When we launched realosophy.com back in 2007, we pioneered market analysis by neighbourhood in Toronto. At the time, realtor.ca boundaries of E01, C11 and W01 really confused consumers – for example, E01 encompassed the vastly different neighbourhoods of Riverdale, Leslieville and Blake Jones. We worked to reflect neighbourhoods as consumers knew them - which more accurately reflected actual real estate trends). Our neighbourhood profiles brought together school data, housing statistics and demographic data to help home buyers figure out which neighbourhoods would be the best fit for them.
When we opened the doors of our real estate brokerage in 2009, we saw first-hand that home buyers were once again pushing ahead of the market. Once our clients had narrowed their search down to two or three neighbourhoods they liked, they started to zoom in even closer, becoming hyper-focused on the school district they wanted to buy in.
Many home buyers don’t want to buy in Bloor West Village, they want to buy in the Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School district. They aren’t interested in just any house in Davisville, it has to be in the Maurice Cody Junior Public School catchment area.
So we decided that our latest innovation would be to allow Toronto home buyers to search for homes by school district. (To check out how we do this, see houses currently for sale in the Maurice Cody school district.)
If you’re looking to buy a home and school quality is an important priority for you, zeroing in on what’s available is just the first part of your challenge. You will find yourself competing with many other buyers and having to assess and make trade-offs – here are a few words of advice that I share with my clients.
Most home buyers who want to buy in a good school district typically start their search in the spring with the hope of being moved in to their new home by the end of the summer. The goal is to get the kids into school on Day One, avoiding the need for any mid-year switches. As a result, the market for nice homes in good school districts can be very competitive during the spring.
Consider starting your search in the fall when there is less competition. The fall market has historically been a bit less competitive than the spring market and this means fewer bidding wars. This is a particularly smart strategy for home buyers who don’t have school-aged children yet and don’t have to worry about changing schools mid-year.
The Anchored Neighbourhood
School quality can change over a three to four year period. Home buyers with very young children may benefit by focusing their search on schools that might not be the top performers today, but have good potential for improvement. But how to do you spot the potential winners?
At Realosophy, we talk a lot about the “Anchored Neighbourhood” concept.
This means looking for schools that have average scores today (as assessed by standardized testing administered and reported by the Education Quality Accountability Office (EQAO), an arm’s-length agency of the Government of Ontario ), but are in established neighbourhoods surrounded by schools that are already top performers. (You can research all Toronto Public and Catholic school profiles and scores on realosophy.com.) Homes in the “average” school district tend to be less expensive relative to the top performing school districts, which makes it a bit easier for some home buyers to get into that particular micro-market. Over time, as the area gentrifies and starts to see younger families move in (many because they can’t afford the neighbouring top school district), the anchored neighbourhood and school benefit from these demographic changes – parents tend to get more involved in local schools and general capacity increases, leading to better performance.
At our monthly Schools for Home Buyers Workshop, we go through the data and details behind the Anchored Neighbourhood concept, highlighting recent examples of schools that were not highly desirable a few years ago, but have benefited by being anchored in an established neighbourhood surrounded by other good quality schools.
Is it Really About the School?
Every family arrives at the schooling strategy that is right for their children. We have a number of clients who don’t focus too much on EQAO scores for Toronto public schools. Some just don’t believe that school quality can be measured by how well students perform on some standardized test. In other cases, parents have alternative or private schooling options planned for their children. But buyers that are not too worried about EQAO scores in terms of impact on their children are still worried about how these scores might impact their home value, particularly when it comes time to sell.
But our analysis of the data shows that school quality and house prices are not a 1 to 1 relationship. Buying in a good school district does not necessarily mean that your house is going to appreciate at a faster rate and have better resale potential than a house in a poor school district - the relationship is more nuanced than that.
Even when we look at the homes in two neighbouring school districts, one a top performing school and the other below average, you might be surprised to learn that school quality does not have a material impact on how much house values are appreciating. Again, we go over all the data and the details at our monthly Schools for Home Buyers Workshop so be sure to sign-up if you're interested in digging deeper.
The latest EQAO scores have just been released and we’re hard at work updating realosophy.com. Over the next few months, we’ll be publishing our super-popular series of posts on schools, featuring the Top Ten lists you love (Best Neighbourhoods for Top Schools and Best Schools on a 500K Housing Budget), as well as introducing some new ones (Best Toronto Schools for Math).
We hope you’ll enjoy reading these posts as much as we love pouring over the data.
John Pasalis is the President and Broker-Owner of Realosophy Realty Inc. Brokerage in Toronto. A leader in real estate analytics and pro-consumer advice, Realosophy helps clients buy or sell a home the right way. Email John