By Zina Kumok
As your babies grow into kids and start school, buying a home in a great school district becomes an important consideration in the house hunting process.
For most parents, education is one of the most important things they want to impart to their child. But, a good education can come with a hefty price tag.
Finding the right school for your child can mean moving to a new neighborhood, even if you like your house and current neighbors. But how do you find a home you love in a school district that’s perfect for your kid? Well, that’s a problem sometimes harder to solve than the SATs.
Here’s how to shop for a home in a great school district – and what to know before you make an offer.
Find the Right Realtor
Ask any realtor and they will tell you that the key to finding a home in a good school district is having a real estate agent who knows that area. They can set up a search within your parameters and be notified as soon as a home comes on the market.
Houses located within great school districts in highly desirable markets sell very quickly – and as someone actively looking to buy a home, you need to be prepared to jump on a property as soon as it’s listed if it’s a home you see yourself in.
Most people put their homes for sale in the spring and early summer because they don’t want to move while their kids are in school. That also makes this season hyper-competitive. So, if you’re dead-set on finding a house in a certain area, don’t be afraid to move during the winter or around the holidays if a home opens up at that time.
If you’re truly interested in a specific school district, some realtors advise sending letters to people with homes in that district. It might sound far-fetched, tacky, but you never know when you might find someone who is willing to sell.
By providing every single way to reach you: phone, email, mailing address, you can make it easy for people to contact you if they actually are considering putting their home on the market.
You can also find neighborhood-specific Facebook groups and post that you’re looking to buy a house.
Location, Location, Location
A real estate agent recently told me, “The only thing you can’t change about a house is location.” When searching for a house that’s in a good school district, the location should be your central focus. School districts are often set in stone so you need to find a house in that zone if you’re certain it’s the right fit for your child.
But you should also consider other impacts on your life, like your commute time, property taxes and overall housing affordability. If the school district is 45 minutes away from the office, it might not be feasible for you to drive your kid to soccer practice. Consider all the aspects of homebuying when deciding on the neighborhood.
Unless you have an infinite budget, you’ll probably have to make some concessions to find a home that’s in the right school district and has the other amenities you want. For example, if you’ve always dreamed of a master bedroom with a big closet, you might have to give that up if you find a house in your price range in a good school district.
Decide what truly matters to you and what will affect your day-to-day quality of life. If not having a big dining room to host Thanksgiving and other major holidays will make you upset, then keep looking. But pull the trigger on the house if you can live with giving up the big backyard and finished basement.
Build Your Own
A friend of mine and her husband have been casually looking at homes for about a year. They spent a lot of time looking at homes in the school districts they wanted, as well as outside of them. After a year they realized something: they never found something they truly loved.
All the houses they liked were either too expensive or outside of the school district, so they decided to buy a lot and build their own house. They realized that by building their own home, they’d have total control over all the features they cared about. Plus, they wouldn’t have to worry about buying a home they’d eventually want to remodel.
The costs of building a home are comparable to buying one, especially if it comes with a 10-year warranty for the major appliances. It can take several months to build a house, so you’ll need a temporary place to live while that’s going on. You’ll also need a large down payment for a construction loan, usually around 20-25%. Once the home is built, you can convert it to a regular mortgage.
Don’t Blow Your Budget
It might be tempting to splurge on your dream home. But blowing your budget on a house will affect you for the duration of your mortgage.
Before putting an offer in for a more expensive home, run a budget scenario including all household expenses. These should include groceries, utilities, insurance payments (auto, life, homeowners) as well as kid-related expenses like daycare, clothes and accessories, furniture, babysitting, extracurriculars and more.
Parents who end up spending more on their house than they can afford paint themselves into a corner, where they don’t want to move, but can’t buy all the other things they want. Does it matter if your kids have their own separate playroom if you can’t afford groceries, car insurance or activities for your kids like piano lessons or travel team baseball?
Don’t forget to factor in other long-term savings goals, like retirement or buying a new car as well. Some parents buy an expensive home assuming their salaries will continue to grow or that they’ll both continue to work. You should also consider if one parent wants to take some time off work to spend with the kids while they’re young. Remember, your mortgage costs can make it harder to live the life you really want so it’s wise to optimize for the overall lifestyle you want to achieve, then insure it to make sure your family is financially protected and can enjoy the life you’ve created for them.
With dedication and planning, buying a home in a great school district is achievable and can set your family up for a lifetime of happiness.