Schenectady officials did their best to market the city to real estate agents Tuesday, but the agents said they didn’t get what they really needed to sell houses here.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, schools Superintendent Laurence Spring and other speakers did not discuss how real estate agents could respond to buyers’ concerns about crime or graduation rates. That left some agents unhappy.
“That’s why I came, to see if they could offer me any ammunition,” said Paula Gaies, an associate broker with Northeast Group. She left without any such help.
“I think Schenectady is one of the best places to sell homes,” she said. “My problem is taxes and schools. That’s the objections I get.”
She said buyers are so worried about Schenectady schools that she has difficulty selling to anyone who has school-age children. She reassures young couples without children by saying that they have at least six years before they’ll need a school.
“A lot could change in six years,” she said.
Spring trumpeted the best programs offered at the schools, and high school students opened the meeting by performing a well-crafted scene from “A Chorus Line.”
Spring then highlighted many other strong programs, from the International Baccalaureate program for advanced students to the Cisco Network certification program that allows students to take a good-paying job immediately after high school.
Spring also described how his 5-year-old daughter insisted on attending Central Park International Magnet School after she overheard him talking about how students learn Chinese there. And he highlighted the diversity in the district, in which minorities are in the majority.
“Our students recognize diversity is an advantage. It makes us stronger,” he said.
But Gaies said it’s not enough.
“He said nice things,” she said, “but I have a lot of Internet-savvy buyers.”
They are not impressed by the district’s poor test scores.
Spring has talked publicly about the need to improve reading in the district — about 6,000 students read below grade level — but he didn’t mention it at Tuesday’s meeting.
Gaies said there’s more than just a test-score problem at the schools. Her buyers have no problem living in Albany, where scores are roughly the same as Schenectady. She speculated that Albany has better elementary schools.
“I don’t have the same problems with the city of Albany,” she said. “The neighborhood elementary schools always seem OK, but it’s different once you get to the high school. If you can run the gauntlet, the high school has an excellent core curriculum for talented children.”
That isn’t much of an endorsement — but she said her buyers are content with that, while they balk at Schenectady.
“I wish they could solve the problem,” she said.
She walked away without any new ideas on how to sell the city to potential buyers.
Other real estate agents said they were very familiar with Schenectady’s most expensive neighborhood, the GE Realty Plot, which is out of range for most middle-class buyers. But some agents were not familiar with other neighborhoods, and the 90-minute presentation carefully made no mention of which neighborhoods were middle-class destinations.
Agent Catie Delf of Keller Williams, who grew up in the Northside neighborhood, said she shows Northside and the GE Realty plot to her clients. And, she said, some of her buyers are impressed by the prices in Schenectady.
“They are typically really surprised. ‘Wow, I can get this property for this?’ ” she said. “Even with the taxes, it’s a good value.”
City officials emphasized that point, showing houses for sale in Schenectady and describing how much more a similar house would cost — in taxes and mortgage — in nearby suburbs.
Gaies said that was a good argument. But, she said, a better approach would have been to emphasize why parents should send their middle-class children to a school where half the students cannot read at grade level. That, she said, is the real hurdle.
She offered one potential argument.
“There are some parents who feel it’s important for their children to have diversity in their school experience,” she said. “If you go to most of the schools in the region, you won’t see that. And that doesn’t prepare them for the world. That may be how you sell it.”
After the event, Spring said middle-class parents have no reason to worry about sending their children to Schenectady schools.
“That reading gap is really about economics, not reading instruction,” he said. “The number of vocabulary words that middle-class kids walk into school with just dwarfs the others.”
He added that Schenectady offers a “literacy rich” environment to try to get poor readers up to speed.
“Those things are phenomenal for kids who already are where they need to be,” he said. “Those kids excel. They end up in these fantastic programs.”