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Are school catchments worth the money?

By Rich Harvey, CEO, propertybuyer.com.au

Are school catchments worth the money?

Services and infrastructure place a premium on property - from ready access to the CBD through to transport hubs and medical facilities. But there are few property price drivers more influential than schools and their catchment zones, with mums and dads prone to paying a pretty penny to secure a spot for their little ones in a dream educational facility.

What are School Catchments?

In the case of State Schools, the boundary of the catchment is distinct – down to the street or property. If you want to be in one of your city’s desirable State Schools, then purchasing or renting within its school catchment boundary is often the best way to try and ensure your cherubs can attend.

While private education differs somewhat in that you don’t need to live in a geographically defined area to be offered a place at an independent school, property within close proximity of the campus is highly desirable. Apart from the obvious convenience for kids riding or walking to their alma mater, there’s the cultural and community influence desirable schools place on their surroundings. It’s that traditional neighbourhood feel where Mrs Jones knows the names of the boys walking past her house, and everyone gets to keep an eye on everyone else’s kids to make sure they stay out of trouble.

Such is the draw of a great institute that I’ve helped a number of buyers relocate close to the school of their dreams, regardless of the fact mum and dad have to commute up to an hour a day to their workplace.

Do they attract big money?

Just look at local internet listings within proximity of desirable schools. Within the first few lines of the description, there’ll often be “Within Hogwarts School Catchment” pushing buyers to consider paying a few dollars more.

Highly desirable school zones command a premium – particularly from family buyers who believe the education facility their kids attend will have a long-lasting influence on their future success. From the standard of teaching to the values that are instilled through to the relationships they forge and the expectations of excellence. Parents – regardless of where they live – will strive for the best possible education for their offspring.

I wrote a comprehensive article earlier this year identifying NSW school zones worth watching in 2018. If this is your area of interest, Click the link take a look.

Why do some schools attract a premium?

The culture of the school and its reputation are paramount when looking for school zone excellence. At no other time in history have we been more connected with the world, and more public with our opinions. In the era of social media, judgement (preferably with a grounding in fact and/or experience) about the calibre of a school program and its educators can be one of the most powerful tools in the parental utility belt when it comes to school selection.

The My School website is also a resource that many parents look to when assessing educational performance.

Picking the dollar premium

In many capital cities, we’re talking up to 10 per cent value upsurge for homes in proximity to high quality schools.

That means for a Sydney home priced around $1 million, you’ll probably find there are a few competitive parents keen to add another $100,000 to their offer when fighting for school attendance rights. In the case of State Schools, the justification is often paying a few dollars more for the home is offset by the cost of a private education.

If you’re looking to profit from the location, the key is to assess your most likely buyers.

Almost by definition, it’s families, so detached and semi-detached housing will see the most benefit.

There’s even been reports of residents who put their name to a title with no intention of residing in the school zone. Savvy schools are onto this and have taken steps to reduce ‘resident fraud’, sometimes asking to see water or power bills as part of their application process.

Are they worth the money as a buyer?

For families, it’s a definite ‘Yes!’, particularly if you have your heart set on one of the high-achieving state schools of excellence. If popular enough, living within the catchment may be the only way to ensure you even get a look in at your school of choice.

There are risks to paying too much however. School cultures evolve. A headmaster can influence the direction of the school zone so a change at the top may see your choice school heading in a direction you don’t want to go. But all in all, pursuing a desirable school zone works.

How do you ensure you don’t get ripped off?

Here are my top tips for buying in a school zone.

  1. Plan early. If you’re looking to buy in a school zone, don’t wait until November or December to start your research. Putting together a shortlist earlier in the year means more choice and less competition.
  2. Know the school rules. Not about sock colours or hat types – I mean make sure you also know the guidelines of the school and the catchment. Research exactly where the catchment boundary sits. There’d be nothing more frustrating than buying on the wrong side of the street, or an oversubscribed school of excellence that’s put a limit on enrolment numbers regardless of the catchment.
  3. Do a school tour. Jump on the tour and ask candid comments on the school. It might even pay to see if there’s a possibility of changes at the top pending. As I said, principals influence school culture so if you’ve found one you like, check on whether they’re in for the long haul.
  4. Independent expert advice. Choosing a school zone for your little ones can be one of the most emotionally charged property purchases, and some buyers lose their head in the negotiations. This is absolutely one time where it pays to have an unemotional negotiator on your side.

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