One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
It has been 18 years since Joe Solomon and Kathy Heupler traded a condo at Pier 5 in Philadelphia for a single-family house in Upper Providence, Delaware County, but the memory is vivid.
"Our oldest [of three sons] was just 2 years old, and one day we brought him to the suburbs and saw him looking down at his feet," says Solomon, president of Provident Energy Consulting, which has its offices here, where he is also a member of the Township Council.
What the boy was looking at, he says, was grass.
Solomon, a native of northeast Pennsylvania, and Heupler, who lived in Havertown when they met, were looking at houses on the Main Line, but "our real estate agent kept bringing us here," he says. "We'd just lost out on a house, and we were heartbroken."
The agent insisted on taking them to see a property in Upper Providence. Heupler and the agent went inside and she returned to tell her husband, "We have to buy this house."
Grass, lots of trees, a variety of available housing, ease of access by car and train to Philadelphia, and the Rose Tree Media School District are a magic mix that continues to draw young families to Upper Providence - including professionals who work next door in Media.
"You can buy a one- or two-bedroom condo or a single of 5,000 to 6,000 square feet," says Weichert Realtors agent Barbara Mastronardo.
Nicole Ritchie of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach's Media office recently sold a house in Toll Bros.' Woodlands at Ridley Creek development. She says 85 percent of sales in the township are single-family detached houses and the rest townhouses and twins.
The 51 houses in the Toll community are two to three years old, the newest resales in Upper Providence, where there is not much building going on these days, Ritchie says.
The Woodlands "sold out in about 18 months, at a time when the economy was just about beginning to recover," says Township Manager Gregory C. Lebold.
Homes in the Toll Bros. project, started in 2012, sold for $750,000 to $800,000, Ritchie says.
"People seem to want to live here," Lebold said, and he pointed to several areas in need of improvement that have been rejuvenated by newcomers.
Many of these areas have older Cape Cod-style, mainly brick "Levittown houses," as Mastronardo calls them, with second bathrooms and square footage added as families grew. Owned mostly by older residents, they sell for $200,000 to $300,000, she says.
The 30 current listings in "this hot little market" range in price from $80,000 to $1.2 million, Ritchie says, with an average price of $527,000.
The $80,000 listing is a twin, about 97 years old and 1,000 square feet, "a chance for a major rehab," Mastronardo says.
Although the last six weeks have been almost a carbon copy of last winter's miserable weather, 2014's for-sale inventory shortage has not repeated itself, the agents said.
"There's a lot more action," even with cancellations because of weather, Ritchie says.
The Media Bypass divides Upper Providence, says Solomon, with quarter- to half-acre lots within walking distance of Media below it and one-acre lots above it. Rose Tree Park is in the middle, home to a county concert series and other events, he says.
Not all children here attend Rose Tree Media schools, so sports is the common denominator, he notes: the Rose Tree Colts football program, youth soccer, and the Media Youth Center.
Mastronardo says the widening of Providence Road (Route 252) to five lanes, which began last year after a delay of nearly 25 years, will make it easier to get around, "although unfinished construction still makes commuting difficult."
The township had hoped the road would be done before cold weather set in, Solomon says, but he expects curb installation and other work to be finished when spring arrives.
Alleviating congestion and "stopping cars from screaming up the road from Newtown Square" was high on the list of things residents wanted, according to a survey done by Solomon and the task force assigned to update the township's comprehensive plan in 2005.
"The other was to find a way to manage growth," Solomon says.
The township completed the switch to public sewers in the last five years, as mandated by the state, and although many were unhappy with the expense, "we were ahead of the curve and we borrowed at low interest rates."
Property taxes are high here, Mastronardo says, and there is no extensive business or commercial presence to ease the bill.
Forty-five percent of the annual budget pays for a police department; adjacent townships have state police coverage.
"Residents have insisted that we have our own department," says Solomon.
A survey released a month ago showed the township has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, so having its own police force has paid off, he says.
Now, the township is trying to come up with $700,000 for a new fire truck for its volunteer department.
"You just can't go to the local car dealership and buy one," Solomon says.
By the Numbers
Population: 10,142 (2010)
Median household income: $107,166
Area: 5.8 square miles
Settlements in the last three months: 31
Homes for sale: 30
Days on market: 152
Median sale price: $320,000
Housing stock: 4,299 units, from condos to single-family detached
School district: Rose Tree Media
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report; Barbara Mastronardo, Weichert Realtors; Nicole Ritchie, BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors