Can Buyers Afford Homes in Good School Districts?

 IRVINE, CA—Builders can look for opportunities to build more starter homes or condos in neighborhoods in good school districts, understanding that they can get a premium for those homes, RealtyTrac’s VP Daren Blomquist tells As we recently reported, well more than half of all zip codes that include one good school are in places that are unaffordable to the average worker, according to a report from the firm. The unaffordable designation means that wage earners would have to spend more than one-third of their income to buy a median-priced home.

In addition, the high price of homes is causing home construction to be in a vicious cycle. According to Dave Kidder, president and managing director of Landmark Capital Advisors, 2015 has been filled with stories about how housing starts have missed the market. “Fingers have pointed to shortage of lots, shortage of labor and even high construction cost,” Kidder recently commented. He adds that John Burns Real Estate Consulting recently found that many markets in California now have median new home prices above GSE-conforming loan limits, making obtaining financing harder for new home buyers. “As a result, more than half of new home buyers need jumbo mortgages, which are significantly more difficult to qualify for and require higher down payments, all of which stifle demand, leading to lower starts. Orange County is a perfect example since new home sales have slowed for 10 straight months, while sales of existing homes have surged. On average, new homes cost $250,000 more than existing homes in Orange County.”

We spoke exclusively with Blomquist about the affordability gap and how the housing market can help close it.; What can the housing industry do to provide affordable homes in regions with good schools?

Blomquist: Builders can look for opportunities to build more starter homes or condos in some of these neighborhoods, understanding that they can get a premium for those homes in neighborhoods with good schools above what they would get for those same homes in neighborhoods with no good schools. And often, that first-time buyer purchasing a starter home will be a repeat customer who builds equity more quickly and moves up into a bigger house potentially down the road. Will the affordability gap eventually correct itself, or is this going to be an ongoing problem?

Blomquist: It will be an ongoing problem; however, given the slow building activity of recent years—and the low amount of inventory it has resulted in—I do think more buyers will be willing to bet on a “bad” neighborhood that is affordable and maybe has an improving school. Those buyers will then invest back into helping the school improve, and that could create an upward cycle in that neighborhood. Is the affordable-housing community helping to assuage this problem?

Blomquist: I don’t have an answer on this one unfortunately. What else should our readers know about home affordability and good school districts?

Blomquist: The silver lining is that there still exceptions to the rule where buyers can find good schools in affordable neighborhoods. That may sometimes come with another cost in terms of crime or other factors not being the best in that neighborhood, but there is some silver lining for average wage earners who they can still provide their children with good schooling in those areas.