How to Choose the Right School for Your Kids Before You Move

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Category: Kids & Pets

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There are many factors that go into choosing a new home … the size, the layout, the number of bedrooms and the cost. But if you’re a parent, soon-to-be-parent or a someday-parent, then there’s another thing you really have to factor in: the school.

As a teacher, a soon-to-be mom and a homeowner who just moved to be in the school district of her dreams, this topic has been on my mind a lot lately! When looking for a new home, my husband and I narrowed down the location based on the best public school district in our area. There were plenty of homes we loved that were outside of the exact district lines, but we chose to ignore those open houses so we could concentrate specifically on finding the home AND school of our dreams for our child.

But how do you even go about finding the best school for your child? What information is important to consider? That’s what today’s “lesson plan” is all about!

Consider Private vs. Public

First up, you need to choose between private or public schooling. The primary difference between these two options comes down to funding. Public schools typically receive government funding, whereas private schools charge tuition for each student. Let’s look at how that impacts other critical factors.

The Cost of Schooling

Here’s the 101 on private and public school financials.

Because public schools are financed through federal, state and local taxes, they must follow all the rules set by the government. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to some public school systems being underfunded. For us in the Chicagoland area, the location of the district makes a big difference for how well-funded it is. Obviously, better funded public schools are often found where the average housing costs are higher. Therefore, families often pay extra in housing costs to live in the “ideal” neighborhoods in order to be in the best public school districts. When it comes to admission, by law, public schools must accept all children. And a lot of kids are attending public school … about 90% of children in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Conversely, private schools generate their own funding through tuition, private grants and fundraising efforts. According to the National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition fee for private schools is close to $12,000 per year. Often times parochial schools charge much less than that (around $3,000 per year), whereas boarding schools often come with a higher price tag (up to $37,000 per year).

Because these institutions are in demand, private schools can be selective when it comes to admission. This means that the admission process often involves interviews, essays and testing for each student.

The Best Location

But how does choosing public or private affect where you’re going to live?

If you choose the private school route, you’ll have a bit more leeway into where you choose to settle down. But of course, you will want to consider your child’s commute to school every day. Often times private schools do not offer transportation, or if they do, it’s with extra fees, so making sure your child will have a safe and efficient way to get to and from their private school is definitely something to consider.

Public schools are a little more complex. Namely, there are specific district lines that you must live within in order to send your child there. In fact, all districts require proof of residency before you can enroll your kids in a public school. When you’re searching for a new home, often the listing on sites like Zillow and Redfin will include the nearby schools and give a “School Rating.” But if you’re buying a home, it’s always best to call the district to verify, especially because district lines can suddenly change and the real estate site’s information may not accurately reflect this updated information just yet.

Check out a School’s Report Card

Just like kids, schools get report cards too! But it’s up to you to do your homework online to gather all of this crucial info. Both GreatSchools.org and The National Center for Education Statistics offer data for each school district, including information on test scores, education programs, graduation rates, and teacher quality.

When it comes to teachers, there is a difference in certification between public and private schools. Teachers in public schools are usually state certified, whereas teachers in private schools may not be required to have certification. They often have subject-matter expertise or an undergraduate degree in the subject they teach, but actually don’t always have to meet the standards that the state outlines for a teaching license.

Also, don’t forget to review the curriculum at the schools you’re considering!

This isn’t always the same between private and public schools. Public schools follow state guidelines, a curriculum that must meet specific standards and common state assessments, while private schools have the freedom to design their own curriculum and don’t always mandate standardized tests.

To get real reviews from other parents about their school satisfaction, you can check out GreatSchools.org. Here, parents write detailed reviews about their school’s curriculum, class sizes and thoughts on the teachers. This real talk may be insightful as you narrow down your top choices.

Consider Your Child’s Personality

But those “report cards” don’t always give the full picture. Because every child is different, be sure to think about the unique qualities and characteristics of your child when choosing a school. The right combination is not always super obvious.

With that in mind, when finalizing your top school contenders don’t forget to review:

  • Class sizes
  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Special education needs
  • Accelerated programs
  • Extracurricular activities

Make sure you’re giving your child what they need from their education! Consider questions like these: Is your child introverted? Does she like a particular sport? Does he need special attention or accommodations? Answer these crucial questions about your child while thinking about the list above.

Private schools may have programs for gifted students and can specialize programs to offer extra curriculum surrounding the arts or technology. However, most private schools are not able to fully accommodate students with learning disabilities. Because public schools have a responsibility to teach all students, they often have programs set up and funded just for children with individualized academic or developmental needs.

Extra Credit: Ask the Neighbors

If you’re really interested in a neighborhood and school, speak to parents in that area. This is a great way to gauge the area and see if the parents there are satisfied. If you find glowing reviews from real parents, chances are you can trust that they are doing a stellar job!


When it comes to deciding between private or public school (and choosing a school district), it’s important to remember that it’s a very personal choice for you and your family. There is no right or wrong answer. Do your homework, but at the end of the day know that only you can make the best decision for your family.

As for me, even though my baby isn’t here yet, I’m happy to know that when school time eventually gets here we already have our ideal home and school district all planned out for his future. That’s because we did our homework before we started searching for a new home!

These Things Should Always Be Deal Breakers While House Hunting

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Category: Buying & Selling a Home

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We’ve talked before about things you should overlook when house hunting, but being flexible and seeing past a home’s imperfections isn’t always the thing to do.

Don’t get us wrong, there are a lot of things that should be overlooked because they can easily be changed down the road. However, some things should never be overlooked. We like to call them “deal breakers”.

Making a list of your deal breakers is essential to finding the perfect home for now and well into the future. That’s why the things on this list should be non-negotiable. Seriously, don’t get emotionally attached to something that will create resentment down the road. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your family to create your own list of deal breakers before your house hunting adventure begins, but we’ve compiled a list of the most important ones in order for you to jump-start the process!

A Real Potential for Water Damage

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Water Damage

A lot of household problems can be fixed, but being subject to water damage is one that is not even close to an easy fit. Before committing to a house, be sure to research if it’s in a flood zone. (FEMA has a handy website that can search all flood areas by address.) Also, take notice of its elevation on the block compared to other homes. Is this house at the lowest point on the street? Will your basement constantly be at risk of flooding and causing you large problems and even larger repair bills? Make sure you look very closely for any signs of water damage.

Do your research so that you know exactly what you are getting into, and are not surprised by a flooded basement after the first rain in your new home.

(All Different Kinds of) Safety Concerns
House Hunting Deal Breaker - Safety Concerns

Safety concerns are a very broad category, so it’s important that you get as specific as possible when creating your house hunting deal breaker list. Safety concerns with electronics can be caused by amateur workmanship, such as plumbing or electrical problems. But this could also be caused by other household issues, such as:

Check the links for helpful ways to test for common safety concerns. Before you buy any house, let alone a suspect one, make sure to hire an inspector. If they report any problems, know exactly what issues result in you walking away from the deal and which ones you are willing to deal with (and potentially pay for!). Having this information clear before the home buying process will allow you to remain objective during this emotional time.

Below Average School District

If you have kids, be sure to investigate the local school district before you buy a home in that district. Niche.com provides a comprehensive look at most every school system in the country, including elementary, middle and high schools. You can also look at schools individually!

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Poor School District

Even if you don’t have kids, we still encourage you to do the same because that school district will impact the resale value of your home in the long run and should be considered before you purchase.

Structural Damage to the Home’s Base

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Structural Damage

Structural damage in a home can cause some serious problems down the road, not to mention what a nightmare it would be to try to re-sell a home that has these large issues. It’s important to consider this when house hunting in order to avoid large project costs down the road. Look for shifting of the home in cracks, uneven floors or a drooping roof to identify potential structural damage. If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to Google a contractor or professional so they can assess the situation and reassure you the house is a safe long-term investment.

Unless you are buying a foreclosure for pennies on the dollar, structural damage is certain to massively impact your investment in a negative way.

A Floor Plan That Doesn’t Work for Your Family

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Bad Bones aka Floorplan

All rooms can be rearranged, redecorated, repainted or even switched around, depending on your family’s needs. However, don’t trick yourself: a sweet overlook may be cool, but the layout of the home or the square footage of the home is not so easily changed, especially without a massive budget and an extra-large construction project. Are you looking to double your investment by knocking out walls?

It’s okay to look past the cosmetic upgrades in a home, but don’t look past what the pros call “the bones” of the house: the layout, the number of rooms, the number of bathrooms or again, even simply the square footage. The bones are permanent and will directly impact your lifestyle. Are you willing to change your life just for that sweet view?

House Hunting Outside of Your Price Range 

House Hunting Deal Breaker - Over Budget

Buying a home out of your price range is a slippery slope and a financial decision that can put a lot of stress and pressure on you and your family.

It is also the most common deal breaker people ignore!

If you have a strict budget you need to follow, adding this deal breaker to your house hunting checklist will be a great way to “check yourself” and make sure that you are coming in under budget and not putting an unnecessary strain on you, your marriage, or your family. Besides, it is almost always better to invest in a cheaper property than to live with what you cannot afford.

What’s on Your House Hunting Deal Breaker Checklist?

All of these may fall on your house hunting deal breaker checklist, or maybe some of them… or maybe none at all. Technically, the most important thing is shedding light on the fact that people don’t often consider deal breakers ahead of hunting for a house. That’s why a house hunting checklist is crucial to avoid getting emotionally invested and making an impulsive decision that you’ll regret later on.

Remember the biggest rule: once you agree on which deal breakers gets added to the checklist, you cannot purchase any home that has even one of the things on it, regardless of how adorable it may look! This cute house may look great now, but it probably isn’t the best investment for the long run. Hold strong, the right one will come along… it always does!

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