Alex Aberle and Violette Levy stand in front of their 16-room, 6,724-square-foot structure with 12-foot-high ceilings, revitalizing one of Mt. Airy’s most historic homes into an airy modern …
by Len Lear
Alex Aberle, who has with Elfant Wissahickon for two-and-a-half years, recently joined forces with another local Realtor, Kathy Krebs, to run the “Northwest Philly Life Team,” which has assembled a list of 86 trips you can take from the comfort of your own living room.
They have 86 virtual tours, virtual field trips, 360 pictures and videos, live-stream cameras, video tours and flyovers to help you feel like you’re anywhere but home. “We cover all the topics and hot spots from travel, to nature, to sports, arts, botanical gardens, forests, zoos, aquariums, theme parks, museums, oceans, space, and historical sites … Huge thanks to the San Diego Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, Houston Zoo and others for sharing their feeds with us.”
Spring is usually a great time for Realtors to be showing houses to prospective buyers, but of course, the pandemic has tried to put a dagger in their plans, especially since Pennsylvania is now the most restrictive state in the country when it comes to selling homes, according to the website pennlive.com. Realtors are considered non-essential.
“It has been tricky, but we’re adapting,” said Alex. We’re doing lots of virtual showings, drive-bys and video chats where you have the buyer/seller/buyer’s agent/listing agent on the same video. The seller walks us all through the house, and the buyer gets a chance to ask questions.”
Alex insists this “new normal” has actually led to sales. “It's definitely a different ballgame these days, but certain buyers are still moving forward. Some buyers are going into contract and waiting until the stay-at-home order is lifted to complete inspections. But other buyers are waiving inspections entirely!
“Particularly in our area, demand for quality housing is so high and the competition is fierce, so lots of buyers were already waiving inspections, financing contingencies etc. We definitely don’t recommend waiving inspections, but there are certain circumstances where it might make sense.”
It is hard to imagine a Realtor who is more well suited to his job than Alex since his father was a real estate broker and developer and since he and his wife, Violette Levy, both 28, live in one of the most historic houses in Northwest Philadelphia, the Upsala Mansion at 6430 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy. Built in 1798, the mansion is touted frequently as among the finest examples of Federal-style architecture.
An American flag flies above its expansive green lawn where, once a year, a re-enactment of Philadelphia’s only Revolutionary War battle is contractually required to take place. A plaque at the mouth of the driveway announces its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
But inside the 16-room, 6,724-square-foot structure, the modern furnishings and pop art of Alex and Violette blend with 18th century mantels and ceilings, 12-foot-high, revitalizing one of the area’s oldest homes into an airy modern residence.
The couple, married four years now, outbid at least eight other offers in 2017 to win the right to buy the house from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for $550,000 in cash, $51,000 above the asking price.
The Trust, in conjunction with Cliveden, Inc., had owned and managed the property since 2005, when it was sold by the neighborhood Upsala Foundation for $1. Low visitorship compelled the Trust to return the museum to the open market in 2016, with the required annual reenactment as caveat.
From 1798 to 1938, the house was a residence for John Johnson III and his descendants. But according to Aberle, Johnson’s grandson, Dr. William Norton Johnson, died with debt, leading a bank to seize the building and evict Dr. Johnson's surviving wife. Then four years later, the roof was burned off after neighborhood kids set fire inside. Nearby residents rallied to raise funds to save and convert the house into the Upsala Museum, which operated until 2005.
“People still knock on the door and ask for a tour all the time! We explain that the museum is long since closed, and we point them in the direction of Cliveden across the street,’’ said Aberle, who in addition to his wife, shares the space with four felines named Will, Grace, Nemo and Marcel.
Elizabeth Coady contributed to this article. For more information, visit nwphilly.com or elfantwissahickon.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org