Need Philadelphia suburb recommendations
June 4, 2021 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Must haves: good schools, walkability, reasonable commutes to UPenn (by public transit) and Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill (by car).

We are going to be house hunting later this year and we're starting to look for cities/neighborhoods that fit our criteria. We don't want to live in Philly (Unless we can find something that fits our needs AND wants which I don't think we can) and I don't think we want to move to NJ.

Walkable to at least some restaurants/stores/cafes, downtown with a main street feel
School don't have to be AMAZING, but also not terrible. Would like something diverse, prefer less than 80% white. We have one fifth grader.
Reasonable transit commute to Penn AND reasonable car commute to NW Philly

Space: both inside (2000+SF) and outside (at least .25ac lot)
Offstreet parking
Interesting architecture (would prefer that every house didn't look the same)

Our budget is probably maxed at around $2500/mo so around the $400K's (though depending on the tax situation could be higher or lower).

Already on our radar:
Elkins Park (it's so perfect except for the taxes)
Media (love the downtown area)

Narberth would be on the list if it were affordable.

Anything else that we are missing that we should include?
posted by rabbitrabbit to Travel & Transportation around Philadelphia, PA (7 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add: Drexel Hill / Lansdowne was on my list but spouse rejected the idea of sending our kid to Upper Darby High School. He grew up here and says it's terrible, but that was 25 years ago -- so if it has really changed for the better, that's also information I'd be interested in.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:58 AM on June 4

Check out Conshohocken and Plymouth Meeting, too.
posted by hanov3r at 10:03 AM on June 4

Swarthmore is lovely (I recommend visiting the Swarthmore College arboretum when you have the time). It also has access to some of the best public schools in the state, but it is not very diverse and is expensive. It's a college town, and a lot of Penn professors raise their families there and in neighboring Rose Valley, Nether Providence, and Wallingford.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 10:45 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

The places you've mentioned would be great.

If you're willing to compromise a wee bit on space, I'd also look at Chestnut Hill or West Mount Airy—either would be an easy commute to Penn (two train lines, and a bike path via the Forbidden Drive), are both architecturally interesting, and feel more suburban than urban.

Chestnut Hill is wonderful; my wife and I rented there when we first got married, and we still miss it. You'd likely be over $400k, especially in this market, but the property taxes are lower and you'll already be paying City Wage, so...

We are in Willow Grove now. It's a nice suburb, quiet, good school district, close to 2 train lines and parks, but not much of a downtown area to speak of (besides the mall) and not architecturally interesting. Affordable, though, and the commute to UPenn isn't bad via SEPTA (about an hour). Not that I'm looking forward to doing it again!
posted by vitout at 11:19 AM on June 4

Maybe Ambler? Seconding Swarthmore as beautiful (although very white; I think most Philly suburbs are, though), and the college right there is a fabulous resource. Oh, and speaking of tiny college towns, Bryn Mawr! That might be outside your price range, though. Rose Valley is beyond stunning; if you can find a place in your price range you'll be very architecturally happy! Oh, and Wynnewood is right next to Narberth, although it doesn't quite have a walkable downtown, but you might wind up quite close?

I would at least do a quick Zillow search for your requirements in Chestnut Hill, West Mt Airy and maybe Roxborough. I grew up in Chestnut Hill and would live in Mt Airy if I ever lived in Philly again. If there's nothing in your budget, you'll know pretty quick :)

I also recommend my grandfather's method: get on a train from Penn (well, I guess 30th St?), stay on for as long as you want your commute to be, get off and walk around and explore the neighborhood. That's genuinely why my mom grew up in Bryn Mawr.
posted by kalimac at 2:02 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

Have you considered Narberth? Very walkable, sweet downtown. In the Lower Merion school district (extremely well regarded) and less pricey than some communities in that school district. Your budget is a little confusing - $2500 month rent v. $400,000 purchase? Not sure about rentals, but $400 k seems low for that community. Train to Penn is especially easy, as it's a direct shot without transfers. Driving to NW Philly might take 20 - 30 minutes, depending on traffic and route. Train in to Center City and out to Chestnut Hill would be cumbersome but is certainly doable.
My instinct is that this is probably less racially diverse than some other communities.

My daughter has 3 children in the Elkins Park schools, and they are doing well (early elementary). They found a house for a very low price, under $200k, but it has taken quite a bit of renovation, all told under $400 thousand. It was sort of uniquely neglected - an old farmhouse ignored for decades that was built around. You will need a really good realtor if you want this kind of unique property - it's a really hot real estate market. If you are serious about having a larger proportion of nonwhite residents, I think Elkins Park hits the mark more than any of the other communities you are considering. There is a sizable Asian community as well as African American, and the schools are well integrated. There are private schools in the area, but the default seems to be sending children to the public schools.

Just north of Elkins Park are Jenkintown and Abington. Both have very well-regarded schools. Jenkintown is a special case, and is one of the smallest school districts in the state. Its public schools are the object of lust and awe in the vicinity, as they have really small class sizes, like private school small. The size of the school district is proportionately small, so if you are interested, once again, you will need an excellent realtor, as the district boundaries are critical. There are huge expensive homes in Abington and Jenkintown, and modest homes as well. With good advice, you will be able to find a good match for your family.

Train travel to Penn is less direct, longer, and may require a train transfer in Center City, though it would depend on which line you chose. NW Philly is not far, just a short commute by car, shorter than the train to Penn and more direct. Taking the train would necessitate a train into Center City and back out to Chestnut Hill.
posted by citygirl at 7:37 PM on June 4

Response by poster: Your budget is a little confusing - $2500 month rent v. $400,000 purchase?

Property tax rates vary widely in this area, so just putting a sale price as our budget is not really useful. In a low property tax area we could go up to $500K or maybe even higher, and in a high tax area maybe more like $350K. With 20% down we are aiming for a max payment (PITI) of $2500 on a 30-year fixed.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:07 AM on June 5

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