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Overview of Pennsylvania Housing Market

Overall Pennsylvania’s housing market has affordable prices and stable growth. However, if you’re looking to buy in Philadelphia, prepare to pay more than the state’s average price.

Today's Mortgage Rates in Pennsylvania

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Source: Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey, SmartAsset Research
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Factors in Your Pennsylvania Mortgage Payment

Two costs to factor in on top of your mortgage payment are property taxes and homeowners insurance. Pennsylvania property taxes vary widely across counties. Each county has its own method to assessing home value and its own rates. The property tax rate could be as low as 0.93% as it is in Philadelphia County, or as high as 1.93% such as in Berks County. County property taxes include school and municipal taxes. If you want to dispute assessed value, you’ll need to produce data that backs your claim such as sale prices for comparable properties and pictures. There are also exemptions, such as the homestead exemption and the disabled veteran exemption.

Homeowners insurance is a relatively low cost in Pennsylvania. Out of the U.S., the state ranks 42nd for cost according to our Most Affordable Places to Live study. In 2017, the average policy was about $826 a year. The location helps keep costs affordable. Pennsylvania doesn’t have coastal areas or a high risk of tornadoes, earthquakes or other natural disasters. If you can’t find private insurance, you have the option to secure basic homeowners insurance through the Pennsylvania FAIR Plan.

Costs to Expect When Buying a Home in Pennsylvania

For those still in the initial steps of home buying, you’ll want to consider the upfront charges. These are fees you’ll pay once, but still can add up to a respectable amount. One of the first you’ll come across is the home inspection. Before you finalize a contract, you’ll want to hire a home inspector to give you the details on the house you’re hoping to buy. Pennsylvania has laws on home inspections which cover what an inspector is required as well as prohibited to do.

Most inspections run about $300 to $500, and depend on the square footage of the home. While base home inspections cover most of the basics, such as roof, plumbing, electrical and structural, if you want specialized reports you’ll have to pay extra. This can consist of a termite inspection, radon test or mold testing. All inspections are optional, but as a buyer you’re highly recommended to make use of them to prevent future surprises about the home.

Once you’re in the final stages of the home buying process, you’ll set a date for “closing.” This is when all the final documents are signed and you pay fees called closing costs. Each state and county generally charge different fees, so it’s something that varies depending on property location. Your lender and other parties involved in the mortgage and property will also be paid from closing costs. Pennsylvania average closing costs range from 3% to 6% of the home value.

Average Closing Costs by County

CountyAvg. Closing CostsMedian Home ValueClosing Costs as % of Home Value
Adams$7,266$193,1003.76%
Allegheny$7,089$129,6005.47%
Armstrong$4,521$96,0004.71%
Beaver$5,414$120,1004.51%
Bedford$5,480$122,7004.47%
Berks$7,756$168,2004.61%
Blair$5,173$110,6004.68%
Bradford$5,815$135,9004.28%
Bucks$10,329$308,8003.34%
Butler$6,886$178,1003.87%
Cambria$4,239$87,1004.87%
Cameron$3,717$70,6005.27%
Carbon$6,038$144,7004.17%
Centre$7,815$197,2003.96%
Chester$10,811$325,8003.32%
Clarion$5,085$107,1004.75%
Clearfield$4,246$87,3004.86%
Clinton$5,346$117,4004.55%
Columbia$5,934$140,6004.22%
Crawford$5,026$104,8004.80%
Cumberland$7,147$188,4003.79%
Dauphin$6,406$159,2004.02%
Delaware$8,424$232,7003.62%
Elk$4,353$90,7004.80%
Erie$5,366$118,2004.54%
Fayette$4,296$88,9004.83%
Forest$4,154$84,4004.92%
Franklin$6,766$173,4003.90%
Fulton$6,254$153,2004.08%
Greene$4,565$97,4004.69%
Huntingdon$5,386$119,0004.53%
Indiana$5,082$107,0004.75%
Jefferson$4,341$90,3004.81%
Juniata$5,962$141,7004.21%
Lackawanna$7,417$144,8005.12%
Lancaster$7,167$189,2003.79%
Lawrence$4,562$97,3004.69%
Lebanon$6,523$163,8003.98%
Lehigh$7,245$191,7003.78%
Luzerne$5,480$122,7004.47%
Lycoming$5,881$138,5004.25%
McKean$3,895$76,2005.11%
Mercer$4,026$107,9003.73%
Mifflin$4,578$97,8004.68%
Monroe$6,794$174,5003.89%
Montgomery$9,846$292,3003.37%
Montour$6,513$163,4003.99%
Northampton$7,660$206,1003.72%
Northumberland$5,014$104,3004.81%
Perry$6,424$159,9004.02%
Philadelphia$8,960$145,3006.17%
Pike$7,015$183,2003.83%
Potter$4,935$101,2004.88%
Schuylkill$4,426$93,0004.76%
Snyder$6,038$144,7004.17%
Somerset$3,634$98,8003.68%
Sullivan$6,066$145,8004.16%
Susquehanna$6,191$150,7004.11%
Tioga$5,531$124,7004.44%
Union$6,432$160,2004.01%
Venango$4,053$81,2004.99%
Warren$4,322$89,7004.82%
Washington$6,234$152,4004.09%
Wayne$6,908$179,0003.86%
Westmoreland$5,881$138,5004.25%
Wyoming$6,414$159,5004.02%
York$6,640$168,4003.94%

Our Closing Costs Study assumed a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a 20% down payment on each county’s median home value. We considered all applicable closing costs, including the mortgage tax, transfer tax and both fixed and variable fees. Once we calculated the typical closing costs in each county we divided that figure by the county’s median home value to find the closing costs as a percentage of home value figure. Sources: US Census Bureau 2015 5-Year American Community Survey, Bankrate and government websites.

The blanket term of closing costs can be broken down to line items to be paid out to relevant players in your home buying journey. Your mortgage lender’s cut is known as origination fees. This can cover loan underwriting, tax service, broker charge, commitment fees, points and document preparation. What you’re charged by the lender varies between mortgage providers and will depend on the company’s particular fee schedule.

In addition to paying your lender, you’ll have to consider third-party fees such as for an attorney, flood certification, surveys, credit reports and appraisals. Each homebuyer’s closing will differ on these costs because it depends on what services were used in the process. Not all homebuyers opt to arrange a property survey or for an attorney to be part of the process; it will depend on your particular selections.

Another charge is title insurance. Your lender will likely charge you for a policy that will cover the lender’s interest in the property. However, many homebuyers opt to purchase an owner’s policy as well to cover the full value of the property and to cover their own bases. Title insurance helps protect against future financial losses that stem from a title dispute on the property. This includes claims such as unpaid taxes, liens, easements and more.

One last charge is Pennsylvania realty transfer tax which is 1% of the value of real estate. The buyer and seller are jointly responsible for paying this fee. Some counties also charge an additional tax on top of the state transfer tax, with a maximum of 1%.

Details of Pennsylvania Housing Market

Pennsylvania, home to the City of Brotherly Love, Amish Country and Hershey Park, is the sixth-largest state by population with 12.8 million residents. The rectangular state is roughly 44,700 square land miles with about 284 people per square mile. The largest cities in the Keystone State are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown and Reading. Philly was the sixth-most populous city in the U.S. as of July 2016.

Pennsylvania ranked in the top 10 in SmartAsset’s Healthiest Housing Markets study, which is good news for homebuyers. The study considered a number of factors, including average homes with negative equity, percentage of homes decreasing in value and days on the market. The highest ranked places in Pennsylvania were Bethel Park, Castle Shannon, Franklin, Shiloh and Swissvale.

As of late 2016, homes spend an average of 75 days on the market in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors statewide report. The median sale price across the state was $170,000, and homes sold for 93.2% of the original list price. As of June 2017, unsold inventory hit a 30-year low, which indicates a strong market.

If you’re looking to own a home in one of the bigger cities, such as Philadelphia, prepare yourself for high demand and low supply. As of July 2017, PlanPhilly reported prices at an all-time high, 12% to 14% above the peak in 2007. That said, part of the reason is because Philadelphia is considered an affordable place to buy, with a median home value of $139,900 and median list price of $179,500, according to August 2017 Zillow data. From 2016 to 2017, prices went up 6.8% and are predicted to continue to rise. Pittsburgh is a similarly hot market, but at a different price point. As of August 2017, the median home value was $125,400 and median price was $179,999.

Local Economic Factors in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania, known for the Marcellus shale deposit and accompanying jobs in natural gas and energy, also counts manufacturing, agribusiness, life sciences, plastics and tourism among its top industries. From 2007 to 2012, Pennsylvania experienced a 259% increase in oil and natural gas industry employment. This is mainly due to the surge in shale gas production by drilling the aforementioned deposit. The state was the sixth-largest in the nation for oil and natural gas employment in 2012. As for coal production, in 2012 Pennsylvania ranked fourth.

Home to 21 Fortune 500 companies, Pennsylvania hosts the headquarters of Comcast, Rite Aid, Kraft Heinz, PNC Financial and Aramark, among other industry giants. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia host a number of these companies, as well as a number of educational institutions such as Carnegie Mellon and University of Pennsylvania. The top employers as of 2016, were the federal and state government, Wal-Mart, University of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia.

The state unemployment rate in June 2017 was 5% compared to the national rate of 4.4%. As of 2016, Pennsylvania ranked 17th in the U.S. for per capita personal income at $51,275. The national average was $49,571 and increased 2.9% from 2015 to 2016 compared to Pennsylvania’s 3.0% growth.

You will have to pay state income tax if you live or work in Pennsylvania. The state levies a flat tax of 3.07% on taxable income. There are no standard deductions or exemptions for Pennsylvania residents, unlike several other states which offer exemptions, such as Minnesota. However, you can claim itemized deductions for medical savings account contributions, health savings account (HSA) contributions and 529 college savings plan contributions. In addition to state income tax, municipalities in Pennsylvania collect income tax. Larger cities generally have higher rates while smaller towns collect less. Sales tax is about 6% with two counties charging an additional 1% to 2%. The state also taxes inheritances with rates depending on the relationship between the deceased and the receiver. Direct descendants are charged less.

To put living in Pennsylvania in perspective, you can compare your current cost of living to a city or town in the Keystone State. A single person with an income of $75,000 moving from Cleveland, OH to Pittsburgh, PA would experience a 1% increase in cost of living on average. The increase is mainly due to housing and food cost increase. The same person moving to Philadelphia would have a 15% average increase in cost of living, mainly due to a 38% spike in housing costs. However, a move from Portland, OR to Pittsburgh would see a 9% decrease in costs on average and a move from D.C. to Philly would result in a 12% decrease in cost of living on average.

Mortgage Legal Issues in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that has specific seller disclosure laws. Many states have laws that include language regarding not concealing any material defects when selling a property. The Keystone State takes it a few steps further by detailing exactly what needs to be included in a seller’s disclosure. Plumbing, water and sewage, hazardous substances, legal issues, basements and structural problems are some of the subjects that you’ll find in the disclosure. You can find property and disclosure law under Pennsylvania Title 68.

Foreclosure in Pennsylvania is judicial, which means the lender pursuing foreclosure must file a lawsuit. Judicial foreclosures usually take longer than non-judicial foreclosures due to the involvement of the court system. Each county may differ with how long it takes for a lawsuit to make it through the system, however. Most lenders will send notice 60 days after a missed payment. A law passed in 2013 prohibits filing a foreclosure suit until 120 days past the missed payment, but lenders are allowed to send notice of missed payments before then. The average foreclosure takes 300 to 540 days, according to Safeguard Properties. In 2017, a bill was introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly regarding expedited foreclosures for abandoned properties.

Pennsylvania Mortgage Resources

Available Resources

ResourceProblem or IssueWho QualifiesWebsite
Pennsylvania Housing Finance AgencyHomeownership loans, down payment/closing cost assistance, renovation funding.Income-eligible PA residents.http://www.phfa.org/homebuyers/
USDA Rural Development - Single family loansOffers payment assistance to increase an applicant’s repayment ability.Applicants must be without decent, safe and sanitary housing; Be unable to obtain a loan from other resources on terms and conditions that can reasonably be expected to meet; Agree to occupy the property as your primary residence; Have the legal capacity to incur a loan obligation; Meet citizenship or eligible noncitizen requirements; Not be suspended or debarred from participation in federal programs.http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/all-programs/single-family-housing-programs
Home Affordable Refinance ProgramRefinancing.Single family homes and condos that fit within lending loan limits.http://www.harp.gov/

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) urges homebuyers to start with them. The state-created agency offers free homebuyer counseling and education, competitive interest rates, low or fewer fees and can be used with other loan types such as FHA or VA. The Keystone Advantage Assistance Loan and the HOMEstead Program are two additional programs for those who meet income limits. PHFA also offers down payment and closing cost assistance and programs for persons with disabilities. For those facing foreclosure, PHFA offers emergency foreclosure payment help in the form of loans for those who qualify.

If you’re interested in rural property, you can check eligibility on the USDA website. You have to meet certain requirements for USDA-backed mortgages, but it’s a good option for those with low to moderate income. Much of Pennsylvania is within the eligibility areas except for urban areas such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

Moving to the Keystone State? You can always get a step ahead on budgeting by calculating what your Pennsylvania paycheck will look like. Or, start crunching loan costs with current Pennsylvania mortgage rates. It’s always helpful to get started sooner rather than later for a smooth move and home buying experience.