Real estate roundup with Sharon Alva: Where do you think you’re going?
In the past three months three buyers I have been helping look for a home have decided not to look in Alameda. I bring this up because I love this town and would not choose to live anywhere else, so I am truly disappointed when families who were considering living on our Island city choose to go elsewhere … because of the schools. My experience is anecdotal, not statistical in any way, but I hear it repeated by many other agents working in Alameda.
The first family made this declaration in September. They were moving to Alameda from Southern California and had heard from friends in the Bay Area about Alameda’s wonderful community, eclectic architecture, and fine schools. But after some investigation they weighed housing costs and schools and were not sure the equation balanced. That is to say, that budget cuts, and uncertainty about passing a parcel tax, and the affect these would have on home values made them feel that Alameda was not in the long term a good investment. They have a 1-year-old child. We are now looking in Piedmont.
Often families are willing to pay more for homes if that purchase guarantees quality schools for their kids. If the schools are not a good fit for them, families can buy in less expensive areas and save their money for private education. The balance between a home price and the quality of the schools is a personal choice that buyers make. Even buyers without children will often ask me about the schools as a predictor of home value maintenance and growth.
I had been showing larger Alameda homes to a family, but when the Measure E failed to pass, they decided to take a cut in square footage and possibly pay more in Piedmont. The guarantee of good schools supported by hefty parcel taxes shows, in the buyers’ minds, a community is committed to education and therefore the right place for them. Their child is only a few months old, but home buying for them is a very long-term move and they expect to raise their child (and more to come) in the home they buy.
The last case happened recently. I have clients who are looking to move out of one Alameda neighborhood to another neighborhood with a school they considered to be superior. The move was supposed to be within Alameda. After not hearing from them for a while I called to check in, and see where the home buying plans were going. They told me they no longer trusted that any neighborhood in Alameda, or any price point, would guarantee a good school option for their two children. So the search has been expanded to Albany, Lafayette and Danville.
In all three cases the family with young children saw greater value in Alameda than just good schools. In all three cases the proximity to the urban centers of Oakland and San Francisco, and our Island community itself were very appealing. But in all three cases the perception that home values were tied to quality schools, and that the draconian budget cuts would affect community schools, was enough to push their search off-Island and even through the tunnel to communities in Contra Costa that have school districts that are perceived as stable and superior. When families can afford to buy in Piedmont it is often the community that is targeted for its schools, tight community, and urban setting.
Why am I telling you all this? We are soon going to be voting on a parcel tax again. There are many reasons to support public school education. Maintaining home values may not be the first. Equipping young people with education and the tools to acquire more knowledge is the paramount reason to support a parcel tax for the schools. But maintaining the property values that reflect good schools is also a good reason to support our schools.
Alameda is a wonderful place to live. Our lovely beaches, gorgeous houses, and diverse community make every day on the Island special. And despite massive budget cuts, we are lucky to have fine teachers and involved parents that have made our schools thriving institutions of learning. But there is only so much cutting that can happen before our schools suffer and families choose to buy homes elsewhere. We can cut and cut the school budget, but there is a breaking point where an emaciated budget will damage our schools beyond repair.
I leave you with an old Jewish story (which I know only in Hebrew so apologies for awkward translation):
Trying to save money, a poor farmer feeds his horse less food. Every day he gives the horse less and less hay for his meals. One day the horse dies. “Too bad,” says the farmer, “just as he was almost trained to live without any food at all.”
Sharon Alva is a real estate agent with Alain Pinel Realtors, living in Alameda. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 764-4921.