Making the Choice Between a Good School and a Better House

homebuyer AnneMarie Ronning and Family
homebuyer AnneMarie Ronning and Family

How much house would you give up to make sure your children are going to a good school? "I lived in a house with a large modern kitchen and four bathrooms," says AnnaMarie Ronning of Minneapolis, "But if I can find a house in the area I want, I will deal with an older style kitchen and survive with one bathroom with the possibility of adding another one later."

Ronning is looking to move from a two-bedroom apartment in the upscale Linden Hills neighborhood and move into a single-family home nearby with her three school-aged children, but she's facing some hard and limited choices, and she's far from alone. It's the kind of choice that 60 percent of homebuyers in a recent survey by said has a big impact on their decision to buy a home.

"Homebuyers are willing to pay more and give up certain home features for a home located in their district of choice," said Leslie Piper, consumer housing specialist at, which today released its Back to School survey results aimed at showing how much weight schools have in the homebuying decision. What are homebuyers willing to sacrifice? "They are especially willing to give up accessibility to shopping and nearby parks and trails among other amenities, to reside within school district boundaries of choice," Piper said.

According to the survey, which spoke to
981 participants from July 18 to July 22:
62.39 percent would do without a pool or spa.
• 50.60 percent would give up accessibility to shopping.
43.96 percent would pass on a bonus room.
• 41.99 percent would offer up nearby parks and trails.

While the survey found that school district boundaries affect the buying decisions for more than 60 percent of homebuyers, among those who cited it as a factor, more than 90 percent said that buying in the school district of their choice is "important" or "somewhat important."

"I want to keep my children in this neighborhood first of all because I do not want to change their schools," said Ronning, a single mom who downsized from a roughly 3,000-square-foot home after her divorce. "I want to live in the area where my children can get the bus or ideally walk or bicycle to their schools. I do not want to move them from their current school because I am satisfied with their schools and I want to keep that stability in their lives."

In speaking to AOL Estate, Ronning added that she was amazed by the home listings her real estate agent has been sending her: The quality of the homes in her single-income price range (as a marketing communications specialist) gives her far less than she'd like. She said that she knows that get more house if she moves farther out to the suburbs, but Ronning has decided that she's willing to sacrifice some house for better schools. She said that one of the homes that she recently considered didn't even have a garage. "If you know about cars in Minnesota winters, that is a big sacrifice to not have a garage!"

Ronning is one of the 49 percent in the survey who would not want to give up living in a close-knit, walkable community, though. "The quality of our lives in this community is very high because we enjoy the vibrant city lifestyle -- so much so that I really don't want to walk away from this life just for a bigger house," she said. "Our daily activities revolve around the community library, recreation center, our favorite city parks, the lake, and band-shell concerts."

Washington, D.C.-area real estate agent Carl Becker of Premier Properties said that young professionals, accustomed to living in vibrant walkable communities, are very location-conscious and increasingly resistant to moving to the suburbs when they start a family.

"I've worked with a number of young families insistent on rooting their family in the District, with the hope that schools will improve by the time their children attend them," he told AOL Real Estate. "Some families are less concerned about local public schools because they can afford private school, but more often the potential cost of private schooling is a significant factor in a decision of where to live."

Carla Hudson didn't give much thought to the local school when her family moved with her then-toddler from Chicago to the less expensive town of Elkhart, Ind. But now that her daughter is entering fifth grade, she has seen the issues that can come with not factoring in the quality of local schools. The school that her daughter attended last year, Hawthorne Elementary, received a "D" rating from the Indiana Department of Education.

"My daughter has a reading disability similar to dyslexia and I'm afraid she will never get the type of help at Hawthorne that she needs," Hudson told AOL Real Estate. "The kids who really need help like that, they fall between the cracks." She said that she now wants to move closer to family in Daytona Beach, Fla., so that she can get her daughter into a better school district, and has enrolled her daughter in another Indiana school until she can save up the money she needs to relocate.

In terms of the monetary value that homebuyers put on a good school district, nearly 45 percent of the survey respondents said that they would pay between 1 percent and 10 percent above budget to get a home in the school district of their choice. Of course, not everyone can afford to live in the better school districts or get their children into private school, and at least a handful of those who've tried to skirt the system have been charged with "illegally" enrolling their children in a school when they did not live in the attendance area, reports Education Week.

Kelley Williams-Bolar, an Akron, Ohio woman who went to jail for nine days for wrongfully enrolling her children in a safer school district in her father's neighborhood rather than in the poorly rated school by her home, is now a parent union organizer advocating for the rights of others to enroll their children in better schools -- even if they reside outside district boundaries. The Hartford Courant reported last week that she stood on the courthouse steps advocating for the rights of Marie Menard, a Connecticut grandmother who was arrested for allowing her grandchildren to attend a school near her home, even though the children's mother had moved out.

What home amenities or neighborhood features are you willing to give up (or did you give up) in order to get a home in the school district of your choice?