Whether you are a first time home buyer or a move-up buyer (meaning you currently own and are looking to trade up to a larger home because your family is expanding, even if by sheer force of babies turning into children or teenagers in need of their own space, or a yard to play), your selection of suitable homes will be affected by an important variable: proximity to good schools.
I was going to differentiate public vs private school, but proximity to school trumps your financial means. The modern family is now a two-income household, and the school system is not suitable for the modern working-parent lifestyle. I actually recently learned that the hours were designed so that farmers’ kids can go and work on the farm before dusk!
Your children’s education is an investment. People will move solely on the ability to be assigned to a highly ranked school. You can live in an area with a great elementary school, but a poorly ranked middle school. While lotteries exist, you cannot always bank on your precious progeny to be able to get in. If you can afford a private school, more power to you, and if you do not need to work, or work at home so you can take time out of your day to do the drive to the chosen school, more power to you as well.
Let me get personal, because we as a family have been through it all. First, we chose the private preschool (there are no public preschools). The nice campus in the Pacific Palisades, and the pleasant 30+ minute drive each way got old really fast, when we had to do this twice daily (pick-up, drop-off). Not living in a single family home, our back yard was the local park, where you should not have your nose buried in your smartphone to conduct work, as your kid will inevitably find some sort of trouble, or trouble will find your kid. Passive parenting has a cost you don’t want to bear, and I got a few close calls. You can’t do both, so what ends up happening is you can’t really work, and while you are parenting, that doesn’t pay the bills.
So, what do you do? Hire a nanny/sitter? Or sign up the kid(s) for extracurricular activities (to which you need to drive and hope there’s Wifi so you can some work done)? I spent an extra 2-3 hours daily on top of my own work commute for 3 years, and I burnt out.
Not wanting to spend the equivalent of a college education and a mortgage when a free option existed for 1st through 12th grade, we started looking at charter schools/lotteries as well as homes near great schools, but in an area further from where we established our pre-kids roots and our careers. When we got accepted to a local school in extremely high demand, by literally winning an admissions lottery, we didn’t solve our housing issue. We needed space, a yard, a home without shared walls and limited street parking in an exploding area, both in prices and demographics. So we moved to an area where schools are excellent (at least for the next 5 years of Elementary School), and we have a yard the kids can play in.
After talking to some parents at the school I found out how many wish they lived closer and want to move closer (great networking for us as Realtors®!) to the school. No wonder all the homes in the area were selling at $20,000 and up to $60,000 above asking price within days of being put on the market!
People will migrate, lifestyles change when kids are born and grow. You may think you want to do the cool pub crawls and wine tastings while enjoying nice gastro-pub fare and foodie’s delights, but the reality is you are exhausted from working long hours, extended because of your kids, and need to shift your expenses to activities and child care. A good school with great after-school programs, or the knowledge that your kids can play outside without being in a public park is the true value here.
And home sellers as well as developers know that. So, if you’re a two-income household and need the ability to better manage your time, the proximity to a great school is worth the little extra you may spend on a home. With low loan rates, and small difference in your monthly mortgage, that extra pays itself back many times over.