Most people when they hear that a town is named “Surprise,” are themselves surprised. After all, what kind of name is that for an American city? “Washington” or “Springfield,” yes. Those are far more appropriate names for a municipality. In fact, there are over one hundred cities across the country named Washington and Springfield. But Surprise, no. There is just one of those.
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Even the origin of the name Surprise is surprising. In 1938, Flora Mae Statler, one of the town’s founders said, “I’d be surprised if the town ever amounted to anything”. Thereafter, the town’s name became “Surprise.” Read More...
In the 1960’s, as any Baby Boomer will recall, the hit TV show “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” gave the town a boost in name awareness when actor Jim Nabors, who played Gomer, said in one of TV’s most memorable lines, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”
What isn’t a surprise is what a nice place Surprise is, particularly for those who live there. Surprise has everything going for it. An almost perfect climate, a robust economy, good schools and plenty of amenities.
Maybe that’s why the population of this town went from a mere 7,200 population in 1990 to over 150,000 in 2022. In fact, in recent years, Surprise’s population grew by over 300%.
Surprise is in Northern Maricopa County on the northern outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix. The city encompasses 108 sq miles and has a very low crime rate, 36% below the national average. The cost of living is only 1% higher than the national average, and Surprise’s average household income is slightly above $70,000 a year.
Among other things, Surprise is known for its large retirement communities including Sun City Grand. This active adult community has a population of 9,800 people and a variety of homes to choose from.
Condos range in size from 427sq ft to 1021sq ft. If you are looking for something bigger, there are attached homes that go up to 1441sq ft and single-family detached homes that range in size from 1,100sq ft to 3,900sq ft.
Sun City Grand likes to emphasize the “active” nature of its facility. There is plenty to keep residents busy including golf, a spa, a fitness center and a 9,000sq ft meeting hall for dances, continuing education classes, and arts & crafts.
But Surprise is not just for retirees. There are many young families that call Surprise home because of the easy lifestyle and the fact that there are many facilities for kids. There are 59 schools in Surprise including pre-schools, charter schools, and public and private elementary and high schools.
According to greatschools.org, a company that ranks schools across the country, “there are some top-rated public schools in Surprise….” For example, Paradise Honors High School rated an “8” on a scale of 1 to 10. Legacy Traditional School, a middle school in Surprise, was rated “9” while Cimarron Springs Middle School scored an “8”.
Before there were any “modern” schools in Surprise, there were, long ago, Native American schools that relied on the oral tradition of passing knowledge down from generation to generation, imparting tribal history and the skills necessary to build a community.
Like most of the greater Phoenix metro area, the first inhabitants were the Native American Hohokam tribe. Their name means “the vanished ones” because, inexplicably, they vanished, leaving behind evidence of a once thriving community. The Hohokam were quite industrious, building irrigation canals, houses and painting beautiful images on the rocky landscape.
Early in the last century Surprise consisted of modest, working-class homes for the local agricultural workers. It wasn’t a particularly affluent community then. However, after the outbreak of World War II, the area changed dramatically.
Surprise made a huge contribution to America’s World War II victory. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Force scurried to catch up with the Axis Powers who, at the time, had an overwhelming number of fighter aircraft, many of whom had just destroyed America’s Pacific Fleet. A fighter training facility was needed and needed fast.
Luke Air Force Base was established just outside of town and was named after an Arizonan World War I fighter ace named Frank Luke. He shot down 19 German aircraft. Most of them were German arial observation balloons and that’s why Luke’s nickname became “The Balloon Buster”.
Hoping to instill some of Luke’s fighter pilot spirit into the thousands of green recruits, the Army Air Force began training pilots in the art of aerial combat. Many ended up over the skies of Europe and Asia knocking down enemy planes by the dozens and shortening the war.
Luke Air Force Base was the largest pilot training facility in America producing over twelve thousand fighter pilots, a number of whom became aces in their own right. Among the base’s first graduating classes was a young pilot named Barry Goldwater who became the Republican presidential candidate in 1964, and one of Arizona’s most famous U.S. Senators.
Today, there is a different type of training camp in Surprise. The Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers baseball teams have their Spring training facilities in Surprise. For sports fans, this is a wonderful way to pass a lovely Spring afternoon watching major league players up close and personal.
For those who want a different sort of entertainment, there is, of course, golf, Arizona’s unofficial state sport. With sunshine over 300 days a year, golfers can perfect their swing and putting skills year around.
Surprise also has the largest urban fishing lake in the state at the Surprise Community Park. This 5-acre lake is teeming with bass, trout, catfish, and more. There are also ballfields, pickleball courts, and playgrounds for the kids.
15-miles outside of town are the White Tank Mountains. If you hit it right, you can see a beautiful waterfall during the rainy season. There are miles of hiking trails and ancient Native American rock art.
The Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex is one of the Southwest’s largest tennis venues with 25 tennis courts and two racquetball courts. You can also play pickleball or take tennis lessons from a pro.
For those who prefer bowling balls over tennis balls, there is Uptown Alley, where you can roll a bowling ball down the lane and hope to hit something. If striking pins isn’t your thing but zapping your friends is, you can play a game of laser tag. There’s also dining at Uptown Alley and a large arcade full of games. Families with kids love the place.
The real estate market in Surprise, like the rest of the state, is a seller’s market. There are more buyers than there are homes for sale. This situation is not unique to Arizona. It is estimated that the U.S. is about 4.8 million housing units short given the current demand.
Condos are priced lower than single family homes. There are some homes in age restricted adult communities that go for less than the community average. For that, you get a 1,000 sq ft 2-bedroom, 2-bath home. However, if you are ready to invest, you can get a lovely 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom home that is over 5,000 sq ft.
Not matter what you can afford, you need to have someone in your corner, helping you figure out the Surprise real estate market. Because things change so fast, and prices are continuing to rise, a trusted real estate professional is almost a must.
For that, you should contact local real estate professionals at Arizona Network Realty. They truly know there way around the Surprise real estate market. Check out their website or give them a call.
Then you can see why old Mrs. Statler’s prediction that “…this town won’t amount to anything”, couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last updated - February 15, 2023
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