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Choosing a location to live

A 2 part article on how to choose a suitable place to buy a house.

The old adage goes that the 3 most important things when considering a new house, are Location, Location and, err, Location. Whilst other factors are perhaps gaining ground on this traditional list, the actual location of your property is perhaps the factor that requires most thought. Many buyers will already have an idea of the type of house they need, number of bedrooms, and so on, but it is with the location that it pays to put some extra thought in to.

Drawing up a list can be a good place to start. What things are important to YOU? Some of the following suggestions may help, though not all will apply in every case:
  • Public transport links
  • Links to motorway networks
  • Travel time to your workplace(s)
  • School Catchment area
  • Proximity to neighbours
  • Do you prefer to live in a bustling town or out in the suburbs?
  • What amenities (gym, shops, local pub etc) would you like to have close by?
  • View
  • Desirability of the area
  • Off street parking
  • Proximity to family members, babysitter etc
Taking each of these in turn then..

Public transport links
If you use public transport to commute to work, as many city workers do, then having a tube or rail station close to your home is essential. Perhaps you go by bus, in which case having a regular and reliable bus route within a short walk will be a requirement. Even if you normally drive to work, if it is essential that you turn up at work every day, having the backup of a reliable (as reliable as public transport can be anyway!) service can be a bonus.

If you have children who need to use a bus to get to school, or if juniors will be needing this service to travel to secondary school in the next few years, having decent transport links nearby will be a great help. In some towns, having a metrolink or tube station within easy access can bump up the desirability of a house and location, and therefore the asking price, so if such links are not important to you, it may be worth looking for somewhere a little more remote or further away from the bus routes etc, after all why pay a little more for a house if such local amenities are of no benefit to you?

Links to motorway networks
Commuters who use their car to get to work, often look for houses that sit close to excellent road links, whether they are motorways or fast running A roads. You want to be close enough to have as easy run into work as possible, but not so close that pollution and road noise becomes an irritant.

If you are too close to a motorway junction, there may be certain times of the day when traffic levels are unacceptably high (especially if there are delays on the motorway and drivers are hunting for an alternative route, right past your front window) so if your house is close to a motorway junction, hang around during busy times of day and see if this is a potential issue in waiting.

Travel time to your workplace(s)
Although buying a house based solely on giving you a swift run to work is not what I'd recommend (after all, whats to say in 5 years you'll still be working in the same location??), it obviously must be a consideration, especially if both you and your partner have to commute to work. If you are new to the area that you plan to buy in, buy a local detailed map of the area and plot out areas you'd like to live in, based on how close they are to good routes. Travel times into major cities and towns can vary hugely throughout the day, so if this is a concern, the real test is to do a run during the hours you'd need to travel.

Doing the journey in the evening or weekend could be significantly quicker, as can doing it when the school holidays are in full swing, so if possible do a test when everyone else is driving to work, and all the kids are getting chauffeured to school in the swarms of 4x4s that often appear, to get an accurate gauge of real-world travel times.

School Catchment area
Increasingly house purchases are influenced by the local schools that operate within your postcodes catchment area. With school league tables now in force, many parents place this at the top of their consideration list. Some even move house purely to be within scope of high ranking schools. Your local government website will have details of catchment boundaries. You can find your local government details on DirectGov, the UK Government website.

Proximity to neighbours
How close do you want to live to neighbours? or perhaps more to the point, how close will anyone want to live to you? If you like the interaction of living in a friendly community, then a traditional street in suburbia or perhaps a house on a new-build site, could the thing for you. But if you have certain hobbies that not everyone around will take kindly to, then looking for somewhere with a little distance between you and other home owners is to be recommended! If you restore ex-military tanks for a hobby, enjoy keeping pigeons or bees, take part in a naturalist way of life, or enjoy tinkering with steam traction engines, then moving somewhere without the angst of angry neighbours will be a major advantage!

Of course, maybe you don't partake in any unusual hobbies, and simply wish to live without being overlooked by the curtain twitchers, then a house situated comfortably away from the neighbours is well worth the effort hunting down. During a viewing, or whilst driving around any street you wish to buy in, just have a look at who you'll be living near. Do the houses look well tended? if so, there's half a chance that the people you'd be living alongside are pleasant to be near. Do the gardens look neat and tidy, and are any cars parked around in good presentable condition (cars don't need to be new, but a clean and presentable car says a lot about its owner). Driveways with a rusty Cortina sat on axle stands, or back gardens with the last four years' Christmas trees and wrapping paper disintegrating in them, may suggest that the area isn't perhaps as nice to spend time in as it could be.

None of these pointers are gospel of course, but they are just indications of how houseproud, or not, your potential neighbourhood is. And people who don't much care for their own property, probably won't care much about anyone else's either. Children aimlessly bouncing footballs off my car, windows, and garden, as happened where we used to live, are a definite nuisance to anyone who cares about their property, so it pays to suss out who lives nearby.

Do you prefer to buy a house in a bustling town or out in the suburbs?
Most people will know already what they want, however it pays not to be too blinkered as many people intent on inner-city living get won over by the charms of living somewhere a little less full-on. Likewise, people who think they want the rural idyll quickly find that a lack of local entertainment, such as bars, theatres, gyms and so on within walking distance, is in fact a step too far.

If you are not sure about a particular area, that on the face of it looks like it could be right for you, park up the car and go for a walk around. Ask the locals what they like best about the area, and what recommendations they can make for local eateries and night life. Living in a rural area needn't mean having to drive for everything. Many villages still have a local store and post office, from where you can buy lifes essentials, perhaps for a slight úpremium, but at least they are there!

More remote locations may be a short drive from any shops or pubs, so it pays to have a good look around at what services are in the locality, and which you of these you see yourself needing. If the shops are a few minutes drive away, perhaps this is the time to dust off your old pushbike and start to cycle to such places, smug in the knowledge that you are doing yourself some good in the meanwhile!

What amenities (gym, shops, local pub etc) would you like to have close by?
This I have already touched on above, but bears repeating again. If you never plan to set foot in a gym, then the swish new leisure centre being developed up the road will be of little use. Draw up a list of items and services you buy or use on a regular basis, and how often you need them. Does having a doctor a stone's throw down the road feature in your list? Transport options have already been covered, so make a note if public transport links will be of use to you. Do you often use your local library? Are you fond of winebars and coffee bars? Is a local garage something that will be of benefit to you?

You may also wish to consider dentists, schools, clinics, health food shops, post offices, pubs and restaurants, cinemas, sporting venues (cricket, football, bowling greens, horse racing), art galleries, and even 24hr supermarkets, are all possibilities that could be on your list. Of course have any of these too close by and there may be a downside in terms of noise, traffic, and people forever parking up outside your house, if parking at the amenity is limited.

Naturally there are some amenities and services that, whilst we all need them, none of us exactly want at the end of our garden. I'm thinking electricity pylons, waste treatment works, and sewage treatment plants. Fortunately the latter are usually away from tender nostrils, but the former are easily found even in quite densely populated areas. Opinion, from what I read, is divided on the possible risks (or not) to health that sub stations and pylons cause. I am no expert, but when we bought our first house the surveyor thought a small substation 200 yards away was worth mentioning. If you are at all concerned about this, I suggest finding out more. There are reports that pylons, which also have levels of radon gas or traffic fumes nearby, can be a possible risk, so if in any doubt do some research.

The final thing perhaps that many people forget to verify when buying property is whether broadband is available or not. BT are making great gains in enabling telephone exchanges up and down the UK, but a check with BT will advise whether your exchange is scheduled for an upgrade soon, or still hasn't made it to the list. Not everyone spends hours a day on the net, but if you do, broadband is a great asset. You can read more about the offers available here if you're currently thinking about making the switch from dial-up.

Continue to Part 2...

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