One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
On the plus side, Weichert Realtors agent Candy Niedoba says, Pennsauken is South Jersey's best-kept secret: a traditionally blue-collar Camden County community with affordable housing that draws a variety of buyers.
The still-recovering economy that has stymied the efforts of low- to moderate-income Americans to buy homes has been a boon to this town across the Delaware River, whose unusual name purportedly means tobacco pouch in Leni-Lenape.
"I'm surprised by the calls that I get from different kinds of buyers," says Niedoba, who is based in Weichert's Cherry Hill office and sells real estate throughout South Jersey.
Recently, she says, she received a call from a Camden County sheriff's deputy looking for a house in Pennsauken, and has also been working with divorced buyers who are looking for something small they can afford "to get their lives started again."
"It's more desirable than it used to be," Niedoba says. "Prospective buyers say their coworkers tell them about Pennsauken, because they can buy more house with their money, and the location, across the river from Philadelphia and connected everywhere by major state roads, is perfect."
Buyers who looked at Palmyra and Riverton found what they wanted in Pennsauken, she says, at least in her experience.
The average price of a house here has been running between $130,000 and $150,000 in recent months, with the sweet spot of the market between $100,000 and $200,000, Niedoba says.
Prices of non-distressed homes run from $123,000 to $299,999, "although there are not a lot" of the top-end homes, she says.
Val Nunnenkamp, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors in Marlton who also sells in Pennsauken, offers a more cautious approach to the township's housing market.
"As far as convenience to get over the bridge and move on with your life, buying a house in Pennsauken can make a lot of sense," he says.
Yet some neighborhoods are more sellable than others, Nunnenkamp says.
"Over toward the golf course [Pennsauken Country Club], it is still a very decent area of nice neighborhoods, with some listings around $300,000 in a township where more houses are in the $140,000-to-$240,000 price range and with 267 active listings to choose from," he says.
Those neighborhoods are adjacent to western Cherry Hill and the mall area, where the housing market in the last 12 months has been considerably hotter than on the pricier east side.
"Demand is high in the Pennsauken neighborhoods adjacent to Cherry Hill West High School," Nunnenkamp says.
Noting that sales in Pennsauken average about 22 a month, Niedoba acknowledges that the market depends on the neighborhood.
In the third quarter, for example, sales in the 08109 zip code were 46 percent higher than in the same three months of 2013. Over the same period, sales fell 11 percent in the 08110 zip code, which Pennsauken shares with Camden.
Niedoba says she had one house listed in the 08110 zip "that would have sold had I had more [effort to improve the listing] from the seller."
Another weight on the Pennsauken market, Nunnenkamp says, is that "property taxes are brutal," despite all the commercial and industrial properties here.
A nearly 1,900-square-foot single-family house currently listed at $165,000 has an annual property tax bill of nearly $6,000, for example.
The township took a big hit in the economic downturn, which "ran over Pennsauken like a lawn mower," Nunnenkamp says, making it difficult for people to keep homes, let alone buy them.
The number of distressed houses - short sales, foreclosures, and bank-owned repossessions - is high. Of the 151 real estate sales that went to closing from January to early December, 76 fell below the average sale price, which Niedoba puts at $136,291.
The lowest price, $20,000, was for a one-story bungalow, Multiple Listing Service data show. The highest was $240,000 for a 49-year-old, two-story Colonial in the Iron Rock neighborhood with an annual tax bill of $8,200.
Of the 267 active listings, 61 are priced under $100,000, 190 between $101,000 and $200,000, 15 between $201,000 and $300,000, and one at $319,900, Nunnenkamp says.
A lot of Niedoba's buyers are first-timers and typically use FHA mortgages with 3 percent down payments, although, as the credit climate improves, more are going with conventional mortgages.
Traditionally, Niedoba says, Pennsauken is a town of single-family houses on not very big lots but "with nice little backyards," some twins that sell for $100,000 to $120,000, and, as "one of my elderly sellers who had lived here all his life said, 'great neighborhoods and a sense of community.' "
"I don't know where Pennsauken got such a bad rap over the years," she says.
Nunnenkamp says the school district is a major concern for many buyers and notes a decline in its ratings since 2004-05.
"It is scary," he says.
"It is a solid school district for the taxes," she says, adding, "It isn't Voorhees."
Pennsauken By the Numbers
Population: 35,885 (2010).
Median income: $57,241 (2010).
Area: 12.1 square miles.
Settlements in the last three months: 83.
Homes for sale: 267.
Days on market: 81.
Median price: $135,000.
Housing units: 13,275, mostly older single-family detached homes on small lots.
School district: Pennsauken.
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report