House-hunting goes hi-tech

Innovative mapping technology and clever mobile apps are taking the legwork out of buying a home. Kate Watson-Smyth offers the guide to searching for property in the internet age
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The Independent Online

So you've decided it's time to move house – for whatever reason – space, money, schools or work. The problem is that if you're also moving to a new area it's very hard to know how to find something suitable if you don't know where to look for it.

That problem may have just been solved for you with the launch of a new mapmaking website which will help you pinpoint the location that is right for you. Mapumental allows you to input your workplace postcode, property budget and decide how "scenic" the area should be and it will then draw you a customisable map of all the places you can live and still arrive at work on time using public transport.

Developed by mySociety, the not for profit organisation behind theyworkforyou.com, fixmystreet.com and the Number 10 Downing Street petition website, in partnership with Channel 4's digital media innovation fund 4iP and design agency Stamen Design, Mapumental will eventually expand to include a number of other factors that people consider when househunting such as Ofsted reports, crime statistics and perhaps even details of decent local pubs.

"We have developed the basic tool and we are hoping that other organisations such as schools, police and estate agents will add their own data so that the maps can give you more information," says Karl Grundy, of mySociety, which specialises in creating websites to help communities improve their lives.

"This is just a starting point. You can combine the three sliders however you want to create your ideal marriage of travel time, house prices and the scenicness of the area you would like to live in.

"This will basically create a map that hides all the places that are too far away, too expensive or too ugly for you, so you have a map of what is left."

Moving the cursor your map will tell you the average house price, commute time and the "scenicness" of an exact location. While moving the slider will change your budget, commute time and "scenicness" parameters.

And he warns that if you try and create something impossible you will draw a blank: "Because there isn't anywhere that's ten minutes from Mayfair or central Manchester and costs less than £25,000."

Currently the site is only available by invitation, but mySociety is hoping to make it fully accessible to the public as well as adding extra features, such as, planning round two destinations so that couples can find a place that, hopefully, suits them both.

For the environmentally aware all modes of public transport including trains, buses, the underground, trams and, even, ferries are used, although not international ones. So you can't work out your commute from Normandy to Norwich just yet.

Walking times have also been built in to allow for changing modes of transport and walking to stations. The public journey times assume you can walk at 3mph as the crow flies, ten minutes is allowed between stations and to/from the final destination with one minute for changing buses at the same stop and five minutes for changing platforms at the same station.

Now obviously "scenicness" is subjective. And one man's chocolate box thatch is another's room 101, but Grundy says they have created an interactive website at scenic.mysociety.org where you can rate various rural and urban photographs, which will help improve the information available.

So, now you know where you might want to live, you still need to find the house. For that Nestoria.co.uk uses similar technology for you to set price and number of bedrooms. But, it will also tell you the average prices of an area, if they are rising or falling, as well as telling you about the pubs, parking and post offices. It has houses from other well-known sites such as Rightmove and, as well as local estate agents.

And of course as the applications available for mobiles phones mushroom by the day, there is now a new app that will tell you the value of a house when you point your phone at it. Layer is currently only available for the iPhone (and specifically 3GS users) but allows you to the point the phone any street to find out which houses are for sale.

This is accompanied by another app, Walk Score, which is like Mapumental but based on the idea of living within walking distance of everything you need.

Now with any luck, you've decided where you want to live, assessed the pubs, rated the schools and perhaps even got your eye on a house that you wouldn't mind taking a closer look at. But you've still got to do the really unpleasant bit. Unfortunately, augmented reality applications and digital mapping programmes notwithstanding, you still have to pick up the phone and talk to an estate agent. When they've invented an app to get round that we'll let you know.

Buying bookmarks: A browser's guide

The Modern House

For something truly special (and far beyond most people's budget) check out the Modern House, which is dedicated to showcasing truly cutting-edge architect-designed houses. Prices start reasonably at around £200,000 but go up pretty much as high as you can imagine. ( themodernnhouse.net)



Period property

At the other end of the scale from the above property porn. Although it doesn't have a huge database of property to choose from. But if you already live in an old house and want to find a qualified expert to repair your inglenook fireplace this is a great starting point. ( periodproperty.co.uk)



Nestoria

Probably doesn't have as many properties as the more widely known Rightmove.co.uk, but it does have more information about schools, pubs, leisure facilities and house prices. So if you are moving to a new area, it's worth taking a look. ( nestoria.co.uk)



Zoopla

Launched two years ago offering information on sold house prices – yes you can find out what your neighbours paid for theirs – and providing instant house valuations. ( zoopla.co.uk)



Google maps

Well known, but very useful nonetheless. It's been highly controversial but as so many buyers now drive past before a viewing, and end up keeping on driving, it could save you a wasted trip. ( maps.google.co.uk)

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