Look north for school bargains
The battle for the best education is not to be taken lightly, reports Isabelle Fraser
For most families, finding the house of their dreams is inextricably linked to the property’s proximity to a good school. With the cost of sending a child to an independent school increasing more sharply than house prices, getting into the right catchment area has become even more important.
The Independent Schools Council says that fees have increased by 553 per cent since 1991, a bigger jump than the growth in price of the average UK house at 237 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Savills has identified the top places for state schools in each region of England, with areas such as Watford, West Dorset, and Hammersmith and Fulham in London coming out on top in the south. But here, house prices are relatively high; look north to Harrogate, Gateshead and Trafford, which takes in much of Cheshire’s “Golden Triangle”, and a family home with a top school nearby becomes more within reach.
House price growth is accelerating in cities in the north of England, indicating that a revival in the region’s housing market may be on the horizon.
Research by Hometrack has revealed that house prices in northern cities such as Liverpool, Nottingham and Manchester are growing at rates far higher than those in the South.
Frances Clacy of Savills Research says: “It’s not clear what comes first, but it’s generally true that with good schools comes high house prices, though this isn’t necessarily always the case. The relative value offered by property in the north of England, in comparison with the south, means that buyers can move to these more affordable locations without compromising on their children attending high-performing schools.”
In Harrogate, there is strong demand for homes near the topperforming schools in the town. The sale of a three-bedroom semidetached in The Saints, an area within the catchment area of St Aidan’s Church of England High School, tells a typical tale. After an open house with 44 viewings, there were 14 offers made, and it eventually sold for 30 per cent over the guide price within two days of it being on the market in July.
Houses rarely come up for sale in these prized catchment areas – and when they do, there is war. Three such homes have been on the market in the past two months, and all were snapped up within two days. There is little sign of a Brexit slowdown here.
Homes within the catchment area of the top-performing state schools carry a 79 per cent premium on the average price on the rest of the region. This can be explained partly by Harrogate’s relative affluence and The best places for top schools South West South East East Midlands Yorkshire and the Humber East of England West Midlands North West Outer London Inner London North East high house prices compared with the rest of Yorkshire and the Humber. “The premium is a fair reflection of the competition to get into the school,” says Alastair Hart, divisional director for Hunters in Harrogate. The average house price around top schools here is £312,523.
There have also been cases of families renting properties within catchment areas, says Hart.
“People have rented and then not moved in,” he says. “Once you have an address in that area, it could get you into the school. Others have bought a property for the long term and rented it out – and use it as their address for the school.”
Research by online agent lettingaproperty.com has revealed that 87 per cent of people would consider renting a temporary home to ensure their child went to their preferred school.
“We think there is some of that going on in Gateshead,” says Ajay Jagota, managing director of estate agency KIS. Many people “have a second property in order to be in the right catchment area. It is fairly affordable here compared with wages. If you’re in the top 10 or 20 per cent of earners in the North East, you can have your pick.”
Gateshead is the region’s hotspot for top-performing schools; here, house prices are more affordable, at an average of £142,288. Homes within catchment areas do not command a premium and are, in fact, seven per cent lower than the average price for the region.
Jagota says there is heightened activity after the Ofsted results come out because of the link between house-buying decisions and school performance.
Trafford is home to seven of the country’s top-performing schools. “It’s rare to find state schools of such high calibre,” says Andrew Thorpe of Savills in Wilmslow. The area, which includes the well-heeled villages of Altrincham, Hale and Bowdon, is also wellconnected with a great sense of community. But with this comes higher prices: homes near these top schools are 139 per cent pricier than the average for the North West. A four-bedroom home, near Prince Henry’s Grammar School.
Top marks: this four-bedroom home in Otley, near Harrogate, is £975,000 with Hunters