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    Should you factor in schools when buying a house?

    20 July 2020

    It won’t be much of a surprise to learn that if a school has an ‘outstanding’ OFSTED rating that property prices in the catchment area are likely to be higher. On average it adds around £40k to a house price and West Central London has a significant 22.22 per cent average difference in value between an area with an outstanding school and one without.

    But does this mean that values and market performance will ride on the fortunes of local schools and should you be picking out areas simply because the quality of schools is high?

    There’s a danger in just looking at one metric when determining how future performance may be driven. Schools are just one of the factors you should be considering. Location, transport, communications, amenities, style of property, outside space and all the usual property metrics are equally influential.

    Recent research by Compare the Market pointed to the areas where good schools and low prices go hand in hand but this combination of property factors is not always an obvious perk for buyers. Wolverhampton may have housing that’s 21 per cent cheaper in a catchment area of an outstanding school but if you don’t want to live in Wolverhampton, you’re not exactly going to be swayed by this. Location is just as key as a good school.

    Here’s my advice on how to buy with schools in mind:

    1. What’s your budget?

    Many prospective buyers fail to work out what they can afford before they start a hunt for a new house or flat. There’s no point finding the perfect school if the prices in that area are unaffordable. We all have a propensity to bust a budget: don’t forget to factor in stamp duty, moving costs, redecoration or project work and some new furnishings too. Start by looking for a location you can afford before identifying schools.

    2. Identify your location

    When you know how much you want to spend, broadly speaking where in the country do you want to be and why? This usually starts with work, travel times to friends and relatives and whether you want to be in a city, town or in the sticks. It’s worth nailing down the location first before considering schools so that you don’t end up with a crippling commute or living miles away from the people who are important to you.

    3. What’s your essential list of requirements?

    Number of bedrooms, living space, outside space. Off street parking, perhaps? Again, these factors can help you narrow down your location before you enter the tricky terrain of schools. The last thing you want is to end up investing in an unsuitable space that doesn’t meet your needs just because it’s near a good school.

    4. Look for the school!

    It’s only after considering the above factors that you should start to think about schools. Streets within certain catchment areas will have a higher price tag and house prices can vary hugely from street to street as a result.

    Be sure to look at how catchments are calculated as they can change and a bargain property on the edge of a catchment may just catch you out. In London, many of the top primary schools can fill up on sibling places alone so it’s worth doing your research to find out the admissions policy. Mumsnet is your friend, as are existing parents at the school.

    If you are buying with the view to sending your children to the local school, don’t be afraid to ask to look round the school before putting in an offer on a house. The headteacher will be able to give you the latest information on the catchment area and you will get a sense for yourself of whether it’s a community your child would flourish in.

    Ofsted reports often don’t give the full picture of what a school can offer. If the school’s Ofsted report is a few years old, the headteacher responsible for the school’s success may have moved on and it’s worth checking out whether the school is set to stay on its current trajectory. Similarly, a good head may have taken over a previously average school and the teaching may be on the up – if so, this is perhaps a chance to snap up a property bargain.

    Ofsted reports can also be misleading, especially for small rural schools with pupil numbers of under 100 where one or two underperforming pupils and can skew the entire school’s results. Nothing beats your own impression of a place so it’s worth picking up the phone and booking a visit.

    5. Don’t be skewed by the stats!

    Once you have worked out your catchment area for the property you want and the school, you’d like to be near, try to be too hung up on it. After all stats can throw up anomalies. In East Central London the average house price is just under £920,000. And the average in Ofsted outstanding school location is just over £633,000. Could that be as a result of significant investment in some schools in particularly deprived areas? You’ll have to analyse that one for yourself.

    Should you consider the ratings of schools if you are moving to an area? Yes. Should you micromanage your search to ensure you are in a catchment area for a particular school? If you have children that are heading to a state school, yes. It may also be worth seeking out properties within a catchment area that are below the market value by following the worst house, best street principal. This strategy can help to identify properties that have the most potential, where you can add the most value.

    But should you consider areas outside a good school catchment area? Absolutely. If your children have flown the nest or you want more for your pound, there are plenty of other factors that weigh in on a house’s value. By casting your net further afield, you could secure a bargain.