Town By Town: Building stays active in Main Line 'extension'
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
Based on buyers of the houses under construction at Toll Bros.' Liseter master-planned community, Brian Therrin is confident in saying that Newtown Township, Delaware County, is "an extension of the Main Line."
Its proximity to those tony towns offers many empty-nester buyers the opportunity to find new construction without having to leave the familiar - friends, neighbors, and gathering places - too far behind, says Therrin, a Toll Bros. senior vice president.
Names given Liseter's "collections" of homes reflect those ties - Villanova, St. Davids, and Merion, to name three.
"Empty nesters are in the majority, looking for something new," he says.
Liseter is one of several new developments in the township - D.R. Horton, for example, is building condos and townhouses at the Grand at Muirwood Hill. But the Toll project, rising on the site of the former du Pont estate, is a big one - 449 carriage homes, townhouses, and singles. Prices start in the upper $500,000s and rise to low $1 million-plus.
In 2013, the first year of Liseter, as infrastructure was created and work progressed on turning a 9,000- square-foot carriage barn into a clubhouse, 60 homes were sold, Therrin says. Of these, "we've sold roughly 60 percent in the traditional single-family home collections."
"We have settled nine homes to date in the community, and three more in the next two weeks, all of which are in our carriage-home collection. It has been a great first year," Therrin says.
All those sales were transacted without model homes. The first two models are due to be completed March 1, he says.
Liseter is Toll's first venture into Newtown Township, and Guy Matteo, of Re/Max Preferred in Newtown Square, says it is having a positive effect on the real estate market.
"I haven't sold anything there yet, but I have taken buyers over there, and it is an interesting product line," Matteo says, adding that he believes Liseter is filling a need in the township's housing market.
Its pricing and target buyer also are in line with Newtown's real estate reality, he says.
In the last year, the average sale price in the township has been $550,000, Matteo says, noting that a lot of single-family houses are in the mix.
Yet one of the things the Newtown market has going for it is diversity of housing: "There's a little bit of something for everyone," Matteo says.
Prices range from $125,000 for two-bedroom condos in established communities such as Holly Brook and Green Country Village, to $3 million for estate homes, he says.
A. Marie Gillespie, an agent with Duffy Real Estate in St. Davids and a township resident for nine years, concurs.
"There are a lot of new developments, but there are older homes as well," Gillespie says, adding that many people, including some of her friends, have bought fixer-uppers here because "they love the area."
That seems to fly in the face of what real estate agents in other communities have found since the housing market hit the skids in this region in 2006-07. Those agents say most buyers are looking for perfection, not rehabbing opportunities.
"A lot of these same people would like to buy houses in Media or West Chester, but there are few houses available in either, the move-in ones are out of their price reach, and the fixer-uppers are too expensive," says Gillespie, who owns a condo in Green Country Village.
"I was 28 when I bought, and I was looking for something that was convenient but not in a high-rise," she says.
Buyers here "can get a decent home and a piece of land and not be on top of their neighbors," says Gillespie.
Though the township is convenient to train stations in nearby towns and "most things are a five-minute drive away, [this] is not a walkable community," she adds.
Both Gillespie and Matteo note that property taxes here - the lion's share going to the Marple Newtown School District - are in line or lower than others in Delaware County.
As with many places in the Philadelphia region, for-sale inventory is in short supply, even though the number - 107 in a town of 12,000 people - may look like abundance, Matteo says.
"Of those, 17 are new construction in Liseter and are not yet available, and 15 more are also new in White Horse, a Nolen Cos. development, and Bentley Homes' Worthing," he says.
Many of the rest aren't in the more popular price ranges, meaning that when a house appears, "it goes quickly," he says.
This year, time on market is about 30 days, Matteo says, while last year it was twice that.
"If you came to me and asked to see a single-family house between $300,000 to $500,000, I might be able to show you seven or eight," he says, adding that prices are up 5 percent over 2012.
Gillespie says a lot of younger buyers "are looking for Radnor and Lower Merion because of the school districts."
"When they do their research, what they want in a house and what they can afford can be found by expanding their search by a couple of miles to Newtown Township," she says.
"After all, school districts are what you make of them."
Newtown Township, Delaware County:
Population: 12,216 (2010)
Median income: $102,701
Area: 10.1 square miles
Homes for sale: 107
Settlements in the last three months: 41
Median days on the market: 30
Median sale price (all homes): $320,000
Housing stock: 4,690, diverse in age and type, newer construction
School district: Marple Newtown
SOURCES: U.S. Census; City-Data.com; Guy Matteo, Re/Max Preferred; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Report