Realtors: Homebuyers turned off by Pentucket schools

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By Bryon Rivers
We Are Pentucket Communications Team

With a good enough arm, you could throw a football from Sandy Berkenbush’s front door to the grass of Pentucket High School’s gridiron. Her antique farmhouse has stood at the end of West Newbury’s Farm Lane since 1835, and some of her great grandmother’s land was used to create the present-day Pentucket campus. In addition, she’s a partner at Stone Ridge Properties – a real estate agency with offices in Newburyport and Amesbury – and the clerk for Pentucket Education Foundation (PEF).

We sat down at Sandy’s kitchen table recently, to speak with her and fellow Realtor and West Newbury resident Cheryl Grant about the Pentucket region, real estate, schools, and the important – even critical – linkage among the three.

Homebuyers turning away from Pentucket

The question “How good are the schools?” is one that comes up early and often by prospective home buyers in Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury, says Cheryl, whose family moved to West Newbury in 2008, spurred by the reputation of the Page Elementary School.

“This doesn’t imply that all clients have school-aged children looking to buy here,” she points out. “Clients understand that good schools relay to good property values. With a home purchase being, quite possibly, the largest purchase one might make in their lifetime, clients are savvy, and the questions asked are part of their overall due diligence.”

Sandy, a 1972 graduate of Pentucket HS, who saw her own adult daughter through PRSD, says her experience as a resident and a realtor has given her a unique vantage point regarding buying trends. She says after 30 years in the business, 2018 was the first time she had a client turn down Pentucket in favor of other school systems. The client cited the middle and high school as unfavorable options.

“It used to be that people would move here for 12 years (for the education), then move to Newburyport,” she recalls. “Newburyport (schools) had ignored their upgrades. But Newburyport has now invested in the schools and it’s drawing more families.” More dollars too.

Data links good schools with higher home values

Cheryl and Sandy pointed to the data they’ve collected on home sales in Newburyport in the five years since the town built a new elementary school. Average home sale prices have shot up dramatically - from $587,791 in 2014 to $676,765 in 2018.

Other numbers going in the right direction in Newburyport are:

  • Units sold: 204 in 2018 vs. 178 in 2014

  • Average days to offer: down to 34 from 47 in 2014

  • Price per square foot: $330, up from $281 in 2014, falling right in line with a study from Redfin.com).

Cheryl’s numbers from North Reading offer further evidence that new school buildings are good news for real estate investments. Property values and home sales were lagging for several years but began to recover in 2012 after a combined high school/middle school facility was approved by the townspeople. In 2018, units sold, average sale price and price per square foot were all hovering at or above all-time highs.

“Long story short,” says Sandy, “any new school building is going to ultimately benefit property values.”

Nancy Stewart