Passyunk Square: Home prices up, but still modest

In South Philadelphia's Passyunk Square, the 700 block of Sears Street has its own little park, Paolone.
In South Philadelphia's Passyunk Square, the 700 block of Sears Street has its own little park, Paolone. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 11, 2013

One in a continuing series spotlighting the real estate market in this region's communities.

Michele DiVeterano's enthusiasm for Passyunk Square is remarkable when you consider what life has been like since she bought her two-story, one-bedroom rowhouse in the 1400 block of Clarion Street 21/2 years ago.

Four months after she moved in, a water pipe burst. When electricians burrowed into the plaster walls, they found the wiring near fire-danger stage - they left her house with "three or four 50-pound bags of wires that had been stuffed in those walls," she says.

Repairs are almost done now, and soon she'll finally be able to unpack. DiVeterano, whose parents grew up near her house, credits her neighbors with getting her over the bad patches.

"They'd invite me over for macaroni," says DiVeterano, who rented in the neighborhood - bounded by Washington Avenue and Tasker Street, Sixth Street and Broad - before buying here.

Everyone in Passyunk Square has a story, but the most important one is how this place, best known for Geno's, Pat's Steaks, and Termini's Bakery, has become a destination for a diverse group of people - young professionals and older buyers looking for affordable homes, Mexican immigrants, Southeast Asians, developers, and entrepreneurs.

Not a melting pot but a mixing bowl, in which housing prices have continued to climb despite the real estate downturn but are lower than in many other neighborhoods.

A locale that's convenient to public transit - just 10 minutes on the Broad Street line to City Hall. Not to mention being home to a restaurant renaissance along Passyunk Avenue that draws diners from city and suburbs, and a growing retail sector that keeps shoppers in the neighborhood.

Parking has become such a premium on the adjacent residential streets that Sam Sherman, executive director of the Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corp., has created three valet spaces and added a taxi stand.

Demand for housing is so great that Mickey Pascarella, an agent with Keller Williams who has lived in the neighborhood since 2007, says supply is tighter here than anywhere else in the city.

"There just isn't that much inventory," says Pascarella, noting there is very little room for extensive new construction that might ease the shortage.

Prices are running $250,000 to $325,000 for a two- or three-bedroom, two-story rowhouse of 700 to 1,200 square feet, $325,000 to $350,000 for three-story rows on the number streets, and $400,000 to $450,000 for new construction with parking.

Michael Giordano, president of Century 21 Forrester, says it's a far cry from just a few years ago.

"Housing has mushroomed in value," says Giordano, who has lived all his life here in the neighborhood, where in 1909 his grandfather started the produce store at Passyunk near Reed that his father and uncle operated into the 1980s. "There was a time when a two-story rowhouse on a side street was yours for $30,000 to $50,000. And the three-stories, you couldn't give them away."

Those three-story rows, newly rehabbed, now go for $400,000, he says.

After 20 years in Chalfont, restaurateur Franco Borda is moving back, to a house he is rehabbing across 13th Street from his High Note Cafe and Francoluigi's pizzeria.

What amazes Borda is how much this area has increased in value: "The house my father bought in 1967 for $7,000 is easily worth $300,000 now. The property I bought for $40,000 in 1982, I sold in 2005 for $325,000."

There is some new here, but it sells quickly, says Noah Ostroff, of Coldwell Banker Preferred, the listing agent for a 15-townhouse project on 12th Street near Latona Street.

Nine of the 15 have been sold pre-construction, those without garages costing $400,000 and those with $425,000, he says.

But "most of what is selling are resales," Ostroff says, and "what you'll be seeing in the future are older houses and buildings torn down and new ones in their places."

The rental market is being accommodated, too. Developer Leo Addimando bought the closed Annunciation School at 12th and Wharton Streets for 45 apartments and 38 parking spaces called Wharton Street Lofts.

Nearby, at 10th and Ellsworth Street,  64 units of seniors housing are being developed on a  former parking lot by Ingerman, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, Citibank, and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, St. Maron Community Development Corp.

Sherman's nonprofit, the successor to Citizens' Alliance for Better Neighborhoods, converted the second floor of its offices to five loft apartments, with parking in the building's garage.

The group also has acquired buildings for restaurants such as Fond and the new Nord at 11th and Tasker Streets.

Sherman works in concert with other groups, especially the Passyunk Square Civic Association, whose president, Pam Zenzola, grew up in the Northeast. The two organizations have made efforts to connect not only with longtime residents but with the Southeast Asian and Mexican communities.

The group has reached out to Mexican business owners about city rule changes. Meeting notices and other information are printed in English and Spanish, Zenzola says.

The neighborhood has seen a 279 percent increase in its Hispanic population since 2000, most from the Mexican province of Puebla. The newcomers' influence on the commercial as well as residential life is visible everywhere, especially the restaurants and specialty stores.

As a result, observes Cassie Knox, who bought a house on a side street near Geno's and Pat's in 2010, "the Italian Market is no longer just the Italian Market."


Passyunk Square, By the Numbers

Population: 21,815 (2010)

Median income: $37,170 (2009)

Size: 0.5 square mile

Homes for sale: 38

Settlements in the last three months: 35

Median days on market: 130

Median sale price (single-family homes): $252,000

Median sale price

(all homes): $248,400

Housing stock: 10,381, primarily rowhouses;

433 units added 2000-10;

10 percent vacant

School district: Philadelphia

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, City-data.com; Movoto.com; Zillow.com; Passyunk Square Civic Association


Contact Alan J. Heavens

at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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