Town By Town: In Bensalem, location, and price, is right
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
When real estate agents came up with their "location, location, location" mantra, they must have been referring to Bensalem.
No matter where you live in this sprawling township of 60,000 at the edges of Northeast Philadelphia and the Delaware River - be it Andalusia, Cornwells Heights, Trevose, Oakford, or Eddington - you can get there from here via I-95, Routes 1 and 13, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, as well as by rail.
Plus, "the prices are pretty reasonable and the taxes relatively low by comparison with comparable towns and the city," says Andrew Frank, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate who sells here.
Frank attributes those low taxes to Bensalem's deep industrial and commercial base, adding that the opening of Parx Casino has been "a big boost."
Kathy Darden of Weichert Realtors points to the age of the housing here as another factor.
"Newer construction would be more expensive and have higher taxes," Darden says. Though there is building going on here, "much of the housing is older."
Prices in the Bensalem market are "stable," she says, an improvement over last year, and there is six months' worth of inventory currently for sale. The median price is about $225,000, according to Prudential Fox & Roach's HomExpert Report - about 7 percent above a year ago.
"Sale prices are about 90 percent to 94 percent of asking," Darden says, and while all price ranges are selling well, the best is $225,000 to $275,000. That will get you a three-bedroom rancher or Cape Cod-style house built in the 1960s or 1970s.
Overall, prices go from about $150,000 to $500,000, with new construction by DeLuca, D.R. Horton, and other home builders at the higher end.
In addition, there is development on former industrial land along the waterfront, with Mignatti Co. of Huntingdon Valley building and selling the first of 600 homes, including townhouses, condominiums, and 16 customized million-dollar houses.
In the rest of Bensalem, "a lot of what is being built was restarted after the downturn ended," says Carol McCann, an associate broker with Re/Max Millennium.
"There is a lot of pent-up demand" for new construction, she says, especially among move-up buyers on their second or third houses.
Darden points out, however, that for bigger builders Bensalem and the rest of Lower Bucks County don't have enough land, so new construction is limited to one or two houses, and smaller firms.
Some parts of Bensalem sell faster than others - around Neshaminy Mall, for example. "I have listings in other areas that have been sitting for months," McCann says.
Noting that there has been a lot of townhouse construction lately in the wider open spaces around the mall, Debbie Confer, an agent with HomeStarr Realty, says: "The market is showing considerable improvement over the downturn, but in recent weeks buyers appear to have fallen off the face of the earth."
Confer thinks the absence of buyers might have been related to recent budget wrangling in Washington, though none of the other agents who sell in Bensalem mentioned a similar dearth of buyers. Second-quarter sales here were up 17 percent (26 houses) from the same period last year, HomExpert reports.
In other towns, this trend has been noticed: that among first-time buyers, any change in fixed mortgage interest rates dampens activity because that market segment has the least amount of flexibility in financing.
Confer says that while most of her clients during the downturn were investors who flipped houses, these days most are first-time buyers.
Long & Foster's Frank estimates that first-timers are more than 50 percent of the market. He added that Bensalem seemed to have more than its share of distressed housing, especially short sales, in the downturn.
"There are still a lot of short sales," he says - those in which the bank accepts a price less than the amount the borrower owes on the mortgage. They need to be cleared out before prices can recover even more, he adds.
Location - proximity to Northeast Philadelphia - means that "many of these buyers are moving right out of Philly to Bensalem, but they don't want to move too far," says Re/Max Millennium's McCann.
"It is a step up from Mayfair, the taxes aren't as high, and while the school district isn't the best, it is an improvement over Philadelphia," she says.
McCann also notes that many buyers are younger families and first-timers: "I don't ever recall selling houses in Bensalem to people in their 50s and 60s."
About 40 percent of Bensalem residents are renters, and many of them work in the township, McCann says.
Darden and other real estate agents had been anticipating an influx of Philadelphia workers after the city relaxed its residency rules.
But in the last 18 months, Frank says, he has sold houses to just two Philadelphia police officers, and one of those was an investment property.
"It hasn't been the mass exodus that we expected," says Darden. Suggesting that while Bensalem may well be the Gateway to Bucks County its signs proclaim it to be, "it might have been too far to commute to work for many of them."
Bensalem by the numbers
Median income: $63,428 (2009)
Area: 21 square miles
Homes for sale: 346
Settlements in the last three months: 110
Median days on market: 81
Median price (single-family homes): $224,950
Median price (all homes): $224,950
Housing stock: 22,627 units, primarily post-World War II through 2013
School district: Bensalem
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, City-Data.com; Zillow.com; Bensalem Twp.; Prudential Fox & Roach HomExpert Report