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Scoping out: make the internet work for your house hunting

Getting hold of information has become far easier than ever before

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Searching for a house is an emotional experience. It can take many months to find exactly the right place, and then several more as you secure that first mortgage for a property and pass through all the processes associated with actually buying. By the time you actually move in, it can feel like you've run the homebuyer's equivalent of a marathon.

When you are viewing houses each weekend, there are few worse feelings than turning up to meet an estate agent at the front door of a potential property and finding that it looks nothing like it did in the details. Unless you know an area well, it can be difficult to filter out genuinely tempting properties from the hundreds that are sent to you.

Choosing your first mortgage, or using the internet to compare mortgage rates, or even looking at second mortgages for an existing property you own, is an important part of staying realistic and in control of what you can afford. A good way to find out how much your monthly repayments will be is to use a mortgage calculator.

House search

The good news is that, as with many things, the internet has made getting hold of information far easier than ever before. The first step to take is to create an account at several of the property aggregator services that allow you to browse hundreds of house details at the click of a mouse. Set your filters to focus in on your preferred price range, style of home, number of bedrooms and areas and services such as Rightmove, Zoopla or FindaProperty.com can sort out the wheat from the chaff even before you contact an estate agent.

As soon as you see something you like, the next thing to do is to check where it is. While just five years ago, this used to involve combing the streets on foot, the obvious step is now to take up your mouse and become a Google gumshoe. By using the search giant's online maps, especially the Street View feature, which allows 360-degree street-level aspects, you can easily view the neighbourhood.
This can give you vital details including what the parking is like nearby or whether, when you look out of your living room window, you are likely to be confronted by a sea of wheelie bins. By cross-referencing this with the bird's eye feature from Bing Maps, you can really get a feel for the area and by using Police.uk, you can check on the crime and anti-social behaviour levels in the area.

The bottom line...

Once you get to the stage of thinking about making an offer, it's good to have all the information to hand. Knowing the exact price the seller paid for it puts you in a strong position.

The free OurProperty.co.uk uses Land Registry data so you can see, for example, that the house you want to buy sold for 25 per cent less a few years ago. For the savvy buyer, this could mean two things: either the present owner has spent a lot of money doing up a property that was barely habitable when they took it on; or they are overestimating the value of their home. Either way, the information gives you the chance to make a considered judgement as to whether the price you see in the details is a fair one - or whether the owner may be open to an offer.

And by comparing the land registry data with the Nationwide and Halifax house price indices, you can get an idea of the overall housing landscape since your target property was last sold. Just use it for a guide and bear in mind that what prices have been doing may vary even among areas within a single town.

Finally, if you are not at the stage of actively looking to buy (or sell), you can use Zoopla's TemptMe service to register interest in a specific property, and be alerted if it comes on the market - and if you are the owner, you can hang a tentative price tag on your home to see if anyone bites.

When you've bought that dream home, remember that early repayment charges apply during the fixed-rate period. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

This article has been written for information and interest purposes only and should not be construed as advice or used to make financial decisions. Expert financial advice should always be sought and any links contained within this article are included for information purposes only. Links to third party websites are not an endorsement by us of products and services on such websites. You have entered a website owned and operated by and will be subject to their website's terms and conditions.

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