Buy­ing near a top school takes a bit of home­work

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

plic­itly cited the added draw of the royal con­nec­tion.” So how can par­ents find a home near a good school be­fore the area be­comes overly pop­u­lar and house prices soar? Five years ago, Claire and Ja­son Ward took a punt on Cob­ham Free School, about 13 miles from their home in West Hors­ley, Sur­rey. It was a risky de­ci­sion as the school was new and had not yet had an Of­sted in­spec­tion. But it was un­der-sub­scribed, had no catch­ment area and their daugh­ter, Emilia, now 10, eas­ily won a place. The cou­ple’s sec­ond daugh­ter, Jes­sica, seven, has also since started at the school. It now has a to­tal in­take of only 480, achieved a “good” Of­sted rat­ing in 2014 and is over-sub­scribed. “Now you have to live a stone’s throw from the school. We would not get in,” says Claire. The prices of homes in the lo­cal area, tra­di­tion­ally one of the less ex­pen­sive parts of Cob­ham, have risen ac­cord­ingly. A fourbed­room semi just 350 yards from the school, which was put up for sale in 2013 for is now on the for £750,000. £444,000, mar­ket “Since Cob­ham Free School opened in 2012 there has been a strength­en­ing of de­mand for homes within the ad­mis­sion area,” says David Har­vey of John D Wood es­tate agency.

By get­ting in early, the Wards avoided both the up­heaval of mov­ing house to be within the school’s catch­ment area and the costs of buy­ing a more ex­pen­sive home. They heard about the school through friends, and fol­lowed up by meet­ing the head­teacher and re­search­ing on­line. Mum­snet, the par­ent­ing web­site, was a par­tic­u­larly help­ful source of in­for­ma­tion; to­day you could also use Nextdoor, the so­cial network for lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods, or 192.com’s Find A School search tool, a free guide on all the schools in the UK. It in­cludes ad­mis­sion data and in­for­ma­tion on whether a school is un­der or over-sub­scribed. There are many ex­cel­lent schools that are short on pupils.

Another route to a good school and af­ford­able home is to buy in an up-and­com­ing area; look for where a new train line or sta­tion is open­ing. The new train sta­tion Cam­bridge North has helped cre­ate a res­i­den­tial area in a city where de­mand for homes and schools is al­ready very high. Sev­eral schools in the area with “good” rat­ings from Of­sted are un­der-sub­scribed, such as Abbey Mead­ows Pri­mary, The Grove Pri­mary and King’s Hedges Pri­mary. “This will spread de­mand across the city,” says Hugh Blake, of Carter Jonas. “Peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions will be high, so there may be more in­vest­ment, and lo­cal fa­cil­i­ties and schools will get even bet­ter.”

Com­muter towns next to pros­per­ous cities can also of­fer bet­ter value for money and ac­cess to good schools. A two-bed­room ter­raced house within a mile of Cam­bridge sta­tion can cost about £575,000, but in nearby Ely you can buy a de­tached house for £525,000 or a four-bed­room waterside cot­tage for £600,000. Lo­cal schools are also eas­ier to get into. “The qual­ity of life is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” says Blake.

Even in th­ese less sought-af­ter ar­eas, there are steps you can take to en­sure you stay one step ahead of the other par­ents with the same idea. Buy­ers whose mort­gage is ap­proved and who are chain-free are more likely to be suc­cess­ful. Ed­ward Heaton of the buy­ing agency Heaton & Part­ners ad­vises: “Have ev­ery­thing ready and wait­ing to go so you can re­spond as quickly as you can.” How’s that for a les­son?

Prince Ge­orge’s en­rol­ment at Thomas’s prep school drove up de­mand for homes in Bat­tersea

Eight-bed­room Roe­buck House in Ch­ester­ton, Cam­bridge, with its own River Cam frontage and moor­ing, is for sale with Fine & Coun­try for £2.75 mil­lion

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