Haus Schwatz: Cati's DC Real Estate


Just How Much Can We Tell Our Buyers About Schools?

(Modified version of original source: Good School, Good Neighbors, Bad School, Bad Neighbors?)

Last week, my first contribution to Where We Live, the Washington Post's new buzzing real estate blog, dealt with a stormy issue: neighborhood involvement in the site selection process for the planned Middle School #2 in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase cluster. Some of the comments posted by readers there reminded me of the thin ice realtors often have to walk on when it comes to the school question.

How much advice can your real estate agent give you when it comes to choosing the school district in which you should buy?Westland Middle School, Bethesda-Chevy Chase

Ideally, none. At least that's what fair housing laws require. Realtors must not steer you to, or away from, certain school districts or clusters. Clearly, that's an acknowledgement of the strong relationship between the quality of the public schools and the house prices in a neighborhood. (Certain attractive, pricey urban areas might be exceptions to this rule, but that's a whole different issue.)

The theory here is that we should not push the wealthier clients towards the already better schools and the lower-income buyers or renters toward areas with weaker schools. There's a good reason for that: agents shouldn't unwittingly promote further inequity. This is even more complicated by the fact that the weaker schools in a district often have a higher percentage of "classes" protected by federal and local fair housing legislation such as minorities, kids from single-parent families, or recipients of government assistance.

Many of our buyer clients, however, are surprised and sometimes even outraged when they ask where the "good schools" are and we tell them that we can't tell them. Especially when they're new to the area, buyers actually expect this kind of advice from us.

Usually, I will suggest that they talk to friends or colleagues. I will point them towards  official as well as independent websites to get scores, demographics, boundary maps and parent reviews for a number of schools in neighborhoods where the homes fit their other criteria (such as size and prize).

But whether we like it or not, the other criteria often sort of take care of the question. At a minimum, they will limit the options of those concerned with schools. In the DC area, it often comes down to the choice between a small house tied to a home school with great overall scores and high parental involvement or a big house within the boundaries of a weaker school.

And thank goodness, that's not a choice your realtor has to make.


© 2012, Catarina Bannier


Comment balloon 5 commentsCatarina Bannier • January 09 2012 09:29AM


Best is to provide them sources of information to check out, as a realtor is not the expert in this area.  Good luck in 2012.

Posted by Edward & Celia Maddox, EXPERIENCE & INTEGRITY - WE TAKE THE HIGH ROAD (The Celtic Connection Realty) over 7 years ago

In Dallas, we are fortunate to have good website information about area public and private schools.  Many buyers are specific about the schools they want their children to attend.

Posted by Sharon Parisi, Dallas Homes (United Real Estate Dallas ) over 7 years ago

Be the source of the source for information. Always direct them to the local school board.

Posted by Allison Stewart, St. Cloud Fl Realtor, Osceola County Real Estate 407-616-9904 (St.Cloud Homes ) over 7 years ago

Thanks to all of you! It's clearly the wise thing to do to point them toward some public info. Although, sometimes it can be confusing to decode the info on the city or county's school websites as well, at least in our area.

Posted by Catarina Bannier, DC Real Estate The Smart And Fun Way (Compass) over 7 years ago

Speaking of sources, what's the best source for info on the BCC cluster? I can't find anything on the web since your Where We Live post!

Posted by Ben almost 6 years ago