Maggie Negrete rented a house in Lawrenceville for three years but knew it was time to go.

The popular neighborhood stretching eastward from the Strip District along the Allegheny River is experiencing a phenomenon: rehabbed homes now cost $325,000 to $450,000 and a new townhouse can top $500,000. Many rentals are $2 a square foot, and going up.

“I saw the writing on the wall. I wasn’t going to be able to live there much longer. Everyone I knew, their rent was going through the roof,” Negrete says.

Last March, she moved to Allentown, where she bought a two-story frame house built in the 1900s near Grandview Park with a porch, fenced backyard, and half-finished basement for her artist’s studio. The home was move-in ready, though she’ll update the kitchen and, with a loan from the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, replace the boiler.

She chose Allentown because “I knew that Lawrenceville, Bloomfield – those were out of the question.”

Paolo Pedercini, 34, Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, thought the same thing when he bought a house in Garfield and moved with his girlfriend last October after four years in a Bloomfield rental. They were priced out of the neighborhood, he says, and liked Garfield’s diversity.

“I’m not interested in being in the next Lawrenceville or East Liberty if that means that the people who are living here are going to leave,” Pedercini says.

Paolo Pedercini photo by Brian Cohen.
Paolo Pedercini at his house in Garfield. photo by Brian Cohen.

The three-story late Victorian he bought from the city had been boarded up for five or six years and needed “significant investment” to renovate. And now?

“We are definitely happy,” he says. “It’s a lively neighborhood, across from Bloomfield and Friendship. We didn’t have to change our habits.”

Negrete, 28, can take a bus from her hilltop neighborhood to her job Downtown at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. Her neighbors are “very nice, inviting,” and she has befriended the business owners along East Warrington Avenue. Mornings, she walks with neighborhood kids to their bus stop.

“From my second-floor window I can look out over the top of hills and I can see for miles and miles. It’s beautiful,” she says. She laughs, thinking back to the one house for sale in Lawrenceville for $55,000 that caught her eye, until she found it had no utilities. “There weren’t even walls.”

Lawrenceville, she says, “is changing so fast. The old cast of characters, who had been there their whole lives, are becoming the minority. It just doesn’t feel the same.”

Inside Paolo Pedercini's renovated Victorian in Garfield. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Inside Paolo Pedercini’s renovated Victorian in Garfield. Photo by Brian Cohen.
Inside Paolo Pedercini’s renovated Victorian in Garfield. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Though most homes for sale in Pittsburgh are priced under $100,000, new construction and renovated older homes in Lawrenceville are listed for $300,000 to $500,000, says Kyra Straussman, director of real estate with the URA.

People who can’t afford pricey neighborhoods such as Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, East Liberty and Lawrenceville are looking in Morningside, Polish Hill and Stanton Heights, says Straussman. She recommends they also explore buying in the West End – Elliott, Sheraden or Chartiers – or in South Hills neighborhoods such as Allentown, Mt. Washington, Beltzhoover, Beechview, Brookline or Dormont.

“There is incredible housing stock, greatly undervalued, particularly for families,” Straussman says.

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.