Over the past few years we bought a flat and then a house. Some recent conversations IRL and on Twitter reminded me that I never wrote up the tools that we used when househunting. A number of these sites were useful when doing so — please do let me know in the comments if there are others worth including in the lists.

First Things First: Financials

  • Use a mortgage calculator to check what you can borrow and what your repayments will be. Remember to factor in utility bills, council tax, etc into your affordability calculations.
  • Calculate what stamp duty you’ll need to pay and investigate what your conveyancing etc costs are likely to be. Searches, fees, etc, all add up! If it’s your first time buying, then check out MoneySavingExpert’s very comprehensive guide.

Understanding the Area

  • The excellent UpMyStreet used to be my go-to for understanding an area, since it included ACORN data (type of people living in a postcode), crime, affluence, education level, etc. Sadly they were acquired and their functionality doesn’t seem to have been included in the new owners’ own site.
  • However, the MousePrice Area Guide feature gives a fair amount of information and I particularly like their heatmaps.
  • Check My Area is another decent resource, giving affluence ratings etc.
  • If you want lots (and lots!) of detail, then the Office for National Statistics’ Neighbourhood Statistics page is for you. I find the Neighbourhood Summary the most useful, but if you really want to crunch some numbers, they’re all here.
  • If schooling is important to you, then find Ofsted inspection reports to judge whether those in the area are right for your kids.
  • For detailed crime stats, Police.uk plots them on a map and lets you filter by category. Really helpful to judge the relative seriousness of the crimes in the area — for instance, in student areas there might be a lot of “unsociable behaviour” but this might be OK if the violent crime / burglary rates are much lower.
  • Lastly, Walkscore is an excellent little site that helps you understand how easily you can get what you need within walking distance in a particular postcode :-) A much more advanced version of the “nearest pint of milk” test!
  • UPDATE: Good point from Chris in the comments: broadband availability matters too! The maps on Think Broadband are useful and if you want to see the sort of packages and speeds available, then the USwitch broadband checker is a decent start.

Searching for Specific Properties

  • Zoopla is one of the better sites, with good map features including the ability to plot a very specific area that you want to live in.
  • Mouseprice again is useful and has a REALLY useful (if a little glitchy, certainly in Mac Chrome) heatmap search option — useful for seeing in colour which areas are likely ex-Council or similar if you’re looking at an area you don’t know so well yourself.
  • PropertySnake lets you search for properties that have been discounted and also shows how long they’ve been on the market for. Sometimes indicates a buyer who’s holding out for a price they won’t get, but sometimes shows those properties that are a good investment if you’re willing to put the work in to modernise them etc.

Making an Offer

  • Before you get too excited about that massive bargain you just spotted, use Homecheck to see whether the discounted price is due to flooding, industrial contamination or similar. Postcode searches are free, but if you want to get very specific property level advice I think you need to pay. Remember you’ll have to get this sort of search done during conveyancing anyway, so use this as an indicator but don’t shell out loads on searches.
  • Check that there aren’t any planning permissions already granted that will impact the property you have your eye on by finding your local Planning Authority on Planning Portal.
  • Check what council tax you will pay by first finding out the Council Tax Band and then checking the local council site for the actual tax band costs.
  • OurProperty is good for finding what the specific property previously sold for. Though of course you can’t tell from this data what improvements have been made or additional lending taken out against the property, it’s a decent starting point to understanding the context of the seller.