Town By Town: Homes in Media are in high demand
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
Media is very much the Delaware County seat, as it has been since 1850. A good number of the historic buildings here, especially around the courthouse on Front Street, are home to law offices, title companies, and other government-related endeavors.
At lunchtime, restaurants are filled to capacity with diners taking a break from county business.
But don't forget for a minute that Media is called "Everybody's Hometown." A major focus in this evolving and bustling borough is on buying and selling real estate.
Media isn't Jessica Eldredge's hometown, but the artist, a New Haven, Conn., native, says she has been treated as though she grew up here since the day she and her husband, Gifford, arrived in 2000 with their baby, in search of sidewalks.
"We couldn't do car seats, especially to the library," says Eldredge, who traded rural Thornton for the walkability of Media.
It's not Jeanne Vasquez's hometown, either, but the Madison, Wis., native rented a house in the borough for seven years. She now lives with her husband, Steve, on its edge in Middletown Township, "with a Media address," she says, but they still spend a lot of time in the borough, especially Thursday nights.
"There is a farmers' market every Thursday in the Media Theater parking lot," she explains. "What isn't sold is donated to the food bank at the First United Methodist Church, and we volunteer there every Thursday night."
(Actually, they attend Lima United Methodist Church, but "no matter where you go in Media, you are always welcome," says Vasquez, whose son, Jeremy Pflug, lives in the borough and buys and rehabs rental housing when it comes available.)
Linda McKissick is a Media native, and though she lives just beyond the border these days, she sells real estate in the borough for Weichert Realtors.
Not that there's much for sale, just 13 listings, and that's not enough to meet demand "of people who want to live here," McKissick says.
Prices of homes for sale range from $164,900 for a two-bedroom, one-bath condo to $850,000 for a seven-bedroom single-family house. In the mix are a trio of three-bedroom townhouses on Jefferson Street listed from $399,900 to $424,900.
"There are people downsizing from big houses in surrounding communities who want to move here, and there are people already here who want to move to bigger or smaller houses, but it isn't that easy," says Weichert agent S. Clark Kendus, who also sells in the borough and surrounding towns. "The market-absorption rate makes this a sellers' market."
Eldredge can attest to the shortage.
"We were lucky that we bought a bigger twin when we did, because as our family grew" - there are two children now, ages 13 and 10 - "we realized that we might not be able to move to something bigger in Media," she says. Renovating their house was the solution to "allow us to stay here for the long haul."
Vasquez would have preferred staying in Media, too, she says, but when her landlord decided to sell the twin she'd been renting, moving was the only option.
Vasquez's experience is more common than Eldredge's, the real-estate agents say.
"There isn't much being built here these days, other than some infill," McKissick says, noting that old zoning laws put a number of residential properties into the commercial pool.
There are many rental apartments, she says, a large number of them owned and managed by Media Realty Co., especially near the train station. The borough is on the Media-Elwyn line and accessible to the Market-Frankford El at 69th Street in Upper Darby by the Route 101 trolley.
Media Realty's founder, Walter Strine Sr., who died at age 100 in 2009, developed offices, apartments and other buildings during his long career.
"Strine made sure that the buildings in Media were constructed of masonry to keep the fire-insurance rates down," says Kendus, adding that the property-tax rate of 31.3965 mills is among the county's lowest.
In 1993, Strine rescued the venerable Media Theater, spending $1 million on its restoration. The theater, under artistic director Jesse Cline, offers a variety of productions and programs each year, McKissick says.
It's just one example of Media's resurgence, she says, recalling what it was like when she was growing up and how the downtown fell on hard times when Granite Run and Springfield Malls were built in the 1970s.
Zubair Khan, executive director of the quasigovernmental Media Business Authority, says the group has followed the recommendations of a 2000 study on boosting the downtown's fortunes after the courthouse closes at 5 p.m. weekdays.
"While we still need more retail, Media has become a destination for our restaurants," says Khan, owner of Puffin Oriental Rugs on West Baltimore Avenue.
"Vacant storefronts are grabbed up right away," he says.
Regular events include the annual Media Food Festival, which draws 10,000 people in October, Khan says.
Eldredge remembers the empty storefronts when her family moved here.
"Iron Hill Brewery opened about the time we arrived, and I remember how easy it was to get a table there," she says.
"These days, the wait is often so long we have to go somewhere else. But there are now plenty of other places to go."
By the numbers
Population: 5,331 (2010)
Median income: $50,680 (2009)
Area: 0.8 square miles
Homes for sale: 19
Settlements in the last three months: 17
Median days on market: 41
Median price: (single-family homes): $305,000
Median price (all homes): $260,000
Housing stock: Many homes from mid-19th century. Large singles, rowhouses, condos, rental apartments.
School district: Rose Tree Media
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; S. Clark Kendus, Weichert Realtors
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com or @alheavens at Twitter.