The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Salvation Army – Owner Of 13 Houses In Plymouth and Whitemarsh – Part Three

In Part One of The Freedom Valley Chronicles: The Salvation Army – Owner of 13 Houses in Plymouth and Whitemarsh, we detailed residential real estate owned by this church. In Part Two of this news article, we detailed the religious faith of The Salvation Army.

One question you might have – Why has The Salvation Army chosen to purchase houses in Plymouth Township and Whitemarsh Township for more than 50 years?

The short answer?

Location, Location, Location.

The longer answer?

Highways, Schools, Affordability.

The Salvation Army states that when it buys a house, it is a long-term investment – both for the church and in the community.

“The reason that so many of these houses are concentrated in Plymouth and Whitemarsh is really threefold, but I think primarily, it is a matter of the convenient location,” explained Major Carl E. Avery, Divisional Secretary for Business Administration of The Salvation Army Eastern Pennsylvania & Delaware Division.

“Our Divisional Headquarters serves all of Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. This location provides our administrative people a balance between commuting to Philadelphia and traveling to our outlying Corps Community Centers – which are as far south as Seaford, Delaware; west to Chambersburg; and north to State College and Scranton.”

“The interstate highways converge here,” continued Major Avery. “Two other considerations are the school system (for our clergy with children) and the size of the homes available. We try to purchase moderately-sized homes that will not be a maintenance burden. When we purchase, we tend to keep them for a long time.”

Major Avery concluded: “Plymouth and Whitemarsh seem to be…where our multiple needs are met.”

One of the real estate agents that worked with The Salvation Army in its purchase of houses in the Freedom Valley is Ms. Kathy McGee Burns. “I recall The Salvation Army looked for homes to house members of their clergy,” explained Ms. Burns, a real estate agent with the Blue Bell office of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach REALTORS. “The church has been a long-time owner of a house in my own neighborhood. Through the years, The Salvation Army has been a good neighbor and the house has been well-maintained.”

A number of regional and interstate highways converge in the Freedom Valley. The Pennsylvania Turnpike has four major interchanges in or near the Freedom Valley, including the Norristown and Mid-County interchanges in Plymouth Township, the Fort Washington interchange on the border of Whitemarsh and Upper Dublin Townships, and the Valley Forge interchange in Upper Merion Township.

From Plymouth Meeting, you can travel to New Jersey and points East; to the Lehigh Valley, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Area, and points North; to Chester, the Philadelphia International Airport, and points South; and to central and western Pennsylvania and points West – all without stopping at a traffic light.

The Salvation Army owns several single-family houses in the Plymouth Meeting section of the Freedom Valley.

A major interchange of two interstate highways is also located in West Conshohocken. From this town, you can travel (perhaps – at times – well, alright, many times – slowly) to Center City Philadelphia and beyond as well as to all of the locales noted as accessible from Plymouth Meeting.

If you take a map of the five southeastern Pennsylvania counties and fold the map in four, the center point of the creases is likely West Conshohocken.

The highway network has led to substantial commercial development in key locales within the Freedom Valley.

Office buildings, shopping centers, warehouses, manufacturers, and other types of commercial development have grown through the years in such communities as Plymouth Meeting, West Conshohocken, Fort Washington, downtown Conshohocken, and King of Prussia. These establishments share the burden of property taxes to pay for local government, absorbing some of the burden that would otherwise be borne by residential homeowners.

Among area school districts, the Colonial School District is deemed to offer a quality education to its students.

Affordability is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. It is tied to that old adage mentioned earlier – location, location, location. This includes such factors as ease of access to jobs, the quality of education in its public schools, the amenities offered, the costs of maintenance, the property tax responsibilities, and related items.

The Plymouth Towne neighborhood in Plymouth Township is the location of one the thirteen houses owned by The Salvation Army in the Colonial School District.

Two area real estate agents – neither of which has worked with The Salvation Army in home purchases – confirm that the strategy employed by The Salvation Army is being utilized by many people as they look to buy a house.

“I think the house purchases by The Salvation Army speak to the broader sense of the market regarding value,” stated Mr. Eric Rehling, Broker-Owner, RE/MAX Ready of Conshohocken. “In my opinion, the Colonial and Upper Merion School Districts are able to offer lower property taxes because of fiscal responsibility as well as the level of commercial developments in both districts.”

“Most consumers may not realize the impact of property taxes because they look at the amount they can afford to pay for housing on a monthly basis,” Mr. Rehling continued. “The fact that property taxes here are relatively lower than compared to many other communities in the region means that consumers can see more value in their home purchases.”

“Taken together, Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships offer the moderate-sized housing that The Salvation Army indicates it seeks when purchasing residential properties,” stated Mr. Mike Sroka, Broker Associate, Keller Williams Realty. “You can live within reasonable distances to employment centers, you have proximity to the City of Philadelphia, and taxes are relatively low.”

Mr. Sroka continued: “Compared to other regions – in Delaware County and in New Jersey, for example – property taxes are substantially higher in those areas as compared to property taxes in Plymouth and Whitemarsh Townships. The commercial developments in Plymouth Township and Upper Merion Township help to subsidize the property tax rates in this region.”

“I was born and raised here, so I may be biased,” Mr. Sroka stated. “But this area draws a lot of people seeking affordability. People are looking for the most bang for their buck. With the Colonial School District, you get tremendous value by living in this area.”

Economics plays a large role in the real estate industry. While purchase prices, affordability, and valuations are each distinct factors, many home buyers look at monthly mortgage payments. As more people seek housing in a specific community based on value, prices tend to increase through the years.

Both real estate agents noted the inventory of houses for sale is about 60% lower in this area of the Freedom Valley as compared to many markets around the country. “We have a housing inventory – the time period the typical house takes to sell – of about two months when many economists look for a six month inventory,” explained Mr. Rehling. “The lower inventory level helps to drive up pricing for the houses on the market.”

(Photos of houses are courtesy of Montgomery County)

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© 2017 Richard McDonough