Buying near a top school takes a bit of homework
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?
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