Thursday, April 10, 2014

Traffic patterns in Philadelphia are changing real estate development

If you don't believe me, check out this article. It's pretty sweet.

The subject caught my attention for a few reasons, as cited within: 1) Major highway traffic is lower than forecasted, 2) Suburbanization is now trending toward the city, and 3) Millennials like to use mobile devices while in transit.

In traditional Philly Urban Living fashion, let's break these down.

1) Major highway traffic is lower than forecasted: This one actually surprised me, as I do drive on the Schuylkill regularly. The decrease in traffic was not only true for the PA Turnpike, I-76, and I-95, but it was also true for the NJ Turnpike (where since 2005, overall volume has decreased by 10%); seriously? So what does all of this mean, and why am I blogging about it? It means that urban populations are rising, it means that downtowns/cities are reaping both private/public investment dollars, and it means that cars are becoming less desirable for many people (especially younger people; we'll get to that). We can get into the nitty-gritty and talk about The Great Recession, rising gas rises, overall car prices, and parking, but in general, public transportation is on the rise in major metros across the country (not just in Philadelphia). This is changing the way we think about getting around our respective neighborhoods/towns/cities, and how we live our lives.

2) Suburbanization is now trending toward the city: As stated in the article, "We had a 50-year period of unrestricted suburbanization, and now there's a dramatic shift." I've talked about this one in past blog posts, many times over. Not because it's my opinion, but because it's constantly being buzzed about in the media. Philadelphia's suburbs are not declining, it's just that preferences are changing; especially amongst the younger crowd. Millennials are a big reason why Philadelphia's population has risen over the past 7 years. There are lots of jobs in Philadelphia. There are lots of restaurants and nightlife/entertainment options in Philadelphia. There is a lot of history, culture, and events in Philadelphia. It's home to our beloved Eagles, Phillies, Sixers, and Flyers. But at the moment, our crime rates are still high and our public schools are very undesirable. Whereas suburban Philadelphia has enjoyed relative safety and great public education since the 1950s. Fix Philadelphia's fledgling public schools, and the biggest reason to flee the city goes away. But as it stands today, preferences are trending toward cities.

3) Millennials like to use mobile devices while in transit: No, really? I feel like I hear about millennials every day of my life now. What do millennials like? What do millennials want? Why do millennials love Twitter? Why do millennials hate Facebook? Why do millennials order pizza, with pepperoni, in their dorm room, on a Tuesday night, before exam week, and pay with AmEx? I don't know, but you get the picture. One thing this article mentioned that really caught my attention, is that you can actively use your mobile devices while riding on public transportation. This is so true, and it's also a reason why so many people text and drive today. People love their phones, and can't stop using them; myself included. If you can read, work, socialize, blog, text, or tweet while you ride to work or dinner, why wouldn't you choose a train/bus over a car. You're there before you know it, and you got some things done on the road; awesome. As we all know already, the most convenient public transportation options lie within Philadelphia proper.

So as you can see, traffic is starting to affect how people think, live, and choose their home. It also affects how investors buy, rehab, and develop real estate.

Who knows, 10 years from now, the President of the United States may be talking to all of us about how we need to create more rail lines. Rather than he/she talking to us about expanding our highways.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tim Garrity gets interviewed in another article for Metro Philadelphia

Check Metro out at:

My online/print media pal, Julia West who is a contributing writer with Metro Philadelphia, graciously extended another invitation for me to speak intelligently about Philadelphia real estate.

The subject, a boost of empty nesters into the current Philadelphia real estate market.

Julia's article is titled, "Where are the empty nesters moving?" No need for me to quote what you can read by just clicking right here.

Metro Philadelphia is a great website for local news on real estate, entertainment, and sports. Informative daily reading from your laptop/tablet/smartphone, or you can pick up a free copy at numerous local distribution boxes throughout the city.

Personally, I always grab one before hopping on the train to Center City. The articles are well-written and succinct, and I can usually get through the whole thing before arriving at either Market East or Suburban Station.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Will Drexel's Innovation Neighborhood look like this?

Hmm, not sure how to feel about this one yet.

The plan looks awesome and super-possible. But when you look at all of the moving parts involved with a project this impressive, it can be hard to fathom.

On the other hand, John Fry and Drexel have not been messing around in recent years. New buildings, new signage, and new plans. Not only have they done their homework, but they seem to have enough players in place (Drexel, Amtrak, & Brandywine) to get a big part of the project moving forward: Building over the 30th Street rail yards.

If they can pull it off, it may be one of Philadelphia's most impressive developments in it's 300+ year history as a US city.

Drexel now has an extensive double-plan in place for Philadelphia called, "Transforming the Modern Urban University + Drexel University Campus Master Plan." Both plans were recently presented as one, and were the findings of a year-long study to figure out how to best grow Drexel.

For starters, and probably most important, Drexel wants to expand its student population by 1/3 over the next 7 years (from the mid-20,000 range to the mid-30,000 range). Accomplishing this will not only be a boon to University City, but to all of the burgeoning neighborhoods surrounding the university as well.

Not to mention all of the additional jobs, housing, and retail that could/should follow a project of this size/scope.

There are 4 main principles in the Master Plan:

1. Distinguish Drexel's campus as a modern urban university district.
2. Bring the campus to the street.
3. Draw the community together around shared spaces.
4. Expand the innovation community.

Out of all 4 principles, I personally feel that #4 resonates the most for Philadelphia.

Our city has changed greatly in the past 10 years, and it's starting to dictate where the city might be headed in the foreseeable future. I have written posts about "Philacon Valley," as well as dropping an informational perspective on the new Comcast Innovation + Technology Center, and I'm starting to see a pattern.

Philadelphia is preparing itself for the new, urban, compact, shared tech economy.

Location ... check.

Dense city ... check.

Good bones ... check.

Public transportation ... check.

One of the best higher-education systems in the world ... check.

Annual population increases (with lots of millennials) ... check.

Affordable cost-of-living, as compared to local, neighboring metropolises ... check.

These are things people all over the world are interested in today, and it's why major metropolitan areas are growing at a rapid pace across the US. So it only makes sense for Drexel to play off of our city's strengths, and start planning for a future where skyscrapers may in fact sit above railroad tracks at 30th Street Station.

Nothing wrong with dreaming big, Mr. Fry. Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Huffington Post has classified Philadelphia as the "Most Underrated City in America"

Boathouse Row | Philadelphia

Some people may read my blog post title and say, "That sounds a bit negative, Huffington Post."

Others (myself included) may say, "Damn straight, HP" (or "darn tootin" if you happen to not be from Philadelphia or the Northeastern US).

IMHO, it's a great accolade, which is what inspired me to write today.

Being an underdog is something that most long-time Philadelphians embrace (including myself, just a bit), which is due mostly to our local sports history ... and Rocky, of course. But as our city has progressed over the past 10+ years with an increase in overall population and a renewed sense of optimism, it's time to start embracing what the future could and should be.

Without getting ahead of myself here, these were Huff Post's reasons that I personally enjoyed the most:

1. Philadelphia has over 200 BYOB restaurants, and almost none of them have corkage fees.

This very-Philadelphian restaurant way-of-life, due to an influx of young/new chefs/restaurateurs and PA's archaic liquor laws (with hefty licensure costs), BYOBs have become the norm in our fair city. They accomplish 2 very important things: 1) They allow more people to open up restaurants, offer unique food options, and keep start-up costs low, and 2) They allow Philadelphians to explore these restaurants, pay less for a night out, and drink whatever they want and as-much as they want. Win-win in my book.

2. It is an American history nerd's promised land.

In Philadelphia, there are the globally known/touristy spots like Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, and the Liberty Bell. But how about ... Mutter Museum (medical history and oddities), Philadelphia Mint (the nation's first), Elfreth's Alley (the oldest residential street in America), and too many other options to list here. Since America was basically invented in Philadelphia, as we are sometimes referred to as the "Birthplace of America," naturally we would have the most to say about how we became the greatest country in the world.

3. It's an insanely easy city to navigate thanks to "Walk! Philadelphia." It's also the largest comprehensive pedestrian sign system in North America.

Since most people have some type of smartphone these days, Walk! Philadelphia is not as critical today as it was during its inception in 1995. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt to have these circular signs posted everywhere in Center City to help you weave your way through different blocks and neighborhoods. In 2013, Philadelphia was dubbed the "4th Most Walkable US City," and our WP signs help back up that distinction.

4. The Philadelphia Eagles have the best fight song of any football team.

No need to explain this one. It's just an awesome song, even to those who aren't Birds fans. To those who are fans (again, such as myself), it's more-or-less our city's anthem. Good call, Huff Post.

5. It's bursting with a vibrant arts community, including numerous artist-run collectives.

Back in 2012, I posted about how Philly was named "#1 for Arts & Culture." Now it seems like our art scene just gets more expansive everyday. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rodin Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Barnes Foundation, Kimmel Center, Academy of Music, and many more. We have world-class status when it comes to art, and we're also known internationally as the "City of Murals," showing off more public murals than any other US city. Recently, Philadelphia's CITYWIDE Project brought in 20 different art collectives to share their ideas and grow our city's art scene ... together. Art is in our history, and growing our future.

6. Some of the best restaurateurs in the world have set up shop in Philadelphia.

I don't know how many other US cities can claim that aside from NYC, LA, Chicago, and Vegas. Philadelphia has a dominant restaurant scene, and it only seems to get more legitimate every year. So much so that well-known Center City spots have started expanding into the local suburbs, as well as into other major US markets (like NYC and DC). We now boast 2 Top Chef winners (Kevin Sbraga and Nicholas Elmi), and 1 Iron Chef winner (Jose Garces). Oh, and don't forget about Starr, Vetri, and Solomonov. I don't know how much more credibility I need to showcase here, our dining scene speaks for itself.

7. Fairmount Park is one of the largest city-owned parks in the country.

One big reason why people decide to leave cities, they want to enjoy nature. Well, Philadelphia has excellent options for both urbanites and ruralists alike. Northwest has the Wissahickon Valley, and Northeast has Pennypack. But if you are more of a downtown kind of person, Fairmount Park backs right up to Center City and University City. So no matter where you live in the city, a park-like setting is always close by.

And there you have it, my take on a great article.

If you would prefer to read the whole list from Huffington Post yourself, check it out here. They posted 31 different reasons why Philadelphia is a great place to be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Has Penn just secured an anchor for Grays Ferry?

Rendering of South Bank

Just last week, the University of Pennsylvania (aka Penn, UPenn, U of P) released detailed plans for a large urban/commercial/educational project called South Bank.

This development is part of a larger vision for the university, known as Penn Connects 2.0. The main goal is to continue expanding their local and global presence, create more open space, and create more jobs for both students and Philadelphians alike.

In other words, Penn wants to make Philadelphia a more promising career choice location for its alumni. IMHO, the city could not ask for a better long-term partner than that.

So why did I choose that blog post title?

First and foremost, I always go back to the golden rule of real estate: Location, Location, Location. There is a reason that saying exists, and why it will most likely never go away. You can change what's on the land, you can change the exterior of a home, you can change the interior of a home, and you can even change your landscaping, but you cannot change the location.

It's the reason people move, find new jobs, raise families, choose school districts, and so on and so forth. Location controls prices, taxes, and public services. It can be the reason why some neighborhoods thrive, while others decline. It's the base of any area's long-term strategy.

Still looking for some more information on that blog post title?

Well, from a Philadelphia real estate agent's perspective, you don't have to look too much farther than Center City and/or University City to understand how important location is. There is a reason these two sections have done so well over the past 10+ years, and it's not because they have the best cheesesteaks in town. In fact, CC and UC are probably the last places I would go to get a quality steak. I mean hey, I live in Roxborough where local competition creates some of the best quality steaks in the US.

Sorry, sorry; getting off topic a bit. Back to South Bank and Grays Ferry.

South Bank has some cool things going for it, which help make it a potential anchor for Grays Ferry. Now, let's get to it:

1) South Bank is on the Center City/Grays Ferry side of the river: There is a reason Center City and University City are so distinct, they have a firm boundary line between them. And no boundary could be more firm than a river; in this case, the Schuylkill River. Although both sections have a great mix of jobs, schools, and retail/entertainment, CC is better known for business while UC is better known for education. Hence, two separate sections with two separate plans. Now that Penn has jumped the river, into South Philly and not into Center City mind you, it creates an opportunity. And no other South Philly neighborhood is closer to South Bank than Grays Ferry.

2) South Bank wants to become a breeding ground for new, innovative, and small businesses: Where there are start-ups, there are young professionals. Where there are young professionals, there are new businesses setting up shop. Where there are new businesses setting up shop, there is a demand for housing. Where there is a demand for housing, prices go up. When prices go up, people are happy. I don't know how many more connections I can make here, but I'm sure you're following along. This is how local economies are built, and it could have a significant impact on Grays Ferry.

3) Grays Ferry is reasonably priced for its location: There's your tip of the week. It happened in Graduate Hospital, and it's happening in Point Breeze. Grays Ferry may have been a longer stretch without any firm support from UC, but it looks like they may get it if South Bank delivers on its promises. GF already has the following positive attributes: close to jobs, close to highways, close to public transportation, and close to recreation (the Grays Ferry Crescent was a nice addition in 2012). Couple all of that with reasonably priced homes, compared to neighbors in Center City, Graduate Hospital, and Northern Point Breeze, and you have a recipe for potential.

Some may look at a project like this and think it's just the same old thing. "Penn's getting bigger, so what? They've already been doing that for years." Well, I'm here to tell you that there may be bigger potential just by looking at a map.

As both a Real Estate Agent and a Realtor (there is a difference between the two), there are guidelines and ethics we live by to help make sure we do not "persuade" and/or "convince" clients that one area is better than another area using our market knowledge. That real estate tactic is commonly referred to as "steering," which is both illegal and unethical. One of my main goals when starting this blog was to help educate the public on what's going on in/around Philadelphia, the city I call home.

When I look back at the over 200+ blog posts I've written since Philly Urban Living's inception, back in 2011, I can see that my original goal is still going strong today.

I have all of you regular readers to thank for that.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Philadelphia's new Mormon temple generates additional development

There is a lot going on in Philadelphia these days.

If you don't believe me, just drive on I-76 East/West and/or I-95 North/South and count the cranes. Center City, University City, The Navy Yard, as well as many other neighborhoods, are building for the future (even in my own neighborhood of Manayunk + Roxborough). Some projects are commercial, some are residential, and some are both.

If you didn't know already, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is currently in the process of building a new temple at 17th & Vine, which will be the first in PA. Two spires will top the Mormon organization's 77th temple, and will cap out at 200 feet high. Overall, the new temple will have a unique look and blend in well with Philadelphia's other neoclassical buildings along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Okay, now on to the additional projects.

After the temple was approved and earth started in moving in 2013, a 2nd and 3rd building project was proposed in early 2014: 1) A Mormon Meetinghouse, and 2) A 32-Story Residential High-Rise. Although these projects coincide with the new temple development, they will both be open to the public (unlike the temple, which is limited to Mormon members). The meetinghouse will have a chapel, courtyard, and some multipurpose spaces. The high-rise will have over 250 apartments, over 10 townhomes, and retail space.

Mixed-use is a hot trend in Philadelphia these days, and rightfully so. We live in a dense city with great bones, so why not capitalize on vertical growth (as opposed to sprawl). 

My whole point in blogging about this project is to showcase Philadelphia's reputation as a world-class city. Not only did the Mormon church decide to capitalize on Philadelphia's ideal Northeastern US location for their new temple, but they also realized that there is opportunity in our residential market as well.

And if they have the money to do it, why not invest in something they know.

Philadelphia is considered an affordable city with tons of history, culture, and restaurants/entertainment; not to mention our city's storied history as being a place where religious freedom was one of the founding principles.

It's nice to see other religious organizations taking note, and investing in Philadelphia's future.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Philadelphia Marketwatch Report - December 2013

Click to Enlarge

First off, my apologies for the lateness of the Q4 Trend Marketwatch Report.

The MWR from Trend (or the MLS as most people call it), focuses specifically on real estate in/around Greater Philadelphia. There are individual reports available for the entire 5 county area in Southeastern PA (and also in Berks County, so let's call it 6), as well as in Southern NJ and Northern DE.

My focus is always on the Philadelphia report specifically, as that is the center of our local real estate market.

The report for Q4 2013 (aka December 2013) is still moving in a positive direction, as was the Q3 2013 report I posted in October. The chart's key metrics show that Philadelphia's Average Sales Price is up, Closed Sales are up, Homes for Sale (aka Supply) are down, and the Average Property Marketing Period (aka Marketing Time) is down.

Please note that these stats are based on year-over-year changes, to help compare the real estate market in Q4 2013 to Q4 2012. I wanted to reiterate this just so people don't assume these statistics are month-over-month, which is a hard comparison to make in real estate (due to weather changes, school calendars, etc).

So, let's break these down one-by-one:

1. Average Sales Price: $198,756, up 3.8% from Q4 2012. Why do real estate prices go up? Simply put, supply and demand. If supply is low, demand is high; and vice-versa. That is what's happening here, and that is also what allows homeowners to build equity; a prime reason why people decide to buy real estate in the first place.

2. Closed Sales: 2,793, up 4.3% from Q4 2012. That's a nice increase, especially in a still-tight lending environment. It means that homes are selling in larger quantities today as compared to the same time period in 2012, which means we are slowly transitioning from a Buyer's Market into a Seller's Market. To add to that, these buyers are typically more qualified (because lending guidelines haven't loosened up yet), and they can still afford to buy. Which is great news for the local real estate market.

3. Homes for Sale & Months Supply: Down 12.5% and 23% from Q4 2012. As stated before, if supply is low, demand is high. If demand is high, prices go up. If prices go up, there is more competition to buy real estate. If there is more competition, there are more bids for each property. And so on, and so forth. Low supply is good for sellers.

4. Average Property Marketing Period: 91 days, down 11% from Q4 2012. This means the average seller requires less time to accept an offer on his/her home. When sellers have to wait for long periods of time to sell, what typically happens? They lower their listing price to attract more buyers and buyer agents. When sellers don't have to wait as long to sell, what typically happens? Prices remain stable, and may go up.

Most of these metrics may seem self-explanatory, but I personally find that it helps to break each one down individually and explain what it means to the local Philadelphia real estate market.

If anyone would like the most recent MWR report (for your specific area), please don't hesitate to reach out via phone/email/text.

I can then email you a customized PDF.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Washington Avenue West the key to South Philadelphia's growth?

One of the new businesses along Wash Ave West | Kermit's

In short, yes.

There has been significant residential growth, both north/south of Wash Ave West, over the last 10 years. So much so that the buyer demand to live in Graduate Hospital has literally spilled over into the northern part of Point Breeze. Which in turn, seems to slowly be heading west toward Grays Ferry.

That is a story for a different day, and one that I have blogged about before; so feel free to check out some past posts (here and here) before moving forward with this one.

If you read regularly, you know that I like to break things down to keep it simple. So, here's how I would look at all of this:

1. The Missing Link: That's what I classify Wash Ave West as, the commercial presence needed to properly join NoWa (North of Washington Ave, aka Graduate Hospital) and SoWa (South of Washington Ave, aka Point Breeze and Grays Ferry). When Graduate Hospital really started to come into its own as a neighborhood reborn, what happened? South Street West took off. So much so, that South Street West has the same, if not more, energy as South Street East. It has literally connected Rittenhouse Square & Fitler Square with Graduate Hospital; forming one cohesive, consistent part of Philadelphia.

2. Spruce It Up: Easier said than done, but as this article states, plans are already being discussed. The dilemma for an area like Wash Ave West is nothing new for historic commercial corridors in Philadelphia; long-time residents and business owners are typically resistant to change. And for good reason, it's their livelihood. Who would want that taken from them; answer ... nobody. But resisting change, just because, is not a good strategy. There are lots of new businesses moving in, whether long-timers like it or not, and those businesses mostly cater to the area's new residents. In order for this corridor to grow and move in the right direction, the boulevard needs to be cleaned up (i.e. trash, sidewalks, street configuration, etc.) so that both businesses and patrons can thrive with it. If done right, it can help both long-timers and newbies alike; slippery, but doable.

3. Embrace The Culture: In order to make Wash Ave West new, some of the "old" needs to be recognized. One idea in this article is to turn the area into a Design District. Keep all of the mom-and-pop home improvement shops, and fill in the gaps with new commercial and residential. With the changes that have already taken place both in NoWa and in SoWa, there is too much commercial as it stands today; which means a mixed-use approach should do the trick. Think large residential anchor projects, surrounded by the existing businesses and smaller/new businesses.

Anyway, that's my take.

When faced with a situation like this, I don't think the goal should be to just go in and change everything. On the flip side, not doing anything and resisting the changing demographic won't help either.

No matter how this all plays out, you can be rest assured that Wash Ave West will look different in the years to come.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Architecture, apartments, and a power plant ... really?

All images courtesy of Fast Company

I'm a big proponent of smart development. Call it green ... sustainable ... sensible.

And why not?

If you can build something that is eco-friendly, costs less to maintain, lasts longer, and can survive on its own (instead of being connected to the power grid), I'm sure most of you would be all for it; as I would be myself. The problem is, most of these kinds of projects cost more to build than traditional building styles.

In other words, upfront costs are typically higher.

Here's what I find cool about this project:

1. It's located in a great spot (on the ever-changing Delaware River Waterfront)
2. It has a unique design (probably more unique than anything Philadelphia currently has, or is proposed to have)
3. It has 2 important purposes (provide housing to Philadelphians, and establish a waste-to-energy trash incineration plant).

Here's what I don't find cool about this project:

1. No one has agreed to develop it yet (most likely, because it looks complicated)
2. Who knows how long it would take to build (again ... because it looks complicated)
3. My guess is that it would be super-expensive, to construct and to live in (last time, I promise ... because it looks complicated)

What I will say after reading about the project, and browsing through the well-done graphics, is that a project like this would attract global attention. Not because of the cool factor, or because of its proposed location, but because it is a forward-thinking concept for a large US city that will save energy, save money, and save the environment.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Manayunk's "Park in the Sky" moves closer to reality

The Manayunk Bridge Plan | Courtesy of PlanPhilly

As of January 2014, bid solicitation has already begun; nice.

This means that construction will potentially start in 2014, and completion may even happen this year as well. All super-positive news for a very important project.

Why do I feel it's so important? A few reasons:

1) Connection: If you ever drive on I-76 (aka "The Schuylkill", east or west), you cannot miss this huge structure. Built in 1918, but basically out-of-use since '86, the Manayunk Bridge is one of Philadelphia's architectural icons. So much so that even a few local businesses use it in their logos. The goal is to connect Manayunk and Bala Cynwyd in a different way; through recreation. The nice part is that not only will this project connect Philadelphia to its suburban counterparts through a recreational trail, but it will also allow for people to take a casual stroll and enjoy an amazing view.

2) Reuse: At some point, if a project like this was not in play, the Manayunk Bridge may have faced the wrecking ball. Why? Because it would have been a potential liability for SEPTA/Philadelphia (due to its non-use, and future wear-tear). Now that it has a modern-day purpose once again, and a functional one at that, my guess is that it will be taken care of properly from here on out; and even more so if it becomes a popular tourist spot. Once the park has been completed, maybe the next step will be to clean up the bottom a little more (e.g. repair masonry, future murals, etc).

3) Uniqueness: Out of all the bridges in Philadelphia, aside from the big dogs that cross the Delaware River, the Manayunk Bridge may be the most recognizable of the bunch. Considered an open spandrel arch bridge, its interesting look/style gives character to both Manayunk/Roxborough and Bala Cynwyd. It's also this unique look that could potentially turn it into a future Philadelphia destination, for both locals and tourists alike. Manayunk is already considered a biking mecca, and once the bridge project is complete, it will help spur the completion of the Ivy Ridge Trail project; which will connect to the Schuylkill River Trail.

All of these reasons play into Manayunk/Roxborough's future as a desirable place to live. In recent years, this entire area has become a popular fitness destination. New fitness centers, cross-fit clubs, cycling gyms, yoga studios, and indoor/outdoor boot camps are all part of the neighborhood's quality of life. QOL goes a long way, and is necessary if you want to keep current residents as well as gain new ones.

Once there is a fully-rehabbed Manayunk Bridge, spanning across the Schuylkill River for everyone to see/enjoy, there's no question that it will attract more people to Manayunk/Roxborough.