One of the hardest things to decide when buying a family house in Muswell Hill, north London, is which school catchment area to aim for. The choice is surprisingly wide, as a large number of local state schools – seven in total – have now been graded as “outstanding” by Ofsted, the UK education inspectorate: two at secondary level (Alexandra Park School and Fortismere) and five at primary level (St James, Tetherdown, Muswell Hill School, Rhodes Avenue and Coldfall).
Traditionally, demand for homes near good state schools has always been robust but it is even greater now, during the economic downturn. Over the past four years, the number of people seeking advice on good state schools and their catchment areas has increased by “at least 30 per cent”, says Sue Fieldman, senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, “and it is rising every month.”
“General demand is good and we put it down to the fact that the schools are good,” says Nigel Ellis, managing director of Prickett and Ellis, an estate agency based half a mile from central Muswell Hill.
While fee-paying schools have a limited impact on an area, a good state school underpins the local market and can add between 10 and 12 per cent to the value of a home. “People are paying the extra money they would have paid on school fees to get a house near a good state school,” says Ellis.
Muswell Hill and its immediate area have a large stock of five- and six-bedroom 19th- and early 20th-century villas, often with large gardens: in short, desirable family houses. Homes within half a mile (generally regarded as the size of the catchment areas) of the local schools cost roughly £650,000 to £2.5m, which equates to between £450 and £650 per sq ft.
The smartest homes are the 2,000 to 3,500 sq ft Victorian villas which dominate central Muswell Hill. The large homes in Grand Avenue and Princes Avenue (N10) command premium prices. Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward is selling a six-bedroom, five-bathroom Edwardian villa in Princes Avenue within half a mile of Fortismere School and Muswell Hill School, for £2.7m. Meanwhile, Hamptons has a five-bedroom Edwardian family home with period features in nearby Dukes Avenue, equally close to the same schools, for £2.1m.
Some of the most popular homes are four-bedroom Edwardian terraces close to Tetherdown primary and Fortismere secondary school. Here, double-fronted villas cost between £1m and £1.3m. Large detached Edwardian homes in Alexandra Park are similarly priced; Prickett and Ellis is selling a five-bedroom Edwardian semi-detached house close to Rhodes Avenue and Alexandra Park school for £1.2m. Alexandra Park also has a broader range of smaller Victorian terraces and maisonettes.
“People who don’t have the budget for Twyford Avenue [central Muswell Hill] could get a garden flat for £450,000 or a small house [in Alexandra Park] for £650,000,” says Chris Mullin, director with the Muswell Hill branch of Hamptons.
However, buying close to a school isn’t always as safe as it sounds. “Catchment areas can change,” says Fieldman. “It’s not written in stone.” There are apocryphal tales of families moving to be closer to a school, only to find the qualifying distance for that year has shrunk and their new home is not close enough.
After falling about 8 per cent between 2008 and 2009, prices in Muswell Hill and Alexandra Park recovered to just below their 2007 peak, though they now seem to be slipping again. “The market here is not running away but we do have buyers for properties that are at the right price,” says Andrew Hunt of Kinleigh Folkard and Hayward.
Demand is greatest in the middle range of £500,000 to £1m and slower at the higher end. “Quite a few of the properties in the £1.5m to £2m bracket have sat for a while and will have to come down,” says Mullins.
Lucy Holton, a website editor, and her husband David, an accountant, just negotiated £150,000 off a late Victorian five-bedroom, double-fronted house in Muswell Hill when two previous buyers fell through. The couple, who have two daughters, Lola (9) and Edie (5), paid £1,450,000 for a home in Dukes Avenue, close to Muswell Hill primary and Fortismere secondary school.
“It feels very safe,” says Holton. “And Muswell Hill has got everything you need. There’s a swimming pool [in nearby Crouch End], cinema, loads of playgrounds and great woods.”
Good schools also affect the local amenities as upmarket shops rush to follow the aspirational families who move into the area. Though Muswell Hill has its fair share of charity shops, a growing number of smart chain stores and restaurants are popping up.
There is no local Underground station – a drawback for some. Highgate station is a 10-minute bus ride away and Alexandra Park train station is a short walk. However, space and greenery are the virtues of this village on the hill. The magnificent 196-acre Alexandra Park (with cricket and football pitches, and a deer park) backs on to Muswell Hill and Highgate Wood is on the doorstep.
● Excellent local schools
● Large Victorian and Edwardian family homes
● Leafy with great local amenities
● The houses are expensive
● Muswell Hill is not on the Tube or train line
● It’s eight miles from the City
What you can buy for …
£1m A five-bedroom, double-fronted, semi-detached Edwardian villa