Business & Real Estate

On the Market: The ABCs of schools and homebuying

Good schools are one of the many reasons people are so attracted to this area. But understanding school scores and school boundaries can be a bit confusing. Often homebuyers will tell me which school district they are looking in rather than which city. Remember that school district boundaries were developed long before city boundaries, so in most cases, they are not the same.

Q: If I am looking to buy a house, how do I know which school my children will attend?

A: Most every listing will include a reference to the district that a particular property is in, but typically they don’t list the school itself.

Q: Why not? I want to know which school they will go to.

A: Within each district, a school is assigned to each address. You should be able to visit the school district’s website and search for “School Boundary Maps” to locate which school is assigned to your house.

Q: Does that mean my child will be able to go to that school?

A: Not necessarily. You are guaranteed that your child will be able to attend a school in the district but not necessarily the one assigned to your address. There are two reasons why: (1) If your assigned school has more third-graders than it has room for, your recently added third-grader may be sent to another school in the district that has room for more third-graders. (2) While district boundaries rarely change, the school boundaries within a district do change from time to time with the changing demographics, so it is possible that the intra-district boundaries could change after you move in.

Q: What is a “unified” school district?

A: Locally, a unified district is one that oversees K-12 education – like the Palo Alto Unified School District. The Los Altos School District serves grades K-8, after which students merge into the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District for grades 9-12.

Q: Can my child transfer to a different school than the one that has been assigned to my house?

A: Usually not, but you should always ask district administrators directly. Sometimes they are looking for children willing to move to another school within the district to balance class sizes.

Q: Can my child transfer to a different district?

A: Almost always, no. There are a few exceptions to the inter-district transfer policy, so you should always confirm with the two districts. For example, homeowners in some parts of Los Altos Hills may be allowed to choose whether their children attend school in the Palo Unified or MVLA district.

Owen Halliday is a realtor who manages the Sereno Group office in downtown Los Altos. Text or call him with questions, comments, potential column topics or to request a valuation of your house at 492-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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