The smallest people in the house may well be among the biggest factors in a home-buying decision, a parenting and home buying study by Coldwell Banker Real Estate found this year. Some 79 percent of parents ages 18 to 34 and 70 percent of those ages 35 to 49 said they made major purchasing decisions revolving around their children.
National Association of Realtors research shows that many house-hunting parents place a premium on a big home and yard; others make a convenient neighborhood their top priority. And, of course, parents want their kids to have access to a high-quality education.
Long Island offers all of the above. In this installment of Newsday's Best Places to Live series, we highlight great places to raise kids, along with a sampling of what you can get for the county's median home price as of July -- $439,000 in Nassau and $335,500 in Suffolk, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island. (At press time, MLSLI released August median prices of $470,000 for Nassau and $333,500 for Suffolk.)
IF YOU WANT NEIGHBORHOOD AMENITIES
TRY: Hicksville school district
If you'd like less travel time and more family time, you're not alone: Less driving between home, work and recreation is a priority for most home buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. In fact, even though 52 percent of home buyers say they preferred a big yard, 57 percent said they would forgo that in favor of a better commute, and 55 percent would compromise on property size in exchange for walkability to schools, shops and restaurants.
Hicksville checks all the boxes: Parents can spend less time commuting if they work in Manhattan, with morning peak train rides taking just 39 to 48 minutes from the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road station to Penn Station. For indoor and outdoor family fun, there's Cantiague Park, a 127-acre Nassau County park featuring lighted sports courts and athletic fields, an indoor ice rink, an outdoor pool complex, a nine-hole golf course and miniature golf. Hicksville residents also get free admission to The Hicksville Gregory Museum, where families can spend quality time trying hands-on activities, educational programs and science exhibits.
And as for dining, shopping and entertainment, families can enjoy Hicksville's vibrant restaurant scene with numerous ethnic cuisines, a mall and a multiplex movie theater.
ALSO TRY: In Suffolk, Huntington offers the coveted conveniences of a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhood with shops, restaurants, movie theaters and a concert hall. Home prices in the Huntington school district range from $199,900 for a three-bedroom ranch in Huntington Station to $3.55 million for a four-bedroom waterfront home in Huntington Bay.
For a family friendly, small-town feel, try the Three Village district. Stroller-friendly Stony Brook Village is a charming place where families can browse the shops and enjoy seasonal events, such as the annual scarecrow contest and display in October. Prices for single-family homes in the Three Village district range from $191,300 for a two-bedroom contemporary in Poquott to $9.9 million for a six-bedroom villa in Old Field. Families might also enjoy the seaside setting, walkable downtown and playgrounds of nearby Port Jefferson.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Hicksville school district had an 86 percent graduation rate, compared with New York State's 75 percent, and 40 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with advanced designation.
There are 125 single-family homes for sale in the Hicksville district, according to MLSLI. Prices range from $158,000 for a three-bedroom cottage to $839,999 for a five-bedroom high-ranch, both in Hicksville.
This three-bedroom, 1½-bathroom ranch in the Hicksville school district is listed with Karen Donovan and Maureen Godfrey of Donovan Brothers Realty Inc., 516-822-1222.
IF YOU WANT GREAT SCHOOL OFFERINGS
TRY: Rockville Centre school district
Some 74 percent of home buyers say high-quality public schools are important to them, according to a community preference survey by the National Association of Realtors. And rightly so: State education officials have noted that access to advanced and rigorous coursework is a key component for college and career readiness.
In Rockville Centre, that's an opportunity that's available to all students -- not just the academic stars, says South Side High School principal Carol Burris. "We are committed to giving all students the best curriculum we have to offer without any tracks or ability grouping," Burris says. That means every student, from high performers to those receiving special education, gets to participate in International Baccalaureate offerings -- a program of advanced-level courses designed for the college-bound.
"Last year for the first time, all of our students took IB English in grade 12, so now all students, including special education students, take the same challenging curriculum in English in grades 9 to 12," Burris says. "This year, for the first time, all of our 11th-graders are in IB History of the Americas. All students take the same IB prep classes in grades 9 and 10."
And the students are rising to the challenge. "Last year not only did 100 percent of our graduates earn Regents diplomas, 37 percent of our graduates earned the IB diplomas." she says.
ALSO TRY: Parents seeking student opportunities in the performing arts should consider Syosset schools for music offerings. Syosset High students work with vocal coaches and accompanists from the Metropolitan Opera, thanks to the school's partnership with the International Vocal Arts Institute. The school has four bands, four orchestras, four choruses and co-curricular ensembles and courses in music theory, recording technology and commercial music that use the school's state-of-the-art music lab.
Syosset High School is a five-time recipient of the Grammy Signature School designation, which is given to up to 40 schools: national recognition for outstanding music programming and performance ensembles. Home prices in the Syosset district range from $399,000 for a three-bedroom ranch in Syosset to $8.799 million for a nine-bedroom estate in Muttontown.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Rockville Centre school district had a 96 percent graduation rate in 2013, compared with New York State's 75 percent. Some 82 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with advanced designation.
There are 149 single-family homes for sale in the Rockville Centre district, according to MLSLI. Prices range from $193,980 for a bank-owned one-bedroom bungalow to $2.05 million for an eight-bedroom Tudor, both in Rockville Centre.
This three-bedroom cottage in the Rockville Centre school district features a new kitchen, a new bathroom and a finished basement. It's listed with Christine O'Reilly of Century 21 Sherlock Homes, 516-764-2601.
IF YOU WANT CULTURAL DIVERSITY
TRY: Half Hollow Hills school district
Long Island, like the nation, is showing percentage gains in recent years in minority populations such as Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics, alongside modest declines in the non-Hispanic white population, according to census data. Kids can reap great benefits from being educated in an environment that reflects this growing diversity, says Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"If you don't have your kids growing up with people of different races and religions and ethnicities, they're never going to have the experience of what it's like to live in the world they're going to be working in," Levy says.
That's one reason Levy raised his own children in Dix Hills, where they attended the Half Hollow Hills district. Its combination of high academic performance and cultural diversity create an enriched educational environment that's not easy to find, he says.
"There are very few places with a strong presence of black, Latino and Asian populations all in the same place," Levy says.
The district draws students from Dix Hills, where the population of 26,900 was about 80 percent white and 11 percent Asian, according to the 2010 census, and Wheatley Heights, a much smaller community where the population of about 5,100 people is about 55 percent African-American, 30 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic (any race) and 6 percent Asian.
"As increasing numbers of students from diverse backgrounds attend our schools each day, students learn to thrive in a multicultural environment that better prepares them for the world outside the classroom walls," says Half Hollow Hills superintendent Kelly Fallon. "Whether our graduates are headed to college or the workforce, they will benefit from their experiences, facilitated by a curriculum and teaching staff designed to be culturally responsive."
ALSO TRY: The Elmont school district is another good choice for raising kids in a culturally diverse environment, Levy says. Elmont's population is about 46 percent African-American, 29 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic (any race) and 11 percent Asian. The high school graduation rate for 2012-13 was 96 percent, well above the statewide rate of 75 percent, and 42 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with advanced designation. Prices for single-family homes in the Elmont district range from $165,000 for a two-bedroom cottage listed as a short sale in Elmont to $589,999 for a three-bedroom Colonial in New Hyde Park, according to MLSLI.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Half Hollow Hills school district had a 95 percent graduation rate for the 2012-13 school year, compared with New York State's 75 percent. Some 69 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with advanced designation.
There are 314 homes for sale in the Half Hollow Hills district, according to MLSLI. Home prices range from $80,000 for a two-bedroom ranch in Wheatley Heights to $2.999 million for a six-bedroom Colonial in Melville.
This three-bedroom, 1½-bathroom Colonial in the Half Hollow Hills school district is listed with Elizabeth Lowe and Pandora Wilson of Exit Realty Achieve, 516-316-8335.
IF YOU WANT ROOM TO GROW
TRY: Sachem school district
Give kids an inch, and they'll take over the whole house -- and yard. Just ask any parent who has had to navigate a lawn cluttered with toys or cajole unwilling siblings to share a bedroom peacefully: Families need room to grow.
So it's no surprise that married couples and families with children typically purchase larger homes, and more than half prefer a single-family home with a big backyard, according to a National Association of Realtors survey of buyer preferences. The demand for extra bedrooms has also been on a steady rise.
Families seeking room to spread out will find plenty of choices in the Sachem school district. Sachem, which includes students from Farmingville, Holbrook, Holtsville, Lake Grove, Lake Ronkonkoma, Nesconset and Ronkonkoma, had both the highest number of large properties and the most homes with four or more bedrooms for sale in the median price, according to a Multiple Listing Service of Long Island search.
The U.S. median lot size for new single-family houses sold in 2013 is about 8,600 square feet, according to the Census Bureau -- pretty big by Long Island standards. Suffolk had 296 properties of 8,000 square feet or more that were listed in the county's median price range. Sachem had the most, with 42 properties of that size, and Holbrook by itself had the most in the district at 14. Sachem had the most homes for sale in the median price range with four or more bedrooms -- there were 26. Holbrook had nine homes listed at that size, the most in the school district.
ALSO TRY: A big backyard at the county's median price of $439,000 is a tall order in Nassau. A search of MLSLI turned up only 45 homes in the county in that price range that had lots of 8,000 square feet or more. Hicksville and Westbury were tied with the most listings -- just five homes each. The county had 145 homes with at least four bedrooms listed for sale at around $439,000, according to the search results. Oceanside had the most, with 13 homes.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Sachem schools had a 93 percent graduation rate for 2013, compared with New York State's 75 percent rate. Some 54 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with advanced designation. There are 404 homes for sale in the Sachem district, according to a search of MLSLI. Prices range from $25,595 for a two-bedroom mobile home in Bohemia to $785,000 for a five-bedroom contemporary home in Farmingville.
This four-bedroom, two-bathroom Colonial is situated on a half-acre lot in the Sachem school district. It's listed with Debra Dietrich of Sitequest Residential Real Estate Inc., 631-584-5000.