Question: We are preparing to buy our first house this summer.
We have two young children who will be in school soon, and we know it’s important to buy a home in a good school district.
What is the best way to find a good neighborhood with a good school district?
r: Everyone has heard the old cliche that the three most important factors in real estate are “Location, location and location.” One of the reasons for that is because the location of the home determines which schools your children will attend, and most parents want to get their children into the best schools possible.
Homes in the top school districts are highly desirable. The demand for these homes causes them to appreciate faster and hold their value better than similar homes in less desirable school districts.
There are a number of ways to evaluate school districts. I am not an expert on education, but here are a few suggestions:
If you haven’t narrowed your home search to a specific school district or school, you can check out the test scores for each school to see how they stack up against one another.
This used to be a very time-consuming process, but if you have access to the Internet, you can now easily search and compare school test scores at this website: reportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us.
The “Washington State School Report Card” on that website provides Washington Assessment of Student Learning test scores for every school in the state with a tool to easily compare test scores of schools of similar size. It also provides teacher and demographic information about each school.
Another good website is www.greatschools.org/.
Great Schools is a nonprofit organization that rates schools on a 1-10 scale based on that school’s test results compared with other schools in the state. It gives you a quick and easy way to compare schools in a neighborhood.
In addition to “crunching the numbers,” if you have the time, it’s a good idea to go look at the schools yourself. Talk to the teachers and ask to sit in on their classes.
I know you can’t do that during the summer, but if you can wait until the school year starts, it would be a great way to get a feel for how the school operates on a daily basis.
Check out the textbooks used in the school. Some may be outdated, some may contain political viewpoints with which you disagree and some are just plain inadequate.
Ask about the philosophy of the principal and teachers. What are their policies regarding homework and discipline in the classroom? Some schools believe in giving students lots of homework, while others give almost no homework at all.
Most importantly, talk to parents who are currently sending their children to the school you’re interested in. Teachers and principals may try to paint a rosy picture, but parents who have direct involvement in the school through their children are more likely to give you the real story, warts and all. Try to contact the local PTSA members in the neighborhoods in which you are shopping for a home.
You will quickly learn that some neighborhood schools are markedly better than others, even within the same school district. Once you have decided on the schools you like, you can limit your home search to only the neighborhoods within that school’s enrollment area, as long as those homes are within your price range.
As I mentioned above, the neighborhoods with the best schools are often the most expensive neighborhoods in an area because they are highly desirable by parents with children.
Also, be sure you contact the schools to get the actual boundaries of the school’s enrollment area. I have heard horror stories from families who thought they were buying a home in their favorite school’s enrollment area only to find out that they were located a block away, or even just across the street, from the school’s enrollment zone boundary.
Sometimes you can petition the school to let you in, but if the school is very popular it might not have room for extra students outside its normal enrollment area. So be very careful when searching for homes!
Do not depend on the real estate agent or the home seller to tell you whether a home is located within a certain school enrollment zone. Always verify the home’s address by contacting the school district directly.
Steve Tytler is a licensed real estate broker and owner of Best Mortgage. You can email him at email@example.com.