Newer rental constructions in Philadelphia/where to live, 2021 edit.
February 22, 2021 10:20 AM   Subscribe

Moving to Philly later this year, looking for possible places to live. Will be on a grad student budget but am willing to spend more on housing (but think: rent a studio, not more than that as finances will still be limited) because I want to live alone and feel safe (and I am a bit of a homebody and also COVID). I heard someone talking about newer constructions being impossibly flimsy and not good places to live, but I have lived in crappy old buildings before and don't really want that. What should I know about the Philly rental market and what is available as I look at places from a distance for now? More deets inside and thank you.

1. Will not have a car and so plan on using amazon and grocery delivery a lot - so I am looking for more of a complex-y type place with a package room. Also would really like to find someplace with a doorman and set up such that it takes a while to get to my front door - so I am looking at complexes to check off these boxes (this last thing is something I absolutely want in order to feel safer).

2. Have lived before in crappy old buildings where I was scared of nailing stuff to the walls/what might be in the walls/etc. and am over that stage of my life. Just don't want to live in a dump anymore. Stayed in an airbnb when I was making decision to move there and stayed in an older building near logan square... heard every. single. sound. outside. Need sleep, would prefer not to hear everything and not to hear my neighbors so much... so newer building is what I need, right? What was that person I heard saying newer constructions are paper thin talking about?

3. Neighborhood wise - will need to commute either on foot/bike/bus to Drexel, want to keep commute to some 20 minutes because I am not a morning person and need to not get kicked out of my academic program for being late... I'm thinking I would probably like to end up in Fairmount or that general area, and there do seem to be some newer ish constructions that it might be possible to rent from in that area. Right? Am I totally misperceiving this?

4. I note that University City seems mostly older places and is probably a place with lots of undergrads? Is this perception correct? I am in my 30s and not really interested in living somewhere that is all students. It would be nice to be able to detach from school a little bit sometimes.

I generally appreciate thoughts on things to know about renting in Philly that might not be obvious - about the buildings, application process and timeline--anything that comes to mind from those who know the city well, really (I've lived in a few US cities and have found that there really is a lot of variation from place to place on these things).

Thanks for any and all thoughts!
posted by dubhemerak3000 to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a complete generalization, but in my experience older buildings have more solid construction and tend to be better for unit-to-unit noise (IF originally constructed as a multi-unit building), and newer buildings have better-sealed windows and tend to be better for outside-to-inside noise.
posted by dusty potato at 10:32 AM on February 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

My experience, as someone who has lived in multiple 100+ year old buildings and has lived and stayed in a few newer buildings is that in general, the older buildings are more solid and tend to transmit less noise to other units (especially if, as dusty potato says, they were constructed as multi-units - in other words, if the separation between units was made with the original heavier materials). This is largely because mass is one of the best noise deterrents, and older buildings were built with more mass (lath and plaster, denser wood, etc.). Also as dusty potato says, the windows on older buildings often aren't sealed as well, and let in air and some outdoor noise (unless they've been replaced, which many have). The newer construction buildings I have stayed in have had a lot more noise transmission unless they have been built with that in mind (very few have). This can vary depending on the particular building, the particular nature and quality of its construction, and who exactly your neighbors are. This can also vary a lot based on whether the units share ductwork/HVAC, etc. (in my experience, this transmits the most noise of everything). If I were renting and concerned about noise, I'd aim for a pre-1930s multi-unit building with new windows, OR alternatively a stand-alone house with only a few apartments in it, OR a building about which the reviews did not remark negatively on noise - and in any case, I'd look for one where the ductwork weren't shared.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:48 AM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

You can probably find something not far from drexel that fits your criteria in the Powelton Village or Mantua areas, or even around fairmount park but you'd probably be using a trolley (or bike?) to get to Drexel. If you can find some old landlord type person (not property company, most are terrible in Philly) to develop a relationship with, that's a good place to start. I would recommend my landlord because our landlord is amazing and our apartment is exactly what you want but not a studio (and we don't have a vestibule for packages), but we're not in west philly. PM me for more details if you'd like them. Good luck and welcome to the city!
posted by erattacorrige at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

In any case, I think you're right that you probably should prioritize an apartment complex with a package room. Many of Philly's Center City apartments are not in apartment complexes - they're in rowhouses that have been converted into a few apartments. This is going to limit your search a lot, so this might be the thing to focus on, rather than noise. I think the old vs. new distinction isn't going to make a huge difference noise-wise unless you get something built before WWII (when they were still building with plaster and lath), which I think is unlikely in a building with a doorman and a package room etc. I think the newest buildings are going to be a better fit for the kind of experience that it sounds like you're looking for.

Where exactly you should look depends on what sort of vibe you're looking for. If I were in your shoes, and without a car, I'd probably want something as urban as possible, with the best transport links. I might start by looking at some of the newer high-rises in central Center City (which I'm classing as South to Vine, river to river). Rittenhouse, for instance, has a bunch of high-rises. I think some are rental rather than purchasing? It would be about a 20 minute walk to Drexel (maybe a tad longer), and even faster by subway or bus. I don't know which Rittenhouse complexes are newer, but it should be an easy Google to find out.

I'm rather partial to Wash West, which is east of Rittenhouse. The northern part of Wash West (which is basically "Midtown Village") would put you 8-10 minutes from Drexel by subway (Google suggests that you can also get there in about 20 minutes by bus). It's a fun neighborhood that has had a lot of development in the past 5 years, including new apartment complexes. I'd look at the Ludlow apartments (part of the newish East Market complex), which are right by the subway. I'd also look at Baum's by Collins apartments and 1213 Walnut. I think the White Building units are condos, but if you could find one for rent, they're stunning. A bit further away distance-wise (bottom end of Wash West) but almost as convenient by subway (13 minutes door-to-door) would be something like Southstar Lofts, which is right next to a subway stop.

You could also look at Fairmount, as you say. Both Rittenhouse and Wash West would feel a bit more urban than Fairmount, so it depends what you're after. If you're looking for a mixed-use sort of neighborhood (apartments intermixed with grocery stores, cafes, etc.) with better transport links, I think Rittenhouse and Wash West would be better. Fairmount is lovely though, with a bit of a sleepier feel, which might be good if you were prioritizing quiet. I don't know if that area has any newer complexes. I think West Philly might feel a bit more studenty, down-market, and have older apartment stock than it sounds like you're looking for - especially Powelton Village and Mantua. But if someone wants to challenge that, I'm happy to be overturned!

Feel free to message me if you want more info, or have questions about specific options, as I am very familiar with the city.
posted by ClaireBear at 11:25 AM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend an apartment complex in West Philly along the Penn bus route - Drexel and Penn have reciprocity so it's free to Drexel students. A lot of grad students live between roughly 42nd and 48th streets, and UCity cops patrol for safety (or will walk you home if it's nice). The apartment complexes have foyers and I can't recall having anything stolen while I lived there. For sound, get a top floor apartment if you can. I had a 2nd floor apartment and it was great until the upstairs neighbor got rid of their rug because the dog kept peeing on it. That area has several bus lines and the trolley for getting to Center City as well. Baltimore Ave is a great street with lots of things to do, and it's close to Clark Park for outdoor space. Plus beautiful tree-lined streets.

However, you're unlikely to find anything with a doorman outside of center city/Ucity, and they will be $$$$.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:43 PM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I live in Fairmount, which I agree is a mixed community of homeowners, condo-owners, apartment dwellers and now several communal apartments, which seem to be a scheme of smaller apartments and larger communal areas - kitchens, pools, lounges, etc. There has been a ton of new construction of both apartment complexes and new condo buildings because there is a generous city-wide tax abatement that is being phased out. Commercial construction successfully lobbied for a temporary exemption to allow projects already financed to continue under the abatement, and an explosion of construction ensued.

Many of these larger buildings are on the Broad Street corridor, which would be excellent for public transportation to Drexel. I'd like to suggest a particular building, though, with wonderful soundproof qualities - my parents live there and almost never hear their neighbors. It was built as an apartment building nearly a century ago - 2601 Pennsylvania Avenue. Not on Broad Street but at the other end of Fairmount, directly across from the Art Museum and the Parkway. It turned condo about 6 or 7 years ago, but owners are permitted to rent out their apartments, and there are many, many students (usually grad students) who live there. There are many studios and one-bedrooms, and there are always a variety of apartments available. It's a large building, a whole block. Onsite fitness center, box and mail room, and the kindest front desk staff I've ever known. Many have been there for the 15 years my parents have lived there. Check their website for the list of realtors who are designated to handle rentals; the building itself does not handle owner-rentals. Biking to Drexel is easy across the Spring Garden St. Bridge to West Philly, (there's also a bus that meanders a bit before it gets there) and the building runs a free shuttle to Center City, during high-use hours. Welcome to Philly!
posted by citygirl at 1:31 PM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I lived around the corner from 2601 for 12 years, and I can confirm that the area is really a lovely place to live - so convenient, and so much happens there because of the parkway/art museum. When I worked at Penn, I could get to work in 12 minutes on my bike but would also sometimes just walk on nice days (about 2.5 miles on the Schuylkill path). Whole Foods and Target are half a mile away, CVS, a small grocery store and a bunch of restaurants even closer.
posted by Pax at 2:48 PM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I lived in this building for two years in Philly and liked it. The only time I was ever woken up by noise was the night the Eagles won the Super Bowl.

There is a package room, and the front desk, when I was living there, were almost uniformly awesome. Maintenance was also great; I only had to call them once, for an issue just after I moved in, and they came by later the same day. I have heard from friends that building management has changed, though; the website definitely looks different from how I remember.

I did not have a car; at the time they had hourly shuttle service to Center City and University City during the week and a grocery shuttle to Whitman Plaza (ShopRite) on Saturday mornings. Shuttle service is not mentioned on that site, though, so I'm not sure if it's still around. There was an Indego bikeshare station just down the street as well as multiple bus routes within a block. (There are only two metro lines in Philly, the Market-Frankford runs E-W and the Broad Street Line runs N-S; everything else is buses.)

That area, just north of Logan Square, just south of Fairmount proper, is also an easy walk/bike ride to UCity; I used to bike home along the Schuylkill all the time if I was working late. Never felt unsafe in the neighborhood as a young woman (and I have lived in some neighborhoods that were definitely sketch). I used to walk/bus home from events at the Art Museum (about a mile away) or Rittenhouse (ditto) or Old City (farther) all the time.

If I'd stayed in Philly I'd probably be in that building still, or at least in the vicinity. As Pax and citygirl said, it's a great neighborhood.
posted by basalganglia at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all! These are all helpful tips!
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 4:28 PM on February 24, 2021

basalganglia I also lived in that building! At the same time apparently, because we lived there during the Superbowl win. I agree that the soundproofing was 10/10 and I loved most things about the building and location. The big negative was the roach problem. Idk if that's common in big buildings, but it's the only place I lived in the city where it was a problem and I still have nightmares about it.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:52 AM on March 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh god, I'd forgotten about the roaches. They were the tiny little ones, horrible creatures. I think it was all the building renovations that unleashed them.

Now I live in NC, where the roaches are as big as my thumb and people call them palmetto bugs thinking that sounds better. (Narrator voice: It doesn't.)
posted by basalganglia at 11:56 AM on March 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

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