Is buying a home in a better school district worth it?


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When Stephanie Adams, 42, was moving from Bend, Ore., to Longview, Texas, she and her husband faced a challenge familiar to parents everywhere — finding the right home in the right school district. 

“There was one school district for the entire city of Bend, which was around 80,000 people,” said Adams, a mother of two. “And then we moved to Longview, which is roughly the same size, and there are three or four school districts.”

According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), more than half of homebuyers with children under 18 cited the school district as an influencing factor in where they chose to buy. However, quality schools tend to come with a price tag. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that every dollar increase per pupil-of-state aid correlates with a $20 increase in home values. 

Recognizing that quality schools tend to come with pricier homes meant Adams and her family had to consider multiple factors when deciding where to live. It’s not always easy, but a little bit of prioritizing can make a big difference. 


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How to determine whether a high-value school district is worth the high cost of a home

A recent survey found that more than 6 in 10 homebuyers are willing to go over budget for their perfect house, and 30% of respondents said location was the most important factor when looking for a home. 

But, is the trade-off of a higher mortgage for a better school worth it? It may be, but remember the costs can add up quickly. The difference between a 30-year mortgage for a $400,000 home and a $300,000 home is about $2,200 annually — but that doesn’t take into consideration the higher property taxes, extra home insurance or the need for a higher down payment. 

Decide what criteria is the most important for you and your family

While pouring over school rankings and test scores gives you an idea of how schools perform, it only tells part of the story. One factor to consider is how much a school spends per student, which can make a difference in academic performance, according to the NBER

Another important factor to consider is the diversity of the school. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Diversity in schools and communities can be a powerful lever leading to positive outcomes in school and in life.” Going to a diverse school means exposure to different ideas and cultures and can prepare students for life outside the school district.

For Adams’, finding a community with school pride ended up playing a major role in their decision. In the district she and her husband chose, parents are actively involved, have similar education goals and standards and are proud of their schools. 

Consider what factors are critical for you and your family. It might be diversity, academic achievement, services for students with disabilities, sports programs, student-to-teacher ratios or something else. Dig into whether cheaper districts can offer some or all of what you’re looking for. 

Ask yourself if there are “wants” that can be sacrificed 

Adams and her husband decided that buying a home in a better school district was important and opted for a smaller house to make that possible. 

“We could have built a bigger, newer house,” she said. Instead, they stayed within their budget by compromising on size. “We’ll take a little less space to be in the area that we wanted.” 

If you’ve dreamed of an acre lot or a swimming pool, it may be worth scaling down your wishes to get Junior a quality education. 

Connect with other parents in the area before making your decision

One of the best ways to dig into specifics on districts you’re considering is by talking to other parents. If you’re moving to an unfamiliar area, Facebook groups and other social media sites can be a way to connect. There’s no better way to get a feel for a certain district than engaging with people who are actually in it. 

Reexamine your finances

The advice to switch out café lattes for home-brewed coffee is cliched, but the idea behind it isn’t. If you haven’t taken a hard look at your budget, now is the time. See if there are ways you can free up extra cash for a heftier monthly payment. You can also use a home affordability calculator to help you determine how much home you can afford based on your income and debt. 

Similarly, a bigger down payment means lower monthly payments, leaving you more money for maintenance and repairs. While saving more for a bigger down payment might seem daunting, there may be programs that can help. 

Down payment assistance programs typically offer grants or loans covering up to 5% of your home’s purchase price. Grants don’t have to be repaid, while the loans do. These programs often have income limits, and some are restricted to first-time homebuyers. You can find these programs through state and local housing finance agencies, employers and nonprofit housing agencies. There are also industry-specific programs for teachers, law enforcement, those serving in the military and health care professionals. 

Consider private or charter schools

Private and charter schools may allow you to buy a less expensive home while still sending your children to a quality school. 

Billy Ford, 45, was considering moving to a better school district, but the home prices were daunting. A resident of Baltimore, Ford decided to apply for financial aid at a nearby private school. 

“We are spending $15,000 per year for an education that normally costs $30,000 per year, and feel pretty good about it,” Ford said. It was a win-win; he was able to enroll his child in a “top-notch” school while staying in the home they’d already been making payments on. 

However, it’s important to do the math before making a decision. The cost of a private school may be more than what you’d pay for a more expensive home. 

Ultimately, do what’s best for you and your child

Deciding on a school district is a big decision. While school districts do make a difference, parental involvement is also critical. You’re already setting your children up for success by thinking about their educational needs, and as long as you stay involved, you can make the most of any district. 

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