Warning: you’ll either find this blog post incredibly useful, or incredibly judgmental and narrow-minded.
Back in 2009, I wrote this semi-serious post called “Lucie's Pocket Guide to Judging Areas of London”. My intention at the time was to help out newcomers who are house-hunting in London. Now, after nearly 4 years of living in a happy, leafy and safe neighbourhood, I am searching for a new flat. Once again, I am reminded how frustrating this process can be. In my previous blog post, I introduced a couple of clever rules of thumb, such as …
- Wild Generalization no. 1: North and West Good, South and East Bad
- The Kebab Rule of Inverse Proportion
- Wild Generalization no. 2: Council Estates = Trouble
But somehow, the rules don’t seem enough. I still end up wasting lots of time attending house viewings in places that turn out to be … just not my cup of tea. Variations in living standards can be huge, even within the same neighbourhood. Recently, I went to view a couple of properties in southwest London. First up, a flat on a beautiful quiet street with nice detached houses, middle-class families, trees, well-tended gardens … basically, suburban bliss. Hoooray, I thought I’d found the right neighbourhood! But no. The second property I viewed was less than half a mile away. The street was awful: overgrown front gardens, garbage everywhere, crammed terraced houses in disrepair, lots of traffic, noise and dust, a shabby-looking family having some sort of garage sale attended by hobos. Complete and utter deprivation.
I devised a couple of new tricks to help me weed out places without actually travelling there. Websites such as findaproperty.com allow you to see the street view for each advert. This is immensely useful because you can have a quick peek at the neighbourhood without actually travelling there -- check out the houses, check out the cars and check out the shops.
Wild Generalization no. 3: Watch out for crappy cars
If you can’t tell the quality of a street by the houses, look at the cars. For illustration, the photo below: lots of old cars, lots of small cars, lots of white vans. Conclusion: the neighbourhood must be mostly working-class, probably not very wealthy. White vans are driven by builders and painters-decorators; they are not driven by city executives … simple as that. On the other hand, if people are not afraid to park their Porsches and Audi A4’s somewhere, then it might just be a place with fairly low street crime.
Wild Generalization no. 4: Waitrose good, Aldi bad.
Look at the shops in the neighbourhood -- this will tell you a lot about the kind of people who live there, their level of income and lifestyle. Good signs: Waitrose, Marks & Spencer Food, Pizza Express, Starbucks, Waterstones, Whittards, nice bakeries, nice cafés. Bad signs: betting shops (e.g. Paddy Power), pawnbrokers, Aldi, Lidl, Poundland, 99p stores, Greggs, discount centres.
Happy house-hunting & let me know if you have your own tips and tricks!