EXPECTANT parents in Edinburgh are paying premium prices for homes near popular schools while their child is still in the womb.
The decision to pay more for a house in a desirable catchment area is part of a trend that has caused huge variations in property prices in parts of the city.
Some homes are selling for 200,000 more than virtually identical ones on nearby streets in a different catchment area.
Maurice Allen from city estate agent Strutt & Parker said being close to a good primary school - with links to a good secondary school - increased house prices by an average of 20 per cent.
Marion Calder, secretary of the Parent Teacher Committee at South Morningside Primary School, said most parents at the school had moved into the area to win their child a place - many before the child was even born.
She said: "I did the same thing myself four years ago. My son, Ben, was three-and-a-half and I decided specifically to move into the catchment area to get him into the school. Nearly every single person I know with children has done the same thing."
She added: "Even a few years ago, I knew I was paying a premium - I live in a small tenement flat, whereas if I lived outside of the catchment area, I could probably have got a bigger house with a garden."
Children living in a primary school's catchment area have a right to attend that school but those from outside have to apply for a place and can be refused.
Sciennes Primary School is one of the most desirable in the city. In the past six months, properties on Moston Terrace, within the school's catchment area, sold for an average price of 380,000.
But on nearby Ventnor Terrace - in the Preston Street Primary School catchment area, but with a similar mix of Victorian terraced houses and flats - the average price was just 299,000.
And one four-bedroom house on St Catherine's Place, within the Sciennes catchment area, sold for 800,000, while a similar house, just 200m away on Crawfurd Road, but outside the catchment area, raised 600,000.
Mr Allen said: "The thing now is that parents are having to make a choice between private school fees and a big home. Often, they are choosing the home, but are paying more to move into an area where their children will be able to go to a good state school.
"When they are doing that, they don't want to move until their children have finished school, so houses in the key areas don't come up for sale as often, pushing the prices even higher."
He added: "Morston Terrace and Ventnor Terrace are very similar streets. That couple of hundred yards makes all the difference."
City education leader Marilyne MacLaren said: "House prices are influenced by a range of factors. Local schools can play a role in this but the council is only concerned with providing a high standard of education in all our schools."
'We were paying a premium to be here'
ANNA DAVIS and her strategy analyst husband, Andrew, 41, bought their five-bedroom home on Moston Terrace, the Grange, after moving up to Edinburgh from London two years ago.
Mrs Davis, 35, chose the street solely to ensure a future place at Sciennes Primary for her eldest son Alistair, three, and Aidan, 20 months, who was not born by the time of the move.
IBM worker Mrs Davis, who paid between 600,000 and 700,000 for the property, added: "We had worked out what the cost would be of putting our children through private school and we calculated that it would cost around a quarter of a million pounds.
"We thought it was worth stretching ourselves by paying the extra to live here and send them to good state schools. We were quite aware that we would have found a property much more cheaply if we had looked in other areas.
"We knew we were paying a premium to be here, but we saw it as an investment," she added.
A couple of miles away, in Morningside, new mum Fiona Parker moved into a two-bedroom flat just two weeks before baby Christopher was born - to ensure his place at nearby South Morningside Primary School.
And technical writer Ms Parker, 39, of Comiston Place, said she and her partner Alastair were not alone. She said: "Many of the other people looking round the same properties as us were young couples with children, or who were pregnant.
"We know we paid around 50,000 more for this flat than we would have paid for a similar property outwith the catchment area."
The couple, who previously lived in Trinity, said they had only considered areas within the catchment for feeder schools for their two top-choice high schools - Boroughmuir and James Gillespie's.
Ms Parker added: "We are looking ahead - but Christopher's schooling is very important to me and we can't afford private education. It was worth paying out the extra to make sure he goes to a good school."