About two years ago, husband-and-wife real estate team Paul and Lauren Lipowicz started to notice a shift in their clients’ idea of a suburban dream home. Basically, a mini-McMansion on a Main Line cul-de-sac miles from the nearest coffee shop was just not doing it anymore.
So they rejiggered their sales strategy.
Instead of taking young professionals to see new houses far from town centers, the Lipowiczes introduced them to modest homes on blocks near reemerging main streets from Bala Cynwyd to Wayne. After a long day at work, sunset savasana or a specialty beer would be just around the corner.
“My clients wanted to walk to dinner in the evenings, grab a drink at the local neighborhood bar without the production of getting in their car,” Lauren Lipowicz said. “Living in walkable neighborhoods was definitely starting to factor into quality-of-life needs."
But old-school, neighborhood appeal was just a part of the pitch from the Lipowiczes, who work under the Keller-Williams umbrella. Think of them as being along the lines of HGTV’s Property Brothers: He works the numbers; she spearheads the design, right down to the structure’s "dependable bones.” If prospective homeowners want a center island in their kitchen, the Lipowiczes will make it happen — and then some.
“There isn’t a load-bearing wall we are afraid of,” Paul Lipowicz said assuredly.
In this way, the Lipowiczes — both 38 — are doing their little part to remake the Main Line. Not only are the couple turning century-old homes into modern, loft-like abodes, they are helping millennials buy in zip codes they thought it would take them years to afford.
For example, according to TownCharts.com, a website with national demographic data, 42 percent of people who live in Lower Merion Township (not including school-age children) are at least 50 years old. The Lipowiczes say their clients, for the most part, are at least a decade younger — some still in their 30s.
“People buying in these neighborhoods are young families coming from the city,” Paul said. “Then these same families become ‘move-up’ buyers a few years later.”
Like the young families in the generations before them who exited Philadelphia for the suburbs, they crave space and better school districts. But unlike those driveway-starved parents, they aren’t 100 percent ready to give up the convenience that comes with the bustle.
It’s kind of a gentrification of the suburbs, if you will. But instead of buying cheaply in depressed neighborhoods a stone’s throw from Center City, the Lipowiczes’ clients are finding deals — paying $500,000 to $900,0000 — in burgs that boast homes worth several millions.
“We don’t want people to be intimidated about the Main Line,” said Lauren, who notes that she and Paul aren’t about flipping houses. Her clients plan to stay put for at least a decade. “We see potential in houses that people would roll their eyes at. Honestly, the uglier the better.”
Take Scott and Jessica Levin, for example. When the couple — Scott, a doctor, and Jessica, a stay-at-home mom of two preschoolers — first saw the 3,000-square-foot house on a tiny street across from Haverford’s White Dog Cafe, the reaction was akin to “Ick.” The outside was a sad, yellow stucco, and the entire first floor was the same sickly, pastel hue. Floor-to-ceiling walls starkly separated the rooms on the first floor. And the kitchen was so tiny that you couldn’t even fit a breakfast table, let alone an island.
“All I cared about was being able to walk to places,” Jessica Levin said. "But we could see the potential, so we went for it.”
The Lipowiczes oversaw a six-month renovation, which included tearing down walls and building in wet bars. Now, the only wall on the first floor is a double fireplace. And the entire home — down to the clothing in the children’s closet — is black and white.
“This kind of open floor plan was exactly what we wanted,” Jessica said. “In that we wanted the kids to have room but wanted to feel like we were in a city.”
As in many millennial minimalist homes, the furniture is pretty sparse. Instead of getting new radiators, Jessica had the old ones acid-dipped and powder-coated a glossy black. (So far they’ve done only the ones downstairs.) The family put in new Ikea kitchen cabinets with custom fronts. (One of Lauren’s dirty little design secrets.) And instead of track lighting in the bedroom, the Levins spent the two grand on a Peloton bike. In this health-conscious age bracket, that was a no-brainer.
“Nobody wants Oriental rugs and living rooms they don’t really live in anymore,” Lauren Lipowicz said. “Just like how we are dressing, people want houses they are comfortable in that make them happy every day, not just special occasions."
Lauren was born in Cheltenham and spent time in Horsham before she and her siblings moved in with her father, a jeweler, in Penn Valley when she was in ninth grade.
“We lived in a very modest house,” Lauren said. “But it was the first time that I felt like I had a home and a real family to go home to. That’s why, to me, the Main Line isn’t that stuffy place. It was a place that welcomed me.”
Lauren graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and got her first taste of the real estate world when she landed a gig leasing apartments in Cheltenham’s Cedarbrook neighborhood. From there, she was recruited by Toll Brothers, where from 2006 to 2010 she sold condominiums in the company’s Naval Square development in Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood. There she connected with many a first-time home buyer who eventually become a Main Line client.
It was about then she got serious with then-boyfriend, Paul, a waiter back in the day. But Lauren, who can be quite convincing, suggested he go into real estate with her. They married and now have two daughters. So as they packed up their Center City apartment and moved to the suburbs, they began refocusing their business on the Main Line.
And with the real estate sales changing — their contemporaries were actually buying houses online — they decided to add another element to their business: home decor. Given that they were in the same place in life, they knew what their clients wanted.
“I understand the importance of being in close proximity to both a Whole Foods and a SoulCycle,” Lauren said. “Young city dwellers just didn’t want to give that up.”
Clients Kristine Dugan and Adam Grutzmacher, both in their early 40s, were looking to buy their second home. At first, they were interested only in new construction. But after looking at several seven-figure houses and thinking that they wanted to redo everything, they settled on a house built in 1974 on a cul-de-sac within walking distance of their daughters’ school and the Gladwyne Market, where they can pick up dinner and sit in the coffee shop.
The house, however, required a full-gut renovation: new kitchen, bathrooms, and floors. They added a dining space and a butler’s pantry.
“I didn’t want to get in a house and after a few years rip things out a little at a time,” Dugan said. “Now I have the house I want, and at the end of the day, I was able to save money.”