Town By Town: Abington homes offer good value
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
If Abington can come up with more houses to sell next year, its reputation for affordability - combined with lower Federal Housing Administration mortgage limits - might result in a sales boom.
That's the opinion of some real estate agents, including Cheryl Miller of Long & Foster's Blue Bell office, who sells in this Montgomery County township known for its older houses, its hospitals, its 16 neighborhoods (or parts of neighborhoods), Willow Grove Park mall, and traffic that moves at a snail's pace along Route 611.
In the aftermath of the financial meltdown, FHA-insured mortgages became easier to obtain than other loans. FHA mortgages' share of the total market is almost 16 percent, but that has declined from a peak in 2010 as credit has eased.
Yet Miller and other agents say FHA is the choice of the critical younger, first-time buyers being attracted to the township and its award-winning schools. And on Jan. 1, the limit for single-family conventional loans will fall to $375,900, from $417,000.
"It will make a huge difference in buying power," Miller says, especially as interest rates rise.
Anything over $375,900 will fall into the "jumbo" loan category, requiring a down payment of 20 percent instead of the 3.5 percent required for a conventional loan.
In Abington, Miller says, $230,000 to $400,000 will "buy you a nice house but not a mansion," most built in the 1890s through the 1920s, when public transit was established and the township was becoming one of Philadelphia's inner-ring suburbs.
The ease of commuting on SEPTA's Warminster, Doylestown, and Airport regional lines, with several train stations with parking from which to choose, remains a big draw.
Though commuting isn't always necessary.
Abington Memorial Hospital is the township's biggest employer, with more than 4,000 workers, followed by Holy Redeemer Hospital and Willow Grove Park Mall.
"A sign shows the number of babies born in Abington Hospital monthly - last time, I looked it was 325," Miller says.
Younger couples are attracted by Abington's schools, she says, because homes in comparable districts - Miller cites Upper Dublin as an example - are more expensive.
"The same $325,000 house in Abington costs $475,000 in Upper Dublin," Miller says. "The school district comparison is apples to apples, but in Abington you get more bang for the buck.
"Older buyers also are in the market," she says, "trading down to ranchers that offer single-floor living" to accommodate life changes.
Many younger buyers lured by the schools are coming from adjacent Philadelphia neighborhoods, says Carol McCann of Re/Max Millennium, and "even though their tax bills are higher" than in the city, "it is worth it."
"I love selling in Abington," says McCann, whose office is in the city's Somerton section. "The houses have character, with many of them stone and with front porches."
"There are lots of three-bedroom, two-bath houses," she says, adding that the location of these houses is important because neighborhoods have an impact not only on supply - "there are more houses for sale in Roslyn than in others, for example" - but price.
Veteran builder Marshal Granor, who lives in neighboring Cheltenham and whose family firm, Granor Price Homes, built thousands of houses in the region, agrees.
"You have the very upscale Rydal and the modest homes in Roslyn," Granor says. "There is no 'downtown Abington,' so it is a place of many flavors.
"Because of how it is situated, Abington has managed to contain taxes better than Cheltenham because of the Willow Grove Mall and other commercial areas," he says.
There aren't many newer houses here. There has been little construction in recent years.
Lack of for-sale inventory is a big problem, says Susan Yannessa of Weichert Realtors: She has plenty of prospective buyers for Abington, but few houses her clients want to buy.
"Too many people are waiting until the spring to put their houses on the market, but I have people who want to buy now," Yannessa says.
That means properly priced houses below $300,000 don't stay on the market long, she says, and multiple offers sometimes result.
Even so, she and other agents say, the sale price in those situations typically is what the house was listed for, and a bit more.
"I won't take a listing that is overpriced for the market," Yannessa says, noting that there are still many sellers unwilling to do any work for buyers who want perfection.
"I try to educated both buyers and sellers, and encourage buyers to obtain [FHA's] 203K mortgages that will finance renovations, as well," she says.
And her advice to clients who are putting their homes on the market?
"Mostly, I tell sellers who ask what their houses are worth that it is whatever buyers are willing to pay."
By the numbers
Population: 55,310 (2010)
Median income: $94,473 (2010)
Area: 15.5 square miles
Homes for sale: 65
Settlements in the last three months: 173
Median days on the market: 64
Median price (all homes): $235,000
Housing stock: Mostly pre-World War II, with many postwar ranchers.
School district: Abington
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Zillow.com; Berkshire Hathaway Homes Services Fox & Roach HomExpert