Demand for good schools pushes more Tunbridge Wells homes over £1m mark

THE NUMBER of homes in Tunbridge Wells worth over £1million has increased by more than 43 per cent over the past three years, estate agent Savills has reported.

Tunbridge Wells saw 539 sales over the £1million mark in 2021 and 2022, compared to 378 sales in the previous two years. The absolute number of homes in this price bracket in Britain has increased over 40 per cent since 2019.

This three per cent increase above the national average is mainly attributed to the good schools on offer in the town, local agents say.

Natasha Selbie of Savills Tunbridge Wells said: “Tunbridge Wells has a lot to offer, with an extensive choice of schools and local amenities, a direct commute to London and beautiful surrounding countryside in all directions.” Other local agents, however, were more categorical in linking soaring prices to highly desirable school catchment areas.

Steve Bovis of Wood & Pilcher said: “The closer you are to the school, the more you will pay. That works on supply and demand. The schools create demand.

“You could expect to pay around 10-20 per cent extra for a property just because it is in the catchment area of good schools. St John’s and St James both have high demand with the three grammar schools close by.”

Mr Bovis said school-driven demand was coming from both the local area and abroad. He told the Times: “For a young family, proximity to schools is one of their top priorities, with many families moving from Sussex, Crowborough, North Kent and South London.

“We have also seen a high influx of people moving into the area to rent from outside the UK, mainly Hong Kong, who have come here on the new British National (Overseas) visa looking for good schools.”

Deborah Richards, founder of Maddisons Residential, also stressed that education was a ‘huge draw’ for the area, with grammar schools providing a means to avoid private school fees.

“If a grammar school place means your child does not need to go to a private school, the savings are massive,” she stressed.

“There are three highly coveted grammar schools in Tunbridge Wells, and a further three in neighbouring Tonbridge.

“Most are now what are called ‘catchment grammars’, which means that in order for a child to secure a place, they have to both pass the Kent Test and live close by.”

Meanwhile, parents would be scrutinising the town’s primary schools for the number of pupils who pass the Kent Test.

“Having a home that falls within catchment for both the primary and secondary element has never been more important, and values of houses that sit in such coveted areas have soared,” Ms Richards concluded.

However, it is not just the sale price pushing up the stock of £1million houses, but homeowners’ investment in their property, said estate agents.

Extensions will certainly change the price bracket of a property, confirmed Jane Matthews of Bracketts.

“For example, in Farmcombe Road, they might buy these properties because they are near Claremont (Primary School), and then hugely expand. They will buy within their budget, then they will extend within their budget.”

Shaun Kidd, co-founder of Jack Charles Estate Agents agreed that schools are an important, even quantifiable, factor in a house price.

He told the Times: “You could expect to pay 10 per cent more for a house in the catchment area of these schools – which for a £1million house could be an extra £100,000.

“Ofsted reports that go from ‘Outstanding’ to suddenly needing special measures could, over a sustained period, impact the value of a property, but small adjustments won’t hurt. The most people might feel is annoyed.

“Many people have also added value to their house with major refurbishments in 2021/22, pushing a house into the million-pound bracket.”

He also pointed to the stamp duty holiday, which, he said, had been ‘the icing on the cake’ for those already thinking of buying.

“That financial incentive is what may have encouraged them to do it. Some people were saving £12-15,000, which for them is a new kitchen or bathroom, then adding extra value to their homes.”

Despite these record prices for homes, agents seem to think that the rush may be over, although this does not mean that prices will fall.

Jane Matthews of Bracketts said: “There are all sorts of factors [at play]. We did have times last year when the market was completely insane. If we had a family property in Tunbridge Wells, there might be 10 bidders.

“But you can’t really sustain that for very long.”

However, Shaun Kidd of Jack Charles Estate Agents believed the share of £1million homes could grow. “I think in the next 5-7 years we could see upwards of 60% of properties over

£1million, but that is dependent on market growth and inflation.

“For parents, buying in the area gives them access to grammar schools –equivalent to private schooling – and they are willing to pay above the odds for these properties, with many people coming from London and overseas.

“They see this as an investment in their children which anchors them into the Kent schooling system.”

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