Foreclosure Numbers Lowest in the Better School Districts

Maybe you’ve been thinking about buying a house in foreclosure and even though you have some money saved you still need to find a really good deal. If you’re at the point that you’re actually looking at these houses, you start to notice that most of these properties are in marginal neighborhoods. Now, that may be OK for the investors but you have kids and plan on living in the house and don’t want to send your kids to those school districts. A new study just released addresses this situation.

Highly ranked school districts may have been spared the worst of the foreclosure crisis, according to a new analysis, showing that the housing crash was akin to a tornado that tore through wide swaths, but hit with particular force in certain areas.

The analysis, conducted for Developments by Location Inc., a Worcester, Mass.-based company that mines local data for businesses and consumers, looked at six months of 2011 sales data collected by RealtyTrac Inc. It showed that the percentage of foreclosure (or “real-estate-owned”) sales went down as the school ranking went up in five metro areas – Jacksonville, Fla; Atlanta; Toledo, Ohio; Stockton, Calif.; and Seattle. Higher-rated school districts also maintained higher home-sale prices, and higher home prices per square foot.

“If you are looking to buy into one of these good school districts, it is very rare to find a foreclosure,” said Location Inc.’s chief executive Andrew Schiller, an expert in demographic analysis who conducted the research with his colleague Jonathan Glick. “It’s better to just go into a normal sale.” (The five cities were chosen to provide a general market overview.)

The finding is, to a certain extent, not a surprise. Schools have long been a driver for home buyers, whether in determining location or timing. So it would make sense that school ranking could serve as a kind of proxy for measuring the damage from the foreclosure crisis.

It’s also not that foreclosure sales don’t exist in highly ranked districts; they are just much less of a factor, and the reason could be income. Stan Humphries, chief economist for real-estate data company Zillow, said that it’s “likely both educational outcomes and foreclosures are ultimately linked to income, not to each other.”

The upper tier of homeowners saw less of an impact from the housing crash than the bottom tier, according to Mr. Humphries; the top third of homes dropped 26% from the recent high point; the bottom third of homes in value fell 37%. Some sought-after neighborhoods probably saw less severe price erosion, which in turn helped sustain property taxes and protect a vital funding source for schools.

Mr. Schiller said he sees school quality as both a result and a driver of income concentrations in parts of metropolitan areas. “Once in place, the higher-quality school systems reinforce this, causing higher demand for properties there, and higher values.”

Good schools may also be one of few factors keeping buyers in certain markets today, further bolstering prices and property-tax bases in sought-after districts like Newton, Mass. and Cupertino, Calif., said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of the online brokerage Redfin. “People always want to live in those school districts,” Mr. Kelman said. “And those school districts have remained well-financed even as neighboring districts have to cut costs.”


So, while it’s true that even million dollar houses sometimes go through foreclosure, it doesn’t happen that often. But when it does, the competition level goes way up and you won’t be buying that house for a mere pittance. Unless you have a lot of time and money, you’re better off with a traditional sale.

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