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Stonecroft Village, a 55+ community in Womelsdorf, Pa

stonecroft-17Hey everyone! This article is the start of our new series of entries about some of the many 55+ communities in Lancaster County and its surrounding areas. Our first one is about Stonecroft Village. This is one of the more popular communities that we deal with for many reasons (which we will delve into later)!

Overview

Stonecroft Village, located in Berks County, Pennsylvania, was started by Landmark Homes in 1998. It is located right next to the charming town of Womelsdorf, Pa. When finished, this community will have 214 home sites, which will be all single family homes. Lot sizes range from approximately .20-.28 acres. Homes in this community range in price from the $170,000’s – $400,000’s and are anywhere from 1380 – 2178 sq. ft. All homes include a 2-car garage, at least 2 bedrooms, and 2 full baths. There are many 1 story or 2 story options. Homes can be built on slabs or they can include basements, and (depending on the lot you choose) you can also make the basement a walk-out. Basements can be finished or unfinished, and full or partial- whatever suits your needs! If you decide to build a home on a slab, many floor plans offer an option to add stairs to unfinished storage above. The HOA fee is $75/mo. which includes use of the clubhouse, common area maintenance, and trash. Generally, the reasons people love this community are the setting, the low HOA fees and home prices, and the great reputation of the builder.

stonecroft-7Setting

Because many people move to the greater Lancaster area to be away from the hustle and bustle of city life, this community really stands out to them after visiting. Firstly, its located just outside of the small town of Womelsdorf (pronounced Woom-ools-dorf- yes, quite a tongue twister to most people from out of the area)! This town takes you on a tour of PA Dutch Country at its finest.  Hershey, Reading, Lancaster, and Philadelphia are a few major cities nearby that are a delight to visit.  Just a minute after you pass through Womelsdorf, you come to the small mature residential area which Stonecroft Village sits across from. Stonecroft Village was built on land that slopes slightly upwards, so it is not your typical community built in a flat field. Trees and then mountains occupy most of your backdrop when looking at the community. Inside, residents can enjoy the beautiful 23 acres of land that the community owns and will stay undeveloped while sitting out in the gazebo which overlooks the pier and the fishing pond that is part of the community common grounds. Geese and ducks populate the pond most of the year or strolling long one of the walking trails.  Deer are often seen grazing around the perimeter or in the nearby fields and turkeys milling around can be heard.  It boasts a country feel while conveniently located near necessary resources.

Berks County has so much to offer in outdoor recreation. There are several lakes and state parks including Blue Marsh Lake National Recreation Area and Tulpehocken Creek Valley Park.  There are walking trails galore where you can fish, hike, hunt, ski or visit historical sites like the Daniel Boone Homestead or the Reading Railroad. Hershey Park and Dutch Wonderland, two great amusement parks are also within 45 minutes of this community, which are great if you want to take your grandchildren for the day! In Reading, about 15 miles away, you will find plenty of outlet shopping as well as Target, K-Mart, Big lots, Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Superstore as well as the Reading Mall. Major grocery stores are about 10 minutes away, and pharmacy and doctors’ offices are about 5-10 minutes away. Many residents have told us they love shopping at the local farm stands (usually Amish or Mennonite owned) to get all of their fresh baked goods and produce at a great price. You can find out more about the county by visiting their website.  To see an interactive map of Stonecroft (as well as all of the 55+ communities we will be reviewing), including where hospitals, grocery stores, tourist attractions, and more are in relation to it, click here.

Activities

Besides relaxing in the gazebo by the pond, watching the ducks and geese, residents can enjoy walking the walking paths (some of them are completed, more will be in the next few years). The clubhouse is located in front of the pond which has an exercise room complete with basic weight lifting machines, treadmills, and a television. There is also a library area complete with a fireplace and sitting area to visit or relax. A large craft room is to the right where residents meet to make quilts or participate in other activities such as card games and parties. As this is a new community, new activities are popping up every day, so if you have an activity that you’d like to participate in, odds are others will want to try it too! New activities are always welcome at this clubhouse, as they always are in newer 55+ communities like Stonecroft.

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While this community does enjoy their fair share of organized activities, after talking to many residents, we hear that a lot of their interaction is also just impromptu conversations while walking around the neighborhood. Many of the residents walk the community early in the morning or walk their dogs throughout the day, and this is how many of them get to know each other.

Ask the Neighbors…

We asked one of our past clients who is now a resident of Stonecroft Village about her favorite parts about living at Stonecroft Village.  “The people who live here are very warm and friendly,” Beth said, “One thing that is important when you are 55 and older is you have think about your resources and we have a network of people here who are very willing to help each other out and work with each other.  You don’t feel isolated in any way which is nice about living in a community. You can reach out to your neighbor and they are there for you.  We are located in the a perfect area nestled between Lebanon, Wyomissing, and Reading yet it feels almost country with beautiful surroundings and yet you have access to everything you could want.”

Homes

One of the best things about Stonecroft is the wide range of options you have when choosing to purchase home in this community.  You can choose between already owned (re-sale) homes as well as new construction to build your own “dream home”.  Landmark Homes is a reputable builder in central Pennsylvania that has created beautiful homes for over 35 communities since 1998.  Some of their homes have been featured in Lancaster Newspaper’s “Lancaster’s Distinctive Properties” Here is a link to one of Landmark’s articles.    They offer both 1 and 2 story models are energy efficient and offer many different floor plans. Homes range in price from $170,000’s – $400,000’s and are anywhere from 1380 – 2178 sq. ft. If you would like to see a list of the floorplans available, you can visit this page. Most of our clients favor the Heron model which offers 1803 Sq. Ft. of one story living with 3 bedrooms and 2 Baths.

While Landmark has many floor-plans to choose from, they only have a few available to view without an appointment in the community. Those are (mention spec homes available to see, what they are priced at, and what floor-plan they are). One of the many benefits of having Landmark Homes as your builder, is since they have so many communities, they have examples of almost every floor-plan built in at least one of their communities, so you are able to see any floor-plan you’re interested in. It just might not be available to see in Stonecroft! You will see by looking at the floor-plans that Landmark offers, that they are very well thought out. Landmark is constantly considering what buyers want, and is coming out with new floor-plans that reflect that!

All of the homes are natural gas heat, with the choice of gas cooking and gas hot water (electric is included in the standard price). These homes have public water and sewer as well.

Standard features in these homes include:

  • Ceramic Tile floors in entry, kitchen, laundry, and baths
  • Upgraded carpet with 8# pad
  • White panel interior doors
  • Open rail white spindle staircase on two-story plans
  • Custom cabinets—hickory,maple, or alder
  • Stainless steel double kitchen sink
  • Quality Kenmore stainless steel smooth top range, dishwasher, and microhood
  • Forced air gas furnace and hot water tank
  • Thirty-year composition roof
  • Insulated garage door and pre-wiring for door openers
  • Fifty-year Hardie Board lap siding
  • Front yard landscaping with timed underground sprinklers
  • One year builder warranty

One thing that we love about working with Landmark as a builder, is that they are extremely flexible with changes to the floorplan- without making you pay an arm and a leg for simply making the change. That being said, if your change will cost a lot more in materials, then yes, you pay for those materials. BUT if your change (like taking out a window or a wall) saves them in materials and labor, then you are REFUNDED that amount to use towards other upgrades! This kind of seems like a no-brainer to most, but most builders (in our experience) do not do this!

Additional Costs

At $75/mo, the HOA fee at Stonecroft is one of the lowest monthly fees of the 55+ communities in this area. The fee includes common area maintenance, trash removal, and use of the clubhouse. For some buyers, this community is immediately ruled out because the monthly fees do not include snow removal in the driveways and sidewalks (the streets are plowed by the town) or lawn care. But, as we’ve said, this is one of our most popular communities above the clients that we show around the 55+ communities. We think its smart to consider- in most cases, it’s just as easy (and cost-effective) to hire an outside landscaping company to do the snow removal and yard work. If you can do the yard work yourself for a few years or months, you can save yourself a lot of money having the freedom to choose when you pay for someone to do the outside maintenance.

Another cost for Stonecroft (besides home prices), are the taxes. Unfortunately, this area has some of the highest taxes of the local 55+ communities. However, because the community keeps sales prices lower than many other communities, they can end up being about the same as some of the higher priced communities in the lower taxed areas.

Pet-Friendly

One great thing that many buyers like about this community is that they allow backyard fencing, which especially excites dog owners. Most community HOA’s do not allow this as it sometimes is perceived as not pleasing to the look of a community. Of course, to build a fence, one must get approval from the HOA first to make sure it follows their basic guidelines for appearance. Landmark Homes communities are the only 55+ communities that we deal with which allow fencing (Home Towne Square & The Crossings at Sweet Briar are the other two).

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Tips for Finding Rentals in Lancaster County

1. Did you know you can hire a real estate agent to help you find a rental?
Real estate agents are licensed to help you search for rentals, make appointments, take you on showings, help you with applications, delivering documents to the landlord, as well as negotiating the lease, and doing a pre-move in walk through with you (on top of it all, this is usually a free service to the tenants because the landlord will pay for it). They can also be property managers (working for the landlord).
Unfortunately, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (unlike other PA cities, like Philadelphia), its hard for a real estate agent to help you find a rental because many landlords and property management companies will not reimburse them for bringing them tenants (unless you want to pay an agent yourself- their fee is usually half a month’s rent).
That being said, there are still many rentals that we CAN help you with in Lancaster, so when you start your search, find a real estate agent that is willing to do a search for you just to see- its so much easier with someone representing you and doing all the work (for free)!

2. If you don’t have an agent representing you, remember that a good landlord can make all the difference. Seasoned renters have probably learned the hard way, but a bad landlord or property management company can really make renting a nightmare. Try to ask the landlord or property manager questions to get a feel of how renting from them will be (Ex: How do I get something fixed if it breaks? What kinds of things do you expect I will fix if it breaks while I’m living here? How often do you service the furnace?). If possible, ask the current tenants how the landlord is.

3. You can never be careful enough, watch out for scams! Here is a great post about what to watch out for:
http://houseofbrokersrealty.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/how-to-avoid-housing-rental-scams/

4. Don’t underestimate the power of old-school searching. Some landlords have not caught up with technology quite yet (especially in Lancaster County) and you can still find rentals with yard signs or in the newspaper. If you know what area you’d like to live in and just cannot find anything that works, don’t be afraid to simply drive around town or open up the newspaper and keep your eyes peeled!

5. The most important part- where to search! Here are some website we recommend renters visit when trying to find a rental:

The basic sites: These are websites that you may or may not have known you could use to search for rentals online. The apartments you will find here are usually posted by larger property management companies.

  • Zillow.com
  • Trulia.com
  • Hotpads.com– this is our personal favorite
  • Apartments.com- this has a great database of short-term rentals as well as apartment building

Or, search by individual property management companies. This can sometimes be easier if you know you like one company in particular. Most of these websites are also where you will find applications for renting or contact info:

Craigslist.com

Craigslist can also be a great tool for finding rentals, however it does call for a lot more caution when scheduling meetings and arranging for payments. This website is great because you can easily search for keywords that aren’t normally search-able on other websites. Like “backyard”, “updated”, or “garage”.

Please read this link (same as above) for more helpful information to avoid being scammed:

http://houseofbrokersrealty.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/how-to-avoid-housing-rental-scams/

  • lowincomehousing.us is a great source to find local low income housing
  • searching on craigslist can be another easy way to find low-income housing, just search “section 8” or “low-income” in the search bar (but beware of scams!)

Shared Housing

  • Check out the local college websites to see if students have anything posted
  • Craigslist.com is another great source because you can search by “shared housing” (again, be careful on Craigslist)
  • Word of mouth can also be great for these. Post what you are looking for on Facebook and ask everyone to share!

Please share with any renters in your life! And don’t hesitate to call us if you have any questions!

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Some more really great lending tips for first time home buyers!

Navigating the range of home loans to find the one that best meets your needs can be difficult, particularly if this is the first home you’re buying.

To make things easier, the federal government and most states offer insured home loans tailored to first-time homebuyers. These loans offer attractive benefits that can make the home-buying experience less costly and less restrictive. But they aren’t for everyone.

What Is a First-Time Homebuyer Loan?

A first-time homebuyer loan is a mortgage tailored to people buying their first home. While definitions of first-time homebuyer vary, it is usually someone who has never been listed on a deed as the owner of real estate. Be sure to confirm this with the loan provider when looking to obtain such a loan.

First-time homebuyer loans offer a low down payment, reduced interest, limited fees and the possibility of deferring payments. These types of loans are offered at…

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