Researching BTL property online
In the week that the Land Registry released historic data going back 18 years, I thought I would share some of the best bits of property information available online.
Who lives in an area
I have always placed great store by an areas inhabitants. Beautiful old buildings are nice, but they don’t necessarily equate to an area being good. Yes, the middle classes do love a bit of character charm, but alas, there are many areas of wonderful character that remain run down, unloved & un-gentrified. An areas rental credentials are more strongly linked to the quality of its inhabitants and not its architecture. To check an area’s socio-economic profile, use a site such as checkmyarea.com. These sites can give a fascinating insight into the socio-economic profile of the residents. Sharing such details as average wage and credit score. They can help give an idea of the kind of tenant the area might attract.
Housing benefit rates
If you are considering letting to tenants on benefits you can research an areas Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates online, courtesy of the Direct Gov website. The site provides the potential LHA rate on offer based on a properties postcode.
Visual check of the area
I think you can tell a lot about an area by looking around. Thankfully an initial scout around can be done from the comfort of your armchair via the gift of Google’s Street View. This is a great way of getting a first feel of a new area without having to go there.
I could spend hours virtually walking myself up and down streets of properties, all at the touch of a button. For a quick and remote snapshot Google Street View is brilliant. If the area you are targeting to invest in is nearby, I’d obviously advocate that you get yourself there in person, but Google’s a great solution for a quick sniff or if you are researching property investments further a field. However, nothing can beat the site and sound of an area to get a real feel for an area.
To check if their are any planning issues blighting a potential investment, whether it be a neighbours’ plans to extend or a nearby application to turn a shop into a noisy wine bar, you can use the website planningfinder.co.uk Obviously, any local authority search by your solicitor would show this up too, but if it might be worth checking before a purchase gets that far. It might also enlighten you on the kinds of permitted developments the area might allow. The site shows any local planning applications on a map.
Schools – fool!
Traditionally, middle class families have looked to buy, but increasingly more families are looking to rent. For landlords hoping to rent to families with school age children the quality of the schools in an area can have a big impact on rental demand. If you can buy a property in an area with highly rated schools that is suitable for a family let, (garden, parking, decent sized bedrooms) you are probably going to do okay long term. To find out about the quality of schools in an area have a look at the Department of Educations performance tables.
Pubs & transport
If it’s the young professional renters that are your target market, then don’t underestimate the importance of good public transport and good pubs and nightlife. Many young professionals in urban areas don’t have access to a car, so public transport and good cycle routes are increasingly important. After a hard day in the office these tenants want to unwind with their mates by having a drink or two. Access to a good nightlife with a selection of bars and pubs is a pre-requisite. A rental property within ‘staggering’ distance of good pubs and bars is going to be a great selling point. To find out about the location of bars and pubs have a look at beerintheevening.com. For cycle routed across the uk check the Sustrans website and obviously check any local bus company and trains routes via their respective websites.
Once you have identified an area, then the online search facility available on Rightmove is a great tool to allow you to see exactly what is for sale in a targeted area and what properties are renting for.
Their draw a search function allows a user to define an area of search and view the location and details of the property on a map or as a list. Once registered you can regularly check the area for new properties and updates.
One of the best places to pick a buy-to-let bargain is at property auction. There are numerous auction houses across the UK. One auction website that gives access to auction properties for free is Auction House.
For advice on buying properties at auction have a look at the Landlords Bible. If you want comprehensive information about all the auctions in the UK, the selling prices and more data than you can shake a stick at, you can subscribe to the EIG website. You will have to pay for a subscription but if you are serious about buying a lot of auction property it’ll be probably worth the investment.
Nothing beats seeing the property in the flesh
Online tools are great, they can help cut out a lot of wasted time, however as soon as a place starts to look like a strong opportunity, it’s essential that a landlord makes a full and detailed inspection of the property. When it comes down to making the final decision it’s still worth having a real poke around.
Please add a comment with any other sites you have found particularly useful when researching property. No self promotion please!