5 Things Homebuyers Should Know About School Districts

When house hunting, there’s a variety of factors that can contribute to where you settle down: proximity to family, commute to work, neighborhood quality and more. An important factor that many buyers consider as well is the quality of local school districts.

Research shows 42% of buyers ages 31 to 40 cited quality of the school district as an influence on their neighborhood choice in 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

If you’re on the hunt for a home, here’s five things to keep in mind about school districts as it relates to your home purchase decision.

1. Even if You Don’t Have Children, Buying in a Reputable School Zone Can Be a Good Investment

It’s no secret buyers with children tend to be motivated to live where their family can receive high quality education, but there are still benefits to living in a top-rated school zone for buyers without children.

It’s been proven that neighborhoods located in reputable school districts see increases in property value. One 2013 Redfin study showed that on average homebuyers pay $50 more per square foot for homes in better school zones.

Families are willing to pay more for homes that have access to better-funded (and therefore better-performing) schools. A recent study concluded that a 1% increase in spending on teacher salaries increased home values by 2%.

However, the flip side is that you will incur more cost up front and encounter more competition for these desirable communities.

Overall, when you’re house hunting, investing in a home in a good school zone can benefit you in the long run when it’s time to resell.

2. Considerations of Living Close to a School

While the idea of living close enough for your child to bike or walk to school is desirable, keep in mind the upsides and downsides of living near a school.

Upsides: Convenient commutes to school for your children as well as overall safety. Properties within top-rated districts might be safer and have better maintenance.

Downsides: You can always count on traffic surrounding a school during pick-up and drop-off hours as well as a certain level of noise from bells and fire drills to kids just having fun at recess.

3. Heads up: Real Estate Agents Legally Can’t Share Certain Information About Schools With Buyers

We always recommend working with a real estate agent when you’re looking to buy a home as they can help you find a property that meets your needs, represent your interests during negotiations and give unbiased guidance. However, before asking your agent which local schools are better or even where their children attend school, you should know there are limits to what they can legally share with you.

Under the Fair Housing Act, real estate agents are prohibited from “steering” a buyer, which means they cannot influence a buyer’s choice because of their race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status or national origin. The law protects buyers from discrimination that would limit their housing opportunities. Therefore, agents are not permitted to share their opinions about school districts and communities, no matter if they are positive or negative, because it can be interpreted as steering.

The NAR explains it this way: “Discussions about schools can raise questions about steering if there is a correlation between the quality of the schools and neighborhood racial composition – or if characterizations such as ‘a school with low test scores’ or ‘a community with declining schools’ become code words for racial or other differences in the community. Similarly, making unspoken distinctions by promoting a school in one district while keeping silent about the quality of another school can have the same effect.”

While your agent can’t be perfectly candid with you about school districts for your own protection, Realtors® are trained to provide you with access to objective information and direct you to third-party information that will help you draw your own conclusions about the quality of a school or district.

4. You Can Research School Ratings From a Variety of Online Resources

If you’re ready to do your own research, there are many sources online dedicated to giving you an accurate picture of the best schools and districts in your area so that you can make an informed decision.

Here’s a few places to start:

Niche: Search for the best public and private schools as well as school districts in your area for free and get access to reviews from parents and students. Niche has its own letter-grade ranking system based on academics, teachers, clubs and activities, diversity, college prep and sports. Easily access data and ratings, reviews, test scores and demographics for public, private and charter schools in your area. See how a school ranks according to the platform’s own 10-point ranking system.

SchoolDigger: Search within your state and city for school ranks based just on test scores.

Your State’s Department of Education: Visit your state’s Department of Education website and search school grades. This will give you a more raw, comprehensive look at the grades local schools were assigned by their district over the last several years. Find Florida’s school grade archives here.

5. There’s Still Options Outside of Top-Rated School Zones

If buying into the top-rated school districts aren’t in the budget for your family or your dream home happens to be in a low-performing district, there’s still options for you.

If you don’t have kids to think about, consider investing in renovation projects to add value to your home that will help you just as much down the road when reselling.

For buyers with school-aged children, there’s alternatives to the local public school your family might be zoned for through school choice. School choice allows for households to select the learning environment they deem best for their children. There are a few different types of school choice, including public options and private options. The public options include:

  • Magnet schools: Magnet schools are public schools that attract students from multiple districts to concentrate on one area of study to advance their academic interests and career goals. There are currently over 4,300 magnet schools nationwide, and California and Florida each offer over 500, according to Magnet Schools of America. The organization reports the most common magnet themes are STEM related, visual/performing arts and International Baccalaureate (IB). Most magnet schools employ a lottery for admission while 25% accept students based on academic criteria.
  • Charter schools: Charter schools are public, independently run schools that have no tuition. Some charter schools can have different focuses like technology or leadership. Most states allow for them, but enrollment is not guaranteed as they typically employ a lottery system for admission. As of 2021, 7% of all public school students were enrolled in public charter schools – a 3% jump from 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • Open enrollment: Open enrollment, also known as inter/intra-district public school choice, gives families the option of sending their children to other public schools outside of the one they are zoned for by their zip code. Intra-district choice involves transferring to a public school within one’s district while inter-district choice offers transfers to schools outside of one’s district. As of last year, 27 states plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico permit intra-district choice and 43 states allow for inter-district choice, according to the Education Commission of the States.
  • Other school choice options: Homeschooling, hybrid homeschooling, online learning, microschooling, town tuitoning and personalized learning and learning pods. Learn more about each of these here.

For private school choice, there are five types of financial assistance that allow for public funds to follow a child to a private school, according to EdChoice. These include:

  • Education Savings Accounts
  • School Vouchers
  • Tax-Credit Education Savings Accounts
  • Tax-Credit Scholarships
  • Individual Tax Credits and Deductions

Ultimately, you can decide what the best learning environment is for your children without having to pay big bucks for a home in a top-performing school zone, whether you choose private, public or other methods of schooling.

The Bottom Line on School Districts

Whether you intentionally choose to purchase a home based on its school zone’s performance or if districts don’t even factor into your homebuying decision, we can help you finance the home of your choice with mortgages tailored to fit your needs.

Our talented and knowledgeable Loan Officers can work with you to determine your best financing options, starting with preapproval so that you know how much you can afford when house hunting.

Get preapproved within minutes here to start your homebuying journey.

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