Buyers, watch out. Purchasing a house close to a good state school can cost you significantly more than if you went elsewhere. A survey of 220 estate agents, carried out by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors last winter, found that houses situated within a catchment area of good schools carry an average premium of 12%, as families compete for access to quality education.

‘One of the first things that people ask when searching for properties is where the nearest school is,? says Simon North from Lane Fox?s Winchester office. ?The Winchester area is very well supplied with both high quality state and private schools, hence a popular area for young families. The proximity of schools and railways most definitely increases the value of a property.’

‘Good state schools are a big factor for many house buyers,’ agrees RICS housing spokesman, Jeremy Leaf. Their impact on the property market, however, varies considerably from region to region. In the West Midlands, it is stronger than anywhere else, raising prices by an astounding 16%. By contrast, houses in London’s ‘best’ catchment areas only carry a 7% premium, significantly less than the national average.

‘The regional differences depend on the relative strength and weakness of state schools in each area,? says Mr Leaf. ?Where state schools are strong, there is no need for parents to go to the private sector and therefore they may be prepared to pay more for a house that falls in the catchment area of a good state school.’

On the other hand, if an area has enough good schools to choose from, it is likely that property prices will not vary much from catchment area to catchment area.

‘One of the major draws to Mid-Sussex is the quantity of good quality preparatory schools and private schools, such as Ardingly College and Burgess Hill School for girls. House prices generally do not alter with regards to proximity to schools, as most people move here because it is a catchment area of many schools,’ says Guy Dixon of Cluttons? Haywards Heath office.

Throughout the country, families will pay the most to secure admission to the right primary school. ‘We found it particularly surprising that people were prepared to pay more to be near primary schools than secondary schools,’ says Mr Leaf.

The RICS survey confirmed the findings of an earlier LSE study, which showed that there is a hefty 33.5% differential in property prices between the best and worst primary schools catchments – compared to ‘just’ 18% for secondary schools.

‘People are more likely to think of private education at secondary school level, so where you live is less important,’ says Professor Paul Cheshire, who carried out the research. ‘In addition, parents are more concerned that younger children should be close to the school they go to. And there is an argument that primary education is more likely to have an impact on your success in life than secondary school.’

However, only the top schools command a premium. Similar properties will fetch almost the same price regardless of whether they are close to poor or average schools.

‘The premium rises very rapidly as you get closer to the top two or three schools. It’s a highly non-linear trend – a sort of explosive growth.’

The LSE study focused only on the Reading area and Professor Cheshire is quick to point out that his findings may hold true only in part across the rest of Britain.

‘Obviously there will be differences from region to region, depending, among other things, on how rigid access to schools is in each area. In Reading, as in London, you can only send your child to the local school, so education is geographically very rigid.’

However, ‘the general principles of the study will apply’ nationwide, according to the LSE professor, and one of these tenets is that access to high quality education is dependent on income – even when it comes to state schools.

‘Whether you provide education through the private system, or through a state system which is free a point of delivery but rationed geographically, you are effectively pricing less affluent families out of the market. If you cannot afford the fees [of a private school], you will not be able to afford the house that gets your kids access to the best state schools either.’

Lane Fox Winchester (01962 869 999) are currently selling Bradley House, in Micheldever, Hampshire which is located 7 miles form Basingstoke and 10 miles from Winchester. Micheldever, which is only 3 miles away, has a primary school and both Winchester and Basingstoke have secondary schools. This 5-bedroom property situated in approximately 1.2 acres is on the market for £700,000.

Cluttons Haywards Heath (01444 441166) are selling Westland Cottage, in North Chailey, East Sussex for £650,000. This 5-bedroomhouse is set in approximately 1.4 acres and is close to Ardingly College.