When Alyssa Sadler and her husband started thinking about buying a home on Long Island, NY, they focused on diverse communities in good school districts. As newlyweds, they planned on having children in a few years and wanted to send them to public school. When the Sadlers settled on East Meadow, they discovered homes in their price range were small and had no garages.
“A garage is great, but it’s not critical to our lifestyle,” says Sadler, a 32-year-old marketing executive with the National Basketball Association in New York City. She notes that their cars spend most of their time parked at the Long Island Rail Road station, from where the couple take the train into the city.
Like the Sadlers, many home buyers these days are willing to sacrifice square footage and other amenities to afford a house in a well-respected school system. A recent realtor.com® survey of people who closed on a home this year found that 73% said buying in a good school district was “important” in their search.
Of those, 39% said school districts were “very important.” Meanwhile, only 18% of those surveyed said school districts were “unimportant” or “very unimportant.” Nine percent were neutral on the question. Harris Research conducted the survey of more than 1,000 respondents this month.
Of the home buyers who considered schools important, 78% reported that they had to make compromises when they purchased a house. The features most commonly given up were garages (19%), large backyards (18%), updated kitchens (17%), bedrooms (17%), and outdoor living areas (16%).
Danielle Hale, chief economist of realtor.com, says younger home buyers are more concerned with strong school districts than with nonessential amenities. With home prices at record highs, they plan to stay in their homes for longer periods, so they have time to renovate their kitchens or build additions, she said.
“Location can’t be changed, but a property can remodeled, updated, or adjusted,” Hale says.
More home buyers are using online tools, social media sites, and their friends’ recommendations to find homes in good school districts. Not surprisingly, home buyers with children focused more on school districts. The survey found 91% of buyers with children said good school districts were “important” or “very important.”
Younger home buyers were more likely to say school districts were important in their search. Eighty-six percent of 18- to 34-year-old respondents and 84% of those aged 35 to 54 said schools were “important.” For those 55 and older, that dropped to 37%, with more than half saying schools were “unimportant” or “very unimportant.”
Matt Gorham, CEO of the Matt Gorham Group, a real estate company in Downingtown, PA, says he’s noticed more of his customers moving into smaller homes with fewer amenities in order to live in a more respected school district. One couple with young children plan to sell their 3,200-square-foot house on 2 acres in a neighboring Philadelphia suburb in order to buy a 2,200-square-foot house on one-third of an acre in town.
“You can live like a king for $300,000 or $400,000 in a modern house on an acre on a cul-de-sac,” Gorham says. But his customers are willing to pay $500,000 for a smaller, older house in a public school district with a better reputation, rather than enrolling their children in private schools.
“It’s really hard,” he says. “It’s a sacrifice. They’re giving up yards, square footage, and more modern homes.”
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