It used to be that demand for homes centred on the proximity to good schools, or how close they were to a nice restaurant or pub. Now, before they sign on the dotted line, homebuyers want to ensure they can download a film quickly, or check their work emails without interruption.
Access to reliable and fast broadband is one of the key priorities as working from home looks set to become a more permanent arrangement for many. And a surge of interest in people wanting to move to the country has been coupled with demand for good internet in areas that might otherwise have weak connections.
“One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is related to the speed of the broadband,” says Julia Robotham, of Knight Frank’s country department.
“We have even seen a number of telecoms companies arrange to visit properties, prior to exchange, to discuss ways in which they can make working from home more effective.”
The big shift: working from home makes it new priority
Research from online estate agency Purple Bricks found 41% of people rank internet speed as an important priority when buying a home, more than how close they are to a school, or being near somewhere good to eat, up significantly since 2016.
Separate research by Knight Frank found that almost two thirds of people think it is even more important than having outdoor access, being near a tube station or having the ability to extend.
Ernest Doku of comparison site uSwitch says: “The shift has seen broadband repositioned in the homeowner’s mind as being an essential utility – as one would view gas or electricity, due to the fact that we need to work from home.”
But getting access to proper functioning broadband is not always simple, especially the further away from urban centres you get.
Making next-generation gigabit broadband available across the country by 2025 was a key promise of Boris Johnson’s election manifesto, but the ambitions were watered down to 85% coverage.
Last year, the telecoms regulator Ofcom said there were almost 200,000 “forgotten homes” across the UK, left behind in the government’s digital revolution, and unable to get broadband speeds deemed the minimum to meet a modern family’s needs.
Of these, 119,000 were in England, 34,000 in Scotland, 18,000 in Wales and 19,000 in Northern Ireland.
While most of the country has access to high-speed broadband in theory, the reality is that available speeds vary considerably between areas and even on the same street, and are dependant on how close a home is to a broadband cabinet.
Dan Howdle from comparison site Cable.co.uk says that once a property is about 800 metres away from a cabinet, the speed deteriorates. Up to that point, homes will be able to get the average advertised speed.
He says: “The further you are from the nearest cabinet with the current technology, the less speed you are going to get,” he says. “That is why you get a lot of situations where you have villages or towns served by fibre broadband, but those who live further out from the centre, or where the nearest exchanges are, still have slow broadband, regardless.”
There can even be significant differences in houses on the same street because some parts may be serviced by one cabinet and another by a different unit which is further away, says Howdle.
Figures from Ofcom show the fastest average speeds are in Molescroft, near Kingston upon Hull in Yorkshire and the Humber, where almost 98% of homes received over 30Mbps. The slowest were in Braintree, Essex where just under 50% of households have been found to have speeds under 10 Mbps.
If you are buying a home, you can work out how good the broadband connection is using an online speed checker. These are available through uSwitch, Ofcom and Cable.co.uk, among others. Entering a postcode on one of these websites will quickly reveal the area’s broadband speed.
Beware of running a speed test on your phone when connected to wifi in a property, as this may be interfered with by other wifi connections in the area and will not give the full picture as to how fast a land connection will be.
How do I improve my connection?
“You are at the mercy of the line going into your house,” says Howdle. But that is not to say that all is lost if you have a slow connection. Look around to see if other providers can give a better performance. Doku says that some people may be stuck on a “stock product” but that there will be alternatives, possibly faster.
Another option is to use a 4G or 5G router. This way you can be connected via a mobile phone signal.
Some areas with poor broadband may have a good mobile signal. Three is advertising a 4G hub for £22 per month, and a 5G for £29, and promises next-day delivery.
EE has a 5G router for £50 a month with a £100 upfront cost and a 4G option from £13 a month.
If your dream new home is on a hillside in the Highlands, with no options for broadband or mobile connection, you could opt for satellite broadband. This involves the installing a dish, similar to those used for satellite TV. This will connect to a satellite that will send a broadband signal.
Comparethemarket puts the price at between £20 and £87 a month with steep set-up costs that can come to £600.