Town By Town: Chadds Ford: The charms of Wyeth country
One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in this region's communities.
Bruce Prabel and his wife, Marianne, crossed Brandywine Creek from their northern Delaware home in 1979 to what was then Birmingham Township, Delaware County, and came upon The Lake.
Eight acres of private lake, in fact, near Karl and Anna Kuerner's Ring Farm, now a National Historic Landmark as the subject of nearly one-third of Andrew Wyeth's lifetime of paintings and, since 1999, part of the Brandywine Conservancy.
"I showed up to see it at 7 a.m., called the office [he was working at DuPont] and told them I'd show up sometime, and bought it the same day," says Prabel, 73, who turned down a number of exotic transfers from his employer to stay put.
Let's be clear: This is Chadds Ford Township, Delaware County. The name was changed in 1996 to differentiate it from Birmingham Township, Chester County, thus ending many years of confusion.
And the rural demeanor of the township that brought the Prabels here nearly 34 years ago is, along with the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and accessibility, still attracting would-be residents - younger families and relos, retirees and downsizers.
"We've been a sellers' market for the last six to eight months," says Jane Wellbrock, an agent with Weichert Realtors Chadds Ford office. She has been selling real estate here for more than 23 years.
Houses in town range from $400,000 to $1 million, Wellbrock says.
The most popular price range is $400,000 to $500,000, which means that there is a shortage of inventory, she says.
"There are four houses - that's it," says Wellbrock, who lives in neighboring Pennsbury Township. "If it is a nice house, it will sell in a week."
That means that more upper-end houses - $650,000 to $850,000 - are beginning to sell.
"People are finding it necessary to move up to higher price points," she says, adding that lower interest rates are helping.
Those relocating here for jobs are looking for five-year-old houses for $350,000, but that's not happening, she says.
While the older housing stock is appealing, these days, if you haven't updated, she says, "you won't get top dollar."
Nine miles from Wilmington and 31.7 miles from Center City, this pocket of Pennsylvania farm country in the Brandywine Valley has a lot going for it.
Routes 1, 322, and 202 make Chadds Ford accessible. Venturing a few hundred yards from any one of these stretches of traffic-choked asphalt will bring into view rolling hills, stone houses, and barns that lure visitors and 21st-century settlers.
"What most of us hope for is to maintain the rural character of Chadds Ford, and so far we've been able to do so," says Mary Kot, president of the township's civic association and Chadds Ford Republican Party leader, who adds, "It's a challenge."
Of course, there are modern developments: 120 single-family houses at Toll Bros.'s Estates at Chadds Ford is the largest, while Painter's Crossing has the most units, with 240 condominiums.
Yet most of what is newer in Chadds Ford is smaller-scale: cul-de-sacs of a few large houses. There is a township effort to keep development within a scale that "preserves the town's character," as tax collector Valerie Hoxter puts it.
"Development happens, and we recognize that," says Hoxter, noting that two separate "concept plans" - 100 townhouses by K. Hovnanian at Route 1 and Brandywine Drive, and a YMCA branch at the Chadds Ford Business Park across from Toll's Estates - have been presented to supervisors.
Increased traffic is a major concern, says Hoxter, adding that the township's roads are bearing the burden of drivers looking for ways to circumvent the main routes.
For longtime residents such as Prabel and Kot, who settled here 20 years ago because of the school district, Chadds Ford has not changed very much, or only in subtle ways.
For Lee Miller, a Pennsbury resident and cofounder with husband Eric of Chaddsford Winery in 1982, "it's a different place today."
"We have watched it change from a very rural place with a bunch of 'old boys' like the original Hank from Hank's Diner and the founding Pete from Pete's Sunoco, to a much more developed area, where many of the old farms are new developments," says Miller, who sold the winery last year.
"Chadds Ford was the crossroads of Route 1 and Route 100 [now Creek Road] with Pete's Sunoco on the southwest corner, Hank's on the northwest corner, the Chadds Ford Inn [now Brandywine Prime] on the northeast side," she recalls.
On the southeast corner was the Wawa, Miller says, where her husband "used to have coffee in the mornings with the old guy from up the road named Andy."
At the time, Eric didn't know his coffee buddy was Andrew Wyeth.
Chadds Ford remains a place, however, where people who want to live anonymously can do so, Kot says, while those "who want to get involved can."
Prabel did get involved. He was tax collector, among many other things, for which he is being honored as the civic association's outstanding citizen of 2013.
Despite his deep affection for his house on the lake, Prabel is considering downsizing.
He already has reduced his activities. For years, he helped Karl Kuerner Jr., the 86-year-old son of Karl and Anna, with his chores at Ring Farm.
"I had to stop," he said. "Bad knees."
Town By Town: Chadds Ford, By the Numbers
Population: 3,640 (2010).
Median income: $106,342 (2008).
Area: 8.7 square miles.
Homes for sale: 113.
Settlements in the last three months: 29.
Median days on market: 52.
Median sale price (single-family homes): $321,000.
Median sale price (all homes): $321,000.
Housing stock: Some older homes, but mostly new construction dating from mid-1970s on.
School district: Unionville-Chadds Ford.
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; Realtor.com; Movoto.com.
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org, orfollow on Twitter @alheavens.