Town By Town: In Riverton, past and present mingle along the Delaware
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
It's Tuesday morning, nearly 20 minutes past 11, and the bells warning of the approach of the next River Line train to Trenton startle a pedestrian waiting to cross Broad Street at Main Street near the Riverton station.
As you walk west toward the Delaware's riverfront along Bank Avenue, leaving rail and road and the shops and eateries behind, the Burlington County borough of 613 acres grows noticeably quieter.
Rambling Victorians - many with construction dates from the mid-1800s on - line the streets, with an occasional 1950s or 1960s house thrown in for good measure.
Just past Christ Episcopal Church, which was designed by Union League architect John Fraser, a bell begins to clang.
Another warning? No, just a preschooler giving the bell rope at the Gothic-style Riverton Free Library a couple of tugs under the supervision of her mother as the two headed inside for story time.
At the end of Main Street, on the riverside of Bank Avenue, sits the venerable Riverton Yacht Club, launched in 1865.
The clubhouse dates from 1880-81, built "with the stipulation that the club should maintain a waiting room for steamboat passengers," according to past commodore Nick Mortgu's timeline.
There's just one car in the parking lot and the gate is locked, yet there are small boats bobbing in the river, just above the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge about a mile or so south.
Across the river, nearly hidden by trees, is Philadelphia. Cars are visible whizzing along on I-95, as are the tops of the towers from which hang the overhead wires for SEPTA's Trenton line.
"I saw many sunsets over Tacony from our brownstone on the riverbank," says Maryann Fallows, an agent with Weichert Realtors in Moorestown, whose parents moved to Riverton in the late 1950s and who lived in the borough for 25 years.
Fallows and her family would sit on the front porch of the house at the other end of Bank Avenue from the yacht club and watch the sailboat races.
"It was so nice to be able to do that," says Fallows, who has been selling real estate for 25 years.
As is the case with many small towns and boroughs on either side of the river, Riverton is not a place where huge numbers of houses are bought and sold.
"There are just 18 active listings in Riverton," Fallows says, adding that the borough has 20 to 30 sales in a year, with perhaps two to three settlements a month.
In the first quarter, according to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors' HomExpert Report, there were nine closings in Riverton with a median price of $228,000.
It doesn't seem like a lot, but compared with 2013's first quarter, with just one home sale for $110,000, this looks like a real estate boom.
For all of 2013, there were 27 sales, with the median price of $264,000, according to HomExpert.
Fallows says a median price of $250,000 to $350,000 is "about right."
The median for 2013, while $50,000 lower than the $313,000 of 2010, is still higher than the other Burlington County communities along the 34-mile River Line route from Camden to Trenton.
Moorestown remains the county's priciest community with a median of $390,000, but even that is 3.1 percent below the 2013 first quarter and 30 percent lower than 2010.
Riverton housing is not just large and Victorian, however, and that has an impact on median price.
While Italianate, Cottage Gothic, Queen Anne, and other late-19th-century styles fill Riverton's west side, the east side has smaller bungalows, four-squares, and Dutch Colonials, as well as some newer townhouses on Cinnaminson Street - one is listed for $199,000.
"You can buy a twin home in need of repair for $80,000 to $90,000 or a mansion for $1 million," Fallows says.
Most of today's buyers in Riverton are looking for houses that have been upgraded already.
"Owning an older home requires a commitment" because maintenance and repairs can be never-ending, Fallows says.
Because fixed mortgage rates remain low - 4.21 percent - the more expensive renovated houses are a better value than less expensive ones in need of work, Fallows says.
Paying $250,000 "can bring you quite a nice larger home that has been updated," she said.
Property taxes are in line with much of South Jersey, with a typical bill of $6,500 for a house for sale for $240,000.
Despite its proximity to I-95 via the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, and its River Line link to the Trenton rail station and New York City, Riverton is not a bedroom community, even though many residents do commute.
"A lot of people here also work in local businesses," many in repurposed Victorian-era structures, Fallows says.
But the River Line, which opened a decade ago and has 91 trips a day, made Riverton "more or less accessible," Fallows says, although much noisier.
One thing hasn't changed and that is Riverton's "community spirit," evident in a virtually unending schedule of events and activities.
You are a day late for the Porch Club's garden tour but three weeks ahead of the re-creation of an 1895 bike race from Times Square to Riverton.
And don't forget the July Fourth parade "right down Main Street," in which the entire community is involved, says Fallows, adding, "Just bring a lawn chair."
By the Numbers
Population: 2,794 (2010)
Median income: $88,623
Area: 0.75 sq. miles
Settlements in the last three months: 9
Homes for sale: 18