One in a continuing series spotlighting real estate markets in the region's communities.
If you want the scoop on Bensalem, just ask Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, a lifelong resident of the Bucks County community just over the Philadelphia line.
"When I was growing up, 75 percent of the township was produce farms," recalls the affable DiGirolamo, who ran his family's operation from age 26 until he retired at 51.
"It wasn't until after World War II, and especially in the 1960s" that the township's fields filled with houses and apartment buildings, he says, somewhat nostalgically.
Yet DiGirolamo - who for 22 years has guided the fortunes of this town of about 60,500 people, the county's largest - doesn't dwell on the past, as much fun as it is to remember it.
"The services we provide are second to none," he says, "and that is how we keep up Bensalem's real estate values."
Most people you talk with in Bensalem agree that the services are high-level. Taxes here are lower than they are in surrounding towns because of the presence of businesses such as Parx Casino on Street Road and Neshaminy Mall.
"I serve because of him," Al Gougler of Al's Auto on Old Lincoln Highway, chairman of the township's Economic Development Commission for several years, says of DiGirolamo. "Joe knows what the township needs and always takes care of it."
"We keep electing him because he's always available to talk to you," says Ellen Cassidy, a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Hearthside Realtors in Newtown.
She moved here with husband Joseph and son Joe more than 20 years ago because of the school district's gifted program and the township's cultural diversity, "so my son would get along with everyone when he grew up."
Not only is Bensalem's population diverse, so is its housing stock - small and big, townhouse and single-family detached, old and brand-new.
The least expensive house for sale, which is under contract, is a shell for $49,900, Cassidy says.
The most expensive active listing is $619,000, "although there are a couple of others around that price," $599,000 and $558,000, she says.
"You can find a small rancher or Cape Cod in older neighborhoods and townhouses near Neshaminy Mall," says Carol McCann, an agent with Re/Max Millennium in Philadelphia's Somerton neighborhood, who, like Cassidy, sells a lot of houses in Bensalem each year.
Single-family and townhouse prices tend to run from $250,000 to $350,000, McCann says.
"Things here sell pretty quickly," especially to people from adjacent Philadelphia neighborhoods "who move here because they still want to be close enough" to the city, she says.
Cassidy points to smaller, affordable singles - small ranchers in Nottingham Village, which was built in 1955, and potential rehabs in the township's Cornwells Heights section.
"And townhouses all over the place," she says.
"It is a lively market," Cassidy says: For-sale inventory is down, and prices were up 5.1 percent in "a pretty good overall 2014" in which the market started to "squeak back into the positives."
Single-family construction has pushed up those prices, of course, says Cinnamon Redding Boffa of Re/Max Realty Services in Bensalem, with new houses commanding prices of $400,000 to $500,000.
Best known of the new construction here is also the biggest building project: Mignatti Cos.' Waterside on 45 acres of Bensalem's Delaware riverfront. It is a mixed-use community of 16 neighborhoods of townhouses, condominiums, and single-family detached homes, with more than eight acres of park and open space along the waterfront. Townhouse prices range from the mid-$200,000s to $400,000.
Bensalem's five-mile riverfront, once home to major industry, has long been the mayor's target for redevelopment, Gougler says.
Other new developments include Saddlebrook, Wellington Estates, Somerton Valley, Independence Court, the Reserve at Byberry, and Justin Circle.
"We listed two [homes] at Justin Circle that sold almost immediately," Boffa says. "The whole market is picking up," attracting first-time and move-up buyers, although Boffa believes there isn't enough supply to meet the demand.
"It is a great community, convenient to everywhere by car and train, with plenty of shopping, activities, and almost 30 parks," says Boffa, who moved back to Bensalem after she was married "because the houses are so affordable."
Cassidy's son also moved back to Bensalem after he was married.
"They couldn't wait to move back here," Cassidy says. "There are 100 restaurants within 15 minutes of where we live, and a lot of Bensalem is walkable."
Gougler, 72, has lived here since he was a year old and built his business from "a chicken coop and three cars" to a company with 100 employees selling auto parts worldwide. He says Bensalem is a good destination, especially for people moving from the city:
"It gives them a chance to deal with a community that has everyone's best interests at heart."
Town By Town: Bensalem By the Numbers
Population: 60,427 (2010).
Median household income: $63,428 (2009).
Area: 21 square miles.
Settlements in the last three months: 116.
Homes for sale: 226.
Average days on market: 82.
Median sale price: $219,950.
Housing stock: From Cape Cods and ranchers to townhouses and new single detached homes.
School district: Bensalem.
SOURCES: U.S. Census Bureau; City-Data.com; Ellen Cassidy, Coldwell Banker Hearthside Realtors; Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach HomExpert Market Report