How to choose the best area to live in the UK
Deciding where to live is a big decision. This is especially true if you’re considering buying a property in that area.
The place we call home significantly impacts our overall quality of life, so it's not a decision to be taken lightly.
Here are our top ten tips on choosing the best area to buy a home in the UK.
Despite a shift in working patterns since the pandemic, most of us still need to travel to an office or hub at least a few times per week.
For most of us, where we work is the number one factor dictating where we live. However, this will still leave many options, from major cities to smaller towns, suburbs and rural villages within sensible commuting distance.
If you’re buying a home as an investment or buy-to-let, your workplace location won’t be relevant. However, properties within commuting distance of hospitals, universities and major employment centres are usually a safer bet than those in the middle of nowhere.
As any estate agent will tell you, good transport links can seriously boost the value of a property, both on the sales and rental market.
Good transport links mean a road network that isn’t excessively prone to congestion and delays, easy access to motorways and A-roads, and regular public transport.
What makes a good transport network for you will also differ depending on your lifestyle. For example, some people need to be near an airport. For others, a regular bus service is more vital.
It’s a good idea to drive around a potential area at rush hour and school pick-up time to get an accurate picture of the traffic situation.
Research has shown how vital open green spaces are for our health and well-being, so it's essential to identify an area which has at least one park or open green space nearby.
Green spaces are also key if you have children or pets, but absolutely everyone can benefit from accessing nature.
You’ll obviously find more green space in the countryside, but urban settings should also have a place nearby to walk or exercise free from traffic.
Lakes, ponds and reservoirs are also known to boost the well-being of residents – bear in mind the house prices around them will be higher, too.
If you’ve already got children in school, you may stay local so they can continue attending.
However, suppose you're moving further afield or don't have children of school age yet but are planning for the future. In that case, it pays to research the local schools and their catchment areas to ensure your children can access quality education.
Ofsted and the local Council have search tools online to allow you to access a list of local schools, along with their performance and inspection history and the number of pupils on the roll there.
If the parking is on-street, such as with Victorian terraces, check if the area has a permit-holders system in place. If the area is vibrant, make sure there are plenty of public car parks nearby to prevent shoppers and diners from taking up residents' parking spots.
A lousy parking situation can turn a dream area into a nightmare. Doing battle every day with your neighbours for that coveted on-street spot can add severe stress over time.
It might be worth asking a passing local about the parking situation, as you can get an honest, accurate account.
It’s important to consider whether an area suits your lifestyle.
You'll want wide pavements and well-lit streets if you go for a daily run. If you have young children, look for pram-friendly crossings, dropped kerbs, and facilities like playgrounds and libraries nearby. Dog owners should look out for parks close by with dog waste bins.
Consider how much noise you’re willing to put up with, too. If you’re a light sleeper, living down the road from a pub featuring live music could quickly grate. If you work from home, remember that schools, factories and sports pitches will all be sources of noise during the day.
Nobody wants to live in a crime hotspot. Even low-level crimes such as vandalism and graffiti can bring down the tone of an area, not to mention the value of houses.
Before buying a home in the UK, you should first check the crime statistics. There are various tools for doing this online, including the Office for National Statistics which breaks down the crimes committed by type, and CrimeRate which features an interactive map.
Major cities tend to be hotspots for crimes, with some inner-city suburbs also seeing a high number of crimes committed.
Air quality is becoming an increasing concern for people in the UK, with studies published in the past few years showing how air pollution can negatively impact our health.
Built-up areas with lots of traffic and industrial pollution are the worst culprits, with over 40 UK towns breaking the World Health Organisation’s air pollution limit back in 2018.
If you’ve got young children, or are in poor respiratory health, it’s highly advisable to steer clear of high-pollution areas.
Check the latest pollution levels for your desired area online at the Air Quality England or the Clean Air Hub websites.
If lockdown taught us anything, it’s that sometimes it's good to rely on what's in our immediate vicinity.
If you’re scouting for locations to buy a home, it's a good idea to look for local amenities. Find out if there are coffee shops, a place to buy fresh food, pharmacies, gyms, community centres, places of worship, and whatever else you need to help make your everyday life more comfortable and convenient.
Last but by no means least, affordability may be the single most important factor in choosing which area to buy in.
The perfect area for you is the one you can afford to live in. This doesn’t just go for the house price itself (your mortgage lender will do an affordability check to ensure they won't lend you more than you can pay back each month), but also the cost of commuting, council tax, bills and groceries in that area.
Remember, unless your budget stretches into the millions, people almost always need to compromise when buying a home.
Before starting your search, an excellent way to approach this is to draw up a list of things which are non-negotiable and things that are ‘nice to have’ in a potential area. For example, you could decide that a regular bus is ‘essential’ and proximity to several great coffee shops ‘desirable’.
Our final piece of advice is to go and check the area out in person. Don’t leave it to Google Maps – you need to be on the ground getting a feel for the sights, sounds and smells of a place before you can really decide on whether you want to call it home.