John, my friend for five decades, has this butcher shop in a little town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He bought the business from a family who had run the store for two previous generations. He didn’t change much about the place. He kept the recipes for sausage and porketta roasts and left the shop pretty much as he’d found it—a throwback to a time when anthracite coal ruled the roost in this region. The store is the only place in this community where little kids can pop in off the street for candy and sit on the establishment’s front porch to eat it. The old corner stores that were found everywhere 40 years ago have disappeared, and so have the manufacturing jobs that once promised above-average wages to the blue-collar populace.
Such is the state of many Pennsylvania towns. Pittsburgh, however, saw its steel industry wither but managed to reinvent itself as a notable, vibe-laden tech hub. Philadelphia keeps chugging along, buoyed by its medical, financial and rapidly growing information technology industry. Professional real estate investors in Pennsylvania might want to explore these two markets but should exercise caution in the northeast corner where many large employers have shuttered operations and been replaced by low-wage call centers and distribution facilities.
Where to Find the Best Real Estate Investing in Pennsylvania
Absorbing the local news each day in Northeastern Pennsylvania has given me a great feel for the economy and the housing market. Median home prices have been stagnant over the past ten years so I had to look beyond my stomping grounds to find a better return on investment. Fortuitously, Philadelphia is only two hours to the south and a few stars have risen in the metro market as well as the suburbs. Let me share where some of them they are.
While my wife and I recently waited outside for a table at a funky brunch spot in Northern Liberties, we struck up stimulating conversations with thirty-something artists, professionals, and fellow dog walkers. Since I’m a huge fan of walkability where I buy, renovate, and sell houses, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the buzz in this Philadelphia neighborhood that sits just minutes from Center City. Residents could walk to a corner grocer or coffee shop and not have to leave the quaint streets populated by two- and three-story walk-ups.
I got in on some attractive deals in this locale when I realized rising prices in Center City were pushing buyers away from downtown and into adjacent neighborhoods on the rise. As developers rush to build on the site of the former Schmidt brewery, median home prices in this neighborhood are skyrocketing. At this stage of the game, finding undervalued properties in Northern Liberties requires keeping one’s ear pressed to the ground and acting quickly when the opportunity presents itself.
When you do find a deal, a buy-and-hold strategy in Northern LIberties may be your best bet. As the number of rentals has increased over the last year and, subsequently, rents have decreased, you may find landlords who are eager to offload their properties. Buying a rental holding here requires that you take the long view of the market. You can still achieve a good cap rate now and real estate prices will continue to climb in the coming years.
Made fleetingly famous by the television show, “The Office,” the City of Scranton has recently laid out plans to exit from its distressed status. It may be too little, too late as many lifelong residents have mounted an exit of their own. The only remedy politicians could offer to the chokehold that underfunded pension and retiree benefit obligations had on the city was to raise local wage and property taxes. As a result, those moves have warded off investment for all but the bravest, risk-tolerant home flippers.
Over the years, I steered clear of this market due to 25 years of unimpressive growth in home values and the fear that incompetent city administrators might once again ramp up efforts to rob Peter and pay Paul. It’s a gamble on just how much improvement appears on the horizon but one thing’s for certain: you can find many blighted homes to buy and rehab in Scranton. In fact, the number of active foreclosure homes in this area is up a staggering 620% compared to last year, according to RealtyTrac.
But, that may not be where the story ends for Scranton. Pre-foreclosures are down by 100% and bank-owned properties have decreased by 65% when you look at April in relation to just the prior month, according to the same RealtyTrac data set. Is this just another wild fluctuation like we’ve seen in the area over the years or are things really turning around? In my opinion, it would be reasonable to buy an investment property here while prices are low and hold it for the long term as a rental—if you can find one with a good cap rate.
When I last visited another friend of many years in Bridgeville, we took a mid-morning drive into Pittsburgh, grabbed some lunch, took in the entire Carnegie Museum of Art, and made it back in time for dinner. That’s what I love about suburban Pittsburgh: unassuming little towns that offer safe, small-town living with quick access to their big sister. I also like to diversify my real estate holdings across the commonwealth and sticking close to growing metropolitan areas has served my ROI well.
Pittsburgh’s transformation from a gritty blue-collar town to an up-and-coming tech center has sparked a search for manageable commutes and affordable living in surrounding communities. I feel it’s just a matter of time before spillover from the Steel City finds its way to towns such as Bridgeville. Among the homes for sale in this southwest Pennsylvania village, I have found several less-than-market properties that I renovated and sold quickly for a solid profit. And, this trend appears to be solid—especially with Pittsburgh in the top running for Amazon’s new headquarters.
Relationships That Stand the Test of Time
I’m amazed that my dear friend has put up with me for a half-century. We’ve seen each other through the ups and downs over the years, which has only strengthened our friendship. Those kinds of relationships are hard to come by. There’s only one other that I hold in such high regard, and that’s my independently owned and operated franchise relationship with HomeVestors®. While growing a real estate investing business in Pennsylvania can be like handpicking ore from the earth to make steel, the tools, and resources that HomeVestors® provides help to simplify the process. The proprietary property valuation tool, ValueChek™, for instance, helps me feel confident about knowing how much to offer to buy an investment house at—regardless of market conditions.
If you could use a tried-and-true hand to hold to boost your investing business, get in touch with HomeVestors® to learn more about franchise opportunities.
Each franchise office is independently owned and operated.