Kari Vissichelli grew up in Squirrel Hill, but when she and her husband began thinking about buying their first home, they found the housing prices there to be a bit high for their budget and not many homes from which to choose.
So, with the help of real estate agent Sherri Mayer of Howard Hanna, they decided to look at homes within a close range of Pittsburgh Jewish life, but in neighborhoods with more affordable price tags.
They ended up finding their dream home in the borough of Churchill, located about 10 miles east of downtown Pittsburgh and just a 10-minute drive to Squirrel Hill.
“We felt like we could get more bang for our buck in Churchill,” said Vissichelli.
What the young couple got was a four bedroom, two-and-a-half bath home with a fenced-in backyard and a two-car garage for $223,500.
Compare that to a home with the same stats in Squirrel Hill — where the average sale price is $392,000 — and the Vissichellis saved about $170,000.
Not only is the cost of a home in the heavily Jewish populated Squirrel Hill high, but right now, there is a dearth of inventory, according to Mayer.
“There’s nothing on the market,” she said. “There are big holes in Squirrel Hill. If a house does come up, it usually sells within a couple days. The homes usually need work, they don’t always offer family rooms, and they usually have dated bathrooms.”
Mayer has been selling real estate in Pittsburgh for more than 25 years. Because of the housing crunch in Squirrel Hill, she works to find alternative neighborhoods for some of her clients. While Squirrel Hill has its advantages — “walkability, close to the universities and close to Jewish facilities” — so does Churchill, she said.
“In Churchill, you are still close to Squirrel Hill, but you get more area and a bigger yard,” Mayer said. “And Kari doesn’t have to do anything [to improve her new home]. It has a new, updated kitchen. There are lots of homes in Churchill. It’s a great option.”
Vissichelli said she does not feel like she is “missing out” on Jewish life by living in Churchill.
“Most of our friends are Jewish, so we keep in touch that way,” she said. And she does not mind the short drive to Squirrel Hill when she wants to attend a Jewish service or community event.
Other good alternatives to Squirrel Hill include areas north of Pittsburgh, including Wexford, according to Mayer.
“The houses there are usually under 20 years old, and there is lots of new construction,” she said, but added there are not a lot of Jewish families living out that way.
The average sale price of a Wexford home comparable in size to Vissichelli’s house in Churchill is about $344,000, according to Mayer — still much less than the going rate in Squirrel Hill. A four-bedroom home in Wexford, with three baths, recently sold for $281,000. A comparable home in Seven Fields in Butler County recently sold for $280,000.
Real estate agent Bobbi Broffman of Howard Hanna has been in the business for about five years. She lives in Valencia in the North Hills and specializes in selling homes in Wexford, Cranberry, Mars and Seven Fields.
One big advantage in moving out of Allegheny County can be property tax savings, Broffman said.
“Mars is in Butler County,” she said. “Taxes are about half in Butler County than they are in Allegheny.”
But it’s a trade-off.
“There is not a big Jewish community in this area at all,” Broffman said. “The closest synagogue is Temple Ohav Shalom [in Allison Park], which is about a 20-minute drive.”
The Jewish community that is living out that way, though, is deliberate in getting together to celebrate Jewish holidays. At Chanukah, Broffman said, a Jewish man in Butler organizes a menorah-lighting ceremony at the municipal building and invites Jews from Cranberry and Wexford to attend. Congregation B’nai Abraham in Butler is about a 40-minute drive from both Wexford and Cranberry. It’s about a half hour drive from both Cranberry and Wexford to Squirrel Hill.
Despite the sparse Jewish community out that way, the area offers excellent schools, Broffman said — and more house for the money. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at