9 Investigates: Better school grades could reflect in home values

The value of homes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is being driven increasingly by school assignment.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The value of homes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg is being driven increasingly by school assignment.

New grades given to every school across the state are adding to the equation. 

In February, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction published alphabetical grades for elementary, middle and high schools in addition to numerical scores. Realtors believe those grades will quickly impact home values and desirability. 

Convention wisdom has generally suggested the better the homes, the better the schools.

A national study done by Redfin Realty said it's really the other way around.

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Redfin's study says better schools are driving higher prices for homes assigned there. 

"The quality of the schools actually can affect overall home prices by as much as $50 per square foot," said Nela Richardson, Redfin's chief economist.

That doesn't apply just to houses in vastly different neighborhoods in different parts of town, but rather the differences can show up when school assignment boundaries cut through the same area. 

"We found that homes within 3 blocks of each other can have vastly different home prices.  As much as $100,000," Richardson said.

Eyewitness News looked at home sales date for the Charlotte area and found examples where school assignments may be driving differences in price. 

For example, Myers Park and East Mecklenburg High Schools: Both schools got a B from the state. But Myers Park High's overall score of 84 is just one point away from an A, and East Meck's score of 71 is just 2 points away from a C.

One home found in the Cotswold area, zoned for East Meck, recently sold for $108 per square foot.

Another, just blocks away in the same neighborhood and assigned to Myers Park High, is under contract for $196 a square foot.

It's a significant premium some homebuyers are increasingly willing to pay.

"For us, because we have three small children, school assignment was huge," said South Charlotte homeowner Brandi Bartee.

She said new grades from the state will only make assignment more important. 

Before she and her husband bought their home, they ruled out any listings that weren't in the South Mecklenburg High School zone they preferred. Bartee says even if two houses were identical she would be would have been willing to pay more for the one assigned to her preferred school. 

"Absolutely," she said.

North Carolina's decision to grade all schools may be controversial, but it gets high marks from Richardson.

She said no matter the grade given to schools, there's value in any information that allows homebuyers to make better decisions. 

"Nothing frustrates a homebuyer more than finding out that the home they just bought in on the wrong side of the street in terms of the school district they wanted to be in," Richardson said.