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Chairman’s Message: Getting Schooled on Communicating with Clients

Quincy Virgilio: MLSListings Inc 2015 Chairman

Quincy Virgilio: MLSListings Inc 2016 Chairman

Of all the factors that clients prioritize in the home search process, schools remain at or near the top of the consideration mix. Even those who are currently childless or not planning to have children recognize that buying in a desirable school district only increases the appeal and value of their property in the long term.

Given this knowledge, you would expect that all real estate professionals would be offering school district insights as part of their market knowledge about properties and neighborhoods that their clients are considering. Not necessarily.

Some agents hesitate to discuss schools on a deeper level for fear that conditions such as gerrymandering or possible future school closures may leave them open to potential misrepresentation claims by homebuyers.

As real estate professionals, it’s always critical to make sure we’re providing the most accurate and timely information possible. But instead of shying away from one of the most important aspects of the job – that of trusted advisor – I believe we should go that extra mile in providing the valuable information that will help clients make informed decisions.

Here is the process I like to follow in my own practice:

  1. Do the homework. Call the school district and ask if there are planned zoning changes or anticipated moves to rezone the district in the future. Look at the history of the school district and zoning over time to see if there has ever been a change in school zoning for that neighborhood.
  2. Have a conversation with your clients. Let them know about the schools that are zoned for their desired property and anything you learned from the school district. It’s also important to reinforce that you cannot make guarantees or predict the future – that you are giving them the best information available today.
  3. Get it in writing. Just as a Buyer’s Advisory protects you, it’s important to provide the information about schools in writing and include the caveat that this information is valid today but may change in the future; the client needs to acknowledge their understanding of that by signing the document.

Once you’ve cleared the hurdle of sharing school information, what can you provide to clients that demonstrate a clear value-add, or differentiator, in the relationship-building process?

School Ratings

In California, the Department of Education utilizes an Academic Performance Index (API) for measuring the academic performance and growth of schools against a number of different metrics. Scores range from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000.  The state has set 800 as the API target for all schools to meet.  Schools that fall short of 800 are required to meet annual growth targets until that goal is achieved.

Impact on Price

Homes located in high-performing school districts are historically higher priced than comparable properties in less popular school districts. However, there is also evidence of a reverse phenomenon: higher priced homes result in better-rated schools. This is attributed to the wealth in the neighborhood. Data shows that affluent buyers tend to purchase homes in sought-after school districts, and where there is more affluence, there are higher test scores among students. This, in turn, drives up school API scores and corresponding home prices.

Comprehensive Reports

All MLSListings subscribers are able to take advantage of classes from School Scout for free. For those not familiar with School Scout, it is an innovative online tool that provides the most up-to-date information about school scores, school boundaries, and other school information in a particular geographic area. You will be able to find the best schools in the area by searching for school name, property address, API ranking scores, district or city. You can search within school boundary areas, input a client’s home criteria to access real time MLS data, and instantly view homes for sale that fit your client’s home and school requirements. School Scout enables you to create detailed reports using search criteria for homes in neighborhoods within the boundaries of favorite schools, or homes in a specific school district that fit a client’s budget.

There is no denying that homebuyers place great weight on schools in making their decision to buy, and it can be the overriding factor on their list of “must haves.” Some buyers are even overlooking structural issues in the home or forgoing desired amenities to buy inside the boundaries of a particular school district.

As an agent or broker, we build our client relationships on the value we bring to the table and information is the most important currency. Don’t bypass the opportunity to become an expert source on schools in the markets you navigate for clients. While it can take some additional time and effort in making calls to school districts and pulling reports from sources like School Scout, it can pay off in long-term trusted relationships.

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