A growing number of families are buying houses within the zones of Hamilton's most popular high schools in order to bypass lengthy waiting lists.
It is an annual migration that principals say has become more intense in recent years and influences in-zone house prices.
But some education experts say perception is playing too large a part with parents basing their moves more on what they see in the school car park and gossip rather than thoroughly checking out a school.
About 30 families alone will move inside the zone for Hamilton Boys' High School before the end of the year, and that number is on the rise.
Similar numbers will also move to areas near to Hamilton Girls' High and Hillcrest High.
Many are from the Rototuna area, which although mostly zoned for Fairfield College, is awaiting a secondary school of its own. Although the land has been designated the Ministry of Education is yet to decide when building will start.
Hamilton Boys' High has accepted 450 year 9 students to start next year.
Only 30 of those were from within the zone, which covers most of the central city and parts of Hamilton East, Claudelands and Enderley.
Close to 400 were accepted from outside the zone via ballot, and those who missed out were added to a 200-name waiting list.
A rising number of families who end up on this list are opting to buy or rent houses within the zone to guarantee their son gets into the school.
"The number of parents taking the trouble to move has definitely grown in the last few years," headmaster Susan Hassall said. "It's become more intensified."
She said the process can take a heavy emotional toll on families competing for limited places.
Brian and Madhima Anderson, of Ngaruawahia, bought a house in Hamilton East, within the Hamilton Boys' High zone, just to secure a spot for their son, Justin, who was 140th on the waiting list.
They doubled their mortgage and gave up future plans.
"It's been quite costly," Mr Anderson said.
"We did have plans for the house of our dreams in the country, but we're just having to can that and dispose of it now."
But Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said many decisions to "zone hop" were based on "rumour and incomplete information".
Mr Walsh advised parents to make an "independent and objective assessment about the school before they decide to put the real estate sign outside their house" as public perception was often out of line with reality.
"Principals often talk about the car park parents; they have a look in the car park and then they form an opinion based on what one or two others say."
However, he said as "education is increasingly high stakes" zone hopping was becoming more common.
Hillcrest High principal Kelvin Whiting said he also knew of families moving inside the zone each year.
This year, the school has only accepted about 20 students from outside of the zone who have links with current pupils, parents or employees.
"We've got waiting lists at year 9, 10 and 11 at the moment."
Harcourts Hamilton general manager Brian King said high demand for in-zone houses influenced prices in the areas around Hamilton Boys', Hamilton Girls' and Hillcrest high schools.
"It's certainly getting more dominant here, that's for sure. The end result is that anything that becomes more desirable . . . the prices do move a bit.
"We're certainly seeing a huge amount of competition for some of the available properties in those areas."
Fairfield College has had about 85 enrolments for next year and a spokeswoman said there was "plenty of room" for growth at the school.
Fraser High School has had about 200 enrolments, but has room for about 200 more, deputy principal Ainsley Robson said.
"I don't think we're anywhere near our cap number."
FAMILY MOVED FOR SAKE OF THEIR SON
Jackie Mills says she couldn't leave her son's schooling future to chance.
Gabriel, aged 13, was enrolled at Hamilton Boys' High School, but because the family lived out of zone in Flagstaff, he had to go into the ballot with close to 200 other boys.
He was number 127 on the waiting list and his parents started looking for a house within the zone as a last resort.
They were happy in Flagstaff with friends close by but their home fell within the zone for Fairfield College and they weren't confident he would be happy there.
After finding a respectable house for rent in Hamilton East, within the Hamilton Boys' zone, they made the move on November 28.
"We really didn't want to have to start all over again," Mrs Mills said.
The older, three-bedroom house with no yard costs only $20 less each week than their Flagstaff rental. It's also a lengthy commute to take their daughter Jordan, 7, to Horsham Downs Primary School each morning but it's a sacrifice they are willing to make for the sake of Gabriel's education.
He has academic delay and they felt Hamilton Boys' would provide the support he needs.
BALLOT BLUES LEAD TO SHIFT GAMBLE
Morne and Theresa Aucamp have "been through hell" to get their only son into Hamilton Boys' High School.
They moved from Auckland to Western Heights just over a year ago and thought it was perfect.
They bought their modern, four-bedroom home and enrolled Brendan, now aged 12, at Te Rapa Primary School.
"We came from Auckland not knowing the school zones," Mrs Aucamp said.
Their house is in the Fraser High School zone and after hearing "a lot of negative stuff" she didn't feel comfortable sending her son there.
So his parents enrolled him at Hamilton Boys' and he was lumped in the ballot with close to 200 other hopefuls.
After checking the mailbox every day, Brendan received a letter from the school on September 14. He was number 170 on the waiting list.
"We had about two days of tears and huge depression," Mrs Aucamp said.
Three of Brendan's best friends at Te Rapa Primary were accepted, which made it even harder for him.
His parents then tried to get Brendan into St John's College and Hillcrest High School, but both also had lengthy waits.
About three months ago they made the difficult decision to put their house on the market and have since had two offers fall through just before going unconditional.
During this time they found a house in Hamilton East, inside the Hamilton Boys' zone, and on Tuesday, to avoid uncertainty, they bought it.
They won't move in until March 1 next year, but are hopeful the school will accept Brendan regardless.
"Basically, we were forced, just to get into the school, to make such a big decision to have two properties now. It was extremely stressful, extremely emotional."
- Waikato Times