Town By Town: In Upper Dublin, buying a home -- and school
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
The locales that make up Upper Dublin are often more familiar to outsiders than the township itself.
Dresher, Maple Glen, Jarrettown, and North Hills come to mind immediately. Some others - Fort Washington and Oreland, to name just two - are shared with neighboring townships.
But what stands out the most about Upper Dublin, at least as far as home buyers are concerned, is its school district, one of the most highly ranked in Pennsylvania.
"Every Realtor you speak with is going to proclaim how great the schools are, and it's true," says Cheryl Miller, of Long & Foster Real Estate.
According to the district's website, Upper Dublin High School consistently ranks in the top 15 among the state's districts for SAT scores, for example, and three Upper Dublin schools have achieved National Blue Ribbon distinction from the U.S. Department of Education.
What this means is that, compared with other towns, Upper Dublin home values didn't take a giant hit in the prolonged real estate downturn.
In 2010, the first-quarter median was $305,000 on 33 sales, Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors HomExpert Market Report notes.
The first-quarter 2014 median home price, $326,000, was just $4,000 below the same quarter in 2013, though there were 10 fewer sales this year.
Drew Frank, a Long & Foster agent, says the township is "one of the area's most solid" when it comes to property values, and its foreclosure rates is one of the lowest.
Frank, who does a lot of short sales and bank-owned transactions, says the distressed housing he is handling was purchased at the peak or just after the market's boom and was properties in need of work "that deteriorated further" as owners struggled to pay their mortgages.
"Upper Dublin was hot and getting hotter at the tip of the market, and then fell a little flat," Miller says, adding that it seemed to be an issue of tightened mortgage credit more than anything else.
Move-up inventory in the upper price range, $400,000 to $600,000, "tended "to languish because we had no jumbo mortgage products available with less than 20 percent down payment, and nobody had cash or equity," she says. "So if you lived in the township and wanted to move up within the township, you were kind of stuck."
Frank, Miller, Weichert Realtors' Diane Williams, and other seasoned agents are making buyers aware of how the market has changed. That includes the lack of homes for sale in Upper Dublin and elsewhere, which means that "there's not much negotiating," Frank says, and that average days on market, 45, is more than half what it was a year ago and the lowest in four years.
Buyers are basically paying asking price, Frank says.
In the last year, "295 properties sold, with an average 60 days on market, and the average price $368,581," Williams says.
At $400,000 to $650,000, there are 44 listings, with an average of nine homes selling every 30 days - "a four-month price-absorption rate," she says.
One of her clients recently bought a house in Fort Washington for $524,900, full price, after putting in agreements on two others, only to lose them in a multiple-bid situation, Williams says.
"This is not unusual in this price range in Upper Dublin," she says, adding that the couple had looked in several areas.
"The school district was very important to them," Williams says. She and other agents acknowledged, however, that property taxes in Upper Dublin are higher than in surrounding communities because of the schools.
These days, new construction here is pretty much limited to infill projects, says Art Herling, of Long & Foster's Blue Bell office, who has some of those listings.
"There was a lot on Ambler Road, four lots on Madison, three lots on Catherine, and one on Farm Lane," Herling says. There are also lots to be built on in North Hills, he notes, with "Evans Homes doing most of these."
The new-home buyers Herling deals with look for "nine-foot ceilings, granite counters, two- [or] three-car garages, hardwood in most parts of the first floor." The living room "is optional."
With few new-home options, buyers are opting for houses built 25 to 30 years ago, says John Westrum, president of Westrum Development Corp. in Fort Washington, whose father, Albert J. Westrum, began building the first of his 14 communities in Upper Dublin in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The township's approach to utilities was progressive, and it zoned all the farmland 'A-residential,' or lots of about a half-acre," says Westrum, who was 11 years old when he began working for his father, who died last year.
Vast expanses of farmland were developed by "mostly family developers," says Westrum, who built his first Upper Dublin community - 24 units on small lots at Highland Avenue and Route 309 - in 1986, when he was still in college.
"I went to school in Fort Washington, so it was like building in my backyard," he says.
Even when his father was building, the school district was the big draw, plus the convenience of Route 309, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and three stations on SEPTA's Doylestown line.
Says Westrum: "You could move to the suburbs without being far away."
By the numbers
Population: 25,569 (2010)
Area: 13.2 square miles
Settlements in the last three months: 35
Homes for sale: 130
Median days on market: 45
Median price (all homes): $326,000
Housing stock: Mostly single-family, built since
the 1960s and 1970s;
some new infill
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau, City-Data.com; Diane Williams, Weichert Realtors; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach Realtors HomExpert Market Report