It's tough to identify the best starter neighborhoods in Philadelphia because it all depends on how much space you want, whether you plan to have kids, and how much you want to spend. Later in the week we'll look at starter ’hoods for those who plan to breed or have already done so. But for now let's talk about places to live if it's just you alone and you can't imagine yourself adding to the mix unless you find love or sex or, ideally, a combination of both.
First neighborhood, Center City West. The perks of living in Center City are numerous: tons of restaurants and stores; easy access to transportation; parks and other options for hanging out; venues with theater, music and film.
If we're trying to stay beneath $300,000 for your first home (not easy in CC), here's a four-story trinity on a side street near 23rd and Locust with hardwood floors, a functional fireplace and quaint decorative touches you've come to expect from trinities. It also has a garden, and you don't have to worry about condo fees. It's priced at $269,000 and has 583 square feet.
If you can go up to $350,000, you can get either closer to Rittenhouse Square or even on the Square itself. One pending sale right now is at the Rittenhouse Savoy, which is on the park. The two-bedroom apartment there (892 square feet) is selling for $339,000. Other like apartments will probably come up. Check out buildings like the William Penn House at 1919 Chestnut; 1811 Chestnut; the Packard Grande; and the Rittenhouse Plaza. Keep in mind, though, that some of these buildings have assessments and fees that will significantly increase your monthly costs, so carefully factor that in. Many of are also quite old, so it's hard to predict future assessment costs. And older buildings have strange tics, like thick walls and ceilings that make speedy Internet access tough.
If you can go up to $450,000, your options increase (that's how life is, after all). There are plenty of nice houses in Center City at this price point and some high-rise apartments that afford you more space. This Ellington two-bedroom apartment with 1,096 square feet is $439,000, but could probably be negotiated down. It does have a tax abatement until 2015, so that's surely a factor in the selling price.
Take a look at 2039 Arch Street. This three-bedroom condo at 1,540 square feet has private garage parking and an outdoor patio, and is also $439,000. It's a bit farther afield, but having the space divided this way may make it worth it to you.
Real estate in Center City in unlikely to be a bad investment—though it could be value-neutral depending on the market. Some people have bought in CC hoping to double their profits within a few years and found they're only breaking even—including on Rittenhouse Square. But you can be sure that unless the city changes dramatically and everyone decides to live in Squirrel Hill, there'll always be buyers for downtown homes and apartments.