Many buyers that are hunting for houses are very concerned about the schools in various neighborhoods. For real estate agents this is a dangerous area as the fair housing laws prohibit "steering". Agents must be careful not to violate these laws. The best solution for parents concerned with schools is to utilize the extensive internet research sites for schools. Websites like "Great Schools" and others can provide strong insight into the schools in any area. They are not however a substitute for personal visits.
Schools are not just something for buyers with school age children to consider. Even if you do not have children or they are grown up, the schools will still have an impact on future marketability of the home you purchase. Good schools can help homes fetch a higher price, but these higher rated schools are typically located in areas with higher property taxes. Most states, including Washington, fund public schools largely from property taxes. So buyers should be prepared to have a higher tax rate with frequent school bond measures passing in areas with top rated schools. If school age children are not part of your equation then the decision could come down to larger monthly expenses measured against long term resale value.
My experience with school district preferences among buyers is that often it is trendy and sometimes irrelevant, yet it can drive parents to make irrational decisions. Parents should consider more than just the academic results when considering schools. Sometimes parents will stretch themselves to the bare wire to buy a relatively inexpensive house in a very expensive area just to get the kids into the "better" schools. Although this may work out, sometimes there are consequences the parents don't see coming. For example, a family earning a very modest income might be sending their children to school with mostly affluent kids. Children can be very cruel to each other especially when there is a strong income gap. Doing some research online and in person can be the best thing parents can do when evaluating schools. It is very important that children feel like they "fit in". If they do not, they may very well struggle academically and socially and the so called "lesser" school could be the better choice in some cases. When children don't feel like they belong they can make very poor decisions; so parents need to do more than follow the trends and look closely at the schools in an area of interest on the academic level and the social level.
Many real estate agents jump on the trend bandwagon, and frankly they are risking fair housing violations in doing so. Of course parents have a variety of concerns when evaluating schools. Some parents focus on academic opportunity, others may have student athletes, etc. Well funded schools often have an advantage in both areas, but parents are wise to look at the whole experience for their children. Larger school districts with multiple high schools spread across a diverse economic area often have lower overall academic scores on websites and that can be misleading. Concerned parents are well advised to actually visit the schools personally.
It should also be noted that looking at district-wide results can be important as well. Usually a school district implements curriculum and systems across the whole district. So if one school in the same district has superior academic ratings than another, that could be misleading as to the quality of education available at other schools in the same district. In general students that feel accepted and secure will do better academically than those thrust into an uncomfortable situation. Sometimes that means the top rated school in the posh neighborhood is not as well suited as a school in the same district that serves a more broad economic base. The district as a whole will often offer the same level of academic opportunity across the district and that may counter the individual ratings.
The bottom line is that parents need to actually do some real research and not solely rely on the trend influenced actions and advice of others. Buyers should also understand that a real estate agent that seems evasive on some of these issues is likely doing so to be compliant with the Fair Housing Act and not due to a lack of caring or understanding. Buyers are better off working with a compliant agent than one that skates over the line.
Buyers should research the schools and other neighborhood characteristics based on their own personal preferences and try to avoid getting sucked into irrelevant trends.