When purchasing a home, there are a variety of different factors that we consider as we make our big decision. These include the size of the house, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, layout, fixtures, condition, neighborhood, location, etc. Clearly, there’s a lot that we weigh in our minds when thinking about a home.
I recently had a conversation with someone on the topic of tradeoffs when purchasing a home with kids in mind. We were talking about all the features of a home, and the desire for things such as a yard, a playroom, a location away from heavy car traffic, and so on. After we had been talking a bit, I brought up the topic of school districts.
“What about them”, the friend replied.
Surprised, I commented on how of course you would want to make sure that your kids would be able to go to a really good school. (Note: I’m considering the public schools here).
“Of course you want them to go to decent schools that are safe”, was the friend’s response.
My subsequent response was that I would want kids to go to very good schools that were safe, not just decent schools.
“Yeah, but a lot of those schools are in overpriced areas. You’ll be living in a shoebox just to get into one of those districts.”
My response was to spell out how I thought that while the shoebox statement was hyperbole, I do agree with the idea that tradeoffs need to be made. In which case, you trade off some of the qualities you’re looking for in a home, in exchange for having your kids get a better school.
“You can get a good education at a lot of schools; it’s not just the name that matters. You’re paying for a brand name when a good generic can do just fine. No way would I want to trade down from a great house with good schools to an average house with very good schools.”
Now, that was an interesting analogy. I do like to buy quality generics – or store brands – when they’re comparable to expensive name brands. I see the point, and it’s a nice way to put it. The only thing is, I don’t totally buy that argument in this case. These are schools we’re talking about, not products. Some schools have exceptional reputations for a reason.
It became clear that we saw this issue differently. Here are the two arguments:
1. Nice, Newer Home in a Good School District
My friend’s argument here was that they would rather have a nice, spacious home with all the right features. That was important to them. We’re talking about features such as right number of bedrooms, the right size yard for kids, a finished basement in which the kids can play, a nice upgraded kitchen with upscale countertops and appliances. Basically, it was a house that they could be happy in, considering the physical structure.
The schools are good, definitely better than average. Are they among the better schools in the metropolitan area? No. But they’re decent. Test scores show it.
The Tradeoff: Get the house you want, and send the kids to schools that are good enough.
The Justification: Kids learn most of their values at home, and a household with supportive parents that value education and family can help the kids succeed in life even if they didn’t go to the very best schools. Tutors could possibly help make up for anything that your child is missing out on by not going to the school with the highest test scores.
2. Ordinary, Older Home in an Very Good School District
This point of view, which happened to be mine, was that a very good school district, with a great reputation and high test scores, can be a help to a kid as he or she progresses through the grades and ultimately goes on to college. My view is that the scores are high for a reason, and the kids will ultimately have stronger fundamentals, be better prepared, and have higher peer group expectations as they complete school. This will help them compete as they establish themselves as young adults and beyond.
The thought process here is that I would rather have this for my kid, and not have an ideal home. Maybe it would be much older, have less updated features, smaller rooms, smaller lot, etc.
The Tradeoff: Don’t get the house you want and just settle for an acceptable older house, and send the kids to schools that have excellent test scores – as opposed to good ones in the aforementioned district.
The Justification: A nice home is not a need, it’s a luxury. One can live in a less spacious, older place – at the same price – in order to give the kids the advantages of being in a higher rated school district that has higher expectations of its students.
Question for You:
What point of view do you hold in this situation – Excellent Home/Decent Schools, or Decent Home/Excellent Schools?
I’m curious what you think about this subject, and the rationale behind the two viewpoints. If you don’t have kids just yet, please think ahead to what you would do in this hypothetical tradeoff situation.