Brooklyn Secret Agent: Real Estate and Schools

Today we bring you the seventh of an anonymous weekly column about real estate by one of the most experienced agents in Brooklyn: How does a family’s school needs affect the buying and selling of real estate?  Obviously, in every way. As the following anecdotes will show, however, not in ways that you might expect.
The public schools that are highly rated are always requested by buyers, and sellers always tout their location within those zones.  (I’ve even listed studio apartments where the seller wants the school zone in the ad headline. ) Over the last 15 years, it’s been wonderful to see the list of desired schools increase dramatically.
One surprising thing that happens over and over again is that buyers want to be in a certain school zone even though they intend to send their kids to private school. They never see any conflict in owning property which is now unavailable to those who might be dying to attend the school. Encouraging them  to look outside the district is a non-starter.
Then there are the buyers who beat the system. First they rent in the desired district. After enrolling, they begin their search to buy without being constrained by the school’s zone boundaries. Not a bad plan, actually. (Until the practice of allowing students to stay after they move is ended.)
A question that can’t help but arise is what is the difference in the valuation of property inside a district and outside it.  For all the years I’ve been doing this, I have never been able to accurately quantify it. I can say that within the universe of buyers who initially announced to me that they would only buy in P.S. 29 or P.S. 321, fully 85 percent of them end up buying outside that district. Each district is small and there are many very expensive properties within them, making them unaffordable to most. If a buyer wants historic Brooklyn, compromise has to happen. The best estimate I can come up with is that there is about a 10 percent differential in value for being in or out of a coveted district. You would expect it to be greater but it’s not.
Another interesting anecdote: One buyer coming back after a few expat years was told by a “school consultant” that the chances of getting into one of the Brooklyn private schools was just about nil. He recommended the Manhattan private schools for the relative ease of admission. I’m not sure what is more bizarre here — that school consultants even exist? Or that Brooklyn is THAT hot? Possibly.
This article would have been longer but for the five days of non-stop negotiating over a house, with brief periods of sleep in between. Two buyers bloodied each other in a battle the likes of which I’ve not seen since 2007.  Maybe it’s time to become a school consultant.

13 Comment

  • I’m not sure why it’s “not a bad plan” to move after establishing your kid in a school but there is a “conflict” about buying a property and not using zoned school seat. Schools need people to buy and then don’t use the school. If every home had kids using the public schools, we’d be up the creek. Do you think it’s a conflict to stay in your home when kids graduate or should we move on and make room? I dont get this at all.

  • i think it’s atrocious that one can spend well upwards of 1 million buckaroos on a piece of property and be zoned for a terrible school. then again, property taxes in this city make no sense. i guess you all get what you pay for.

    • There is an obvious lag between house prices and quality of schools. If the house prices shoot up too quickly they shut out those parents who might be willing (or forced) to work with their zoned school. Interestingly my neighborhood school (which I didn’t even consider), PS 56, has many out of zone children because it is perceived as an orderly and stable learning environment.

  • I’ve long thought about the same percentage value. I’d say it’s probably less than 10% but that’s as good a guess as any. It’s hard to distinguish a school zone from other walkability qualities in a neighborhood.

  • As for private school, it’s that there are so many more of them in Manhattan. There are only a handful of good, non-denominational private schools in Brooklyn.

  • wjcohen

    We live in a perceived “less desirable” school zone just one block away from a perceived “good school” zone. The price difference between identically sized houses on my block and the other seems to be more like 20-25 percent actually.

  • Most brokers I know are no longer advertising school districts because there is no guarantee. If someone advertises an apartment in a school zone and the boundaries change than they could be held liable.

  • In the mid nineties when my kid was in elementary school, the local zoned school was overflowing with out of zone kids from Bed Stuy. The Park Slope schooles were overflowing with kids from Fort Greene. The below 14th St. Manhattan public schools built their reputations on kids from Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. Everyone moves over a neighborhood. People are unaware it’s kosher to register your kid in the district in which they work, which would make more Manhattan elementary schools available to people in any zoned district.

  • You can’t enroll your kid in a school based on your work address. You have to show proof of residence. Some popular schools like PS 29 do home visits to make sure their students really live in the zone and aren’t using an address of someone else.

  • cobblebill

    One point to make. The issue of zoning really only applies from k-5. After that, NYC schools are all about applying to schools based on grades and standardized test scores. My children attend p.s. 29, for example, but when they get to 6 th grade, the “zoned ” school on Baltic has atrocious scores so I really would not consider it. Instead, we’ll be applying to Mark Twain in Coney Island and M.S. 51 in Park Slope. I have to hope my kids are in the top 15% of their class to get in to those schools. Otherwise, I will have to start buying powerball tickets to pay for private schools, not the super competitive ones like Packer and St. Ann’s, but respectable schools like Friends or that one in Park SLope with a pool (dang, sorry I can’t remember the name).
    It’s a complex brew of class entitlement and all sorts of issues that make me squirm when I think about them honestly. I want excellent education for everyone but I ain’t sending my kid to a school where the kids are reading two grades below level and use words like “ain’t” unironically. When I hear activists like Diane Ravitch rail against the meritocracy of scores as a metric for admissions, I can’t help think, ‘yeah, but where did your kids go to school, lady?’ Hint, not that crappy one on Baltic street.

  • cobblebill

    One point to make. The issue of zoning really only applies from k-5. After that, NYC schools are all about applying to schools based on grades and standardized test scores. My children attend p.s. 29, for example, but when they get to 6 th grade, the “zoned ” school on Baltic has atrocious scores so I really would not consider it. Instead, we’ll be applying to Mark Twain in Coney Island and M.S. 51 in Park Slope. I have to hope my kids are in the top 15% of their class to get in to those schools. Otherwise, I will have to start buying powerball tickets to pay for private schools, not the super competitive ones like Packer and St. Ann’s, but respectable schools like Friends or that one in Park SLope with a pool (dang, sorry I can’t remember the name).
    It’s a complex brew of class entitlement and all sorts of issues that make me squirm when I think about them honestly. I want excellent education for everyone but I ain’t sending my kid to a school where the kids are reading two grades below level and use words like “ain’t” unironically. When I hear activists like Diane Ravitch rail against the meritocracy of scores as a metric for admissions, I can’t help think, ‘yeah, but where did your kids go to school, lady?’ Hint, not that crappy one on Baltic street.