Sunday, September 09, 2007

Pennsylvania Househunting - 2

We've just returned from our second recon mission exploring retirement options in central Pennsylvania. We had a great hotel (with great rates via in Wyomissing, PA - west of Reading. A good hotel and decent food are vital for this kind of work, trust me on that! This is amazingly hard work - which neither of us had anticipated before we began. Our last trip was exhausting because we tried to do and see too much - we also had lousy accommodations, lousy meals, and we got locked out of our room, etc. We learned out lessons and picked a good hotel, simplified this trip to viewing only two communities: community A was 1/2 hour East of Reading; community B was 1/2 hour West of town.

Our first impressions, Friday afternoon during rush hour going West towards community B:
1.) Egads, what dreadful traffic - not much better than New Jersey! (it was 4:30 pm and there had been an accident on the 3 lane road that caused a major backup)
2.) What lovely old stone barns and houses they have out here!
3.) What an old town this is... do we really want to live HERE?
4.) Oh, but isn't the community wonderful??? Look at these views!
More on Community B later.

Saturday morning we had an 11 am appointment to view the homes at Community A - Meadowview Farms, in Oley, PA. Our morning drive was FAR superior to our Friday afternoon experience; the traffic was light, the scenery gorgeous, and the entire area comfortable. We loved the quaint village of Oley, which actually is much larger than first appearances. We did get quite lost using the Mapquest directions - just why I failed to read the brochure for directions is a mute subject - but the driving gave us a thorough view of the town. We found the 4-5 star Oley Valley Inn, a B+B and Restaurant, which we understand is excellent. I wish we had had time to photograph the inn because it was quite beautiful - made of stone, of course, in the Pennsylvania Dutch style.

We did manage to arrive on time to meet Barbara, a gracious hostess, who offered us coffee and cookies along with lots of local information.

Touring the homes was an adventure not to be missed. Alas, Meadowview Farms is a brand new community and there are only two models homes to tour - the sales office transformed one of them a bit, so only one really that looked totally home-like. Both, of course, were filled with upgrades of every kind - bringing the base home price upwards by approximately $75-100,000.00! There were four or five actual homes being built (which we could not tour), and they are scattered throughout the development. This is a small community of 100 or so homes with a small clubhouse. What we found uncomfortable about the development had to do with the basic design - it was a rectangle layout with one street circling the outer edge and two streets that intersected that ring - two smaller rectangles inside one larger one. No curving streets, no empty land between the backs of the homes, no scenic spot within the development itself. It is, however, in a very scenic location - the outer homes will have a view of preserved farmland - or, on one side, of the local school and playing field. The homes will have a mere 15' between them, something we'd like to avoid, if at all possible. I really don't want to see my neighbors eating breakfast... Nor do I want solid curtains at every window to maintain privacy.

So, plus factors include: gorgeous area, marvelous views, lovely townland, a couple of great local restaurants, honest/friendly townsfolk, little traffic, high speed internet available, trash pickup included in maintenance fee along with lawn care and snow removal. On the opposite side of the coin: houses very, very close together, little opportunity for variance of property, very small community and clubhouse facility. Never did find a grocery or drug store - although there was a 7-11 type store within a mile or two, no nearby library, and longer more trying trip to PA turnpike. Doctors and major mall shopping are probably in Reading, about 1/2 hour away - not a dreadful thing, but could be inconvenient especially at holiday time due to traffic & weather, of course. It is in the mountains of PA, after all - which is what we want... or think we want!
Community B:

Sunday, we had an 11am appointment with Pat at Stonecroft Village in Womelsdorf, PA. Pat was extremely informative, but is quite talkative, as well. It was a tad overwhelming to be given too much information for every question or comment. But we learned a lot - some of which we are still recalling and processing!

As mentioned in the beginning, the drive was less attractive than our drive out to Oley, but today it was Sunday morning - not rush hour - so it was far more pleasant a trip. We really like this development because of the layout and the spaciousness of the lots. All lots are quite deep, many have open spaces between their land and the land of the neighbors behind them. Because there are curving roads, the lots all vary in one degree or another - many require basements (with some walk-out or daylight basements are required) due to the nature of the rolling hillside. The views of the mountains are magnificent and because of the varied levels on the site, nearly every home has a lovely view in at least one direction, if not more.

Of course, this community is not all dug up as is Meadowview Farms, and many of the trees on the outer edge of the development will be lost once all the homes are built. But those homes will have views of the farmland as well as the mountains, and the fields have their own beauty - as well as deer in the winter.

So, the pros for Stonecroft Village are: gorgeous views, good sized lots, more space between homes, more opportunity to vary the floor plans, better building materials, nearby grocery & drug stores, new town library, about 13 miles to large mall (on nasty road), lovely 21 mile trip to PA turnpike, larger community (214 homes when completed). Cons include: smaller, less attractive downtown, no great restaurants nearby(from what we presently know, anyway), nasty drive to Reading, unknown where doctors, etc. would be located, long trip to Lancaster or Harrisburg if docs are there and nasty drive to Reading, if docs are that way.

So... our first impressions were dramatically altered about each community after visiting both. The pros and cons are fairly obvious, but we're both sure we don't know all we need to know prior to selecting any community. A second visit will be required closer to the time we're actually ready to make more definitive plans. Since Frank's retirement could be either March of 2008 or March 2009, we have too large a time span for us to be able to make any commitment at this time. He's now about 60% in favor of remaining on the job for the extra year with 40% leaning toward the earlier retirement. Of course, on bad days, it's more like 90% in favor of the early retirement! There really are next to no good days, so things don't ever fluctuate in the opposite direction...

Here are some of the reasons why we want to return to the mountains of PA, to an area similar to one where we spent 16 wonderful years from the mid-1970's to 1990:
Traffic (as compared to Rt. 9, Monmouth Co., NJ or the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Pkwy)

Insofar as traffic jams go, aren't these reasons (below) much better than horrific auto accidents or busy weekend traffic???
The occasional Amish buggy...

and/or the rare traffic light (maybe one per town or so - most of the small towns don't even have a stop sign for the major road traffic through town)...

Scenery (despite the Pennsylvania "haze:"

The architecture and history:

We also love the slower pace of living, the focus on practical living, the conservation of farmland and resources, the friendly people, the honesty of most folks - which was amply demonstrated today in Womelsdorf at the McDonald's (yes, they had a Mickey D's!). When we sat down at our table, there was an empty table behind us with an open laptop computer, obviously in use, along with various work items. The owner was no where to be seen - well, actually, he was outside the restaurant having a smoke - for a good 10 minutes or more. Never once did he look inside the restaurant or check on his computer - I could see him and figured he was with the woman in the next booth to us. But when he came in, he sat down at his computer and went back to work! That says something about the integrity of the local population AND about the internet services in rural PA. High Speed internet is available via Comcast - we checked!

That's it for tonight. Time to read the Sunday paper.


bopeep said...

Interesting post, Pat,
Thanks for the thought process.
How very interesting that two dear friends can look for such different things in retirement homes!

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