Time to buy? Most definitely. Interest rates are down. The market is slow. Make your move.
Residents of Lovering Avenue in Wilmington live across the street from scenic Brandywine Park, are within walking distance of Trolley Square and enjoy convenient access to I-95.
Photograph by John Lewis
After 10 years in the upscale neighborhood of Limestone Hills in Pike Creek, Cathy Rossi and her husband, Jim, were ready for a change. “We wanted more, without knowing exactly what that was,” Cathy Rossi says.
Rossi, an employee of AAA, sought a city lifestyle. She wanted buzz—art, culture, restaurants and shops—and she wanted to live near work. The Rossis found Christina Landing, an “urban neighborhood” that blends townhomes, condos and apartments on Wilmington’s Christina Riverfront.
“Christina Landing has a real sense of community among the owners,” Rossi says. “Those who work in the city now have options to live in the city. That’s why Trolley Square has done so well. Now the riverfront is developing into a real neighborhood.”
Over the past 12 years, the riverfront has been transformed from a marshy brownfield into a thriving neighborhood. Only one major component was missing: permanent residents. That has changed with construction of the River Tower at Christina Landing and Justison Landing, two gargantuan developments of 183 and 260 condo units, respectively.
River Tower, Justison Landing and the Pointe at Brandywine Park are the first condos built within the city in years.
Condo living is hot, says Stephen Mottola, sales director for Patterson-Schwartz. “It’s just an easier way of living,” he says. New condo projects are growing like mushrooms, joining classics from the first wave of condo development more than 20 years ago. Following, a few great examples.
Bancroft Mills $299,900-$350,000
On the site of Delaware’s first paper mill (circa 1787), Bancroft Mills condos still carry architectural remnants of its storied past—exposed Bethlehem steel beams, hardwood floors and great, expansive windows. The view isn’t bad either, just steps from Rockford Park and Brandywine Creek.
Brandywine Falls $699,000
Woodland views enhanced with open space set the stage for 23-year-old Brandywine Falls, at the north end of Brandywine Park in Wilmington. Units are private and elegant, with terraced entrances, large formal living rooms and covered decks with views of the creek. Updated kitchens come with cherry cabinets, Corian counters and Spanish tile backsplashes. Walk-in closets, Jacuzzis and other built-ins dot some models.
Justison Landing $240,000-$1.289 million
The Buccini/Pollin Group is reshaping the Wilmington Riverfront. Units boast high ceilings and designer kitchens, and the community has its own retail main street. “We’re finding a lot of young professionals and commuters to Philly buying in, people looking to simplify their lives, not necessarily a lot of people with 2.5 kids,” says Mottola. Hence, a new restaurant, private spa and fitness center, and a wine store. Construction should be complete this spring. As of January, half the units were sold. Access to I-95 and the train station is nearly instantaneous.
Marina View from $399,000
Melding the feel of a luxury resort with the security of a full-time home, Marina View in Dewey Beach features furnished bayside condos of 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. On Rehoboth Bay, units include a plasma TV, small appliances and fully wired offices. Gourmet kitchens are equipped with granite countertops, stainless appliances, ceramic tile and wood floors.
One Virginia Avenue Condominium $575,000-$799,000
Simply one of Rehoboth Beach’s prime oceanfront properties, One Virginia Avenue is close enough to the action that residents can hear flip-flops slapping on the boards. Units of 540 to 942 square feet (excluding balconies) come fully furnished. There’s access to a pool, sundecks and secured parking lots.
Park Plaza $195,000-$400,000
Built in 1986 by Edward DeSeta, venerable Park Plaza in Wilmington has maintained its allure. Thanks to its unique shape, every unit above the sixth floor is a corner unit complete with its own balcony. “A lot of the demand is because of the location,” says Realtor Buzz Quillen of HH Quillen and Co. “People can walk to work in the city or jog in Brandywine Park.” One-bedroom units start at about $195,000.
Paynter’s Mill $275,000-$369,000
Paynter’s Mill, just off Del. 1 outside Milton (like The Villages at Five Points just down the road), represents a new wave in development: self-contained, all-inclusive communities. With amenities such as a clubhouse, pool, tennis courts, athletic fields and walking trails, as well as Kindle restaurant right in the Shops at Paynter’s Mill, residents never need to leave the campus. The townhomes are striking in their varied architectural styles, and there are several models to choose from. Upgrades like Berber carpet, ceramic tile and vaulted ceilings are available. The shopping and dining of historic Lewes is minutes away.
The Pointe at Brandywine Park $699,000-$2 million
The Pettinaro Co.’s new Pointe, just below the Augustine Cut-Off bridge in Wilmington, offers units of 3,270 square feet with 10-foot ceilings. All come with top-of-the-line kitchens featuring granite countertops and hardwood floors. “And everything has a water view,” says Rick James of the Mottola Group. “We get some incredible views here. Residents also have access to a health club, two pools, two private parking places and semi-private elevators”—not to mention instant access to the park.
The Residences at Historic Columbus Inn
Wilmington wept when the beloved Columbus Inn closed its doors last year. Schell Brothers, the builders of the Residences at Historic Columbus Inn, on Pennsylvania Avenue near Bancroft Parkway, are hoping to make the pill a little less bitter to swallow. The 60 upscale condo units will include access to an exclusive wine bar, a community room, a private parking garage and a fitness center. The units will come decked with Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances, granite countertops, Jacuzzi tubs, Brookhaven by Wood-Mode cabinetry and three-piece crown molding. The condos go to market this summer.
River Tower at Christina Landing $250,000-$1.1 million
At 25 stories and 183 units, and near 63 townhomes and a 173-unit apartment complex, River Tower in Wilmington—also a Buccini/Pollin Group project—won’t be dubbed quaint anytime soon. But that’s missing the point. The point, rather, is that it’s a legit Riverfront neighborhood with a rooftop pool on the recreation deck overlooking the Christina River—in addition to the self-contained spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, comprehensive appliance packages and more. Pricing ranges from $250,000 to $1.1 million for penthouse suites. The train station is just across the Market Street Bridge.
Rockland Mills $550,000-$1 million
Constructed in 1987, each of the 59 units at Rockland Mills outside Wilmington is unique, designed by architects based on buyers’ wishes. Most of the units fall between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet. Some have elevators, most have hardwood cabinets and granite countertops. But the real attraction is Rockland Mills’ location: on Brandywine Creek on the edge of the state park. “It’s more or less a big playground for everybody,” says facilities manager Tom Siano. “Plus it’s a gated community, and it’s very private to begin with here in the valley”—not to mention conveniently near Concord Pike shopping. Units cost $550,000 to $1 million, though one hit the market early this year at $1.2 million.
Spring Lake $259,000-$549,000
An immaculate panorama of Spring Lake is just the beginning for these 20-year-old town homes and condos just off Highway One between Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. The units, which range from $259,000 to $549,000, generate money as rental properties. The outdoor pool and tennis courts are a draw to owners and renters alike. Plus, who doesn’t love skylights, wide-open floor plans and a quick walk to the beach?
Middletown: The Endless Boom
When Realtor John Ticknor opened shop on Middletown’s Broad Street nine years ago, he had two choices for lunch out: Pat’s Pizzeria on Broad and Ruby Tuesday on Main. Today, “There are closer to 20, plus the three food stores, the farmers market and so on,” he says. “Once that growth happened, it built upon itself.”
Lunch isn’t the only thing changing in Middletown. The town of 8,000 has experienced one of the biggest booms in the state over the past decade: The town has annexed 1,500 acres since 2000 to accommodate the growth.
Unlike many other towns below the canal, where new construction has attracted retirees and empty nesters, Middletown is drawing a mix of young professionals and two-income families.
The influx, plus construction of higher-end homes, has driven real estate prices to new heights. In 2007, greater Middletown had the second-highest average sale price in New Castle County, behind only the Greenville-Centreville area. The average price for a Middletown home in 2003 was $220,000, compared to less than $200,000 in 2000. In 2007 that figure leapt to $318,197.
Newer communities like Dove Run and Fairview Farms—which feature huge family homes for upwards of $500,000—represent the needs of new Middletonians, Ticknor says.
“It has to do with people wanting to get away from the traffic that you get in Wilmington,” says Jason Morris of Keller-Williams Realty in Middletown. “We’re seeing a ton of activity from folks that are coming in from New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, where they are slammed with property taxes.”
“There’s no question Middletown is transitioning into suburbia, with all the chain restaurants and hotels and supermarkets,” Morris says. “There’s a population to support it now.”
The Next Middletown
Many small towns are hustling to keep up with rapid growth, even as they drive it. Is there a new Middletown on the horizon? Actually, there are several.
Bellefonte Plenty of rehabbed family homes dot quiet, 1.7-square-mile, riverside Bellefonte. Paladin Club condos are consistently hot.
Claymont The site of a massive—if slow—revitalization and planned communities like Renaissance Village, Claymont could soon recapture its former charm. Older three-bedroom homes go for under $250,000.
Frederica The secret is still not out on Frederica, where big lots and huge square footage can be had for small prices. Ranch homes go as low as $150,000. Houses in nearby Bowers Beach price in the $800,000 range.
Laurel With new family homes in the mid-$300,000s, plus plans for other development, Laurel is a hot sell. Scenic Trussum Pond adds water views without breaking the bank. Milford Its location and low taxes make it a prime town for families and retirees. Spacious new family homes in places like the Mist at Blair’s Pond can be had for $350,000 and up.
Milton The historic hamlet has a thriving downtown, the lowest property taxes in Delaware, and a surplus of Victorian and Colonial homes ($250,000 to $350,000). Surrounding fields are filling fast with new subdivisions.
Selbyville The town proper offers several new single-family communities. Including areas served by its post office moves you nearer Fenwick Island, where developments such as Bayview Landing ($350,000-$450,000), Barklay Estates (mid-$250,000s) and Swann Cove (420,000ish) give a coastal vibe.
Smyrna The population has swelled from 5,700 to more than 9,000 over the past eight years. To keep up, new, family-style subdivisions have been built, such as Garrison Lake Green, Timber Mills and Northridge, as well as new schools. Price tags on new homes range from $300,000 to $400,000.
The New Family Place
In places of new expansion, gone is the standard two-story Colonial. In its place is a new style of family home—one with high ceilings, open spaces, great rooms, comfy living areas, ample storage and big, big kitchens. The idea is to make rooms spacious and flexible while encouraging communication and family interaction, says Joe Wells of Harrington ERA in Milford.
“Nowadays, you’re seeing the large, open kitchens with the islands, granite countertops and that kitchen opens up into a morning room with a vaulted ceiling and a two-story open view,” he says. “And that morning room may flow into a family room. It’s that more open look, that open effect. Same with that entry foyer with an upper balcony view. It’s a simple design, but it has a great effect.”
Wells points to communities like Orchard Hill and Retreat at Hazzard’s Hill, where spacious family homes and half-acre lots are shaping the landscape in rapidly expanding Milford.
In towns experiencing similar growth, like Middletown, family neighborhoods don’t come cheap. Homes in hot Townsend Village sell at about $400,000 range, but offer buyers incentives, like a free finished lower level.
So there are some breaks out there for first-time homebuyers, as well as some affordable finds. Here are 10 of the best neighborhoods for young families, based on things like affordability, buying incentives and school districts.
In Bridgeville custom four-bedroom ramblers price in below $300,000, and Colonials on 1.6-acre lots rarely breach the $350,000 mark. Great rooms, oversized lofts and Jacuzzis highlight the recently constructed community in Bridgeville.
This North Wilmington neighborhood is wooded, quaint and crawling with kids. Chalfonte makes it work, even with several Brandywine School District schools within its bounds. Well maintained four-bedroom homes can be had for $360,000 and up.
Nestled in Talleyville with access to retail- and restaurant-rich Concord Pike, Deerhurst (Brandywine School District) is made up of “cute homes in a real nice starter area,” Bunch says. Three-bedroom homes price at around $250,000. “It’s very convenient,” says Toni Vandegrift of Prudential, Fox and Roach. “You can get a nice, solid family home in a very reasonable price range.”
Just outside the Wilmington city limits, Edgemoor Terrace is a popular pick for first-time homebuyers with young kids, says Toni Vandegrift of Prudential, Fox and Roach. “Homes carry a starter-home price tag in the $230,000 range,” she says. “And they all have nice little lawns and lots of young kids.” Those kids will attend school in the Brandywine School District.
The Glade near Rehoboth Beach is a private development that prides itself on superior homes and proximity to the resort’s best shopping and restaurants. Plenty of homes have views of Holland Glade waterway, and the private clubhouse with a community pool and tennis courts add to the appeal, as does nearby Cape Henlopen School District. Homes are more affordable than in other private beach communities, but still go in the $400,000-$550,000 range. “They’re upscale, but much more reasonable than other family homes in the area,” says Sherri Martin, a Realtor with Jack Lingo.
Affordable ranch and two-story family homes in the well-maintained Graylyn Crest neighborhood of North Wilmington are in constant demand with families. That’s largely due to its cozy homes, the Brandywine School District and add-ons like swim club membership. A ranch house prices in well below $300,000.
Mansion Farms in Bear is one of the most sought after communities in desirable Appoquinimink School District. It has spacious brick Colonial homes with two-story foyers, cathedral ceilings and sizable great rooms. The result is open family communication and ample storage for $349,000 and up.
Huge family homes (to the tune of four-bedrooms and 2,700 total square feet) at reasonable prices (most are under $300,000) make three-year-old Rockland West a desirable neighborhood just outside downtown Dover and in the Capital School District. Three-bedroom ranches sell for less.
“The best bet for a young family starting out in Middletown might be the townhouse route,” says local Realtor John Ticknor. Tartan Court offers flexibility and affordability, with a broad range of styles and rooms. Sleek and modern townhomes, a few with lofts and garages, go for $209,900, but can dip as low as $111,000. The Appoquinimink School District is a draw on its own.
The Charm Factor
What makes a neighborhood charming? Is it in the architecture? The history? The civic association? Maybe charm is about beautiful gardens and water views. Whatever it is, charm is in high demand, so it comes at a price. If you’ve got the green, one of these neighborhoods just might charm your pants off. Rated on a scale of one to 10…
On North Market Street in Wilmington, the village traces its origins to 1742, when Brandywine Creek powered nearby mills. A 10-year project recently restored several homes. Still, most sell for under $100,000. Condo lovers will find bargains on Race Street. Views across the creek to the city skyline start at ridiculously low prices.
Middletown’s Broad Street
Broad Street and its branches, Hoffecker and Cox, offer Victorian homes from the mid-1800s. As the town expands, the area maintains its charm. “Here’s where you find old Victorians, nice, smaller ranch homes and even Cape Cod-style homes,” says John Ticknor of Re/Max First Choice. Sales—rare—fetch $250,000 to $500,000.
Quaint, quiet and close knit, Midtown Brandywine in Wilmington is bounded by Washington Street, 12th Street and the Hercules Building. The neighborhood is made up of century-old townhomes near city parks. “The creek and the parks are a sight to behold,” says Realtor Toni Vandegrift with Prudential, Fox and Roach. Three-bedroom homes list from the low to mid-$300,000s.
Milford’s Lakeview Avenue
Elegant and significant homes dot Milford’s waterfront, which is surrounded by a revitalized Main Street, numerous parks and a river walk. “We do have a good amount of Federal and Victorian architecture around the core of the town,” says Realtor Joe Wells of Harrington ERA. “They’ve done a nice job of redeveloping the main street.” Most homes sell for about $500,000.
Painstakingly restored and modernized 18th- and 19th-century homes—from farm houses to a lifesaving station—are hallmarks of Shipcarpenter Square in Lewes. Two-bedroom homes list for about $800,000.
John and Marilyn Cochran moved to The Strand in New Castle five years ago, attracted to the history of the 300-year old neighborhood. “My backyard is in the river. We really love the water view,” John says. Homes here list for about $800,000 and up.
Trolley Square offers affordable, upscale condos, stately Victorian architecture and classic town houses. Duplexes on Lovering Avenue face Brandywine Park. The neighborhood includes nightspots, restaurants and lots of takeaway options. The cost of entry is about $300,000.
With towering trees and English Tudor architecture, Wawaset has long been one of Wilmington’s most desirable neighborhoods. Designed by renowned architect Edward Palmer, Wawaset is on the National Register of Historic Places. “There are a lot of activities, a range of ages and holiday celebrations,” says Realtor Wendy Bunch of Brandywine Fine Properties. “It’s urban, but it’s mature.” Prices start around $399,000 and reach the millions.
Tucked behind the Delaware Art Museum and near Rockford Park, upscale, winding Wood Road soars above the Brandywine. “A lot of people aren’t aware it’s even in the city,” says broker Stephen Crifasi of Patterson-Schwartz. Wooded, secluded and quiet, the neighborhood mixes flat-roof, contemporary style with traditional family homes. Wood Road homes fetch anywhere from $650,000 to $1.5 million.
A Matter of Course—Golf Course, That Is
When Madhu Damani was looking around the Pike Creek area for a new home last year, he had a choice between two backyards. One was a half-acre of grass, trees and the view of another house. The other had a 150-yard fairway and a dogleg left.
His decision was pretty easy.
“There is no traffic coming through, less noise. The golf course made it more attractive,” he says. “I still love that view.”
Homes with golf course views are consistently hot, as neighborhoods like Fairway Falls, Pepper Ridge and Damani’s Linden Hill near Pike Creek prove. But a new trend has emerged in Delaware and nationally, where entire communities are designed and built around golf courses.
Take for instance The Peninsula on the Indian River Bay, a “waterfront resort” centered around the Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. Upscale townhomes, single-family detached villa homes, condos and custom single-family homes surround the immaculately kept links.
“When we started out with development, the idea was that once you enter the private gate, you’ll never have to leave,” says Melissa Firetti, vice president of sales and marketing for The Peninsula. “The golf course is a huge part of it, but we have so many other amenities like pools, spas, exercise rooms, biking, hiking, a private beach on Indian River Bay, and a water taxi into Dewey Beach. You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy it. And if you are, families can disperse, and the wife and kids have things to do.”
It’s a similar story at Sawgrass at White Oak Creek in Rehoboth Beach, nestled between Kings Creek Country Club and Rehoboth Bay (which price in the mid-$600,000 range). The Legends at Frog Hollow in Middletown (around $575,000 and up) combines upscale townhomes and a condo community with the amenities and dining of its country club. Townhomes and single-family homes are still being built around the Fairways at Odessa National (between $349,900 and $425,700). Ditto Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia (around $300,000), Baywood Greens in Long Neck ($275,000), Golf Park at Rehoboth (mid-$500,000) and Bayside in Selbyville (from $550,000 to $1.2 million), which also features a Nicklaus course. The Estates at Saint Annes in Middletown takes things to a new level with 465 luxury homes (from $339,990 to $459,990 and up) set against three courses: the Jim Furyk-approved Levels, Back Creek and Frog Hollow.
“I’ve sold three homes in the last year that backed up or had a view of Three Little Bakers Golf Course,” says Realtor John Luca with Prudential, Fox and Roach. “The appeal is just the beauty of the golf course.”
The gay community long ago made its mark on Rehoboth Beach, yet Rehoboth remains a family town. Soon, however, the area's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community will have a place to call it's own. The Villas at Harmon Bay is the first neighborhood in Delaware marketed specifically toward the GLBT community.
The gated neighborhood, which, when finished, will have 32 condo-style single-family homes, represents a national trend. Families for those single-family homes are welcome, but, to some degree, they’ll have to share their neighbors’ values.
The Villas, near Rehoboth Bay, have attracted interest from about 200 potential buyers, says listing agent Kim Hamer. When construction is completed early next year, residents will enjoy a pond, a clubhouse, pools, fitness centers and more. But for some, the peace of mind induced by living with like-minded neighbors outweighs the luxury of the amenities.
“People will always face some sort of discrimination,” says Russell Stucki, who’s already reserved a house in Harmon Bay. “I suppose that for transplants, knowing that their new home includes neighbors of like orientation and gay-friendly families, this provides some sort of security and an automatic family of sorts.”
In an area saturated by 55-plus communities, a gated GLBT neighborhood simply made sense, Hamer says. A huge turnout by potential buyers at Cloud 9 Restaurant in Rehoboth last summer confirmed it. Now the Villas need final approval from Sussex County and to square away infrastructure issues. “Everything has been extremely positive,” Hamer says.