Housebuyers drawn into schools' magnetic fields: Homes in a favoured school's catchment area attract premiums, David Lawson reports

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The Independent Online
Parents may have one reservation about the league tables of school examination results just published by the Department for Education - they do not include road maps and local house prices.

Schools are now the most important factor for families deciding where to live, according to Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank & Rutley, the estate agents.

In a recent survey more than a quarter of buyers said they were moving to be within a particular school catchment area. And many were willing to pay extra for the right location.

Boundaries would be difficult to find on ordinary maps, however. Parents are generally afraid to let children travel alone, so they drive them to school. Travel time is, therefore, more important than distance. KFR says an invisible line lies about 15 to 20 minutes' drive from the most desirable independent schools.

For state schools pupils have to live within areas defined by local authorities, but just like the drive-time catchments, homes within these boundaries are easier to sell and sometimes carry a premium.

Patricia Morgan has picked out Camden School for Girls in North London for her two daughters. 'I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it,' she said. But that means living within half a mile of the gates to be sure of a place. So she is already looking at every home that comes up, even though the two girls are only seven and eight.

'I don't want to go through all that hassle and rush at the last minute,' she added.

There is no question of paying extra for a home but they might have to settle for less than their current pounds 200,000 home in West Hampstead offers. 'It is not an area I would have chosen to live in otherwise,' said Patricia. The family would have moved further out of London or into a bigger property if not for the choice of school.

Another family living in Islington were so keen for their daughers to go to Camden that they bought a flat near the school to qualify for entry, although they never actually lived there, and now rent it out. But other families have been known to use a friend or relative's address for school entry applications.

Kent has a plethora of private schools but some parents are finding fees a strain because of the recession. Many also do not want their children to board. They therefore target places such as Cranbrook, near Tunbridge Wells. It came high in the league tables, with 97 per cent of pupils gaining GCSE passes in grades A-C this year.

Homebuyers will pay up to 15 per cent more than prices for homes in other parts of the county because they qualify for day places at the school, said Robin Tillett of KFR's Tunbridge Wells office.

State schools with high reputations have a similar magnetism. 'I have had hundreds of people over the years demanding to live within the catchment of Philip Morant in Colchester,' said Harry Hill of the estate agents Bairstow Eve. This is a comprehensive in which 67 per cent of GCSE entrants gained five or more top grades.

House prices are 10 per cent higher in the school catchment, which works out at about pounds 7,000 to pounds 10,000 on an average home today. 'If you compare that with school fees of pounds 3,500 or more, it works out as a pretty good deal,' he said.

So the exam leagues may prove useful to property owners as well as anxious parents. Choose a home within 15 minutes of a high-profile school and you may pay more, but it should maintain that premium and be easier to sell again.

(Photograph omitted)

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