Sometimes, when considering your first home, you’ll know exactly where you want to live. However, if you’re renting in an area you couldn’t afford to buy, or you’re moving to start a different life, perhaps in a more quiet or family-friendly environment, it can be hard to know where to start.
When you’re brainstorming ideas of where to live, ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I love about where I live now?
- What am I missing out on in my current area?
- How far am I willing to commute?
- How close do I want to be to family/friends?
- What’s my budget?
These questions will help direct you to the right type of area so you can start exploring. For many people, their job will be an anchoring point, so when you know how far you’re willing to commute, you can start looking within a certain circumference and assess public transport or driving time. Bear in mind that many people move out of the city for a better quality of life, but if the cost of travel and time spent travelling mean you can’t enjoy your time in your new home, it may not be the best choice.
Forums are a great source of information about local areas, and anything that involves reviews from local people can give you a sense of the place. Tripadvisor, for example, will not only tell you about the good restaurants and pubs in the area, but about the people reviewing them and what they think.
For information on house prices in different areas of the UK, our first time buyer hub has got you covered.
Getting out there
Do not move to a location you have never visited before! For those moving long distances for work, this may be impossible, but in the majority of cases it should be fairly easy. If you’re moving abroad but your new country is near enough to spend a weekend there, remember not to look at it through the eyes of a tourist but through the eyes of someone who is actually living there. It can be easy to go into holiday mode and think it’s the perfect location because the sun’s shining. But try to remain objective and assess things like public transport efficiency, safety of the area and cost of living with a clear head.
When visiting your potential new town you may want to make a shortlist of areas that fit your criteria, and, if you’re ready to, book some property viewings. Whatever stage you’re at, it’s important to visit the area, walk around and see what it’s like for yourself. When you do visit, and if you find a property you want to look at, there are a few things to consider.
How to find out about an area
There is a huge amount of knowledge available to those researching properties now, both online and offline.
The easiest and most straightforward thing to do is to visit the area at different times of day
– you’ll know when the traffic gets bad, if it feels safe at night, if it gets loud on a Saturday or if all the shops are closed on Sundays. It may feel like you’re stalking your future house, but it’s the only way to be fully prepared and get a holistic view of the property.
Talk to people
– chat to the neighbours, get talking in the local pubs and shops and find out about the area. Do people like living there? Have there been many crimes or issues? Who are the people who are moving into the area, or already live there?
– you can check Police.uk
to find out about recent crimes in your area, and it will show you street by street. Knowing potential issues, from high levels of burglary to consistent domestic disturbances next door, might change your mind about your dream home.
– you can access local authority plans to see if any changes are coming up. These could be positive for the area, but similarly if there’s three years’ worth of building work that will limit access to your home, you may feel the property is not the best option.
– what do you need to feel happy in your area? A corner shop, a gym, a park? Perhaps you want easy access to the train station or a reliable bus route? Maybe you need to get onto the motorway easily, or need to make sure there’s a good school nearby? Make a list of all the things you value in an area, and do a search. Better yet, go and walk around and see these places in person. It may be great having a train station a 10 minute walk away, but if the trains only run every hour, it may not be the ideal situation you’re looking for.
– if you’re on a busy road, or near a railway line, check how irritating the noise might be. What about the neighbouring houses? Are there young babies or children, noisy dogs or building work nearby? Are you on a flight path? Are you on the walk home from pubs or clubs? It’s easy to underestimate the effect of noise, especially if you have become accustomed to the noise in your current home, but nights of bad sleep will soon turn your dream home into a nightmare.
check not only your broadband but your mobile provider. If you have chosen an area with limited broadband or awaiting fibreoptic broadband, you may be frustrated with slow signal. Similarly, if you’ve picked a home that’s a signal drop out zone, you may have to switch mobile providers or invest in a landline. Being in a deadzone can be incredibly frustrating and isolating, so do your research.
You can use the uSwitch Broadband postcode checker
to see what speeds are like in the areas you're looking at. It will also give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for broadband there.
‘Up and Coming’
– many people are looking for a location where housing is cheap but the area is being improved and could be a great place to live in the future. However not everyone is willing to do guesswork based on this - after all, a space you see as having potential might take another 10-15 years to get the basic amenities you need. Would you be happy living there if the area never did ‘come up’? Watch for the increase of house prices, new buildings, especially ones that bring work, or new transport lines, like the Elizabeth Line or HS2
as these will impact the growth of an area, and the value of the property there.
Almost all of the elements of location research will come down to personal preference. The idea is to remember that this is more of a permanent investment – not just as a place you will hopefully be living in for a long time, but as a property that should increase in value. You are unlikely to find a property that achieves all of the location goals as well as all of the building goals, but whilst you can build a new kitchen or redecorate, your area is fairly out of your control. That’s why location is always the final winner, after all.
Updated January 2020