Many of my most popular blog posts are the result of questions my relocation buyers ask me and the ensuing conversations. One question I often get is, “Is there a lottery?” and “Do you have a choice of which public school your child attends?” I can fairly quickly answer these questions–no, no lotteries here on the Main Line, though there are some in certain catchments in Philadelphia, like Penn Alexander and generally, with a few exceptions (mostly in Lower Merion regarding the IB program and the “walk zone”), there isn’t a choice of where your child will attend public school. However, any questions about schools inevitably lead to my standard “school spiel” if I haven’t already given it. In a nutshell, our school district boundaries do not follow common conventions that people from other areas expect. In most places, if you live in a certain town, you attend the schools that serve that town and they are all part of the same district. However, even in very small geographical areas (like Haverford, for example), we often find towns that straddle two or more counties, which translates to different townships, which, in turn, dictates school district.
Wayne is a great example–I can’t count how many times someone who is moving here for a job has said to me somethin along the lines of: “A colleague at my new job lives in Wayne and loves it and says the schools are the very best! I can’t afford most of the houses I see there, from my on-line search, but I found one yesterday that looks great!” Then I patiently explain that a large section of Wayne is in Chester County and is served by Tredyffrin-Easttown (T-E) schools, another section is in Delaware County’s Radnor Township (Radnor School District) and that the upper portion is in Montgomery County and Upper Merion School District. Here’s the deal: T-E and Radnor rate among the top 10 districts in the entire state. While Upper Merion schools are generally well-liked by the parents who send their kids there, their ranking is nowhere near as high. (Please also keep in mind that the ranking criteria are not as scientific as one might hope; read the ranking website’s explanation of how they rate the different districts.) Our area’s property values are driven by many factors, but I’d venture to say school district is the most important one.
So, now that you know how key a role school district plays in property values (and possibly in your own personal criteria for a home), you may want to refine your search criteria if you have your own saved searches on line. Many public-use sites don’t allow you to search by school district, but our MLS does, so your agent should certainly be able to screen out (or for) certain school districts, if desired.
A side note: taxes vary by township as well, so that’s another reason to pay close attention to the township (maybe more than the town). Finally, to confuse things even more, some of the most highly rated school districts have among the lowest taxes and vice versa, so don’t make the rookie mistake of assuming higher property taxes indicates a higher-ranked school district. At least here, on the Main Line, there’s no correlation. Still confused? Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
If you are relocating to the Philadelphia/Main Line area, please go to my relocation tab. If you’d like to read other blog entries related to relocation, please scroll down a couple of lines and click on RELOCATION (to the right of FILED UNDER). Thanks!