Bloomfield, Friendship neighborhoods see real estate price upsurge

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It didn’t matter to Kate Hansen that the temperature had dropped below zero on the January day when she went house hunting in Bloomfield. It didn’t matter that so much snow and ice covered the region she couldn’t even tell if the property had grass in the backyard or a decent roof.

Location was everything for Ms. Hansen, 32, a project manager for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art.

She wanted more than anything to own a home in the Bloomfield neighborhood. At the rate house prices in that area were rising, she didn’t feel she had the luxury of waiting until spring. She made an offer that day.

“I was a little nervous not being able to see it,” she said, adding that the house also was the first she looked at. “I knew the street, though. My best friend lives across the street from the place I bought. I knew it was a good location just from him living there.”

Known as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, Bloomfield has managed to reinvent itself as a hub for young professionals, and the same goes for its immediate neighbor in the city’s eighth voting ward, Friendship.

After decades of transition and recovery, real estate prices in the two neighborhoods are booming.

An analysis of real estate values over the past 20 years by RealSTATs, a South Side-based real estate information service, shows the Bloomfield-Friendship community is in league with some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city — Shadyside, Point Breeze, East Liberty and Regent Square — in terms of price appreciation.

Median home prices in Bloomfield-Friendship from 1993 to 2013 actually have increased 185 percent, outperforming several other city neighborhoods historically perceived to be far more stable communities, such as the South Side, Highland Park, Oakland and Lawrenceville.

“Bloomfield and Friendship would not jump out at me as two of the top appreciating city neighborhoods over the past 20 years, but they are,” said Daniel Murrer, vice president of RealSTATs.

While Lawrenceville straddles city Wards 10, 9 and 6, the stampede of young, single professionals who want to live in or near that neighborhood has inspired much of the growth in nearby Bloomfield and Friendship.

Just three miles from Point State Park, Lawrenceville is a bedroom community to Downtown and walkable to restaurants, a movie theater, boutiques, coffee shops and the Arsenal Lanes bowling alley. As its popularity with young professionals has grown, its abundance of affordable housing has waned.

“Single-family houses in Lawrenceville are selling for prices we never heard of,” said Mary Kay Abdulovic, a real estate agent for Northwoods Realty Services and a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. “I just sold a single family home in Lawrenceville to a 23-year-old professional for $328,750.

“At one time, you could have bought every house from 37th Street to 57th Street for $300,000.”

Lawrenceville has come a long way from the days when homeowners there could not easily obtain a rehab loan, and then, when the homes were rehabbed, buyers had difficulty getting mortgages for the increased values because there were limited or even no comparables, said Matthew Galluzzo, executive director of the nonprofit Lawrenceville Corp., a community development agency.

“Many development projects throughout city communities were advanced by community redevelopment agencies, philanthropy and the Urban Redevelopment Authority,” Mr. Galluzzo said. “Those entities collaborated to do real estate projects to serve as comparables, which enabled private developers and lenders to come into Lawrenceville and say this has stabilized enough for us to invest in.”

In terms of price appreciation in city neighborhoods since 1993, the No. 1 community is Ward 1, Downtown, where median prices have increased from $19,000 to $345,000, or 1,715 percent, mainly due to the development of high-end condos that sell for seven-figure prices in some cases.

The Strip District in Ward 2 had the second-highest price appreciation, where median prices increased from $51,000 to $259,760, or 409 percent. Point Breeze and Regent Square in Ward 14 came in third place with an increase of $291,500, or 149 percent, since 1993.

By comparison, the Shadyside and East Liberty neighborhoods in Ward 7 saw a price increase of $154,263, or 123 percent. In Bloomfield and Friendship, median home values rose $97,500, or 185 percent.

Richard Swartz, executive director of the community development agency Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., said rising home values in the Friendship community, located south of Penn Avenue, played a big role in the transformation of Ward 8.

“The appreciation in Friendship over the last 10 years has probably been in the order of 100 percent,” he said. “So a house in 2004 that would have sold for $100,000 is probably selling for close to $200,000 now.”

While Friendship used to be considered part of Bloomfield, it developed its own identity as a neighborhood around the late 1980s. The housing stock tends to be a higher quality than the working-class aluminum siding row houses that dominate Bloomfield. Friendship homes are larger brick houses instead of frame construction, which indicate the people who lived there decades ago probably belonged to the city’s professional class.

The Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. has played a pivotal role in improving the landscape in Friendship and Garfield, which helped pave the way for much of the price appreciation Ward 8 is seeing now.

The nonprofit was formed in 1975 to stop the decline there using private and government funds along with community activism to encourage homeownership and business development. The organization has built and renovated hundreds of housing units and dozens of commercial properties along the Penn Avenue corridor that were once home to nuisance bars and vacant storefronts.

With the help of the organization, Garfield’s Penn Avenue commercial corridor — which it shares with Friendship — has reinvented itself as an arts community.

Today instead of gutted-out storefronts, there are a variety of small media-related businesses and nonprofit headquarters, such as Tree Pittsburgh, the Neighborhood Learning Alliance, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and several small art galleries.

“All of this began to create a new synergy in our commercial district,” Mr. Swartz said.

A lifelong resident of Bloomfield, Toni Surmacy, 51, has seen the neighborhood transform most rapidly in the past few years from mostly poor and working-class residents to a younger, more educated and affluent group of newcomers.

Her family has owned a three-family apartment house on Taylor Street in Bloomfield. They’ve rented it out for $400 per unit for the past 25 years. Recently she raised the rent to $685 a month. Rents at her Friendship Avenue apartment house recently went up from $600 a month to $875.

“One of my new renters is a Carnegie Mellon University grad,” she said. “Another is a chemist who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. The Pitt grad has taken over an apartment that had previously been rented to a woman on Section 8 who was disabled.”

“People looking to rent in Bloomfield are different now,” Mrs. Surmacy said. “They are young professionals.They pay on time and take care of the properties. We are able to fix up the units and offer them to renters now that we feel will take better care of them.”

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.

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