Finding the best places to live

First-time buyers

Finding the best places to live

By Joe Elvin

Article 3 of 13

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Finding the best places to live

It's worth doing your homework on an area before buying property there. Follow our top 10 tips on what to check, from planning applications to crime rates.

You could, after all, be living there for many years ahead. Of course, your property search, together with information the seller needs to provide, will turn up useful information once you start the process.

A bit of prior investigation on a property and its immediate area may unearth something you’d see as a ‘deal-breaker’ before you’re out of pocket – as once your offer is accepted, you could end up spending thousands organising a mortgage, legal work and a surveyor. Below the video we list our top-10 area checks.

  • It's a good idea to get a mortgage agreement in principle early in the process. 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 best property

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. 


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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 your neighbourhood

Moving house is expensive, so 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 – which could save you thousands of pounds in the future. 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, the local schools and which ones feed in to each other are of crucial importance. Ask schools about their catchment area, bearing in mind some have boundaries that change from one year to the next, and 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 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 tell you 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 you within walking distance of school or college? Visit the property at drop-off and pick-up times to check how it impacts traffic.

7. Transport links

Good transport links are a boon, 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. Try to uncover factors, good and bad, that affect your environment.

9. Neighbours

Nightmare neighbours caused over 500,000 complaints in 2013. Top hates were noise, animals and household disrepair. If you can, spend time getting to know your new neighbours on the road you plan to move to before you make an offer. It's also worth checking with the council to see if there have been any complaints.

10. Local medical services

Whatever your age, it's important to consider how well your local medical services will perform in case you become ill, especially if you suffer from a long-term illness. If you have an NHS dentist, find out whether you can register with another one when you move.

Buying and selling a house: Sarah's story

Retiree Sarah speaks about the culture shock of moving from a town to a rural location when downsizing. She admits she was taken by surprise by some elements of rural living, which she only found out about after moving in.  


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Video transcript

I had the opportunity to take early retirement on full pension. To do so I realized I needed to downsize from my previous property and move to a slightly smaller one. I was living in St Albans and I also realized that by moving just three junctions up the and one I was able to get 500 reduction on my cancel tax, so my bill was also going to be reduced by downsizing. I loved the location, I've got sheep at the end of the garden and ducks and hens so it was the rule I wanted, however one of the things I found out after moving in was the things like services was actually two miles away and the road outside is too busy to walk along. I hadn't realized that when I was looking for the road location I thought that was the bus route and the bus would take me into the town where I could get the local services.

When we have the offer made on our property it was about 40000 pound less than we were advertising it, and my initial reaction was I don't want to take such low cost. But when I spoke to the state agent I found that the property that he had been advertising locally, didn't go for as much that was being advertised.

So actually my recommendation to people would be, don't think that what has been advertised is the price the property is going for. I was very excited about the downsizing, I was looking forward to moving to a new property, I was looking forward to moving out into a more rural area, but I found it a real challenge to do.

I would recommend you to think carefully about packing and when you pack your boxes. I'd been told it doesn't take long. I allowed four weeks and it wasn't enough time. It's non removal [xx] still packing emotionally is very very difficult because you pick something up and you have to decide am I going to keep that and take with me, am I going to give it to the charity shop or am I going to bin it.

Everything you pick up has got an emotional story to you and it is really tough to do. You have to downsize, you have to get rid of things, and it's hard. I used recycling sites, there's sites like Freegoal and Freecycle whether people who would take those things from you and they will use them. They don't go to landfill, they get used and have a new life.

Make use of them, don't put them in storage. If you put them in storage you could be paying a storage bill every single year for something that you don't need and you will never use.