At its very heart, a home is four walls, a roof and a foundation large enough to hold a dream.
What goes inside and where it’s located is more complicated. Do you envision a hip urban condo with industrial finishes sited a few steps from your favorite restaurant? A stately brick home with a manicured garden in the suburbs? A sprawling beach retreat with panoramic views of the ocean?
In Delaware, folks dream big. The rate of homeownership is 71 percent, the highest in the region, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s far above the national rate of 64 percent.
First-time buyers Ally and Andrew Eicher went house hunting with a long list and a wide net.
They wanted a single-family house with at least three bedrooms, a fenced yard for their dog, a finished basement, a fireplace and a garage, with ready access to parks where the thirtysomethings can hike, run and bike. She works at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in North Wilmington. He manages the Sherwin-Williams store on Kirkwood Highway.
“We were looking North Wilmington, North Star, Pike Creek, a big circle, all within commuting distance,” Andrew recalls.
Ally and Andrew Eicher found their first home in Drummond North near Newark.//photo by Deny Howeth
They rented an apartment in Greenville while they searched.
“We looked casually for a couple of months and then intensely,” Ally says. “We knew that we would probably have to look at a lot of houses and that was OK with us.”
They drove through their targeted neighborhoods to get a better sense of the community. They relied on their agent, Rob Watson of Re/Max, to keep them apprised of new listings and guide them on pricing.
The couple found a home in North Wilmington that matched their wish list. “But it was already gone,” Ally says.
When they found a house in Drummond North, a red-hot development in suburban Newark, they didn’t delay.
The Eichers strategically bid slightly above the listing price to secure
“We put in an offer that night—and learned we were one of seven offers,” she recalls.
The Eichers followed their agent’s advice and put in a bid that was slightly above the listing price. The strategy worked; the house was theirs.
In Drummond North, homes are selling for $300,000 and up. A 2,075-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house with a deck and two-car garage was snapped up for $320,000 in two days.
“First-time buyer doesn’t always mean a tiny modest-priced home,” says Madeline Dobbs of Century 21. She recently represented three young physicians, all shopping for their first homes with budgets ranging from $265,000 to $365,000.
Doctor No. 1 moved from an apartment in Philadelphia to a three-bedroom recently remodeled home in Graylyn Crest in North Wilmington. “She was smitten by the gorgeous modern kitchen and thought three bedrooms would be perfect to host visiting family and friends.”
Doctor No. 2 bought a 100-year-old Victorian twin in The Highlands neighborhood in Wilmington. “Best of everything for an active lifestyle, dog park and charming backyard to hang out,” Dobbs says.
Doctor No. 3 was looking for a great place to start a family. “They chose to buy in North Pointe in Pike Creek,” she says. “Eventually, they hope to outgrow this house and keep it as a rental.”
Hailey Spicer Parks also was looking for a first home that would become a source of rental income in the future. After an arduous search, she found it in a condo in Dover.
For her, a smaller property with minimal maintenance was a manageable choice.
“It’s two bedrooms and two baths and I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “All the stress of receiving a loan and signing stacks and stacks of papers was all worth it as soon as I got the keys. It was a huge feeling of empowerment.”
If you are looking for new construction at an entry-level price in Sussex County, prices decline with each mile from the beach. At Seabrook, a K. Hovnanian community in Millsboro, single-family homes start in the low $200,000s. Nearer the ocean at Tidewater Landing, a Schell Brothers development on Love Creek in Lewes, prices start at $425,000.
LeeAnn Wilkinson, a Berkshire Hathaway broker, says her daughter opted for a townhouse in Five Points, a mixed-use community off Del. 1 in Lewes where prices start in the low $200,000s.
“She lived there for 10 years and then rented it out.”
Would you rather rent than buy?
In Wilmington, The Residences at Mid-town Park offers studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments with stainless steel appliances, quartz countertops and other sizzle features. The complex was one-third leased at the ribbon cutting in August 2018. Incentives included half a month’s free rent or six months of free parking.
“We’ve never leased as many apartments as quickly as we have in this project,” says Rob Buccini, a partner in the development firm Buccini-Pollin.
Mid-town Park includes upscale amenities such as a demonstration kitchen, a bike share program and a dog washing station. The clubhouse is chock-ful of goodies: a fitness center, screening room, barbecue area, outdoor fireplace and a private courtyard with a swimming pool.
The Residences at Mid-town Park.//photo by Joe Del Tufo
In Middletown, Capano Residential’s new Reserve at South Ridge features one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the heart of town, with ready access to major roads. Apartments feature open floor plans with wood plank flooring, stainless steel appliances, granite counters and tiled baths. Residents can enjoy the state-of-the art fitness center, resort-style swimming pool and business e-cafe. Not enough room for your stuff? Private garages are available for additional storage. Dogs and cats are permitted with a $500 deposit. There’s a two-pet limit.
Dover Country Club Apartments markets itself as a pet-friendly community. In addition to Fido and Fluffy, renters may own turtles, nonpoisonous frogs, hamsters, hermit crabs, gerbils, small domesticated birds and fish. There are some restrictions on large dogs and aggressive breeds. Snakes, spiders and iguanas also are banned.
For human residents, there are abundant amenities: a playground, pool, volleyball court, clubhouse and gym. One-, two- or three-bedroom apartments are outfitted with a washer and dryer. Short-term leases are available.
In real estate, moving up doesn’t always mean buying a larger home. It can mean buying in an upscale neighborhood.
Kent County boasts newer developments of estate homes, including Townsend Fields, tucked between Dover and Camden, with such offerings as a five-bedroom, five-bath 6,252-square-foot home with a pool, home theater, game room and gym for $889,000.
Carol Arnott Robbins of Berkshire Hathaway in Greenville.//photo by
Silver Lake in Dover offers large homes and lovely water views. The Estates at Wild Quail in Dover surrounds the tony Wild Quail Country Club, offering golf, tennis, swimming and gourmet dining.
At the beach, Henlopen Acres in Lewes, North Shores in Rehoboth and North Bethany have long been destinations for buyers looking for well-appointed homes with ocean access.
In New Castle County, moving up translates to such fashionable addresses as Greenville and Centreville in aptly named Chateau Country, or Alapocas, a community of stone and brick homes on tree-lined streets centered around the manicured campus of Wilmington Friends School. In Wilmington, ascendant buyers have their eyes on The Highlands and Wawaset Park, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods a stroll from shops and restaurants where the grandest homes fetch prices topping $1 million.
Buyers looking for large homes with lots of amenities in a convenient location are moving up to North Wilmington, says Carol Arnott Robbins of Berkshire Hathaway in Greenville.
“Sharpley, Edenridge, Tavistock and Woodbrook are all close to the city of Wilmington, and a quick and easy trip to Philadelphia airport,” she says.
Smaller homes are resonating with empty nesters.
“They are done with that big four-bedroom house out in the burbs,” Robbins says.
But empty nesters aren’t the only ones. Singles who are out and about are looking for something compact, low-maintenance and located where the action is.
“I sold a cute little condo in Trolley Square, just a few blocks from where the buyer was renting,” she says. “It’s just the right size in just the right place.”
The Town of Whitehall near Middletown.//photos courtesy of Edis Company
Often, buyers are willing to swap square footage for proximity to activities and amenities, says Erin Herman of Evergreene Homes, a builder of single-family homes, as well as communities.
“We recently sold out a 22-unit townhome community in Rehoboth Beach called Park Shore with one-car garages, open-concept design and optional third-floor lofts and terraces,” she says. “The best-selling feature was its proximity to the beach, a mile and a half, and to the Rehoboth outlets, a mile and a half in the opposite direction.”
She notes that a significant number of buyers decide they don’t want to downsize after all.
“For empty nesters, or folks planning for retirement, they initially imagine downsizing as the way to go,” she says. “But taking into account when the kids and grandkids come to stay, the extra space is extremely important.”
There’s a unique opportunity to live large in a smaller space in The Town of Whitehall, a planned community near Middletown that will include its own school, part of the Appoquinimink School District. Options include living over the store—a first-floor office or retail space with private living quarters above—as well as twin homes, cottages and townhouses dripping with such amenities as lofts, walk-in closets and front porches ideal for making friends with neighbors. (Estate homes also are available on a private cul-de-sac.)
The Town of Whitehall near Middletown.//photo courtesy of Edis Company
Even growing families are looking for smaller homes that require less upkeep, says Tara Wheeler of Wheeler Home Concepts, a Newark-based home staging firm.
“Younger families are choosing to downsize,” she says. “They are opting to have less stuff and spend more time with family.”
Wheeler notes that sellers who want to live with less should start paring back before the move, the better to get top dollar for their larger home by decluttering rooms and closets.
“If the goal is downsizing, sell the items you aren’t taking with you,” she notes. “There’s less to worry about, less to pack. It makes the whole process easier.”
With a wave of would-be buyers, many shoppers for vacation homes wonder if their chance of owning a place at the beach has drifted out to sea.
But there are still opportunities for buyers to dip a toe in the water. It just depends on how close to the ocean you want to be and how much square footage you require.
Wilkinson, of Berkshire Hathaway, grew up in Sussex County on 100 acres on Beaver Dam Road, where the only homes were farmhouses. Her girlhood home is now the clubhouse for Oak Crest Farms, a community in greater Lewes where houses sell in the high $200s and up.
“It’s a great starter neighborhood,” she says.
Milleville by the Sea, located near Bethany Beach.//photos courtesy of Kelli Wilke
Here are a few other communities to check out:
Off Del. 5 in Millsboro, Victoria’s Landing offers three- and four-story townhomes at entry points under $200,000. Most units have decks and a one-car attached garage. You have to drive to the beach, but the community pool, restaurants and shopping are within walking and biking distance.
A 10-minute drive from Lewes and Rehoboth, The Plantations is a gated community of 200 condos and 23 single-family homes. There are two scenic ponds and plenty of open spaces, plus a pool, tennis courts and a fitness center. Two-bedroom, two-bath condos start at just under $250,000.
Five miles from Bethany Beach, Millville by the Sea isn’t on the ocean. But shuttles run from the new development May through September. Buyers have seven floor plans to choose from, with an emphasis on open-concept living. The community includes pools, trails, and a lifestyle center. Prices start in the high $200,000s.
Before they retired, Art Payne and his wife, Kathi, sold real estate in Maryland.
They were looking to scale back from their 5,000-square-foot home on 4 acres. They wanted a place where everything is on one floor and somebody else takes care of the property.
“It dawned on us. Why are we paying all these Maryland taxes? Why not look in Delaware?” recalls Payne, who was stationed in Dover for two years when he was in the Air Force.
Art and Kathy Payne found a perfect fit at Independence, a 55-plus community in Millsboro.//photo by Deny Howeth
They also wanted a community that was rich in amenities, with lots of opportunities for recreation and social activities. They ruled out golf communities because neither plays.
“I didn’t want to pay for a golf course I wasn’t going to use,” Payne says. “As it turns out, we paid almost $80,000 less than we would have paid for a comparable house in a development on a golf course.”
The couple spent $508,000 for a premium lot and 2,550-square-foot home in Independence, a 55-plus Schell Brothers development in Millsboro. Their property taxes are $900 a year.
“In Maryland, they would have been $8,000,” he says. “My friends next door are from New York. They tell me their taxes were $14,000.”
Low taxes means residents can afford to live it up. And at Independence, there are lots of opportunities for that, including pool volleyball, a veterans club, a ladies wine club, mahjong and more.
“We have a very nice clubhouse with pool tables, poker tables, an outdoor pool, an indoor, heated pool, a great gym and a wonderful bar,” he says. “There’s a ballroom they use for shows and trivia nights.”
Lower taxes and a community with amenities drew the Paynes to look for a home in Delaware.//photo by Deny Howeth
At Bayside in Fenwick Island, more buyers are looking for year-round amenities, says Jeff Evans of Carl M. Freeman.
“Our indoor pool and life enrichment classes at Bayside Institute are a hit among retirees who want to be active physically and mentally fit 12 months of the year,” he says.
The Peninsula in Millsboro is drenched in amenities, with a glamourous clubhouse a chip shot from a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The community also is home to a protected nature reserve, an eight-court tennis complex, indoor basketball court, fitness center, restaurant, full-service spa and three swimming pools, one indoor, one outdoor and one wave pool.
Wilkinson says many retirees are looking for resort-style living. They want to enjoy their free time.
“Coastal Club in Lewes has the best package around, an amazing trail and a pool with a swim-up bar, only seven miles from the beach,” she says. “And they have a great full-service gym. My personal trainer trains people there.”
Back in Drummond North, the Eichers are at work making the house their own. They have painted every room, installed a new garage door opener and replaced a toilet. They spend evenings on the screened porch on the back of their house enjoying the quiet neighborhood and the satisfaction of home ownership.
“It feels so good to be in our own home,” Ally says.
This chart compares Delaware home sales from 2014 through 2018. Average price is indicated in thousands, rounded to the nearest thousand. Range refers to the lowest and highest selling prices during the year indicated. Also included is the number of houses sold during the year. NA (no activity) indicates that no homes were sold. All sales are obtained from the Bright MLS database for
Sussex, Kent and New Castle counties. Sales not posted in the MLS system are not included.
Figures were compiled by Steven Sachs and Jeffrey Schoch: Steven Sachs Appraisal Access LLC, 3628 Silverside Road, Wilmington, 477-9676; Schoch Appraisals LLC, 2628 Longwood Drive, Wilmington, 494-9662.
This chart is a random sampling of Delaware neighborhoods.