Issue 48 – Golden Rules

Regardless of whether or not you have children, the one factor that impacts real estate decisions here in the city most dramatically is that of school zoning. If you’re looking to rent, sell or buy, if you have kids now or plan to in the near future, and if you want to ensure your property will be in demand when it comes time for you to move, understanding the complexities of the Manhattan educational landscape is imperative for solid decision-making. More than price or location, school zoning is the greatest determining factor of where we live and what drives the market. Even though only 17% of New York City households have children according to census data, the influence of education on coops, condos and rentals simply cannot be overstated.

Now with the back-to-school season upon us, it is easy to see how influential educational concerns are for New Yorkers. Considering that private schools can cost up to $40,000 a year, even the most affluent Manhattanites opt for public schools all the way from pre-K through high school. Throughout the five boroughs, neighborhoods are designated into 32 districts and hundreds of zones where what side of the street one lives on can literally make or break access to the school of one’s choice. Before signing a lease or a contract of sale, calling a particular school to confirm what addresses are designated is always a good idea; the Department of Education’s website will also provide this information along with progress reports and reviews.

From P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side to P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side and P.S. 234 in TriBeCa, it is no coincidence that the best public schools happen to be in the most expensive neighborhoods. Parents have been driven to rent apartments in these upscale locations for a year or so, then move to a more affordable neighborhood just to keep their children in a desired school. One problem with this tactic is that younger siblings don’t necessarily get first priority over those outside a particular district. It should also be noted that schools can and often do check to make sure there is no misrepresentation. Fully executed leases, contracts of sale and copies of utility bills have sometimes been requested for proof of residence. Even when an apartment is located in a sought-after zone, the possibility of redistricting can affect incoming students–as seen this year with District 2. A new school being built in the West Village is expected to change zoning in P.S. 40, 3 and 41 by September of 2014. In short, nothing is guaranteed.

Magnet schools, charter schools, and gifted-and-talented programs create other options for parents, and for those who can afford private education, the largest concentration of these schools is found on the Upper East Side (as well as the most single-sex schools), second only to the Upper West Side. Montessori, progressive, traditional, special needs, bilingual, British schools, and Waldorf schools offer something for everyone in a city of infinite possibility and diversity. Of all the challenges faced by parents in the city there are few investments as essential as education. If only you didn’t need a Ph.D to figure out the system.

I hope you’ve found these golden rules helpful!