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Buying a home

Finding the best places to live

By Joe Elvin

Article 3 of 13

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Finding the best places to live

Follow our top 10 tips on what to check before buying a property in a new area, from planning applications to crime rates, plus advice on how to spot an up-and-coming neighbourhood.

It's always worth researching a neighbourhood before buying a property there. In the video below, we list the 10 most important things to check.

  • While you're researching the area it's a good idea to get a mortgage agreement in principle so you're well prepared once you actually start house hunting. For expert advice on finding the right mortgage for you, call Which? Mortgage Advisers on 0808 252 7987.

Estate agents' insider tips: how to choose the right area for you

Which? interviewed a range of experienced estate agents and asked for their insider tips on buying property. In this short video, they explain what you should check about a neighbourhood, as well as the house itself, before making your offer. 

Video transcript

It's often said that people spend a lot more time buying a television than they do actually buying a house. So wherever possible spend as much time as you can in the property. It's really important to feel the space. Geographical area is key, knowing your area is key, knowing that one street is worth more than the other, a tree lined road is worth more than an un-tree lined road. Where does the light come? Where does it go? Which way the garden orientates? Does the living room get a lot of light? Really try and go at different times of the day to really get a really good idea of the property. Especially if it's an area that you don't know too well, go and explore, visit the property at different times of the day, walk up and down the street, go to the local bar or restaurant, ask people what's it like to live in the area. Night time's also important because at night things change and sometimes not for the better. So go and visit them, then walk around the streets, closing time at the pub, where are the people do they come past your house, are they noisy? If not, you could be potentially buying something that could be a costly error.

How to investigate a neighbourhood

Moving house is expensive, and the more thorough the checks you make on the area you’ve pinpointed, the more likely you are to find somewhere you love and don’t want to leave. Here are the top 10 things to investigate:

1. Local authority planning

Is the local authority planning any changes to your area that could adversely or positively affect your home? Check out its website under housing, community or growth.

2. School catchment areas

If you have children, ask local schools about their catchment area. Some have boundaries that change from one year to the next. Also, look at the local authority website to see the distances within which children got into individual schools the previous year.

3. Crime rates

How do crime rates compare with those in other areas? Visit police.uk to search for crime maps by postcode and find performance data for the relevant police force.

4. Flood risks

Is there a river nearby? It may not have flooded for years, but talk to locals who have lived there a long time to find out whether the road or property you are considering has, or could be, flooded.

5. Electric pylons

Pylons and electrical substations close to the property can put people off buying, so check with local agents if they have an impact on the price or time it takes to sell a property.

6. School runs 

Are your favourite roads within walking distance of a school or college? Visit the area at drop-off and pick-up times to check how it impacts traffic and parking.

7. Transport links

Good transport links are a bonus, but nobody wants passengers on a double-decker bus looking into their bedroom every morning, or to be kept awake by road or rail traffic at all hours.

8. Environment

Being downwind of sewage works, or having hordes of tourists passing your front window during the holiday season, can turn an idyllic location into an ordeal. 

9. Neighbours

If you can, spend time chatting to potential future neighbours before you make an offer. Also, check with the council to see if there have been any complaints made.

10. Local medical services

Consider how well the local medical services meet your needs if you become ill, especially if you have a long-term illness.

Property investment hotspots: how to spot an up-and-coming area

In this short video, property expert Tracy Kellett, a former estate agent who now owns property search company BDI Home Finders, shares her insider tips on finding property hotspots.

Video transcript

People are always asking, "How can I spot the next upcoming area?" Well, the first way to do it is, if it's in the newspapers, it's not, it's already been found. Now, generally the next upcoming area will be next to what is currently trendy, because people would be priced out of that place and they would be looking as near as possible to it.

So that's the first tip. Secondly, transportation, so key to people these days: is there going to be a new railway system moving in? Things like that, that will bring prices up. Also if a major corporate is going to be moving their Head Office into the area, there'll be a demand for property, again making prices rise.

Schools have a big impact - a good school on an area, that affects prices. If something's really gone up the OFSTED scale, and is desirable, that will attract buyers. What you also need to look out for is the gentrification of an area, so when one of the really sort of up-market supermarkets moves in. You know that's key, they've done their research, they've got their demographic there.

Also if you can see skips on the street where people are renovating and doing up old properties, another giveaway. 

Although there’s never a cast-iron guarantee that an area will improve (or its house price values rise), some tell-tale signs that an area is on the up include:

  • Thriving nearby towns. Up-and-coming areas often spring up next to areas that are already popular, because people are priced out of that location and are looking to move as near as possible instead.
  • New developments. When new-build homes are built, they can sometimes increase the value of surrounding properties too, although this will vary by area.  
  • Regeneration plans. If a local authority is planning to regenerate a town centre, this is likely to boost the local economy and drive up house prices in the future.
  • New transport links. A new train station, network connection, tram link or major road is likely to make an area more popular with commuters. 
  • Gentrification. The opening of new restaurants, cafes and shops, particularly if they're more up-market than other businesses in the area, is a key sign of an area on the up.  
  • Skips and scaffolding. This is a sign that local homeowners are putting time and money into maintaining or renovating their properties.
  • Good schools. If a new school is being built or a nearby school has improved its Ofsted rating, this is likely to attract buyers.
  • New estate agencies. Opening a new branch indicates that the estate agents have received (or expect to receive) increased levels of interest from homebuyers.

Check out our interactive house prices map to see price activity in your postcode.

  • Last updated: December 2016
  • Updated by: Joe Elvin
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