbour, built in the early 1970s, and the 342-unit Riverfront at Palmyra, which opened in 1998.

Gentile recently sold two townhouses at Riverfront and describes living there and at Palmyra Harbour as "soothing and serene."

"These were not first-time buyers, but they were looking to live by the water and looking for low maintenance," she says.

One buyer was associated with the 250-acre Palmyra Cove Nature Center and quipped that "he could almost walk to work," Gentile says.

Riverfront was a "workout" of another developer's project by Granor Price Homes of Horsham, its first venture into New Jersey, says developer Marshal Granor.

"It was a horrible mess," Granor recalls. "Improvements were installed wrong, and they started three buildings at opposite ends of the community, which made no sense.

"I still wish I had bought the one first-story unit with a full water view," he says. "It was beautiful."

By the Numbers

Population: 7,398 (2010)

Median income: $61,990 (2010)

Area: 2.4 square miles

Settlements in the last three months: 34

Homes for sale: 70

Days on market: 117

Median price (all homes): $146,000

Housing stock: 3,392 units, primarily from late 19th century and 20th century

School district: Palmyra

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; Borough of Palmyra; BHHS Fox & Roach HomExpert Report

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