Town By Town: Steady after growth boom

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

Think mall in certain parts of suburban Philadelphia, and Montgomery Township immediately comes into focus.

Though Montgomery Mall is just one part of this nearly 11-square-mile township in the northeastern part of the county of the same name, it's probably the best known.

Opened in 1977 to serve the Route 309 corridor, and continuing to be transformed as businesses come and go and tastes change, the mall is a major magnet for shoppers from all over the region.

When the mall opened, Montgomery Township was just beginning to experience the housing boom that would boost its population more than 113 percent between 1980 and 1990.

Today, nearly 25,000 people live in the 9,500 single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments that give Montgomery its suburban quality along with its many shopping areas, Route 309, and the new Route 202 Bypass.

Development has slowed as home builders moved to towns north and west for bigger and less expensive tracts of land. The population here grew only 12 percent from 2000 to 2010, U.S. Census data show.

Except for Montgomery Preserve, an over-55 community on Route 309 that is under construction and sold out, little building is going on compared with days gone by, says Diane Williams, an agent with Weichert Realtors' office in Blue Bell. The legacy of those days is found in the "horrendous" traffic, she says, with Five Points - the intersection of Routes 309, 202, and 463 - one of the county's busiest.

There are just 86 active listings here, with 346 homes sold in the last 12 months - a far cry from the township's development heyday, Williams says.

"There's really no reason to move," she adds, to explain the low level of real estate listings - not uncommon for many parts of the region.

Gary Segal, of Keller Williams Real Estate in Blue Bell, who has been selling in Montgomery Township for 25 years, says it is truly a sellers' market. The number of active listings combined with pending and actual sales put the supply of homes here at less than three months, he says.

"The township market, for a long time, has been, relative to others, a very strong market," he says. "It is a very popular area because of its convenience to employment - the pharmaceutical companies - and because everything is right here."

Montgomery Township was attractive from the start because the same houses that were built here were being built in Lower Gwynedd next door but for $100,000 more, he says.

"Here, there was more bang for your buck, and the distance was not enough to matter," Segal says.

"Houses here are moderately priced, and the North Penn School District taxes are reasonable and not expected to rise, since its high school is already built," Williams says, comparing it to Upper Dublin and to Wissahickon, which may need a new secondary school.

The prices are attractive to first-time buyers, the agents say.

"There are a lot of starter houses," Segal says. "It is a place where you can buy a two-bedroom condo for $140,000 and move up without leaving town."

Of the houses sold in the last year, just 31 were above $500,000, he says.

The vast majority are $200,000 to $450,000, in "developments of 25-year-old Colonials with three to four bedrooms and 21/2 baths on lots of a quarter-acre," Segal says.

There are some larger lots, and some ranchers that, at 40 to 50 years old, predate the housing boom.

"I showed a rancher the other day," Williams said. "There just aren't that many here."

One bit of new construction is not residential and is about to make its debut on the Montgomery Township scene. Residents will gather Oct. 24 for the dedication of the new community recreation center, a 40,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility at Horsham and Stump Roads that has been four years in the making.

The center is on the 12-acre site of what was to have been an office center, purchased below market value from Univest Bank, which had foreclosed on it, the township says.

"Montgomery Township draws a lot of families," Segal says. "It is truly a suburban community."

aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472@alheavens