Your search for the perfect house involves more than just the home itself. Beyond seeking out the perfect number of bedrooms and an entertainment-ready backyard, you also need to find the right neighborhood. Maybe that means walkability and proximity to a farmers market, or a commutable distance to your job. But if you have kids, buying a house situated in the right school district will likely move to the top of your decision-making list.
You’ll have plenty to learn about when it comes to an unfamiliar neighborhood. But how can you learn about the school districts there before you buy a house?
Where to find school district info
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that can point you in the right direction.
“The district’s website will give you the most thorough information about the district and the schools within it,” says Erik Schwinger of Chicago-based brokerage Baird & Warner. He also recommends reaching out to the parent-teacher association of a particular school to learn more about the school, its curriculums, level of parent involvement, and what the parents really think of the school.
You can also research schools and school districts online. Samantha Scalzo, director and broker at S&S Global Corp. in Miami, lists GreatSchools and Niche as two valuable sources of online information.
Alina Adams, author of “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” and “Getting Into NYC High School,” also recommends SchoolDigger. However, she says there’s no substitute for visiting a school and gauging your gut reaction.
“No school is one-size-fits-all, and families may be surprised that a school’s reputation is different from what they see on a tour—for better or for worse,” she says.
There’s also another source for reliable information on a potential school district: your real estate agent.
“The most established and experienced real estate agents in a buyer’s area of interest—who have had clients with children in the school system, or have children of their own in the school system—will be able to provide an overall feel of the local schools,” says Tim Smith of The Smith Group, an Orange County, CA–based Coldwell Banker Team. “This knowledge and experience will enable them to best match a buyer with the schools that meet the particular needs of their children.”
What to look for
There are numerous factors you should take into account when looking at school districts. These include class sizes, special needs programs, inclusion classes, language immersion programs, advanced placement programs, arts, athletics, music, and other extracurricular activities, says Alison Bernstein, president and founder at Suburban Jungle, a real estate firm focused on buyers leaving the city for the suburbs. You also want to find out as much as you can about the staff.
“You want to know about the administration (principal, vice principal, etc.) as well as the teachers. What are their education and experience levels?” says Schwinger.
Ibrahim Firat, chief educational consultant at Firat Education, in Houston, says the process of finding a school is different for each and every student. He has written books on the topic of finding the right school, and has helped families who are relocating find the right schools before they find the right home.
“Just because a [school district] is ranked high in the region/state/nation doesn’t mean it is the right place for your child, so identifying the best-fit school is the first step to a quality education,” he says.
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