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Homes for sale in the Tri-State's best school districts might give you sticker shock

Homes for sale
Posted at 5:02 AM, Feb 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-17 19:27:20-05

DEER PARK — Finding a new home - or your first one - has become a full-time job in the Tri-State.

"Whenever we have a break at work, we're like sending each other listings," laughed Anna Meece, of Fairfield, as she and her fiance, Ryan Nuss, toured a home in Deer Park on a cold Saturday.

"Our weekends consist of looking at houses," Nuss added.

Housing inventory across Greater Cincinnati is at a 20-year low, according to local Realtors. That's part of what's behind rising home prices. The other reason is that the market is correcting after the mid-2000's economic slump.

"It can be really frustrating for first-time home buyer, or any buyer right now really," said Comey & Shepherd Realtor Lynn Schwarber.

Plus, there's momentum here.

"Cincinnati is a place to be right now," said Nuss. "You see it in businesses too. Millennials are coming here and everyone wants houses that are re-done."

First time home buyers
Anna Meece and Ryan Nuss discuss buying their first home

A steady climb

A WCPO analysis of Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data for the highest-performing school districts in Greater Cincinnati showed it is even harder to find a home, and a reasonably priced home, than at any time in the past decade.

In 2019, the median home sale price in Greater Cincinnati was $189,900, according to the Greater Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The median price steadily increased over the past decade, rising from $125,000 in 2009. In 2014, the median price had jumped to $140,500.

We found a similar trend across all of Northern Kentucky. The median home sale price in 2019 was $179,000, up from $133,900 in 2014 and $126,500 in 2009.

Median home prices in top-performing school districts started higher and – in many cases – rose by more than the area average over the past decade.

"So, are the school districts that perform well out of reach for most families?"

Schwarber raised the question when she saw the median home prices for the best school districts in our area.

With few exceptions, they would be out of reach for Meece and Nuss. The couple spoke to WCPO while touring a home in Deer Park. They're getting married in the summer and wanted to move closer to downtown and Meece's job.

Touring a Deer Park home
Comey & Shepherd realtor Lynn Schwarber shows Ryan Nuss and Anna Meece around a home in Deer Park

"Even the smaller homes are going for a lot more than they have in the past," said Meece. "[Sellers] can get those prices for them so they aren't afraid to bump them up to what they want."

The couple said they hope to buy below $210,000 now, in an up-and-coming neighborhood, and then sell when they have children and move to the suburbs and into one of the top school districts.

"When we're buying our first house, we've got to think down the road when we do have kids and we want to move back to the suburbs," Nuss said. "Resale value [is important], too, so living in a good school district is also a plus when selling your house."

WCPO used school district rankings to choose our highest-performing districts. Niche used test scores, state and federal Department of Education Data, as well as reviews from parents and other factors. You can read more about its calculations here.

The top school districts in Greater Cincinnati, according to Niche, were:

  1. Indian Hill Exempted Village Schools
  2. Wyoming City Schools
  3. Mason City Schools
  4. Madeira City Schools
  5. Sycamore Community Schools
  6. Mariemont City Schools
  7. Fort Thomas Independent Schools
  8. Beechwood Independent Schools
  9. Forest Hills Local Schools

A steady climb

2009 was the middle of the housing slump. The market was weak. Across the board, the MLS data showed increases since 2009 – sometimes huge increases.

Homes in the Madeira district showed some of the most dramatic increases, rising from a median sale price of $196,750 to $345,000 in 2019. Even its five-year rise is dramatic, with median home sale prices at $232,975 in 2014, when the housing market had climbed out of the slump.

Across the river, homes in the Beechwood district had a similar trajectory. The median sale price in 2009 was $168,150 and rose to $280,000 last year.

WCPO has compiled MLS median home sale price data from 2009, 2014, and 2019 for the nine highest-performing school districts and made it accessible for you on the map, graphs and charts below.

Finding a deal

As of February 13, options for homes in many of those districts asking below $300,000 were slim. There were two listed in the Madeira district. Four listed in Sycamore's district. And seven in the Mason City School District.

Lynn Schwarber
Comey & Shepherd realtor Lynn Schwarber

And there was a difference in what kind of home, especially in the northern suburbs where Schwarber sells for Comey & Shepherd. And it is a warning for everyone who thinks Greater Cincinnati is a "seller's market" right now.

"You can't buy a new construction house for under $350,000 up there," she said. "Your higher-end houses, even if you're a resale coming on the market, you're competing with new construction. You better not have yellow and red walls and oak cabinets. You need to update."

Anyone on an even tighter budget may get left out of the best districts.

"You can't find much for $200,000 and under [in the top-performing districts]," said Schwarber. "You can, but it takes time and they're probably not in great shape, probably need work, and there are 50 that are going to jump on that house when it comes on the market."

Act fast

"It is rough," said Meece, after touring the Deer Park home. "As we're walking around in the houses [we've seen], there's all kinds of people walking in and out and it usually already has an offer in on it."

That's a common sight. Schwarber told WCPO she's had clients arrive at an open house, only to leave, defeated.

"The last house we looked at, they had 12 showings in the first night and two offers," she said. "You have more time to research the toaster you're going to buy."

Schwarber said her best advice for buying in such a tight market is to be prepared, planned, and ready to act. That means you get immediate MLS notifications, and have your pre-approval letter ready.

Oh, and have fun.

"You're buying a house. You're part of the American Dream," she said.

Months ahead of their wedding, Meece and Nuss had a long day of showings, but still had smiles.

"It's fun, but it's definitely hard to find what you're looking for," said Meece.