DID SOME SERIOUS HOUSE-HUNTING today in north Philadelphia with my son, Max, who is 23 and a woodworker. He was looking, I was advising, and I think we found something.
The house is in Kensington, sometimes coyly called “Olde Kensington.” Since 2007, I have owned a two-unit house on a small alley in Kensington that would be more charming if the empty lot next door wasn’t always choked with trash and weeds.
Right: Wide open spaces are common in Kensington, where many old factories have been torn down. But some remain, like the brick building in this photo, which was recently converted to luxury lofts.
It’s a little premature to call the neighborhood up-and-coming. Kensington doesn’t have the cachet of Northern Liberties or Fishtown, but it’s close to both of them. In the mid-19th century, the area was full of carpet mills and known as Little England. Working-class Kensington “became a …textile enclave, inhabited by English emigrant weavers who organized cricket teams and played with gentlemen from the Main Line” (from Philadelphia: A 300-Year History).
The house we saw today is in squalid condition, but you have to look past that to do this kind of work. The price (under 150K) is right, and the shape of the building suggests the soaring volumes the renovated space could have (months and dollars and sweat down the line).
My son won’t let me post a photo, describe the house in any detail, or give its exact location — at least not until he goes to contract (I don’t think his paranoia is justified, but I understand it).
The next step is for him to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Interestingly, the broker we met up with, Ken Krauter of Zip Realty, says lenders are lending, and he’s been doing loads of deals. Krauter told us about mortgages for first-time buyers that might allow Max to put as little as 3-1/2% down, and about the Federal Housing Administration’s 203k program which incorporates funds for rehab and repair into mortgage loans.
He spoke so confidently about all this that I began to think the housing crisis was a figment of my imagination. We shall see!