Streetwise secrets behind Britain's most desirable locations

Buying in the right area will pay off when you come to sell up. Esther Shaw reveals what to look for, and what to avoid
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The Independent Online

Time was - and it was way back when - that you bought a house simply to make a home. Today, due to a surge in property prices and concern over a lack of pension savings, a home of their own is increasingly seen by borrowers as an investment first and a roof over their heads second.

Time was - and it was way back when - that you bought a house simply to make a home. Today, due to a surge in property prices and concern over a lack of pension savings, a home of their own is increasingly seen by borrowers as an investment first and a roof over their heads second.

As part of the investment equation, location has become critical, having as big an impact on house prices as the physical condition of the properties.

A house close - but not too close - to a station, shops and other local amenities is always likely to cost more than a comparable property some distance from these services. Now, however, it is possible to work out in some cases how much location can add to property values.

Being situated next to a park can lift a home's value by as much as 7 per cent, according to new research from the Commission for Architecture & the Built Environment (Cabe).

A seaside location will make a property even hotter. Prices in 16 coastal towns have doubled in the past three years, the estate agency arm of the Halifax has found. In Padstow, a picturesque village on the coast of north Cornwall, they have shot up by 144 per cent since 2002. The rapid rise is thanks in part to the influence of the celebrity chef Rick Stein, who owns several restaurants in the area.

A home in the catchment area of a top-performing school can have a great impact on house prices, too. A property in the vicinity of the UK's top 50 community primary schools can be valued as much as a third higher than in the surrounding areas, research from the wealth management arm of Barclays Private Clients has shown.

In this case, it is a different type of investment - your children's future - that carries a premium in the form of higher house prices.

Sarah and Paul Birmingham made the decision 18 months ago to relocate from Sheringham, north Norfolk, to Norwich to ensure that their twins, Josh and Fawn, now 13, would receive a better secondary education.

They sold their three-bedroom bungalow and rented until they found a four-bedroom property near to Taverham High School in the village of Drayton, just outside the city.

"Location was absolutely key to our house-buying decision," says Sarah. "We had to pay around £40,000 more for our new home [than for a comparable property], but were happy to do so because we know it will pay off when we come to sell. We see it as an investment."

Of course, you need to get up-to-date information on any school you might target. Schools can rise as well as fall in the league tables that measure their performance.

"If you make the big decision to pay extra to buy a house in your dream neighbourhood, you don't want to wake up to find the schools that serve it are tumbling down the tables," says Professor Paul Cheshire of the London School of Economics, co-author of a recent study, the Price of Access to Better Neighbourhoods.

He found that access to better education - even when provided free in a state school - is still dependent on parental income. Only the wealthy can afford more expensive homes in such catchment areas.

Good local facilities aren't everything, though. Making sure you're happy in your choice of location is just as much about avoiding the downsides.

Potential environmental hazards such as industrial pollution and flooding can have a huge impact on property prices. House-hunters should check out the risk from flooding, in particular, by using the Environment Agency's website (environment-agency. gov.uk). Alternatively, insurers such as More Th>n have flood maps pinpointing homes at risk within individual areas.

When buying a property, remember that knowledge is power; the more you know about the area you're looking in, the better idea you will have of what you should be getting for your money. You can then adjust your budget and bargain accordingly.

UpMyStreet.com is one of several websites that let you type in any postcode to gain access to all sorts of local information on property prices, schooling, policing and crime levels.

Look at the local council website, too, says Michael Parsons from information site Mortgage & Loans Online. This will give you details of new and planned developments that could affect the value of your property.

"Local newspapers will also give you an insight into issues [affecting] the local community," he adds.

When on viewing trips, try talking to Neighbourhood Watch groups to find out if the area is a quiet, safe one.

Throughout the buying process, think constantly about how location factors will affect the price you might get when you come to sell. You may fall in love with your chosen property but try not to get carried away, Mr Parsons warns.

"It may be that you like the house so much that you don't care about the lack of certain amenities," he says. "But remember, a future buyer may think differently."

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