California Renters Pay Up to 46% More Near Top Schools

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While carefree children enjoy their summer break, many parents are already thinking about the upcoming school year.  The pressure of finding a good public school and deciding whether to move to a different school district is something parents know all too well.

The big question is whether they can afford it. To help parents sort things out, we compared the average cost of rent near the best schools versus rents near low-rated schools, in 5 of California’s largest cities. And out of curiosity, we also compared home sale prices. Here’s the housing cost breakdown in these 5 cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and San Jose.

Sacramento renters pay $5,000 more per year to live near a good school

Rents near California schools 5 Cities Graph

San Francisco maintains its reputation of being a very expensive city, with the highest overall rent prices of all 5 cities. The actual extra rent families would pay if they moved to a neighborhood with a top-rated school would be only $429 on average, 14% higher than renting in an area with poorly-performing schools. San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, comes in second for highest rents overall, but rent prices seem to be uniformly dispersed across all school areas. The additional rent paid to live in a top-rated school district in San Jose is on average as little as $79 per month, merely 4% more than in a low-rated school district.

On the other hand, Los Angeles — known as a very divided city in terms of wealth distribution — registers a whopping 38% (or $617 per month) rent difference between the least desirable school districts and the wealthy neighborhoods that hold most of the top public schools. The San Diego rental market seems to be the tamest of them all, with fairly moderate rent prices and a 21% difference in rent. Sacramento, however, was the biggest surprise of our study. Though overall rent prices in Sacramento are the lowest of all the 5 cities analyzed, for a family to move from a poor school district to a top school district would involve a huge financial sacrifice, as their housing cost would increase by a staggering 46%.

California rents near schools 5 Cities price differences

School ratings were provided by where top-rated public schools are those with scores between 8 and 10, and low-rated schools are those with ratings between 1-3. We calculated average rents in the attendance zones of low-rated schools and average rents in the attendance zones of top-rated schools.  Average home prices were obtained from our sister company Property Shark.

Los Angeles and Sacramento house prices are more than double in a good school district 

In terms of highest overall home prices, San Francisco leads, followed by Los Angeles and San Jose. However, in terms of how much more homes cost, on average, in good school neighborhoods as opposed to those near a poor-performing school, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Jose see the highest additional costs.

California home sale prices near schools 5 Cities Sales graph

The highest price difference to own a home in the attendance zone of a great school is in Los Angeles, where homes are 185% more expensive than those near poorly-performing schools. Sacramento homeowners also pay a high price for access to a good school. Moving from a low-rated school district to a top-rated school district in Sacramento means paying in average more than double for a home. San Franciscans pay the smallest price difference, 34%, when buying a home in a good school district, though their situation is not so rosy either, being stuck with the priciest homes of all 5 cities. In San Jose homes are 63% more expensive near top-ranked schools and in San Diego 42%.

Rent in 5 California Cities Near Good Schools

All in all, California homeowners and renters alike are faced with significant extra costs if they want to provide their children with access to quality public education. Which makes for a hard decision and even harder sacrifices middle-income families have to make in order to ensure their offspring get off to a good start in life.


  1. Publicly available attendance boundary data was used (where available) to determine the average rent and the average sale price for all schools in both categories – top-ranked and low-ranked schools.
  2. Where attendance boundary data was not available, a 1-mile radius was used to determine the average rent.
  3. In order to avoid mapping overlaps, only public elementary schools were taken into account. 
  4. The value given for the average rents is a combined average of all areas with top-rated elementary schools and a combined average of all areas with low-rated elementary schools. 
  5. The average rents are valid as of May 2016 and have been extracted from Yardi Matrix – an apartment intelligence service that tracks all apartment buildings 50 units or larger, in 115 markets across the US. We considered only apartment communities with 50+ units for this analysis.
  6. When compiling the average sale price we took into account sales recorded during January – May 2016.
  7.  Average mortgage payments were calculated with a 30-year amortization, 20% down payment, 4% interest rate and 1.1% property taxes. Amounts may be approximated. Other housing-related costs were not taken into account. 


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Nadia Balint is a senior creative writer for RENTCafé. She covers news and trends in residential and commercial real estate and their impact on our everyday life, including rental housing, for-sale housing, real estate development, homeownership, market reports, insurance, landlord-tenant laws, personal finance, urban development, economy, sustainability, and social issues. Nadia holds a B.S. in Business Management from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. You can connect with Nadia via email.

Nadia’s work and expertise have been quoted by major national and local media outlets, including CNN, CNBC, CBS News, Curbed, The NY Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post as well as industry publications, such as GlobeSt, Bisnow, Inman News, Multifamily Executive, and The Commercial Real Estate Show. Nadia also wrote for Multi-Housing News, Commercial Property Executive, HubSpot, and more. Prior to entering the real estate industry, Nadia worked in the legal field, where she gained over 10 years of experience in business, corporate, and real estate law.

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