I live in Fishtown and my office is in Old City so I am very familiar with these areas and I used to work in Northern Liberties. If you are going to be in Philadelphia for more than 5 years, my best advice it to buy something. The money in rent that you would be saving by purchasing your own home is astounding, (I could do the math for you but I am sure that is the least of your concern).
From what I understand in your question is that you are concerned about the appreciation of these three areas. There is so much going on in Fishtown with the emerging of 2424 Studios, The Memphis Taproom, Memphis Flats, Frankford Arts Corridor, and the addition of the newest Stephan Starr restaurant and beer garden, you are pretty safe with this area for a long term investment. Northern Liberties is always a destination for newcomers to the area and it appeals to a variety of home buyers due to the local parks, restaurants and shopping that are within walking distance, as well as the building of a new Pathmark on the corner of 2nd & Girard that is coming soon. And then there is Old City, which perhaps is the last of my recommendations due to the fact that it has already hit its peak several years ago but if you can buy right you may be able to make some money long term.
As far as payment goes, if you are looking for a monthly nut of 1000-1500 Fishtown is a great area, and if you have a pretty good down payment then Northern Liberties and Old City are good options for you.
More than neighborhood appreciation values, what is most important is buyer appeal for the long term. For example, you do not want to buy something in a booming area that has negative living attributes like a corner condo that has no light and is located in the basement. So for resale value, I would recommend a home with at least 2 bedrooms rather than a 1 bedroom as you will be able to appeal to a more broad range of buyers and things like some outdoor space, good kitchen layout, street parking or private parking if possible, and if you are going to buy a condo, make sure it is in a building that has more than 75% owner occupancy...(this is a mortgage criteria point that you will need to know if you plan to sell in less than 5 years)
Please contact me directly for more info; I would love to help you.
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I would tell you to check the numbers. You might be way ahead by doing either.
I wrote the blog below to help people make that decision. It gives you a common sense way to look at your real numbers and see what really makes more sense for you. It never says to buy or not. It only shows how to look at the numbers to decide.
It is possible to check out the numbers and decide to do the opposite thing. It is a decision you must make for yourself. You will live with whatever you decide.
If you decide that was useful I have several other blogs that show different aspects of buying a house from step one.