Town By Town: Lower Salford: No longer a farming community
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
It's 43 years ago now, but Ernie Cope can still recall vividly what Lower Salford was like when he and his wife, Sally, moved there from Lansdale, where they had grown up.
"When we built our house, it was in the middle of the woods," says Cope, "and our road didn't even have a yellow line down the middle because it wasn't wide enough to handle two-way traffic."
Lower Salford was nothing but farms, he says. His house, and no more than eight others, backed up to the 500-acre Rittenhouse Farm.
In the years that followed, those eight houses became 70, the farm disappeared, and "the road got its yellow line," Cope says.
Thirty years ago, Weichert Realtors agent Diane Williams also moved from Lansdale to Lower Salford, the Montgomery County township that surrounds Harleysville, although she lives in Lower Gwynedd these days.
"People would say, 'So, you moved to Canada,' because it was so rural," says Williams. "You couldn't get gas heat because the lines didn't extend that far."
Of course, that all changed as developers, including Toll Bros., David Cutler, and WD Homes, began building there, especially during the boom years, she says.
Before, "Sumneytown Pike [Route 63] was two lanes, and it was a quick ride back to Lansdale," Williams says. (The Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike is nearby for commuting to Philadelphia and Allentown). "Today, it is so congested and busy because so many people moved here."
Many of those people, including the Copes, were starting families. The Souderton Area School District had, and still has, a good reputation, even though some residents take issue with the decision to close Lower Salford Elementary because there aren't enough new students.
There isn't much home-building now, Williams and Cope say, and the expense of a new high school as the student population is in decline has many worried about taxes.
The 2013 tax rate of 34 mills is about in the middle range of Montgomery County communities. But, Cope asks, "why do they need to spend $100 million on a state-of-the-art high school and have to close elementary schools because the town isn't growing?"
Notes Williams: "Residents are concerned that if there are fewer people moving in and spending increases, their taxes will go up." There aren't many lots left, she says, after developers "built huge swaths of houses during the boom, and most builders, including many Mennonites, are smaller these days."
New houses start at about $400,000, Williams says, with townhouses at $225,000, and smaller singles (the sweet spot) going for $300,000 to $400,000.
Lower Salford has only two over-55 communities. People looking for that lifestyle "move to nearby Skippack Township, where a lot of them have been built," Williams says.
The real estate market is not bubbling, either, she says, especially at the high end, but she expects that segment to come around.
"I spoke with an appraiser a couple of months ago, and he was sharing how he felt that Lower Salford did not get as much of an uptick with the market this year as other areas did when it comes to the higher-end homes," she says.
In the last year, only two properties have sold in the $700,000-to-$800,000 price range, she says, and "they were newer properties."
Houses developed at Lederach Golf Course have had more sales in the $500,000-to-$600,000 range, with six selling in the last year.
Farmhouses don't go very quickly because the "younger buyers attracted to the township for the schools are two-paycheck families, and they don't have the time to spend fixing them up," Williams says.
A lot of residents aren't eager to move. Cope, for instance, has been retired for 13 years and prefers living in a community with people of all ages.
Lisa Derr grew up in the school district and moved to a place in town her husband had built 30 years ago. In April, they bought a house Derr had always wanted to own - "the brick one with the pillars." It's close enough that she can see her old house.
"Even as a kid, I looked at it and said, 'Wow,' but it has only been sold two other times, and when it came up for sale on a Friday, we had an offer in on Saturday and [it] was accepted on Sunday," she says.
Not bad, considering the average time on the market there is 83 days, Williams says.
"You make friends over the years that you don't want to leave," Derr says. "It is all about who you live with, and not where."
Three decades ago, Don Hoff's father opened Harleysville Ace Hardware, so Hoff has been a witness to the changes wrought in Lower Salford.
"There is a strong sense of community," says Hoff, adding that his customers have shifted from mostly men to more women and couples.
They also are doing the kinds of things designed to improve their home environment to stay put, not sell and move.
"We focus on landscaping and outdoor entertaining, because that's what they want," he says. "Family life is strong, and our customers seem to focus on making the best place to raise their families."
Town By Town: BY THE NUMBERS
Population: 14,959 (2010)
Median income: $87,344 (2009)
Area: 14.5 square miles
Homes for sale: 50
Settlements in the last three months: 50
Median days on market: 83
Median sale price (all homes): $338,105
Housing stock: New construction from the last 20 years; farms
School district: Souderton Area
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert; Zillow.com; Diane Williams, Weichert Realtors