May I ask what other areas you considered before deciding for Balham?
I agree with your comments about some parts looking tatty; especially the part of Balham high road north of the Waitrose seems shabby.
The Lordship lane high street of East Dulwich is slightly bigger and possibly nicer, but, to be honest, I’d much rather have a smaller high street but better public transport.
Parks: what I mean is that the 3 commons (I haven’t yet explored all of Tooting Bec, I must say) are, well, large green spaces, but not proper parks, they’re not nice the way Dulwich Park, Peckham Rye park or Battersea Park (which, as I said, is just a few minutes away by train) are. However, not a deal-breaker: as long as we can bring up a “free-range child” that can run around in these 3 commons, fine.
The playgrounds might be a bit farther away than we’re used to, but not a dealbreaker; other users kindly listed some here: viewtopic.php?f=46&t=89405&p=208374&hilit=playgrounds+balham#p208374
How about council-subsidised gyms or swimming pools? Our daughter loves swimming, and we often go for family swimming on Sundays.
Transport: I have heard mixed feedback about the northern line at rush hour, but we’d be commuting by train, and relying on the northern line at weekends only.
Primary schools: Ravenstone, Alderbrook and Henry Cavendish seem to have a good reputation. Henry Cavendish has a swimming pool – I still can’t believe it! I wonder what impact the 800-metre sibling rule (which our current council, Southwark, does not have) will have on admissions.
Secondary schools: we have heard good feedback about Chestnut Grove and Bolingbroke. Graveney is supposed to be very good, too, but farther away (and is partially selective, right?). Plus, to be honest, who knows what’s going to happen between now and the time our child starts secondary school!
To be clear, we live in East Dulwich (roughly this area: https://goo.gl/maps/iC8SDj8Lm9B2
), not the Dulwich Village, which is what maybe most people think of when thinking of Dulwich College, Dulwich park, etc. East Dulwich is not as posh or expensive as the Village, but is less-poorly (I cannot bring myself to say “better”!) served by public transport, and has a proper high street. There are huge villas in the Village but not in East Dulwich; the housing stock in East Dulwich seems, in fact, quite comparable to that of Balham. If East Dulwich (which is zone 2) feels like zone 20, the Village feels like zone 200: getting anywhere is even harder, and the high street of the village only has a pub, a bank branch, a bakery and a couple of restaurants – not even a corner shop to buy a pint of milk. Plus, even if you buy a freehold, the Dulwich Estate (http://www.dulwichestate.co.uk/
) still acts as your freeholder: not sure what the legal technicalities are, but, basically, you have to pay them a fee for the maintenance of some common green spaces (fair enough), plus you have to live by their rules: double glazing is a big no no, any modification to the property requires their consent, etc. Yes, even if you have the freehold. The Dulwich Estate is a charity… which doesn’t fund cancer research, but 3 local independent schools (the Dulwich College and 2 others). Even if I won the lottery I’d never live in the Dulwich Village!
What’s odd is that 5-6 years ago East Dulwich properties were way cheaper than in Balham; we knew the area wasn’t as well served by public transport, but we were fine with it because the area was cheaper. Now, instead, prices are roughly comparable, but public transport in East Dulwich has become a nightmare; both last summer and this one there was only 1 train per hour [yes, you read that right] into London bridge during rush hour, instead of the usual one every 10 minutes. Even if the situation with Southern improves, connections are still worse than in Balham (eg one train every 30 minutes from Denmark Hill to Victoria at weekends).