Thriving Downtowns Attracting Ex-Urbanites with Walk Appeal

Younger buyers are won over by shops, restaurants, theaters, parks, cleaner air and top-notch schools.




A rendering of  Narberth Place

Zach O’Hora and his wife, Lydia, never pictured themselves in the suburbs—not this soon. Following 10 years in San  Francisco and another five in New York, they’d grown accustomed to the city life- style. “We thought every suburb was a  David Lynch-ian nightmare—all the same  types of houses in a cul-de-sac,” says O’Hora.  “That just seemed like death to us.” 

Then came the arrival of their first son, which quickly made their one-bedroom, 600-square-foot Brooklyn apartment feel smaller than it already was. “We realized we were a million dollars short of having a nice life in New York,” he says. 

The couple’s home search led them 110 miles south to Narberth, where, last summer, they marked their fifth anniversary in the ’burbs with a move to a single-family home six doors down from their old twin. “We love our block,” O’Hora says. “We just needed more space.” 

Has the thought of fleeing ever crossed their minds? Maybe, but never for long. “After I go to New York, I’m so thankful to get off the train in Narberth and walk home,” says O’Hora. “I can breathe.”

The O’Horas’ story has become quite common along the Main Line—thirtysomething couples that have had their fill of city life, but still want the convenience, vibrancy and livability of a town center. “Buyers will pay a premium for a walk-to location,” says Holly Goodman of Duffy Real Estate in Narberth. “But not everyone can afford it.” 

Lured by the thriving town centers in Narberth, Wayne, Media, West Chester and even as far out as Kennett Square, younger buyers who once considered themselves hardcore city folk are being won over by shops, restaurants, theaters, parks and train stations. And, yes, they’ll also take the less hectic pace, cleaner air, safer streets, and top-notch public and
private schools. 

Young families aren’t the only ones drawn to the area’s town centers. “Many empty nesters don’t want to downgrade,” says Stephanie Ellis of Keller Williams Main Line Realty in Bryn Mawr. “They simply want to downsize and eliminate some of the day-to-day tasks of being a homeowner. They’re still looking for the same luxuries they enjoyed in their single-family homes.” 

A number of developers have wisely anticipated the desire for carefree, low-maintenance living and have responded accordingly. Local builder C.F. Holloway, III & Company has sold all of the nine high-end units in its 102 Louella project in downtown Wayne. And construction is underway on the Main Line reBUILD condo/townhouse project called Narberth Place, part of which involves converting Narberth’s United Methodist Church  into six condominiums. 

“Based on the interest we’ve already received, we’re anticipating that buyers will be older couples in their early 60s, who are still working but want a walk-to location,” says Scott Brehman, a partner with Main Line reBUILD. “People are looking for that feeling of the 1950s, where they can go into town and go to dinner and the movies.” 

Such communities give empty nesters and retirees an alternative to condo living in Philadelphia—and there are plenty of dual-income couples considering them, as well. “Today, it’s really all about lifestyle and everyday conveniences,” says Dana Zdancewicz of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach in Devon. “That’s what buyers want.” 

Edit ModuleShow Tags