10 Most Affordable Neighborhoods With the Best Schools

November 21, 2014 by Thomas C. Frohlich

For many homebuyers, the top consideration when searching for a place to live is where their children will go to school. As a result, consistently stellar schools often go hand-in-hand with high home prices.

Finding a good school in an area that is inexpensive and has a strong job market is especially hard. Yet, according to a recent report from housing market data firm RealtyTrac, there are hundreds of good schools located in areas that are relatively affordable. A select number of these schools are located in housing markets where average mortgage payments cost less than 15% of the local median household income. Based on RealtyTrac’s findings, these are 10 affordable neighborhoods with the best schools.

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Many, although not all, of these schools are located in markets where the average home price is quite low. For instance, the average home price in each of the three lowest-cost markets with top schools was less than $100,000. A home in the 33712 zip code, in St. Petersburg, Florida, cost an average of just $56,163. Parents there can access Lakeview Fundamental Elementary School, where scores on statewide standardized tests are 40% above the state average.

Affordable access to good schools is still available in markets where home prices are somewhat higher, as well. Three of the schools reviewed were in zip codes where the average home price was over $150,000. In the 60503 zip code, located in Aurora, Illinois, residents paid an average of over $172,000 for a home in the 12 months through mid-October.

Of course, for these pricier homes to be affordable, household incomes must also be higher. For example, residents in Aurora could easily afford higher payments on their homes. The median household income in the 60503 zip code was estimated at nearly $110,000, well above that of the U.S. overall.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, said that these areas provide a unique value proposition for home buyers, especially younger first-time homeowners. “They can find a good job and have a good school for their kids to go to and also start building their wealth by buying an [inexpensive] home.”

In fact, these areas also had fairly strong job markets. None of the schools reviewed were located in counties where the unemployment rate, as of September, exceeded the national rate of 5.9%.

Blomquist added that while the group’s research could identify what schools were in affordable neighborhoods, it was largely intangible factors that allowed these schools themselves to excel. As Blomquist noted, factors such as “parent involvement, the quality of the teachers you have, [and] the commitment of these teachers” exemplify intangible factors that are often vital for student success.

However, Blomquist did point to a few features that help make these particular areas affordable. They “tend to be more suburban areas, they may be close to urban areas but they’re outlying,” he said. Homestead Elementary, for example, is located in Aurora, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Pine Brook and Briarwood elementary schools are also located near Rochester, New York. Blomquist also pointed out that many of these areas are located in the Midwest, where home prices are generally more favorable.

To identify the most affordable neighborhoods with the best elementary schools, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed RealtyTrac’s recent report, “20 Most Affordable Markets With Good Schools.” In the report, RealtyTrac considered U.S. zip codes with unemployment rates — as of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ September 2014 data — lower than 6%. According to the report, test score data came from each states’ Department of Education and were based on statewide averages. The higher above the state average the school’s score is, the higher the grade. Average home values were based on sales deeds recorded over the 12 months prior to November and were calculated by RealtyTrac using Freddie Mac’s 30-year mortgage for every month. Affordability was calculated using the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual median household income data data from 2000-2012, which RealtyTrac used to project an estimated 2014 household median income.

In addition to RealtyTrac data, we reviewed poverty rates, educational attainment rates, average commuting times, and additional housing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. These data were based on five years estimates between 2008 and 2012 and are the most recent available.

These are the most affordable neighborhoods with the best schools.

10. North Pointe Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 14.44%
> City: Hebron, KY
> Zip code: 41048
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 54%
> Avg. home price: $190,429

North Pointe Elementary is located in Hebron, Kentucky, where an average home cost $190,429. Hebron home values are relatively high compared to the rest of the nation, but residents are also quite wealthy. A typical mortgage payment was equal to 14.44% of the area’s estimated median income of $100,209, the 10th most affordable payment among areas reviewed. Elementary school-aged children also scored more than 50% higher than their statewide peers on standardized tests. The area surrounding North Pointe Elementary also had the benefit of an exceptionally low unemployment rate of just 4.9%. Like most of the regions reviewed, the Hebron area had a relatively low poverty rate of 4.5%, considerably lower than the national poverty rate of 14.9%.

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9. Deerfield Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 14.34%
> City: Utica, NY
> Zip code: 13502
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 62%
> Avg. home price: $79,197

Students scored 62% higher on average at Deerfield Elementary than in New York State as a whole. While such a good education may be worth a fortune to many parents, buying a property near the school is quite inexpensive. According to RealtyTrac, the average home in the zip code — part of the city of Utica — was just over $79,000, with payments costing just 14.3% of a typical residents’ income. Unlike a number of other areas with great schools at low prices, however, area residents are not well off. The area median household income was estimated to be $41,968, and over 22% of people lived below the poverty line, both far worse than the U.S. overall.

8. Monica B Leary Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 14.05%
> City: Rush, NY
> Zip code: 14543
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 34%
> Avg. home price: $161,252

Like several other schools with high test scores in affordable areas, Monica B Leary Elementary is in a city just outside a major urban area. In this case, families living in Rush are within commuting distance of Rochester, NY. This proximity may partly explain the high incomes in Rush, as urban areas tend to offer higher paying jobs. More than one in 10 households in the area earned over $200,000 between 2008 and 2012, the highest proportion among the areas reviewed. And while residents are much wealthier than most Americans, an average home in the area was valued at $161,252, among lower home values nationwide. In addition, an estimated 1.7% of area residents lived in poverty between 2008 and 2012, among the lowest figures and a fraction of the national poverty rate of 14.9%.

7. Briarwood School
> House payment pct. median income: 13.90%
> City: Rochester, NY
> Zip code: 14617
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 94%
> Avg. home price: $114,562

Families who live in Rochester and send their children to Briarwood School have the benefit of a quality primary school, affordable homes, low unemployment rates, and a well-educated community. Over the five years prior to 2012, more than 43% of adults in the area had at least a bachelor’s degree, versus the national rate of 28.5%. More zip codes with affordable housing and strong-performing schools were located in New York than in any other state, and Briarwood was one of three top schools reviewed by RealtyTrac located in Monroe County. In such company, Briarwood students still stood out with 2013 test scores nearly double those of their peers statewide.

6. Pine Brook Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 13.34%
> City: Rochester, NY
> Zip code: 14616
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 51%
> Avg. home price: $89,326

Even though a typical household earns less than an estimated $51,000 annually — less than the national median — area residents were more than able to afford housing. Over the 12 months before October 14th, an average home in the Rochester area cost $89,326, one of the lower home prices reviewed by RealtyTrac. Typical home payments were 13.34% of the median income, more affordable than the vast majority of areas reviewed. And while adults in the area were less likely than those nationwide to have completed a bachelor’s degree, students attending Pine Brook Elementary scored more than 50% higher on standardized tests than the rest of New York.

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5. Pinehurst Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 12.98%
> City: Lakeview, NY
> Zip code: 14085
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 52%
> Avg. home price: $153,143

Pinehurst Elementary in Lakeview is one of five high-performing schools in New York State that is located in an extremely affordable market. Home payments on a typical home in the area are estimated to cost just 13% of income, a very low amount, and residents are generally very capable of making payments. The area’s median household income was estimated at nearly $90,000, while its poverty rate was just 6.1% over the five years before 2012. By comparison, the U.S. had a median income of $53,046 and a poverty rate of 14.9% over that period. The area also boasts a largely well-educated population, with 34% of adults over 25 holding at least a bachelor’s degree and 12.8% having earned a graduate or professional degree, both far higher than the national rates.

4. Homestead Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 11.96%
> City: Aurora, IL
> Zip code: 60503
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 35%
> Avg. home price: $172,723

An average priced home in Aurora, Illinois, cost less than 12% of the area’s household median income. While the average price over the 12 months prior to this October was $172,723 — one of the higher figures — a typical household in the area earns an estimated $109,717, well more than the vast majority of Americans. Like most areas with both affordable housing and good schools, Homestead Elementary’s local community had one of the lowest poverty rates in the country between 2008 and 2012, at just 3.4%. Many residents likely work in nearby Chicago, commuting on average nearly 40 minutes, the longest time among areas reviewed. Adults living in the area were also very well educated. More than 55% had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, considerably higher than the national rate of 28.5%.

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3. Lakeview Fundamental Elementary
> House payment pct. median income: 10.82%
> City: St. Petersburg, FL
> Zip code: 33712
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 40%
> Avg. home price: $56,163

Students attending Lakeview Fundamental Elementary scored roughly 40% higher on standardized tests than their peers statewide. Area residents are quite poor, however, with an estimated median household income of only $39,421, among the lowest figures nationwide. Just 10.82% of a typical income, however, was required to afford the area’s homes, which averaged $56,163 over the 12 months before mid-October. While primary school students at Lakeview are likely receiving a decent education, more than one in five area residents were living in poverty over the five years prior to 2012, an exceptionally high rate when compared to other areas on this list.

2. Oakridge Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 10.40%
> City: Oklahoma City, OK
> Zip code: 73115
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 34%
> Avg. home price: $61,246

Oakridge students, whose scores on standardized tests were more than one-third higher than their peers statewide have excelled in the wake of citywide drops in reading scores. One city official associated the decline with the lack of a 90-minute minimum reading instruction time, a flaw in the curriculum in place until only recently. While most areas with top schools and affordable housing were also home to well-educated adults, less than 12% of adults in Oklahoma City had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, considerably lower than the national rate of 28.5%. Also, 16% of people lived in poverty between 2008 and 2012, one of the higher rates. The area’s unemployment rate, however, was just 4.5% as of this past September.

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1. Trenton Elementary School
> House payment pct. median income: 9.10%
> City: Trenton, IL
> Zip code: 62293
> Pct. above state test score avg.: 39%
> Avg. home price: $97,480

Trenton Elementary School students scored 39% higher than the statewide average on Illinois’ standardized tests. And with less than 10% of the area’s estimated median income was required to make payments on a house, Trenton is the most affordable city with such high-performing schools. The average home price in the area was under $100,000 over the 12 months prior to mid-October, and a typical household earns an estimated $81,386. Additionally, while Trenton is relatively far — about 30 miles — from St. Louis, the major city within its metro area, it is much closer to Scott Air Force Base. The base is among the largest employers in the St. Louis metro area, perhaps contributing to the exceptionally low unemployment rate of less than 5%.