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FROM TIME TO TIME, people ask me where to invest in Philadelphia real estate. (Sometimes they ask me where to invest in Brooklyn, and I say: “Philadelphia!”)
But within Philly, I say Kensington, particularly the southern section sometimes known as South Kensington, Old Kensington, or even Olde Kensington, a neighborhood just above played-out Northern Liberties (that was the place to invest 10 years ago) and west of hipper-than-ever Fishtown, recent darling of New York Times reporters. I own a two-unit building in South Kensington — two back-to-back trinity houses, left, built in the 1840s as housing for workers in the area’s massive carpet and textile mills. (My house is the one on the right in the photo, with the peeling cornice; there’s a three-story unit in front and another in the rear, reachable via the alley between my building and the one next door.)
Many of the weavers and textile workers immigrated from England in the mid-19th century, when the area was known as “Little England.” When I bought the house in 2007 for $137,000, the surrounding blocks were really dilapidated — some of the houses, like the ones in the group below, were literally sagging. They’ve since been renovated, and their rooflines are more or less parallel to the horizon.
There were — and still are — vacant lots and hulking mill buildings all over the nabe, like the two below, both within a block of my building. It all looked ripe for adaptive reuse, especially large-scale residential conversion, but not much was happening.
The building above, on 2nd Street and Cecil B. Moore, still looks undeveloped.
At Palethorp and Cecil B. Moore, above, this old industrial building appears inhabited.
That was only six years ago, and now it’s happening in a big, big way. Around the corner from my building, Oxford Mills, below, is well on its way to becoming 141 rental lofts, with an innovative program of reduced rents for public-school teachers, and amenities such as gym, lounge, etc.; and a mixed-use mega-development called Soko Lofts is on its way. There are many other projects of the same ilk: you can find posts about some of the activity here on Curbed Philly.
Across the street from my little building, where once was a vacant lot, a new residential building, below, is going up. It’s of a type often seen in Philadelphia but never in New York. It’s too low-density, I suppose — only four stories high, with box windows and terraces and modernistic use of color. I don’t love the look — these buildings seem insubstantial to me, used to brick and brownstone as I am — but I do find it exciting that the neighborhood is roaring with development.
That’s the 1840s St. Michael’s church in the background, above, the view of which, along with some sunlight, we are sadly about to lose.
The building above, on Second Street, is typical of new Philly architectural design.
South Kensington’s main artery is Frankford Avenue, shared with Fishtown and quickly becoming lined with bars and restaurants, including a couple of high-profile ones owned by celebrity restauranteur Steve Starr (Fette Sau, an upscale BBQ place, and Frankford Hall, a beer garden) and the new Philadelphia-based La Colombe coffee roasting complex, distillery and cafe. Each time I visit, there’s more.
It’s spreading, it’s growing, it’s crazy affordable compared to New York City. And it’s a short bike ride to Center City, whose skyline is visible from most parts of the neighborhood.
Priced out of Bushwick, Brooklynites? Think Kensington.
I’M FEELING LIKE A BIT OF A FLOP as a flipper. My 2BR Springs cottage, above, has been listed with Corcoran for three whole weeks now and we haven’t gone to contract yet. It’s not like selling a Brooklyn brownstone; it requires a bit more patience than that.
I gave Corcoran an exclusive listing in mid-October, and the agent is working hard to sell it. Frankly, I don’t have the stomach for this. Urban rental property, yes. Selling a one-family house in this market… no.
The house is cute and comfortable as a getaway in all seasons, or as a year-round home with summer rental potential. I love the house, love the property (see 200-foot backyard with view to deck, below), love the neighborhood, love the neighbors, the outdoor shower, the easy access to magnificent Maidstone Beach. But I’m now working to fix up another house nearby, and that gives me one house too many.
THE AD IN THE EAST HAMPTON STAR says “capacity for 7,500 sq. ft. house, tennis, horses.” Phooey on that. I see a good old-fashioned Long Island truck farm on the cleared, sunny acre+ behind this 1880s farmhouse. Organic, of course. Or maybe a field of flowers.
There’s good news and bad news. The farmhouse is close to Springs Fireplace Road, where traffic is incessant. That’s true of historic houses in general. In the old days, when only horse carts passed by on unpaved roads, traffic noise wasn’t a problem. Anyway, that’s reflected in the reasonable price. Also, it’s conceivable that the house could be moved back on the lot, away from the road. And it’s not bad news if you want to have a farmstand to sell your produce and flowers!
The good news is behind the house: the huge, open property, surrounded by trees and very private, with a rural feeling that’s hard to come by these days. There’s a 1,200 square foot barn plus a 400 square foot workshop, all of which offer rental possibilities.
The house itself, with 4 bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths is presently rented out. I didn’t see the inside, but it’s said (by a friend who knows the place) to be attractive and in good condition.
It’s for sale by owner. For more info: 631-987-8366.
A PERSON CAN ONLY LIVE in so many houses, and I find myself with one house too many.
My Springs (East Hampton, N.Y.) cottage, above and below, will be familiar to followers of this blog. I’ve owned it for four-plus years and have put an enormous amount of work, time, love, and money into both the house and the 4/10-acre property surrounding it. I’ve moved on to another project nearby, and need to cash in my chips on this one.
Here are the details, and if you can think of better adjectives than charming, sweet or adorable, please let me know.
BRIGHT AND BEACHY 2BR VINTAGE COTTAGE IN MOVE-IN CONDITION ON LANDSCAPED .41 ACRE.
SECLUDED BACKYARD BORDERED BY WOODS.
NEW PARKING COURT WITH JAPANESE-STYLE WOODEN GATE.
LIVING ROOM WITH VAULTED CEILING, SKYLIGHTS; OPEN KITCHEN/DINING WITH NEW APPLIANCES.
FRENCH DOORS LEAD TO SCREENED PORCH, HUGE DECK.
NEW COTTAGE-STYLE BATH OPENS TO SECOND DECK WITH ENORMOUS OUTDOOR SHOWER.
FULL BASEMENT WITH WASHER/DRYER.
NEW ROOF, EFFICIENT OIL FURNACE, NEW HOT WATER HEATER.
WALK, BIKE TO MAIDSTONE BEACH.
Please forward to anyone you think may be interested. For more photos and info, email caramia447[at]gmail[dot]com
Come be my neighbor!
South Fork splendor
I HAVEN’T ALLOWED MYSELF A PROPER TIRADE in a long while, but last Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate section drives me to it. Did you see the top story, “The Fork Less Taken”? I read it six days late, yesterday afternoon, while lolling on the nothing-short-of-spectacular, nearly-deserted Gardiner’s Bay beach a seashell’s throw from the house I bought in March on Long Island’s “more taken” fork. While extolling the virtues of the North Fork, the article manages to bash the South Fork in every paragraph, either in reporter Robin Finn’s own words or the hackneyed quotes (“we’re the un-Hamptons,” “…the anti-Hamptons”) she has chosen.
I love the North Fork myself for its farmland and vineyards, which are in short supply here on the more developed South Fork, where I’ve lived part-time for 4+ years and now own two properties. Hey, the photo of the farmhouse in my blog header, top, that I’ve been using for ages now is quintessential North Fork. And I admit to choking on the words “the Hamptons” when I first moved out here, aware of the pretentious privilege they implied.
But really. Let’s not overstate the case, as this piece does. It starts out mildly enough, saying that the South Fork is “starting to flirt with being overbuilt, overhyped and overcrowded” — to which my immediate reaction was, “starting to flirt with”?! It’s been overbuilt since the 1980s; the region is littered with bad houses from that era. But then the cliches and misinformation begin.
“…from the perspective of the average homeowner’s portfolio, owning a home there is an inarguably lovely wish-list item.” Has Robin Finn checked sales prices for the whole South Fork lately, or just the tonier precincts? Here in Springs, where real people live, there are listings galore under 400K, and certainly under 500K.
“..the star wattage of its denizens” “a celebrity magnet” “a mash-up of movers and shakers..”
I move in different circles. I did see Alec Baldwin once at the Amagansett Farmer’s Market, wearing white socks under orthopedic sandals, and I know where Steven Spielberg lives (he probably comes once every two years), and I heard Paul McCartney has a place in Amagansett. But what about the rest of us? The piece makes it sound like every last person on the South Fork “bask(s) in conspicuous consumption.” All the artists and teachers and landscapers and builders and plumbers who send their kids to local schools and shop at the IGA go unmentioned in the piece, which seems to regard “multi-million dollar ocean frontage” as the sum and substance of the South Fork.
The North Fork is a place where “the locals are concerned and sensitive that it not turn into the next Hamptons,” says one recent home buyer. This follows the same woman’s saying that “it makes you feel good that when you buy property, there’s a 2 percent tax that goes to land preservation.” That’s the same Peconic Land Trust tax we pay on the South Fork, for the same purpose, but neither the home buyer nor the reporter seem to know that.
You can get a bay view on the North Fork for less money than here on the South Fork, which is a good thing, but the bay beaches themselves — at least the ones I’ve been to on the North Fork — don’t compare. The Town beaches in Jamesport and Greenport are lousy; the ones around Laurel/Mattituck, on the Peconic Bay, are nicer, but not nearly as nice as Maidstone, Gerard Drive, and Louse Point here in Springs. The Sound is gorgeous but rocky and not swimmer-friendly. The ocean at Orient State Park is a long drive from anywhere but Orient. (Someone please enlighten me about good North Fork beaches — I’d like to know.)
Who are the new “low-profile” citizens of the bucolic North Fork? Those interviewed for the article include a couple from Tribeca, another from DUMBO, and a Wall Street retiree. Where they go, artisanal microgreens and Icelandic sheep are sure to follow — no, they’re already there.
Of course, some of the commenters set things straight. GC of Brooklyn said it best, IMO:
I think this story came out of the archives… Back in the early 1980s, we used to rent several vacation houses for a few days each summer in the Jamesport/Laurel area so all of our cousins and extended family could get out of our sweaty Brooklyn neighborhood. At that time, I recall the area was simple, inexpensive, and as “unspoiled” as something could be on Long Island. Going out to that same spot a few years ago, I saw the exact opposite: what in 1982 were open fields and farms were now housing developments, what were gravel roads were now paved, and what were simple vacation bungalows and cottages were now outfitted as year-round homes. It was completely cluttered, expensive, and ultimately rather depressing. And, calling it the “un-Hamptons” speaks volumes to the Real Estate/NY Times need to place everything in a little box loaded up with definitions. If it’s not thoroughly ruined (read: overpriced and exclusive) by now, it will be soon.
The whole thing is just so annoying Times-ish, but even more specious than usual, like comparing the Upper East Side to the Upper West Side and finding it wanting. OK. Tirade over. What do you think? North vs. South? Game on!