Accommodation in Philadelphia

The cost of housing in Philadelphia is relatively affordable and there are various housing options available, which is part of the reason why many people from nearby cities seek accommodation in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia emerged from the housing crisis in much better shape than other East Coast cities - better, in fact, than many cities in the whole of the USA.  

Types of accommodation in Philadelphia

The city has been a major settlement since the mid-18th century. As a result, there is an interesting mix of architecture in Philadelphia. The first row houses in the US were built here and, while the original buildings are not around anymore, similar townhouses can be found all over.

In the more affluent suburbs to the northwest, there are historic stone houses dating back to the early 20th century, 18th century mansions, and farmhouses that have been around since the 1700s. This area is known as the Main Line and has some of the best real estate in Philadelphia for raising a family.

Expats wanting a more urban experience can choose from luxury condos in the heart of the city and trendy loft apartments in some of its safer outskirts.

Finding accommodation in Philadelphia

Expats who intend to stay for the long-term tend to buy property, although most people start off by renting. Those looking to buy property in Philadelphia should either have a pre-approved mortgage or proof of funds before searching for accommodation. After that, the process for buying and renting is more or less the same.

The Internet is a good place to start finding accommodation in Philadelphia as there are various real estate agents, classifieds websites and local publications with property sections on their sites. Expats looking to rent in Philadelphia could also look up management companies or building owners and contact them directly.

It is ideal to view properties in person. Many opportunities arise from exploring neighbourhoods and responding to sale or rental signs. If this is not possible, a good alternative is to enlist the help of a licensed buying agent (known as a buyer agent in the US) or, in the case of renting, a specialised realtor. It is vital to ask for photos and ask questions about the property and the rental or buying process.

In Philadelphia, agents' fees are often paid by the seller or, in the case of rentals, they are paid a commission by the landlord. It is best to check with the agent upfront.

Renting property in Philadelphia

The rental market in Philadelphia is presently skewed towards landlords. Aside from the seasonal influx of students that starts around July, the rest of the year sees many people moving from neighbouring cities where property is more expensive. Many don’t have the means to buy, which increases the demand for rentals and negatively impacts prices. It is still easier and more affordable to rent in Philadelphia than it is in cities such as New York and Boston.

An application form is obtained from the landlord before a standard lease agreement is signed; there is normally a fee attached to this. It is a good idea to open a bank account before filling in an application as landlords will often require this information. Landlords may also ask for a lease deposit to be paid with the application, which can be as much as a month’s rent. Leases in Philadelphia typically last for a year, but month-to-month contracts are also common.

By state law, landlords in Philadelphia are not allowed to discriminate based on criteria such as national origin but they may reject rental applications due to the applicant’s income being insufficient. To avoid this, expats should consider attaching an employer’s letter stating their salary and duration of their contract.

Be sure to read the entire contract thoroughly and ensure that any verbal assurances by landlords are put into writing. There are laws protecting the rights of tenants and, in cases where the property is unsafe or uninhabitable, the Department of Licenses and Inspections can be contacted.

Utilities in Philadelphia

Tenants and homeowners are responsible for making the necessary arrangements for utilities. Getting utility services in Philadelphia is not difficult, although it may be unfamiliar for expats who come from countries where amenities such as electricity are paid directly to the government. 

Homeowners should be prepared to take responsibility for all of their utility needs. The utilities that tenants are responsible for often depend on the conditions of the lease and whether it is a house or an apartment.

In general, when renting an apartment, the landlord may assume responsibility for utilities such as heating (gas or electricity) and, almost always, water. In a house, tenants are likely to be responsible for all utilities. Tenants will most often be responsible for paying for their own telephone services too.

Expats can choose from a variety of gas and electricity companies, as well as phone and Internet service providers in Philadelphia.

Factors to consider when house-hunting in Philadelphia

As is the case with most cities, there are certain areas in Philadelphia that are safer than others. 

South Philadelphia, a mixed-income region of the city, is mostly safe, but areas such as Point Breeze are known for problems with violent crime. Neighbourhoods in the north such as North Philadelphia West and Fairhill also have high crime rates, while the Kingsessing area in West Philadelphia is plagued by violent crime and robberies.

The safest neighbourhoods in Philadelphia are generally considered to be in Center City, which is frequented by tourists, and the more affluent suburbs of North West Philadelphia.

For expats moving to Philadelphia with their families, the proximity of schooling becomes important. Generally speaking, suburban schools tend to outrank schools in the inner city.

Access to public transport in Philadelphia is a priority for many people, given that congestion and parking can be a problem. Real estate close to stations tends to be more expensive but it is convenient.