The Best Schools in Santa Barbara

The Best Schools in Santa Barbara

 Santa Barbara sunrise (credit: Doc Searls, Flickr)

Santa Barbara sunrise (credit: Doc Searls, Flickr)

“What school district is this in?”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most commonly asked questions about any house that is up for sale.  Outside of price, school district can be the number one item on a home buyer’s wish list.  In the same genre as the trusty “location, location, location” paradigm, school district can impact the demand for a house in a number of different ways:


- Multiple-bid situations can develop in highly sought-after school districts, as parents go to great lengths to ensure that their children attend the school of choice.  Extra care needs to be taken, however, because some district lines allow attendees from one side of a street but not the other!

- Empty nesters, people without children, and private school advocates can often find relative bargains by shopping in less-desirable school districts.  While they might get a bargain on the purchase price, it is important for them to remember that same discount will probably apply on the sale price should they ever move.

- Buyers can’t assume their kids can attend a school just because they bought in the district.  Some schools have attendance caps and will not allow additional students, even if those students live in the district!  Your agent should know to contact the school directly to confirm.

- Proximity to the school matters!  Some people want to be within biking distance, some want to be within walking distance, and some want to be right next door!  Others may devalue homes that are right next to schools due to increased noise levels during school hours.


Given all the ways school districts can impact local housing markets, let’s take a look at the most desirable schools in Montecito, Santa Barbara, and Goleta.  My criteria for determining “most desirable”?  A combination of reputation and rankings.  

The topic of reputation could produce enough debate to fill many blog entries, but we’ll gloss over that fact for the time being.  Rankings are based on the California Department of Education’s Academic Performance Index (API, highest possible score = 1000).  This metric is the cornerstone of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 and measures the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures.  (I took that last sentence directly from their website, which doesn’t seem very academic on my part!)

Here is an interactive map of the best schools in the Santa Barbara area.  Click on each pin to find the contact information for each school.  You can even share this map via email or social media!

Cold Spring and Montecito Union are among the most highly sought after schools in the entire county, with API's of 946 and 947 respectively.  Off Cathedral Oaks, there is Mountain View (953!!!) and Foothill (930).  Hope (908) and Monte Vista (890) are tops in the vicinity of Hwy 154.

Here's a look at the number of houses sold in each of the school districts in the last 12 months.  Hover over the pie chart to see exact numbers.  Note: some districts have been combined due to their proximity to each other.

It is interesting to note that Cold Spring / Montecito Union featured the most transactions, by far.  This tells us two things:  1.) There is not necessarily a relationship between sale price and number of transactions and 2.) Buyers are willing to pay a premium to get into the two highly reputed schools in Montecito.

Transactions in the Foothill / Mountain View districts are disproportionally large compared to Hope / Monte Vista despite featuring very similar median home prices.  Washington featured a strong number of transactions, which reflects its status as the school of choice for Mesa residents.

Sale Price (in Millions of Dollars)

Montecito strikes again.  In my previous posts about 2015 transactions (read here and here) we saw the earth-shattering prices that were achieved in Montecito.  This study is no different.  Cold Spring / MUS features a high price that is over five times more than the next closest contender.  Even the median price in Montecito is over two times that of the next highest median price in other districts.

It doesn't come as a surprise that Washington featured a high price well over the remaining two districts: it is on the coast after all!  The Mesa is always a big draw for buyers, with it's laid-back vibe and proximity to the beach.  

The typical caveat applies when looking at high and low prices: those two categories are subject to anomalies because they are only looking at one single data point.  Median price is a much better metric.  However, low price is important to keep in mind when analyzing your ability to afford a particular district.  There is always a chance you can find a bargain, especially if your agent is in tune with the market!

Another way to compare districts is to look for a similar product in each district and compare the prices for that product.  Here's a look at what it takes to buy a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in those same school districts.  We'll look at median price...

Admittedly, 3BD/2BA is a simplified description of a house and there are many other factors that influence price.  However, these exact criteria are used by many shoppers when looking for a home.

By this measure, Washington school district punches above it's weight class.  It keeps pace with Cold Spring / MUS despite not having the same cache.  It is interesting to note the similar prices when comparing two very different areas: private and prestigious (Montecito) vs. proximity to the beach (the Mesa).


This analysis gives you a picture of the local school scene and the effect of those schools on home prices.  You now have a feeling of the money required to buy your way into the attendance area of your choice.  Of course, if you choose the private school route, you are liberated from geographic constraints.  And just because you don't see your local school listed here doesn't mean it is not a great environment for your child(ren).  There are many celebrated schools in our area, ranging from the traditional to the alternative.

And if you don't have children, the data above will help you determine the best areas for resale value, as your pool of buyers will be larger if your property is in a desirable school district.  Just don't expect to get into these neighborhoods cheaply!

Best of luck, and be sure to reach out to me if you want a more in-depth look at the interplay between school district and the housing market.  Cheers!

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