A brigade of Adirondack chairs stands sentry on lawns on the eastern edge of Yardley, Pa., placed so residents can relax as they contemplate the Delaware River, so wide, smooth and swift. On the other side is New Jersey, another world.
Stefanie Walker and her husband, Steven, moved in 2001 from Central Jersey to New Hope, Pa., 12 miles upriver from this Bucks County borough. Three years ago, with their twin daughters in high school, they began looking for a new house — on the Pennsylvania side, for sure.
“We’d never, ever go back, because of the taxes,” Ms. Walker said.
Besides the better tax rates, Pennsylvania river towns like Yardley offer houses with lower comparable prices than you’ll find across the water in towns like Ewing and Trenton, N.J. In January, the Walkers were delighted to find a custom four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath contemporary home in Yardley for $1.1 million. (According to Bright Multiple Listing Service, over the past 180 days the median price for a house in Yardley was $236 a square foot, compared with $359 a square foot in Lambertville, N.J., 11 miles upriver.)
“It’s very bucolic, very friendly,” Ms. Walker said. “It’s kind of like an old-time town.”
The Walkers are not New York commuters. But Yardley, 70 miles southwest of Manhattan, has become highly desirable to buyers from New York and New Jersey who want to stay close to the city, even if the pandemic has meant fewer commutes each week. Yardley and the surrounding Lower Makefield Township (often referred to as Yardley), give them a “vibrant and fast-paced” market, said Lisa Baranchuk, an agent for River Valley Realty in nearby Lambertville.
She called them “tax exodus” buyers, adding, “These are very often empty-nesters who no longer have the need to utilize the school districts which they are paying high taxes for. Lower interest rates and higher rents will continue to push buyers to the current market.”
With about 2,500 residents, Yardley is not the sleepy town it was even 25 years ago. Eclectic shops and restaurants open all the time on Main Street, which is lined with American flags. A wine-and-beer festival was held last weekend near the river.
Princeton and New Hope, popular towns on either side of the river, are less than 30 minutes away. But Yardley is appealing because it is walkable, with a historic district and a canal towpath in addition to the waterfront. “I really appreciate getting out of the car on Friday and not getting back into the car until Monday,” David Bria, the president of the borough council, said.
The council’s vice president, Caroline Thompson, moved to Yardley from Matawan, N.J., in 2014 with her husband, Michael, and their young son. She works in Princeton as a manager at Educational Testing Service but grew up in Lower Makefield and said she “just felt very called back here.”
“People are on a first-name basis with the mayor,” she said.
For the past eight years, that has been Chris Harding, a Republican who is now running for re-election. Harding, a mortgage officer who grew up in the area, has watched as more people have migrated south from New Jersey and New York, especially in the past five years. He pointed to Yardley’s recent push to preserve open spaces and historic areas, just as more residents are arriving with the ability to telecommute.
“They’re taking that,” he said, “and saying, ‘Hey, let’s get more rural.’”
The Walkers don’t have Adirondack chairs, but they do plan to buy kayaks.
What You’ll Find
Yardley Borough is nestled in about one square mile between Interstate 295 to the north and Afton Avenue, State Route 332, to the south. Lower Makefield Township, most of which is part of the Yardley ZIP code, surrounds the borough on three sides, with the river being the fourth. I-295 provides access to New Jersey via the Scudder Falls Bridge, which is nearing the completion of a replacement project, and to Philadelphia via a connection to I-95.
Main Street and the more residential Delaware Avenue, next to the river, are the two main north-south thoroughfares, with Afton Avenue providing access from the west (and another exit off Route I-295).
The stately Yardley Inn is perched next to the river, and a portion of the Delaware Canal towpath, which stretches for 60 miles from Easton to Bristol, is a few blocks west.
The small, serene Lake Afton is near the intersection of Main and Afton, and is adjacent to the 1769 Yardley Grist Mill, which now houses a fitness center, and Cramer’s Bakery, a longtime local favorite. Antique wood-frame houses, an Episcopal church and the Yardley Friends Meeting provide a scenic backdrop.
Main Street to the south includes a variety of businesses, including a Wawa convenience store (practically obligatory for the area), a post office and borough offices. There are stone houses and more wood-frame houses with big porches. Even the few older buildings with peeling paint are charming.
What You’ll Pay
On Oct. 12, the Bright Multiple Listing Service showed eight properties for sale in Yardley, ranging from $218,500 for a two-bedroom, one-bath condo unit to $1 million for a lot in which a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom Colonial is to be built. There were 37 properties for sale in Lower Makefield Township, from $325,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo to $1.595 million for a three-bedroom, 2.5-bath historic home.
A 1943 three-bedroom, two-bath Cape Cod in the borough whose price recently dropped to $384,900 came with annual property taxes of $4,099, according to Realtor.com.
Through September, 434 properties sold in Yardley Borough and Lower Makefield Township, with an average price of $518,584 and an average time on market of 17 days. By contrast, the first nine months of 2019 saw 391 properties sell in the area for an average of $433,498 — about 16 percent lower — with an average of 38 days on the market.
Max and Lisa Edward moved from Manahawkin, N.J., in February with their two elementary school-aged children, paying $485,000 for a four-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath brick Colonial in the Creekview section, near the river. Mr. Edward opened Yardley Tattoo in May.
“Our biggest motivating factor was the neighborhood,” Ms. Edward said, adding, “People here have been really welcoming to our business, too.”
The pandemic hurt business in Yardley, but activity is slowly picking up. La La Lobster, a seafood restaurant across the street from Yardley Tattoo, opened last October. Frederick Rabena, the co-owner, opened another La La Lobster in Cape May, N.J., in April, and he plans to open a third restaurant in Princeton in December.
Patty Witt opened a Pilates and exercise studio in 2013 in a converted barn. She thought she would need two years for her business to gain a hold, but she said it took more like two weeks. Now, because so many more people in town are telecommuting, her clients have more free time. “People are just done staying at home,” she said, referring to the loosening of pandemic restrictions. “And they have extra disposable income to spend on themselves.”
Yardley Borough and Lower Makefield Township are part of the Pennsbury School District, which also includes Falls Township and Tullytown Borough. The district comprises 10 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools, including Pennsbury High School, one of the largest high schools in Pennsylvania. According to the state’s Department of Education, Pennsbury students taking the SATs in 2019 averaged 582 in math and 588 in reading and writing, compared with state averages of 537 and 545.
According to the school district, its 9,979 students enrolled in 2020-21 were 75.7 percent white, 7.6 percent Asian, 7.2 percent Black or African-American, 4.9 percent multiracial, 3.9 percent Hispanic or Latinx, 0.6 percent American Indian or Alaskan Native and 0.1 percent Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian.
Yardley is a 90-minute drive northeast to Manhattan on a good day. New Jersey Transit train rides to the city take between 70 and 80 minutes from Trenton, just over the river from Yardley. Nearly 50 trains run each weekday, including about a dozen during morning and evening rush hours. The one-way fare is $16.75, with a 20 percent discount on 20-trip tickets. Reserved parking at Station Plaza is $15 a day and $220 a month.
The drive to Center City Philadelphia, southwest on Interstates 295 and 95, is about 45 minutes. Yardley has a SEPTA train station at the edge of the borough that offers one-hour journeys on the West Trenton Regional line to Philadelphia for $6.50 one-way on weekdays.
According to the borough’s website, the area was settled by William Yeardley, a Quaker minister in search of religious freedom. He moved from England in 1682 with his family after agreeing with William Penn to buy a 519-acre tract of land for 10 pounds sterling.
The first bridge across the Delaware River was built at Afton Avenue in 1835 in what was then called Yardleyville. In 1955, a steel-truss bridge was struck by a house floating downriver after two hurricanes hit the area. The Scudder Falls Bridge was built a mile and a half upriver between 1958 and 1961.