Town By Town: Quakertown offers quaintness, affordability

Quakertown's business district has stores, restaurants and a 5 & 10.
Quakertown's business district has stores, restaurants and a 5 & 10. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2014

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

George Washington might not have slept in Quakertown, but the Liberty Bell did spend the night in this Upper Bucks County borough back in 1777.

Unlike the patriots who were moving it out of the reach of the British occupiers of Philadelphia, the bell didn't stay at the nearby Red Lion Inn, but in the back of Evan Foulke's house at 1237 W. Broad St.

Both the Foulke house and the inn remain - just two of the many places that make this borough both historic and, as Coldwell Banker Heritage agent Michele Samph emphasizes, "quaint."

"We still have Sine's [founded in 1912] on West Broad Street," says Samph, whose office is in Quakertown. "How many other towns can say they still have a 5 & 10 with a lunch counter inside?"

While the borough may not be booming, as is the case with others in the area, it isn't in decline, either, Samph says.

It's just "humming along like it has always been," says Patti Henne, an agent with BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors in New Hope, who went to school there. "It hasn't really changed."

Although the surrounding area, especially adjacent Lehigh County, has changed and is seeing an increase in sales and construction as the market recovers from seven years of downturn, "the borough doesn't produce much housing data," says Sean LaSalle, an associate broker with Weichert Realtors in Easton.

The borough has an older housing stock - rowhouses, townhouses and some large homes built by the elite of former times, with prices ranging from $140,000 to $400,000.

"Those are very stately homes, and very well-kept," she says. "We even have stone farmhouses within the borough limits - one is for sale for about $400,000."

Park Avenue, where many of those stately houses, as well as Quakertown Community High School, are located, "used to be the street," says Samph.

Houses there are substantial - three to four bedrooms, 2,000 square feet - and have list prices in the mid-$200,000 to $300,000 range.

Many of them don't get those prices, however.

"Classic homes don't get you the money, but they make the town very nice," Samph says.

Affordability is drawing a lot of first-time buyers to those rowhouses and townhouses, with average sale prices around $140,000, in the borough as well, Henne says. Sale prices, as with just about everywhere else, are based on how well the property has been maintained.

There are also a couple of townhouse communities within the borough limits, according to Samph, with prices about $150,000 to $160,000.

"I don't see prices rising even with lower inventory," Samph says.

The downtown area has become home to a lot of antique stores, Samph says, and there are several buildings for rent.

The borough has proposed development of a triangular tract in the middle of West Broad Street as commercial space to help give the downtown a needed shot in the arm.

One ingredient to revitalization is missing, though.

"You know what Quakertown Borough needs?" LaSalle asks. "SEPTA. Look what has happened to downtown areas of other older boroughs with passenger service to Philadelphia. They take off."

While there are freight trains in and out of Quakertown, passenger service ended, as in a number of other communities, in 1981, when the transit agency stopped diesel-powered inter-city service.

There has been a lot of discussion, but nothing has materialized, LaSalle says, although the 112-year-old station on Front Street was restored through fund-raising efforts after a devastating 1989 fire, and is rented out for events.

The nearest SEPTA station is in Colmar on the Lansdale-Doylestown line, down Route 309 from Quakertown, a 20-minute drive, says Samph, who recently took the train to Philadelphia from there for a trip to New York.

"It seems sort of strange to travel south to go north," she says with a laugh, considering that the introduction of railroad service to Philadelphia and to Bethlehem in the late 19th century boosted both the borough's population and its fortunes.

Proximity to highways is a big mover of real estate in the Quakertown area, with Route 309 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike two huge draws, accordng to LaSalle.

This is a border area, with its feet in both the Allentown-Bethlehem and Philadelphia metro areas, and it's popular with people from Lower Bucks County and Philadelphia, as well as those relocating to the area, because of the highway system, affordable prices and lower taxes, LaSalle says.

"Don't forget New York, which also is accessible from here," LaSalle says, "a straight shot to I-78."

Samph adds: "This is a go-to place" for her relocation business.

The Quakertown area remains what LaSalle calls a "neutral" market, with a 6.5-month absorption rate and prices "pretty stagnant."

Yet lower prices and taxes "work for people who cannot afford Philadelphia prices," he says.

New construction, while increasing, "is not yet what it was in 2000 to 2006," LaSalle says.

A lot of residential building is going on in the Allentown area, some of it by Bucks and Montgomery County builders attracted by less expensive land in larger supply, LaSalle added.

Sal Lapio Homes, of Sellersville, is building a 312-unit townhouse community in Upper Macungie Township, for example.

"It's not a high-end area," says Henne, and that "means affordable housing in a great location."


Quakertown By the Numbers

Population: 8,957 (2012)

Median income: $41,942 (2012)

Area: Two square miles

Settlements in the last three months: 21

Homes for sale: 67

Days on market: 65

Median sale price: $170,000

Housing stock: 3,631 units, rowhouses to single families, mainly older.

School district: Quakertown

SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; BHHS Fox & Roach HomExpert Report


aheavens@phillynews.com

215-854-2472 @alheavens

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