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Buying a home

How to get to know a suburb when buying a house


When buying a house, it's important to get to know the surroundings of your potential new home. This means doing some suburb research - not just the kind that involves Google, but a drive through town and chatting with some friendly locals, could shed some light on the pros and cons of the area (like maybe some insights on potential new neighbours), which may help you decide if you want to live there.

And that's just what Mireille and her husband-to-be, Alex, did…

Currently looking to buy their first home together, they are in the process of scoping out potential suburbs to live in. Young, busy ‘lifestylers', the couple are looking for a suburb that offers a great café culture and a friendly community that they can actively become involved in.

Here, they take us through their four key suburb qualification ‘tests': the affordability test, the location test, the local test and the future test.

The affordability test

Looking for what suburb to buy a house in often starts with finding out where you can realistically afford to buy. Mireille says, “We look at the price of properties in a suburb first. Our mortgage broker has helped us understand what sort of home loan we can get, and from there we could whittle down a list of affordable suburbs for us.”

You can learn more about suburb property prices by talking to other people who've bought in the area, as well as by looking at online real estate websites.

“We look at real estate websites for our research,” explains Mireille, “but I also find a lot of great content on social media, with links to useful articles about home buying and property.”

Online research can help you uncover statistics on house prices, suburb profiles and property value forecasts, which can help in your initial research stages. Once you've identified a few suburbs that look good on paper, it's time to determine if the location is right for you.

The location test

Think about how the geographical location of the suburb will affect your lifestyle. For example, an extra twenty minutes on your commute may not sound like much, but it will likely alter your morning routine considerably. Other factors to consider are proximity to your friends and family, other hobbies or clubs you're involved with, and even things like not being too far from the airport if you travel interstate a lot.

For Alex and Mireille, these are their key deciders for the location test:

1. Commute to work

Mireille drives to her work in Collingwood, in Melbourne's inner-north, and doesn't want to spend more than half an hour on her commute each day. “We need to be in a central area close to some sort of freeway so it's easy to get to work,” she says. “I don't want to be commuting for more than an hour.”

Conversely, Alex is the owner-operator of landscaping business Silvercloud Landscapes, so needs to be close enough to suburban areas where he can get work.

2. Proximity to family and friends

Mireille has older parents that she doesn't want to live too far from, and both she and Alex also want to be near some of their friends so they can socialise on weekends.

The ‘live like a local' test

After finding some suburbs that look affordable and are in a good location for you, it's time to check them out in person. That means heading there for a day, looking around, and getting a sense for what it would be like to live there. This is where that chatty neighbour comes in handy!

“We like to visit a potential suburb on a Saturday to check it out as if we're locals. We'll sit in a café and absorb the vibe,” Mireille says. “We're young, we don't have kids, and we like to get a feel for if the suburb is right for us at our stage of life. We also need to make sure that there are some good local cafes, obviously!”

Here are some of Mireille's tips for conducting the ‘live like a local' test:

1. Drive down the main street

Taking a leisurely drive down the main street gives you a feel for what it's like driving in the area. You can see what sort of shops and amenities there are and get a feel for traffic and parking.

2. Get a coffee and soak in the vibes

“We're big café people,” says Mireille. “We'll often go out for brunch on the weekends and love to explore different local cafes, so it's important to us that there are great coffee spots in the area.”

Even if coffee culture isn't a deal breaker for you, choosing a local café to sit at gives you a great chance to look around you and soak in the vibe of the suburb. Observe the people walking by to get an idea of the demographic. You'll notice if the local population is particularly saturated with young families or retirees, or if they're people kind of like you.

3. Hit up the shops

Mireille advises to take a walk down the main strip and choose some shops to go into. Perhaps find the local grocer or supermarket, or look for a health food shop if you're big on healthy eating. Shopping in the suburb is a great way to see how it feels to live in the area, what the people are like, and what kind of stores are available to suit your lifestyle.

4. Look for local attractions

It may sound obvious, but taking the time to drive about town and look at the area will help you get to know the suburb better too. If you're a dedicated gym junkie, look out for a local gym. If you need to live near public transport, suss out where the nearest train station is.

“Parks and greenery is important to us,” Mireille comments. “We've got a beagle called Zac, and need to make sure there are places we can take him for a run around.”

5. Get a feel for community

Looking about town is also a good chance to look out for signs of what the community is like. Look out for neighbours saying good morning to each other, for local sports clubs if you have kids, or activity groups advertised on noticeboards.

“Community is a big thing for me,” Mireille explains. “Where I grew up, everyone kind of lives in isolated silos. I’d like to know my neighbours and get involved in my community. I want to find a local church and take part in working bees and community projects.”

The future test

During your search for a suburb, take the time to think about the future growth potential of the suburb, as well as your own plans for the future.

While Mireille and Alex aren't having kids right now, they know that this might be an important consideration in a few years' time. So, they like to check that there are some good schools in the suburb.

They're also open to moving in a year or two, and keeping their first home as an investment property. So, they do their research to ensure that the suburb is an area that will experience growth.

If you're looking at buying a home, make sure you do your suburb research first. You can get an idea of how much you could get on a home loan by speaking with a Suncorp Mobile Lender. Or, speak with a Suncorp Banking Specialist on 13 11 55.

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