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Quality schools still suburbs' key selling point, exec says

Quality schools are the key ingredient for aging suburbs, such as Long Island, to attract younger generations of parents, a top real estate executive said Friday.

Douglas C. Yearley Jr., chief executive of Toll Brothers Inc., a builder of luxury homes and apartments in 20 states, said good schools continue to be a magnet, drawing parents in their 30s and 40s to suburban towns just as they did with baby boomers. The difference is people are waiting longer to have children and have more money to spend on a house, he said.

"The No. 1 thing the suburbs need to continue to do to distinguish themselves is the schools," Yearley said in Manhattan at a meeting of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

"There's a reason some people do leave" New York City and other metropolises after becoming parents, and "it's less about the swing set in the backyard and the kid being in the Little League down the street; it's primarily driven by the schools."

Pennsylvania-based Toll has housing developments in Westchester and Dutchess counties and apartment towers in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The company reported a profit of $171 million last year on sales of $2.7 billion.

After education, Yearley said, suburban leaders should focus on downtown revitalization, including "the vibe" from popular restaurants and stores, and attracting employers to the community.

"There is the issue of where are people going to work in the suburbs," he told the crowd of 200 people. "How far is a good town with a good school district from the closest employment center?"

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