Location location location is a property mantra you should take seriously when buying your first home, if you need to commute to work daily. Researching where to live based on commute should be one of your key criteria, but there are more factors than just finding the neighbourhood with the shortest commute time.
For the majority of First Time Buyers, one of the key location considerations is the ease of commute to work. There might be the perfect house, at the perfect price, and in the perfect village or town. But if the commute is 2 hours each way, and involving a car, train, and bus, you might end up spending more time commuting than enjoying your new home.
However, find out where to live based on commute is not as simple as plugging in a house address and your office or workplace address into Google Maps! If you just do this, you might find yourself shocked by how much longer the commute can be once you move in. Or worse, that the commute cost is unaffordable to you, or the actual commute journey is a daily hell.
Here at First Time Buyer Help, we have created this guide to help you find the optimal home location for your office or workplace.
1) Driving: Google Maps underestimates rush hour commute journey times
We all know that rush hour traffic can double or even triple the average journey times when you are sat bumper to bumper in traffic.
When you use Google Maps to find the driving commute time, it will probably give you a wrong low estimate. This is because Google Maps is showing you the live commute time, right now, when you search. However, unless you are doing the Google Maps search at 8am Mon-Fri, the time you see will be for non-rush hour traffic.
Many First Time Buyers get caught out by this and regret their home purchase after moving in when they get the shock of a commute that takes much, much longer than they were expecting.
FTB.help Pro Tip: Use the Waze navigation app to get a good idea on actual commute time. After entering in your location, you can click the “Later” button, which then allows you to select a day of the week and time in the future (i.e. Monday morning, 8am). It will then accurately predict the actual journey time during rush hour, based on what it knows about the traffic on that route. Waze is the only driving navigation app we know of that gives accurate commute time predictions.
2) Public Transport: Add extra minutes for rush hour
For public transport commutes, Google Maps is also often too optimistic about the time it takes door to door for a rush hour commute. At a busy train station, you might have to wait three or four trains before you can get on. Trains and buses also run slower during rush hour than regular times, as they have to spend more times at stations or get stuck in traffic. Google Maps does not take this into account when calculating journey times during commute rush hour.
FTB.help Pro Tip: Add 5 extra minutes where you need to get onto a train or tube. For every stop that a train, tube, or bus makes, add 15 seconds extra. If it is a bus journey, add extra minutes to the journey time, depending on how much traffic jam you think there will be on the route.
3) Extra Peak Hour Commuting Costs
Most forms of public transport have peak hour pricing, that can be much more expensive than the usual off-peak pricing you might be used to. It is always worth pricing up that train journey on National Rail, or that tube journey on TFL’s Journey Planner, to get the accurate cost of that commute.
In addition, if you are going to be commuting daily by train, it is worth finding the cost of a train season ticket. This can be quite a huge amount, sometimes up to £8,000/year or more, for busy commuting train routes, especially into London.
If your commute involves driving to a train station and parking, you will also need to factor in a monthly parking permit or parking pass at the train station.
Even if you are lucky to be able to drive door-to-door to work and have free parking, don’t forget that a longer commute spent in slow moving traffic means lower fuel efficiency, increasing your fuel costs. In some areas, there are also peak charges for tolls or entering specific areas, like London’s Congestion Charge zone, which costs an extra £15/day. If your new house or flat is in the Congestion Charge zone, even if you are driving out of the zone for work, you will still need to pay the daily Congestion Charge fee.
FTB.help Pro Tip: Your choice of where to live based on commute should include the key factor of commute costs – this can vary widely, from almost zero (walking, cycling) to tens of thousands of pounds a year. Price up the commute on various journey planner tools to get a good idea of the commuting costs.
4) Optimal home location when walking or cycling
With any public transport option, part of the journey will be by foot. This could be a crucial factor to deciding the best place to live for your commute. A home that requires long periods of walking, even if the overall journey is shorter, might be less attractive.
For example, walking 25 minutes each way to a train station might be out of your comfort zone. Bad weather can make it seem like 50 minutes and ruin your work clothes. Personal safety could be an issue, especially if the route is through dark and unsafe areas, especially if you must leave home early in the morning or return home late at night. In fact, a house that is further away from the station, but with a direct bus route door-to-door, might be more attractive for safety and personal comfort reasons.
If you are cycling all or part of your commute, the type of road on the journey could be a big factor. You might prefer a home location that has a longer cycling commute, but quieter and safer streets.
FTB.help Pro Tip: Safety and personal comfort are key factors when you evaluate where to live based on commute. Scrutinise the journey in Google Maps – are there long stretches of walking? Is safety an issue? Will you be cycling on dangerous major roads without cycle lanes?
5) Optimal home location for public transport options
We have all experienced public transport disruptions, whether union strikes, rail engineering works, or a broken-down train.
Therefore, when considering where to live based on commuting ease, it is important not just to consider the time and distance, but also the amount of public transport options available to get to your workplace. If there are multiple options, you will have back-up options to get to work even if your preferred route is disrupted.
When choosing where to live based on commute, you want to also consider if you will be changing jobs in the years ahead. Does the location you choose have a variety of public transport options, to allow you flexibility to change jobs? Or will you be stuck with only workplaces in specific areas? To have flexibility, look for neighbourhoods with lots of different types of public transport options, as well as ones that are hubs for public transport.
FTB.help Pro Tip: Have a look at the area map to see the types of public transport options available. Try to find areas with a big public transport hub, with multiple bus, train, or tube lines going through. Commuting flexibility is key when you are looking for the best areas to live for your commute, especially if you might change jobs in the future.