Profile: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We've got the basics on the City of Brotherly Love.

Population: 1.6 million

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7

Major Airports: Philadelphia International Airport

Companies with a Major Presence: Jefferson Health System, University of Pennsylvania, Merck & Co., DuPont

Philadelphia means "brotherly love" in Greek, hence its nickname. William Penn chose it to promote his city as one in which people of all faiths were welcome which was unusual for the time and certainly among the other colonies. Today, the city spans an eight-county metropolitan area of 4.3 million.

Philadelphia is often overlooked because of its proximity to New York City and Washington, D.C., but don’t sell Philly short. While other major real estate markets have tanked, housing in the city and the region has held its value. The reason: Speculators couldn’t make a killing in the slowly appreciating Philadelphia market. While prices did rise in the boom, the increases were gradual and smaller than comparable cities. As a result, buyers didn’t have to resort to risky mortgage products, keeping the foreclosure rate low.

Center City, the central business district, has added 10,000 units of housing, mostly condos, since 1998, thanks to two 10-year tax abatement laws fostering renovations and new construction. Because building costs here are 18 percent above the national average, spec housing was kept to a minimum during the boom. Tax abatement mitigated the high construction costs, and prices remain affordable.

Philadelphia’s median home price, while almost doubling during those years, is just $130,000, declining just 6.6 percent from the peak reached in the second quarter of 2007. The suburban median price -- $230,000 -- has remained level with the market peak.

With growth fueled by young professionals and suburban empty-nesters attracted by the amenities of a newly minted 24/7 city, the central business district is third in residential population after New York and Chicago. Center City continues to burst its traditional boundaries as it contributes to the revitalization of blighted, adjacent neighborhoods.

Economic diversity -- pharmaceuticals, health care, education and service industries -- as well as an expanding public transportation and highway system are boosting the area’s growth. Instead of living in the shadow of New York and Washington, Philadelphia provides an inexpensive housing alternative to them, with an easy commute to both.

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