Categories
Lettings Group 1

Should your buy-to-let be ‘bills included’?

When Zoopla set out to establish the 10 most desired features renters are looking for, all the expected answers were given – gardens, parking and pets allowed – but there was one request, however, that may prove more surprising to landlords.

When the property portal analysed the most common search terms used by home hunters between July and September 2020, it found ‘bills included’ was high up on the moving wish list – taking seventh spot ahead of the search terms en-suite bathroom, rural setting and studio.

The majority of available buy-to-lets don’t include the cost of utilities within the monthly rent, although there are exceptions. Student house shares, professional HMOs and dedicated build-to-rent properties that form part of a larger development are more likely to be offered with at least broadband costs included.

Zoopla’s results present a question: should more rental properties be offered with ‘bills included’? Here we offer our thoughts on the proposition.

 

  • It’s not a profit-making exercise

 

Landlords should use ‘bills included’ as a way of attracting tenant interest and not making money. In fact, landlords can only recharge for the units of energy used, a standing charge and any VAT. This is called the ‘maximum resale price’ and a landlord can’t charge any more than this.

 

  • Appealing to budget conscious tenants

 

Many renters like the convenience of one monthly fee covering not only their accommodation but also their gas, electricity, water, landline rental, TV service and broadband too. The flip side is some tenants prefer to shop around and switch suppliers on a regular basis for the cheapest deal. That’s an aspect out of a renter’s control when bills are included.

 

  • Leave time to look for the best deals…..  

 

On a ‘bills included’ basis, the job of finding the most economical deals – and swapping to different products when fixed rates end – falls to the landlord. It takes time to keep comparing the energy market but it’s vital to ensure you’re not paying too much, as high costs can result in above-average (and off putting) rents.

 

  • ….and monitor usage regularly

 

Landlords need to keep on top of their tenant’s gas, electricity and water (if metered) usage to ensure they’re not out of pocket and that means lots of meter reading. It is possible to tailor a tenancy agreement to include set usage restrictions, with a stipulation that anything used over the limit will be charged as an extra. In reverse, landlords can also incentivise tenants to use less with a cash-back offer.

 

  • Cap it to control costs

 

Offering ‘bills included’ needs to be cost-effective and controlled, so landlords should look at capping expenditure to ensure tenants don’t take advantage. There is an element of trust involved, although smart meters are a good way of reminding renters how much gas and electricity they’re using. 

Prepayment sub-meters, where the credit is loaded by the landlord, are a more serious way of keeping usage under control, although smart heating controls are an easier alternative. These allow a landlord to set maximum heating temperatures and time limits in a remote capacity. 

In terms of broadband, ‘phone costs and line rental, landlords can discuss spend caps and unlimited deals with suppliers, which will help them budget and set an appropriate level of rent.

 

  • Go green for extra savings

 

All rental properties need to be energy efficient by law but going above and beyond the minimum EPC rating of E will help reduce utility costs and save a landlord offering ‘bills included’ money in the long run. The caveat is a possible short-term investment in eco improvements – an outlay that needs balancing with how ‘bills included’ will impact ease of letting. 

If you are a first-time landlord or are looking to expand your buy-to-let portfolio, ask us for advice and a local lettings market report.

Categories
Lettings Group 2

Tenants: your guide to rental guarantors

You’ve got a part-time job, you’ve got the deposit and you’ve got a pretty good credit history, so is there any need to worry when it comes to renting a property? Perhaps.

Every tenant has unique circumstances and every private landlord takes a different attitude to risk, which could lead to some renters being asked to supply a guarantor.

What is a guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay the rent on your behalf if you can’t pay it yourself. Usually a guarantor will be a family member – a parent or older relative – and they will need to demonstrate they have the financial means to step in and pay any debts owed to the landlord. In some cases, a landlord may accept a company or employer as a guarantor. 

Who may be asked to provide a guarantor?

Not every tenant will be asked to provide a guarantor but there are some characteristics that make it more likely. These include:

  • tenants who have a poor or no credit history in the UK 
  • students or tenants renting for the first time
  • renters who are unemployed, have a low income or are working the gig/freelance economy
  • tenants who have moved to the UK from overseas

Finding the right guarantor

Many landlords will need guarantors to meet a few minimum requirements, so this should influence who you choose to ask. Commonly favoured characteristics include:

  • they should live in the UK
  • they should be in employment and not be retired
  • they should own their own property
  • they should be able to pass credit reference checks

It’s a legal responsibility

Becoming a guarantor is more than doing a family member or friend a favour. There is a legal obligation for a guarantee agreement to be set out in writing, outlining what is expected of the guarantor. This may extend to covering repair/replacement costs if the property is damaged, so you should both read the small print. It’s also worth noting that if your guarantor can’t pay your rent, your landlord can take them – as well as you – to court.

Student services

Undergraduates are commonly requested to provide a guarantor but in the case of international students, they may not have anyone suitable to ask. It is possible to pay a fee to a company, who will become your professional guarantor. It’s a growing trend, with service provider Housing Hand seeing a 12% rise in the number of domestic students using its services between November 2019 and November 2020. It’s also good to know that rental guarantor services can also be used by professionals, and not just students.

If you’d like further details about rental guarantors, Citizens Advice provide some useful information, and you can contact us for support during your rental property application process.

Categories
Lettings Group 2 Sales Group 2

Interior trend watch: wall panelling

It’s the interior trend that’s happening across the country! People are swapping their plain walls for panelling – a classic design facet that adds drama, texture and interest. The material of the moment is wood, although the approach to panelling varies from house-to-house. From half height or floor-to-ceiling, to feature cameos or just the end of a kitchen island, we have fallen back in love with battening out our walls.

Choose your panelling style

If you’re looking for inspiration, social media is your friend. Use the search function on Instagram and Pinterest to see real-home examples, or head to YouTube for tutorials of DIY panelling in action. 

You can choose from traditional panelling created using mouldings, cornices and dado rails, quick-fix kits for a shiplap look or Scandi-style thin slats that are super sleek but the different styles all have one thing in common – they have the ability to change the atmosphere in any room. Here’s how you can get the look:-

Take the DIY approach

If you’re handy with a spirit level and a glue gun, you can create your own panelling with a few simple items from a good DIY store. It will involve basic woodwork skills, precise measuring and some patience but the effect can be stunning – especially if painted a dramatic shade. This simple ‘How To Panel A Wall’ guide from Homebase is a great place to start.

Ready-made panelling

If your DIY skills are more entry level, you can actually buy sheets of tongue and groove-style panelling. This approach covers large areas of a wall in one go and takes the hard work out of achieving a professional look. The sheets can easily be glued or screwed in place. If, however, you’re a tenant, you could simply prop the panels against a wall or use some of the many removable adhesive strips that are perfect for use in rented properties. 

Fake it with paper

Not everyone has the patience, skill or time to add real-wood panelling to their property but there’s good news – a shortcut exists in the form of panelling-effect wallpaper. Retailers including  Mineheart stock a range of panelling on a roll; you can even choose which period your faux panelling comes from, as there are Georgian, Victorian and Dutch Inlay styles to choose from. 

Temporary, no-damage solutions

If you’re prone to changing your mind or you live in rented accommodation, you can still follow interior fashions by choosing a ‘peel and stick’ wall decal in a panelling print. These decals can be applied with ease and removed without leaving a mark or residue. Etsy is a good place to source decals – we love this ornate panelling decal with gold details for adding a regal feel to any room. Looking for something more modern? Try this whitewashed timber plank decal for a Californian beach house vibe.

If you’re looking for a new home that provides you with a blank canvas to personalise, get in touch today. We’ll let you know all of the available properties to buy and rent within your budget.

Categories
Lettings Group 1 Sales Group 1

The voice: control your home by having a conversation

It’s 2021 and who wants to physically push a button or flick a switch? Today, it’s all about controlling your home with your voice. 

What used to be the work of sci-fi is now an everyday convenience, brought to us by Google, Amazon and Apple, among others. If you haven’t kept pace, almost every appliance and home gadget can be controlled by simply having a conversation with a voice-receptive hub.

The most popular hubs

If you’re familiar with Google, you can opt for a Nest, while Amazon fans can choose the Echo – both are plug-in hubs that use wifi, Bluetooth and a built-in speaker to connect to devices around your home. Apple’s Siri is another option, which can be activated using an iPhone, iPad or via the company’s HomePod smart speaker. 

Cheaper than you think

When it comes to cost, the initial outlay has been driven down, thanks to competition – even the newest hubs are priced at less than £250 and entry levels models are available for less than £40. Even cheaper is the Amazon Echo Flex Plug-in Smart Speaker at around £25. It can be plugged into any power socket, bringing hands-free voice command via Alexa to any space in your home.

Tell it like it is

So what can you tell your hub to do? Here are the most common voice commands and functions:-

 

  • Make an announcement 

 

Voice control makes bellowing up the stairs ‘dinner’s ready’ a thing of the past. Voice-controlled hubs let you make ‘announcements’ or ‘broadcasts’ to every room where there is a linked smart device. Simply say ‘Hey Google, wake everyone up’ and your household will get the message via their personal speaker, or you can use your network of connected devices as an intercom to have two-way conversations between rooms. It’s also possible to make hands-free voice calls to almost anyone using a hub.

 

  • Ask questions

 

Thanks to its speaker and wifi connectivity, you can ask your hub anything and it will search the internet for the answer. You can check the news and weather, ask for a traffic report ahead of a journey, find out the latest sports scores, convert metric measurements into imperial and even establish when your local shops open. 

 

  • Run a virtual assistant

 

If you’re lax about noting down dates and details in a diary or on a calendar, a hub can become your virtual assistant – think of it as an in-house PA who’s always polite and precise. Ask your hub to set timers (very handy when cooking), create daily reminders (perhaps to feed the fish or drink more water) and start a food shopping list for you (add items with your voice as soon as you remember).

  • Tell appliances when to start and stop

There are a myriad of appliances, gadgets and white goods that are now manufactured with smart, connected technology as standard. From doorbells and dishwashers, to thermostats and TVs, choose a product that’s compatible with voice control and you’ll soon be saying “Alexa, make me a latte’ or “turn the Nest thermostat up by two degrees’. Home Connect is a great place to discover which brands and appliance models feature smart tech and voice control.

 

  • Light show

 

The humble light bulb has had an upgrade – check out Lifx and Philips Hue for voice controlled versions. Tell your light bulb to switch on and off, change its colour, dim its brightness and activate its motion sensor, or use an app to activate the light when you’re not at home as an added security measure. 

Whatever home tech you opt for, make sure your chosen hub or speaker is voice control-compatible. In addition, always download the latest version of any software required to your smart device (phone or tablet) and, of course, it’s essential to keep your hub plugged in and the power switched on!

Categories
Sales Group 2

Buying ‘big ticket’ items: filling your home with no upfront costs

There’s no getting away from the fact that moving home costs money. Even after you’ve paid legal fees, a deposit and perhaps stamp duty, there will be things that you need to buy. So how can you pay for those ‘big ticket’ home items – such as kitchen appliances, sofas and bedroom furniture – when your pot has run dry? Here are some options to consider:-

0% interest credit cards: if you need to splurge on stuff for your new home, taking out an interest-free credit card is a good way to spread the cost at no extra charge. And, as the Money Saving expert explains, you’ll get Section 75 consumer protection when you use your credit card to make purchases over £100. You can use comparison websites, such as comparethemarket.com, to find the best 0% rate interest credit card with the longest zero percent period – which can be up to 24 months. 

When using this funding method, set a reminder to clear the balance at the end of the interest-free period or you’ll risk being automatically switched to its regular (much higher) interest rate. Can’t clear the balance at the end? It may help to do a balance transfer to another 0% interest credit card when the time comes, although there will be a small fee for this service. 

Pay in instalments: if you’ve ever shopped online, you may have seen the option to pay in instalments. Companies, including Klarna, Splitit, Clearpay and PayPal’s Pay in 3, offer shoppers the option to split paying for goods into three equal payments. The first payment is made at checkout, with two further payments due typically after 30 and 60 days. Theoretically, this allows the buyer to benefit from two more ‘pay days’ to clear the balance, without being charged interest.

If you miss a payment, you could ruin your chances of using such payment plans in the future or even hear from debt collection agencies. Look for an option that withdraws each instalment automatically or set up a direct debit so you never miss a payment.

Take out a loan: it’s important to know whether you need a personal loan or a home improvement loan. You can use the former to cover the upfront purchase of white goods, flooring and furniture, for example, while the latter is reserved for renovation works and can come in the form of either an unsecured personal loan or a loan secured against your home. 

A personal loan can be taken out to cover the cost of multiple big ticket items when you’re furnishing an entire property, for instance. Reading Which?’s Guide to Personal Loans is a must before you make an application, and always use a comparison website to find the best interest rate and repayment term for your circumstance.

Payments and your credit score

It is definitely a case of buyer beware! Read the small print and recognise if your chosen payment method is actually a credit agreement. While taking out a credit card and making regular, timely payments can improve your credit score, falling behind with or missing payments can damage your credit rating. 

It’s wise to check your chances of being accepted for finance by getting a credit report before you start applying. This can be obtained for free at ClearScore and other credit reference agencies. 

Find free items

If you’re not keen on taking out credit or spreading the cost of a shopping spree, there is an alternative. The internet has revolutionised how we dispose of unwanted items for the home, with Freecycle, Gumtree and good old Facebook full of freebies. Of course, when items are offered at no cost, there is no consumer protection. Plus, you’ll usually have to make your own arrangements to collect the goods – with no guarantee they’ll work ‘as new’.

If you’re planning on moving home soon, get in touch for buying, selling and renting advice.

Categories
Sales Group 1

Buy a house with Bitcoins? A future possibility

Sometimes it’s good to look to the future to see how property transactions may evolve and one exciting area is paying for deposits – and perhaps entire houses – using cryptocurrency. Here’s our introduction for the uninitiated but rest assured, there will be no overnight switch to cryptocurrency in the UK property market.

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is a type of currency that exists as digital coins or tokens instead of physical money that we hand over at the cash till. Although you may have heard of Bitcoin, there were reportedly over 4,000 other cryptocurrencies available as of January 2021. Cryptocurrency’s big advantage? It is almost impossible to counterfeit or double spend. 

How do I buy and spend cryptocurrency?

In theory, any product or service bought online can be paid for in cryptocurrency – the retailer would simply display a price in pounds (£), use current rates to convert the figure into cryptocurrency and add how many crypto tokens were needed to make the purchase. 

The buyer holds their cryptocurrency in a digital wallet, and tops this up by purchasing tokens from a cryptocurrency exchange service. Think of it as paying using PayPal but instead of the money leaving your bank account, it leaves your cryptocurrency account. 

Already brands such as Tesla, Microsoft and PlayStation accept cryptocurrency payments and more brands are announcing their intention to accept Bitcoins and other digital currencies every day.

So will I be able to buy a property using cryptocurrency?

For many of us, cryptocurrency is still a new concept to get our heads around but buying a property using cryptocurrency is something that is already being discussed by mortgage lenders and the legal profession. If you’re really keen to know the current thinking, Bitcoin uptake: ‘a long way off’ is a news analysis article by mortgagestrategy.co.uk, explaining the current relationship between house buying and cryptocurrency.

Is cryptocurrency actually hindering house buying?

The article in Mortgage Strategy makes an interesting link between an inability among some first-time buyers to raise a big enough cash deposit to buy a home, and those who hold all the cryptocurrency wealth. Is it a coincidence that the average age of the UK’s first-timer buyer has reached 34 years old, and that the biggest holders of Bitcoin – having 27% of all in circulation – are in the 35-44 year old bracket? Could potential purchasers have too much cash tied up in cryptocurrency and it’s this that’s hindering their attempt to own their first home?

Are cryptocurrency deposits the solution?

Already some mortgage lenders are accepting cryptocurrency as a form of property deposit. For example, the Nationwide will accept a deposit payment in Bitcoin, but stresses that this is a request currently dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Experts believe that mortgages will evolve and new hybrids will emerge where some, if not all, of a property purchase will be funded by cryptocurrency.

Will I be able to pay an estate agent using cryptocurrency?

That idea is already a reality. Although far from a mainstream method of paying for property services, a small minority of agents are allowing sellers, tenants and landlords to pay with cryptocurrency. We do, however, see a long and happy future for traditional cash transactions.

If you’d like to know more about buying, selling and renting property, contact us today.

Categories
Newsflash Group 1

The Budget 2021, Property & You

Property was high up on the list of topics for the Chancellor as he delivered his second Budget to an expectant nation on Wednesday 3rd March 2021. Rumours had been circling beforehand as to what Mr Rishi Sunak would announce, especially after a tumultuous 12 months and many temporary fiscal measures already in place. 

We have filtered through the pages of reports and micro details to bring you the property-related Budget news that matters. As it stands, buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords have two items of direct importance, as follows:-

Stamp duty holiday extended: this initiative, where zero stamp duty is paid on the first £500,000 of a property purchase, (with a maximum saving of £15,000 per transaction), was due to end on 31st March 2021. The deadline has now been pushed back to later in the year – 30th June 2021.

Completion, not just exchange, must take place before this new June deadline for buyers to qualify for the top-rate discount – as before, stamp duty will only apply to the portion of the purchase that is over £500,000 up until 30th June. There is a ‘step down’ approach to stamp duty discounts after June, with Mr Sunak announcing that from 1st July until 30th September 2021, only the first £250,000 of a property purchase will be stamp-duty free. After that, the stamp duty-free limit resets to the first £125,000 of a property’s value.

5% mortgages for all: it was in October 2020 when the Prime Minister announced that 5% mortgages would be making a comeback – part of Boris’s bid to turn Generation Rent into Generation Buy and to help people move up the property ladder. Unlike open-market mortgages, the Chancellor detailed that these new home loans – accessed with a deposit as low as 5% – would effectively be guaranteed by the Government. 

It is also hoped the new mortgages will be offered on a long-term, fixed rate basis for extra financial security. The Chancellor added that many big name lenders were already backing the scheme but clarified that the mortgages would only fund property purchases worth up to £600,000.

What remains unchanged?

Capital Gains Tax rates are unaffected. This tax applies when people sell a valuable asset that has risen in value, and the amount they pay depends on their tax status – basic rate taxpayer or higher rate taxpayer. Assets that fall into this tax remit include most personal possessions (not including a vehicle), some shares, business assets and also any residential property that has been used as a buy-to-let, for business purposes or is very large. For now, the Capital Gains Tax rate stays at 18% for basic rate taxpayers and 28% on any amount above the basic rate.

If you would like help interpreting March 2021’s Budget and what it could mean for your home moving plans, get in touch today. We can help you calculate your stamp duty bill, talk over your mortgage options and show you a list of available properties within your budget.

Categories
Lettings Group 1 Sales Group 1

2021’s moving motivations revealed

With a sense of improving positivity, many potential buyers, sellers, landlords and tenants are being tempted to stop sitting on the fence and take the moving plunge this year. In fact, when comparing the first week of February 2021 to the same period in 2020, the number of visits to one of the main property portal’s website were up 45%, with keen home-hunters sending 18% more enquiries and the number of purchases agreed rising 7%. 

The last 12 months have prompted many of us to re-evaluate not just how we live but where we live, as a new survey of 1,000 homeowners recently revealed. ID Systems found 26% of homeowners are considering moving in the next 12 months – 55% of those decisions were directly influenced by the pandemic.

The pandemic has especially changed the opinion of younger movers, with half of UK homeowners aged 18-24 – and one third of those aged 25-34 – planning on moving house in the next 12 months due to Covid-19

Unsurprisingly, London had the largest percentage of people who had changed their mind about living in a city, with 25.5% thinking about living in the countryside instead. A lifestyle change was evidenced by many respondents, with 15.8% wanting to move for more natural light, 13% for a home office and 11.9% for a home gym.

The UK’s rental market is more fluid and will be quicker to react to a changing landscape. One area set to see resurgence among tenants is a return to city centres, especially as offices, bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres reopen. This is fuelled by further analysis that showed rents in some of the UK’s biggest city centres dropped by up to 12% in the last quarter of 2020, luring in renters who may have previously been priced out of ultra urban locations. 

Elsewhere, another property portal’s analysis revealed ‘garden’ was the most common search term used by renters between July and September 2020, with one source going as far as predicting that young tenants will hunt down rental properties with ‘Insta-worthy’ outdoor spaces, which serve both social gatherings and social media.

A garden was followed closely by parking, then a garage and the ability to live in a rental property with pets. Taking up the remaining five spots were flooring, properties where the bills were included in the monthly rent, en suite bathrooms, rural locations and a home studio.

Are any of these moving motivations ringing a bell with you? We’re here to help match tenants and buyers with landlords and sellers. Get in contact and we can make 2021 the year you move.

Categories
Lettings Group 1 Sales Group 1

Save almost £1,000: 5 lesser-known energy saving measures

Call them hints, hacks, tips or tricks, it’s sometimes the smaller things in life that can save you a surprising amount of money. When it comes to paying out, energy bills are up there with the most expensive and, sadly, they could be about to rise.

In fact, energy bills are expected to be more costly for about 15 million households after Ofcom removed the price cap on tariffs, putting prices back to pre-pandemic levels. The move will come into force during April 2021, with the cap increasing by £96 to £1,138 for 11 million customers on a standard dual-fuel energy tariff, and by £87 to £1,156 for 4 million prepayment meter customers. 

Why? Prices in the wholesale energy market have increased and at a quicker rate than expected, while energy suppliers need to balance their books after many households fell behind with their utility payments during the pandemic.

While you often read about the holy trinity of energy saving measures: installing the best double glazing, improving insulation and replacing inefficient boilers, there are some lesser known – and much cheaper – ways of reducing your energy consumption, saving you almost £1,000 over the course of a year. And as a bonus, the tips below can be used year-round, not just during the winter months. 

Whether you’re watching your smart meter tip into the red due to online homeschooling, heating your property all day thanks to working from home or are constantly charging appliances because of battery drain, here are 5 ways to cut costs but not comfort:-

  1. Harness the sun & save £752: we’re not talking expensive solar panels but the simple act of leaving your curtains and blinds open for longer. As well as letting in natural light, reducing the need for electricity-powered light sources, heat from the sun will stop over-reliance on central heating. The result? A combined energy bill saving of up to 60%.
  2. Shift your sofa & save £125: your three-piece suite? It loves soaking up the heat. Move your sofa away from a radiator just six inches and you could save up to 10% on your gas bill, as you’ll allow heat to rise and flow around the room more effectively. 
  3. Boil less water & save £19: did you know 6% of all the electricity supplied to British homes is used by the humble kettle? An annual saving of around £19 can be achieved by not overfilling a kettle, so get into the habit of using the ‘cups’ indicator on the side. The money saved will be greater if you crave more than two cuppas a day, repeatedly put the kettle on after getting distracted or if you’re on a water meter.
  4. Unplug & save £30: we admit, you’ll save pennies but is there anything more irritating than seeing a phone, iPad or laptop charger plugged into the socket with no device at the other end? You can, however, make a more substantial dent in your electricity bill by making sure that all chargers and appliances are unplugged and switched off at the wall (not on standby) when they’re not being used. 
  5. Let your hair dry naturally & save £14: a regular blast of hot air styling all adds up over the course of a year. In fact, using a 1,000w hairdryer on a regular basis costs approximately £14 over 12 months. Why not ditch the dryer to chip away at your bill?

If you’re looking to move to a more energy efficient home, or would like advice on eco improvements that could improve your home’s EPC rating, please get in touch.