Town By Town: A sense of stability in the suburbs
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
From the age of 4, Frank McKee lived so close to Springfield, Delaware County, that you might as well say he grew up there.
"The border of Springfield and Marple ran through our neighbor's house," says McKee, a veteran builder whose family moved from the Highland Park section of Upper Darby in 1954, and whose corporate offices have been in the township since relocating from Drexel Hill in 1997.
"The offices are on the site of a gas station where I worked as a kid," he says. McKee learned to swim in the Springfield Township pool, to skate at its ice rink, and played Little League here.
The McKee family was part of a movement west from Philadelphia and the closer-in suburbs. "Springfield was a microcosm," he says.
And, today, it's still a "stable, family-oriented place," McKee says - something Weichert Realtors agent Judy Mento calls a major draw for buyers, especially first-timers.
"Many of these buyers grew up here, went away to college, and came back," says Mento, who moved to Springfield 28 years ago and whose three children went through the township's school system.
One of her daughters has moved back, and Mento's grandson will be going to school here, too.
"I like the township," says Mento, who has been selling houses in Springfield for 25 years. "Things are well-kept, and the zoning is stricter than other places. I never worried about letting my children walk to school events or anywhere else."
The housing market here experienced the same rough times as everywhere else, but she is convinced that "things are on the upswing."
For example, Mento says, she just listed a larger house in good shape with modern amenities for $400,000, and it sold in three days.
S. Clark Kendus, an agent in Weichert's Media office, says the data show nine fewer sales in the first four months of 2014 than in 2013, but he adds that the median price rose in the same period by $11,000.
Settled price was almost 93 percent of first list price, Kendus says, but it was 95 percent of final asking price before sale - which means a seller needs to find the right number to bring about a transaction.
Six of the 60 sales occurring in the last three months were in Golf View Estates, the active-adult community off Route 320 near Springfield Country Club that McKee built in the 1990s on property acquired from the Resolution Trust Corp.
The 135-unit community and its first-floor living attracted "a lot of people who lived in Springfield but didn't want to move out to the other side of Route 202," where much of the over-55 development was and is centered, McKee says.
It's easy to settle down here, thanks to the proximity of the Blue Route, SEPTA's Media-Elwyn Line station in nearby Morton, and the Woodland Avenue trolley, which McKee and his family would ride to Upper Darby to see Santa Claus and shop before the Springfield Shopping Center was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Springfield Mall, which opened in 1974, has undergone some refurbishing and added stores and offers "a nice experience," says McKee, although Mento notes that many residents frequent King of Prussia Mall, instead, just 15 minutes away via the Blue Route.
Starter homes - twins with three bedrooms and one bath - list for $160,000 "if they need work and $200,000 if they are all done," Mento says. If they have an extra bath, they'll go for $220,000, she says.
Small, single-family, Cape Cod-style houses range from $225,000 if they need work to $275,000 if they have been updated, she says.
Three- and four-bedroom Colonials sell from $250,000 to $325,000, and six-bedroom split-levels go for $380,000 to $400,000, she says.
Newer construction (10 to 15 years old), which tends to be larger, as well, goes for $579,000 to $625,000, Mento says.
The average current asking price for the 91 active listings is $313,117, says Kendus, with list prices ranging from $144,000 to $725,000.
Because Springfield is an older, established community, there is very little construction here, Mento and McKee say.
"There are a few lots, but they are expensive," says Mento, with one-third of an acre selling for about $75,000.
Instead, open space in the township can be found in 23 parks of various sizes that offer all sorts of recreational opportunities, she says.
The country club "has morphed from a small community golf club with a pool and skating rink to a large banquet hall, a restaurant, and now a Marriott hotel, as well," says Weichert Realtors' Noelle Barbone, who has lived in Springfield and whose sister and parents still live here.
"It is a lovely, grass-roots community of people who respect family, neighbors and our country," Barbone says.
"Springfield is parochial, but I don't mean that in the pejorative sense," says McKee. "Close-knit, in the fact that kids who grew up here want to stay here or move back."