Which Comes First: Choosing a School or Choosing a Home?

Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room – schools!  Federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit your broker from discussing that subject with you. We are not allowed to comment on which schools are considered “good.”  Understandably, that seems odd to many buyers, given that is widely known that a really great public school can increase property prices. In NYC, brokers are even reluctant to comment on the school district in which a building may be located, as the north side of a street may belong to one district and the south side to another. But, for many parents, or parents-to-be, schools play a major role in deciding where to purchase a home.

The entire process of getting one’s child into a New York City kindergarten is notoriously stressful and competitive. I must defend my hometown, though, lest you think that it is due to New York City parents being crazy Type A’s who desperately need a chill pill!  Decades ago, when the second child arrived, most couples would decamp to the suburbs, only to return when Sally and Johnny had gone off to college. However, as Central Park morphed from dustbowl to verdant fields, and the quality of life in the city improved, people decided to remain, and raise their families in a stimulating urban environment. More families staying meant more five-year-olds in town; schools were just not able to keep pace with the number of seats they had to offer.

When people tell me that they are going to buy an apartment and figure out the schools later, it makes me a little nervous. You need a strategy, and the sooner the better. Young children typically do not make great commuters, so living close to a school is always desirable. If you can nail down a spot in a school before you choose where to live, it will make your life easier.  Note well, however, that if you are targeting a spot in one of the coveted top public schools, the reverse strategy makes sense.  It is still wise to double check that the building in which you are interested is actually in your desired zone, as the city has undergone massive rezoning in the past few years. Whichever route you choose, it is essential to do your research.  Then, reach out to your favorite real estate broker, to help you find your dream apartment.

Here are some terrific resources to help you navigate the maze of choices:

Inside Schools is a nonprofit organization providing statistical portraits of the city’s public schools, a forum for parent views, survival tips, and ideas to make your school better.

This City website will help you determine exactly what school your building is in.

A great New York Times article about the where to live dilemma, in relationship to schools.

For a list of NYC private schools.

If you are overwhelmed by the private school choices, check out Victoria Goldman’s website. Her books do a great job of giving an accurate overview of the private schools, what they offer, and their admission processes.

Need advice on public schools? School Search NYC is a highly respected resource.

Categories: School

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