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Uncertain school year fuels renewed interest in at-home classrooms

With the school year beginning next week for millions of students nationwide, parents in search of a new home are once again considering space for at-home learning stations

VERONIKA BONDARENKO | September 7, 2021 8:48 A.M.

With another uncertain school year about to begin for millions of students nationwide, at-home learning spaces are once again top of mind for thousands of parents currently considering a new home.

Compass agent Jim St. André told Inman that, when advertising luxury apartments in Manhattan, the word “at-home classroom” has been the listing buzzword of both 2020 and 2021. Homebuyers with children of all ages have been specifically asking about how any available room can be turned into a space where kids can study, do their homework or go to school remotely, André said.

“Given everything that’s happened over the last two years, there’s much more focus on finding the right kind of spaces for children to have a comfortable learning environment at home,” St. André told Inman. “Whether you call it a classroom or an at-home learning setting, buyers’ eyes go directly to it.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, the state of education has been in constant flux depending on state leadership and how the virus has progressed. In New York, the nation’s largest public-school system will begin the season on September 13 with a combination of both remote and in-person learning. In New Jersey, most school districts are back in session this week.

In California, several major districts returned to in-person learning in August after more than a year of remote education while, in Texas, several school districts resumed only to abruptly close after several teachers contracted — and ultimately died from — COVID-19. In Alabama and Georgia, where schools initially opened in early August, a number of districts have closed school buildings following outbreaks but are scheduled to reconvene Sept. 13.

Even though almost all states have been prioritizing in-person learning (particularly for younger students), rising cases and constant political clashes over things like mask-mandates mean that the state of schools around the country is mired in uncertainty. According to St. André, buyers with kids expect last-minute changes and are specifically looking for spaces that can accommodate at-home learning for the long term.

While that most often comes down to having the extra square footage that can then be reconverted for any need, features like extra light and study-friendly interior design will not go unnoticed by affluent buyers with kids. In fact, many are hiring interior designers to set up rooms like that in existing spaces.

“To have an actual private space that can be utilized for a classroom is something that has not been typical and so we see families going out of their way to find spaces like this,” St. André said. “While it is certainly easier to blend that into the programming of a townhouse than a traditional apartment, places that are laid out the right way can feel like a learning environment rather than the living room bean bag where the kid also plays video games.”

Arte, a 16-unit condo building in the Surfside neighborhood of Miami, had opened not long before the pandemic had first struck the United States. After observing what residents were talking about and the concerns they had, developers Alex Sapir and Giovanni Fasciano decided to reconvert a children’s playroom into a dedicated study space that was ready for the start of the 2020 school year by switching out children’s toys for desks and bringing in study supplies.

“It was fully occupied every morning and sometimes in the afternoon,” Fasciano said, adding that residents can book the space for their child just like they would book the building’s tennis courts or the pool. “The response, especially at [the height of] the pandemic, was great.”

After seeing initial popularity, Sapir and Fasciano also partnered with a tutoring program called Command Education to provide academic and university prep help to the kids. Sapir’s niece, who is 16 and currently in the thick of university applications, has been one of the residents using it as a space away from parents who also use the apartment during the day for work.

“In our experience, the kind of learning you do in your bedroom or living room is a whole different experience [from a specialized classroom] that would be more appealing to our residents,” Sapir said. “While a lot of schools are now back to school, many are still doing virtual and so it remains an option for all.”

While so much of the last eighteen months has been covered in uncertainty and having to adjust on the fly, both developers and agents are betting on the fact that a separate space to study will remain a major asset for the buyer with kids regardless of buyer’s income bracket or the pandemic’s course — some will stick to remote learning out of caution while others will appreciate having more room to do homework in what is the ultimate commodity for any real estate: additional space.

“My daughter has opted to homeschool our granddaughter because of the virus and inconsistencies with mask mandates,” Kendra L. Norwood, an agent with RE/MAX Innovations in Texas, told Inman. “She recently purchased a home. The added space at her home has made it easier for my granddaughter to continue her education uninterrupted in a dedicated workspace.”

Inman News

Originally published in Inman News on September 7, 2021

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