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As one of the United States’ earliest and most consequential cities, Philadelphia has left a large mark on the country’s history. Noted as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence as well as playing host to both the First and Second Continental Congresses during the Revolutionary War, Philadelphia is full of incredible historic landmarks. However, in more modern times, the city has a big personality with a reputation to match. Philadelphia is unlike any other American city, with a bit of a rough-around-the-edges attitude and a unique and specific culture.
With a population of 1.5 million people, the city is roughly the same size as Phoenix, Arizona, though it is laid out in a far more condensed and metropolitan fashion. Being in close proximity to both New York City and Washington, D.C., Philadelphia frequently seeks to differentiate itself from its neighboring cities with its gritty bearing, but in reality, it has so many of the same attractions that make New York and D.C. such endearing destinations. Philadelphia, too, is full of arts, culture, museums, and history.
Patrons of the arts will have so many locations to choose from, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its famous front steps (immortalized in the Sylvester Stallone movie “Rocky”), the Barnes Foundation, with a rich collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modernist works, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, with a breathtaking collection of 18th, 19th, and 20th-century American art. If you’re more interested in sculpture, the Rodin Museum, dedicated to the works of French sculptor, Auguste Rodin, and LOVE Park, with its iconic red LOVE sculpture, dedicated to the City of Brotherly Love in 1976, are both worthy attractions.
Of course, Philadelphia’s historical role in the nation’s founding is the reason that many tourists flock to the city year after year. At Independence National Historical Park, sometimes called America’s most historic square mile, visitors can see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, Congress Hall where the first US Congress met, and Old City Hall, which served as the seat of the Supreme Court until 1800. The Reading Terminal Market does double duty as a historical site and a modern-day attraction. Opening in the late 1800s, the area is considered a historic landmark, but it also still operates as a market, with small local craftsmen and business owners selling local goods, produce, and meats.
Some other museums of note include the Franklin Institute Science Museum, which is actually multiple museums all under one roof, and the Please Touch Museum, an interactive and educational experience, especially for children, that encourages them to participate in hands-on learning. The Philadelphia Zoo is also considered quite admirable, and the Big Cat Falls exhibit is a crowd favorite. Finally, the scenic and massive 2,000-acre Fairmount Park that runs along the banks of the Schuylkill River is full of trails, historic homes, museums (the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Philadelphia Zoo are all located here), and the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden.
Naturally, with all these attractions, Philadelphia’s tourism sector makes up a large chunk of the city’s economy. The other two significant industries are bio-science and finance, and plenty of large companies, including multiple Fortune 500 companies, have headquarters in Philadelphia, thanks to its large population and strategic location. Telecommunications giant Comcast and food services juggernaut Aramark are two such examples.
Being one of the older and more historically important cities in the country, Philadelphia has its fair share of the handsome and balanced buildings that were in vogue during the period of the nation’s founding. The finest example would be Independence Hall. Initially built to be the State House for Pennsylvania, it was designed to house all three branches of the colonial government. The Assembly Room was loaned out to the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, and a slew of historical events followed. Here, George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, and both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed. It is an attractive, Georgian-style building with a red brick exterior and symmetrical windows.
On the more ostentatious and lavish side is Philadelphia City Hall, another splashy piece of Second Empire-style architecture that receives quite a bit of attention. It is the largest municipal building in the country, with its 14.5 acres of floor space constructed in the 1800s. Built out of brick, white marble, and limestone, it is the tallest building without a steel frame in the world, with a central tower that clocks in at a whopping 548 feet. The tower is topped with a large statue of the city and state’s founder, William Penn, that weighs 27 tons and was designed by famed sculptor, Alexander Calder.
When public tastes swung back towards balanced, symmetrical, and austere structures, the architecture in Philadelphia followed suit. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, built in the earlier part of the 20th century, is a stunning Greek Revival-style building with a triangular, front-facing gable, and Ionic colonnade. Though mostly known in the popular imagination as the site of the stairs from the “Rocky” movie, the museum is much more than a piece of cinema history. Most recently, the museum’s interior underwent a subtle reimagination, led by renowned architect Frank Gehry, to match the more open concept floor plan popular with modern visitors. The interior square footage has been repurposed, demonstrating Philadelphia’s ability to move into the future while honoring the past.
Like so much of Philadelphia — often condensed down to history, cheesesteaks, and “Rocky” — the city’s homes are often stereotyped as well. Although stand-alone, single-family homes of all varieties can be found in the city, Philadelphia is mainly known for row houses. These are homes that tend to be tall, narrow, and somewhat squished together in, well, a row. There are a couple of varieties to choose from. The rarest kind is the Bandbox row home, known for being very small and forcing a kind of minimalist lifestyle. They are not seen so much anymore in the Philadelphia housing market, but they can still be found in the historic neighborhood of Society Hill.
The London row house, most often built in the 19th century, is a bit larger: two rooms deep with a side hall. Though larger than the Bandbox, they are still very narrow and can feel a bit uncomfortable depending on the homeowner’s lifestyle. The City row house is larger still, with a more elaborate front room and separate staircase. Since the back part of the home is narrower than the front room, there is space for a bit of a backyard. The Townhouse style is the largest, with two front rooms and a staircase in the middle. Though they are still narrower than a traditional single-family home, the Townhouse style is the most spacious row house option.
Of course, with many of these being built in the 18th, 19th, or 20th centuries, some remodeling was inevitable, and that has introduced a new style: the Modern row house. Modern row houses often retain the classic exterior, which is usually Georgian or Colonial in style, but the interior has been renovated to a more open-plan style that makes more use of the narrow square footage. Recently constructed Modern row houses in Philadelphia tend to have traditional exteriors paired with interior amenities required by today’s homeowners.
Realm’s data analysis found that whether small or spacious, row house or stand-alone, some common qualities were sought after in the Philadelphia housing market. Wood floors are the most popular feature in local listings, coming up 1,909 times, while HVAC systems were a close second, mentioned 1,311 times. With the narrow home style seen in Philadelphia, storage space is crucial, so it’s not a shock that many buyers are enticed by the idea of a finished basement. The feature was the third most popular, with mentions in 1,164 local listings. Even though there often isn’t too much in the way of a front yard, Philadelphia residents are still protective of their available outdoor space: their backyards. Patios were mentioned 1,102 times and fencing came up in 1,100 listings, putting both in the top five most popular features in the Philadelphia housing market.
As to be expected in a historic, old town like Philadelphia, the average home age here is a bit older than the rest of the nation. Realm’s data analysis found that most houses in Philadelphia date back to 1925, so there are some things homeowners should be aware of when checking out the housing market in the City of Brotherly Love.
Frequently, homes in 1925 were built without many of the modern amenities that homeowners take for granted today, like electricity, plumbing, insulation, and central heat and air. Naturally, these features have likely been added over time, but when and how they were installed can make a big difference in the property’s overall health.
If the wiring is old, it may not be up to code, making it a real fire hazard. Additionally, if the wiring was installed before the 1970s, the home likely lacks a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) which leaves the property vulnerable to electric shocks. The house may also not have the capacity to keep up with modern electrical demand and there may not be a sufficient number of outlets in each room.
Depending on when the plumbing was added, it could be improperly vented or perhaps constructed out of material that could be at the end of its life. Galvanized steel was popular in the mid-20th century and rusts over time, while polybutylene, a cheaper option favored from the late 1970s to the 1990s, reacts poorly with chemicals found in municipal water supplies, like chlorine. Over time, this plastic piping will flake, fracture, and break.
Insulation, though it has likely been added, may not be sufficient, especially for a 1920s home. Structures in the 1920s were typically built with balloon framing, which leaves a lot of open spaces inside the home’s structure. If improperly or insufficiently insulated, this can be a huge fire risk, since the open space allows flames to spread easily from room to room and floor to floor. If the insulation was installed during the energy crisis in the 1970s, it may have been done poorly and in a rush.
The foundation should be closely inspected for wear and tear since the home is nearing 100 years old. Settling and erosion over time can make the foundation uneven, which can cause ripples in the floor. The property’s foundation may need to be stabilized to level the home.
If repairs or renovations are in order, Realm’s free dashboard can provide accurate cost estimates and you can see how much value you’ll gain on the property once the work is complete.
Luckily, though the houses might be older, Philadelphia is not a place where naturally occurring floods and fires are common. Ream’s data analysis found that 100% of homes in the area were outside of a flood zone and outside of a designated perimeter for a wildfire that has occurred in the last five years.
Is Philadelphia a good place to buy real estate?
Yes, which may seem shocking given its size. It is one of the larger cities in the nation, yet real estate pricing remains rather reasonable in Philadelphia, despite all the ups and downs of the housing market over the past few years.
What is the best area to live in in Philadelphia?
Of course, this depends on what you’re looking for. Is fast-paced city life more appealing, or slower, quieter suburbia? Within the city, older, historical neighborhoods like Old City and Society Hill are often sought after. For suburbs, Chesterbrook is favorable with good schools and low crime rates. In the end, it depends on what each individual values and where in the city they’d like to spend the most time.
Why is Philadelphia so cheap?
Philadelphia has managed to get around cumbersome zoning laws and the awful “NIMBYism” (not in my back yard) that seems to make other cities so much less affordable. As a result, the city, though large and growing, has managed to continue to create affordable housing for lower-income residents, even as housing values rise.
Is Philadelphia a good place to live?
Yes. Despite its salty reputation for boisterous sports fans and brash locals, it is a gorgeous town with a lot to offer. Real estate pricing is reasonable, there are plenty of attractions, and the job market is in good shape.
We currently cover most standalone, single-family homes