New York is crazy--and I like it that way. New York City is the place where every type A individual on the planet ends up at one time or another, and tries to push, shove, charm, cajole, outsmart and finesse, their way to the top of the heap. This is no different for children. Junior must be at the top too, or she may not be able to become managing partner someday.
Some parents spend long tireless hours prepping their children for private schools. Having been a NYC public school kid myself, I always imagined that getting into better private schools in New York involved some combination of good grades, verbal ability, wearing the right outfit picked by your nanny, and curtseying or bowing nicely, depending on your sex, and knowing which fork to use at luncheons. Forgive me.
For public school--at least at an elementary level where there is no entrance exam and no interview, biting and clawing your way into the right school zone is the only thing that counts. And so there's a lot of biting and clawing.
Now I have all kinds of personal opinions about the pros and cons of different NYC schools that I won't share here--but aside from the risk of boring you--the reason real estate agents may get all flushed or sweaty when you ask them about schools is that they are hindered in talking about them by fairly strict NY Fair Housing legislation. In short, agents can't legally talk much about what school zone a given property is in (though some do)—and are absolutely not supposed to share whether or not they think a property is in a good school zone or not (though some do that too), and the government takes this limitation VERY seriously and can fine the bejesus out of the agent for doing it if they feel it’s appropriate (and sometimes they do). Agents are not supposed to advertise what school zone an apartment is in (though people do that too) but if you ask an agent what school zone a property is in—they are allowed to tell you—but a lot might be afraid to, because they don’t know whether they are allowed to or not.
Now here’s the problem with all this yawning grey area of legal paranoia: It sucks balls for everyone: agents, sellers, and buyers alike. Like so many things—this whole mishigas started out as a good legal idea designed to protect people from discrimination. The notion was originally, as I understand it,—that certain real estate agents were saying to white couples wrong-headed things like “oh, you don’t want your little darling to go to that school, it’s really not very good. *wink**wink* referring specifically to schools with minority populations. And the ugly reverse was true too with families of color: “Well I think this school zone would be much more appropriate for your little darling. *wink**wink*” They won’t fit in very well in that school.” Obviously the result of this behavior is greater housing and school segregation maneuvered by unjust real estate agents, which I, and the law agree, is a serious, very real, and very unfunny thing and not just a thing of the past lest you thought it was.
So in an effort to remedy these concerns we have totally nebulous rules about what can and cannot be said by agents with varying degrees of willy nilly enforcement which creates an atmosphere of mild to severe stress and confusion for everyone involved. In general, I like to wrap these blogs up with my advice on how to handle real estate dilemmas—but this one, because of the sensitive nature of it has me (and clearly a whole lot of legislators and real estate agents) stumped.
I guess my best advice would be to go in to buying a place prepared to do the school research, including figuring out what zone a given property is in, completely on your own. You might find an agent who will do it for you-I do research zones for customers-and I believe I am legally allowed to do it if you ask me to. But be prepared to get very little in the way of personal advice or guidance about schools even if you are working with someone who knows the area (and the schools) intimately—or be ready to play a virtual game of 20 questions with your agent about a given school (I have done this with customers) you are interested in. “Do they have higher test scores than this other school?” Nod once for yes. Twice for no.
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to give me a call if you have any real estate related questions—I’d be delighted to help,
Alexandra Florio 646-269-1072
The Corcoran Group