Bloomington has "lost its former luster," city officials were told this week, as the once-youthful, booming suburb grapples with aging neighborhoods, underperforming schools and a lack of appeal to younger residents.

Prospective home buyers perceive neighboring Edina and Eden Prairie as safer bets, while younger people prefer to rent in livelier Minneapolis neighborhoods, according to a series of focus groups recently held with local real estate agents.

The City Council and the school board reviewed the findings at a special joint meeting Thursday night.

"There were challenges and concerns," Mayor Gene Winstead said Friday. "All those things are real. We as a community need to address them."

City and school district officials conducted the focus groups with agents of leading real estate firms active in the Bloomington market. Many of the participants live in Bloomington, graduated from city schools or have children attending school there.

They described a city that has "an image problem with prospective home buyers," according to the report.

The city's housing stock, much of it built in the 1950s and '60s, is sturdy but run down, especially in east Bloomington. Many buyers prefer a home that doesn't need extensive repairs or modern upgrades.

Meanwhile, younger people increasingly prefer to rent, often in Minneapolis.

The perception of underperforming schools also may be turning buyers away from Bloomington, a situation that officials said is based on inaccurate or incomplete information provided to home buyers by real estate websites.

"The data points were goofy," Winstead said. "If there's one school having issues, they translate that to the whole district."

Two of the leading home buyer research sites — and — use school information provided by But there are serious problems with that data's reliability, said Rick Kaufman, executive director of community relations for the Bloomington schools.

"I think they're giving them misleading information on what is truly in that community," Kaufman said.

For instance, the GreatSchools data rely solely on standardized test scores and don't indicate whether a school is improving. Kaufman said the information doesn't include all schools in a community and often contains errors; the site compared some Bloomington, Minn., schools to communities bordering Bloomington, Ind.

GreatSchools is supported by the Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation's largest funders of charter schools.

Kaufman said the city and the district will work with the real estate companies to improve the school information they provide their clients.

"We see an opportunity to do a better job of informing our Realtors, providing them access to information and letting them know where their clients can find additional information," he said. "I don't look on this as, 'Woe is me.' I look on it as a great opportunity."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402