There are several factors you need to take into account when buying a home that you plan to live in yourself -- its location, local amenities, and potential resale value. Similarly, when you're buying an investment property, either to fix and flip or rent out, there are different factors that indicate whether you're likely to get a good return on your money.
But regardless of whether you're buying a home as your primary residence or as an investment, purchasing property in a decently ranked school district is important for a number of reasons. First, if you'll be living in that home, you want a good school system for your kids. If you move somewhere where the schools are iffy, you may find that you have no choice but to put your kids in private school, which could get expensive.
Furthermore, if you're buying an investment property to flip, you'll need a decent school district if the home in question is more suited to a family than a single buyer. The same holds true if you're buying that home to rent out -- parents are more likely to pay top dollar if renting your home means getting their kids into a great school.
Thankfully, there are several online tools that can help you vet a school district. And putting in a little time to do your research could help you make the right homebuying decision.
How to research a school district
One site to look at for researching schools is GreatSchools, which lets you search schools by state or zip code. If you opt for the latter, the site will put up a list of the schools in the area, as well as a map of where they're located so you can see where they are in relation to one another. You'll also have the option to sort by different ratings -- test scores, college readiness, and student progress.
Another good online resource is Niche.com, which also lets you search schools by zip code. Each school gets its own report card with a grade for features like academics, teachers, clubs and activities, diversity, college prep, and health and safety. That way, you can easily see how its ratings are calculated.
And then there's SchoolDigger, which also lets you search by zip code to get the lowdown on different schools by specific area. Not only that, but you'll have the option to pull up rankings by state so that if you're not sure where to begin your home search, you can see which school districts are ranked the highest and work from there.
Additionally, online listings and real estate agents can give you a sense of what school districts are like -- though they may not tell the whole story. Realtor.com, for example, includes school ratings with individual listings, but don't just look at those numbers -- compare them to the numbers associated with different neighborhoods in that county. Similarly, don't just take a real estate agent's word that the area you're looking to buy in has fabulous schools -- saying that makes that agent more likely to land a sale, so you're not necessarily getting an unbiased opinion.
Finally, once you narrow down your choices to a couple of school districts, try to find actual parents whose kids are enrolled there to talk to about their experiences. Contact a school you'd potentially be moving near and ask if a member of its parent-teacher organization could spare a few minutes to call you back and give you some firsthand intel. You might glean some extremely valuable information by talking to people rather than focusing solely on rankings.
Know what you're looking at
Each of the sites mentioned above has its own criteria for determining how highly a given school ranks, so be sure to understand what each rating actually means. If you're less concerned with test scores, for example, then a school that ranks poorly in that area, but decently elsewhere, may be a good fit for your family.
But that assumes you're buying a home to live in yourself. If your goal is to rent out your home or flip and sell it, then you shouldn't impose your own priorities on buyers; rather, you should probably aim to buy a home with a school district that ranks highly overall to increase your chances of landing a good sale price, or being able to charge the rent you want to charge.
Remember, good schools don't just make for a good education; they also often lend to home value stability, and that's important when you're talking about making what could be the single greatest purchase of your life.
That said, if you're researching school districts for your own children, be open-minded. Poorly ranked schools don't always mean your kids will get a poor education, and even if your locally zoned public school isn't great, there may be a private or charter school that's an option in that same neighborhood.
Finally, while it's natural to want a top-rated school, understand that rankings and price tend to go hand in hand. You may be better off buying a home in a school district with a decent rating than paying more than you can comfortably afford for a home in a district that's ranked higher.