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A New Renter’s Guide To Philly

Philly is a city of neighborhoods. Each one with its unique housing, cultural offerings, and personality. Renting offers an opportunity to test-drive a particular neighborhood without a long-term commitment. And, just maybe, fall in love. If you’re looking to move to Philly, there are many things to consider so we’ve created this renter’s guide to introduce you to the city’s diverse neighborhoods and give you some tips on leasing in Philadelphia. 

A City of Neighborhoods

Society Hill 

This is the oldest part of the City located on its eastern most sector, between Market and South Streets. This charming district features cobblestone streets and brick houses in Federal and Georgian styles, as well as contemporary high rises, with no shortage of fine dining, movie theaters and culture.

Washington Square West 

Adjacent to Society Hill, from 6th Street to Broad, this historic neighborhood is centered around one of William Penn’s original parks. It offers a mix of townhouses subdivided into apartments, hi-rise options and adorable Trinities with access to trendy restaurants, theaters and shops. 

Rittenhouse Square – Image: VisitPhilly

Rittenhouse Square 

Considered the most desirable real estate in the City, the neighborhood extends well beyond the park for which it is named, extending from Broad Street to the Schuylkill and from Chestnut to Pine Street. It boasts the Kimmel Center and several great restaurants and designer shops in town. While an apartment on the Square is typically in a higher price range, there are also affordable options just a block away. 

Take a virtual tour of the large one-bedroom apartment with hardwood floors Solo is currently showing at 1919 Spruce unit 4F in Rittenhouse Square. 

1919 Spruce Street 4F– $1,600/month

Bella Vista

Wedged between South Street and Washington Ave, Broad and 6th Street, the focal point of this neighborhood is known as the Italian Market to tourists and 9th Street to locals. This is where you’ll find a population as diverse as the architecture with an abundance of bakeries, markets and ethnic restaurants. Choose from 19th century properties to new construction.

Italian Market – Image: VisitPhilly

Queen Village

East of Bella Vista, historic Queen Village runs from the Delaware River to 6th Street and from South Street to Washington Avenue. It includes a mix of colonial homes and new townhouses with charming side streets, lively shopping, restaurants and cafes. Plus access to Spruce St. Harbor Park and Penn’s Landing. 

Queen Village – Image: VisitPhilly

East Passyunk

This former Italian neighborhood is sandwiched between Washington Avenue and Tasker Street to the west of Broad. Here, young professionals and artists seeking affordable housing mix with old-timers. Over the years, East Passyunk has become filled with trendy boutiques and has become a hub of nightlife and world-class restaurants. Here, the row house is king and the local community is strong.

Looking for a spacious two-bedroom with central air for just $1,000? Tour the lovely apartment Solo is now showing at 529 Snyder Avenue #2.

529 Snyder Avenue #2 – $1,000/month

University City

Home to the University of PennsylvaniaDrexel University, the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and Saint Joseph’s University, the housing choices here are varied. From stately Queen Anne homes of Clark Park to the Victorian charm of leafy Powelton Village and new construction in Mantua. Formerly inhabited by primarily students and professors, the area is now a thriving community for young professionals and families.

Identify Your Requirements

Property Manager and Solo agent Sean Rapp offers potential renters some advice on where to start your search. First, “tenants should start by identifying what they are looking for in terms of space, amenities, location, and price range to help narrow their search.”

When looking at potential neighborhoods, consider what’s important to you. Do you want to be within walking distance of restaurants? Or perhaps, having a small green space to entertain or a community garden nearby is something you prioritize. Make a list of wants but be flexible.

“Once you know what you are looking for and identify a property that interests you, the process really starts by booking a tour of the property,” said Rapp. “They can look through our website on the rentals page for options and reach out to set up a time to view the space in-person.”

Love Where You Live

“I’ve rented all across the Philadelphia area over the last 20 years, and experienced all kinds of landlords and management companies,” said Solo tenant Gillian Neff. “Without a doubt, Solo is the best I’ve had. They’re not just responsive, they’re actually proactive in maintaining the property. And the staff are all friendly and pleasant to deal with. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone looking for a new home in town.”

Solo Real Estate has been renting Philadelphia apartments in Center City and surrounding neighborhoods since 1951. We’re a family-owned company and we are committed to providing exceptional service with a personal touch to all our owners and tenants. Our property managers want you to love where you live, and that means finding the right fit.

Interested in renting one of the rentals we manage or want to learn more about our property management services? Reach out to us!

Pets That Rescue Us

During the pandemic, many of us found substitutes for our normal routines. Instead of meeting up with friends, we Zoomed. Instead of dining out, we learned how to make bread from scratch. And instead of going to concerts, theater or sporting events, we spent more time with our furry friends. In retrospect, you have to wonder. Did we rescue them? Or did they rescue us?

“Oscar, our tuxedo cat lives in the office,” said Solo Real Estate president Deborah Solo. “He wandered into my backyard when I lived in Northern Liberties and found his forever home.” Deborah has three more cats living in her apartment above the office. “They are all named after detectives: Morse, Hercule Poirot, and Falco named after a Roman detective series.”

Two of Deborah’s cats came from a neighbor who rescues animals and two from sheer chance. They wandered into her yard. She contributes to Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) the City’s largest rescue partner and low-cost wellness clinic that is leading Philly to become a no-kill city. The pandemic is helping PAWS reach that goal. “For the first time ever, PAWS has more people interested in adopting and fostering dogs than it has actual dogs,” said Melissa Levy, executive director of PAWS.

Pet adoption is on-trend. According to Rover.com, 49% of Americans adopted a new dog during the Covid-19 pandemic. 93% said that their pet improved their mental and/or physical wellbeing and made working from home more enjoyable. This recent increase in pet ownership has had an impact on the real estate market. “Not all rental properties are pet friendly,” cautioned Deborah. “Whether or not tenants can have a pet is determined by the individual owner whose properties we manage. Some of them don’t allow pets.” 

Fortunately for the Solo Real Estate team, their office is pet-friendly. Bookkeeper, Denise Piechoski, used to bring her “doodle” Hobey to the office just one day a week. “Now, since Covid, he comes each time I go there,” she said. “He is very curious about Oscar and wants to be friends but he is afraid. His favorite thing to do is look for squirrels in Rittenhouse Square.”

If every Solo team member were to bring their pets to work all the time, they would need to hire a zookeeper. Julian Chiti Makarechi, Solo Office Coordinator, adopted two kittens – Basil and Tarragon – ten months ago, just as the pandemic was starting. Solo Property Manager, Cameron Johnson, has a dog named Django.

Alejandro Franqui and Becca have a frisky pup named Hansi and a cat named Spicy, who was rescued by Deborah Solo from the lot they later built Kensington Yards on. Spicy was found with four kitten siblings, who were also rescued and placed in loving homes.

Adoption Centers

Philadelphia has many animal shelters, including the city owned Animal Care and Control (ACCT Philly) Shelter, but we want to give a shout out to some of our favorites. 

First up is PAWS (Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society), the city’s largest rescue partner. They have three no-kill shelters and provide affordable basic veterinary care for pet owners and rescue organizations that cannot otherwise access it. Check out the adorable pups and kitties seeking foster care and adoption, as well as opportunities to volunteer, at the PAWS Adoption site. 

Morris Animal Refuge is America’s oldest Animal rescue. Created when founder Elizabeth Morris began housing and caring for animals in Philadelphia in 1858 and the rescue was founded in 1874. They are the only privately funded open admission shelter in Philadelphia (one of the few remaining in the country), and maintain a 97% save rate. You can look at the pets available for adoption, and learn more about their programs on Morris Animal Rescue’s website

Brenda’s Cat Rescue is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the rescue of stray and abandoned cats. You may view their adorable kitties online and see them in person at the PetSmart in Plymouth Meeting.

Coffee, tea or meow? Make a date to meet the kitty of your dreams at Le Cat Café in Brewerytown. Operated by Green Street Rescue, a no-kill shelter, Le Cat Café is like speed dating, but instead of conversing for ten minutes, you can get down on all fours and get to know the personalities of a dozen lovable cats. If you find one you like, you can fill out an application for adoption or foster care. FYI – Le Cat Café is not a shelter, but a meet-and-greet for adoptable cats. While you are there, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, along with a feline snuggle. Reservations strongly recommended.

Dog Parks

Philly’s dog parks are not just places to let your pup get some exercise. They are true community centers that add value to our neighborhoods. In many cases, they are membership organizations where enhancements are made for the wellbeing of dogs and their owners. Here are three standouts.

Seger Dog Park at 11th and Rodman started a clean-up initiative to keep litter off the streets and out of the waterways. They partner with small businesses and local musicians to offer services and entertainment to park members. Seger Dog Park hosts community events and encourages neighbors – and their pets – to get to know each other.

Schuylkill River Park Dog Run at 25th and Spruce is the fanciest of all Philly’s dog parks with stunning river views. It is equipped with a nice drinking fountain and separate sections for big and little dogs. The synthetic grass courtyard keeps puppy paws clean.

Dog Park at Bok in South Philly is a small gravel lot but on Sundays, you can take Fido up the elevator to Bok Bar for food, drink and sky-high views of the City.

Solo Real Estate understands the attachment you have with your pets and will help you find a rental or forever home where you and your menagerie will thrive. Whether your priority is a big yard for your dog or a place where your cats can lounge, we’d love to help! Contact us at info@solorealty.com to get in touch with an agent. 

Solo Tenant Launches Zero Waste Start-Up

When Solo Real Estate tenant Leslie Davidson first saw her apartment in the historic Rittenhouse area in 2018, she was struck by the quality of light. “It was one of five apartments Solo had shown me and I knew it was the one,” she said. “It was in a brownstone with large bay windows, hardwood floors, and a great layout,” she said.  Her cats also approved.

The year before, Leslie had received a breast cancer diagnosis and gone through a romantic breakup that left her yearning for a living space that would support her personal and professional goals.

“I grew up in Ambler and returned to Philadelphia after studying fashion design and merchandising in LA. Although I had been a stylist for Michael Kors on the West Coast, I was open to a career change,” she said. Leslie took several jobs, including working as an office manager for a gardening company and teaching dance to children. 

She was gearing up for another career move when the pandemic hit and the job market dried up. As a cancer survivor, Leslie had to shelter-in-place and return to what she knew best. Using her design skills, she launched Made by Lad, an accessories company, from her dining room. Even though her apartment is considered a one-bedroom, the inclusion of a dining room provided ample space to set up her sewing machine.  Her first product was facemasks for adults and children. 

Leslie Davidson from Made by LAD works on sewing a face mask in her dining room.

What distinguishes Made by LAD facemasks from all contenders is their fuller cut and elastic under the chin which allows the wearer to talk without the mask falling or moving. Unlike most facemasks which loop around the ears, Leslie’s loop around the head, so there is none of that uncomfortable tugging on the ears.

“I came up with the design after a lot of experimentation,” she said. “My grandfather was having a lot of trouble wearing his facemask, so I designed one that would be easier to wear.” Her face masks are two-ply with a filter for extra safety. They come in solid colors, two-tone and tie-dyed. (Kids love the tie-dye option.) Adjustable elastic toggles are sold separately.

A couple wears Made by LAD face masks in a park.

Made By LAD became official in May 2020 after Leslie received an overwhelmingly positive response to the masks she was making for friends and family who said they “fit perfectly” and “made them feel safe.” She initially started the business as a way to bring in extra income to pay off her medical bills acquired from her breast cancer diagnosis, but as orders kept rolling in with no end to the pandemic in sight, she was encouraged to pursue the venture full time, so she took a leap of faith and decided to self-fund her new business.

Leslie Davidson from Made by LAD works from her dining room table while her cat oversees.

Leslie’s products not only look good, they do good. Using locally sourced, 100% natural fibers that produce zero waste, Leslie tie-dyes them in her kitchen and sews them on her dining room table. With her background in business management and a passion for sustainability and helping others, she has developed a brand that aims to not only give back to the community but encourages customers to consider the environment by using almost all biodegradable materials, from the merchandise down to the packaging.

A child looks up while wearing a Made by LAD facemask.

“The face masks are made from undyed muslin which I buy at Fleishman’s on South Fourth Street,” she said. Her facemask motto? “Masks that don’t move when you talk!” She also offers customized facemasks with monograms and embroidered messages, including, “Black Lives Matter” and “6Ft Please.”

Relying solely on her Instagram account and Made by LAD website, Leslie expanded her product line to include hair and winter accessories: oversized scrunchies, men’s and women’s hats, headbands, ear-warmers, and scarves. Hats, scarves, headbands, and ear-warmers are made from soft, thick, reversible, dead-stock cotton knit. Her most timely accessory? An embroidered “Vaccinated” status badge, perfect to sew onto a denim jacket or the back pocket of jeans.

Leslie Davidson wears her "Vaccinated" badge.

Leslie hopes to continue to grow her business long after masks are needed. Her goal is to create a sustainable athleisure brand that is able to give back to the community by continuing to purchase materials from small, local businesses and donate proceeds to communities in need whenever possible. 

For a limited time, Leslie is offering a discount code on her website for Solo friends and family. Visit Madebylad.com and use code SOLO215 for 15% off your purchase!

A Philadelphia Renters Guide to Houseplants

Nothing livens up an apartment more than plants. Whether you already know how to coax blooms out of a reluctant amaryllis or have a reputation as a serial plant killer, Philly has knowledgeable plant shops throughout the City, ready to help. 

Choosing the right houseplants for your apartment is like going on a first date. It’s not just about what looks good to you. It’s about matching your space and preferences to the plant’s needs. To make the process easier, we have provided a list of things to keep in mind. Jot down your answers and take them with you when you visit a plant shop. 

Before you go

Be prepared to answer questions: 

  • What kind of sun exposure do you have – east, west, north or south? 
  • Is the light blocked by any tall buildings or trees? 
  • Do you want a high, medium or low maintenance plant?  
  • Will plants be on window sills, in window boxes, hanging, or on the floor?  
  • Do you have pets?
  • Do you prefer succulents, tropical plants or exotics?
  • What is your plant budget?

South Philly

“Most people are beginners,” said Tara Alexander, owner of Urban Jungle in East Passyunk.  “They do best with hardy plants like pothos, philodendrons and snake plants which do not need a lot of care and require less light. These plants tell you when they need water. They droop!”

If you travel a lot or simply can’t be bothered with weekly upkeep, start with a snake plant. “They thrive on neglect,” quipped Alexander. A once-a-month watering will do. Plus, snake plants will rise to new heights, up to three feet tall. Alexander recommends placing your snake plant on a stand for a more dramatic effect.

Before you pick out an artisanal ceramic container, Alexander advises taking your plant home in its original pot and living with it for a while. “Some plants do better in smaller containers, others need to be transferred to a larger pot. Give it some time before making a change,” she said.

These days, everyone wants a kitchen herb garden even if they live on take-out. Urban Jungle will be getting herbs closer to Spring, but cautions that they are not easy to grow. “Herbs are outdoor plants that like heat during the day and cool nights. They need a windowsill with a lot of sun,” said Alexander. “A grow light and a humidifier will help, especially in winter.”  

Undecided? Pick up an Urban Jungle Houseplant Grab Bag – four “mystery” plants for $40.

Fairmount

Located in the heart of Fairmount, Plants Etc. is an adorable little shop with a big heart. Established in 1982, owner Dana Kalens designs and delivers some of the classiest window boxes in town, as far as Fishtown. (Speaking of classy, she also does the window foliage at Rittenhouse Square fashionista destination Sophy Curson.)

Known for its specials on Foliage Fridays and Succulent Saturdays, Kalens also offers DIY kits for making your own succulent garden in a glass bowl. Pair that with a bottle of cabernet and a few friends and it’s a party! Not into DIY? No problem. Kalen’s will have a succulent garden ready for pickup or delivery.

This is also the place to get colorful geraniums for your terrace or a tall statement plant indoors. Big things happen in this little shop!

Northern Liberties

City Planter owners Mary Costello and Peter Smith channel their 25 years of horticultural experience into making novices feel confident. “We will give you advice on how to keep your plants alive, even if you don’t have a green thumb,” said Costello.

During the pandemic, the store has been closed to the public for indoor shopping but their online shop continues to offer a wide variety of houseplants of all shapes and sizes, including African violets, Bonsai plants and herbs.

Check out their Garage. There you will find a selection of plants and containers that don’t come up to the standards for sale in the shop but are still worthy of love. Grab a bargain for bubkas. 100% of proceeds from the Garage go towards organizations in need.

East Falls

Vault & Vine combines a café and small scale event venue with a lush selection of houseplants. It feels like something you’d expect to find in SoHo or Paris, not on Midvale Avenue in East Falls. Originally launched as Falls Flowers in 2009 at another location, the owner Peicha Chang made the leap to her current concept and location in 2017.

“We promise houseplants that are almost impossible to kill,” said Chang. “And we’ll help find plants tailored to your unique space.”

Want to be surprised? Become a member of Vault & Vine’s Plant of the Month Club, a three-month subscription. Each plant comes potted in Organic Mechanics soil and includes an instructional video to help you succeed. You can pick low maintenance, pet safe and air purifying.  Members receive their plants the second week of every month by pickup or delivery. Subscriptions – which make a great gift – fill up fast.

Ultimately, the plants you bring into your apartment are a reflection of your personality and style. Delicate or audacious. Whimsical or seductive. Graceful or prickly. They will grow with you, change with the seasons and reciprocate your nurturing care.

Three Things I wish I’d known Before Renting My First Apartment

1. Have all Your Ducks In a Row

Apartment Hunting can be daunting. Once you’ve determined your price point and ideal neighborhood, you and numerous others may compete for that same perfect spot. The summer is an especially busy season for finding a rental, and the market can get competitive. I missed out on a few great opportunities for affordably priced places because I didn’t have all of my documentation at my fingertips. Rental applications can require names and phone numbers of previous landlords, roommates, employers, and references. You’ll likely also need to include the address and phone number for all of the places you’ve lived and worked in the past three years. Some applications require your two most recent paystubs. Before visiting that perfect apartment, make sure you can easily access this information. You may find yourself quickly filling out the application on the spot and submitting it before anyone else gets the chance.

 

2. Read the Lease

A lease may seem like a necessary but unimportant piece of paper. And indeed, the concept is fairly straightforward: the tenant pays the rent, the landlord agrees to fix things if they break, if either party doesn’t comply, problems ensue. “Where do I sign?”  was my biggest question when first encountering a lease.  The complex language and phrasing can be difficult to parse. However, it’s still really important to read it! It’s a legally binding contract involving you and your money. Occasionally, landlords will offer things verbally which are not in the lease, or vice versa. The lease may auto renew, or the lease may include terms for when the rent is raised. Read it thoroughly and if something doesn’t make sense, ask questions. It’s far better to clarify things earlier rather than later.

 

3. Get Renter’s Insurance

In my early 20s, I doubt I even vaguely understood renters insurance. Even if I did, why would I shell out an extra $12-$20 per month insuring my ikea silverware and thrift store furniture? I thought I had nothing of  real value, and that extra couple of hundred dollars a year could have been better spent on beer and concert tickets. That is, until a friend’s house caught fire and she and her five roommates lost everything inside. Even if your things don’t seem valuable, replacing an entire wardrobe, electronics and  furniture all at once would be pretty expensive. Also, renter’s insurance covers your personal belongings, whether they are in your home, car, or with you when you travel. Spending a few cents a day on renters insurance makes perfect sense.