In recent years, Harford County has seen an influx of new residents and a boom in development. Yet large swaths of the county retain their rural character, and in other spots, small-town charm is on full display. Add an award-winning public school system and easy access to Baltimore and Philadelphia, and it's easy to see why the county is so attractive to homebuyers.
Some neighborhoods, though, are hotter than others. We dug into data culled by online real estate service MRIS to identify the ZIP codes on the upswing — which are as diverse as the county itself. They're a mix of old and new, rural and suburban, busy and quiet — something for everyone.
How much: Median sale price in 2016
How fast: Median days on the market in 2016
How much better: Notable growth in the real estate market over five years
Eastern Bel Air (21015)
How much: $295,000
How fast: 52 days
How much better: Homes in eastern Bel Air are selling almost twice as fast as they were five years ago, with the median number of days homes are on the market decreasing from 92 to 52. The number of homes sold in the ZIP code is up 35 percent since 2012.
When Andrea Braccille and her family moved to Bel Air two years ago, they focused their home search on the Ring Factory Elementary School district; the school's Blue Ribbon status and top-notch rating made the district a promising destination for her young family.
But Bel Air's educational opportunities were only part of the appeal. Its mix of single-family homes, townhomes and condos, including new development and slightly older homes, offers options for homebuyers. In addition, the area is convenient and packed with family-friendly activities.
"The town seems to cater to young families," says Braccille. "There's the opportunity to commute to Baltimore, and you have all these great amenities for children. There's constantly something to do. It's an adorable place to raise kids."
Braccille says every weekend, she and her family have their choice of multiple family-friendly events around the area, from parades to concerts, plus easy access to a popular gym, the Bel Air Athletic Club.
The area offers plenty of activities for adults, too, she notes, with new restaurants and breweries opening all the time.
"It's not crazy hustle-and-bustle," she says. "It's a family-oriented town that's growing with fun, cultural and dining experiences for adults."
How much: $373,500
How fast: 89 days
How much better: In rural Street, homes are selling for about a third more than they were five years ago, and the number of home sales is up 41 percent.
Jim Richardson's family has lived in the Street area for more than two centuries, and he has lived in Street for his entire life. Given his roots, the town's recent growth in popularity doesn't surprise him. Street is peaceful, with established homes; Richardson sees its quiet nature as part of his hometown's charm.
"People know it's a good quality of life," he says. "In some parts, it's somewhat suburban, but it's mostly considered rural."
Richardson points to the town's good school system and its proximity to Rocks and Susquehanna state parks as draws. Also, he notes, in recent years, the surrounding area has seen a boom in "farm enterprises" that appeal to young buyers.
"It's mostly breweries – a family just opened Falling Branch Brewery, which is very successful," he says.
Overall, Richardson believes the open space and quiet lifestyle of Street appeal to homebuyers of all ages.
"There are quite a few people who want a bit of land and want a lifestyle that a more rural setting would present," he says.
How much: $389,450
How fast: 70 days
How much better: Homes in Fallston are selling for almost a quarter more than they were doing five years ago, at a rate that's almost twice as fast.
"When people are relocating, the No. 1 driver is schools," says local real estate agent Lee Tessier. From great schools to an impressive recs and parks program, Fallston has a lot to offer families.
He also notes that the area is convenient to Interstate 95, making commuting to the city easy, and boasts a hotbed of new development, from large single-family homes to commercial construction, including a fairly new movie theater and restaurants opening along Bel Air Road. Besides, compared with nearby Baltimore County suburbs, buyers in Fallston can find larger lots and larger homes at more reasonable prices, Tessier says.
The practical benefits of Fallston are only one side of the story. For longtime Fallston resident Asia Avena, a bartender at Acapella Italian Restaurant, a popular local spot, the people are the town's real draw. She recalls customers banding together to raise money for a local resident diagnosed with cancer.
"When it comes to times of need, the community really comes together," she says.
How much: $140,000
How fast: 59 days
How much better: Edgewood's affordable homes are selling for about a third more than they were doing five years ago, and the number of homes sold in the area is up 60 percent since 2012.
As a longtime resident of Edgewood, April Hawthorne thought she might want to branch out and buy a house in another part of the county.
"I looked at Joppatowne, Abingdon, Bel Air," she says. But Hawthorne ultimately decided to stay put, buying a home in the same development as her mother.
"I saw more of a bang for my buck here," she says. "Also, my neighbors who live here are so friendly and nice. We have a community pool and a community center, and the residents are like family. I've just never lived anywhere that was so friendly and family-oriented."
Edgewood is home to "an awesome community center," says Hawthorne's realtor, Lanette Branch. "They have rec programs, a full gym and Head Start. It's a really good thing."
The town, which includes a mix of single-family houses, townhomes and condos, is evolving, with many homeowners buying existing homes to renovate. "There's a huge amount of activity with rehabbing," says Branch.
Hawthorne is also a fan of the community center's programs for children and adults, including financial counseling she used as a resource when she was considering buying a home. She appreciates that the local library hosts activities for children and teenagers, keeping them active and engaged in the community.
Forest Hill (21050)
How much: $300,000
How fast: 66 days
How much better: Since 2012, the number of homes sold in Forest Hill has increased 61 percent. Though the median sale price hasn't seen much of a bump, it takes about a quarter less time to sell a Forest Hill home than it did five years ago.
The popularity of Forest Hill is driven by location and land, says real estate agent and Forest Hill native Aimee O'Neill. "It's three miles north of the town of Bel Air and within six miles of 95," she says.
"Additionally, Forest Hill has this fringe of conserved agricultural land, so it retains rural character as soon as you get off the Route 24 and Route 1 corridor," she says. Many homes in Forest Hill are medium to large single-family homes in established neighborhoods, though there are also pockets of new development.
O'Neill grew up on a family farm, now operated by her brother, and she appreciates the town's connection to Harford County's agricultural roots.
The town also has a sense of community, she says.
"It's anchored by a strong parks and rec program and schools," O'Neill says. "All the public schools have a reputation for inviting a lot of parent participation."