Real estate agents in southern Maryland are telling prospective buyers who want their children to attend good schools to check out websites operated by school systems and visit individual schools, rather than relying only on simplified ratings from data aggregators like GreatSchools that often appear next to listings.

“We allow the school systems to speak for themselves,” Bud Humbert, president of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors, tells SoMdNews.

Humbert said that in his opinion, a school’s quality can’t be reduced to a single number, like a test score.

An analysis published by real estate brokerage Redfin in September showed homebuyers are willing to pay steep price premiums for homes served by top-ranked schools. Many real estate websites now allow homebuyers to search for homes not only by school district, but within specific school attendance boundaries.

Re/Max Realtor Brooke Matthews, who also serves on the St. Mary’s County school board, says he recommends that in addition to doing research online, homebuyers visit schools and talk with principals, because “some of these websites could lead people down the wrong path.”

GreatSchools — a nonprofit that licenses its information to businesses — says it’s careful to point out that data it provides “is a starting point,” encouraging users to seek out other information from school and state websites, and visit schools themselves.

The superintendent of one local school district, Michael Martirano, was unaware of GreatSchools, or how its ratings are used to market homes on the Internet, until he was contacted by SoMdNews.

After looking at the GreatSchools site, he called its rating system “nonreliable and not valid,” and said he found the anonymous comments left by parents particularly disturbing.

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that school district officials in San Mateo County, Calif., are worried that homebuyers and their agents may read too much into simplified school rankings offered on real estate websites, and are working with Realtors to help them gain a better understanding of what qualities make for a good school. Source: somdnews.com

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