I recently read a Crain’s Chicago Business article titled “The Parent Trap” that describes the plight of a young Chicago couple.  The couple bought their home before the economic crisis without regard to the quality of the neighborhood school (shame on their realtor), and now not only can they not sell their home, but also they are struggling with the question of where to send their kids to school.  These parents are reluctantly considering public school in Chicago, hence the title of the story “The Parent Trap”.

The reality is that the quality of many Chicago public neighborhood schools has increased tremendously in the last several years. Coonley.  Nettelhorst. Beaubien. Waters. These are just a few examples of K-8 public neighborhood schools that have seen a recent increase in the quality of education, in large part due to the parent community rallying together in support of their neighborhood school.  The effects of the parent community at one Chicago neighborhood school is documented in this book: How to Walk To School by Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland. The funds raised at charitable events organized by Coonley Elementary parents have been used to hire both a music teacher and spanish teacher at the school. Parents have made a difference at some Chicago schools in the last few years, and the timing comes none too soon with our current housing market and the unintentional Chicago residents it has produced.

Still, many Chicago parents find themselves in this uncomfortable situation where not only are they unable to sell their home, but also they are located in the attendance boundaries of a neighborhood school that does not work for their family.  Now what?  Private school? Play the selective enrollment lottery and hope for the best?  Short sale?  Rent? Do I want to be a landlord? This situation is anxiety ridden because it is hugely important.  We are talking about a child’s education after all.

I personally found myself in this situation…unable to sell our Wicker Park condo that my wife and I  purchased at the height of the market in 2007.  Once we had a child on the way, we tried to sell unsuccessfully and finally opted to rent out our condo and now we are renters in Ravenswood.  I think some parents consider moving from ownership to renter a downgrade, and this sentiment is repeated by Dennis Rodkin in this webcast. We rent out our Wicker Park condo for $2,650 per month, and our rent for a smaller home with the same number of bedrooms in Ravenswood is $1,825 per month.  We are $825 in the positive from a cash flow perspective, but even if we were paying a few hundred extra dollars a month, this expenditure pales in comparison with the cost of private school.  We alleviated the anxiety of the selective enrollment process; confident knowing that no matter what, our daughter had a great back up option when it came time to go to school. Becoming a landlord and renter is certainly NOT where I pictured things going when I purchased our condo in 2007, but now our daughter is in PreK at a wonderful neighborhood public school and we could not be happier.

My experience trying to find the right school for our daughter inspired me to build a website to address the pain points:  schoolsparrow.com.  SchoolSparrow integrates school performance reports, school boundaries, and available real estate information to allow Chicago parents to find a home for sale (or for rent) within their budget that is also located in the attendance area of a good neighborhood public school. SchoolSparrow will return the top 30 public neighborhood schools that have homes available right now with user’s specified number of bedrooms and maximum price.  SchoolSparrow uncovered for me several schools I wish I had considered because the real estate is affordable…consider this 3BD house for sale for $213,500 in the attendance boundaries of the very highly rated Sauganash Elementary School. With prices and interest rates near all time lows, some families might be able to rent out their home and actually purchase a new one.

SchoolSparrow is a free service to consumers, and the hope is that realtors will pay to have access to the SchoolSparrow search by multiple school district technology that DOES NOT EXIST for the realtor today. Please help me keep this a free service by registering on the site to be matched up with a SchoolSparrow partner agent.  SchoolSparrow agents understand the importance of a quality neighborhood school, and they have the tools to both identify quality public schools and find a home in specific school boundaries.