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Condo Living: Pros and Cons

From new construction to the adaptive reuse of commercial properties and rowhouses throughout the City, there has never been a better time to consider condo living. We want to give you an overview of the condo market to help you decide if it is right for you.

Availability

While the availability of single-family homes has never been lower and prices have never been higher, the opposite is true regarding condos. Philadelphia condo prices fell by 0.6% over the last year while house prices rose by 12.8%. Unlike single-family homes, condo inventories are not unusually low. If anything, availability is up in all neighborhoods. 

1233-35 Bainbridge Street PH4 – $699K

“We are currently showing a condo at 1233-35 Bainbridge, in Bella Vista.  “It’s an excellent value in a trending neighborhood,” said Deborah Solo. “We just lowered the price from $725K to $699K on a beautiful 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom, bi-level Penthouse with two outdoor terraces and incredible views.  

Pros

If you have been renting and are a first-time buyer, condo living offers many advantages. It is also an attractive option for older home owners wishing to downsize or move from the suburbs into the City. 

Exterior of 1233-35 Bainbridge Street PH4 

Condos can be more convenient in terms of location, eliminating your commute, putting you closer to work, social life and cultural activities. They free you from the maintenance that comes with home ownership. Some also provide a fitness room, swimming pool, and assigned parking. While rentals limit your ability to make structural changes, condos offer more flexibility. 

Dining room table overlooking city views at 1233-35 Bainbridge Street PH4 

As a condo owner, you’re sitting on an asset that’s growing in value each year. When you sell, you’ll likely make more than you spent. Meanwhile, buying a condo establishes ownership and builds credit.

“I think the main advantage to a condo is that you would have less direct maintenance compared to a single home,” said Solo agent Alex Franqui. 

Cons

“Condos are pretty challenging right now,” said Franqui. “People want more space and private outdoor space and that’s typically not something you can find in a condo.”

When you add up the cost to buy and the cost to sell a condo, the property will have to appreciate about 10 percent to break even. Buying a condo is only recommended if you plan to live in it for at least 3-5 years. 

Condo Home Owner Association (HOA) rules can regulate everything from trash pickup to what can be stored on your patio, how many pets you can have, and whether you can rent out your unit. Breaking the rules can result in fines or even foreclosure. And HOA monthly fees tend to go up. On the other hand, Condo Home Owner Association (HOA) fees help cover the cost of maintenance and amenities. 

A condo at 1101 Washington Ave listed by Solo Real Estate, which recently went under contract

Do Your Homework

  • Research HOA fees and what they cover like insurance and grounds maintenance. Communities with luxury amenities such as doormen, high-end fitness centers, or pools may have higher fees.
  • Ask for the condo’s financials. Are they well funded? You’ll want to make sure that if someone misses an association payment or two, it won’t impact maintenance and coverage on the entire property.
  • Review the rules which may restrict conducting business in the units, subletting, or the number and size of pets. 
  • Explore the neighborhood on foot. How far away is the nearest grocery, pharmacy, or café? Check the level of street noise. 
  • Hire an experienced realtor who knows the neighborhood and the property. If your realtor has helped others buy a condo in the property you’re considering, they’ll know the ins and outs of the HOA. Purchase agreements for condos can be more complicated than single homes.

* Update 6/7/21 – 1233-35 Bainbridge Street PH4 – $699K is now under contract*

 At Solo, our professional agents know how to navigate condo agreements and help you make a move that reflects your financial and personal goals. Send us an email at info@solorealty.com or contact us using the form below!

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To Sell Or Not To Sell?

There may never be a better time to sell your home. All indicators point towards 2021 being one of the hottest markets in history for Philadelphia real estate. Supply is low. Demand is high. But before you take the leap, we want to give you tips and guidelines to avoid costly mistakes.

Understanding the Market

In February 2021, a record 5,040 homes sold in Philadelphia, as the median sales price rose by nearly $30K and properties came under contract in two weeks. The average single-family home price rose to $315,000. The last time that Philadelphia saw such large double-digit appreciation was in 2006.

867 N 27th Street – Fairmount/Art Museum – $649,900

In a recent Inquirer article, Drexel University economist Kevin Gillen explains, “This is the first time that the supply of homes for sale in Philly has dropped below 3,000. Historically, the city has an average of 7,400 houses listed for sale in a given month.”

Meanwhile, mortgage rates are low and housing prices are rising. The hottest markets are in West and Southwest Philadelphia, where prices have risen by 22%. Single-family homes rose an average of $40,000. Buyers paying tens of thousands of dollars over listing prices to win bidding wars. Properties come under contract within two weeks. And buyers are paying cash.

According to Forbes, Millennials are driving the housing market. Older Millennials are trade-up buyers, while the larger, younger segment are buying their first home.  Competition is highest at the lower end of the price spectrum, where first-time buyers tend to shop. So-called “starter homes” are in high demand but short supply these days. If you live in one and are ready to upgrade to a larger home or trendier neighborhood, the stars are in your favor. 

946 N Randolph St. – Northern Liberties – $390,000

Before you put your house on the market

Selling a home is easy. But buying one may prove frustrating and take more time and money than you imagined. Thinking of the burbs? Montgomery County has the lowest number of listings in 15 years. You will be competing against New Yorkers who are shelling out $2 million for a two-bedroom condo. (Case in point: the sky-high pricing at Center City’s 47-Story condo ArtHaus.) 

2017 Haverford Rd. – Ardmore – $450,000

Before selling your home, take a pencil to your mortgage, especially if you refinanced it in the last twelve months. A Wall Street Journal article advises, “It often takes a year or more to recover the costs associated with refinancing. When someone is refinancing, they should go through the thought experiment of: “Can I stay in this house long enough to make it worth it?”

Advice from an agent

“The idea of a buyer’s market and a seller’s market is a little misleading,” said Solo Real Estate agent Alejandro Franqui.  “Right now, the only sellers who will really do well are people who are selling an investment property or something they inherited.”

“However, if you’re looking to sell your own home, you’re probably going to have to buy another one and there is very little available,” he cautions. “You may get a great price for the home you live in now, but you’ll likely have to get into a bidding war and pay top dollar for your next house.”

Cash is King

Choosing a cash buyer has several benefits for sellers. Cash sales can take as little as 14 days, while mortgage closings usually take 30 to 60 days. In many cases, sellers are open to allowing buyers to bring in a home inspector before they make an offer. CNBC reports that cash sales for homes in the $100,000-$200,000 make up 36% of sales.

However, there is not a lot of risk taking an offer from a buyer who’s getting a loan from a conventional lender as long as you do your due diligence. That means calling up the lender and asking how qualified the buyer is. This is where having an agent can take the angst out of selling a home. Be aware, loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have more restrictions and may require you to make home repairs before the sale is final.

Choosing the best offer requires more than a pocket calculator. You need to compare the offers side-by-side, including offer price, loan amount, type of loan, contingencies, and other factors. Again, this is where having an experienced agent is crucial. 

Whether you’re thinking of selling your investment property or your family home, our Solo agents can give you advice and find the best approach for you in the current market.


Looking to sell your home or investment property? We can help! Learn more about our selling services here, and contact us for more information.

Meet Rebecca Nichols Franqui

Rebecca Nichols Franqui joined the Solo Real Estate team (and the family business) in 2018 after meeting her husband, Alejandro Franqui. She is originally from Minnesota but now calls South Philly home. Prior to joining Solo Real Estate, Rebecca received a Master’s degree in Environment, Politics, and Globalization from King’s College in London and worked with Habitat for Humanity. Her passion for sustainability and experience working in housing led her to take an active role in Solo’s sustainability initiatives and partnerships, like the PHS pop-up garden.

We spoke with Rebecca about her favorite places in Philly, the projects she’s worked on, and how she got involved in the family business.

How did you get started at Solo Real Estate?

Solo Real Estate was my husband’s family business and now it’s my family too. I never imagined that I would join Solo at the beginning of our relationship, but as time went on I started to really appreciate the way everyone here makes sure the company lives up to our values as a member of the community. Realizing that I could still have sustainability-related projects, while also meeting new people who are also excited about what Philadelphia has to offer, made me realize I was ready to join the team.

Do you work with just buyers or sellers and investors too?

I work with all of the above and with renters, too! I’ve also managed my own gut renovation, so I’m able to help guide investors and homebuyers who want to purchase a property to renovate.

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on? 

I mentioned before that the ability to do sustainability-related projects helped convince me to make the switch to working at Solo, and these projects are still easily my favorites! I have especially loved working on our partnership with the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS). We help sponsor the PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street. Thinking of fun ways to stay engaged with this has been so fun – we’ve hosted plant swaps, held gardening related trivia, and given away recycling bins, all while sharing a round of beers with the people we’ve met at the garden.  

What’s your favorite place in Philly?

This is a tough question! This year I have discovered FDR Park is twice as big as I realized, with acres of trails winding through a former golf course, now wild-feeling woods and wetland. This has been a great find for our family (especially our dog, Hansi) during this year of trying to stay outside. In a more normal year, I would probably answer with some of my favorite bars with the best beer options. Some of these are Fountain Porter, Standard Tap, and Khyber Pass Pub. I also can’t forget the place I spend the most time outside of home – running on the SRT (Schuylkill River Trail)!  

What are your interests outside of real estate?

I became a mother in March, so spending time with my daughter is my new favorite way to pass the time! I also love to bake and am an obsessed runner. I’m currently training my husband (Alejandro Franqui) for his first marathon.

Coffee or Tea?

Definitely coffee, always black! Function Coffee Lab has renewed my appreciation for a great roast. 

Looking to buy, sell, or rent a home in Philadelphia? Rebecca is ready to help you every step of the way. Contact her at 215.833.6720 or email her at becca@solorealty.com

Outdoor Living – All Winter Long

Philadelphia homeowners with backyards, roof decks, and outdoor terraces are taking a tip from restaurants. They are installing fire pits and heat lamps to make dining al fresco a year-round possibility. The choices can be confusing, so we’ve narrowed the selection to coordinate with your property’s energy source and environmental concerns.

Energy Sources

Outdoor heaters come in four forms: natural gas, electric, propane, and wood-burning.

Natural gas heaters make use of an existing natural gas line. They should be professionally installed and are therefore generally more expensive upfront. They are also less portable than other models. 

When it comes to the best ecological choice, if your electricity is generated by fossil fuels, a propane heater is a better environmental solution. Propane fire pits and lamps heat quickly and can be easily moved from one spot on the patio to another. However, they are more expensive than natural gas and require replacement. 

Garden Treasures Propane Heater
Garden Treasures Propane Heater

If you get your electricity from renewable sources, an electric heater is probably your most environmentally-friendly choice. They are easy to use and somewhat portable. However, electric patio heaters may cost more in the long run and they have to be located close to an outlet.

Wood-burning heatersfire pits, and chimineas are one of the most affordable and attractive options. Plus, the aroma of burning wood is pleasant. But keep in mind, they require frequent maintenance and should be cleaned regularly. They are also harder to light and produce sparks and embers, which can be unsafe if left unattended.  Here’s another consideration: fire pits emit aerosols and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and black carbon as the wood burns. You can reduce these emissions by making sure the wood is seasoned, which means it’s had at least six months to dry after being cut, and by chopping it into smaller pieces, which helps it burn more efficiently. 

Outdoor Heater Styles

Outdoor heaters can be floor-standing, hanging, wall-mounted, or sit nicely on a tabletop. There are a variety of styles to choose from, including the classic domed heaters that feature an umbrella-like reflector at the top, to pyramid-shaped heaters that contain the flame inside a glass tube and compact tabletop patio heaters which are ideal for smaller outdoor spaces. 

Depending on size and materials, fire pits range in price from under $100 to over $3,500. Homes & Gardens ranked the Outland Living 401 Series, 44-inch Propane Gas Fire Table as a top contender at $850. The push button spark ignition system provides simple and convenient control when lighting. Available on Amazon.

Outland Living Propane Gas Fire Table
Outland Living Propane Gas Fire Table

Lowe’s has a nice selection. We like their floor-standing, Garden Treasures Liquid Propane Heater, 87.4” High that heats up to 200 square feet for $149. Or an electric wall-mounted Dimplex Stainless Steel Electric Heater with three temperature settings. 35.5” wide, 6.75” high, $564.52. For a lightweight, portable, compact outdoor heater, consider Lowe’s EnerG Electric Patio Heater, 27” High, $109.

You will also find a wide array of outdoor heaters at Home Depot. For the wow factor, we like the pyramid style, open flame Gold Gas Patio Heater by Hampton Bay. An October 2020 review in the New York Times, found this type of heater to “…be the most enjoyable to sit near” and a better safety option than the mushroom-top models.” 89.5” high, it delivers 115 sq ft of warmth, features electronic ignition and has a rust-resistant gold finish. $209.

Gold Gas Patio Heater by Hampton Bay
Gold Gas Patio Heater by Hampton Bay

Safety

Before purchasing an outdoor heater make sure it has the following safety devices:

  1. Tempered glass tubing to protect flames. 
  2. Anti-tilt design features to minimize the risk of toppling over. 
  3. Automatic turn-off if the heater falls over.
  4. A flame failure device that shuts off the gas valve if the flame goes out. 

Keep patio heaters away from combustible materials. This includes planters and potted plants, outdoor textiles, and grass, but it also includes flammable items such as propane tanks used for grills or lighter fluid. 

Remember, being outdoors, in itself, does not protect you and your guests from Covid. To stay safe, maintain social distance, wear a face mask, and limit your guests to household members.

Looking to upgrade your living space and buy or rent a home with outdoor space in Philadelphia? Our listing at 2405 Amber Street is a 3,495 sq. ft home on a prized 18-foot wide parcel that features plenty of options for outdoor dining with its three balconies, roof deck, and backyard. If you’re looking for something smaller, there’s a one-bedroom rental in Rittenhouse Square with a cozy outdoor space located at 1816 Pine Street.

2405 Amber Street balcony. This home features 3 balconies, a roof deck and an outdoor space.
2405 Amber Street is a 4 bedroom home that features 3 balconies, a roof deck, and backyard space.

Investors are switching to real estate

In the midst of the nation’s highest Covid-19 peak, with the deepest recession on record, and high unemployment, the housing market is soaring.  The National Association of Realtors recently reported that sales of previously owned homes in the United States rose 24.7% – one of the best real estate showings on record. 

“Housing prices are increasing not just in the United States but also worldwide, regardless of how hard a country has been hit by the pandemic,” said Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in his New York Times OpEd

Sharma credits the phenomenon to what he calls easy-money. “Since May 2020, new-home sales in the United States have climbed by 67 percent, and prices by 15 percent. Many investors are buying homes not as a shelter but as an alternative to stocks and bonds,” he said.

Here in Philly, investment in residential real estate is changing our skyline;  the City resembles a massive construction site. A $60 mil condominium is rising at 2100 Hamilton. A $300 mil complex is underway in Port Richmond.  And New York City’s Durst Organization recently won a contract to build a mixed-use tower at Penn’s Landing.

Solo Real Estate agent Alejandro Franqui is feeling the spike too. “Some areas are in high demand and they are selling the same day or within 24-48 hours,” said Franqui. “Many homes are selling at or way-above asking.”  

Staying safe

Buying, selling, and renting during Covid demands complex and constantly changing safety restrictions. “We were not allowed to show houses from the middle of March through June. We shifted to 3D tours, as well as virtual tours,” said Franqui. “When we moved into a more open phase in July, a traditionally slower time, there was initially a surge of interest and intense bidding on properties.”

Solo Real Estate Open House
A Solo Real Estate Open House sign in Kensington.

Showing houses and apartments includes maintaining proper social distance, limiting traffic, and doing verbal health screenings. State guidelines include allowing ample time between showings, no more than three people in a property at one time and avoiding touching surfaces as much as possible. 

“I just wore my 400th pair of latex gloves yesterday!” said Solo Real Estate agent Jeff Carpineta. “Also, I miss being able to see clients’ whole faces, smiles, and speaking being a little easier, but it’s important to save lives in our communities and nation.”

Besides wearing masks, gloves, maintaining social distancing and virtual house tours, the City of Philadelphia urges realtors conducting settlements and closings to utilize remote notary, powers of attorney (POA), or the exchange of contract documents electronically or by mail wherever possible.

Hot Philly Neighborhoods

During the pandemic, East Kensington is continuing to experience growth and re-investment. While New York transplants seek affordability and space, local young professionals and families are drawn to the diversity and youthful spirit of this revitalized neighborhood.

“The shift from New York to Philly has been a steady trend over the past decade,” said Franqui. “It’s possible that Covid has accelerated that. I’ve always thought that unless someone is born and raised in New York, they will eventually realize the long term value just isn’t there.”

East Kensington and Fishtown attract professionals and families looking for housing close to downtown. These trendy neighborhoods feature Colonial and Victorian architecture and their own mix of music venues, nightspots, and restaurants.  But the big draw is the value. A Solo Real Estate listing in Fishtown for a 2-bedroom house with a front yard is priced at $264,900. 

Post Pandemic Outlook

Think times are good now for real estate? Todd Sinai, chair of Wharton’s Real Estate Department, says they will get even better.I expect demand for apartments to be robust and student housing to go back to normal,” said Sinai in a recent article on commercial real estate. “I’m not convinced that remote working will be ingrained post-COVID-19. Once most employees return to the office, everyone will…. On the part of investors, there will be a flight to quality real estate, and we are seeing signs of this already.”

Interested in buying an investment property, renting, or selling your home? Send us a message via the form below, and one of our experienced real estate agents will reach out.

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Meet Jeff Carpineta

Jeff Carpineta has been part of the Solo Real Estate family for the last fifteen years helping buyers, sellers, investors, and renters find their place and community in the city we call home. Jeff is a Kensington resident, real estate agent, an artist with a background in photography/music, and is very involved with his local community in the East Kensington section of Philadelphia, adjacent to Fishtown. He served as President of the East Kensington Neighbors Association (EKNA), has worked with NKCDC to offer housing counseling, partnered with the Kensington Kinetic Derby & Arts Fest, and co-founded the Kensington Community Food Coop, where he’s still a board member.

We sat down with him at a wildflower garden to talk about how he got started in real estate, his favorite places, and some of his interests outside of work:

How did you get started at Solo Real Estate?

Years ago, on a sweltering August heatwave day, I walked into the Solo Real Estate office looking for an apartment. Stanley Solo, in his 80’s, greeted me. I mean – Stanley Solo who started the company in 1951 –  a guy that had already made it, a big name in Center City for half a century. He actually walked me across town to 10th and South to show me places. I was a restaurant waiter part-time and a sheet rocker/photographer/noisy musician person he’d never seen before but he treated me like a grandson. I was blown away and was so moved from that experience that 3 years later I wrote a letter to Deborah Solo, Stanley’s daughter, recounting that experience. I told Deborah about my background in art, my knowledge about Philadelphia neighborhoods, and that my grandfather was a factory worker – ironically in a building that got turned into a condo in Tacony (U.S. Rubber- Gilmer Plant). I also told her I was looking to own my first place and was looking to learn about real estate. ‘Maybe I can photograph some places or file things for you…?’  She wrote back “Sounds like you love many of the same things I love, come in, let’s talk”. I went in for an interview, she said ‘You’re great but I don’t have anything for you to do right now.’ But a few weeks later she called: “My assistant wants to spend some more time with her family. Would you like to be my assistant a couple of days a week?” It was a dream. I did postcards – thousands of postcards per week, walking these bins of postcards over to the post office on Chestnut. Deborah called me into her office one day. “Jeff, the cards, we need to slow down on the cards!”. 22 cents apiece had climbed into 5 figures quickly. 

More important – the greatest gift: I made a little station for myself and all those cards right on the other side of Deborah’s door. All day I got to listen to Deborah Solo negotiating, solving crises, making things happen for people with an incredible focus. She’s one of Philadelphia’s most badass women in the business community. Watching her do what she does – was the best education any one could ever have in real estate and to some degree, in life. 

Within the year I got my license to start showing houses on my own, and started to take care of everyone I knew in music and art who were scraping but dreaming of having their own place. 

Do you work with just buyers or sellers and investors too?

All of the above. Buyer’s frequently are looking to be a part of the community so that holds a special place in my heart, though sellers can come with powerful stories too. On both sides, there’s usually some chapter opening or closing – family expansion, business dream starting, marriage, a new town, or a new job. So many stories. Buildings are the stages where life unfolds, so there’s a lot of meaning, plus it’s often the biggest financial decision of a lifetime. Deborah and Angel, her husband – they both deeply appreciate the stories behind the work. So did Stanley. That care is the heartbeat of the company. 

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on? 

Too many! Fireball printing, Pizza Brain, Threshold Wellness, and the studios for Craftwork Design are some of the commercial things that made a difference to many people. On the residential side, there have been hundreds of amazing stories. People transform their rowhouses into these heart-songs. Have you seen Ken Schapira’s (North Standard Company) house? Breathtaking. 

What’s your favorite place in philly?

For Music: How can you top live opera arias over deliciousness at the Victor Cafe?

For Nature: Anywhere there’s a river or creek. Pennypack is special. 

For Food: Thang Long – best Pho’ in the City, and the Philadelphia Inquirer agrees!

What are your interests outside of real estate?

Horticulture. I’m in the gardening program at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, studying local ecosystems, native plants, and ecological gardening. Philly, if you’ve never been to Mt. Cuba, get there! It’s filled with magic woodlands and wildflower meadows.  

Coffee or Tea?

Tea. Earl Grey in summer, Ginger through the winter. 

Are you a maximalist or a minimalist? 

I like lots of old things, so there’s some museum vibe, but emptiness is important too. At Mt. Cuba they always say “right plant, right place,” and in jazz: “less is often more” but it’s challenging – especially with books! 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Plant native plants! Make homes for butterflies, birds, and bees! And, of course, If you think you’d like to own your own place or sell one, let’s make it happen!

Contact Jeff Carpineta at 215.833.6720 or email him at jeffcarpineta@gmail.com