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Owning Up to It: A Renter's Guide to Fairmount/Art Museum

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By Tim Ford

Cool kids don't live in Fairmount, man. Get a place in Fishtown or down by Passyunk Avenue, right? Sure, for those born after 1990 or new to Philadelphia post 2005, the collection of neighborhoods commonly known as the "Art Museum Area" has a reputation —somewhat earned by the weekend crowd that congregates at bro-friendly Urban Saloon and Bishop's Collar—as a safe arrival point for post-college bros and gals leaving Manayunk and Conshohocken for a place closer to Center City. But most of that reputation is just hipster shade thrown by the kids coming up from behind. You can't hate on Era, the cocktails at Lemon Hill, the craft draught lists at Brigid's or the Belgian Café. Fairmount is the James Murphy of Philly 'hoods: It owns its graying highlights and Dad paunch.

The Skinny: The more desirable western sections of the neighborhood have some of the highest percentages of owner-occupied housing of any neighborhood close to Center City, over 60 percent in some areas according to census data, so finding a rental that checks off all the needs and wants here requires patience, a good ground game, and a paycheck exceeding that of most cool kids.

One bedrooms exceeding 600 square feet will start around $1,000/month, and go up if you're looking for popular amenities like outdoor space or in-unit laundry. Small two bedrooms are fairly common and not much more per month, starting at around $1,200-$1,400, but most are more suitable for couples than roommate shares because of older layouts. Apartments with more than three bedrooms are rare, but there are three to five bedroom rowhomes in abundance and in varying degrees of disrepair/renovation to suit all levels of budget and taste, but nearly all are above $2,000/month.

Boundaries: Ask five different Philadelphians what and where Fairmount or the "Art Museum Area" neighborhood is and you'll get five different answers. Most amateur geographers tend to agree that Spring Garden Street serves as the southern border because residentially speaking most of what lies beyond is high-rise apartments and condo buildings build after 1960.

North of Spring Garden Street, west of Broad Street and south of Girard Avenue is the most common demarcation, and the housing stock within those blocks are consistently two- and three-story rowhomes built between the 1860s and the 1930s and three- and four-story apartment flats. The core of what people refer to as Fairmount lies north of Fairmount Avenue, west of Corinthian Avenue and south of Poplar Street, and two or three-story single-family rowhomes dominate, with some apartments above corner retail properties, some duplexes and a couple warehouse-to-apartment conversions.

Between Fairmount Avenue and Spring Garden Street is the core of the old Spring Garden neighborhood, a name realtors and landlords rarely use because of lingering association with gang violence back in the 1980s. Here apartments dominate in three- to four-story buildings. East of Corinthian Avenue is Francisville, a more affordable but less dense section of the neighborhood with mostly two- and three-story rowhomes.

Who to rent from: It's almost impossible to rent in the neighborhood without coming into contact with JMH Realty, a rental management group known for its ubiquity and alienating customer service. The wildly understaffed office of employees will only let you see potential properties one time before forcing you to make a very important decision. Their whole operation makes Vogons look joyful and efficient, but they manage so many properties it's hard to avoid them.

Outside of individual landlords, Loonstyn Properties also has a sizeable rental portfolio, and they own all their rental properties unlike JMH, which manages rentals for individual owners. Loonstyn also runs a separate roofing and contracting business, so most of their properties have been recently updated or renovated prior to being listed on the rental market.