The Real Deal New York

New online map helps homebuyers land in ‘good’ school districts

February 08, 2012 06:00PM
By Katherine Clarke

From left: Seann Birkelund, vice president of business development for Education.com, the interactive map tool and Ammanda Espinal of Elliman

While marketing a building on the strength of the school district it lies within is forbidden by the Fair Housing Act, a new interactive map designed by Education.com provides homebuyers with the tools to do their own research, without the help of a broker.

California-based Education.com, a website that offers advice and information to parents of school-age children who are in the market for a home, launched the new interactive map called “School Boundaries” with school district assignment information yesterday. The map, the company said, is a valuable tool for apartment hunters and brokers, who often have a hard time accessing these kinds of information cheaply or without significant offline research. Also, it’s not information that brokers can legally share.

The tool, which is available as both an online search engine and customizable widget for brokers nationwide, covers all of the 13,000 school districts in the U.S. and allows homehunters to search for schools nearby apartments or houses they’re considering. It’s integrated with Education.com’s existing “School Finder” feature, which provides statistics on the quality of nearby schools, including student- teacher ratios and exam results.

“[School Finder] shows you everything from student numbers to how students perform on standardized tests,” said Seann Birkelund, vice president of business development for Education.com. “It covers private and charter schools too, but the data sample on those is not so deep.”

Birkelund said that while there are other online tools that try to do something similar, the school boundaries map provides a “much greater level of specificity.”

“You can make an informed decision without having to pick up the phone and call the school authority,” he said, though emphasized that Education.com always recommends calling the authority before actually buying.

For New York City brokers, a property’s status within a particular school district can be important, said Ammanda Espinal, an agent at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who is marketing the Azure condominium at 333 East 91st Street on the Upper East Side.

“We have a lot of families [coming to see the Azure,]” she said. “Our most popular unit is our 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom combination. In large part they come to the building because their children are starting pre-school or about to begin middle school.”

Though brokers are forbidden, as part of the fair housing act, from marketing buildings as specifically “family-friendly,” Espinal said, if she were a consumer, she would certainly find the map useful.

“I would definitely direct my clients to it,” she said.

The interactive map could even prove useful to developers, according to Birkelund, who noted that “developers oftentimes give a lot of thought to which catchment area their property would be best in.”

Using a personal example, he said of his own family: “My wife and I decided to move before our youngest went into kindergarten. Moving into a better school district is cheaper than sending your kids to private schools. It’s often the first consideration that a homebuyer has.”

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