For many prospective buyers who have children, or potential children in their future, a community’s school district is often a major consideration in choosing a place to call home. And, as goes the laws of housing economics, properties in sought-after school districts usually come with heftier price tags to meet that high demand.
Niche, a content startup that compiles and analyzes data on k-12 schools, came out with a ranking of school districts in the US and by state. And, as no surprise, a large number of Dane County school districts ranked among the best in Wisconsin. Of the 16 school districts in Dane County, all but 3 made it in the top 100, out of 424 Wisconsin public school districts total. Among the frontrunners were Waunakee, ranked 6th, Middleton-Cross Plains, ranked 9th, Sun Prairie, ranked 14th, and Verona, ranked 15th. Through statistical analysis and survey responses, Niche incorporated academics, health and safety, student culture and diversity, and extracurricular opportunities into each district’s ranking. Their methodology can be found here:
Most of these rankings correlate with home value. The average sale price for a home in the last 12 months in the Waunakee and Middleton-Cross Plains districts were $392k and $413k respectively, while price gradually drops down the list to the bottom Dane County rankers (Belleville, 117th, $224k/ Stoughton, 148th, $233k/ Marshall, 211th, $206k).
Of course neighborhood value is affected by other measures as well, such as walkability, proximity to downtown Madison, supply of housing, and access to other public amenities. So in an occasional twist of fate, there are some cases where an area’s excellent school district ranking does not translate to higher home prices.
The Sun Prairie school district stands out- ranked 14th in the state, the average sale price for homes in the last year was $251,977. Verona, which ranked 15th, has an average of $311,203. To put that in a different perspective, the next highest district in Dane County that is more affordable than Sun Prairie is Cambridge, which ranked 62nd, with an average sale price of $241,293. Sun Prairie is growing like wildfire, creating a large supply of homes, and it’s likely that once more buyers tap into that growth, prices will rise.
Other standouts for educational-bang-for-your-buck are Mount Horeb, (21st/ $262,543) and McFarland, (22nd, $266,571). And, if you’re willing to go further from Madison, New Glarus in Green County ranked 30th, with an average sale price of $231,630 for the last year. For that price point, the next comparable district would be Deerfield, which ranked 71st and had an average of $229,108.
Oregon and Monona Grove, ranked 33rd and 36th, had average sale prices of $295,720 and $274,881. While on the pricier end, of all active single family properties currently listed on the MLS, 52% and 50%, respectively are listed below that average sale price. While it is difficult to compare data for closed properties versus active ones, this high percentage suggests that while many properties are more high end, and will sell for a higher price, there are plenty of affordable options in these communities as well.
In contrast, for the Waunakee and Middleton-Cross Plains districts, only 31% and 32% of active single family listings are currently priced below their average sale prices of $392,808 and $413,356 respectively. This suggests there is a lack of affordable single family homes in these communities.
The Madison school district ranked 58th in the state, but because it is so large, this ranking does not offer much insight into home value versus district quality. In this case, Niche’s high school rankings come in handy. Niche ranked Memorial High School the eighth best in the state, and the highest-ranked in Dane County. The average sale price for homes within the Memorial attendance boundary was $275,597 in the last 12 months. While priced similarly to the Monona Grove district, there is a heaping ton of inventory. There are currently 257 single family homes for sale that feed into Memorial, and of those, a whopping 136, (64%) are listed below that average sale price, suggesting that number might be skewed upward from a few very high end sales. West High School, which Niche ranks as 10th in the state, had an average sale price of $323,828. That higher price is likely due to closer proximity to downtown, a smaller inventory, and better walkability marks.
Madison’s east side high schools jump down in rankings and sales price. East High and La Follette rank 244th and 273rd, with average sale prices of $204,295 and $201,577 respectively.
With high school rankings, it is important to note the comparison with home value is less thorough than with districts. A strong high school ranking does not imply that the k-8 schools that feed into it are also strong. Furthermore, while realtors are required to include school district information on their listings, they are not required to include individual school information. Most still do, but home values may be slightly skewed.
So, what does all of this mean? As always, your money can go further in certain communities over others, usually implying that you’ll have to sacrifice something or other in your home search. But it’s possible to have you cake and eat it too when it comes to school districts in a good handful of Madison-area communities.
Source: South Central Wisconsin Multiple Listing Service, Niche.com
Note: Data on average home value is compiled from June 2014-May 2015, and is based solely on single-family home sales. Data on active properties is as of June 5th, 2015