Ask the Realtor: A primer on schools for every home-buying parent

Ask the Expert Buying News

One of the top reasons home buyers choose a particular community is for its school system. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Generational Trends Report, the quality of school districts (35 percent) and the distance to schools (31 percent) were a few of the most important factors for buyers.

If you are choosing a community primarily for its schools, your real estate agent should provide general information on the district, but researching the details — the ones that matter most for your family — is up to you, the buyer. And there are factors other than school ranking that it would be wise to consider.

If care before and/or after school is important to you, make sure the community you are considering offers extended-day programs, and don’t forget to find out the cost. Sometimes these programs are not in the school your children would attend, so they would be transported to another location. Learn everything you can so there will no surprises when school starts.

Bus transportation can also be a major concern for some parents. Massachusetts requires school districts to provide transportation only to “children in grades kindergarten through six who reside more than two miles from the school they are entitled to attend and the nearest school bus stop is more than one mile from their residence and all children residing in regional school districts in grades kindergarten through twelve.’’ Some communities have more generous policies, such as free transportation for all or rides for older pupils for a fee. If you need transportation and you can’t make other arrangements, that may be a deal-breaker for you.

Another topic of conversation among parents is school activity fees. Some communities have one fee for everything, others charge for each sport or activity. These fees can add up.

“The other consideration that is super important is the financial security of the town,’’ said Jane Tremblay, schools superintendent in Lynnfield. “People should look at data such as how the school budget has been handled in years past. Are there usually cuts? What do the cuts say about the priority of the districts?’’

Tremblay also suggested looking at whether a community has passed overrides.

“There are only two definites at the beginning of each year — the fixed amount of money that we get and the space we have — everything else is subject to change,’’ she said. “The amount of students that move into the district and the amount of students that move out of district changes constantly. If we get an influx of second-graders in the summer, or the middle of the year, we need to be able to troubleshoot that influx with the fixed financial and space resources.’’

Boundaries for a particular school can also change. Many districts withhold answers on school placement until you enroll your child because of shifting populations. It is not unheard of for a buyer to look for a house in a particular neighborhood known for its excellent elementary school only to find out after they move that their children will be attending a different one.

Finally, visit the school you know your child would attend. Talk to the teachers and make sure that the school is going to be a good fit. Bring your child with you. Get a feel for the culture of the school, as well as the leadership. Go on social media and look at what parents are saying. Please do not rely on your real estate agent to provide you with this important and detailed information. When it comes to making such an important decision, homework is required.

Marjorie Youngren is a broker at Century 21 Commonwealth in Lynnfield. Send your real estate questions to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @MarjorieTeamC21. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at