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If you’re a parent or a homeowner (or both!) you’ve likely heard about how everyone clamours to ‘get in the zone.’ The ‘zone’ they’re talking about is the School Catchment Zone — also known as a School Catchment Area.
These zones are highly sought after by home buyers, even more so than proximity to shopping, amenities, and transportation, so much so that many families may take on a substantial mortgage in order to afford them. For existing property owners, seeking home loan refinance can be a smart way to bridge the financial divide between their current situation and where they want to be.
Benefits of being in the zone
As long as your home is within the zone of a top-rated government school, your children are entitled to enrol in that school. Though there may be a gap between government and independent (private) schools, some state schools have special programs, VET courses, or focus on sports and wellbeing — or academically outperform their local private counterparts.
For example, the top-rated primary school in SA for Grade 3 NAPLAN in Grammar, Reading, and Numeracy is the North Adelaide Primary School: a government school. However, it is worth mentioning that North Adelaide is also one of the city’s most expensive suburbs, making buying in this area prohibitively expensive for most families.
So how are zones contrived and what can families do to live within their desired area?
What is a ‘zone’?
A school catchment area or school catchment zone is the geographical location where a state school’s core intake of students must live. Depending on your state and location within the state (suburban or regional), your primary residence is measured by the shortest, most direct route by road — to and from the main entrance of the school. In other places, this may be ‘as the crow flies’ — measured by a straight line from your permanent address. You’ll need to find out the boundaries through national data or at your state or territory’s Education Department website — for example, NSW or Victoria.
A catchment zone ensures your child has ‘first priority’ when enrolling for that particular school when you live inside the zone. Families can enrol in a school outside a catchment zone, but they may only get in if there is leftover capacity after all the in-catchment enrolments are fulfilled while making allowances for people who move in-zone during the school year. In fact, many schools have long waiting lists that preclude even the children of recently arrived zone residents from attending.
How it affects house prices
Just like living in scarce but luxury locations such as near beaches, resort towns, or the CBD, highly-sought after school catchment zone house prices can lead to greater competition — and higher prices. According to Domain 2020 School Zones Report, Como Primary School in WA’s median house price is $901,750 — a rise of 35.6% over last year. The prestigious Epping Boys High School in Sydney fetches a median house price of $1,565,000, up 32.3% over last year.
Considering a South Australian example, Mount Barker South Primary School is located 35km from the Adelaide CBD and is renowned for having a ‘strong culture for learning‘ and ‘developing authentic student influence’ in learning since 2010. This has led to massive improvements in academic outcomes. True to form, enrolments skyrocketed — 100+ in 2018; an extraordinary number for a school size of about 200 or so.
As a result, median house prices increased 20.5% year on year (2020) to $408,000. Compare this with Evanston Park, approximately the same distance from the CBD to the north, has a median house price of $350,000.
Should you rent or buy?
If you are looking to get into a school catchment zone, you may wonder if you should rent or buy. Renting gives you much more flexibility. Renting also means you won’t have to pay home and contents insurance, council rates, stamp duty, upkeep and costs that apply to home ownership. Rent also may give you the opportunity to move into an area where you usually couldn’t afford to buy.
With renting you are at the mercy of landlords — what happens if the landlord wants to move in, up the rent or sell? Unless you can find another suitable rental within the zone, your child’s school place may be in jeopardy.
Owning your own home means you are gaining equity (or gradual ownership) of a real asset that tends to appreciate over time. It also means you’re on the hook for a deposit, stamp duty, and other taxes, but you will reap back those costs with increased equity. Buying a home cements your place in a catchment zone for as long as you live in the home.
Refinancing to get in the zone
Though it seems that buying into the school catchment zones might be an uphill climb, it’s easier if you already have equity in a home and are looking to refinance. Savvy Managing Director and mortgage expert Bill Tsouvalas says that refinancing gives you options to move up into a pricier neighbourhood — and a prized catchment zone.
‘If you haven’t refinanced your mortgage before, now is the time to do it,’ he says. ‘Interest rates are at all-time lows and won’t stay there forever. If you have significant equity, you can use that to buy into a more upmarket area. Or you could rent out your current house and use it as an investment property, funding the move to your catchment zone.
‘Talk to your lender or bank to first — but they may not come to the table. That’s why you should enlist the help of a broker to help you get the most competitive rates and features that make the most from a home loan refinance.’