Features: The Condo Revolution!

Suburban empty nesters willing to pay $1 million and more for the romance of urban life are driving a luxury condo boom that’s about to turn our rowhouse town into the Upper East Side. What’s our cut on the deal? Maybe the world-class city we say we’ve always wanted

Why is Center City going crazy with condos? To find the answer, come with me. We’re heading out of town, north, and getting off at the Lansdale exit of the Turnpike. We’re going up into Montgomery County, a 45-minute drive, where the road signs point to places like Skippack and Schwenksville. We’re going to a little village called Lederach, turning left, then right, down the hill past the farm with a hex sign on the barn. See the picturesque steel bridge that spans the east branch of Perkiomen Creek? Don’t cross it. Turn in the driveway right … there!

I want you to meet Diane and Claude Buckles. Sometime this month, they’ll be paying $1.35 million for a penthouse on the 31st floor of Wanamaker House.

But for now, they’re still living here, in their magnificently restored 1825 gristmill by the Perkiomen. Sit with them at their kitchen table and take in the view: the rain-swollen river, the woods, the robin’s-egg-blue bridge with its stone piers. It’s flat-out perfect. They’re leaving this? Why?

Something must be lacking in far suburbia, even in this idyllic setting. Maybe it’s the fact that whenever Claude is home from his job traveling all over North America, they go out to eat, and they’re sick of eating hamburgers in bars. Maybe it’s the fact that they have to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere. “After zip-zapping around in the car all weekend,” says Claude, “suddenly it’s eight o’clock on a Sunday night, and you say, ‘Where’d the weekend go?’”

Or maybe it’s just the fact that they’ve lived here by the babbling brook for 14 years, they’ve never lived in a big city, and they’re ready to try something new. “We told ourselves, ‘While we’re young enough to really enjoy this, let’s do it,’” says Diane. “We used to want to be away from people. Now we want to be part of stuff. We’re going to see lights at night.”

He’s 51, she’s 50, so they’re certainly young enough. And green. Very, very green. When their real estate agent, Patty Hogan, called them on April Fool’s Day to come down and see the fabulous new listing at 2020 Walnut Street, they had no idea how to get to Walnut Street. They’re buying the idea of life in the big city — but it’s only a rough idea. It has something to do with “the perceived ease of lifestyle,” says Diane. “You can walk to everything.” To the dry cleaner, to restaurants, to the Kimmel Center, to the subway to go to an Eagles game …

“Talk about a transition,” says Claude. “Good Lord. I’ve never had a doorman. Do I tip him every time I walk out the door?”

He and Diane ponder this for a moment, then decide they should tip him every time, because they need friends. Maybe the doorman will be their friend. “We’re neophytes,” says Claude. “We’re hoping somebody will take us under their wing.”

So here they go, putting all their chips on Center City. They got their asking price for the adorable gristmill: $469,000. But more important, they cashed in at the Shore. In April, they sold their place in Stone Harbor for $1.575 million — an investment they made back in 1991, paying only $250,000 at the time.

“The Shore made all this possible,” says Diane. “We made a killing at the Shore.”

“You’re looking at the luckiest people on Earth,” says Claude.

“We could have moved anywhere,” says Diane. “But we wanted to move to Philadelphia.”