Town By Town: Chester Springs on the comeback trail
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
Chester Springs is, in large part, a state of mind, an address evoking a vision of rolling hills, cornfields, and 18th-century Pennsylvania stone farmhouses.
It's a vision that - coupled with an abundance of properties ranging from 4-acre-minimum, one-horse farms to the neotraditional houses with alley garages of Hankin Group's Weatherstone - has been bringing buyers to this piece of Chester County for three decades.
The Chester Springs zip code, 19425, is centered in West Pikeland Township, but also covers parts of Upper Uwchlan, East Nantmeal, Wallace, and West Vincent Townships.
Although highly rated Downingtown - a powerful magnet for young families - is the primary school district, varying-sized pieces of Chester Springs fall into the Owen J. Roberts, Phoenixville Area, and Great Valley School Districts.
Sale prices range from $325,000 to $450,000, "the sweet spot," says Bob Cousart, an agent with Prudential Fox & Roach in Malvern, who has been selling here for 24 years.
"Anything over $500,000 remains longer on the market," Cousart says, noting that some of the newest construction - the Fox Hollow Farms development, for example, is listing at $650,000 and up.
"Some of the larger horse farms on the market for $1 million and more take even longer to sell," Cousart says.
Real estate is on the comeback trail in Chester Springs, a wave of improving sales and values that is washing over the landscape from the western edge of Chester County eastward, local agents say.
Kathleen McQuilkin of Re/Max Professional in Exton, who has sold real estate here for 30 years, says the county's unemployment rate was lower than the rest of Pennsylvania's, so there were still people relocating here to work for pharmaceutical companies and other somewhat-recession-proof businesses.
"Chester Springs is a microcosm of the county," she says. And though agents and builders can't seem to agree totally on aspects of the present market, what is happening here probably reflects real estate trends in the rest of the county.
Toll Bros. is having a very good year in Chester Springs, says division president Andrew Semon, with 16 sales in the last four months of its single-family homes at Byers Summit, and eight lots left.
Only one carriage house remains at Byers Creekside, the model, Semon says. Toll has sold six of those in the last four months.
Delivery price at Byers Summit, with 15,000-square-foot lots and houses ranging from 3,400 to 4,200 square feet, is $610,000, he says.
"This is a competitive market for new homes," Semon says, adding that Toll has 61 single-family lots going through the approval process.
Toll's Byers Station project, which began in 2005, sold well until the economic downturn, "but in the last 18 months, the market has rebounded with a constant stream of buyers," he says.
Because of this rebound, says Debbie King, an agent with Long & Foster, "my building sites are selling like hotcakes."
"There is a shortage of existing homes, so people are turning to new homes, where they can get what they want," King says. "Although building stopped during the downturn because no one was buying and builders didn't want the carrying costs, construction is being spurred by the big guys like Toll, and the little guys are popping up because they are feeling more secure."
The Hankin Group, Cousart says, "hit a home run" with its neotraditional community Weatherstone. Residential sales there began in 2002, says vice president Jim Fuller.
Of the 273 homes planned, there are just 14 lots left, but in keeping with efforts not to contribute to sprawl, development covers just 30 percent of the land area.
"What started, as with Eagleview in Exton, as more of a move-down community has become more of a mix as families saw it as an acceptable way to live," says Rebecca Reeves, Hankin's marketing director. There are also a lot of corporate relocations, she says, "because we're the only ones building spec lots."
Chester Springs is, at the same time, old and new, with the historic village of Yellow Springs and corn and grain still being ground for sale at the Mill at Anselma not far from neighborhoods less than 20 years old; with crowded county roads and miles of leafy walking trails; with horse barns and shiny shopping centers.
"We have been able to manage growth and have conserved a lot of land, and that has kept it rural," McQuilkin says.
"It remains a stunningly beautiful place," says C.J. Stein, an agent with Keller Williams in Exton, who moved to West Pikeland 20 years ago to "spread out over four acres and have enough space for an orchard and my hobbies."
It's this Chester Springs that reels in buyers of all sorts, but after five years of domination by first-timers, "we have a move-up market again," Stein says, "with people moving to bigger and smaller homes, finally."
"The market is again offering latitude for lifestyle changes," he says, after a prolonged period of "not being able to get anything sold."
Susan Murphy of Weichert Realtors in West Chester says the rate of absorption is high, and "houses are selling faster."
"For many, there is more than one offer," she says. "If it is in the right location and for the right price, it will sell, even before it reaches the market."
Chester Springs by the Numbers
Population: 13,922 (2010)*
Median income: $133,736 (2010)*
Area: 26 square miles*
Homes for sale: 100
Settlements in the last three months: 81
Median days on market: 93
Median price (single-family homes): $307,000
Median price (all homes): $307,000
Housing stock: 4,970 units, most post-1970
School districts: Downingtown Area; Great Valley; Phoenixville Area; Owen J. Roberts
*19425 zip code
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report; Bob Cousart, Prudential Fox & Roach; Realtor.com; Katherine McQuilkin, Re/Max Professional
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com, or @alheavens at Twitter.