Philadelphia’s housing stock gets a boost in “luxury”

The view from 500 Walnut | Philadelphia, PA


Let’s start this one off with a few examples.

When someone uses the term “luxury” to describe clothing, you probably have certain brands that come to mind. For me, I think of Burberry, Louis Vuitton, etc.

When someone uses luxury to describe cars, you probably have certain brands that come to mind as well. For me, they are Porsche, Bentley, etc.

When someone uses luxury to describe real estate, what comes to mind? For me, it’s cities like New York, LA, Chicago, and DC. For sellers of luxury real estate in those aforementioned cities, that’s where buyers have the option to spend $10M, $20M, or even $50M+ on their next home; or maybe, their home-away-from-home (aka pied-a-terre).

That’s how much “luxury” real estate runs for the super-rich today.

But what if I told you that Philadelphia, as a city, was now aggressively trying to compete for those same luxury home buyers? I mean if anything, why not start with buyers in New York? Philadelphia is a short 90 mile commute, and a lot more reasonable in the price department. Oh yeah, and the last time I checked, it only takes a little over 1 hour to commute from 30th St Station (Philadelphia) to Penn Station (New York) on Amtrak’s Acela Express; that’s totally doable for those who want to live in Philly and still maintain their job in NYC.

Hey, I’m just stating the obvious here.

Today, for a luxury home buyer in New York City, he/she has the option to spend $85M on a condo in Manhattan; that is based on a general search I did today on I’m sure there are even more expensive options than that one, listed privately of course.

Seriously, 85 … million … dollars!

Holy sh*t, that condo actually exists? Yes it does, my friends. And to an extremely wealthy luxury buyer, who only wants the best in life, money is no object when it comes to high-end real estate.

Now, let’s look at Philadelphia.

Today, for a luxury home buyer in Philadelphia, he/she has the option to spend either $15M on a mansion in Rittenhouse Square, or $6.9M on a condo at 1706 Rittenhouse; that is based on another general search I did today on

As for more expensive options in Philadelphia (again, listed privately), records are about to be broken at one of Center City’s newest projects: 500 Walnut.

The most coveted of the 2 penthouse options at 500 Walnut: $17.6M (… or so I have heard/read). In my professional opinion, that is where Philadelphia is looking to go as a city.

And why shouldn’t we?

Philadelphia has world-class amenities: the arts, museums, historic sites/architecture, high-end dining/shopping, and some of the top companies and universities in the world (Hello, Comcast + UPenn). Plus, Philadelphia has a top-notch location, right in between 2 of the most expensive places to live in the US (as well as the world): New York + DC.

So if our city can attract world-class residents, we should have world-class real estate opportunities … right?


Aside from past projects completed during the last housing boom, such as 1706 Rittenhouse, The Ayer, and The Residences at The Ritz Carlton, Philadelphia proper did not have much of a demand for luxury real estate. All of our area’s most luxurious real estate options were located in the suburbs (e.g. Main Line, Bucks/Chester County, etc).

And so with this post, the luxury real estate movement starts to take shape in the City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection.

Now that Center City is experiencing a shortage of real estate supply, mostly in the condo department (To All Sellers, This is good news for you!), new projects are already starting to pop up and meet demand: One Riverside, The Residence at Twelve40, etc.

It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia’s luxury sector performs over the next few years, as the local real estate market starts to heat up.

New Philadelphia development will take a different approach to high-rise living

Marketplace Design Center
Marketplace Design Center, Philadelphia | Image courtesy of Bradley Maule

In general, apartment living in Philadelphia is pretty standard and predictable.

Your most common options are: “Studio,” “1 Bed,” and “2 Beds.” Once you need “3+ Beds,” the most common options are rowhomes, twins, or single families; not apartments/condos.

In 2015, the real estate status quo will shift due to changing demographics.

If you are unfamiliar with the Marketplace Design Center, let me paint the picture. When you are driving along I-76 (east or west) and you reach the downtown vicinity, there are multiple overpasses/bridges from both I-676 and Center City/University City connections. If you look across the Schuylkill River from I-76, you will see a large waterfront property with a giant mural on it. The mural is an ocean scene with whales swimming; officially known as Robert Wyland’s “East Coast Humpbacks,” circa 1993.

That’s the place.

Now that you have a point of reference, let’s talk about the latest project to grace the MDC (as there have been other recent attempts to redevelop the building, due to its prime location). PMC Property Group is looking to reconfigure the building into a modern, mixed-use destination (e.g. office space, ground-floor retail, hotel rooms, and apartments).

Unfortunately, it sounds like Wyland’s mural won’t make it through the rehab; bummer.

In order to fit all of these new elements, the building will expand vertically to accommodate the new apartments and hotel rooms. New entrances and lobbies will also make the building more inviting from the street.

What about the “different approach” you mentioned in the title? How does that play into this?

Okay, this is how Philadelphia’s new approach relates to a city like NYC. The apartment/condo lifestyle in Philadelphia mostly caters to 2 groups: students/young professionals, and empty-nesters. Reason being, most people in those demographic groups only need a maximum of 2 Beds.

But what if someone wants to keep their apartment/condo lifestyle after they start a family? This is what PMC wants to accomplish.

In NYC, you can get apartments/condos/co-ops with 3+ Beds (and even 4+ Beds). Meaning you can live in a high-rise building and still have a large living space. Reason being, NYC is the densest metropolitan area in the US; therefore, NYC grows vertically to accommodate population growth.

So, if Philadelphians are flocking to Center City to enhance their lifestyles and the population is rising, we should now offer the same options as well.

That’s why instead of the typical “Studio,” “1 Bed,” “2 Beds” approach, the new Marketplace Design Center will feature “1 Bed,” “2 Beds,” and “3 Beds” options in the residential section of the building. This can now cater to both young families (1-2 children) and extended families (nuclear families living with relatives); or, to those who just want/need more living space.

No matter which way you look at it, Philadelphia is currently experiencing a housing gap for the high-rise family lifestyle.

The project is expected to kick off in June 2015, so keep your eyes peeled for activity.

Significant mixed-use project coming to Brewerytown

Rendering of Girard27 | Courtesy of Hidden City Philadelphia

If I’ve said it once, (or about 6 other times on my blog … here, here, here, here, here, and here) I’ll say it again: Brewerytown has momentum.

Not the kind of momentum where real estate developers, speculators, buyers, and tenants are guessing that Brewerytown will be one of Philadelphia’s hottest neighborhoods. Brewerytown is one of Philadelphia’s hottest neighborhoods for real estate.

Both commercial and residential alike.

If you’re already familiar with B-Town’s recent success, you’re ahead of the curve. If you’re not, here’s how I personally look at Brewerytown’s current situation.

West Girard Ave (between N 32nd St & W College Ave) is a perfectly-sized “Main Street” for the dense, historic neighborhoods that surround it (i.e. Brewerytown, Templetown, Fairmount, etc). Stretching about 6 city blocks, this swath of W Girard offers mixed-use potential, interesting architecture, reasonable rent, and a captive audience.

Not too small, and not too big.

So, why am I even mentioning this commercial strip? Because it’s potentially turning Brewerytown into the next Manayunk … the next Fairmount … the next Graduate Hospital … the next Cedar Park and Spruce Hill.

Those neighborhoods are all thriving today based on the same, traditional, old-as-time concept: community. Where the community is strong, the neighborhood is strong. And because Philadelphia was built/planned to embrace tight-knit communities, this concept still rings true today.

Now that Girard27 has been planned for N 27th St and N Taney St, and received a decent enough reception from both long-time and newbie residents, my opinion is that this corridor now has a legitimate anchor. The new Bottom Dollar supermarket was a nice touch on the western border, and the Braverman project (which is just across the street from Girard27) will only add more appeal. Also, let’s not forget about some of the other small businesses along W Girard (i.e. RyBrew, Shifty’s Taco, etc).

Needless to say, Brewerytown is coming into its own.

Although this may seem like old news to some, especially those who already live in the immediate vicinity, I felt that adding a professional real estate opinion would help bring the good news home; and also provide a different perspective from someone on the outside, looking in.

For those who have never been to Brewerytown, or have not visited for a while, good things are happening … and the timing seems to be perfect.