It's not brain surgery: If you dream of raising a brain surgeon - or, like any parent, you just want the best for your kids - you'll want to live in the best school district you can afford. But a home in a sought-after district is a smart buy even for non-parents or those whose kids are grown because the schools' good name can only help the resale value later.
Of course, that means homes in the most gloat-worthy districts tend to come with the most prohibitive price tags - usually. If you do find one that's priced noticeably lower than its neighbors, there's probably a reason - the house is in disrepair, or there's a foreclosure in the works, for instance.
But if you're tempted to choose a perfect house in a less-noted district over a humbler home in a hot district, think carefully: "Even if the house itself is not in good condition, you can always upgrade it," points out Albert Zeng of Queens-based Winzone Realty Inc. Schools with a lackluster reputation can limit your property value - and that's largely beyond your control.
High schools in five Long Island districts - Cold Spring Harbor, Great Neck, Jericho, Manhasset and Rockville Centre - earned spots among the top 100 public schools in the nation, and the top 10 in New York State, according to Newsweek rankings released in June.
Think the crème-de-la- crème of Long Island education is hopelessly out of reach? Maybe not. Your future brain surgeon could attend top-of-the- line schools by getting in on the ground floor: Here are some of the lower- priced homes on the market in those highly coveted districts.
Try to close before school year starts
Hoping to move in time for your kids to start the school year in their new district? Try these tips for closing quickly:
Communicate Call the district - you may have more time than you think, says Commack real estate attorney Lita Smith-Mines. "Some school districts let you enroll your child with a contract, so long as you provide a deed by a certain time." Also, make sure everyone - your broker, lender and attorney and the seller's team - knows you want your child to start the year in the new school.
Show the money Get prequalified for your loan, and have your down payment funds readily available. "A cash buyer is diamond, or one who already applied for the mortgage and has their commitment," says Donna Madden of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty. "If they do that, it will go very quickly."
Don't trip on the red tape Smith-Mines advises making the inspection a priority and resolving any issues promptly. Missing paperwork, such as certificates of occupancy, can delay the lender's process. "There's a bottom and a top of every pile. You want to stay at the top," she stresses.
Get creative If the sellers can't vacate in time, the parties may close before the sellers' moving date so the deed can be shown to the school. "The seller then stays in for an agreed-upon time under a post-closing possession agreement, and the buyer transports the kid to school," Smith-Mines says. For the opposite problem - the home is vacant, but the closing date is after the first day of school - you may be able to negotiate to move in before you close.
DISTRICT DETAILS This district includes some homes in South Hempstead as well as those in Rockville Centre. Some homes in Rockville Centre fall within the Oceanside and Baldwin districts.
WINNING SCHOOL South Side High School was number 51 on the national list and fourth in the state.
HIGHEST-PRICED HOME There's a five-bedroom Colonial listed for $2.5 million.
DISTRICT'S MEDIAN ASKING PRICE $739,000
ONE OF THE LOWER-PRICED HOMES $300,000
TIME ON THE MARKET Leslie Jansson of A-1 National Realty Inc. (631-841-0330) first listed the 1913 Colonial in December for $495,000. He says the price has been reduced four times.
WHY YOU WANT IT "The roof is good, the siding is four to five years old, the kitchen is in good shape," Jansson says, adding that the six-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom home is currently rented for $3,700 a month. The second floor is set up as a legal rooming house and downstairs is an apartment. "They can turn it back into a one-family house," Jansson says. "It's an old Colonial, so it could be a very nice house near the village," he says.
WHY YOU CAN AFFORD IT The price is low because it's a short sale - which means the bank will consider offers that are less than what's owed on the mortgage - and the 58-by-102-foot lot is in a noisy spot next to a church, Jansson says. Also, tenants still reside there, which could delay the sale, he says.
WINNING SCHOOL Cold Spring Harbor High School was ranked 98th in the nation and 10th in the state.
HIGHEST-PRICED HOME A seven-bedroom estate in Lloyd Harbor is on the market for $13.75 million.
DISTRICT'S MEDIAN ASKING PRICE $1,599,900
ONE OF THE LOWER-PRICED HOMES $635,000
ANNUAL TAXES $9,074
TIME ON THE MARKET It's been listed with Donna Madden of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty (631-692-6770) since February. The price was reduced from $649,000.
WHY YOU WANT IT "People do anything to try to get into Cold Spring Harbor school district, and usually it's so expensive," Madden says. This 1900 Tudor on a .43-acre lot is "a charming turn-of-the-century home, with wide-plank floors, a new gourmet kitchen and two stone fireplaces," she says. The four-bedroom home has two bathrooms. "The area is just picturesque. It was an old whaling town. Driving through the town, you can see sailboats, a quaint village with shops and restaurants, the beauty of the water. The library is spectacular, with a water view," Madden says.
WHY YOU CAN AFFORD IT It's close to the road, Madden says.
DISTRICT DETAILS Homes in Jericho and portions of Hicksville, Westbury, Old Westbury, Greenvale, East Hills, Muttontown and Brookville fall within the district. Some homes located in Jericho are in the Syosset school district.
WINNING SCHOOL Jericho Senior High School's national rank was 32 and state rank was two.
HIGHEST-PRICED HOME A 10-bedroom estate in Old Westbury is on the market for $9,999,999.
DISTRICT'S MEDIAN ASKING PRICE $1,498,000
ONE OF THE LOWER-PRICED HOMES $469,000
ANNUAL TAXES $7,347
TIME ON THE MARKET The 1938 ranch has been listed at this price since March with Albert Zeng of Winzone Realty Inc. (718-886-3200).
WHY YOU WANT IT "This house is located in a very quiet residential area, but at the same time it's very convenient," Zeng says. It's just a couple blocks from North Broadway and the Long Island Expressway, he says.
WHY YOU CAN AFFORD IT With only two bedrooms and one bathroom, the home is definitely on the small side. But the 704-square-foot house fills less than 10 percent of the 7,900-square-foot irregular property. The maximum footprint allowed is 25 percent, so the buyer can seek approval to expand from the Town of Oyster Bay.
HIGHEST-PRICED HOME There's a seven-bedroom contemporary in Kings Point listed for $8,290,000.
DISTRICT'S MEDIAN ASKING PRICE $1,380,000
ONE OF THE LOWER-PRICED HOMES $499,000
ANNUAL TAXES $8,770
TIME ON THE MARKET This three-bedroom, one-bathroom home on a 50-by-100-foot lot has been listed with Andrea Levine of June Shapiro Fine Homes & Estates (516-482-1111) since January. The price was reduced from $549,000.
WHY YOU WANT IT "It's a very nice brick Colonial with nice wood floors," Levine says. "The advantage to living in Great Neck, in addition to fabulous schools and community, is that whether you get the lowest-priced house in the community or the most expensive one, you're still entitled to the same facilities," Levine says. "It's in a wonderful location, near Stepping Stone Park, where they have all the summer activities. It's a waterfront park with a kiddie pool, summer concerts and activities."
WHY YOU CAN AFFORD IT Levine says the 1928 Colonial needs updating.
WINNING SCHOOL Manhasset High School was ranked 86th in the country and seventh in the state.
HIGHEST-PRICED HOME A seven-bedroom Colonial in Manhasset is listed for $7.5 million.
MEDIAN ASKING PRICE $1,629,000
ONE OF THE LOWER-PRICES HOMES $550,000
ANNUAL TAXES $9,064
TIME ON THE MARKET This 1918 Colonial has been listed at this price since May with Phyllis Clark of Carole Lovejoy Real Estate Inc. (516-627-4600).
WHY YOU WANT IT "Its location is terrific," says broker Carole Belléy. "It's easy to walk to the town, and to get to the train on foot." The home is on a 50-by-100-foot lot in the Terrace Manor section of Manhasset. The house features a powder room with a skylight and a standing, built-in staircase to a finished attic, says Belléy. There are three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms.
WHY YOU CAN AFFORD IT The kitchen is incomplete and the home has a shared driveway, Belléy says.
Every year, Newsweek magazine ranks the best high schools in the country. The rankings are based on a ratio calculated from the number of students who enroll in high-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and the number of graduating seniors. The list does not take into account student test scores and omits magnet and charter schools that draw high concentrations of top students, focusing instead on normal-enrollment schools. Just over 1,600 schools — about 6 percent of all the public schools in the United States — made the 2010 list released in June.
Newsweek ranked the following Long Island high schools among the top 500 in the country:
Jericho, No. 34
South Side (Rockville Centre) No. 53
Great Neck South, No. 75
Manhasset, No. 87
Great Neck North, No. 93
Cold Spring Harbor, No. 99
Locust Valley, No. 136
Syosset, No. 143
Garden City, No. 151
Wheatley (Old Westbury), No. 155
North Shore (Glen Head), No. 207
Herricks (New Hyde Park), No. 216
Roslyn, No. 242
Harborfields (Greenlawn), No. 285
Earl L. Vandermeulen (Port Jefferson), No. 292
Valley Stream South, No. 299
Oyster Bay, No. 309
Paul D. Schreiber (Port Washington), No. 326
Hewlett, No. 356
Hauppauge, No. 367
Sanford H. Calhoun (Merrick), No. 383
Floral Park, No. 405
Half Hollow Hills West (Dix Hills), No. 407
Plainview-Old Bethpage, No. 417
Valley Stream North, No. 422
John F.Kennedy-Bellmore, No. 431
Half Hollow Hills East (Dix Hills), No. 475
Here are Long Island's 20 top-achieving school districts, based on percentages of students passing college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.
Half Hollow Hills
SOURCE: 2006 data submitted by school districts; verified by College Board and International Baccalaureate