About Real Estate: Kids or not, buying in a good school district is important

Home prices in areas with above-average schools almost always rise faster, even if the buyers don’t have children.

Q. Why do real estate agents and columnists like you always harp on the importance of buying a home in a neighborhood that is served by good public schools?

Truth is, my wife and I don’t have kids, and we don’t want any, and most of our friends also plan to stay child-free. It seems to me that even people who already have children would be better off purchasing a less-expensive home in an area with only average public schools, then using part of their monthly mortgage savings to enroll the children in a private school.

A. It’s almost always best to buy in a community that is served by above-average public schools. Even though you don’t have any kids and do not plan to have them, it’s likely that your future buyers will.

Parents are typically willing to pay a premium for homes that are served by a good school district, which explains why prices for houses and condos in those areas usually rise at a faster rate than properties in areas with subpar schools.

Your idea that buyers could save money by paying less for a home in a community with average schools, then using part of their monthly mortgage savings to enroll their kids in a private school just doesn’t pencil out.

I remember a young couple I met at a realty seminar several years ago who had two school-age children. They balked at paying $275,000 for a home in a community with award-winning public schools, and instead paid $210,000 for a comparably sized house in a neighborhood with only so-so educational institutions. Trimming $65,000 off their purchase price also cut about $390 off their monthly mortgage bills. They soon became unhappy with the school that the kids were attending, so they enrolled them in a nearby private school at a combined $2,200 each month.

In other words, the $390 they “saved” every month by purchasing a home in a neighborhood where local schools didn’t make the grade didn’t even come close to offsetting the cost of sending their two kids to a pricey private school. And again, because values of homes served by good public educational facilities usually rise at a faster clip than properties that aren’t, the family probably didn’t make as great a profit if they have since sold the home.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA

A new survey by the National Association of Realtors shows that 49 percent of homebuyers who have children consider the quality of local schools a top priority when selecting a community. About 43 percent of buyers choose a neighborhood based on the convenience to schools — whether their children can walk to classes or the parents can drive them before heading to their jobs.

Q. I am planning a small garden for my backyard. I read a couple of stories on the internet that said putting a few layers of old newspapers across the soil in your yard or flowerbed can prevent weeds from growing. Is this true?

A. Many expert gardeners say that this is true. There may not be much use for old newspaper writers like me, but the paper product upon which my peerless prose is published can indeed stop new weeds from growing, and sometimes even kill ones that have already sprouted.

Different gardeners use different strategies. Expert gardener Kevin Lee Jacobs (www.agardenforthehouse.com) recommends that you start by watering the soil deeply, then covering it with several pages of newspaper. Be sure to cut holes in the paper for the seedlings you expect to plant (or for the flowers or veggies that may already be there).

Next, soak the paper itself with water; then cover it with about 3 inches of mulch made from shredded leaves or wood chips. The combination of the newspaper and mulch will block the sun, killing any weeds that are already there and preventing new ones from sprouting up, Jacobs says.

The newspaper will slowly decompose, adding nutrients that foster the growth of worms and other soil-building friends.

Q. You recently wrote about tax-deed sales. Are they the same thing as tax-lien sales?

A. No, they are not the same. Although both types of sales are organized by local taxing authorities, there are some important differences between the two.

If you buy a home at a tax-deed sale, your purchase price covers the cost of the county’s uncollected property taxes and legal costs. Ownership of the home is then transferred to you.

A tax-lien sale works differently. Instead of getting the home immediately, you pay the county for the previous homeowner’s delinquent taxes; then the county transfers ownership of the lien — not the house itself — over to you. It then becomes your job (not the local government’s) to collect those past-due payments and interest charges to keep them for yourself.

If the owner doesn’t pay you, either, you usually can start foreclosure proceedings of your own, then take possession of the home. Contact a real estate attorney for details about this process.

Send questions to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-2960, and we’ll try to respond in a future column.