For most parents of schoolgoing children, an hour saved on the school run is quality time they’d rather spend with their kids around the breakfast table or on a much-needed weekday lie-in. With neighbourhoods and communities in Dubai becoming increasingly self-contained, it’s easy to see why neighbourhoods and communities with schools rank high on the list of house-hunters. Most families still factor in aspects such as savings on school transport, less time on the roads and higher property appreciation rates to justify moving to a new house close to schools.
When deciding on a new home, good schools are as important as parks, jogging and cycling tracks, recreational facilities and health centres. Developers have also observed such realigning of priorities among homebuyers.
“Generally, as soon as the master development is confirmed, the master developer tries to find the right school for that piece of land,” says Fadi Nwilati, CEO of Kaizen Asset Management Services. “The master developer will usually find an investor who is interested in building a school and the school will then rent that facility.”
Jyotsna Hegde, president of Sobha Group, affirms that the presence of schools within a community is influencing buyer sentiment. “A school is one of the primary things people look into when deciding to live in a high-end community like ours,” says Hegde. “We have two top-notch schools within Sobha Hartland — the Hartland International School and the North London Collegiate School.”
Seda Tutu, deputy CEO of sales and marketing at Azizi Developments, agrees the proximity to schools is key for any residential project. Five of the developer’s properties in Al Furjan are located close to a new school opening this year.
Dubai’s growing end-user market is also dictating the preferences of prospective buyers. “A lot of end users are families and a major concern for anyone with a child is schooling,” explains Paul Kelly, operations director of Allsopp & Allsopp.
Nwilati also points out another interesting point about young families in search of new homes: “Proximity to nurseries is extremely important. When you are a new parent, you want to be closer to them geographically.”
Still others simply want to be closer to good schools. Ishita Bhattacharya Saha and her husband moved to Dubai Silicon Oasis from Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), where the couple owned an apartment, so her daughter can be close to the Dubai English Speaking College in Academic City. Saha says the fact that the school bus network did not extend towards JBR was a logistical obstacle.
Apart from the short commute to school for her daughter, Saha says the family has also enjoyed the amenities in the new community. “There are various extracurricular offerings in the neighbourhood such as music and dance classes and fitness clubs.”
According to Sally Ann Ghai, associate director of Luxhabitat, when searching for a new home, buyers who prefer locations close to schools also cite a sense of community, well-laid out road systems and the quality of finish in a home as top priorities.
Probing further into the buyer demographic of various communities draw, John Stevens, managing director of Asteco, says some nationalities prefer certain locations than others. “Given that Dubai is home to approximately 200 nationalities, with developers offering a wide selection of living experiences that cater to various groups, income brackets and cultures, there is certainly something out there for everyone," says Stevens. "For instance, in our experience, GCC clientele prefer to live in Jumeirah, while areas such as Arabian Ranches and Motor City attract European expats. On the other hand, high-rise living in Downtown or Dubai Marina is what most singles and couples without kids prefer.”
What developers want
Developers, too, have various parameters when considering educational institutions for their communities. Mohammad Kaiser Azad, head of community management at Emaar Community Management, says, “Our approach is to develop the concept of the lifestyle development first, and then decide on the schools based on this.”
Damac Properties is following this template for residents in one of its developments. “From the faculty members to the playgrounds, the schools our children attend prepare them to be lifetime contributors to the global community,” says Niall McLoughlin, senior vice-president of Damac. “A recent example is the Jebel Ali School. Damac facilitated the opening of this new campus to ensure families living within our Damac Hills community have convenient access to quality education.”
Among the communities with easy access to schools, Al Barsha, Al Sufouh, Jumeirah, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Nad Al Sheba and Meydan top the list of buyers and renters. Communities that have captured a sizeable market share include Emirates Living, Arabian Ranches, Victory Heights, Jumeirah Golf Estate, Jumeirah Village Circle and Jumeirah Village Triangle. Kelly says the area around Dubailand and communities such as Falcon City and The Villa Project could also be places of interest for couples with schoolgoing children.
Nonetheless, some communities could still be more attractive than others despite having schools nearby. Anoop Bhargava, who is renting in Jumeirah 3, says he considered the close driving distance from both Dubai College and JESS Jumeirah for his two children, but “being located close to a mall, supermarket, parks, play areas within malls and the beach” was also important.
Kelly puts things into perspective when he says, “People will sacrifice what they want themselves if they can get their kids into a good school and get into that neighbourhood. What you find then is not just a school, but also all their friends. It’s all about the whole social aspect for the kids when you choose a school that is located close to where you live.”