Whether it’s work, family or you just fancy something completely new, we can’t always move to an area we know. But buying a house in a completely new neighbourhood, town or city can be a daunting prospect. And without a friend or relative to give you some local knowledge, it can be difficult to gauge what an area is going to be like to live in.

A ten minute viewing and half an hour drive around is the most research many people carry out before deciding that they want to put an offer in. But what surrounds your bricks and mortar is just as important as what’s within. And nobody wants to end up living next to the neighbours from hell (now you know why the house was so cheap), in the path of a new motorway, or in a town that’s about to go bust rather than boom.

To help, we’ve gathered a few tips to help you weigh up the area where you’re thinking of making your home before you get serious about buying. Here are some key things to check before you make your move.

The general area

We’re working in concentric circles here, so we’re going to start at the biggest – the general area. Keeping this practical, we’ll say this is the town, city or even village you’re considering. Luckily, it’s very easy to read up on all these online and virtually everywhere in the UK has a Wikipedia entry at the very least; and a plethora of dedicated sites providing information on living, working, drinking and dining in that particular place at the best. However, these should be treated with caution. we all know that these sites are often written with a vested interest in painting the best picture of a place to keep advertisers and subscribers happy so can provide a rosier than normal view of a place.

So at this stage it can pay to take a look at the local papers online and get involved in online forums if you’re relying solely on desk-based research. Someone will always be happy to provide an opinion, though these will certainly be qualitative and not to be taken as 100% accurate.

Narrowing things down

Here’s where we start to refine our research. We know what to expect from the broader area and have probably (if we’re sensible) spent a few days on a recce to check out what it’s like. But when you actually move in, amenities such as local shops, pubs and restaurants, resources such as schools, colleges and services like GPs and public transport are going to make a big difference to daily life.

Here’s where the detective work comes in. Put your feet up and visit the many websites dedicated to providing local info. Sites like checkmystreet, locationcounts, streetcheck and others give you the lowdown on what to expect from a new neighbourhood in terms of resources and services. Gov.uk gives you the official view on local school performance and schoolguide provides official data plus reviews from parents. The independent Care Quality Commission monitors, inspects and regulates health and social care services and publishes their finding.

Oh, and don’t forget tripadvisor isn’t just good when you’re going away. It’s also a mine of great information about local eateries, pubs and bars.

Up close and personal

So you’ve gained a good idea of the outer circle and local area. Now it’s time to target the bullseye: the immediate environs of your chosen house.

Not many people want to live next door to the local Hell’s Angels chapter (unless you wear the colours yourself) or find out that their house shares a wall with the local techno club afterparty hangout. This is possibly the most important part of making a decision; finding out who your neighbours are. There’s only one sure fire way of doing this: knocking on the doors and introducing yourself. Do this, and you’ll usually get a very good impression of what they’re like. You should also ask the property seller (it’s illegal for them to withhold info on disputes with neighbours) and estate agent. Finding out if the next door properties are rented or owner/occupied is also a good idea.

To get an idea of how safe the street is, check your new postcode at Police.co.uk to find out what type of crimes have been reported in your ‘hood recently.

Finally, make sure you know just what building or developments are planned via your local council planning portal or at gov.uk

Follow those tips when buying a house in a new area and make the unexpected less of a surprise.