Jawdropper of the Year: “The American Versailles” in Mahwah for $48M

"Darlington," Mahwah, N.J. 07430 | Images via Christie's International Real Estate

“Darlington,” Mahwah, N.J. 07430 | Images via Christie’s International Real Estate

Words fail us.

That’s because it’s impossible to fully capture in words the over-the-top elegance of this 58-room mansion in Mahwah, N.J., about 25 miles outside New York City.

But since we get paid to write them, we’ll spill a few anyway.

“Darlington” is the name of this larger-than-life English Gothic Revival mansion, built by railroad heir George Crocker in 1907 as a private retreat from the hustle and bustle of New York. Read more »

Usual Suspects Top 2017 U.S. News Best High Schools List

Julia Reynolds Masterman School

We’re No. 1! (Or No. 2, or No. 51, depending on which list you’re using.) | Photo: Public domain image by Smallbones from Wikimedia Commons

The single best high school in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania remains the Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory School in Philadelphia.

But in this year’s edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High Schools” list, the school fell a few places in the national rankings. The school, one of only two in the Greater Philadelphia region to make it into the ranks of the top 100 nationwide, placed 51st.

Which makes it the second-best high school in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. Top honors go to the Charter School of Wilmington in Delaware, which ranked 48th nationally. Read more »

Trinity Tuesday: Revised and Extended in Bella Vista for $385K

602 Coulter St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147 | TREND images via BHHS Fox & Roach

602 Clymer St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147 | TREND images via BHHS Fox & Roach

C-SPAN fans — both of you — are familiar with the phrase “revise and extend my remarks,” which means that a U.S. Representative’s three-minute speech will run 100 pages in the Congressional Record.

This house on Bella Vista’s eastern edge isn’t that much more roomy than it was before it got a total renovation in 2011, but it is significantly revised. The makeover restored the original trinity steps between the first and second floors but otherwise turned this into a totally modern home.

The first floor features a tile-floored living room, an up-to-date eat-in kitchen, and a powder room. There’s a great wood-decked rear patio out back. Read more »

5 Takeaways from the 2017 “State of Center City” Report

Center City has strengths that can help it dig out of the employment hole it's still in, say local leaders. (USA Today Sports)

Center City has strengths that can help it dig out of the employment hole it’s still in, say local leaders.
(USA Today Sports)

The release of the 2017 “State of Center City” report at this morning’s quarterly meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation was a “Yes, but…” affair.

Yes, job growth in the city is on a tear, said Center City District Executive Director Paul Levy. It outpaced job growth in both the suburbs and nationwide in 2016. And Philadelphia has added jobs for seven years running and 11 of the last 12. But in an economic recovery that’s been led by job growth in cities since 2010, Philadelphia — city and region — posted the slowest growth of the nation’s 26 largest cities in that time span.

Yes, the city has posted impressive job growth numbers relative to years past. But it’s still not only digging out of a 36-year-old hole — employment remains 25 percent below where it was in 1970 — it hasn’t even returned to its 1990 level yet. By contrast, its peer cities in the Northeast have fully recovered on both fronts and boast employment figures 12 (New York) to 24 (Washington) percent above their 1970 levels.

“This is why we called it ‘The Challenge of Incomplete Revival,'” [PDF] Levy said in his remarks opening this morning’s panel discussion.

The question then becomes: How do we complete it? Read more »

Let’s Talk About That First Home You Want Over Dinner

For Tod Keating's clients, the journey to that first home begins with a dinner date they'll definitely remember. | Photos: Sandy Smith

For Tod Keating’s clients, the journey to that first home begins with a dinner date they’ll definitely remember. | Photos: Sandy Smith

Buying that first home is a serious commitment.

Sort of like marriage, only the getting-to-know-you stage is much shorter.

But a real estate agent in the northern suburbs drew the parallel. So Tod Keating begins every search for a buyer’s first home with a dinner date.

And since he began this practice, almost every buyer he’s worked with has ended the courtship by saying Yes.

Keating, 67, worked for some 36 years in the pharmaceutical industry, then got into real estate as a second career when he retired from Merck in 2004. “That was around the time when all my kids and all their buddies started getting married and buying houses,” said the father of three and grandfather of six more. Read more »

Task Force to Revise City Preservation Policy

It may or may not be too late to save these buildings on historic Jewelers' Row, but a task force announced today by Mayor Jim Kenney aims to make it easier to preserve and reuse other historic buildings in the future. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

It may or may not be too late to save these buildings on historic Jewelers’ Row, but a task force announced today by Mayor Jim Kenney aims to make it easier to preserve and reuse other historic buildings in the future. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

Mayor Jim Kenney has appointed a panel of developers, scholars, city officials and preservationists to recommend ways the city can better prevent its historic buildings from falling to the wrecking ball.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this morning that the task force, formally announced today, includes more than 24 members representing all the interests involved in the discussion over preservation. Its charge is to come up with ways to catalog the city’s historic buildings, create incentives for their reuse, and educate the community about the benefits of historic preservation.

The panel both keeps a promise Kenney made during his mayoral campaign and responds to widespread concern in the wake of the loss of such landmarks as the Boyd Theater and the possible loss of others, such as the Jewelers’ Row buildings where Toll Brothers plans to build a condo tower. Read more »

Demand for Homes Remains Strong Across Region

Home sales in Center City ran 22 percent ahead of last year's levels, a pace surpassed only by Camden County, N.J. | Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

Home sales in Center City ran 20.1 percent ahead of last year’s levels, a pace surpassed only by Camden County, N.J. | Photo: Sikeri | Flickr

Home sales in the 12-county Greater Philadelphia region continued to increase at a steady clip in the first quarter of 2017, according to the latest figures compiled by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, Realtors.

A total of 15,750 homes were sold in the 12 counties in the quarter just ended, an increase of 8.7 percent from the same quarter one year ago. Sellers saw price gains too, as the average sale price rose 1.6 percent to $247,361, and they sold their homes faster, as average days on market fell 6.2 percent to 76 days. Buyers, on the other hand, found pickings slimmer, as the monthly average inventory of homes on the market plunged 19.8 percent to 26,772.

The greatest number of homes sold was in Philadelphia County, where 3,314 homes were sold in the first quarter. The county with the greatest percentage increase in sales was Camden in New Jersey, where the 1,489 homes sold represented a 21.9 percent increase over this time last year. Read more »

Two Philly-Area Communities Make Niche Top 10

We're No. 2! | Photo: Nick Vandekar, Long & Foster Real Estate

We’re No. 2! | Photo: Nick Vandekar, Long & Foster Real Estate

Chesterbrook, the master planned community in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, is once again one of the best places to live in the United States, according to new rankings released today by Niche.com.

It’s even climbed up several spots in Niche’s 2017 “Best Places to Live” rankings: it’s almost the best place to live in the country, up from No. 8 last year.

And a second Philadelphia-area community also placed in the top ten: Penn Wynne, in Lower Merion Township, ranked ninth.

The top honor, however, went to Carmel, Ind., near Indianapolis.

Both Carmel and Chesterbrook received A-plus grades overall, as did the other eight communities in the top ten. Both also got A-plus grades for their public schools, housing and family-friendliness. Carmel also got an A-plus for jobs, though, while Chesterbrook only received an A. Read more »

You Could Be The First On Your Blok To Live in One of These

An example of a multifamily housing development built using Blokable's modular units. | Rendering; Blokable

An example of a multifamily housing development built using Blokable’s modular units. | Rendering; Blokable

The man who helped give physical form to “Earth’s biggest bookstore” and developed the checkout-free convenience store has now turned his attention to affordable housing.

His proposed solution combines high tech and kindergarten tech.

The building industry trade publication Builder reports that Aaron Holm, co-creator of the Amazon Go C-store and developer of the brick-and-mortar Amazon Books stores, has launched a new startup company called Blokable whose aim is to produce affordable housing that can be easily assembled and expanded. Read more »

Who’s Building Philly: Vince Viney

There's a touch of the Levitt approach in V2 Properties' strategy: standardize to keep costs low. It enables the company to offer more in its homes than others similarly priced. You should be able to spot the V2 homes on the 700 (left) and 600 (right) blocks of Mercy Street in Dickinson Narrows. | Photos: Sandy Smith

There’s a touch of the Levitt approach in V2 Properties’ strategy: standardize to keep costs low. It enables the company to offer more in its homes than others similarly priced. You should be able to spot the V2 homes on the 700 (left) and 600 (right) blocks of Mercy Street in Dickinson Narrows. | Photos: Sandy Smith

To understand why Vince Viney builds, all you really need to know is two basic principles:

Inexpensive new homes don’t have to be cheap.

And buying them shouldn’t be a nightmare.

Put another way, Viney doesn’t want home buyers to have the experience he did when he bought his first home.

“As a homebuyer, I was tired of seeing the inferior quality and lack of craftsmanship that I saw, and the poor service, especially after delivery,” he said. “It was the acceptable standard, but it was an acceptably bad standard.”

Viney, 45, grew up in Kensington’s Harrowgate section, a largely blue-collar neighborhood. When he was coming of age, success meant a house in the suburbs, and he followed that path to a new construction home in Collegeville, which he purchased in 1995. Read more »

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