The web’s a goldmine of info to interrogate any property. Once only the preserve of agents and brokers, now, done right, you can get all kinds of details for free.
This guide shows 30+ tools to review your home, including free house price valuers as well as sites to assess crime or flood risks, find out how much neighbours paid, check out local schools and much more.
Homes and Mortgages Checklist
Check how much houses in any street sold for
Valuations between estate agents vary wildly, but a raft of websites now give you access to the kind of detailed data that was once the preserve of agents and mortgage lenders.
Our three top picks all take their data from the Land Registry and the Registers of Scotland, so the results are much of a muchness. It's still worth trying a few, as some info gets missed and they update at different times. Newly-sold houses appear in searches two to three months after the deal is done.
Simply enter a postcode or street into Nethouseprices to see which properties have been sold and for what. You can narrow the search by house age and style or see a map.
For the above, plus colour-coded Google maps highlighting streets that fetch the most, try Zoopla.
You have to register for Ourproperty, but it's free. It encourages homeowners to provide details about their homes, though few people have done this.
Match sold prices to old property ads
Frustratingly, most sold-house sites just list a price and if it was a flat or house. The entry could refer to a derelict bedsit or an immaculate three-bedder with an Aga, walnut floors and landscaped garden. A few neat tricks will help:
Search for a price comparison report on Rightmove to see sold prices, and often its original full listing with photos, floorplans and more details. This is one of the most accurate ways to divine a home's true value.
Zoopla also lets you match up sold prices with old property ads, including pics, asking prices, descriptions and floor plans. Go to Zoopla's sold prices section, search for an area and click on a property for historic listings.
It's patchy, but even just a few archived records on your street are fascinating.
Track property price trends
Now it's time to get an overview of the market. These figures help show how many properties are changing hands in your area, and how much for.
The Land Registry collects official data on real sales, recording virtually every residence sold in England and Wales. Its House Price Index gives average house prices by country and region, breaking them down into different property types. But they're a little out of date, usually by about three months.
Registers of Scotland
North of the border, Registers of Scotland's data shows sale volumes and average house prices by district. There are graphs plotting monthly average prices. Again, there's usually a three-month time lag.
Halifax house prices
Stats geeks will enjoy Halifax's housing research, which features its official house price index, a regional house price map and average prices by postcode. This updates faster than the Land Registry, though is based on mortgage approvals, not all of which result in completed deals.
For another take on the state of the housing market, see Nationwide's House Price Index. You can download national and regional house price data, as well as more detailed analysis.
Get a Ballpark valuation
Several sites have free online tools to value your house. MoneySavers report that these can be a long way off; for official valuations, use Land Registry sold prices combined with a survey. Remember...
Take the results with a shovel of salt. Never rely on the figures given – treat it as a fun investigation, nothing more.
The first to try is Zoopla. Type in a postcode and it will give you a rough indication of sales prices for that area. You can then select a home in that street and get a bespoke online valuation based on previous sale prices and market climate.
You can even get predicted rental yields and compare it to the area's average. MoneySavers report Zoopla worth looking at for a (very wide) ballpark, but it has a tendency to undervalue properties, as it's based on last sale prices and doesn't take into account renovations.
Get a more detailed second opinion
For a second opinion on how much to hope for, try Property Price Advice. It's slightly quicker and easier to work through, though asks fewer questions and requires an email address.
You get an upper and lower value for the gaff, as well the option to download a PDF guide which includes local schools and doctors. MoneySavers say Property Price Advice is more likely to overvalue properties.
Get an estimated price range
For another free basic valuation, try Mouseprice.com. It simply asks for your postcode and the number of bedrooms, so it's hardly a conclusive study.
It gives a broad price range. We tapped in the postcode for a two-bed London flat and it was valued between £296,000 and £362,000 You need to give an email address.
There is the option to get a full, detailed valuation for £20. Yet the accuracy of online valuations is still highly questionable, so if you want one, stick with the freebies.
Find a home's value based on its sale price
The Nationwide House Price Calculator is designed for people to put in their gaff's price when they bought it and work out what it's worth now.
If you don't know the last sale price, find the most recent price for similar property on the street and enter this. The tool is crude: it doesn't take into account home improvements or even pinpoint exact areas, but it can give you an idea of how house price fluctuations affect value.
See housing market forecasts
If you want to see what the pundits predict, a useful place to do that is HousePriceCrash. It's a website with a pro-property price crash agenda, but don't be put off by this. It collects statistics from places like the Land Registry, the Financial Times and Hometrack to number crunch house price trends.
On top of this, the site tracks house price predictions from different experts to give an idea of what the future may hold.
No-one can tell you what's going to happen to house prices, though many will try.
Find local asking prices
Gone are the days when peering into estate agents' windows was the only way to see asking prices for local places. There's a plethora of property search sites, though remember their figures are often wildly optimistic, showing what the seller wants for their crib, not what they'll get.
If you're househunting, remember some homes are sold before they appear on the sites. Get pally with a local estate agent, so they call as soon as a place hits their books. For belt 'n' braces, monitor a few sites, as not all estate agents list their properties on Rightmove.
The Mac Daddy of home search sites, Rightmove is the best place to compare homes on the market. As well as a dizzying number of properties up for grabs, it plots listings on a Google map for ease.
For the best results, turbo-charge it with the ingenious Property-Bee Firefox add-on to see how sellers have altered listings and dropped prices. As an aside, sellers should always ensure an agent will advertise their home on Rightmove – it's the only site many househunters check.
While Rightmove's reach is hard to rival, also worth a look is Zoopla. This is a good option if you're looking for a particular type of home, as it allows you to search by keywords, eg, "wooden floors" or "Victorian".
It also gives an estimate of each property's value, though MoneySavers report these can be out by hundreds of thousands.
MoneySavers also rate Home.co.uk. The site can be clunky, but it includes reams of data alongside the listings, including how the asking price compares with others in the town and postcode.
Another useful function is that you can click on homes' price histories to see how the asking price has shifted.
Monitor house prices on the go
The free Rightmove iPhone app uses GPS technology to pinpoint pads for sale near where you're standing. Just download the app, click ‘get my current location' and it shows a list of gaffs up for grabs.
Uncover Rightmove ads' secret histories
One MoneySaver describes Property-Bee as 'probably the most fun you'll have online'. A free add-on for web browser Firefox, it works with property listing site Rightmove to show you how sellers alter their listings, including, crucially, price cuts.
You can see when the seller put the property up for sale, each time they cut the price and by how much, and if it was taken off the market and put back on. These are all useful bargaining chips in purchase negotiations. Whether you're buying or not, the results are fascinating.
The best way is to try it. Installing is incredibly simple: if you don't already have Firefox, head to mozilla.org and follow the prompts to install. Then go Property-Bee and hit the ‘download' button on the left. Follow the prompts and restart Firefox. Go to Rightmove, do a search and sellers' alterations will magically appear.
Monitor dropped asking prices
Track falling prices with Propertysnake. It shows which properties in an area have recently dropped asking prices and by how much. Type in a postcode to see who's having trouble offloading their house and what percentage they've trimmed the price by.
MoneySavers report that this is less accurate than Property-Bee, but worth a gander.
SEE PROPERTY HEAT MAPs
For a colour-coded look at average sold prices, check out property heat maps from Mouseprice. Just enter a postcode to see if your street's red-hot or chilly.
You can view street by street, or zoom out to see whole towns’ or counties' hues. For a similar service, try Zoopla.
Get free house price alerts
Get free monthly email alerts from Mouseprice on your chosen area, including house sale price info and homes where sellers have dropped prices.
You can even monitor individual properties. Sign up and click the 'track a property' tab to get an email when it's bought, sold or the seller cuts the price.
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search 25 info sites with one click
Handy tool PropertyWizza auto-searches more than 25 info sites for any postcode, including Zoopla sold prices, Mouseprice valutions and crime stats.
PropertyWizza's website works in any brower. For a more advanced version that works with Rightmove, download its extension for web browser Google Chrome. Then when the house icon in the Chrome toolbar flashes red, click it to see the info.
50 house buying tricks
Considering buying? You need a battleplan. Armed with forumites' "what I wish I'd known" tales, we've drawn one up.
Our 50 House Buying Tricks include how to squeeze sellers for info, hidden costs, a deal-breakers' checklist and tips on solicitors and surveyors. There's also a 10 'last-ditch questions to ask sellers' checklist, including "How do you turn the water off?"
Check for flood risk and air pollution
Though probably not at the forefront of your mind, the risk of crime and flooding has a significant impact on insurance premiums and a property's value. Clever free sites quickly reveal how vulnerable a property is – possibly saving years of stress.
If you are considering buying a home, use these before getting a survey. If they show the house is about to plummet off a cliff into the sea, you'll save £700 in wasted fees.
The likelihood is described as one of three categories: low, moderate or significant, as used by insurers. There's also an air quality map showing nearby pollution dangers like sewage works.
Check for flood and subsidence risks
A 10-second search on Homecheck could save you thousands. It's an amazing resource, collating data from bodies like the Environment Agency and the British Geological Survey.
Just type in a postcode and it swiftly analyses the risk of flooding, subsidence and other environmental problems. It lets you check for all sorts of nasties you've never contemplated, such as landfill waste and radon gas levels.
Examine crime rates
Steel yourself and take a look at the Police.uk crime mapping website for England and Wales. It breaks down recorded crimes by street, including burglary, robbery and anti-social behaviour (gulp!), all of which mean dearer insurance premiums.
Find what's being built in your area
Will that sea view be replaced by a high rise in a couple of months? The Government's Planning Portal helps avoid nasty surprises by directing you to planning applications made in your area. You can search by postcode and area for England and Wales.
Check & challenge your council tax band
It isn't just a question of location, location, location. Saving on property involves the cost of the debt, council tax and home insurance. Yet there are easy ways to slash the cost on all of these.
Council tax bands in England and Scotland were decided in 1991, but often it was done by an estate agent just driving past. It's possible to quickly check your band and if it's wrong challenge and possibly get a rebate of thousands. Read the full Council Tax Reclaiming guide.
Get the right mortgage
Remortgaging is the single, biggest MoneySaving activity possible: the financial equivalent of liposuction. To see if you can sever the cost of your mortgage, read either the Cheap Mortgages or Cheap Remortgages guides.
Cut the cost of home insurance
It's easy to slice home insurance costs by £100s, by using websites that compare for you, then grabbing hidden cashback. Many people have been paid to take out home insurance, because the cashback is more than the insurance costs. For the full system, read the Cheap Home Insurance guide.
Browse local schools
A must for any mums and dads. See the Department for Education's School League Tables for England and Wales. Also check out inspection reports for schools in a particular postcode on the Ofsted website, which lets you read local primary and secondary school reports.
Ofsted's Data View tool lets you quickly compare the quality of schools across England. Scroll to the 'regional comparison' section and use the dropdowns to choose an area.
Search Education Scotland for Scottish school reports and, for Northern Ireland, the Department of Education.
Get the lowdown on your neighbours
Especially useful if you're moving somewhere new, find out what kind of people live up your road using UK Local Area.
Just plug in a postcode and it generates a neighbourhood profile, listing everything from age to employment rates to education.
Click on 'stations' to see the distance to the nearest rail station or hit 'schools' to see local school performance.
Inspect neighbourhood statistics
For serious number-crunching on everything from poverty to access to services, look at the Government's Neighbourhood Statistics site.
While the government-speak can be hard to penetrate, if you want to find out average life expectancies, how many people went bankrupt or how many house fires there were, this is the right place.
Outside England and Wales, visit the Scottish Neighbourhood Stats and, for Northern Ireland, Neighbourhood Information.
Look for transport links
For London commuters, CommuteFrom shows which towns are the quickest hop from the office. Just select a a central London rail or Tube station, pick a maximum journey length, eg, no more than 45 minutes, and it throws up the best commuter routes.
Check for noise
For certain English cities only, noisemapping.org is part of a Government project to track road traffic noise.
Plug in your postcode and it'll come up with a colour-coded 'noise viewer map', showing how many decibels of noise there are at that spot.
Find yourself on Google Earth
Get a dizzyingly good view of your whole area using Google Earth, a free service that uses mapping technology to give aerial views from space.
To find out whether your next-door neighbour likes to sunbathe naked, go to the homepage and download its software, type an area into the 'Fly To' box and hit 'search'.
Check how close you are to amenities or work
Another useful tool, Gmaps Pedometer automatically works out how far you're walking and the calories you'll burn. It's a little tricky to work out how to use at first, but once done it's great for measuring the walking distance between places.
Find out how close you'll be to work or shops using Google Maps. Type in a postcode or even a complex search such as “dry cleaners in Leeds” and a map pops up with all the relevant info highlighted.
Look for repossessed properties
It's possible to pick up repossessed or distressed-sale properties at up to 30% below market price. For those willing to put work in on research and repairs, these can represent some of the best buys on the market.
For a full guide to how it works and how to find bargains, read Buying Repossessions.
CHECK OUT THE DIFFERENT MORTGAGE SCHEMES
Whether you're a struggling first-time buyer or just trying to move up the housing ladder, there are various Government sponsored mortgages schemes that may be able to help you.
The mortgage scheme guide includes information on Help to Buy, NewBuy, shared ownership, 95% mortgages and more. This isn’t like buying a property down the normal route, there are certain rules and restrictions, so buying normally may still work out the best option for you.
REmember Property isn’t as safe as houses
We’re a nation hypnotised by TV property porn. While it's wonderful to plan, budget and buy a home you can afford, too many have unhealthy “must own, must own" mentalities.
Now after a prices dip and first-timer buyers' nightmare of raising monster mortgage deposits, maybe it’s time to reappraise attitudes.
Too often, non-home owners are depicted as an underclass. Owning is a nice goal but you’re no loser if you don’t immediately clamber onto the housing ladder. Bigger picture financial security is more important. For more, see Martin's blog: A Nation Hypnotised By TV Property Porn?.