In hot Fox Chase, the problem is not enough supply

Posted: March 11, 2013

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

It had been March for only about 12 hours, but already the front windows of houses on every street in Fox Chase were sporting shamrocks in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day.

The day also was on the mind of Gina O'Rourke, who with husband Sean owns In the Loop Cafe at Barnes and Loney Streets. She was in the market for Irish musicians to perform March 16 at the cafe's St. Patrick's "acoustic breakfast."

A visitor just back from Ireland began chatting with O'Rourke as he finished his lunch and coffee and bought one of her husband's scones for the train ride into Center City.

"We do have Irish dancers lined up," she said, smiling, "but it would have been nice to have had musicians."

A lot of Philadelphia neighborhoods promote themselves as "small towns," but Fox Chase still looks and feels like one.

It has a train station, a business district, a library branch, banks, public and parochial schools - even a bandstand on the bus loop across from the cafe.

"It's sort of a 'town square' for Fox Chase," said O'Rourke, who grew up in Oxford Circle and lives in the Far Northeast with her husband, a native of Northwood.

Neighborhood or small town, Fox Chase is one of the hottest real estate markets in Northeast Philly, said Carol McCann, an agent with ReMax Millennium, who has been selling there for 21 years.

"Values are not declining, and people are being drawn to the schools because of their reputations," she said in a nod to Fox Chase Elementary and St. Cecilia's.

The convenience of a train to Center City, walkability, and proximity to Montgomery County are other things working in the neighborhood's favor, she said.

One problem, though: not enough homes for sale.

"Houses don't come on the market that often," McCann said, adding that when many older residents move out, their children move in.

"Demand is outstripping the supply," and matching buyers with houses makes this one of her busiest areas, she said.

"If a house is properly priced," McCann said, "it will sell in 30 days."

Fox Chase has that perennial Northeast Philadelphia problem of squishy borders - not so much with Rockledge and Abington Township just over the county line, but with Burholme. Some maps put that border at Hartel and Central Avenues, at the top of Burholme Park. Others put it below the park at Cottman and Central Avenues.

So real estate is typically listed as Fox Chase/Burholme, and the houses in both neighborhoods (as well as the median prices there) are similar: some older singles and many semidetached homes, with a few duplexes and ranchers and a smattering of over-55 condos in the Pine Valley area, said Andrew Frank, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate, who grew up in Olney and specializes in sales of bank-owned, foreclosed properties.

John Wogan, of Heyer-Kemner Realtors, lives in Burholme and has been selling in both neighborhoods, as well as in the rest of the Northeast, since 1989.

"Some agents will say that a house in Burholme is in Fox Chase because it is considered more desirable," Wogan said.

Houses in Fox Chase tend to be slightly larger, he said, noting that there are more singles in Fox Chase and a lot of three-story houses. Prices typically range from $135,000 to $219,000, although distressed properties and those in need of work might go for as low as $70,000, Frank said.

All three agents agreed on the median price - $170,000 for a typical three-bedroom rancher, down about $30,000 since the real estate downturn.

"It's coming back," Wogan said of the market, adding, however, that he bought a house in Fox Chase "at the top of the market for $222,000, and despite all I've put into it, it will sell for less."

If you are in for the long haul, it's worth noting that the median price back in November 1993 was $85,000; the city median then was $59,500.

When Philadelphia required municipal employees to live within the city limits, many chose Fox Chase.

"I remember selling a house to a PGW employee who could look over his back fence into Montgomery County," Wogan said. "When they changed the rules [which the city does periodically], I expected a lot of them to move outside Philadelphia, but most of them stayed."

McCann said many city workers, police, and firefighters continue to buy in Fox Chase. Plus, he said, there has been a growth in the rental market, "with students finding it easy to get around and to school without a car."

None of the agents interviewed believed that the city's Actual Value Initiative would have any effect on real estate sales in Fox Chase.

"I think taxes will actually decrease," Frank said. Wogan and McCann agreed, with McCann adding that taxes here were much lower than in the suburbs.

Wogan said Fox Chase residents were generally friendlier than folks in a lot of other neighborhoods. Customers reflect that, Gina O'Rourke said.

"Often, we get two different groups of people in here, and after a few minutes," she said, "there is a 'topic of choice' they are discussing."

One regular customer jokes that O'Rourke is her therapist.

"She says that some women use their hairdressers as therapists, 'but I have you.' "


Fox Chase, By The Numbers

Population: 20,069 (2010).

Median income: $47,121 (2009).

Size: 2.83 square miles.

Homes for sale: 54.

Settlements in the last three months: 41.

Median days on the market: 88.

Median sale price (single-family homes): $170,000.

Median sale price (all homes): $170,000.

Housing stock: 6,468 units, large singles and twins; median year of construction, 1945.

School district: Philadelphia.

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Movoto.com;

Long & Foster Real Estate; Zillow.com; Trulia.com; Philadelphia Neighborhood Information System.


Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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