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Desk tidy: tips if you’re working from home

Lockdown 3.0 is here. Home schooling is here. Working from home is here. By now, you may have dusted down an unused desk or bought a new item of furniture specifically for WFH. As you may discover, desks breed junk – stationery, paper, cables and coffee-stained mugs, for instance – and now we’re more likely to be eating ‘al desko’ and not ‘al fresco’, our laptops are just as likely to be joined by lunch remnants as they are purchase ledgers.

Many super-organised, super-efficient people, however, believe in the mantra ‘an untidy desk is an untidy mind’ and find workplace Zen by subscribing to the Marie Kondo tidy movement (the Queen of clean even runs digital tidying courses).

If you’re finding desk clutter prevents creative thinking, clouds your mind or impinges productivity, it’s time to get desk tidy. This Guardian article suggests the worst offenders should call in the professionals but you can nip milder cases of clutter in the bud by following a few simple steps. Here’s where you can start:-

Find clutter a home

If you can’t actually see your desk, you’ve got a problem. Sometimes the solution is as simple as better or more storage (and a bin by your desk). Don’t underestimate the power of an ‘in’ and ‘out’ tray and a pen pot (an empty, clean jam jar is perfect). For some of the smartest storage ideas, however, head to the neatness nirvana that is Muji online, where you’ll find an entire ‘desk storage and filing’ section, alongside other brilliant and reasonably-priced everyday storage items – we also recommend its acrylic storage range for desks.

Tackle wires & cables

Trailing wires and crisscrossing cables will make any desk look untidy and also presents a trip hazard, but there is help if you need to up your cable management game. If you’re in the market for a new desk, opting for one with a cable port that you feed wires down through will give you a head start. If you’re working with what you’ve already got, Google ‘cable tidy systems’ and you’ll be amazed by the off-the-shelf cable tidy tubes, caddies and wire racks available to order online.

Love a podcast? Listen to this

If your desk features built-in drawers or you have a filing cabinet, you may have developed a junk drawer – the place Post-It notes, paperclips, spare batteries, business cards, staplers and even old mobile phones tend to gravitate to create a jumbled, tangled mess. Treasury tags anyone?

Declutter experts Ingrid Jansen and Lesley Spellman chat all things untidy during their podcast entitled ‘taming your junk drawer’. It features a number of hints and tips for those who can’t shut an overflowing junk drawer and for people who misplace vital stationery stock. Spoiler alert: you’ll learn that the magic method is containerisation.    

5 daily decluttering rituals

Is your desk overwhelming your day? Try these 5 quick and free fixes that will create a better work from home environment:-  

  1. Clear away any breakfast or lunch items as soon as you’ve eaten
  2. Remove non-work items, such as toys and food wrappers
  3. Recycle used paper or shred sensitive documents
  4. Create one neat pile of paperwork at the end of every day
  5. Close the lid of your laptop (simple but satisfying)

If your home moving plans have been spurred on by the search for a dedicated home office or the desire for more space, get in touch. We can help unite you with a new home in 2021.

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Remote control: 5 tips ahead of video viewings & virtual tours

Let’s face it, there is no real match for visiting a property in person, however the last nine months have taught us that everyone has to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to the decision making process.

Although remote viewings – whether live from the property, a pre-recorded video, a 360˚ tour or a virtual tour – have been on the periphery of the property market for some time, they have become mainstream staples during the pandemic.

In fact, these types of remote viewings have been so successful that there is speculation they will give rise to more ‘sight unseen’ property transactions in the future – where people commit to purchasing or renting without seeing the property firsthand in the flesh.

For now, remote viewings are a good way for buyers and tenants to make a shortlist of properties from the comfort of their sofa, and we urge movers to only request in-person visits for properties they think they’ll make a genuine offer on.

For sellers and landlords, remote viewings look set to feature for some time to come – probably even beyond the pandemic. In fact, research in 2020 found more than 33% of Brits expected virtual viewings to become the norm when moving home, while one in five thought a virtual viewing gave you all the information needed to make decisions. 

With this in mind, ensuring your property looks its best on all types of camera is vital, especially as the technology behind many remote viewings allows properties to be scrutinised more closely. The effort will pay off, as your preparation for a video recording or virtual tour will also improve the results of traditional photographs.

Thankfully, many of the principles that apply to in-person viewing preparations also apply to their remote counterparts – fresh flowers, clutter-free rooms and all maintenance jobs completed – but there are other aspects that are unique. Here’s our advice specific to remote viewings:-

  1. Doors and windows matter more: the aim is to create a good flow around your home so open all internal doors before anything is caught on camera. Not only will this help lighten dark corners, it will provide a smooth path around your property for the person capturing or hosting the tour. When it comes to windows, curtains and blinds must be open, and you may consider removing any nets or voile if it’s an overcast day.
  2. Those neglected areas will need work: while a photographer will use their framing techniques and editing to crop out – or even remove – junk, filming is much less forgiving. Areas that need attention include under beds, on top of wardrobes and anything hanging on the back of doors, as the ability to swivel 360˚ and tilt up and down in some remote viewings can catch areas that are usually out of sight.
  3. Hello hallways & landings: flick through past property details and unless they are a thing of real beauty, hallways and landings are rarely photographed. Especially in the case of live video viewings, your through and communal areas may now make it onto the small screen, so ensure you tidy up coats, shoes, toys and laundry.
  4. Remember who the director is: in the case of live video tours and immersive virtual tours, the viewer is very much in control. They have the ability to zoom right in to see tiny details. They can ask to visit every nook and cranny and in the case of a live situation, they can ask the agent to open cupboards and drawers. Declutter, clean and tidy with this in mind.
  5. Sound travels: so you won’t be able to win movers over with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and baked bread but the sounds of your home life may transmit. Ensure dishwashers, tumble dryers and washing machines are switched off, turn the television to mute and do your best when it comes to kids and pets (we know it may be difficult!). A little soft background music may help but save the heavy metal for earphones.

If you have your heart set on a property and are serious about making an offer, we can organise a physical viewing for you, where it is safe to do so. Please use all the marketing assets available to you to make your decision, and that includes talking to us about our own experience of the property. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

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Help to Buy: all change in 2021

The Government’s Help to Buy initiative was introduced back in 2013 and has taken different forms over the years, including a mortgage guarantee, an equity loan and an ISA. Official figures published in 2018 showed more than 420,000 property purchase completions have taken place using one or more of the Help to Buy schemes, with thousands of other buyers taking advantage of the scheme since.

Help to Buy: re-launched for 2021

So what’s changed? This year, the Government’s Help to Buy scheme has re-launched as an exclusive equity loan offering, and completions under this revised scheme can take place from 1st April 2021 until 2023. Under the old rules, existing homeowners could also use Help to Buy but they are dropped from the scheme moving forwards and only first-time buyers will now benefit. There is also the introduction of fixed ‘regional full purchase price caps’ that limit the value of properties bought using Help to Buy, depending on where they are geographically located.

Can I apply for Help to Buy this year?

There are strict guidelines as to who can use the scheme and the value of the property they can purchase. These are known as the ‘Eligible Purchaser’ and ‘Eligible Dwelling’ criteria. They stipulate, among other conditions, that:-

  • The purchase must be a first-time buyer, and not have owned a home alone or with others in the past
  • They must be buying a brand new home from a house builder registered to take part in the scheme
  • They must not be buying a property to rent out or for use as a second home
  • All those involved in the purchase must be eligible first-time buyers
  • Purchasers must be able to provide a cash deposit equal to 5% of the property’s sold price 
  • Purchasers must pass mortgage sustainability checks to qualify
  • Purchasers must buy within the regional price caps – you’ll find a full list of areas and their price caps here

How Help to Buy will work in 2021

Once proof of a 5% cash deposit is established, eligible purchasers will be able to apply for a Help to Buy equity loan worth up to 20% of the full purchase price of a new home outside of London, and up to 40% in London. The rest of the purchase price (75% outside of London and 55% in London) should be financed by a specialist Help to Buy mortgage.

As well as repaying the mortgage, purchasers will also have to pay back the Government’s equity loan. The loan is interest-free for the first five years and then interest fees start at 1.75% and rise each year in April, by the Consumer Prices Index plus 2%. Borrowers are also charged a monthly management fee of £1 for the term of the loan. The loan should be repaid at the end of the equity loan term, when the owner pays off their repayment mortgage or when they sell the property.

Why is Help to Buy beneficial for the housing market?

It’s easy to dismiss Help to Buy if it doesn’t directly apply to you but the boost it provides to the wider property market is undeniable. Help to Buy has allowed more than 365,400 first-time buyers to own their own home with a deposit as small as 5%, which frees up rental properties for new tenants. 

The scheme also supports the construction industry, and allows house builders to create thousands of new homes of different tenure types – private, shared-ownership and social – for a variety of home movers, tackling the chronic shortage of housing in the UK in the process.

If you would like to know more about Help to Buy or you are a first-time buyer looking to purchase outside of the scheme, please get in touch.

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More time to make energy saving improvements

Everybody who owns a property should like the idea of increasing its value and while fitting a top-spec kitchen or extending to add an extra bedroom may spring to mind, improving your property’s eco credentials can also boost how much it’s worth.

Making energy improvements was one of the top 5 ways of adding value to a property in a September 2020 article run by The Independent, which builds on an official Government report in 2013 that found making energy saving measures increases a property’s value by an average of 14%.

There’s also a strong link between the EPC of a property and its value, with one report suggesting homes with the best EPC ratings can be worth almost £25,000 more than their less energy efficient counterparts. For landlords, there is even more incentive to make eco changes as, by law, all let properties need to have a minimum energy rating of E.

The good news is the Government has recently changed the rules of its Green Homes Grant scheme to make it easier for landlords and homeowners to install energy efficient measures during 2021.

The old conditions

The Green Homes Grant was announced by the Chancellor in his summer statement on 8th July 2020 but there was a surprisingly tight deadline – with participants having only until 31st March 2021 to apply for the grant and complete the works.

The new conditions: a year’s extension & a boost to skills supply

The Government has made 2021 the year homes can go green by making a number of favourable changes to the Green Homes Grant. These include:-

  • An extension to the scheme, with a revised works completion date of 31st March 2022– an extra 12 months.
  • The extension also allows more trade suppliers to register, train and recruit to meet demand.
  • The vouchers will now remain valid for three months from the date they are issued or until 31 March 2022, whichever is earlier.
  • Homeowners and landlords can also request a voucher extension for circumstances outside of their control.
  • Subcontractors are no longer required to be TrustMark registered and PAS or MCS certified, which should improve the sourcing of enough trades to complete the work.

Improvements you can make using the Green Homes Grant

In order to qualify for the Green Homes Grant funding of up to £5,000 (£10,000 for those in receipt of some benefits), homeowners must install at least one of the following measures in the primary category:

  • insulation (such as loft, cavity wall or under-floor insulation); and/or
  • low carbon heating (such as air source heat, ground source heat pump or solar thermal)

The voucher can then go on to fund secondary measures, which include:-

  • double/triple glazing (where replacing single glazed windows)
  • secondary glazing (in addition to single glazing)
  • external energy efficient doors (replacing single glazed or solid doors installed before 2002)
  • heating controls
  • draught proofing
  • hot water tank thermostats and insulation

Apply & source a trade:

You can make a Green Homes Grant application and find a registered, approved trade on the Government’s official web page. There’s also a Green Homes Grant guide from the NRLA, specifically produced for landlords here.

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Are you ready to detox these 5 areas in your home?

The word detoxing is most associated with our diets but there is a growing movement that suggests we should be getting rid of harmful, unhealthy and disruptive items in our homes too.

It’s an interior cleansing ritual that could be viewed as the next step up from simple decluttering, with the mantra that things that clutter your mind are just as bad as those that clutter your rooms.

Rather than just tidying away, detoxing your home requires you to objectively look at items and remove them if they aren’t being used, are defunct or don’t make a meaningful contribution to your daily life. Preparing to move home is a great time to have such a cull and here are five places you can start:-

  • CDs and DVDs: many of us are guilty of hanging on to our favourite films or albums, even if we no longer own a DVD or CD player! Discs and their accompanying cases can take up a lot of room and often look ugly when left out on display. Donate your collection to a charity shop and take comfort from digital streaming services that mean we can watch or listen to the classics at the touch of a button.
  • Clothes that don’t fit: if you’ve been holding on to that slim fit shirt since 2007 or are waiting for tartan flares to come back into fashion, be realistic. If clothes burst out when a viewer opens a wardrobe or drawer, it can suggest your home hasn’t got enough storage. As well as anything that doesn’t fit, odd socks, garments with holes in and worn-out shoes should be recycled.
  • Anything that’s empty: carrier bags, shoe boxes, plastic cartons saved from take-away meals – many of us hoard as we have a ‘just in case’ mentality. Detoxing involves seriously editing down how many items we need. One or two of each is usually plenty and removing any excess will automatically bring a new sense of neatness to your home.
  • Anything that’s out of date: things left out in bathrooms, on kitchen work surfaces and generally lying around will lend a cluttered air to your home and there’s a high chance many items will be past their use-by date or shelf life anyway. This applies to food, cosmetics, medicines and batteries, so you could be improving your health and wellbeing at the same time as smartening up your home.
  • Piles of paper: nothing screams of a more disorganised home that stacks of letters and, worse still, unopened envelopes – it really sends the wrong signal to people who you hope to enter into a legal transaction with. Digital is definitely the way forward when it comes to administration. Set aside a day to set up a filing system, work through all your paperwork – scanning anything you may wish to keep but don’t need the original of – opt to go paperless with as many bills as possible and shred anything that’s junk, circular or no longer valid.

Don’t forget to donate, sell or recycle as much possible, and return any out-of-date medicines to your pharmacy. When you’ve detoxed you home and feel ready to go on the market, get in touch.

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January blues? Use colour therapy to brighten your mood

This year has got off to a familiar start with people staying at home as much as possible. In fact, the percentage of workers around the world who are permanently working from home is expected to double in 2021. Add in home schooling and limited social interaction, and how we decorate our four walls has never been more important.

Boost your brain and change behavior
It has long been known that external factors can alter our mood. From what we eat, the scents we smell to the textures we feel and the sounds we hear, our senses directly control neurons and serotonin levels in the brain.

What we see is up there with the most sensual of stimuli that can impact our wellbeing, and the relationship between colour and our mood is especially relevant now. Far from an interior fad, the connection is of such fascination that it falls into the ‘cognitive psychology’ category and continues to be researched by academics for its benefits.

The good news is you can easily self diagnose and carry out your own therapy armed with nothing more than a tin of paint and a colour chart – you don’t need to be Freud or have a psychology degree to get started.

The right colour for the right room
There are lots of online guides to choosing the right colours for your home. A good place to start is to identify what each room is used for most and find a colour that promotes the right feeling or atmosphere for that task. If your dining room is now where your children sit down to learn, a balance of stimulating yet relaxing colours may work. Planning on de-stressing with a long soak in the bath? There are calming shades that suit bathrooms best.

As a basic rule of thumb:-

  • Blue: a relaxing colour that can clear the mind and even lower blood pressure
  • Yellow: citrusy shades can lift spirits, enliven and increase energy levels
  • White: this neutral imparts a sense of cleanliness, clarity and space
  • Green: used to reduce anxiety and is one of the most restful colours for your eyes
  • Red: avoid in rooms that need to be calm as it’s a colour that can agitate and irritate
  • Orange: bright shades will encourage energy, exercise and enthusiasm
  • Pink: it’s proven the longer people are exposed to pink, the calmer they feel
  • Purple: rich shades can spark creativity, while the lightest lilacs are very soothing

Celebrate with two Pantone ‘Colours of the Year’
The importance of colour in the home in 2021 is of such importance that Pantone – the kings of colour – have nominated not one but two ‘Colours of the Year’. Ultimate Gray and Illuminating are described as “a marriage of colour conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting”. One is a solid, optimistic and dependable shade of grey, while Illuminating is a zingy citrus yellow designed to warm, brighten and enliven.

Before you go colour crazy, bear in mind any immediate and future property plans, as well as your residential status. If you’re a tenant living in a rented property and your landlord says no to redecorating (always ask first), you can add colour with temporary textiles, accessories and artwork.

If you’re a homeowner hoping to move this year, you may also want to think about the temporary colour option or be mindful that any bold colour choices may need to be reversed before you come to market. If in doubt, ask us for decorating advice with moving in mind.

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Must-have home tech for 2021

With Brits now spending an extra eight hours per day in their humble abode, 2021 could be the year that investment in smart home technology explodes. Virus aside, you could argue that this ‘remote living’ culture started back in the 1950s, with the invention of the Lazy Bones TV remote control, but it’s taken 70 years to develop wireless technology that can control almost every device in our homes.

Over half of homes in Britain already have some sort of smart device installed and with 45% of homeowners intending on making their homes even smarter, we thought we’d take a look at some of the steady favourites and rapid risers to help you identify your home technology essentials this year.

Whole home efficiency
Although not new in the energy efficiency category, smart heating is still gaining in popularity. Digital thermostats from the likes of Nest, Hive and Tado° allow you to control the temperature inside your home from anywhere, by connecting the thermostats to your mobile smart device.

This technology is advancing at a rapid rate and some solutions can monitor the weather or even your own habits to adjust the heating to suit your routines or the climate outside. Wake up to snow? Turn up the heating on your ground floor without leaving your bed.

There are whole house lighting systems that work in a similar way but they can be expensive to install – a cheaper alternative is to buy smart bulbs. They are pricier than your standard light bulbs but use less energy, last longer and enable you to turn the hallway light on without fumbling for the switch in the middle of the night.

You can also purchase smart plugs for devices that aren’t smart themselves. By simply plugging in any appliance, you’ll be able to turn them off and on from an app or remote control – great for boiling the kettle whilst you soak in the bath.

I spy with…
…several little eyes, dotted in various locations inside and outside! You no longer need expensive CCTV systems and cabling installed in your home to keep an eye on it.

Smart cameras aren’t just for managing home security but also for answering the door remotely, checking the contents of your fridge, minding your pets and even feeding Fido treats.

If security is your priority, then there is no reason to stop at cameras. Some security systems come with ‘open and close’ sensors too (or you can buy them standalone) and it is predicted door keys will soon become a thing of the past with the like of August Smart Locks – perhaps not a good option if you’re always forgetting your pin!

Hired help
While having your own robotic butler is still a few years off, there are plenty of gadgets available that are the next best thing to hiring human help.

Coming in at double the price of an average oven are smart ovens that you can control from an app, check on food without opening the door, and let the technology decide the temperature and cooking time based on the weight of a joint of meat, for example.

For cleaning, there are now a range of robotic mops and vacuums that vary in price and effectiveness – some even empty themselves! You can also buy a driverless lawn mower so you can lie in the sun instead of labour over your lawn.

Big ticket blowouts
If all that money saved during lockdown is burning a hole in your pocket, there are plenty of smart home technologies that require serious investment.

Always wanted a bigger TV but don’t have anywhere to store it? Try LG’s rollable OLED TV for a whopping £66,000. Or how about a bed that lights up in the right places if you get up in the dark? For the more health conscious, smart mattresses can monitor sleep using biometric sensors or how about a virtual reality home gym system like the Tempo Studio and Peloton Bike+?

The most accessible home tech, however, remains the smart assistant. Devices such as Google Home Assist or Alexa are voice controlled and are compatible with an increasing number of devices. Just ask your smart assistant to do the work for you and they will communicate with the relevant appliance or system on your behalf!

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Never miss out again: be first to know about new-to-market homes

On your marks, get set…go! If 2021 is the year you want to move home, you’ll need to be quick out the blocks as forecasts indicate that this year will be a bumper 12 months for buying, selling and letting. There are a number of tips and tricks to ensure you know about properties as soon as – or even before – they come to market, giving you a competitive edge. Here’s how to be first in the queue, avoid disappointment and even how to beat Rightmove.

Register directly with an estate agent
The frustration of seeing a sold board outside a property, yet never seeing a ‘for sale’ sign there in the first place can be galling – especially if it’s a property you’ve had your eye on for some time. It may surprise you to know that many homes never make it online as estate agents often hold waiting lists – buyers known to them who get first refusal before any mass marketing begins.

Be first in the queue by registering your details and property desires directly with local estate agents. They may ask about your buying circumstances – whether you have a property to sell and if you have a mortgage agreement in principle – but you’ll be held on a list and contacted first when a property that matches your description is taken on.

Look out for planning applications
If you’re dreaming of a brand new home built from scratch, there are a few tell-tale signs that may enable you to jump the buying queue. Take note if you see little pastel-hued A5 signs tied to lampposts as they often advertise planning applications for new developments. You could also monitor the online planning portals of boroughs in which you’d like to live, as applications to build are always published on a dedicated web page.

If you’re really keen, you could look out for land surveyors with a theodolite – a piece of surveying equipment atop a tripod that you look through to measure horizontal and vertical angles. This piece of equipment is almost always used when house builders are at the early planning stages of a new site. If you’re feeling brazen, you could ask who the surveyor is working for.

Don’t underestimate the drive by
Despite being one of the most traditional marketing methods, estate agents’ ‘for sale’ boards are still one of the best ways to spot when a home has come on to the market. If there are certain postcodes, neighbourhoods and even specific streets that you’re most interested in, it’s worth driving around – or even strolling on foot – spotting boards. If you’re especially lucky, you may even catch a board just going up!

Don’t ignore ‘to rent’ boards either. There is always the chance the landlord would be open to selling, especially if they are finding it a struggle to source suitable tenants. Contact the agent responsible for the letting of the property and ask if they can make a purchasing approach on your behalf.

Be proactive
You don’t always have to leave it to the property professionals! If you love where you live, a simple social media post can bear fruitful results. Simply state that you’re looking to buy or rent locally and that you would appreciate being notified if anyone is thinking of coming to market soon. Another strategy is to create a leaflet with your contact details on to post through the doors of properties you can see yourself living in, again asking for notification if they’re thinking of selling or renting out.

If you’d like to know about properties before your buying or renting rivals, register with us. We regularly take on new instructions to sell and let, and we’d be happy to share those details with you.