10 Mar 2017
Everyone wants to buy their dream home but the reality is that no house exists in a vacuum. As the old saying goes, buy the worst house in a good neighbourhood, not the best house in a bad neighbourhood.
That doesn’t mean that you should buy an absolute hovel because it’s in a nice postcode but it does mean that choosing a decent location is always a good idea. Remember that you’re going to have to live there, and nobody really wants to live in a bad area. That great “bargain” will lose its charm if you can’t step outside your door at night.
So how do you judge what an area is really like, if you’re unfamiliar with the locality? There are some simple signs that can settle your nerves or raise alarm bells.
What are the neighbours like?
You may think that you’re only buying a house but you’re also investing in the people who live around you, for better or worse. Trying to suss out who lives next door can be tricky but there are a couple of ways to go about it.
You can call next door for a quick chat. Most people will be pretty helpful if you just explain that you’re thinking of buying the house next door. It’s a chance to “ask them about the area” while also finding out what they’re really like.
The other solution is to tackle the issue head-on. Ask the estate agent if the current owner has had any trouble with the neighbours. Having empty houses on either side of you can also be a warning sign as you don’t know what type of neighbours will end up moving in.
Are houses well-maintained?
A skip in front of the house can be a sign that the owners are renovating, which indicates an up-and-coming area. If nearby houses are well-maintained, it shows that people are house proud and care about their homes. Nice gardens, recently-painted walls and well-kept exteriors are all encouraging signs.
By comparison, a street full of litter-strewn or unkempt gardens speaks volumes about how invested the locals are in the community. It may be that the houses are rental properties or that the tenants don’t mind what their property looks like.
Is the neighbourhood on the up or going downhill?
There are a few ways to work out what’s happening in the area around your prospective new home. You don’t need to be a detective to see the red flags. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
Are there lots of dilapidated houses, vacant properties or places with “For Sale” signs? Maybe shops or other local businesses have closed down. You may need to do a bit of extra research to decide what’s happening.
Check out house prices and see if they’re falling. This can be a sign of a neighbourhood in decline and you could find your home losing value over the years if this is the case. There’s no guarantee that an area will turn it around during your time there and you could find it impossible to get your money back.
Alternatively, it could be an area that’s on the way up, especially if it’s in a major city like Dublin.
Many areas become gentrified over time as house hunters are driven out to up-and-coming areas by property prices. See if the local property market is improving and look out for planning applications that suggest the area is set for a renewal.
Signs of criminality
Look out for signs of anti-social behaviour or criminality in the area. It pays to drive by the neighbourhood at night to see what a place is like when the sun goes down. If there are packs of youths roaming around late after dark, this could be off-putting for many buyers.
You can also see the symptoms of unwanted behaviour if you keep your eyes peeled. Are there lots of beer bottles cast aside in the local green areas or outside vacant properties. It could be that they’re commonly used as drinking dens by anti-social elements.
Look out for security bars on windows or doors, or CCTV cameras on private residences. If this is a theme, it’s probably safe to assume that they’re there for a reason. And it’s probably not to deter overenthusiastic salespeople.
What’s does Google say?
One of the benefits of living in the digital age is that we can quickly discover what an area is like by searching online. This can throw up all kinds of relevant information that could influence your decision. That could be anything from a news report on serious crime to a feature on the efforts of the local Tidy Towns Committee.
If the house is in an area that floods on a regular basis, the chances are that you’ll find a record of it when you Google the address. If in doubt, call up an insurance company and try to get an insurance quote. They’ll be quick to tell you if your chosen house has been built on an active flood plain.
You’d be amazed what you can find out with a simple search. Try and find a local paper online if you can and search the site for any mentions of crimes in the local area.
Another option is to enter the name of the estate or street into Twitter and see what people are saying about the area.
There’s no way to know everything about a place before you buy it but doing your homework and knowing the things to look out for can certainly minimise the risk. Once you’ve taken care of that, your biggest worry will hopefully be what to do about the interior design.
And that’s a pretty nice worry to have!
Are you thinking of buying your own home?
Before you begin worrying about potential neighbours or the re-sale value of any houses, the first step is to call into your local EBS office for a chat with one of our friendly mortgage advisors.
Get the ball rolling with our First Time Buyer guide.
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