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What makes a great street or estate? How to spot a hidden gem - and the red flags to avoid

Here’s how to get local-level knowledge from your very first viewing.

Image: Shutterstock/Konmac

BUYING A HOME is a big decision, and it can be a daunting one. In the First Time Buyer Fix with Glenveagh Homes, we’ll be taking some of the stress out of the process by sharing insights and advice – as well as the experiences of those who’ve been there.

Our current topic is location. Most recently, we shared expert advice for narrowing down your property search to a few key areas on the map. But once you have your list of hotspots, where do you start looking within each one? This week, we’re sharing tips for choosing between different streets, roads and estates – and spotting the up-and-coming hotspots.

Unless you’ve lived in a certain town or neighbourhood for some time, it can be hard to get a sense of the ins and outs of the area. What street is full of young families? What road isn’t so safe at night? Where’s the café with the best pastries – even if the coffee is notoriously terrible?

That local-level knowledge is essential if you’re trying to choose a street to start your house search on, or to pick between two houses in side-by-side estates. So how can you pick up the insider information without having lived somewhere for years? 

Here’s how to get your bearings in a neighbourhood from that very first viewing, according to the experts…

1. Before a viewing, do as much research as you can

shutterstock_656608756 Source: Shutterstock/dotshock

“Doing your homework is vital,” says Margaret Penrose, MD of The Buyer’s Agent. After close to two decades of experience helping Irish buyers find their dream homes, Penrose says the basics still apply. 

Ask around to find out if you know anyone in the local area, call them up and ask them how they find living there. Type the street or estate into Google and see what comes up, and you could give the local Garda station a call too. That’s a quick way to find out if the area is relatively safe, or if there is ongoing trouble.

To get a detailed idea of how your potential new street or estate might feel a few years from now, Penrose suggests tracking down the city or county development plans for the area and “seeing what’s coming on stream,” be it a brand new park, or a multi-storey apartment block.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask nosy questions

shutterstock_1055010329 Source: Shutterstock/K303

Emmet Creighton is CEO of Lintil, a virtual home-buying assistant service. He’s also the founder of the Facebook group First Time Buyers – Ireland, a private community that now has over 9,500 members, who share their questions and concerns with one another daily.

“Location is a frequent topic in the group,” says Creighton.

Someone might have a general area in mind, and they’ll ask how people find living there, or what the demand is like for houses there. Another really common question is, ‘Do you think more houses will come up for sale in this area?’

Whether it’s online or offline, don’t hold back with the nosy questions, adds Penrose.

“If you’re looking at a house in a new development, ask the agent who your neighbours will be – are there families, young people, downsizers or a mix? If you’ve heard a new shopping centre or playground is in the pipeline, ask a local councillor how likely it is to really happen. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.”

3. Headed for a viewing? Take a thorough walk around the neighbourhood…

shutterstock_1399290365 Source: Shutterstock/alexei_tm

An in-person house viewing is an ideal opportunity to get a sense of a neighbourhood or housing estate, and to get some face-time with your future neighbours. “Give yourself at least half an hour before or after to explore the area,” says Penrose.

Walk around, look at everyone’s houses, and definitely knock on a couple of doors and chat to the people living there.

This is the time to listen to your gut instinct, she adds. “You can tell a lot just by looking around. Are people out and about on the street, chatting to each other? Does there seem to be a neighbourly feeling? Are there any red flags that would make you think the area is not well looked after or would be unsafe at night?”

4. …And peek into people’s gardens

shutterstock_1792418353 Source: Shutterstock/vaivirga

If the neighbourhood or estate you’ve moving into is somewhat well established already, you’ll be able to tell a lot simply by peeping into gardens or looking at the front of people’s houses. This is a great tactic if you’re trying to get a sense of how many families are on the street, says Penrose:

If you’re keen to have kids of a similar age to your own living nearby, check for clues like drawings stuck in the windows or bikes and toys in the garden. Cars parked on the road with child seats are another sign of young kids living around.

In contrast, if every single garden is immaculately tended and you can’t spot a single child seat in the cars, you might assume that the area is more mature – ideal if you’re a downsizer or someone craving a quiet area.

“Most neighbourhoods or estates have cycles. They’ll start with young people, then the kids grow up, move out, then parents pass on or move away, and the cycle starts again,” says Penrose.

5. Stick your head into some local businesses too

shutterstock_1329220598 Source: Shutterstock/weedezign

Once you’ve done a walk-around of the immediate area, venture a little further afield, into the nearest shop or café, and do some detective work here too. Exploring local businesses (or in post-lockdown times, visiting local sports clubs and perhaps chatting to the bar staff) is an excellent way to get a sense of the community spirit of an area, says Penrose.

“Talk to whoever is working behind the counter and ask them a bit about the locality.” There are plenty of simple signs of a close-knit community to watch out for in local businesses, be it a queue of chatting locals outside, or signs advertising classes and walking clubs up on the noticeboard.

6. Finally, figure out if the neighbourhood fits your ‘walking distance’ needs 

shutterstock_285774176 Source: Shutterstock/majeczka

Many of the questions in Lintil’s first-time buyers group relate to people’s longer-term plans for the future, says Creighton. “People will ask if new schools are coming to a particular area, or what the capacity is like at the local primary school, for example.”

Taking some time to list those short and long term needs, even just for yourself, is vital, adds Penrose. She suggests taking particular care to note the facilities you feel you need to have within walking distance, or at the very least, a short drive away.

“Think about what you need right now, like shops, sports clubs, maybe restaurants. And also think about what you might need five or ten years down the line, like creches or preschools or schools. If you’re commuting, how far is the nearest bus stop from your house? Ask yourself those questions now and you’ll be in a great position to find the right home for you.”

At Glenveagh Homes, our vision is that everyone should have the opportunity to access great-value, high-quality homes in flourishing communities across Ireland. We understand that buying a home is possibly the biggest decision you will ever make in your life – but we want to make it your easiest. Click here to find out more about Glenveagh developments.   

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