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How to decide where to live in the UK

You could wake up to the sound of birds chirping every morning and fresh air and the walk by the riverside every weekend.

Or you could find yourself living out of a shoebox, in the middle of a soulless concrete jungle, worrying if tonight’s the night you get mugged or have to deal with overflowing trash bins all all over town.

To add it to, the cost of rent, transport and taxes could eat into your hard earned savings making you wonder why you moved to the UK in the first place.

Which is why where you decide to stay in the UK is one of the most important decisions you’ll make after moving here.

Can you afford to make the wrong decision?

Things probably got a little grim. But that’s the thing, that’s what we’re trying to prevent.

I’ll use our example here to help you understand how we made the decision and then you can apply the same principle to your own search. My husband’s office was earlier at Paddington so when we moved, our main priority was to find a house which had easy access to Paddington.

1. Decide on Town or City

The first decision we made was to stay outside London and there’s a couple of reasons for this.

We knew from all the information we had seen and heard that rents in London were very high and spaces were smaller. We also asked friends, colleagues and they agreed, living outside London made more sense for us. Given that we have a child and two dogs, we wanted more space within the house and a yard where they could all play. And we knew it would be extremely expensive to get a space like this in London.

Plus we actively wanted to step away from city life so we never even considered living in London because of this.

Your first step too should be to decide whether you want to live in a city in case that’s where your job is, or just outside.

If you’re clear, great, if not, we’ll look at some more factors that can help you decide.

2. Consider Possible Locations

Let's take the scenario where you want to live outside London or a big city. I’m using London as an example. We’ll come to living in London in a bit.

What you want to do is keep the station closest to your work place as your focal point and map out the furthest you can travel - like a radius to build a circle. So assume you are ok to commute for 45 mins at max, that then gives you a set of areas to look at.

If you’re not sure of what 45mins looks like, pick one place. Like we picked Maidenhead, calculated the time, it was well under 45mins. Now all the areas in this path will approximately fall under 45 mins. Some might be a little more or less.

You might not have the slightest idea of which town to pick. If that’s the case, I’ve already made a video on best places to stay outside London, you can use that as a starting point because I’ve covered towns to the north, south, east and west of London.

If you want to live in London or another big city, use the same logic, use your Tube station and create a radius around it and map out all areas that fall under the time you’re looking at.

3. Shortlist Towns

What I did next was Google best towns 45 mins away from Paddington.

I obviously got multiple articles each stating different houses, some stating the same ones.

The ones which appeared in multiple lists, I retained, I added some more from the lists that others had shared based on why they said it was wonderful. I did this because otherwise its like shooting an arrow in the dark. You don’t know anything about these towns and then you’ll have to painfully evaluate each one

When I did this, I got Maidenhead, St. Albans, Watford, Sevenoaks, Hemel Hempstead.

For London google best areas to live in South London or near Paddington or Canary Wharf.

4. Calculate Transport

The next step is to calculate transport. We also calculated how many times we’d be travelling into London by train. If you want to find out how much it will cost, use Trainline. So I’ve already entered the details, on a daily basis it will cost one person £28.10 to get to Paddington and back and three days a week make it approximately £337 per month. If its St. Albans, its £27.40 so that works out to £328 per month.

If you are planning on living in London calculate the cost of the Tube.

Now hold onto this information.

5. Calculate Rents

Next for the areas you’ve shortlisted, check the average rents.

There are two ways to do this - you either visit RightMove and check all the existing properties and see what their rates are like or you check and it gives you an average. If you check this, you’ll see the median rent for Maidenhead for a 3 bedroom house is £1800 but St. Albans is £2100, which is a substantial difference.

6. Check Crime

The next thing I did was check the crime rate.

The scorecards might scare you seeing Maidenhead is the 2nd most unsafe town in the UK but you need to see the numbers per 1000 people. Maidenhead has a crime rate of 67 per 1000 people.

Crime in St. Albans is lower with only 59 per 1000 people.

Another town we had considered initially was Slough because the rents were a lot cheaper but the crime rate in Slough was 107 per 1000 people so we immediately wrote it off.

7. Calculate Distance To Major Cities

Something that played role in our decision was distance to other major cities and places in the UK because we like to travel.

Anything on the East or South of London would have made it more difficult to commute to other parts of the UK but being on the west of London it made commute to other parts of the UK convenient.

This for us wasn’t mandatory but good to have.

8. Calculate Council Tax

One more thing you might want to check is council tax. Some areas are more expensive to live in than others and there can be a huge difference in taxes.

Maidenhead for instance has taxes between £1009.86 and £3029.58

If you want to check ranking, the average rate for Windsor and Maidenhead is £1523. St. Albans on the other hand is £1994.

9. Check Amenities

Another thing you want check for is amenities in the town or city you stay in. This isn’t a challenge for London or any city but if you stay in a town outside a major city, it won’t always have all the same amenities

If you don't know how to check this, you can google shops in the town’s name and you’ll get a list.

And at just a glance you get an idea. St. Albans for instance has a lot more shops than Maidenhead. But Maidenhead still has enough that you can manage everyday requirements because you aren’t going to be shopping everyday. Right?

If the town you’re looking at doesn’t have its own carting place or theatre, don’t be too worried if everything else is fine. It’s very common here to catch a train or drive down to go to the next down to catch a play or go on a shopping spree. Nothing is too far away because of easily available public transport.

10. Confirm A&E

One mistake we made was to assume that just because our town had a town, it had an A&E (Accidents & Emergencies). Nope, that's not how it works. Unfortunately, a it turns out, we don't. We don't have an Accidents and Emergencies department. Which means, if we have an accident in Maidenhead and we need to rush to a hospital, we need to rush to the next town. Yeah. Wow!

Ideally, check if you're not in the best health or if you have children, I definitely recommend you check if the area you're looking at has one.

11. Check Schools

Now if you have children, this whole process is even more important. You want to live somewhere where you have access to good schools. What you need is. A lot of schools

A lot of Outstanding or Good schools because if there are too few, your child may not even get in

A good acceptance rate at these schools or low rejection rates.

How you check this is check the government page and enter the location. It will give you all the schools listed in that borough. You can see which outstanding or good schools are available. The challenge is if you join mid term. If you apply during the application period and you meet the criteria, you should still be able to get in but because most expats move when jobs have a requirement rather than academic terms you might need to join mid term and that means there might not always be an availability.

So you should check how many people applied the previous year and how many were accepted, how many were rejected. It will give you an idea of what your chances are. You can find this information on the school’s website.

Maidenhead & St. Albans had a lot of good and outstanding schools and not a very large population so we realised our chances of getting our child into one was higher.

12. Check Access To Nature

Again we like being close to nature for drives or hikes so we checked if there was a close by green belt. In both St. Albans and Maidenhead’s cases there was plenty with them both being close to the Chilterns and Maidenhead even having the Thames flowing through.

How to Evaluate

It’s difficult to remember all these things so I made an excel sheet to keep a track and see rankings

And here’s the thing. Not all of these points have the same weightage so you’ll then want to assign a weightage to these factors. What I’ve done is assigned a weightage and a score to the factors that are most important to us. And based on this I assigned a score to each of these places

If you want to do this process yourself and help make this decision, download this sheet.

How to decide where to live - MAC
Download NUMBERS • 159KB

How to decide where to live - ratings_EXCEL
Download XLSX • 9KB

Now let me share something important If we see the sheet too, St. Albans looked really good and logically we should have opted for it right? The truth? We did.

St. Albans was our first preference

But once we got to the UK, I spent 4 weeks looking for houses in both Maidenhead and St. Albans and in the whole duration we got viewings for 5 or 6 houses in Maidenhead and only 1 house in St. Albans

There were almost no houses coming up on the market and almost none that were ok with pets.

So the important thing is that if you are facing a time crunch to find a house and challenges you’re working with, have options. Don’t be too focused on only looking at one area or your might not find a good house.

With that, if you want information on where to begin, I suggest you first start with best places to live outside London.

Until next time!

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