Looking to get on the ladder, but need to decide on where to buy? Get help with making that big decision.
This article is part of our Zooploma for first-time buyers - a series of free guides, advice and inspirational stories delivered straight to your inbox.
Buying your first home is a big deal, and not just financially.
The area you move to will become as familiar to you as your close friends and family, so it's worth investing the time and effort to choosing the right spot.
It may be that you know exactly where you want to buy, perhaps even down to the exact house on the exact street, but for many first-time buyers there are a number of options.
One area might be great for craft beer pubs but has limited green space. The other might be close to friends, but too far from good transport links.
Follow our tips and be confident you've left no stone unturned in finding your first neighbourhood to call home.
Pay a visit - then visit again
Nothing beats visiting an area at different times of day and on different days of the week – including the weekend – to get a real feel for what it’s like.
It might seem calm and pleasant during the day, but what about on a Friday or Saturday evening? What are traffic levels like at peak times? How reliable are the transport links you might come to depend on?
And don’t be shy. Talk to the neighbours to get some real opinions. Most people are happy to chat.
Is crime an issue?
You can get detailed crime statistics for an area from the local police force, and you might find out more by reading the local paper. There will also be online forums, Facebook groups or sites such as nextdoor.com where locals discuss their concerns and interests.
Be aware that your property’s postcode can have an impact on the amount you pay for home insurance and car insurance, as if you live in an area with a high rate of burglaries, you’ll face higher premiums.
Check whether there are shops and banks, and decent pubs and restaurants within walking distance of the property you’re hoping to move to.
You might also want to be near a church, temple, mosque or other place of worship. Do you want to join a gym? What about a library, cinema or theatre?
GPs and dentist surgeries
When you move to a new area you'll want to register with a doctor and a dentist.
An online search will be a good place to find information on these services, and joining local Facebook groups and forums may be a good way of getting recommendations from other locals.
If you have children, it’s vital to do your homework on the local primary and secondary schools to see how they perform and what sort of education they provide.
Crucially, you also need to find out whether the property you are planning to buy is in the all-important ‘catchment area’ of a school you have your eye on. As boundaries can change from year to year, you may need to phone schools directly to get the most up-to-date information.
Each property listing on Zoopla shows the distance between it and local schools. Just click on the 'Map & Nearby' tab.
You can also look at the local authority's website to see the distances within which children got into your preferred schools the previous year.
Use a map tool, such as Google Maps, to find out how long it takes to walk (or cycle or drive) to the nearest station. If this is going to be your daily commute, you need to ensure it’s achievable.
If you're going to need to park your car, find out your options. Will you use the station car park - and how much will it cost per day? Can you get a weekly or monthly pass at a cheaper rate?
If parking on the street is possible, are there any restrictions or charges?
Find the optimal bus stops, tram stops, underground stops and other transport links – and how frequently trains and buses run. And work out how much everything is going to cost.
Find out all you can about sports facilities, leisure centres, parks and open spaces by researching online. What are the opening times and costs? Are there any new spaces opening soon for you to take advantage of?
If you’re a gym bunny, see if there’s a gym you can walk or cycle to – or access quickly by car or bus.
Local authority planning and Council Tax
It’s worth finding out whether there are any planned changes to the area that could affect your decision.
For example, a new shopping centre or better transport links could be a real positive, but a new industrial project producing pollution or noise could be a big no-no. Your best bet is to check out the local authority’s website.
If you're in the process of buying, the local searches carried out by your solicitor or conveyancer should uncover anything serious, but there's no harm in having a look yourself if you're still at the stage of choosing your preferred location.
The local authority will also have details about Council Tax charges but again, if you're at the buying stage, that information should be provided to you by the estate agent.
Flooding and air pollution
You may be keen to know if the property you are looking to move to is at risk from flooding or air pollution – or whether it’s close to a landfill site. The Environmental Agency's website has the information based on postcodes.
While a property on a busy road can mean you get easy access to shops, restaurants and other facilities, it’s worth visiting the area at the busiest times of day to see how bad the traffic is.
You don’t want to end up snarled in a traffic jam – or caught in a rat run – every time you leave home. Remember that busy traffic could also mean a lot of noise and pollution.
Signs of an up-and-coming area
While it may not be a deal-breaker, moving into an area 'on the up' might be something that appeals - both from a long-term financial perspective (as you might expect house prices to rise) and because you can help be part of the regeneration.
Look out for signs that may indicate an area as being a potential hotspot.
These could include: a high proportion of independent retailers and cared-for shops, new estate agencies opening up, new transport links or infrastructure projects, signs of home improvement (such as skips or scaffolding) and a high proportion of younger people in their twenties or thirties.
Past property prices
Our house prices and values search allows you to check out prices in any given street, including an estimate of the value of any particular property together with details of times it has been sold (and how much for) in recent years.
We also have a heatmap of local house prices if you want a broader view of what's happening across the country.