Do Falls Church property owners get for what they pay for?
In terms of property taxes, school and home values, residents surveyed say yes.
Property owners believe the Falls Church schools are well worth the taxes they pay, and home buyers willing to pay the prices, agree.
In its 2014 profile of home buyers and sellers, the National Association of Realtors reported that 29 percent of buyers said good schools are deciding factors in their purchasing decisions, and 22 percent said proximity to good schools is important, too.
When it comes to national rankings, Falls Church schools are near the top. Of about 13,500 school districts in the U.S. and in a listing of the 100 best districts in the nation, the Falls Church School District ranked 83, reports Niche which has been tracking and analyzing education statistics figures since 2002.
Falls Church scored second best school district in the state, after Arlington, which was ranked 44th nationally. (Fairfax County came in at 279 nationally.)
Of all public high schools in Virginia, the city’s George Mason High ranked fifth (the same ranking by U.S. News & World Report). Other city schools included in the report were Mary Ellen Henderson Middle, fifth in the state in middle schools, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary at 17th.
Although area home sale prices have been relatively flat recently, latest information from real estate tracking services Trulia and Zillow show home median prices in Falls Church are anything but low. For zip code 22046, prices range from $655,200 – $712,500, and for zip code 22043, $551,000 – $555,000. Long and Foster Real Estate reports the Falls Church median home sales price is $747,000.
Like Falls Church resident Joe Muskett said, it’s a matter of “location, location, location,” and to be sure, he threw in another “location.”
“This is all about resale, too,” said Muskett, a coach and educator who has lived in the Falls Park neighborhood for 22 years.
The Musketts have raised four children here, all grown. While he washed his truck and scrubbed tires in his driveway, Muskett’s grandson scampered around his feet.
“People complain that we have high taxes which you can’t deny, but where are you going to find resale values and schools like we have inside the Beltway? Here, it’s as good as it gets.”
Falls Church has “great schools and a great community,” but the town is starting to take on some citified airs, Muskett said, an opinion shared by others.
Over near the library on a grey day, Robyn Roche was out walking. She and her family have lived in their house off the W & OD Trail for 20 years.
“I sometimes pinch myself, I’m so grateful to be here,” Roche said. She’s a chief financial officer for a trade association and has a daughter in the tenth grade at Mason.
“Part of the reason we are here is because of the schools, and I understand why taxes are high.
“My only concern is the fiduciary responsibility of the folks in the city administration.“
“I wonder if they’re mindful of the amount of money coming in,” and she questions whether “the spirit of the city” is deteriorating.
On Parker Street, Gale and Anne Sommers were outside unpacking their car. They think taxes are “reasonable,” but they are also concerned about the city’s growth.
Anne Sommers is a part-time office assistant for Falls Church schools who said Thomas Jefferson Elementary is “jam packed.” She is troubled about the many new residents who are moving into rentals, coming for the schools and “squishing three people into a one bedroom apartment.”
She said the schools are crowded and becoming more so: “We get calls every day.”
“The schools are great,” she said, and her husband agreed. Falls Church taxes are “pretty consistent with what Fairfax and Arlington pay,” Gale Sommers said.
When the couple decided to buy a bigger house almost 20 years ago, they couldn’t find anything affordable inside the city, so they added onto their house where they have lived for 37 years and raised their children.
Taking down Christmas lights from a tree outside their home on Kent Street were Jon and Mary Sanford who kept a close eye on their son, Henry, 5, a kindergartener at Mt. Daniel Elementary riding his bicycle around on the quiet street.
The Sanfords are government employees and she is “happy to pay taxes for good schools. I am fine with taxes,” Mary Sanford said. “I have no complaints about what we have to pay for taxes relative to the kids in the community getting a good education.”
Before Henry came along, the Sanfords lived in Alexandria where “the schools aren’t good,” and where their residence was zoned for a school which failed to meet accreditation standards.
Eight years ago, the Sanfords “stumbled” upon their house in Falls Church which they bought and remodeled.
They knew the house was in a good school district which made moving to Falls Church attractive, especially if they ever decided to have children.
Mary Sanford praised Mt. Daniel and the teachers. “The ratio of teachers to kids is fantastic,” she said. Henry’s class has 19 students with a teacher and a para-professional. Henry pulled up to the curb on his bike and stopped riding long enough to confirm his mother’s statements.
“I couldn’t be happier living here, “said Mary Sanford, “and I couldn’t be happier with [the] school experience so far.”
There’s no place like home…and good schools.