How to check the local area before buying a house
What are the key things you should check before buying in a unfamiliar area and how should you go about it?
Many things can be checked on-line, but others need a physical visit in order to build up a true picture of what life will be like living in your chosen house.
What can I check on-line?
The internet is a useful tool and as well as revealing information on schooling and transport links, there is a whole host of research you can carry out. This may reveal things that would not be immediately apparent from a walk round the area.
Google the street address and look at the maps, Streetview and the satellite image.
The map might reveal home-based businesses that generate a good deal of traffic, for example if they are receiving materials or dispatching goods by courier. There might be a dog-sitting business that could result in excessive barking during the day.
On the other hand, knowing that there is a dog-walker nearby might be a plus if you need someone to look after Fido while you are at work. Similarly one of your potential new neighbours might be operating a pre-school nursery at home.
Perhaps there is a pub tucked away that you had not noticed previously. Again, this could be a positive as well as a negative.
Using a satellite view will give you a perspective of any green space locally, or industrial areas that may cause a lot of traffic flow.
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Check if there are any planning applications in the area
With local authorities under pressure to build more homes you might find those green fields behind your new home have been earmarked for development. Check the council's Local Plan to examine the areas that have been designated possible future development sites.
For more immediate planning applications the Government's Planning Portal can direct you to the local planning authority website, where you can search for applications.
Although the vendor might know that his next-door neighbour is planning to extend over his garage, he may not be aware that the owners of the old mill down the road intend to convert it to a food manufacturing business and restaurant for example.
Check other house prices
You can get a gauge of whether you are paying the right price by looking at what other houses have sold for locally. Check on Zoopla or the Land Registry
Check the crime statistics.
Nobody wants to live in an area where there is a lot of crime. You can check what has been happening in the locality on the Police crime map. This will reveal the number and nature of crimes by month.
Be aware that some postcode areas are larger than others and therefore may show a higher number of crimes. The site has a useful tool, which allows you to compare 2 different postcodes so you can build a better picture.
Look at local social media and newspapers
The area you intend to move to may have a Facebook page where local issues are discussed. There may be local blog on-line, or an events page.
Obtain a copy of the local newspaper to see if there are any prominent local issues.
Once you have checked all you can on-line, it is time to get out there.
Visit several times
You can only get a real feel for an area if you make several visits at different times of the day and during the week as well as weekends.
What might be a quiet neighbourhood during the day while everyone is at work or school, may change once noisy children are home. There may be only a few cars on the street during the day, but parking might be a problem in the evening.
Traffic volumes on local roads can change dramatically during the rush hour, so plan a visit that coincides with the early morning or the evening commute.
Take a walk round the area
What are the gardens like? Are they well maintained or over-grown? Is there graffiti in the park? Litter?
Talk to local people
It is a good idea to chat with other people who live in the area, not just the immediate neighbours. If there is a local PCSO (Police Community Support Officer) around, take the opportunity to speak to him.
Remember that your particular needs may be different from anyone else's and be careful not to make too many generalisations about an area. Communities can be very different from street to street.