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Home buyers turning area into hot spot

| Sunday, Aug. 11, 2002

David and Amy Gilpatrick have been in their new home in Pine Township for two weeks now, partly because of the "sellers' market" for homes in the North Hills.

The couple sold the Hampton Township home they lived in for seven years in just 30 days. Hampton is among the 20 busiest municipalities for home sales in Allegheny County so far this year.

While searching for their new home, the couple thought about areas such as Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon but chose to stay in the North Hills.

"We did our homework," David Gilpatrick, 39, said. "We drove around for (several months) looking at places, did some research on the school district, spoke to friends. … It all led us to this community."

David Gilpatrick acknowledged that many of their friends already live in the North Hills, and it might have been difficult to move to a different area of the county, but, he said, they are satisfied with their choice.

Hampton, Ross, Shaler and McCandless are in the top 20 busiest housing markets in the North Hills, according to figures from RealSTATs, a South Side-based firm that collects real estate data in five southwestern Pennsylvania counties. But Pine Township also is becoming a more popular destination for home buyers, according to real estate specialists.

Ann Reale, a Realtor with Prudential Preferred Realty Co. in Cranberry, said Cranberry and Pine are "very much a sellers' market" this year.

In Pine, a growing housing market has generated $478,000 in real estate transfer tax revenue. The municipality and the school district usually split the tax, which can vary by municipality from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent. Reale said the sales of homes costing less than $300,000 have not been affected by the economic turmoil of the past several months.

"We haven't seen any downturns in the housing budget," said Cheryl Fischer, Pine's assistant manager.

In 2001, the township collected $795,000 through the real estate transfer tax, which was about 11 percent of the general fund budget last year Fischer said.

"Pine and Cranberry are the leaders right now. Most people find those desirable places to live," said Kevin Mihm, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker.

He said five points make the North Hills in general desirable: good transportation with no tunnels, low crime, good schools, a wide selection of houses and homes close to recreation areas.

In between the Wexford and Warrendale exits along Interstate 79, people can reach Downtown in minutes, Mihm said.

"Transferees to the region want to live here," Mihm said.

Ross Township is third in Allegheny County with 276 sales through June 30, according to RealSTATs. Shaler is sixth; McCandless, eighth; and Hampton, 18th.

Ross finance director Virginia Finnegan said the township has collected $182,836 in real estate transfer taxes for the first six months of the year. Ross charges 1 percent, which is shared evenly with the North Hills School District. She said the township is on course to reach the $325,000 that is in this year's budget. Finnegan said Ross' number of sales represent the normal housing turnover.

With access to Route 19, Interstate 79 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and lower taxes, southern Butler County also is a significant player in the housing market.

Cranberry Township is second in the Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties in home sales with 336 so far this year. The township has collected about $500,000 in real estate transfer taxes so far this year. In 2001, the municipality collected $940,310, or 9.8 percent of the township's budget.

In 2000, the township collected just $786,000 in transfer taxes, and in 1999, the total was $833,000, according to township officials.

Shaler is fifth on the list, but Shaler manager Tim Rogers said several factors figure into the township's number of sales. The population, 29,757; the number of housing units, 12,334; and a high senior citizen population all contribute to Shaler's ranking.

"We are the fifth largest municipality (in Allegheny County), have a very high senior citizen count, and we've had about 100 new housing starts in the last two years. … These all combine to produce the number of sales," Rogers said.

Rogers said Shaler budgeted $275,000 in this year's budget for the real estate transfer tax revenue.

Shaler residents frequently sell to buy a larger home in the township, Rogers said.

Gilpatrick said geographically, his family's move was a lateral move, but he and his wife are satisfied with the choice of Pine Township.

"So far, we like (Pine)," David Gilpatrick said. "The area seems very community-oriented."

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