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From Renting to Buying

Renting is an excellent option until it is not. Your one or two-bedroom apartment suddenly no longer fits your lifestyle due to marriage, the birth of a child, or the realization that working from home opens the possibility of living just about anywhere. Perhaps in a neighborhood where parking does not require divine intervention, or simply because you want more amenities and a strong community like Rebecca, a longtime renter of 14 years, who made the switch to homeowner when she found a perfect fit in Kensington Yards, Solo’s condo project. Whatever your reason for making the transition from renting to buying, an experienced real estate agent can help guide you through the process and ensure everything runs smoothly.

How much house can you afford?

“First-time buyers in Philadelphia have many options in the $250,000-350,00 range,” said Solo Real Estate agent Alejandro Franqui. “In your late twenties, a two-bedroom, two-story house in Fishtown or Point Breeze will work for you. When you outgrow it, you can sell it and buy a larger house or it can become an investment property that is very rentable.” Unlike rent payments, monthly payments towards a mortgage can become a good long-term investment, generating passive income when you decide to find another home. 

An example is a two-bedroom house listed for sale at 1491 East Wilt Street in Fishtown/East Kensington listed by Solo agent Jeff Carpineta. The living room has great natural light and the kitchen features new appliances including a granite wrap-around counter and stainless fridge. But the real selling point is the great neighborhood within walking distance of trendy restaurants, yoga studios, and parks.

1491 E Wilt Street

Get pre-approved

To find out your price range, including your down payment, start by reviewing your credit report on Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax.  Next, talk to lenders to determine the mortgage rate for which you qualify. Be prepared. Banks will ask for your W2s, your last couple of years of tax returns, bank statements, and pay stubs. The goal? To be pre-approved for a mortgage before you start looking at houses. Pre-approval doesn’t mean you’re applying for a mortgage — just getting an idea of what you’re approved for. 

Now ask yourself, how much of your monthly income are you planning to spend on your home? Make sure your answer isn’t dependent on factors over which you have no control, such as fluctuations in the stock market, the economy, job loss, or inheritance that could go into litigation or simply evaporate. 

To get an idea of what you can afford, try Nerd Wallet’s Online Calculator. It uses basic questions – household income, credit score, expenses, desired Zip Code – to compute how much you can spend on a house and what your monthly mortgage payments will be. Transunion recommends keeping your total housing payment under 28% of your gross monthly income. (i.e. Say your family’s monthly gross income is $7,000, you want to keep your total housing payment including taxes under $1,960). Down payments are another factor. 20% is standard but buyers often put down 10% or less. FHA borrowers might put down as little as 3.5%. 

Select an Agent

Ideally, you want an agent with a solid track record in the neighborhoods you are considering, as well as one who is familiar with your current location. With 70 years experience in Philadelphia, the agents at family-owned Solo Real Estate have the inside track on the City’s best values and neighborhoods. 

As a result, Solo agents know a lot more than you see online. They know which areas have already peaked in home value and which are on their way up. They have also built relationships in neighborhoods across the city and can sometimes find homes before they hit the market, giving you a leg up in a competitive sellers’ market. More importantly, they have access to MLS (a Multiple Listing Service that provides information about properties for sale) and to “comps,” the history of sale prices in the area in which you want to buy. When it comes to negotiating with the seller, your agent will get you the best possible price. 

Inspection

Think of inspection as bringing the person you love home to meet your parents for the first time. You are head over heels with the house of your dreams. It has everything on your wishlist. Hardwood floors, good lighting, a modern kitchen, roof deck and parking space. Then comes the inspection to point out all its hidden flaws. Trust your agent to analyze the information. It may be a dealbreaker. Or an opportunity to ask the owner to make improvements and/or lower the price.

Closing

The closing process begins when you have signed a purchase and agreement of sale. From the signing date to the closing date can take four to six weeks. During this time, purchasing funds are held in escrow, where your money is safe until the deal is officially done. Within 24 hours prior to settlement, you and your agent will do a final walk-through to make sure the seller has completed all of the repairs required and there are no additional repairs needed. This is your cue to flush toilets, run garbage disposals, and exhaust fans, open garage doors, etc.  On settlement day, you’ll either sign your paperwork electronically or safely meet with your agent and a representative from the title company to sign and get the keys. 

Once your paperwork is done, and you have the keys, pop open that bottle of Champagne and celebrate. Your new home awaits! 

Looking to make the transition from renter to homeowner? We can help! Learn more about our buying services here, and contact us for more information.

A Guide to Your Philadelphia Home’s History

Does your home have an intriguing history? Would you like to know who were its first tenants? If so, the City of Philadelphia makes it easy to trace your house’s past via maps and archival documents, including deeds that go back to 1683. Below is a list of local resources you can use to find more information about the history of your home.  

Philadelphia City Archives

If your house was built prior to 1955, start with Philadelphia City Archives at 548 Spring Garden Street. There, archivists will conduct a detailed search for historical materials relating to the address you provide and present you with the appropriate files. You never know what you will find. The records may contain handwritten deeds, transfers of property, or architectural renderings. If you are a fan of Finding Your Roots, the PBS program that delves into genealogy, you will love the City Archives. To schedule a visit, call 215-685-9401.

Besides recording deeds, the City Archives maintains a Photo Archive of two million photographs, dating from the late 1800s, including images of the City’s architecture, industry, and culture. Tap into this fascinating resource to trace the changes in your neighborhood.

Philadelphia Department of Records

If your home was constructed between 1956 and the present, go to City Hall Dept. of Records. Since this office also contains records of births, deaths, and marriages, it may involve a longer wait than the City Archives. However, if you are nimble with technology, you can access digital property deeds online from 1683 through 1974 at the Philadelphia Dept of Records. Be prepared to buy a subscription to conduct a search and wade through a complex system of deed books. 

These deed books provide a wealth of information regarding the ownership and use of real estate in Philadelphia. The standard deed includes information on the date of the transaction, the names, residence, and occupation of the buyer and seller, the sale price, a survey description of the property usually with an indication of whether there is a building on the property, a description, called a recital, of how the seller acquired the property.

Free Library Interactive Digital Mapping Tool

If you want to see how your block or neighborhood has changed over the years, the Free Library offers an interactive digital mapping tool, dating back as far as 1843. These are no ordinary maps! They include 19th-century maps of whiskey warehouses, Fairmount Park, horse car routes, and atlases of the City by wards.

Philadelphia Historic Commission

To find out if your property is registered as historic, to nominate a property or apply for a historic plaque, contact the Philadelphia Historic Commission. Besides designating individual properties, the Commission also lists Historic Districts and offers manuals for homeowners in those neighborhoods. Besides the usual suspects, Philadelphia’s Historic Districts include West Girard Avenue, Diamond Street, Parkside, and many other architecturally significant areas.

Looking for a home with a history? 171 Poplar Street is an 1843 Federal-Style Townhouse in Northern Liberties available for sale through Solo Real Estate.
171 Poplar Street is an 1843 Federal-Style Townhouse in Northern Liberties available for sale through Solo Real Estate.

Philadelphia Architects & Buildings

Philadelphia Architects & Buildings is also a helpful online tool to learn about the architect who designed your home. Hosted by the Atheneum, you simply enter the property’s address or the name of the architect. If there’s a match, you will have access to the architect’s resume, along with the locations of other properties he designed with dates and photos. To gain access without signing up for a subscription, sign in as a guest. 

Whether you have an old home or are looking to purchase a home, researching the property’s history can be an important step in determining its value and preserving its architectural integrity. If you’re looking to purchase a home with a history, Solo has a listing for a Federal-style Townhouse with a deed from 1843

New Digs: The Perfect Fit in Queen Village


“As long as it had stairs, we were impressed,” said Patrick, looking back on his family’s home-buying process one year ago. Kate and Patrick had called New York City home for 15 years, but after having a baby, the couple decided they needed more space than their apartment in Brooklyn allowed.

Close friends in South Philadelphia had been trying to convince the couple to move to the city for years, so the idea of Philly wasn’t new. However, as Kate and Patrick thought about their options, they realized that Philadelphia could be the perfect city to own a bigger place. A townhouse in Philadelphia would give Kate, a stylist, the ability to commute to New York for work, and Patrick, a graphic designer, the space to have a home office. As an added plus, they would be close to Kate’s family in South Jersey. 

David Bowie looks over the living room couch.

Friends of the couple recommended Solo Real Estate, and Kate and Patrick began looking at listings for townhouses with Deborah Solo. The couple had initially intended to move to the Passyunk Square area of South Philadelphia, but by the time their Brooklyn apartment sold, their top choices in South Philadelphia were off the market. Together with Deborah, Kate and Patrick expanded their search to other neighborhoods, eyes peeled for a more traditional Philadelphia townhouse. After consulting a list of properties they made from one of their first searches, they decided to give a Queen Village townhouse a shot, remembering how charming the Queen Village neighborhood was during Christmastime.  

The master bedroom.

A visit to the Queen Village listing pleasantly surprised Kate, Patrick, and Deborah. The staging of the property online had not done the quaint, brick townhouse justice. The three-story home was spacious, with three bedrooms, one bathroom, basement, and patio. The couple gravitated towards the beautiful details of an older home and were willing to put work into the space, but they also wanted the home to be more move-in ready than not for their one-year-old son, Conway. This property had just had its HVAC system redone, and the number of bedrooms was perfect – one bedroom would be converted to a home office for Patrick. To top it off, the house sat within easy access to major roads and highways. 

Kate and Patrick remodeled the kitchen after moving into their new Queen Village home.

The third bedroom, converted to a home office.

The lovely home was a slam dunk for Kate, Patrick, and Conway. With a kitchen remodel finished, the family is looking forward to future projects. Next on deck? Some fresh paint and new bathroom fixtures in their dream home.

The third bedroom home office also has a nook for relaxing and playing music.