Sales strong for region's million-dollar homes

On Glynwynne Road. "All real estate is local," said a Narberth Realtor, "so you cannot generalize about sales trends, and that includes the million-dollar-and-up."
On Glynwynne Road. "All real estate is local," said a Narberth Realtor, "so you cannot generalize about sales trends, and that includes the million-dollar-and-up."
Posted: June 30, 2014

Locate the region's million-dollar-plus homes on a map, and the push pins will reveal a new Philadelphia Story.

Some of the terrain is familiar: the Main Line, Chestnut Hill, Haddonfield, and Moorestown. But today, even as reverberations from the burst housing bubble still cause shudders, homes priced at more than $1 million can be found in Voorhees and Cherry Hill, Skippack and Worcester, New Hope and West Chester, and Center City, among other places.

The high end of the market is quite strong, observers of the real estate scene here say. At the same time, they note that not all parts of the eight-county region are having the same experience, as measured by the number of pricey listings and sales.

"All real estate is local, and every submarket in the region is different," said John Duffy, of Duffy Real Estate in Narberth, "so you cannot generalize about sales trends, and that includes the million-dollar-and-up."

In Center City, condos have moved the high end higher. In May, a two-bedroom, 21/2-bath unit at 10 Rittenhouse Square sold for $2.75 million. The city's most expensive current residential listing is the $15 million Rittenhouse Club.

Excluding condos from the mix for better comparison with the suburbs, data from the Philadelphia Department of Records and the Trend Multiple Listing Service show sales of single-family homes in the city are outshining sales in the suburbs, said economist Kevin Gillen, of the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government.

In some trendy neighborhoods - where until a decade ago million-dollar sales were "limited to the occasional townhouse on Delancey Street or mansion in Chestnut Hill - every quarter we are seeing 15 to 20 homes change hands at these price points," Gillen said. "That is as high a volume as during the very peak of the boom 10 years ago."

In first-quarter 2014, he said, million-dollar sales in the city outperformed the suburbs - 16 percent above their historic average in Philadelphia, to 25 percent below the historic average outside it.

Overall, the regional market rises and sets on houses between $300,000 and $500,000, now in woefully short supply, Realtors say.

That doesn't mean the suburbs - especially the Main Line - lack for million-dollar-plus homes. Last week, there were 336 of them listed from Ardmore to Wynnewood, according to Trend MLS.

The priciest home sold in the 12-month period ending in May, sales records show, was a seven-bedroom, three-story Normandy/Tudor-style dwelling in Lower Merion Township (Villanova zip code) that went for $5.7 million.

Then again, in Lower Merion, buying a $1 million house has become about as common as spending $250,000 in Washington Township, Gloucester County, or $400,000 in Northern Liberties, agents and brokers say.

That's why Todd and Abby Peterson's recent home purchase there seemed fairly ordinary. Once they decided "there was no real logical place to add on" to their house of eight years, Abby Peterson said, they began looking for a place so the children (now four instead of two) could remain in the same elementary school.

What they bought, for $1.2 million, was a spacious stone Colonial built in 1930 that last sold in 1976, hardly the stereotypical Main Line mansion.

"It is a lot of money," she said, "but the school district adds a lot to the value" of their investment in their children's future.

Last week, Narberth Realtor Duffy said, there were 136 million-dollar-plus homes listed for sale in Lower Merion alone, with "a large percentage priced too high for [their] location and condition."

Stronger right now, he said, is the under-$1-million market, especially the $500,000-to-$750,000 range, "which is going great guns."

In his part of central Montgomery County, said Scott Troxel, of Weichert Realtors in Collegeville, the million-plus market is "a bit sluggish," with 17 active listings, most around Worcester and Skippack.

Those have "an average property-marketing period of over 270 days, with no immediate end in sight," Troxell said - only two sales are pending.

Things are moving faster in Bucks County, where Martin Millner of Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Yardley sells. Seven homes above $1 million are under agreement in Upper Makefield, for example, and "if I don't count one of those seven that has literally been on the market for two years, the average days on the market for the remaining six . . . is 18 days."

In the last 12 months, Milner said, 13 homes closed above $1 million.

Kit Anstey, of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach in West Chester, said that, while there were 13 houses priced at $1 million or more in his area, the pricing needed to be correct. If the seller is just trying to recoup equity by asking too much, a house will sit.

In South Jersey, listings in the last week included 29 million-dollar-plus houses in Haddonfield, 36 in Moorestown, and three each in Cherry Hill and Voorhees, according to Trend Multiple Listing Service.

Gloucester County has few million-dollar-plus sales, said Mike Lentz of Keller-Williams Realty in Washington Township, who counts six since 1998.

"There is one pending new-construction and seven active listings," Lentz said, "although five of those are 40-acre-plus farms."

Economist Stephanie Karol, of IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass., said finding move-up buyers was "a challenge to many [baby] boomers who want to move up themselves" to million-dollar houses.

Millennials will be entering the high-end market, said Marianne Harris, sales and marketing director for Dranoff Properties, "but it is still six to eight years down the road."

In other parts of the country, foreign investors boost the buyer pool. They don't come here, said Moody's Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi.

So, identifying the range of sales is important to understanding this market. Guy A. Matteo, of Re/Max Preferred Realtors in Newtown Square, studied sales of $1 million and more in Chester and Delaware Counties from May 2013 to May 2014. In Chester County, there were 109 sales, but only 14 were $2 million and above, he said. In Delaware County, 101 sales were above $1 million and just 15 above $2 million.

"There is a smaller pool of buyers the higher you go," said Matteo, "so it takes substantially longer to sell above $2 million."

John Dubbs, of BHHS Fox & Roach in Malvern, who recently listed Dove Lake in Bryn Mawr for $7.5 million, agreed. He is also involved in Linden Hill in Gladwyne, which went on the market in June 2013 for $24.5 million.

"We know who these buyers are and what they want, and we know they take their time," Dubbs said. "We rarely come across buyers who go from listing to listing, writing down numbers."

The region's most expensive current listing: a Fort Washington property, priced at $25 million. That will buy you a Rafael Viñoly-designed, 36,957-square-foot house (10 bedrooms, 9 full baths, 6 half-baths) on 70 acres.


The price of the most expensive home sold in each county, from May 1, 2013, to April 30, 2014.


Montgomery: Creighton Road, Villanova.


Delaware: Abrahams Lane, Villanova.



South 18th Street.


Bucks: Meetinghouse Road, New Hope.


Chester: Newark Road, Cochranville.


Burlington: Matlack Drive, Moorestown.


Camden: Loucroft Road, Haddonfield.


Gloucester: East Mantua Avenue, Wenonah.

SOURCE: Trend Multiple Listing Service

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