Popular wisdom says, you can always change the house, but you can’t change the location.
But, location-trumps-house may not always be unbendingly true, and there’s a lot of grey area in the middle. After all, what makes a great location? What makes a great house?
As with most things property, it’s a personal question. It comes down to what you want out of the home, now and long-term.
Why location is said to be best
The main reason location is touted as the superior choice is because homes can be changed.
You can renovate, remodel, and expand a house any way you like. You can even knock the whole thing down and rebuild it, which is a great way of getting the best of both worlds and boosting the property’s value.
Location, on the other hand, is fixed and can’t be changed. A house backing onto a noisy rail line will always be a house on a noisy rail line. A house with a frighteningly steep downhill driveway will always be the house with a frightening driveway.
It’s sound advice, and typically it’s right. But what exactly makes a good or bad location, or a good or bad house? Let’s break it down so you can make the best choice for you.
What is a ‘bad location’?
First, let’s look at what makes up a poor location.
A bad neighbourhood (generally a low socio-economic area)
Buying in a poor neighbourhood requires a lot of research. A location isn’t necessarily ‘bad’ just because it’s a little cheaper, or has some work to do. Plenty of neighbourhoods gentrify over time and become havens for first home buyers and downsizers. It’s all about looking at where the suburb is heading and the type of people moving in.
If lots of young first home owners are buying up and renovating, then the suburb could be on its way up. Ask local real estate agents and property groups for advice on growing and improving suburbs.
Of course, if a bad neighbourhood isn’t on the way up, put it on the ‘avoid’ list.
Buying in a bad street (ie, a street with poor presentation, narrow or with little parking)
Buying in a less-than-stellar street where the problem can’t be changed by gentrification isn’t ideal. Narrow roads can mean menouvring through a car-lined street. A park with a bad reputation might be unsafe for a young family.
The saying is, ‘buy the worst house in the best street’. If the suburb is great but the street isn’t ideal, look for a better street.
Buying a bad block (the property might be in a good suburb but a particularly poor spot, for example by a main road, or an area where there’s lots of traffic or planes taking off overhead)
Ultimately, bad locations and badly positioned blocks are likely going to be cheaper, but you’ll pay in other ways, like traffic noise, long drives to amenities, and low property price growth for the suburb or your property.
Of course, there are some distinct location no-no’s you should avoid:
- Backing onto major highways
- Being close to ‘noisy’ services like hospitals and fire stations
- Train lines and plane paths
- High crime areas
If the home is in a great suburb but has some location flaws, you’ll have to weigh up if the drawbacks outweigh the home.
Myths about location vs home
There are some untruths around location versus home that are worth mentioning.
1. ‘Perfect’ is subjective.
There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect house’ or the ‘perfect location’, because the ideal is going to look different to everyone. Always remember you’re looking for yourself, your family and your plans for the future.
2. You may not need to choose at all.
It’s entirely possible to get both location and the right house when you buy. This is especially possible if you build the home from scratch so you can choose the layout and the location.
3. Budget determines the location
You might have heard your budget stops you from finding a good location, but that’s not true. If you look for growth factors like employment hubs, development and future infrastructure, you can buy in an up-and-coming neighbourhood at a low price.
When you should favour location over house:
When you should favour location:
When you know it’s a stepping stone home
If you know the home won’t be a ‘forever home’, you’ll want to buy for the best profit and saleability down the track. Maybe it’s perfect for a young family, but you’ll want to upsize or downsize later. You can buy a good home that suits your purposes now, but has all the conveniences of a good location that will hold up the value of the property.
You need or want to be close to specific amenities
You might want easy access to certain facilities, like medical services or education. If you have kids, being in a great school district (and within walking distance) might mean making a trade-off on a slightly smaller block of land.
The commute factor is important
If you work in a major city but don’t want to drive an hour to get there, your focus is going to be on finding a suburb with a shorter commute. The great thing is that outer suburbs with easy access to CBD’s are generally good investments with high desirability. In this case, the location means a significant lifestyle upgrade if you’ve been spending hours each day travelling to and from work.
You might want to rent the house out later
If you have an investment strategy in place, you might be thinking about renting the house out and buying elsewhere later. In that case, you’ll have to think about what renters want as well, or risk lower demand for your property, which can mean lower-than-market rental return or longer vacancy periods.
Your lifestyle dreams are location-based
Maybe you want a walkable neighbourhood with lots of recreational facilities, or a place close to the beach. Or, you could be looking for a vibrant downtown area with dining hubs and a lively night life. If you have specific ideas about the kind of lifestyle you want to live, your ‘perfect home’ will be driven by those dreams.
When you might choose house over location:
Usually, a home that trumps the location feels perfect in every way, and you’re willing to overlook the location drawbacks. It’s more of an emotional decision than a purely practical one, and that’s not always the wrong choice. Plenty of people are happy with adding an extra 10 minutes to their commute to have more backyard space for the kids.
Of course, weigh up whether you can live with the location long-term. For instance, you might think being under a flight path is fine because you’re at work each day, until you’re woken up by the first plane at 4.30am every morning.
How to get help with making a decision
When you’re househunting, it’s a good idea to look over the whole real estate market in the area you like to get a feel for the neighbourhood. Ask professionals for insight into the suburb and the people who live there.
If you want to combine a custom-fit home with a great location, look into a new home build. You’re in charge of the design and can change the plans to suit your household.
You can also choose the block you want to put the house on. New land releases are usually located in growth neighbourhoods, boasting plenty of masterplanned amenities and infrastructure. They’re also an affordable choice of home and can fit many budgets.