Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill, historically a farming community, became popular among the wealthy classes for their summer retreats during the 19th century. It has since evolved into a thriving, urban neighborhood.
With its elevated position, abundance of green space formed of beautiful parks and gardens, and stately period homes, Chestnut Hill has long carried a cachet. But the neighborhood has become more desirable in recent years, according to listing agents.
There is rising demand particularly for unmodernized homes in this area, said Karen Regan, a sales associate at Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty.
“People are increasingly buying homes in need of work and doing them up,” she said. “When they come to sell the homes, they are seeing a return on their investment.”
Ms. Regan, who is also an interior designer, gives an example of a client of hers who bought a house in Chestnut Hill with a half-acre and a swimming pool for $1.1 million in 2012 and spent about $350,000 renovating it. The couple made a $300,000 profit on the 6,000-square-foot property when they sold it three years later for $1.75 million, a 60% increase.
Additionally, property owners who make improvements to their homes or build new properties are exempt from paying additional taxes on the value of those improvements for 10 years. This tax break, introduced in Philadelphia in 2000, has boosted new construction activity in the city and given buyers an incentive to improve their homes.
Growing confidence in the market and high demand is a citywide trend. Philadelphia has undergone a renaissance over the past 10 years, said Francesca Prieto, a broker at Coldwell Banker Preferred, who has lived in the city for 34 years.
It has changed dramatically, with the major renewal developments along its Delaware River waterfront, she said. She attributed it all to a number of factors: It’s close to and more affordable than New York City and has an international airport and a restaurant scene and cultural institutions that rival other major global cities.
Chestnut Hill lies on the northeast edge of Philadelphia. It goes as far as Northwestern Avenue in the northwest and Wissahickon Gorge in the west. Stenton Avenue is its northeastern border and Cresheim Valley Drive is on its southeastern edge.
A three-bedroom twin or semi-detached house in need of modernization with no parking or garden can cost as little as $310,000, Ms. Regan said. “A renovated four-bedroom house with a garden and parking would cost about $700,000 and a renovated house with two acres would cost about $4 million,” she said.
A row home can cost as little as $325,000, according to Ms. Prieto. “Victorian-era twin houses tend to be larger, so they cost about $575,000, and estates with detached houses cost from upwards of $1.3 million, while homes at the top of the market sell for around $3.3 million.”
Chestnut Hill is famed for its historic, stately homes. Typically built from red brick and local stone, they have grand facades, with large porches, and are rich in period detail: wood panelling and high-ceilinged, well-proportioned rooms are common features.
Many detached family houses sit on large grounds with mature trees, which can extend to more than five acres. Some of the largest are those that back onto Wissahickon Valley Park.
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A refurbished five-bedroom house with more than a half acre of land backing onto the park sold for $2.695 million last September through Coldwell Banker Preferred.
There are smaller homes, too, including Victorian-era twin homes, row homes and condominiums, which are in both purpose-built properties and converted houses, according to Ms. Prieto.
Most homes were constructed between the 1800s and the 1950s, with the majority dating from the 1900s.
Because Chestnut Hill is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, getting planning permission to build new developments is difficult, but not impossible.
The most high-profile new development is One West, a five-story brick and stone period-style building on Germantown Avenue, the area’s main shopping street.
The building, which offers 20 condo homes, is notable for its deluxe finishes. Prices range from $850,000 to $2.5 million.
What makes it unique
Chestnut Hill, with historic and charming architecture and a quaint main shopping street, is postcard pretty. But it also has modern conveniences, such as yoga studios and artisan bakeries, along with a diverse range of restaurants, golf courses and a farmers’ market.
The area is within the city limits and only 30 minutes from downtown Philadelphia. Residents either drive into the city or catch a train from two local railway stations, Chestnut Hill East and Chestnut Hill West.
Ideal for young families and outdoorsy types, it is bordered by wild green space on three sides. Wissahickon Valley Park runs the length of its western edge and is part of Fairmount Park, a network of parks that comprise the city’s largest public park.
Known for its beautiful scenery, the valley offers walking, biking and horse-riding trails through woodland and meadows. Active types can walk the 23 miles from Chestnut Hill to the Rodin Museum in the city center using Fairmount Park’s trails.
Its active social calendar is a big draw, with events taking place throughout the year. Outdoor concerts are hosted at the amphitheatre at Pastorius Park and tens of thousands of people flock to its annual Harry Potter Festival, which takes place in October and brings two days of magical-themed events inspired by the novels.
Chestnut Hill has a wealth of amenities, ranging from good schools to charming shops, diverse dining spots and a country club.
On weekends and during the holidays, families head to the Philadelphia Cricket Club, a historic country club with a cricket ground, a golf course, tennis and squash courts and a pool.
Germantown Avenue is the heart of the village and is known for its individually owned shops, which include Hideaway Music, an independent music shop and the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, a specialist in gourmet cheeses.
Germantown Avenue’s cosmopolitan mix of restaurants include two Japanese restaurants: Osaka, which has a sushi bar, and Hokka Hokka, which serves Japanese fusion dishes.
There’s also El Poquito, Bajan cuisine in a cool vintage setting and Mica, a small eatery with revamped period interiors.
Popular drinking spots on Germantown Avenue include McNally’s Tavern, one of the city’s oldest taverns, and Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant, a brewery pub chain, which serves handcrafted beers and new American cuisine.
There’s also Fareway, a farmers’ market located behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel, and Baker Street Bread Co., which sells artisan loaves, pastries and coffee.
When it comes to private schools, Chestnut Hill’s Springside Chestnut Hill Academy is a popular choice. It’s a co-ed independent school for kindergarten to 12th grade.
Who lives there
There are executives working at the city’s big employers, including Comcast, a telecommunications company; fashion brand Urban Outfitters; pharmaceutical company GSK; as well as doctors, journalists, architects, politicians and professional athletes.
It is not an exclusive enclave for the rich due to its diverse housing stock, Ms. Prieto said. “Young families and young professionals typically buy or rent row homes and Victorian twins, which are more affordable.”
She added: “You also get buyers at the upper end of the market who want plenty of living space to entertain for business, as well as amenities that require grounds, such as pools and tennis courts.”
The area is known for its popularity among Comcast executives, specifically. Even the company’s CEO, Brian L. Roberts, owns a home here, according to Curbed.
The actor David Morse, who starred in “The Green Mile,” has lived in the neighborhood since the 1990s, according to local agents.
The property market in Chestnut Hill is generally pretty stable due to a lack of inventory, Ms. Prieto said. “At any given time, there is only a small selection of homes on the market and people tend to wait for the right one to turn up.”
She continued: “The market above $1 million took a knock during the downturn, but it is making a recovery. Confidence in the market across the city is growing and transaction levels are increasing.”
“Our company is set to open an office in the area as it recognizes how unique the place is,” Ms. Regan said.
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