December ABODE: Real Estate

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Location, location, education
Having kids changes everything—including what’s important when you’re buying a house. Suddenly, a walk-in closet matters less than which school the neighborhood kids attend. According to Charlottesville-based Realtor Erin Garcia, of Loring Woodriff Real Estate Associates, school district is in the top five determining factors for families purchasing homes. When it comes to school districts, it takes a knowledgeable and savvy Realtor to help parents decide on the best place to settle down.

Because choosing a school for one’s child is so significant, Garcia recommends that parents take the time to get to know the “vibe” of potential schools. “I definitely encourage [potential buyers] to get on individual schools’ websites and look for what’s important to them. Do they care about test scores or do they care about teacher-student ratio or how many computers are in each classroom? And then they can contact the schools directly once they’ve narrowed it down.”

She cautions against putting too much stock in online ratings and individual feedback. “It’s like reading a restaurant review: It’s pretty hard to decipher who is actually making that review and what is valuable to that person versus the next.”

There are six public elementary schools in Charlottesville alone, not to mention an array of private schools. Making a choice can seem daunting, so having some local assistance can help. That said, Realtors will not be likely to recommend specific schools. For opinionated advice, you’ll have to turn to outspoken friends, neighbors or websites.

“It’s very exciting for me to work with families who are moving to the area with children, knowing that they’re looking for schools, because they have so many great options,” says Garcia. “I grew up in these schools, my children are growing up in these schools and I feel very confident about the schools we have to offer in this area.”

Outside Charlottesville proper, A. Scott Ward Jr. of Scott Ward Realty in Scottsville has seen how schools have a striking impact on the real estate market.

“Besides [Scottsville] being the red-headed step-child of Charlottesville and Albemarle,” Ward says with a chuckle, “we sit here where Albemarle, Buckingham and Fluvanna come together. I’ve got three counties.”

Ward’s unique perspective allows him to see trends in the market. “The first choice [for buyers], if you’ve got kids,” he explains, “is Albemarle, because they want their kids going to Albemarle schools.” When asked if that’s due to reported test scores and other hard stats, he says, “I’m going to say that it’s based on reputation. I think that the perception is that Albemarle County [has] the superior schools.”

This perception adds significant value to a property that falls in the desired district. How much of a premium will buyers pay for an Albemarle residence?

“I would say $20,000-30,000,” Ward estimates. “When you compare the three counties, Buckingham has been inexpensive, Fluvanna is reasonably priced, and Albemarle is priced a little higher, and I think it’s because of the schools.” He cites a current example: “There are two very similar houses [that recently came on the market]—one in Albemarle and one in Fluvanna. The price difference is about $35,000.”

So, do these select homes spend less time on the market than those on the other side of the county line? “No,” Ward says. “Because of the price difference, they really don’t. I think some people think, ‘Well, I’m going to have to pay this mortgage payment every month. Is it worth an extra $175 to have my kid go to Monticello [High School] versus Fluvanna?’”

If you’re on the seller side of the equation, then, you might get more for your home in the most desired districts. But you might not get it sooner.—Christy Baker

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