Nearby, quality schools are a must for many Calgary homebuyers
Tiffany Gaura wanted her two young kids to be able to easily walk to school without crossing a busy road.
In March, the family moved into the northeast, inner-city community of Bridgeland, two-and-a-half blocks away from the specialized Langevin School – a Calgary Board of Education (CBE) science school.
Meanwhile, Amanda and Jonathan Corson and their two-year-old son will move into a larger home in their Auburn Bay neighbourhood this November, just a short walk from the community’s two new elementary schools – one in the Catholic school system, the other public.
“Whichever school he goes to, he should be within walking distance,” said Amanda Corson, who is a teacher herself and who grew up walking to school.
For families, schools are among the top five priorities when buying a new home, says Randy Stegemann, owner of Benchmark Real Estate Appraisals.
“Looking at schools is top of mind, but it is not the only driver,” he said, citing affordability, the amount of living space a family needs and other desired amenities, such as shopping, as priority considerations.
And, he says, in some suburbs, one major consideration is whether you can even get your kids into that neighbourhood’s school or whether they will be bused out of the community.
CBE schools in many popular suburban communities have registration “lotteries” because they don’t have room for all students within the designated area. For 2017-18, priority is given to those in the school’s established walk zone with siblings already in the school, followed by those outside the walk zone with a sibling in the school and those within the walk zone without a sibling. The third priority is all other students living in the designated attendance area.
And while developers include school sites in new subdivisions, there is no guaranteed time frame for when they will be built, since provincial government funding and school board priorities affect those decisions.
Corson says she was surprised when a community friend recommended she register her son now for kindergarten three years away. They did so immediately with the local Catholic school. “They say I am registered,” she said. “I hope we are.”
The Corsons had looked for their “forever home” in other neighbourhoods, including Mahogany, where there are no schools yet. They also looked at older lake communities like Midnapore, before deciding to stay in Auburn Bay.
“We wanted a central location and the inner city has some very good schools.” – Tiffany Gaura, Bridgeland resident
However, Corson says the same reasons they originally chose Auburn Bay for their first home seven years ago – including the lake, and easy access to their workplaces – are still important to them, along with the increasingly good shopping options and access to the new hospital.
Mike Wagner, sales manager for Morrison Homes which is currently building in 10 newer neighbourhoods, agrees with Stegemann that while schools are important to homebuyers planning to have kids or with young kids, it isn’t the only priority.
“Auburn Bay is a prime example where there is a lake and a recreation centre and for many families, having a school close by can be less of a priority if the place for their after-school activities is right there,” said Wagner, adding that many new communities are getting those recreation centres long before they get schools
Stegemann says there can be added value for a home if it sits across from or next to a school because of the attendant green space.
However, it can also mean added vehicle traffic during school hours. “It’s really a trade-off,” he said.
Wagner agrees that buyers need to weigh their options when it comes to school proximity.
“Again, it is personal preference,” he said. “Some people think it is great to watch their kids walk into the school. For others, that’s the last thing they want.”
When Gaura and her husband returned to Canada from working abroad 18 months ago, they first rented in West Hillhurst while looking for a home to buy.
“We wanted a central location and the inner city has some very good schools,” said Gaura, whose kids are four and one and whose mom is a retired school principal. One reason for avoiding the suburbs was the uncertainty of the CBE’s lottery system and walk zones.
“I didn’t want my kids on a bus in elementary school,” said Gaura.
They ultimately settled on Bridgeland, where they found a home in their set price range that’s also near a quality school.
“We’re really happy here,” said Gaura. “And even when our kids are in high school, they can walk to Crescent Heights, which has a good high school.”
Stegemann also mentions Crescent Heights as an example of a high-value family neighbourhood because of the high school’s top provincial test rankings.
Because homes are expensive there, he says, the school is only part of the equation, but it can often be “the final decision-making trigger.”