Housing prices are impacted by a multitude of factors, often irrespective of the actual home and property themselves—think access to public transit, parks, and proximity to a main drag that offers a thriving retail strip. But if there’s one variable that seems to carry more and more weight, particularly for young families, it’s the educational catchment area in which the home is located.
These days, school rankings are easily accessible online from think-tanks like the Fraser Institute, which aggregates stats like provincial test scores and graduation rates to determine how “good” an educational institution is for its students. And while many have debated the merits of the Fraser numbers, for legions of buyers, they have become a way to determine whether their potential home is in a “good” neighbourhood. This is true for many of my clients, whether they are three-child families, expecting, or still wide-eyed and fancy-free.
The media provides us with constant reminders that the Canadian public-school system is under scrutiny (namely, for our abysmal math scores) and seems to have changed in significant ways since I was a child (remember praise for achievement, not just participation?). It’s almost as if fear has become a motivator for some buyers, desperate to get their kids into the right school, or else.
We need look no further than Riverdale as an example of how a school boundary can affect real-estate prices. Riverdale might seem like a fairly small, homogeneous neighbourhood, but to a prospective buyer, a home’s relative distance to a particular school can make a significant difference in what they shell out to shack up there. Houses on the west side of Pape Avenue fall into the Withrow PS and Pape PS catchment areas, both of which are ranked 8.1 out of 10 by the Fraser Institute, or 278th out of 2,714 public elementary schools in Ontario. If you cross over to the east side of Pape, the feeder school is Blake Street PS, which, by comparison, ranks 3.5 out of 10, or 2,452nd out of 2,714.
Streets to Pape’s west, like Withrow, Bain, Frizzell, Wroxeter, and Strathcona, are all basically brand names in Riverdale, but “Withrow east of Pape” has compromised school scores, and thus has led to a much lower price point for the area’s real estate. It’s not out of the question to suggest that a three-bedroom, three-bathroom semi-detached house on Withrow Avenue (west of Withrow Park) might sell for $200,000 more than the same house on Withrow Avenue east of Pape.
The same story can be told for a variety of Toronto neighbourhoods: Leaside is home to Northlea’s prestigious French Immersion program (7.9/10) and Bessborough PS (9.1/10), so it’s no wonder housing prices have exploded in this area in the past decade. I attended Bessborough in the 1980s, and, at the time, it was nothing special. My parents didn’t think they had hit some sort of educational jackpot, and real-estate prices were quite reasonable, comparable to many areas outside the downtown core. Is it any coincidence that as the schools’ rankings have increased, along with better facilities and more diverse curricula, surrounding homes have increased in value, too?
It isn’t unheard of for private-school tuition to break the $20,000 mark, so it might make sense for some parents to spend that money on a house in a prime public-school district instead. Deer Park PS, for example, ranks a 10 out of 10 on the Fraser scale, so some moms and dads might argue that this is as good as sending their kids to a private college. In a way, purchasing a home in Summerhill could act as a joint investment in real estate and education.
Not everybody has the luxury of living in Deer Park, Leaside, or Riverdale, but whether your housing budget is $500,000 or $5 million, school boundaries—and, for better or worse, their rankings—have become guideline by which home values can be boosted or diminished. Initially, buyers might value a six-piece master bathroom more than which school their kids would be bussed to, but changes can be made to the home’s design, not its location. And if commitment is an issue, you can always rent a home in your preferred catchment area, thereby securing spots for your children in a coveted school, settling in, and setting all of you up for success.