Buying a home is an expensive process, the consequences of which will stay with you for years, so it’s important that you find one that is suited to your needs and to those of your loved ones and dependents.
When choosing a home, think carefully about the criteria that matter to you before you proceed to viewings. This guide will help to narrow down the list of suitable properties. Recommended criteria to consider include location, outlook & view, property type, condition & specification, and layout. We look at these in turn.
Part One: Where Should I Live? How to Choose Your Dream Home Location
There are several types of considerations that may affect your choice of location, some in the broader sense of region or settlement, others in the narrower one of local environment.
Here we have picked out ten key considerations around location that may be worth bearing in mind if they matter to you. This can help you narrow down your search to the target area or areas best suited to you.
i. Considerations around Commuting needs
Do you need to live within a certain commuting distance from an established place of employment, or do you wish to live close to friends and relatives?
Do you have a car and a full driving licence, or will you depend on public transport?
Estimate the amount of time it will take you to get by your preferred mode of transport from any location where you may be considering buying a home to your workplace and back each day, factoring in traffic variability if you drive or take the bus, and possible delays if you take the train. Remember to include walking time at either end of your journey.
How long a day can you handle including your commuting time, without getting exhausted and while still leaving evening time for you to relax or socialise?
Estimate the cost of commuting from each location you are considering in terms of fuel consumption if you drive, or ticket costs if you use public transport.
ii. Personal Preferences and Distastes for Settlements and Areas
Do you have a particular preference for certain towns, villages, cities, or areas over others because you’re used to them or like how they look and feel, or because they have a good reputation or carry prestige in your social set? Do you have an instinctive distaste for certain areas or settlements, or bad experiences connected with them that you find it difficult to put behind you?
If any of these applies, then there is not a lot of point in looking at the locations you feel bad about. Narrow your search to the areas where you think you could be happy or, if cost is a pressing factor, at least you could tolerate living there.
iii. Relative Affordability of Settlements and Areas
Do you want to live in an area that gives you good value for money in terms of the accommodation you get for the price, based on current house prices?
House prices are hugely variable from one town, city or county to the next, and if you shop around, you might find that you can get a much larger or better-quality home for your money in a town or area where you have not lived before and which would not otherwise have been on your list of priorities.
If you cannot afford a decent-sized or high-quality home in the most prestigious or central areas or close to your place of employment, it’s worth giving serious thought to living somewhere cheaper but within commuting distance for all your needs.
There is a useful resource for comparing between different locations the average house prices in the past twelve months for properties of certain types (detached, semi-detached, terraced and flats) at Rightmove. You can input either the name of a settlement or city area, or the first part of a postcode (e.g. BS7), and you will get shown the averages. Then go back and try again with others in turn, and note them on a piece of paper or in an electronic document for your reference.
iv. Flood Risk Considerations
How you would feel about living on a flood plain if it meant you got a cheaper house but had to pay more on your contents insurance and put your ground floor at risk of occasional inundation?
Is it critically important for you to have minimal flood risk because you have valuable belongings you want to protect, can’t stand the thought of filthy floodwater entering your home, or don’t want to pay enhanced insurance premia?
If so, then you should consider living in an elevated setting that is comfortably above the astronomical high tide for the area. The amplitude of tides varies with locality, but tends to be more pronounced around the Bristol Channel than around other areas of the coast of Great Britain. For example, the astronomical high tide at Avonmouth during the period 2008 to 2026 is 7.32 metres above mean sea level, with and that at Newport is 6.68 metres above mean sea level, whereas that at Bournemouth is only 1.32 metres above mean sea level.
Storm surges can cause higher tides than would be expected from astronomical effects alone, and long-term sea level rise is predicted, so it’s preferable to add a two-metre safety margin above the astronomical high tide levels if wanting to minimise the risk of flooding from the sea during your lifetime and keep your home marketable in the future.
In fact, you can already get an idea of the one-in-200-year risk of flooding at existing sea levels (assisted by storm surges) at different locations around the British coast from published sources such as McMillan et al. ‘Coastal flood boundary conditions for UK mainland and islands’ (2010) as well as in official local government documents. This measure is known as the 200-year return level, and has been quoted as standing at 8.13 metres at Weston Super Mare, 8.41 metres at Newport, 8.66 metres at Clevedon and 9.11 metres at Avonmouth. If you further factor in a possible metre of future sea level rise by 2100, it would probably be advisable to exercise caution in the purchase of properties standing significantly beneath 9.1 metres above sea level at Weston Super Mare, 9.4 metres above sea level at Newport, 9.65 metres above sea level at Clevedon or 10.1 metres above sea level at Avonmouth, particularly as long-term family homes or investments. If sea level does rise as expected, or faster than expected, then house prices in areas at significantly increased risk of long-term flooding are likely eventually to become depressed compared with the average house price for houses of equivalent location and quality.
Other potential flood risks can come from overflowing rivers and surface water run-off. In England, you can find out your flood risk from rivers or the sea, reservoirs, and surface water run-off, using the interactive map at https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/long-term-flood-risk/map. For homes in Wales, use the equivalent resource at https://maps.cyfoethnaturiolcymru.gov.uk/
v. Air Quality Considerations
To what extent does local air quality matter to you?
If you are sensitive to atmospheric pollution or concerned about the long-term health effects of inhaling particulates, it would be preferable not to live immediately adjacent to a major road through which heavy goods vehicles pass or endless streams of commuter traffic flow, especially if the road is at or above the height of your living space.
Sometimes, unpleasant odours can drift on the wind from factories, metalworks, tanneries, crematoria or petrol stations, and you might be advised to investigate the proximity of a house you are considering purchasing to any of these before you buy.
If you can afford a property with a garden, or there are a lot of trees or open fields nearby, this may help to offset the effects of vehicle pollution by providing a renewable source of fresh oxygen. But there is no real substitute for standing in front of your property during the rush hour and assessing how acceptable the air flowing to it really is.
If the pollution from the road in front of your property is really unhealthy, you may be advised to keep your front ground floor windows closed at all times and ventilate your living space exclusively through rear-facing and upper windows. This can keep the air quality in such a property tolerably healthy.
vi. Radon Gas
Consider other potential environmental hazards such as radon gas and electromagnetic radiation.
This interactive radon map of Great Britain shows the estimated average radon risk in blocks of land throughout the mainland. The darker the colour, the greater the percentage of homes in the area believed to contain levels of radon gas above a threshold considered safe. But the only accurate method to assess radon risk at an individual property is to have a test carried out in situ, and this would be preferable for all homes sited in blocks for which the displayed risk zone is 5-10% or greater.
If you do have high levels of radon in your home, it is very important to regularly ventilate the rooms, because radon rises from the ground beneath and accumulates in enclosed spaces over time. Remedial works can be undertaken to form a barrier beneath your home that prevents radon seepage, but these are likely to be very costly.
vii. Electromagnetic Hazard Assessment
A Cross-Party Inquiry of the British government that sat in 2006-7 recommended consideration of the creation of a 200 metre corridor without residential development to either side of the highest-tension overhead power cables, in the light of a study into the epidemiology of childhood leukaemia indicating an increased risk within this corridor. This recommendation has not been adopted into British law. However, those concerned about the theoretical risk of cancer from electromagnetic radiation can vote with their feet by avoiding homes within 200 metres of high-voltage overhead power cables. These are the kinds of overhead cables that run between tall metal pylons.
Other epidemiological studies have reported an increased risk of some cancers and other symptoms within 300-400 metres of cellphone towers or antennas. An abstract of studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals with source references is found here.
If you are concerned about long-term health dangers possibly associated with microwave radiation, you may therefore prefer not to live within 300-400 metres of mobile telecommunications masts. You can enter the first half of a postcode at https://www.mastdata.com/37/37_Homepage.aspx to identify the locations of those recorded in each area.
However, in town and city centres today, it is almost impossible to find properties that are not closer than that to mobile masts, so you will probably have to plan to live a little outside the very centre if you want to keep such a distance, and then choose your location with some care. This may be impractical for most, and you must be the ultimate arbiter of the level of risk that is acceptable to you and your household.
viii. Outlook and View
How important is it to you to have a nice view to look out on from part or all of your home?
Do you mind facing neighbouring houses, shops or offices and their windows? Or do you need at least one window from which you can look out to green or open space without feeling looked in on?
Most properties in built-up urban areas have overlooking neighbours to both front (opposite the street onto which your front door opens) and rear (the rear windows of the properties in the next street behind your rear yard or garden). However, there may be local exceptions; and on the fringes of developments and in more rural locations there is a better prospect of not being overlooked on at least one side.
Please bear in mind, however, that the absence of overlooking neighbours at the time you buy a property is no guarantee that this will always remain the case. New developments are springing up all over the place in response to the demand for new housing as the UK population rises, and you might find that the bare patch of land opposite or behind your house becomes a new housing development some time down the line, even if you register objections with the planning authorities.
How do you feel about living close by a noisy street with heavy goods vehicles thundering past, as well as cars, ambulances, fire engines and motorcycles? Or what about a street that is off-limits to heavy vehicles but serves as a busy pedestrian thoroughfare on a route to or from pubs and clubs, through which drunken revellers stumble noisily at night?
Depending on your personality and the level of sound insulation afforded by your walls and windows, these scenarios might not be a significant problem, or you may see them as posing an intolerable nuisance, in which case you’d be better off looking for a home on a quieter street or one with enough of a front garden to be set well back from the road.
Street noise may also be a particularly problematic issue if you are a singer or musician who needs a quiet recording space. In this case, it is also highly desirable to have a semi-detached, end-terraced or detached property, so that you can make as much noise of your own as you need to in a room that does not directly adjoin the property of any neighbour.
If you are really concerned about incoming noise from the street, you should also look out for public information and news about possible nearby new housing and industrial developments that may increase vehicle traffic and footfall through your street in the future.
x. Security and Crime risk
Some parts of the UK and some areas of each town or city have greater rates of burglary, drug-dealing and violent crime than others. Statistics are available for each month for every policing area in England, Wales and Northern Ireland here. Click ‘Crime Map’ or ‘Find Your Neighbourhood’ and find your way to the interactive zoomable maps of each area, showing the numbers of crime of each type recorded in each street during each month.
To get a representative sample, you should check back for at least the past year of data, not just the most recent month or two months.
The detailed information may be overwhelming at first, leaving you with the impression that every place you considered living is a crime-infested cesspit of violence and anti-social behaviour. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of criminal activity does not affect innocent bystanders or homeowners minding their own business, and unless you have sound reasons to believe that you are exceptionally vulnerable, it would be a mistake to be so alarmed by urban crime statistics that you give up on the idea of buying a home in your city or town of choice altogether.
The risk of burglary in any area can be mitigated to a fair degree by advanced security measures applied to doors and windows, with lighting on self-timers while you are away, CCTV installations and burglar alarms being other avenues worth considering.