Is your new home in a nice area?

When it comes to home buying, location is an important consideration. You may be able to do a house up, but you can't change its location. That's why it's worth knowing about an area when you're thinking about moving.

The property may be perfect, but there’s something else to think about – the rest of the neighbourhood. Does it have problems with crime? Are house prices rising or falling? Does it have access to good schools? A little upfront research can help find the right place for you.

Young couple looking ad house listings

Get clued up before you move

Whether a particular property’s caught your eye or you’re interested in a move to a specific area, there’s a lot to consider before you take out a mortgage and buy it.

If you’ve got children or are planning to start a family, the quality of local schools in your catchment area’s likely to be a key concern – one we’ll address later in this article.

It’s also important to make sure you’re paying a fair price, know about factors you might not spot during viewings, and that you’ll be comfortable with your new surroundings. Here are a few ways you can check.

  1. Find out local house prices

    You might know the asking price of the property you’re looking at, but how does it compare to the rest of the area?

    A popular go-to search tool is Zoopla sold house prices and values. Enter a street or postcode to see what other properties in the area last sold for, and approximate valuations for others. Or search by region and county, including heatmaps of property prices and whether they’re high, low or somewhere in the middle.

    There’s also MousePrice.com and NetHousePrices.com, which keep records of the final sale prices of housing in an area. These are great for spotting trends in the immediate neighbourhood and finding out how things might change long term. Are local house prices going up, down or nowhere?

  2. Check your area's crime statistics

    Safety is naturally a really big factor in buying a home – and that means checking out what crimes have been committed in the area. Your best bet is to enter your postcode on Police.uk.

    Their website will let you see the local police station and the number of crimes committed nearby. The website also lists the type of crime – meaning you know if that pub around the corner is going to be a problem or not.

    Wherever you eventually move to, remember you’ll need home insurance to protect the property and its contents.

  3. Check if anyone's planning building works

    Find out if next door are planning a two-storey extension on their garage.

    Visit the government’s planning portal and search for any developments that are planned near you. It may prevent a nasty surprise later on.

    The local council may have its own planning portal that will inform you of any uilding work being planned. The converse is also good to know - if something has been built but the correct planning approval hasn't been sought, this could become your legal responsibility as the future homeowner.

  4. Find out if there's traffic noise

    That property near an A-road may have seemed relatively quiet during that Sunday afternoon viewing – but what’s it like during Friday rush hour?

    You can check official government-produced traffic noise maps for big parts of all countries in the UK. All you have to do is enter the property’s postcode to see how noisy an area is:

    England

    Scotland

    Wales

    Northern Ireland

    You can filter by road, rail and air – so you can also discover if that flight path or train line is going to be driving you round the bend.

  5. Research your neighbourhood

    If you want to get a sense of what an area’s like – and you’re too shy to knock on people’s doors – you can grab a neighbourhood summary from the Office for National Statistics.

    These profiles really get into detail. You can find out about age range, life expectancy, education and housing. There’s a lot there you can use to find out whether it’s going to be somewhere you want to live one day.

  6. Look on Street View

    If you forget to explore the surrounding area when you’re viewing a property, just use Street View on Google Maps to have a look around.

    Enter the postcode to zoom into the right part of the map. Then drag the yellow figure in the bottom right to the correct street if you’re using a desktop or laptop computer, or choose the Street View option on your mobile device.

    It’s especially useful for getting a feel for an area before you go on a viewing – that way you know if the area is really as nice as the photos on the estate agent’s website.

    There's also the handy tool FixMyStreet.com, where people report anything that needs sorting in their area – like potholes, fly-tipping or abandoned cars – and whether it's been resolved by the council, or if locals had to sort it out themselves.

  7. Assess the flood risk

    If you know you’re in an area prone to flooding – or if you have absolutely no idea – it’s worth finding out.

    You can check details such as the long-term flood risk in an area, how close it is to nearby flood defences, as well as any current alerts, on these sites for different parts of the UK:

    England

    Scotland

    Wales

    Northern Ireland

    If it does turn out you’re in a flood-risk area, you may also be able to pay for a more detailed report on the flood risk there.

    Some of the potential risks - such as flood risks - will be included in a building survey if you choose to get one of these. Speak to your surveyor about what is and isn't included in their report.

If you're ready to take the big step and apply for a mortgage, see what you could get with Post Office

Look up school catchment areas

So, you love the area and the results of your checks so far are looking good. But are the schools any good? Here’s what you need to know about catchment areas, sites and tools worth checking, and how to apply if you’ve found a school you’d like your kids to attend.

How catchment areas work

Catchment areas are based on your child’s permanent address. They’re also subject to change, so the best thing to do is look up the schools in your area and contact them directly.

Both primary and secondary schools should be able to provide information on where their catchment areas are, so you can find out if you’re close enough to be considered for a place.

Your distance from the school is also only one factor in your application. You may be miles away from your first choice but discover your child would be accepted anyway.

Factors that are considered can include:

  • Distance from the school (catchment area)

  • Siblings at the same school

  • Whether or not your child attended a nearby ‘feeder school’

  • Religion (if it’s a faith school)

  • Academic ability (if it’s a grammar or private school)

  • Special medical and social needs

Some schools even include a lottery or fair banding admissions system. In a lottery admissions system, a certain number of places are allocated randomly between all the families who applied. In a fair banding system, pupils complete an ability test – with set numbers of high, average and low performing pupils admitted.

If you're not sure how a school do things, it’s best to contact them directly or attend an open day to find out.

How to find local schools

The following websites, services and resources let you see how a school is doing based on exam performance, pupil to teacher ratio and funding. Many sites plot their information on local maps, so you can see exactly where the schools are.

As catchment areas aren’t always set in stone, they can only give you a rough idea of whether your children would be eligible. You can still easily find out which schools are in your area and how they’re performing.

The rise of small, free schools and academies means some of the sites aren’t completely up to date, so search several websites to make sure you're getting a complete picture.

Try talking to parents who have children at the school and get their perspective. School fairs and fundraisers are also great for getting a flavour of a school's culture. And websites like Mumsnet are a resource for finding inside knowledge on schools and the local area.

  1. Government Schools Finders are a handy tool to check schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They offer direct links to available school inspection reports and performance league table details.

    Search by postcode and view primary and secondary school information, including pupil achievement, absences, finance, teacher assessment, key stage test results and more.

  1. The Good Schools Guide offers a similar search function but goes further too. It has lots of advice for anyone trying to find a child a school place, and guides on choosing the right school, different types of school and admission procedures.

  1. Locrating (short for ‘local rating’) gives you a Google Maps style overview of an area when you search by postcode. It pinpoints every school in that area, complete with Ofsted rating, GCSE and SAT results, and the number of teachers per pupil.

  1. London Schools Atlas is a similar tool for those who live in and around England’s capital. It lets you search by borough then view a list of schools in each. It also shows you how long the journey to school will be if you’re walking, driving or taking public transport. 

  1. School inspection reports enable you to look further into schools you’re interested in. These official sites for the inspection bodies for England (Ofsted), Scotland (Education Scotland), Wales (Estyn) and Northern Ireland (ETI) let you access the latest reports for each school to see how they performed.

  1. Contact your local council. They have dedicated teams who help parents with getting their children into local schools. 

Remember, you need to apply to schools through your local education authority, so it’s worth knowing when applications open and how your council usually does things. The only exception is private schools, who handle their own admissions.

Check the admissions page for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for more details.

How to apply to your preferred school

When you’ve found a few schools that you’re interested in, the next step is to apply to the relevant local authority. To find your local council's website, use the local council finder tool.

When you apply, you can list the schools you wish to apply to in order of preference.

According to the schools admission page on the government’s website, applications usually open during the beginning of the academic year, one year before your child is due to start.

This can be any time between September and November, so make sure you confirm the dates on your local council website. The deadlines are 15 January for primary school and 31 October for secondary school.

If you've just moved to an area and you're outside of the application dates, contact your local authority and explain the situation – they should be able to help.

Hearing back about your application

Your local authority will contact you to let you know if your application has been successful around March for places starting in September.

If you apply for places at several schools – and all your applications are successful – you will be given your first choice. This isn’t guaranteed, though. Other children may have met the admissions criteria more closely. If that happens, the local authority will offer your child a place at another school.

If you’re unhappy with the place offered, you can lodge a formal appeal. For more information on what to include in your appeal, view the appeals details for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Make sure you have the latest details

All sites and links cited here were correct at the time of publication. As they’re third party sites, Post Office isn’t responsible for their content, which may change.

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