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Property -> Can you pick a future property 'hotspot'?

CAN YOU PICK A FUTURE PROPERTY 'HOTSPOT'?
By Dominic Moody (March 2005)

Move somewhere you will enjoy living.It's a story that is recounted in thousands of dinner parties and barbecues up and down the country every weekend. It usually begins three or four years ago with a young couple looking for an affordable first home. They move into a cheap but slightly down-at-heel area and likeminded couples follow suit. Bars and restaurants open up to cater to the new inhabitants of the area, property prices start to rise and before you know it, our hero and heroine find themselves living in a minor hotspot with a home that has doubled in value.



 

For those who've bought into an area that has stayed resolutely down-at-heel, such tales tend grate on the ear - although such places these days are few and far between. For housebuyers in search of an inflation-beating property investment on the other hand, they're the stuff of legend. And the big question that keen listeners will be asking themselves is: How on earth do I buy into a future hotspot?

Predicting the next hotspot is a tricky business."That's probably the single most difficult second guess you can make," says estate agent Graham Harris. As a professional with several decades' experience of watching the London property market and a former president of the National Association of Estate Agents, Harris is an old hand at the game of spotting future hotspots. But even he admits that when it comes down to it, backing a property winner is as tricky as predicting which nag will be first past the post at the Grand National.

"It's often the case that these things happen by chance and everybody is caught by surprise," he says. "Either that, or it's so obvious that you'll kick yourself for not noticing it earlier."

So does it all happen by chance? "No, there are market readers, people who can see what's going to happen and get in ahead of the game," he says. "Sometimes they can even create an up-and-coming area by investing in services or amenities.

"Tube lines and transport links can hugely change the nature of an area and you could also add trendiness to the equation. Some areas might not appear too appealing at first sight, but if it's lively with lots going on, people will want to move closer to it."

Another factor that can work in a place's favour is the nature of its building stock. Warehouses might lend themselves quite nicely to residential conversion.

And which other factors are likely to create an area that's on the up? According to a Bradford & Bingley Estate Agents' (BBEA) report, there are at least four indicators to look for.

INDICATORS

First, a future hotspot is likely to be within the catchment area of good schools. Some estate agents swear by the magical effect of the school league tables and it's certainly true that parents will pay a premium to live within a select catchment area. Whether you can predict a future league-table topping school is, of course, another matter.

Second, fast-selling areas are often visually appealing, according to the BBEA - particularly out-of-town areas that appeal to jaded city dwellers after a rural bolthole.

Third, good road and rail links invariably boost property values in their immediate area, especially if they mean that the area is now within commuting distance of big employers or urban centres. For the best chance of success, make sure you know what's going on with your area's structural plan, and scan the local press for news of big planning decisions.

Similarly, keep an eye out for news of big employers moving into an area. A government department or a big national headquarters could bring thousands of new employees with it - and they'll be looking to buy as close to work as possible. To get ahead of the game, find out who your local council is trying to tempt to the area, and where they might go.

But bear in mind that as with any type of speculation - whether on the stock exchange or down at the dog track - things don't always turn out the way you expect them to.

"It's a very, very difficult business to guess," says Graham Harris. "You've got to be a certain type to do it. Pioneers who buy into an area before it's popular can make lots of money, but it can also be very costly. What goes up can also come down."

If you're really determined to introduce a little speculation into your home-buying activities, Harris has what could be the best piece of advice you'll get.

"My own personal advice would be to pick somewhere you'd be happy to live," he says. "If it's good for you, it's likely to be good for people like you - and that could mean more people moving into the area and boosting prices."

Even if those prices don't rise, at least you'll be somewhere you want to be - which may well be the most important thing in the final analysis.

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