Buying a Home: When Moving Means Changing Schools

If you're moving any distance with school-age kids, you'll likely want to build their needs into your plans from the start. A July 2013 survey by indicated that 60 percent of those buying a home within two years would consider school boundaries when choosing property. Many respondents said they'd go six to twenty percent over budget to live within the right school boundaries.

To best manage educational needs during the home buying process, start early: perhaps at the same time that you're checking mortgage rates and getting quotes. A preliminary online search tells you what sort of property you can expect to afford within your chosen school district.

Changing Schools Can Be Traumatic

By now, as a parent, you've probably noticed that children can be a little more troublesome than couches and flat-screen TVs: You can't generally just pick them up, dump them somewhere else, and expect them to carry on.

Writing on the website, author and family therapist Dr. Ron Taffel suggests that kids vary enormously in their ability to cope with change. So it's important to recognize how challenging yours as individuals are likely to find entering a new school, and then tailor your support to meet each child's particular needs.

Be Positive!

One factor that many experts agree on is the importance of your acquiring a positive attitude to the move. Regardless of your words or tone of voice when you're talking to them about relocating, you're kids are likely over a period to pick up your true feelings, whether that's excitement, ambivalence or dread. Before you try talking your kids around, talk yourself around.

Once you've got your own head into a positive place, sit the children down and explain to them what's happening -- and, just as importantly, why. If you have multiple kids, take care to monitor each of their reactions, so you know who might need a one-on-one follow up.

Regard that conversation as the start -- not the end -- of a dialog. Be ready to be a sounding board for your kids as they gradually process the news and experience different, perhaps conflicting, emotions. By all means be positive and reassuring, but your main job may be just to listen: to provide an outlet for their inner hopes and fears.

Six Practical Tips

Mashing up some of Dr. Taffel's advice with that of other experts provides some practical tips:

  1. As soon as you move in, scout the neighborhood for kids of the same age and sex as yours, and foster friendships. If your children already have pals at the school, they may find the prospect of their first day less daunting.
  2. Before that first day, drive them to school, using the route that you or the bus will take. At least one experience that morning won't be totally strange.
  3. With the same objective in view, call the school and ask if you and your child can drop in for a quick look around before it re-opens. It's a busy time for teachers and other staff, and it would be unrealistic to expect the red-carpet treatment, but even a brief sortie onto campus can remove some of the scariness of the unknown.
  4. While you're there, try to get a moment with the teacher your kid's going to spend most time with. Again, respect the pressure everyone in the school is going to be under, and don't expect much more than a smile and a hi. That's all you really want: it lets your child know the warm, breathing human being she will be dealing with, not the cold monster of her imagination.
  5. Also while you're there, look out for posters and notices promoting clubs, teams and societies that might appeal to your child. Sell them to him, and encourage him to join the ones he finds most exciting as soon as he can. You might also want to check out the PTA: Your participation in the life of the school can be important to helping your child settle in.
  6. Once the semester starts, try to keep your kids' family life as calm and predictable as possible. They'll be dealing with enough surprises at school, and a consistent routine at home can provide much-needed stability.

When buying a home, remember that kids are generally much tougher and more robust than parents fear. Even if they find the move and change of school challenging, the chances of them bouncing back within weeks are astronomically high.

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