When you think of buying a new home, what are the non-negotiables that come to mind? Maybe it’s a certain price point or number of bedrooms, or maybe you are head over heels with one particular neighborhood. Or maybe, like many people, you want to be in the best school district possible for your children.
That last requirement may seem like it holds more weight than the others, and trying to account for this factor can get a little overwhelming once you start to do your research. “Isn’t this supposed to be cut and dry?” you might wonder. After all, there are sites that rank schools and give you all the information you need, right?
Well, kind of. I’ll get to that in a bit.
As realtors, we cannot recommend one school district over another, but we can help make sure you’re considering all the factors when it comes to schools.
Choosing what school you send your child to is a very personal decision. The characteristics you value in a school might not be the same as your neighbor, and there’s a good chance they aren’t accurately reflected on those ranking websites. So where do you start?
First things first, consider your long term plans. Are you buying your forever home? Or are you looking for your first home with plans to upgrade down the road? Time is a huge factor when considering the school district where your potential new home rests. If you’re ready to settle down for the long haul, it makes sense to focus on high schools. But if your children are young or you might move again in the next few years, you might not need to place as much weight on whether the high school is the number one school in the region. Take a look at the elementary and middle schools that your kids will be attending in the near future, and start your decision process from there.
Once you know what level of school you need to be focusing on, how do you analyze all the available information? It seems like a huge decision with massive consequences. Take a deep breath. My best advice is to sit down and figure out what’s most important to you in a school. Maybe it’s the number of college prep courses, extracurricular offerings, or the diversity of the student body. Figuring out what matters to you will make it easier to do your research.
It may appear that I’m not a fan of school ranking sites, but while I don’t think they should have the final word, I do believe they are a good starting point in the decision making process. You can glean a lot of information if you know what you’re looking for. One important thing to keep in mind is that these sites focus on different metrics, and one school may have varying rankings across multiple sites. Take James River High School in Chesterfield, for example. Below are quick snapshots from two different ranking websites.
3 out of 10 doesn’t seem great. Must not be a good school, right?
Another site gives it an A-. What gives?
When you’re looking at these sites, it’s important to poke around a bit. Great Schools places a high value on test scores, while similar sites may place greater weight on other factors. What metrics match with your priorities? It’s important to do a little digging to get a full picture.
All that said, I highly recommend not only doing your research online, but paying a visit to the school itself and meeting with faculty. Do you know any parents with children who attend? Ask for their opinions. They’ll be able to tell you so much more than a website.
Again, schools are one of the most common factors we see come into play when making a home buying decision, and rightly so. But before you cross off a house based on school district alone, make sure you know both what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at when you do your research. Figuring those two things out is the first step in relieving some of that pressure, opening up your options, and moving forward with a decision you can be confident in for years to come.