After moving out of London for a new life in the country, I decided to share my experiences.
We wasted time and money visiting properties which were not suitable and worked out a pre-visit routine to rule out many homes.
Having worked out our requirements finding potential new homes was easy. Just about every estate agent advertises their properties online, many of them having a website. All the properties we looked at were advertised on either Zoopla or Rightmove which are both excellent. Just type in the location, price range, number of rooms and some preferences, and in seconds you have a world of possibilities.
Going through each advert, you get brilliant colour pictures, a description, a plan and the rough location usually with a map. As a general rule, we found that rooms that had no photograph were often to hide something. Also, the lenses used by estate agents often made things look bigger. When we visited a few properties, we were surprised at how much smaller things were in reality, especially gardens.
Zoopla also shows details of past sale prices which can be useful. We found the data not entirely up to date, and some estimates are based on properties of different types and sizes on the same street so could be very misleading.
We visited one lovely property in Kent only to find it was on the edge of a motorway embankment. The location was not in the details and not shown on a local map. From then on we looked at each property on Google Earth to see its exact location, and the street view feature allowed us to see the immediate area. Estate agents rarely give the exact address or postcode but usually finding the property only took a few minutes.
To make sure we didn’t have any nasty surprises we checked the online crime reports. There are several sites on the Internet which provide information this one brings up a crime map and allows users to drill down to street level. We found this excellent guide but not entirely foolproof. It did stop up from buying one property which was in an area of anti-social behaviour and some drug problems. After we had had an offer accepted, we found this information and visited the area on a Friday evening and spoke to some local publicans. That was a close escape.
Good broadband is vital, and there is an excellent website called Sam Knows that gives details of the local exchange. You put in the postcode, and it gives you the details of which services are available. The ones most people are interested in are ADSL and FTTC. FTTC is Fibre to the Cabinet which most people know as BT Infinity but is available from some other providers called something else. This information should be used as a guide only as FTTC is sometimes not available on all streets.
Having a young baby, we needed to plan for childcare and schooling. We looked at Ofsted reports for the local schools and child care providers. These are not the most riveting read but give a good indication of the local schools. Coincidentally at the time, the press was publishing some stories that were very critical of the inspection process and that some schools where abusing the system to get better scores. We also found that many schools did not have recent reports, some as much as five years old. The suggestion being that schools with a good history did not need regular reassessments. We also spoke with people we meet but found that what people told us was often at odds with the Ofsted reports.
Good trains were very important, so we only looked in places with train stations. Checking fares was obvious but also checking timetables showed which towns had fast trains. Picking the wrong place means having a long journey with lots of stops or having to change. Each train operator has a website and often a smartphone app.
We also found some towns had coach services which were frequent and cost-effective and also had websites and smartphone apps.
Another online service that might be of interest is Crashmap.co.uk which list road accidents involving all road users. This indicates accident hot spots and is especially useful to see how safe any potential school might be.
Once we had learned from some mistakes and started getting the best out of the online information, we were able to avoid visiting unsuitable properties and in the end, bought what has turned out to be an excellent home. However, relying on any of these sources on their own would be risky, and we tried our best to verify some of it from other sources.
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