Finding a new home in a new area

Posted on 2 December 2019
Finding a new home in a new area

Why is looking for a new home in a new area difficult?
There’s a reason “location, location, location” is a cliché in house-hunting. Location tends to be the biggest deal-breaker for people when they’re looking for their next property, whether it’s because of a work commute or simply just where you want to be.  Also, take the time to explore the area if you are moving somewhere new so that you can get a real feel for the environment. Amenities are almost immediately apparent, but gauging noise levels and the neighbourhood vibe can be trickier to establish.

If you want to move to a new home close to where you already live, there is little to decide.  But if you want to move to a different part of town, or across the country, then deciding the location is more difficult. It can take time to get to know an area well enough to know whether you would like to live there, and many of the issues will not be apparent from just visiting. Almost any other aspect of a house itself can be worked on over time, whether it’s knocking through walls, adding a conservatory or landscaping the garden, but the location of a house is final, so it has to work for you.  Before you fully commit yourself to a new home, make sure you know exactly how long it’s going to take you to get to work, find your nearest supermarket and access the main roads — then make sure you’re happy with the answers.

The housing marking in Northern Ireland is highly localised, and only by thoroughly researching individual areas and streets can you ensure you don’t make a mistake, and confidently make the snap decision needed to put in a bid quickly if lots of people are interested in your chosen property.

Choose an area you can afford

First of all, you need to choose an area where you can afford to live in the sort of property you want to live in. If you want a whole house and don’t have £1.5m, don’t look at Holywood/Cultra.  Work out roughly how much you want to spend and then look on property websites to see what you can get for that amount in different areas.

Where is cheap?

To state the obvious, city centres tend to be more expensive than the countryside; the South tends to be more expensive than the North; and BT9 is obviously much more expensive than pretty much anywhere else.  Another measure of the affordability of an area is the house price to earnings ratio – ie how much houses cost compared to average earnings in that area. In Northern Ireland the ratio is 3.4, but even within areas prices vary hugely: One village might be more expensive than that on the other side of the lake, one end of a street might be cheaper than another

What type of property to you want to live in

  • Decide what type of property you want
  • What is the minimum number of bedrooms you would consider?
  • Do you want your own front door, or are you happy with a conversion flat?
  • There will naturally be trade-offs – you might be able to afford a flat in a more popular area, but a whole house in cheaper area
  • Unless you plan to move again in a couple of years, take the long term view.
  • Don’t move somewhere you will grow out of in a couple of years: move somewhere you will grow into

Choose what type of area you want to live in

There are a number of things to consider:

  • Do you want to be in a happening place, with lots of life?
  • Do you want to be somewhere more rural? Do you relish a laidback lifestyle or will you get bored?
  • Do want to be able to walk to the shops, or are you happy having to get in a car to get a pint of milk?
  • How long will it take to get to work? How close do you want to be to your parents, family, and friends?
  • Are there community groups around? Sports teams, amateur dramatics, gardening – can you get an allotment?
  • If you like fine shopping, don’t move somewhere with lots of pound shops. If you like good value, don’t go somewhere which only has top-end grocers
  • Check out the crime, schools, transport links and rates.
  • What are the employment opportunities?
  • If you are already employed, where will you work? What happens if you decide to leave your current job, or if your company goes bust? Ensure you leave room for career flexibility.  Ambitious people may require access to larger centres of employment and job markets.
  • If you are moving from the city to the countryside, consider that you may want to adapt your work-life balance or spend more time with your kids, all of which might require employment opportunities closer to home.
  • Those in the first half of their careers will hopefully earn more money each year, enabling you to grow into areas (and take on properties) that at first seem expensive. But do be realistic about your future earnings!
  • Do worry about the long term value of your house: for many people it is their biggest asset, outstripping their pension
  • Cheap areas surrounded by expensive areas are likely to gentrify, unless there is a particularly powerful reason they are cheap, such as bad housing, motorways, chemical plants or post-industrial wastelands
  • Fashionable areas that everyone is talking about may well have topped out, and have lower growth
  • A good value area, with good properties and decent transport connections, is a good bet because local house prices can take years to catch up with transport improvements
  • If a new transport connection has been announced to be opened some years in the future, property prices nearby are likely to rise above average until the transport connection starts operating. On the downside, big building works might cause disruption for some time or cause problems if you decide to sell
  • Do you have kids – or are planning to have them? Then you will need to make sure you are moving somewhere child-friendly
  • Good schools are vital – Ofsted’s website will tell you what they are like
  • Local councils will generally tell you the precise catchment areas of their schools in recent years – vital to know if you want to make sure your children get into it
  • Living where lots of other families already live is a good bet, and will ensure lots of facilities for families
  • Is there lots of playing space?
  • Know the exact streets you want to live in
  • Once you have chosen a rough area, drill down – life can vary dramatically street by street, or village by village.

Spend time in the area

  • Spend days wandering the area you are interested in. You will probably spend years there – it is really worth investing time to make sure you are happy where you end up.
  • Visit the parks, the pubs and shops
  • Can you feel yourself living there?
  • How old or young, affluent or poor is the area?
  • Are there lots of kids running around? Do you like that?
  • Where is the farmer’s manure or silage pit located? Is it going to stink out your garden?
  • Make sure you try out the local transport to see what it is like in real life

If you are unsure, rent first

It is better to rent somewhere and find you can’t stand the area, than buying and selling in distress a couple of years later.
Then spend your evenings cruising property websites  to find out if the areas you are interested in have the sort of properties you want at a price you can afford.

Get chatting to the estate agents
They usually have really good insider information about the local variations.