Town By Town: In Lower Makefield, drawn by the commute
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
It may not be the town that I-95 built, but the highway certainly has helped make Lower Makefield the place it is today.
The proof is in the housing. Though two historic districts - Dolington and Edgewood - have structures dating from the late 18th century to the 1920s, this community is filled with dwellings built in the last 40 or so years.
"The opening up of I-95 through the region really opened up the possibility of working anywhere in New Jersey or New York and still being able to have a 'reasonable' commute," says Kira Sterling, chief marketing officer for Toll Bros., which, she notes, was the first major builder in Lower Makefield.
"Lower Bucks County became an option for so many" who wanted a suburban home, property, great schools, and ease of transportation, she says.
Judy Seelig, a native Philadelphian living in New Jersey with husband Jack, who worked in Trenton, says Toll had signs in all the New York train stations "advertising that it took less time to commute from Lower Makefield to Manhattan than from Long Island."
"I wanted to move back to Pennsylvania," says Seelig, who spent a lot of time as a child with her family visiting - and, with her father, fishing - in New Hope. So the couple moved here 38 years ago and still live in the same Toll-built house in Yardley Hunt.
Toll Bros. continues to have a presence in Lower Makefield with Regency at Yardley, an over-55 condominium community Sterling says is attracting longtime owners of the builder's homes in the township and elsewhere.
Yardley, the borough on the Delaware River surrounded by Lower Makefield on three sides, lends its post office's name to its larger neighbor.
Hence, the two have become virtually synonymous, says Martin Millner, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Yardley, who has lived in Yardley Hunt, one of the earliest Toll developments, for 34 years.
Like thousands of others, Millner moved to Lower Makefield for the convenience the highway offered.
"I worked in Jersey and my wife was a student at Penn, and first an apartment in Bensalem and then this house were a reasonable halfway," he says.
Its accessibility served the township well during the real estate downturn, too, Millner says: "Lower Makefield held its value because people who had to change jobs could easily get to New York, Philadelphia, and Princeton."
That has helped keep prices close to where they were when the housing bubble burst, he says, with condos available for $150,000 in certain areas of town and singles selling for $800,000 to $900,000 "not unusual."
Millner is working with a custom builder on a single-family home for $1.4 million, and other custom houses exceed $2 million, though not many sell for more than $1 million.
Lower Makefield "is about as close to being built out as it can possibly be," he says, "with the township working hard to preserve open space."
The Pennsbury School District also helps draw newcomers to Lower Makefield.
Says retiree Tony Lutkus: "One key thing you see here is high parent involvement in children's activities. Thanks, in large part to parent efforts, Pennsbury has an inordinate amount of extracurricular success: The enormous marching band has been all over the world; the cheerleaders have won national competitions."
Lutkus moved to Lower Makefield in 1986, "when my 75-mile one-way commute from the wilds of northwest Jersey to a job in the New Jersey Department of Higher Education in Trenton became too onerous."
Ruling out the Jersey side of the Delaware for one reason or another, Lutkus says, the real estate agent "told us about Lower Makefield, kind of the 'just right' of the three bears' real estate market."
"It had a wide variety of housing choices, from townhouses to ranchers to McMansions and good schools," he recalls. "So we made the jump, and the promise turned out to be true."
Nancy Jaslow and husband Lee moved from Center City 30 years ago to an older house in the Edgewood section, to ease his commute to Manhattan.
"We belong to Congregation Brothers of Israel, which [until 2007] was across from the Trenton station, and he'd park there for free," she says. Her husband was part of a regular group of daily commuters who played bridge on the trip.
Her two children - one now in Philadelphia, the other in Manhattan - played soccer, T-ball, and Little League baseball, and their Pennsbury education spelled continued success after graduation.
"It is a well-kept town with well-kept homes," Jaslow says.
When the Seeligs moved to Lower Makefield, "it was still pretty much farm country," Judy Seelig says, and despite all the development, it still has that rural feel.
"It is just a beautiful place," she says, "with excellent public facilities, good schools, library, activities for seniors, and shopping."
Even though their children are grown, the Seeligs have no plans to move away.
"They'll have to take us out of our house in black bags," she says with a laugh.
By the Numbers
Population: 32,599 (2010)
Median income: $66,384
Area: 18.3 square miles
Homes for sale: 191
Settlements in the last three months: 225
Median days on market: 90
Median sale price (single family homes): $392,000
Median sale price
(all homes): $389,000
Housing stock: Some historic homes, but most from late 1970s
School district: Pennsbury
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Zillow.com; Martin Millner, Coldwell Banker Hearthside; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report