Premier public and private schools have always been a key differentiator for families with school-aged children looking to purchase homes on the North Shore. With many options tailored to children’s specific needs, there are few better places to raise a family than our communities.
This week, we spoke with brokers from across the region about the quality of North Shore schools and why education remains a driving factor for many young families who continue to move to the area.
Katie Moor, a broker with Coldwell Banker and the Dawn McKenna Group in Winnetka, moved with her family to Winnetka just prior to the pandemic. She says it’s the number of quality education options parents have for their children that makes the North Shore stand out.
“I think for buyers who have school-aged children, certainly the breadth of options that we have on the North Shore from both the public and private perspective are why they find this area to be so attractive,” says Moor, who has two daughters enrolled in Winnetka’s Sacred Heart School. “Parents are able to cast a wide net and feel good that no matter where they land on the North Shore, they’re going to be in a solid school district.”
She says this is especially significant for families that may have multiple children with differing educational needs.
“Parents might have, for example, one child at North Shore Country Day and one who’s in public school, and even one that goes to Lake Forest Academy, just based on those kids’ individual needs,” Moor says. “I’ve had clients who send their kids to different schools just based on that child specifically. So, I think you can have an almost bespoke-like approach to your children’s education.”
Long-time Winnetka @properties broker Jena Radnay says schools are historically one of the biggest drivers for buyers on the North Shore, and that trend continues.
“The number one thing people come to the North Shore for is the schools,” Radnay says. “The number two criteria is just being in a community close to the lake and close to downtown.”
Radnay says that what she’s found in working with buyer clients is if parents have already been engaged with their children’s schools in another part of the Chicago area, they don’t ask as many questions. They already know the North Shore communities have everything they need.
“I think it goes back to, what are their needs? Why are they leaving the city? Those who are taking their time may be thinking about moving up to the North Shore and they’re going to be more specific. They’re going to think about things like schools,” she says. “Do they want one school, kindergarten through eighth grade, like Sears (in Kenilworth)? It all depends on what the buyer is thinking.”
Radnay mentions a new, state-of-the-art school in Northfield, Sunset Ridge School, as an example of how a quality school can attract new buyers to an area.
“I had people saying, ‘Hey, what’s up with that school?’ There’s a nice little buzz around it right now,” she says. “There’s no inventory in Northfield. People are coming from the city and are loving Northfield, so that’s a big driver.”
With so many school districts and private schools to keep abreast of, it’s crucial for brokers to find ways to get the information they need about schools to be able to advise clients.
“It’s important for us to have a general knowledge of the schools, but our North Shore communities all have excellent schools,” says Jamie Roth, a broker with Engel & Völkers in Highland Park. “I’m fortunate in that Engel & Völkers has a regional North Shore office rather than multiple offices in various towns, so we’re constantly sharing information with one another so that we are all up to date on school referendums, policies, etc.”
Roth says Engel & Völkers staff attend the latest school board meetings and are always willing to share what they’ve learned with brokers in the various communities in which the company practices.
Susan Burklin, a broker with @properties in Highland Park, says if schools are at the top of the list for any buyer, the best decision they can make is choosing a broker who has a strong base of knowledge about the local community and its schools.
“A significant part of my contribution as a realtor is my first-hand knowledge of the area schools,” Burklin says. “I can provide information regarding distance to each school, transportation, and class size and, on a larger scale, the differences between high schools and what each one has to offer.”
Burklin adds that a good realtor is going to be able to tell a buyer coming into their listing or a buyer they are assisting everything about the community, including the schools.
“The North Shore is known for its educational system and offers public meetings which we can attend so that we are always in the know. There is online data and updates available, and it is incumbent upon us as professionals to provide information to anyone considering a move here,” Matlin says. “This community has an extremely high percentage of return residents. Kids who grew up here want to raise their own families on the North Shore. Nothing speaks better for a suburb than that.”
Chris Veech, a broker with @properties in Winnetka, says regardless of where a family is relocating from, the North Shore offers a plethora of options.
“Some families may be relocating here from overseas and looking for IB (International Baccalaureate) schools or interested in a dual language program for young kids or a specific foreign language or sports program for their high school age child,” Veech says.
She says a few years ago she had a client bidding on a house in Winnetka on a Saturday afternoon just before Saints Faith Hope & Charity School started for the new school year.
“It was very helpful that I could text the school admissions admin to be sure there were openings available in the grades for their two kids,” Veech says. “That clenched the decision for my clients to outbid another offer to secure the home down the street from the school.”
Due to fair housing guidelines that prevent discrimination based on a school’s ranking, savvy brokers advise clients to do their own research.
“As agents, we better know our schools, though I always suggest to the buyer to go online and do their homework,” says Gloria Matlin, a broker with Compass in Glencoe. “We follow community bulletins, and we share info with other agents when we hear word on the street and try to attend important meetings.”
Matlin cites the experience of a recent buyer who was moving to the North Shore from Ireland and the main criteria was local schools, specifically a private preschool. Another was pleasantly surprised with the number of quality options.
“A family coming from Minnesota also wanted great schools, and though they originally thought they would do private, they fell in love with the public school in the area and chose that,” Matlin says. “Working with buyers currently from California, they specifically said they only want North Shore public schools even though they never have lived here.”
While it’s important for North Shore brokers to have a solid base of knowledge of the local schools, like everything else the Internet has changed the information game.
“There is no question that schools play a huge role in a buyer’s home search and selection, and we are incredibly lucky that the schools along the North Shore are consistently rated among the top on greatschools.org, niche.com, and the other school ranking websites,” says Laurie Field, a broker with Engel & Völkers in Winnetka. “Both local and out-of-state buyers know about these websites and use them when deciding where to look to move.”
However, there’s a benefit even for those who no longer have school-aged children. Good schools equal a good home investment. Susan Maman, a broker with @properties in Winnetka, grew up in the New Trier School District and raised her kids there, so she knows from first-hand experience how well the schools are run.
“A good portion of our tax dollars go towards supporting our schools, and without great schools, the value of real estate on the North Shore would be negatively impacted,” Maman says. “We also have extraordinary private schools throughout the region.”
While keeping up with the school cultures is essential for realtors on the North Shore, Colleen McGinnis, a broker with @properties in Winnetka, went a step further. One could call her efforts to stay in the loop about local schools “hands-on.”
“For me, keeping up with educational trends still puts me in the classroom and on occasion, I substitute teach,” McGinnis says. “Actually, a client of mine gave me that idea.”