So I took a survey of past clients as well as other transplants to find out what their experience was like when they moved to the Main Line. I asked what they like most and least, what surprised them, what they wish they had known and what advice they had for me as a relocation agent to help me better serve my buyers.
Here are some of the things they liked:
Our public school districts, particularly Lower Merion, Radnor and Tredyffrin-Easttown regularly rank among the highest in the state and even in the nation. Many people who move to the Philadelphia area choose to live on the Main Line largely because of the schools. When you consider that, sadly, Philadelphia’s city school district is rated a 1 out of a possible 10, you will begin to realize why school district matters so much. From great facilities to extensive course offerings as well as robust arts, athletic, computer, and similar programs and amenities, this can be the starting point for some people’s search for a home.
Beautiful stone homes and very pretty, lush landscape with mature trees, winding streets and lovely neighborhoods.
It’s hard to beat the beauty of the topography or the houses.
Safe, quiet and peaceful.
We have very low crime and we have most of our commercial services clustered around Montgomery and Lancaster Avenues, so there are fairly large areas that are almost exclusively residential and tranquil.
Easy to get to NYC, DC and down the shore.
Either by road or rail (or even air), it’s very easy and quick to get to other major cities and destinations.
Easy commute to center city.
Getting to center city, especially from the eastern end of the Main Line is pretty easy, whether you drive or use public transportation (though it does help to have some intel on the “back” roads ways of getting there).
Parks, dog parks and trails.
From the Cynwyd Trail to the Chester Valley Trail with all kinds of parks, playgrounds and preserved outdoor space in between, we do have some great options (and don’t forget nearby Fairmount Park, the largest park within city limits in the country).
Here are some of the things they didn’t like:
Hard to meet people here as many people have lived here their entire lives; there aren’t that many transplants.
It is true that the Main Line, and Philadelphia area in general has what I like to refer to as an unusually high rate of recidivism. It’s true that most people in the area not only grew up here, but their parents, grandparents and often earlier generations did, too. One of the results is that people do, indeed, often have an established group of friends. However, some of the relocators I surveyed discovered that joining local groups (mommy and me, running, book clubs) and Facebook pages like the Lower Merion Community Network page made it much easier.
Not that many areas have sidewalks.
We don’t have a lot of sidewalks. Remember that the Main Line is old, and neighborhoods often grew organically, not according to a rigid developer’s plan, so considerations like that often fell through the cracks. While it is, admittedly, frustrating for people who like to walk or have young kids, many of the streets are wide and flat and drivers here are used to people walking on the streets. Obviously, should you could choose to walk on the street, you have to be more careful than if there were sidewalks. That said, the other side of that coin is that since our neighborhoods weren’t planned communities (like what people often refer to as subdivisions), they don’t have that cookie cutter look that often comes with them.
Many neighborhoods don’t have the walkability to shopping, restaurants, etc. that I’m used to.
Hard to argue the walkability complaint. That’s one reason why the towns that do have a sort of village center are so popular (Narberth, Wayne, Media, for example). When this area grew, services were mostly located along Montgomery and Lancaster Avenues so, unless you live very close to those major roads, you will often find it a challenge to walk to shopping and dining (especially with few sidewalks available). You need to expect to drive if you’re going to live on the Main Line. Period.
It seems like everyone here is rich.
There’s no getting around the fact that there is a great deal of affluence on the Main Line–“old money”, “new money”–yes, there are some very wealthy families. Might you encounter some entitlement? perhaps a little materialism or values you might not share? Sure. But guess what? You might also benefit from the philanthropy that exists here as well for the arts as well as other social causes. There will always be people who are not your cup of tea no matter where you live (unless you live in a completely homogeneous area where everyone is identical to you), so my advice is, no matter which type you gravitate toward, seek out the people whom you can connect with and relate to and don’t waste a lot of time on the others.
Here are some of the things they wish they’d known:
What the deal is with the school districts.
This is one of the most important factors affecting home values and home choice for buyers. In most areas outside of our region, all the kids in a given small town are districted to the same public school system. That is is not the case here. Many towns (Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, Malvern) are parts of two or even three different counties (and, therefore, school districts). Because school rankings matter a lot here, the value of a property is greatly affected by which school district it is in. It’s also important if you care about being in a particular district, to be sure that you are not looking at properties which funnel to a different school system.
How high closing costs are.
Yeah, this is just an inescapable fact of purchasing in the state of Pennsylvania. Depending on how you structure your mortgage payment and how high the taxes on a given property are, you will probably spend about 4.5-5.5% of the purchase price in closing costs. That’s right–that money is above and beyond your down payment and, unless you roll it into a seller’s assist (click the link for seller’s assist and scroll to the third paragraph under “Nuts and Bolts of an Offer” to find out more about seller’s assist), it’s cash money (not financeable). So you need to be realistic about what you can afford and it’s best to know about that substantial cost before you define your price range and how much cash you have to put down.
More about what the different neighborhoods were like before buying.
Learning the different personalites of our communities is something I stress again and again to my relo clients and on my website; I even wrote a Guide to Main Line Neighborhoods to try to provide some general background. There are vastly different “flavors” depending on where you are; take the time to visit them and see what suits your family best.
How much the taxes vary from place to place.
I couldn’t agree more. There are certain pockets and some specific townships where taxes are very high. Radnor and Haverford Townships, for example are usually higher than Lower Merion and T-E, but there can be exceptions. Also, new construction in many areas (which we don’t have much of) can also be high. Ask your agent to help you figure out which areas have high taxes.
How old the houses are and that so many need updating, as well as what’s involved in maintaining an older home.
Many of our houses are old and may have the original bathrooms, kitchens that are not updated and typical features of their era like small closets and low-ceilinged basements. Recognize that it’s not cheap to make these kinds or updates, so be prepared financially. If you come from the land of new construction, you might be in for a shock when it comes to maintenance costs for older homes. Replacing an asphalt roof is costly enough, but do you have any experience with slate roofs? What does it cost to replace a boiler or install air conditioning in a house with no duct work? You’ve never considered replacement windows, have you? How about pointing exterior stone? Don’t forget tree trimming and snow plowing, which are unavoidable around here. These kinds of things may be surprises to you; be sure to discuss budgeting for home maintenance with your agent.
I am grateful to all my past clients as well as other transplants who took my survey as it was incredibly instructive to learn what people had expected, what they hadn’t and what, as newcomers, they noticed about the area, both good and bad. I will use the feedback I received to better and more accurately describe the Main Line to prospective relocators so that they can make as informed a choice as possible. No place is perfect, but not everybody is as suited to living in one place as another. So I will take what I learned and try to, as honestly and straightforwardly as possible, pass it along to my clients. If you have anything to add, please let me know!
If you are relocating to the Philadelphia/Main Line area, please go to my relocation tab. If you’d like to and read other blog entries related to relocation, please scroll down a couple of lines and click on RELOCATION (to the right of FILED UNDER). Thanks!