Toronto

No pressure! Realtors say EQAO test scores can have a 6-digit impact on housing prices

As grade 3 and 6 students across Ontario sit down for their annual standardized tests, Toronto realtors are warning that their results can swing the housing market...in some cases, by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Some buyers 'can't get that test score number out of their head,' says a Toronto realtor

Students in grade 3 and 6 are writing Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) exams this week. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

It's unlikely 8-year-old students need any more pressure during EQAO exam week, but here's something new to consider: their scores may have the ability to significantly move Toronto's real estate market

Leslieville-area realtor Ara Mamourian says the difference between test scores at neighbouring schools can materialize as a six-digit price difference in comparable homes if they fall on opposite sides of a district boundary.

In some cases "[the houses] can literally be right across the street from each other,' said Mamourian, owner of Spring Realty Inc.

Mamourian recently sold two comparable properties just a block apart for $1.2 million and $1 million, a markup he largely attributes to the houses straddling a boundary between a highly scoring school and a less-desired one.

Those scores will soon be updated as students in grades 3 and 6 in Toronto are writing Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) exams this week in reading, writing and math.

The CEO of real estate search website Zoocasa, Lauren Haw, says she too has seen price differences in the "hundreds of thousands" between nearby houses in different school board catchment areas.

In response to concerns over test scores and rankings, Zoocasa recently launched a new feature on its website allowing prospective buyers to see which district a property falls in, as well as the EQAO test scores and Fraser Institute ranking of nearby schools.

"We wanted to make it easier. One tool, one spot for all the information," Haw said on Metro Morning.

Zoocasa's new search tool includes district boundaries and lists schools by EQAO score and Fraser Institute ranking. (Zoocasa)

Convincing parents

Realtors say a school's test scores are often the paramount factor when parents consider a move. When a home in a buyer's price range lands in the boundary of an in-demand school, the decision to buy can be easy. What's harder is convincing parents to move into areas with lower scores.

Mamourian has had "zero luck," he says, in convincing buyers unfamiliar with Leslieville that some low-scoring schools are actually performing better than their score suggests, something he attributes to old test results that don't reflect the area's changing demographics.

"They can't get that test score number out of their head," Mamourian said. "It's a very tough thing to convince somebody who doesn't know the community at all."

Realtor Ara Mamourian says school quality is a top priority for many prospective buyers. (Ara Mamourian)

Even the creators of the EQAO search filter say the number isn't necessarily authoritative.

"There's not a lot of qualitative metrics that you know about a neighbourhood before you move there," Haw said, adding that an EQAO score is a rare quantitative measurement that can offer some indication of a school's performance.

"It's just the easiest way for parents to look and say 'well at least the kids are performing well,'" Haw said.

"Having a number is some help," said Alon Eisenstein, a father of three who searched for a year before finding a home near a desirable school. "It's not the best but sometimes it's all you have."

Beyond the numbers

Others say parents would be wise to put in more investigative work before writing off schools with low EQAO scores.

"It's absolutely possible to find schools where the scores appear low for a variety of reasons, but in fact they are providing a fabulous education," said Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education —  a non-profit advocacy group that tracks education in the province and offers policy recommendations.

Kidder says a number of valued skills — like creativity, collaboration and innovation —  aren't easily captured in standardized test scores.

"What is important is that they go and visit schools, that they talk to other families that are at the school and that they remember that the scores aren't necessarily going to tell them what they need to know," Kidder said.

In the long run, People for Education says a public education system that diminishes the need to "shop for schools" is the best way to even the playing field for students and their families.

To that end, Haw suggested that data from the company's new search feature might someday be used to inform policy changes, if the data reveals that test scores are affecting real estate prices as much as believed.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto, covering general news, local politics and social justice. Outside work, Nick enjoys cooking, following the NBA and listing things in threes.

With files from Metro Morning