Doylestown for Retirement? (Philadelphia, Allentown, Bethlehem: for sale, real estate, houses)
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My husband and I have been searching for somewhere to move to in retirement.
We love where we live - a small coastal city of 18K people, 32 miles from Boston. We live a block from the water, a block from town - a little historic "artsy" community with 2 good independent bookstores, a Starbucks and Talbots (I hate chains, but have to admit I love these 2), a movie theatre, library and playhouse right in town, multiple restaurants (not chains), some with outdoor seating, a "walkable" town, with lots of festivals and events year round. At the edge of town, we have a few strip malls where the dry cleaner, grocerty store, CVS, hardware store, and Marshalls (OK, another chain) are. We can bike to the ocean as well, where there is a beautiful "refuge" beach (state park).
I'm not trying to duplicate the town,just the "feel" - vibrant, sense of pride, etc. Here's some pics.
Why are we leaving? Two things, primarily - Snow and prices. There are winters we get 100 inches of snow. Typically I think we get @ 65-70. Too much as we get older. Secondly, the prices have gone through the roof. We'd like a larger place, but can't afford it. We have an 1,100 sq ft "half house" (sort of like a PA "row house" but just one house cut in half). It's valued at 400K. You can't touch a single family here that doesn't need major reno for under 600K. On our little 1,100 sq ft place we pay 5K a year in RE taxes.
We've been looking in VA (Williamburg) and I hadn't thought of PA until an upcoming trip to Philly prompted me to look at the area and I remembered Doylestown. Not that well, as it was many years ago. I also remember liking New Hope, except that it was tiny and touristy, not a place that seemed to have alot going on (for living).
I will say that when I lived in PA (Allentown) I did not have the greatest impression. Much of that I am sure was colored by a not so great exprience with the boyfriend I was living with at the time, but my major impressions were that it was not that friendly to outsiders, and that the tone (at the time - and it was MANY years ago) was that woman should not be in management positions, and perhaps maybe not even working. I thought it was beautiful country, the parks especially, but didn't appear all that "vibrant". I think times have changed....
I will still be working (my husband is retiring) so I need a place I could find work. I don't mind commuting a bit, as long as the roads are good to travel (when I was in Allentown I was going to take a job up in the Poconos because I couldn't find anything in Allentown and they looked at me like I was crazy. They said "no one commutes that far". To me it wasn't that far, we do it all the time here, but the roads are very different).
Other than having a somewhat historic, aesthetically pleasing place that has stuff going on, with a "walkable" real downtown with shops and restuarants, our other criteria is safety and a hospital in town since my husband has bad asthma, and I've had a few emergency drives to the hospital in the middle of the night.
We'd also like some towns around, not some little jewel that is one town out in the middle of nowhere. We'd like a larger city nearby where we could shop for "normal" stuff - clothing, socks, underwear, Target, Home Depot, etc.
I'm curious about housing costs. We don't need much - a 3BR/1.5 Bath, with a garage and maybe a basement (do they do basements in PA?). We'd love to be close to town. Although we love historic homes (ours is 1795) ideally we're looking for a newer house, as we don't want to be constantly fixing things in retirement. One thing we don't want though, is to be in a "cookie cutter" subdivision with the houses lined up one after the other and no trees! I hate that look.
It seems like Doylestown fits the bill - does it? Are the people friendly?
If there are other towns we should look at, please let me know. We're planning on visiting when we go to Philly. It's not that far if I remember Philly to Doylestown.
You might be surprised at the taxes and traffic in Doylestown. Great school district and higher taxes. But it definitely meets your criteria for a walkable downtown with the alternate needs of cookie cutter big box stores within reasonable driving distance. There's still good shopping in the New Hope area as well, and it's super close, as you remember.
Your housing budget (400K) would get you more here, but the taxes may be the same or more than you are currently paying. Yes, we do basements in PA! You might want to also check out Lititz, PA (near Lancaster). New hospital, close to Hershey, Lancaster, still about an hour+ from Philadelphia and 1/2 hour from Harrisburg (airport). There are other towns in PA with the same requirements you are looking for as well, perhaps others can offer some ideas. State College comes to mind~but I know there are more.
I did look at State College, but one thing I forgot to mention -
We know we will have to give up living a block from the water to get cheaper housing. But we would like to be "reasonable" driving distance to the ocean so that we can do it on the weekend. 1-2 hours. Is that possible from Doylestown? That rules out State College and other places. I do remember tubing down the Delaware - that was a blast but I got the sunburn of my life!
Bummer about the taxes, but it's housing costs that are the main driver - and weather. We hope to spend no more than 350K for a house. Is that doable? What's the weather like (snow). How about heat/humidity. I can't imagine it's any worse than Williamsburg, VA, which I was shocked to see is hitting 109 (!!) this week.
Yes, have read about Litiz - mixed. Some people on this board were very negative - gangs, drug problems, etc. It appeared a bit pricey as well, and much smaller. We really want a place no less than 10K population. I know Doylestown is a bit smaller, but still close. Should we consider Lambertville, NJ?
Where is the town that has the big box stores near Doylestown?
p.s. What's the job market like? Very tough here.... I'm a financial advisor (not the best field to be in now, I know) and thinking of transitioning back to health care which I worked in years ago (support/admin, not clinical side).
West Chester is possible, but remember it fills with college students from Sept-May, so that may change the dynamics of downtown for a few months. Phoenixville has an area that was just reburbished, perhaps it's downtown. There have been mentions of restaurants on this board. Ambler, Media and Ardmore are all suburbs of Philly~your housing dollar will force you to be selective ($350 would be a starter home for many). I like Lambertville, but Jersey taxes are yazoo crazy, that's why many people live in the other mentioned cities in PA and commute back to NJ for jobs.
Financial planner~you're right, not the market to be in right now. Definitely consider hospital administration, there are tons of options in/around the Philly area. The big box stores are usually on the outskirts of town, but PA is loaded with Home Depot, Lowes, Target, WalMart, malls are often anchored with Sears, Penny's, Macy's and another major dept. store. No sales tax on food and necessary clothing (tax on bathing suits and sportswear). We've got gobs of outlet malls as well. The number #2 industry is tourism. Close to Philly you'll experience traffic similar to NJ. If you're definitely set on the beach commute, any of the towns would get you to Jersey shore in less than 2 hours.
Have you considered Delaware or the eastern shore of Maryland? Proximity to Annapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia are good, Delaware has no state income tax, a lot less snow that Philadelphia area (which had about 60" last year, but averages about 30") Towns like Queenstown, Cambridge, just over the bridge from Annapolis. Friends of ours just bought a huge home in a nice development, 4 BR, 3 BA, patio, sunroom, great room, formal DR, walking distance to inland water, for less than $250. Bikeable to downtown. No basement though.
The humidity is horrible, all of the areas that are near the water are humid, and the rest seem to be in a valley that traps moisture and recycles it.
I moved to Doylestown 18 months ago, and it's a very nice town. If you want to buy a home, you can buy in the Borough, or outside the borough. Doylestown Borough consists of about 1,000 historically protected homes in close proximity to the center of town. You can buy a "twin" in the 300K's. A twin is a home generally 1000-1,500 square feet 3 br 1.5 bath, that is a attached to another similar home. The yard may be shared or divided, and each side of the twin will generally have a yard of 0.05-0.2 acres. A twin will usually be 60+ years old with several 100+ year old twins. If you are ok living in a twin, then Doylestown may be a good fit. You'll be within walking distance of town (from 1-10 blocks depending on where you buy). You'll really be part of the ambience of the town. Of course, you'll have maintenance of an older home.
Once you decide to buy outside of the Borough, there are many choices of small townships that are within a 4 mile drive of Doylestown center. To me, once you've moved outside of the walking-to-town zone, it doesn't matter so much. There is Doylestown Township, Buckingham Township, New Britain and even more rural places like Perkasie, Plumsteadville, Hilltop, etc etc etc. Generally, the more rural the area, the cheaper the homes, but there are some neighborhoods that aren't rural that are cheaper. Along
West Sandy Ridge Rd (Doylestown Township going into New Britain) for example, you can find many 3 br 2 bath homes from the 1970's that are in the mid-upper 300K's. These are generally homes that are too outdated for newer families, but are good homes, depending on your taste.
I think the closest you'd get to that quintessential Bucks County experience would be a twin. There are some super quaint/cute ones. On second thought, depending on your aesthetic and if you're willing to live outside of town, you could find a neat cottage on a bit of land in a nice area 2-4 miles from town (if that's something you'd like).
I did see a nice single house 1 block from town sell for around $390K earlier this month. Classic small Doylestown Borough home with great front porch, 3 br, 1 bath, 1,400 square feet. Those will come up from time to time. However, you should be aware that the town is tearing down the old municipal parking lot and put up new courthouse buildings. That home was basically across the street from the parking lot. There are a few homes near that parking lot that are going cheaper (currently a few on Union St in the 300K's that could fit your bill). Not sure how bad the construction noise will be, but if you don't mind it for a year or so, you could get something good/cheap in that area, and once the courthouse building is done, you'd probably get an immediate boost in real estate value for your home.
Regarding big box stores...you just need to drive about 2-5 miles south on Route 611 and you'll get Lowes, Home Depot, Marshalls and pretty much all the stores you'd need. Philly is also an hour drive and has great things to do and shopping.
Regarding the water. You're about 20-25 minutes from the banks of the Delaware River. However, if it's ocean you want, you are at least an hour as the crow flies from the Jersey Shore (closest beach), and on a summer weekend day, it could take 2-3+ hours to get there. If you were to leave Doylestown on Route 202E, make a left at Route 413, make a right in about 5 miles at Carversville Rd, make a left in 5 miles at the Carversville Inn, and follow that small road (Fleecydale Road I believe) for a few miles, you'll reach Route 32 (River Rd). Make a right and you'll drive along the Delaware River for 5-10 miles until you hit New Hope. Starting at Carversville Rd, that drive will take you more than 20-25 minutes, but if you love the magic of Bucks County, you will be enchanted by the old homes and farmhouses, the stonework, the streams and trees, the way the sun shines through the treetops. I moved here from NYC (Manhattan) and I take that drive at least once a month just because it is so beautiful. Just returned from Bermuda, a great island and a super relaxing vacation, but was still calmed by the landscape once I hit Bucks County driving back from the airport.
To me, the reason to move to Doylestown is to be part of a small, historic town with surrounding natural beauty and old world charm. Sometimes it feels a bit like Provence, France. Then again, sometimes it's a bit boring. I think one needs to love the beauty and feel of the town, and be content with what it offers. There are a few annoying folks here, as everywhere, but almost all I've met are really nice and genuine. Another nice thing about Doylestown vs. New Hope is we don't get the huge number of motorcycles they do. We get our fair share, especially on first Fridays (the town has a party first Friday of each month), but not the noise level of New Hope, which gets thousands on summer weekends. I'm not saying anything against bikers, most of them are great folk. Just the general noise level that naturally comes with so many bike engines being revved.
Can't help you with job prospects. Property taxes sound similar to what you are experiencing now, although I'm guessing a 350K twin might be as little as 3K (older homes in the Borough pay less in taxes). Income tax is flat 3.1%.
Here's a search for real estate in 18901 (which includes Doylestown Borough) under $400K. You'll see a few twins, most of which are in the Borough. 95% of these homes are outside the borough, within 10 minute drive.
You might also look at Bethlehem. It has a nice vibrant downtown and festivals that are really nice at different times of the year. It also has the benefit of the two colleges (Lehigh and Moravian) in town for classes and performances. You will get more house for your money then in Doylestown. The downside is that Doylestown has a very convenient train and Bethlehem does not. The airport is very close, however and prices to popular destinations are often quite reasonable. Bethlehem and Allentown are smack right up to each other, but are quite different. Many people in this area go to the Jersey shore beaches, particularly Long Beach Island. NYC is a short 1 1/2 bus ride away and it's very easy to go into the city for the day. Philadelphia is about an hour away. When we need to fly somewhere, I always look at Newark, Philly and Allentown airports.
The area closest to Doylestown with the box stores is Montgomeryville or North Wales (same place). I actually make the trip there monthly (about 45 minutes from where I live in the Lehigh Valley) to go to Costco and Trader Joe's. I am a big fan of Doylestown and think it would be a great place to retire, but as long as you are exploring, I would put Bethlehem on your list too.
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