For many homebuyers, the holy grail is to find an affordable house with a good school system.But that's an increasingly difficult task, with real estate prices in some of the country's hottest markets increasingly out of reach for ordinary workers. The median home price in San Francisco, for instance, is $1.3 million, within range for a technology executive but beyond the means of most people.
Still, there are still pockets in the U.S. where homebuyers can find both affordable properties and good schools, according to new research from HomeUnion, a real estate investment management company. The strength of a school district is often viewed as a proxy for a property market's ability to attract and retain families, renters and investors. Homes in excellent school districts also tend to have better resale value, said Steve Hovland, director of research for HomeUnion.
"Families are also likely to rent longer to maintain stability, and attracting new tenants is easier when nearby schools are highly rated," he said. "Homebuyers without children should also consider the local school districts unless it's the last home they plan to own" given that school quality is one of the factors impacting resale value.
Some cities that combine value with excellent education systems are among the nation's largest, yet they haven't seen the same type of price appreciation as San Francisco or New York City. They are generally suburbs of larger towns, such as Blue Springs, Missouri, which is located about 19 miles from Kansas City. In 2010, the town was ranked on Money Magazine's list of the 100 best places to live in the U.S.
The median home price in Blue Springs stood at $143,000 in the first quarter, or one-third less than the national median price of $217,600 for existing single-family homes. Blue Springs' schools were ranked at the 88th percentile by the National Center for Education Statistics, according to Hovland.
These towns may provide a happy medium for families and workers looking to balance school quality and home prices. A separate study from educational ranking firm Niche found that many of the best school districts clustered around New York City, such as Chappaqua Central School District. Unfortunately, many of those towns are extremely pricey, with Chappaqua's median home value pegged at more than $800,000.
Given the ramp-up in housing costs in many parts of the country, professionals may want to consider moving to towns where their money can go farther. That may be one reason why telecommuting is on the rise, with Gallup finding that 37 percent of American workers are now spending some time working remotely. That can range from working at home over the weekend to working remotely on a full-time basis.
"Access to high-speed Internet is making telecommuting a viable option for more employees every year, so we expect some professionals have a greater interest in living in metros such as Kansas City and Indianapolis," Hovland said. "Employers also benefit by having remote workers when available. Companies can offset higher travel costs with smaller office footprints and lower salaries for workers residing in areas where the cost of living is significantly low."
Following are the top 11 towns around the U.S. identified by HomeUnion, with the nearest large city and median home price, that combine affordability with access to good schools.
1. Blue Springs, Missouri (suburb of Kansas City): $143,000
2. Noblesville, Indiana (Indianapolis): $157,000
3. Crestwood, St. Louis (a southwest suburb of St. Louis): $160,000
4. Sellersville, Pennsylvana (a Philadelphia suburb): $171,000
5. Oak Park, Illinois (Chicago): $172,000
6. Broadview Heights, Ohio (Cleveland): $179,000
7. Central Austin, Texas: $187,000
8. Cary, North Carolina (Raleigh): $188,000
9. Olive Branch, Mississippi (Memphis): $190,000
10. Buford, Georgia (Atlanta): $194,000
11. Indian Trail, North Carolina (Charlotte): $196,000