More than half of all homebuyers with children under 18 years of age rate the quality of the local school district as a major factor influencing their choice of a neighborhood, according to the latest “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers” from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
The quality of the schools is more important than affordability or the buyer’s convenience to schools and shopping, even proximity to family and friends, according to the NAR profile. Only convenience to the workplace is more important, but only by 1 percentage point.
But even if the quality of the schools in the area where you decide to buy is not terribly important now, it may become so in a few years. And even if children are not on your radar screen, you may still be better off in a school district that takes education seriously.
All it takes is a little common sense and a few minutes at the computer screen to dig up all the information you need to check out the schools where you’d like to move.
Start With Your Builder
First, I’d start with the builder’s sales rep, who at the very least should know the names of the schools your kids will be attending should you buy in his particular neighborhood. A good salesman will also have tons of information about those schools right at his or her fingertips.
Next, if the community in question already has some families living there, questions about the local school system would be among those I’d ask when I go door-to-door to find out how people like the builder. Yes, knocking on doors is an excellent way to learn. People love to talk about their new homes, good, bad or indifferent. So take a walk and get educated.
Leverage Data from the Department of Education
The Department of Education puts out extensive data public schools and districts ranging from academic achievement and college readiness to demographics and accountability.
NewHomeSource breaks down what these education report cards mean and where you can find every state’s report card, so you can truly understand your children’s school district.
Go to the School or District Website
It’s also worth pointing out that many schools and school districts have their own websites, where you can find starting times and other information about the place your little darlings will be educated.
Actually Visit the School
Finally, there’s no substitute for actually visiting the school to see first-hand how it operates. Is the school secretary friendly, but professional? Is the school orderly? How is student work displayed? How does the front office communicate with its kids — and how well? How are the kids with special needs treaded?
There are dozens more questions you can ask directly to the principal, depending on what’s important to you. But what’s most important is that you ask enough questions so you feel comfortable that the school you pick — and the house, too — is just right for you and your family.
But wait, a couple of other thoughts. First, remember that kids tend to grow up. Little Sally may be in the third grade now, but in a few years she’s off to middle school and then high school. So don’t forget to check out those schools, too, when you are making your decision.
And second, distance from your new house to the school might be an issue. For example, can the kids walk to school? If not, where’s the bus stop? Are you willing — and are able — to drive your kids to school every day?
By weighing these important considerations, you can find a home close to a school that will be ideal for your kids.
Lew SichelmanLew Sichelman is a nationally syndicated housing and real estate columnist. He has covered the real estate beat for more than 50 years. “How to Evaluate Schools When Buying a New Home.” NewHomeSource, www.newhomesource.com/learn/how-to-evaluate-schools-when-buying-new-home/.