Located inside the Washington Beltway in Prince George's County, the town of Berwyn Heights is not as well known as its neighbors, College Park and Greenbelt.
However, the quiet, residential community is becoming a popular choice for homebuyers looking for affordable homes in an established neighborhood.
Berwyn Heights was incorporated in 1896 and is the sixth-oldest municipality in Prince George's. It is situated on 0.65 square miles with 1,050 single-family homes and 3,000 residents. Although small, it has its own municipal government with a mayor and town council, public works department, fire department and rescue squad, and police department.
The real estate market in Berwyn Heights is "hot," according to Realtor Bob Neri of Century 21 Trademark Realty. "Traditionally, Berwyn Heights has always been a very strong market," he says. "But right now houses are practically selling in one or two days. I sold one listing in three hours."
Set among winding, tree-lined streets, a variety of housing styles exist in the community - ramblers, split foyers, Cape Cods and Victorians. Most of the homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s with some historic homes and new construction mixed in.
Rebecca and John Gillespie and their three young children moved from nearby Hollywood to Berwyn Heights in early April. They paid $260,000 for their four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bathroom Cape Cod.
"We thought it was a nicer neighborhood and wanted a bigger house," Rebecca Gillespie said. "It's also close to my husband's work [in New Carrollton]."
She points to amenities such as a community center, parks, bike trails and a playground - where she has met other mothers and children - as neighborhood highlights. The community also boasts a man-made lake, senior citizens center, baseball fields, tennis courts and a library. It has curb appeal, too, having been awarded the "Tree City USA" designation every year since 1986.
Perhaps the major draw for many young families, though, is Berwyn Heights Elementary School. The school closed in 1981 as a result of the county's decreasing population and reopened in 2002 after a five-year campaign by Berwyn Heights residents. The school now has more than 500 students (about 18 percent over capacity) enrolled for fall 2004 and serves as the Prince George's County Magnet School for Music and Technology.
Among those who have moved to Berwyn Heights as a result of the school's reopening is the current mayor, Cheye Calvo, and his wife. The newly married couple don't yet have children, but were thinking of the future when they moved to town in 2002.
"We wouldn't have moved here if it weren't for the school," Calvo said.
The mayor also was attracted by what he characterizes as the town's "Mayberry" feel. "You come to Berwyn Heights and you're struck by the fact that in this day and age we have this strong sense of community," he said.
Each spring, the town hosts Berwyn Heights Day, an event that includes a fun run, pancake breakfast, parade and music. There is also a community yard sale each spring, as well as a tree lighting at Christmastime, an annual ice cream social and the Halloween haunted house. Community organizations include a boys and girls club, men's league, neighborhood watch, recreation council, quilters' club and playgroup.
All of these benefits aside, a major factor in Berwyn Heights' appeal to middle-class working families is its location.
The University of Maryland's College Park campus is just minutes away, and dozens of federal government agencies are nearby. Washington is less than 10 miles away, and residents also have easy access to the Washington Metro from a station in neighboring Greenbelt.
Richard Myers, one of the many original homeowners still residing in Berwyn Heights, works at the National Archives. He and his family moved to the neighborhood from their Greenbelt apartment in 1973. They paid $29,000 for a brand-new house - about the average price at the time - and in 1981 moved next door into a rambler, putting an addition on for more space.
Myers says he likes everything about Berwyn Heights. "It is just fantastic," he says.
ZIP code: 20740
Shopping: Beltway Plaza, Laurel Mall, White Flint Mall
Schools: Berwyn Heights Elementary, Greenbelt Middle, Parkdale High, Eleanor Roosevelt High
Commute to downtown Baltimore: 45 minutes
Number of houses on market: 4
Average number of days on market: 19 *
Average list price: $235,300 *
Average sales price: $233,300 *
Sales price as percentage of list price: 99 percent *
* Figures based on 36 home sales during the past 12 months as compiled by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.