Categories
Lifestyle Group 1

Securing your new home

Moving into a new home is one of life’s most exciting milestones and while it may not feel as exciting as choosing new sofas or deciding who to invite to a housewarming party, paying some attention to the property’s security will help you feel more settled – and may even result in cheaper insurance premiums.

When you’re compiling your ‘to do’ list as you move in, you may find these 6 essential security changes useful:-

  1. Change front door locks: the handing over of keys always marks the end of one property ownership and the start of a new one but there’s no way of knowing whether past owners have retained a spare set, or whether neighbours may have keys too. Changing the front door locks should be up there with reading the meters as a default moving-in ritual. Always opt for a five-lever mortice lock with a BS heart-shaped Kitemark that meets the BS 3621 criteria – the gold standard in door security and a requirement from home insurance companies in order to secure a cheaper premium.
  2. Change or replace a key safe: key safes have grown in popularity  – used by forgetful teens, cleaners and carers, among others – but with many unlocked with a simple 4-digit code that’s easy to share and remember, it’s wise to change the code or replace the whole box.
  3. Install a safe: a fireproof safe is a great addition to a new home – especially for high value items of jewellery, spare keys and valuable documents – but any safe must be fixed securely to a wall or the floor for it to be effective.
  4. Secure windows & other entry points: anything that’s broken, jammed or missing should be repaired. This could include fixing a window that is stubbornly ajar, reinstalling a fence panel that’s blown down or replacing a patio door that doesn’t lock.
  5. Change the alarm code: ask your solicitor or agent to verify if the property you are moving into has a burglar alarm. If so, request that the operational instructions are left at the property, although many manuals are available to download online if you know the make and model. Make replacing the alarm code with something new a priority.
  6. Don’t overshare on social media: moving day is exciting and it’s news you may want to share online but do so with restraint. By all means document your first few days in a new property but it’s a good idea to share photos and details within private groups, and not publicly.

Other security measures for moving day & beyond

  • Update your home and contents insurance so cover starts at your new address as soon as you move in
  • Hang curtains or blinds as quickly as possible
  • Don’t leave valuable items in unlocked vans or cars on moving day
  • Find out whether the property is in a Neighbourhood Watch area
  • Don’t leave empty boxes for new TVs and gadgets in plain sight on recycling day

We’re experts at managing moving days, so if you have any question about the order of events, timings, collecting keys and keeping your possessions safe, just ask!

Categories
Lifestyle Group 2

The green green walls of home

Summer has departed and we’re heading for the year’s wetter seasons but on the plus side of so much rain in the UK, our land is a truly green and pleasant one. The leafy flora and fauna outside provides a veritable feast of verdant shades that can influence how we decorate inside.

Using green as a colour in your home has many benefits. Not only is the breadth of shades available dazzling – from mint, apple and lime through to fern, sage and emerald – there are health benefits too. 

Physiological studies have found that surrounding yourself with green can lower your heart rate, reduce stress and prolong lives. Psychologists will also point out the colour can provide a soothing, calming environment in the home and at work. If you need any more convincing about why green is the colour for 2021, this article from Livingetc is a good place to start. 

Understanding shades of green

With a vast spectrum of greens to choose from, it can feel overwhelming when starting out. Although green paint is probably the go-to medium when decorating, the colours mentioned below can be used as inspiration when choosing wallpaper, soft furnishings, accessories, fabric and artwork.

Bold greens with blue undertones, such as Crown’s Exotic No. 343 and  Dulux’s Emerald Glade, can look cold in north facing rooms but they work well when paired with chalky whites and mustard yellows. Use in cloakrooms, dining rooms and home offices, or as a single feature wall for real impact.

Yellow-based greens are generally softer on the eye and can be used to paint an entire room without colour overkill, no matter its aspect. Options to try include Crown’s Gentle Olive or Farrow & Ball’s Churlish Green – shades that look fabulous in living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. 

Vibrant & lush

If you want a pop of colour, Margarita from Benjamin More or Antibes from Annie Sloan are perfect and if the paint name contains the words Lime, Zest or Grass, you’ll usually be rewarded with bold, beautiful green. Pair with brilliant white for a year-round punch of tropical vibes or use to refresh accessories – you could repaint existing picture frames, candlesticks and bedside cabinets for an instant injection of colour.

‘On the border’ greens

There are other shades of green that dance on the border of other colours, making them ideal for those who still need convincing to go all-out green. Dulux’s almost-blue Peppermint Beach is a safe choice, while Green Stone Pale by Little Greene really is one shade away from cream. Pale Georgian is another option to explore – it’s a golden green from Paint & Paper Library with bags of sunny charm. 

Go easy with the lightest of greens 

If you’re hesitant about introducing green to your home, or are worried the colour will make your home feel dark, opt for paint names with aqua, glass, mist or pearl in the name, as they’re usually super-light shades with just a hint of green. Looking Glass from Crown is perfect for those transitioning away from grey, while Little Greene’s Aquamarine Pale and Paint & Paper Library’s Glass colour spectrum will add freshness and tranquillity.

If you’ve been inspired to get creative with the colour green and need a blank canvas in the shape of a new home, get in touch for our available properties.

Categories
Sales Group 2

Are you guilty of sabotaging your own sale?

While an estate agent will do everything in its power to ensure your home is marketed to the right people, catches the eye of buyers and is priced attractively enough to encourage offers, sellers can also help themselves.

As a company that has sold hundreds of homes, we were very interested in the results of a new survey commissioned by GoCompare Home Insurance. It specifically asked home buyers and would-be purchasers what puts them off most when looking for a new home.

Tellingly, many reasons why a home may not sell were facets that, while out of the control of an estate agent, could easily be rectified by the seller. Taking joint first place in the top 20 reasons why a property for sale is rejected was damp patches or stained walls/ceilings, with 52% of those questioned saying this was off-putting (the other was no garden, which is probably the hardest point to address by anyone).

In second spot were bad smells, including pet odours, cigarette smoke, damp and food, with 50% of respondents citing this as a property turn-off. Other fixable issues that discouraged buyers included a property in a poor state of repair (45%); unfinished building work (38%); a dirty house (31%); untidy rooms (18%); overgrown gardens (18%) and a dated/over-the-top décor or carpets (12%).

The survey results indicate that first impressions really count, even though it’s a cliché in estate agency. The problem with a poor outward appearance is that it’s hard to see the true potential of the property underneath, while dubious stains and damp patches could give the impression there’s something more serious going on – even if the discolouration is merely superficial. Unfinished DIY or building work is also off-putting as the cost and effort involved in completing the projects is a barrier for many potential buyers.

Other aspects under a seller’s control that may be sabotaging a sale may need a little effort and diplomacy to fix. Neighbours are a bone of contention among buyers, with rubbish strewn in the garden next door (46%), a dilapidated neighbouring property (40%) and a student let adjacent (33%) are all red flags for those on a viewing. 

Also of concern are connections – especially if the property is in a broadband blackspot. Of those questioned, 44% said an unreliable broadband service would be a deal breaker, while a poor mobile phone signal would put off 35% of hopeful buyers. 

Even if a purchaser is keen to look past a property’s flaws, they may want compensation and could offer well below the asking price. Tidying, cleaning and repainting are quick fixes that will dramatically improve the chances of achieving your asking price, while switching to the provider of your area’s best broadband service and knowing the mobile operator with the strongest signal will win over those who’ve been online to check speeds and coverage.

If you would like a property valuation, together with honest advice about selling your home, contact us today.

Categories
Sales Group 1

Houses in high demand

Two up, two down, smart semi or a sprawling detached family residence – the house has overtaken all other properties as the most in-demand dwelling. The craze was even noticeable in the new build sector, where analysis of Land Registry data showed detached houses were the most frequently bought style since 31stJanuary 2020. 

Much has been reported on the ‘race for space’, which has seen home movers make a beeline for houses, but trading up to a bigger home was a trend forecast to end in line with the stamp duty holiday. 

New analysis has, however, shown houses are still in high demand and are predicted to remain hot property well into 2022. Property portal Zoopla reported that demand for houses in July this year was twice as high as typically seen at the same point between 2017 and 2019. 

You’ll be well aware that lockdowns provided a laser focus on where we live, with many lamenting the lack of privacy and cramped conditions when everyone was under the same roof at the same time. This propelled the first house buying wave, with many knee-jerk purchases and unplanned moves. 

Now the sustained demand for houses is linked to something else – low levels of available properties. In fact, Zoopla says some house stock levels are down 25% in the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. It’s something we’re noticing too. 

The result is a supply and demand imbalance – there are simply not enough houses for sale to serve the number of people who want to buy them. As we move into autumn, we’re seeing panic buying being replaced by home movers who have bided their time – those who have waited for lockdown to lift and the outlook to stabilise before they started searching for a new house. It’s a sellers’ market and here’s exactly what that means for you if you own a house.

Every time a new house is added to our portfolio, there is instant interest. Many buyers have been on waiting lists for weeks – even months – and we’re finding the phone rings and the emails ping as soon as a fresh house appears for sale.

More often than not, we receive multiple requests to view a house within the first 48 hours of it appearing on our website and across the property portals. The diary is filled quickly and it’s not long before people are making offers. In some cases, the competition to secure a house is so fierce that a bidding war breaks out and the asking price is surpassed.

Many buyers are looking for a house just like yours, particularly if it’s smart and of sound construction. If you can help us address the shortage of houses for sale in the local area and would like to see a ‘for sale’ board up outside your home, contact the team today and book a free valuation.

Categories
Lifestyle Group 2

Digging deep to add a basement

Much has been made of this year’s ‘race for space’, with home movers buying and selling to gain an extra bedroom, a bigger living area or a much-coveted home office. When you couple this with news that a detached house was the most popular property type bought by new home purchasers during the pandemic, it’s no surprise there is a big squeeze on space.

Many people buy a smaller property for its potential to extend but the traditional route is to go up – a two-storey extension or a loft conversion, for instance – but how about digging deep? It’s easy to assume that basement conversions are just for property high rollers, with A-list celebrities excavating to add a swimming pool, a home cinema or a gym complex, but can anyone add extra square footage by going underground? 

With land at a premium, basements are gaining in popularity as an extension option. If you are considering this route, a quick look at other houses like yours may give you a clue as to whether you’ll enjoy success – if the properties already have basements, your plans will start on a positive note. 

If you are not aware of a successful cellar conversion or basement excavation at neighbouring houses, you will need to work with a structural engineer and the local council on a feasibility study. They are likely to raise the following points:

  • The Party Wall Act: neighbours will need to be notified about any planned work as part of this Act, as it may involve underpinning their party walls and inserting beams into shared brickwork.
  • Permissions: your local planning officer and building control department will decide what’s possible and what will need planning permission.
  • Evaluation: every aspect of your home and land, from soil type and the water table to access and service pipework will need appraising as part of the planning stage. If you don’t understand what heave and hydrostatic pressure is – and how they can affect basement plans – consult with the professionals.

Don’t forget that creating a basement isn’t a run-of-the-mill building project. Going underground requires a team of experts, including structural engineers, surveyors, architects, excavators and waterproofing professionals. This basement guide, created by SWJ Consulting, is a good read for those who’d like more detail about what adding a basement involves.

The need for specialist skills brings us to the cost of creating or converting a basement, and this will vary according to what you have already. If you’re converting an existing cellar, costs can range between £900 to £1,400 per square metre. If your basement is brand new and requires excavating, expect to pay in excess of £1,500 and £2,000 per square metre.

It’s wise to contact everyone who needs to be on board for an estimate before getting too carried away. Ask about their availability too – the best trades can be booked up for months and demand may also mean their prices rise (as will a shortage in building materials).

So will a basement end up paying for itself? The answer is: possibly. For the shrewd property owners out there, basements may present a way of creating an additional income stream. Xcavate Robotics is a company that works with homeowners to establish whether they can squeeze additional underground properties onto their land, with the build taking place under their garden. 

Its subterranean construction system is capable of adding a lower ground floor below an existing structure, and it can even carve out an entire one-bedroom apartment beneath a lawn – perfect as a property that can be rented out, or as an annexe for multi-generational families.

Even if you’re not looking to become a landlord, adding a basement can add as much as 20% to your home’s value, reports the HomeOwners Alliance. Already have a cellar? Even converting somewhere dark, dingy and demoted to a dumping ground will increase your property’s worth.

Ask us for advice and examples if you’re looking to buy a property with basement potential. If the idea sounds like too much hassle and you’d prefer the work to have already been completed, we can find you a home with more space than you have now.

Categories
Lifestyle Group 1

Interior trend: make time for mantelscaping

As the temperature drops and we head back into our homes in search of cosiness, fireplaces will, once again, become a home décor focal point. While we may only light the gas, fan the real flames or flick the switch of a stove-effect heater when it’s really cold, the mantelpiece is a year-round feature that you can dress to have a big impact. In fact, there is something called ‘mantelscaping’ – the art of arranging knick-knacks, trinkets and flowers on the ledge (the mantel) that sits above a fire. 

The good news is you don’t have to have a working fire, or even an opening, to have a mantel and enjoy mantelscaping. It’s increasingly common to affix a piece of timber to a wall – such as an old railway sleeper – to create a mantel, while others retain a mantelpiece as a feature after decommissioning a fireplace, just so they can decorate it.

The most authentic addition to a mantel would be a mantel clock – also known as a shelf clock. Dating back to France in the mid 18th century, the tradition still pervades today, although more contemporary styles are manufactured alongside the ornate versions seen in Georgian and Victorian eras.

The perfect companions to a mantel clock – an addition that can be traced back centuries – are candles. While we are spoiled with different sizes, fragrances and types today, the classic mantel candle would be a tapered example held in a decorative candlestick. 

Before you dismiss this candle and holder combination as too pretentious or fussy, the art of mantelscaping includes balancing the height of objects. Elegant candle sticks with tall, slim candles work perfectly with chunkier jar candles and tea lights. Just be sure to leave enough distance between the wall and the candle to avoid leaving soot marks when lit, use a proper candle snuffer to extinguish the flame and always be aware of fire safety 

Varying heights can also be achieved by adding object d’art – items that bring aesthetic delight or tell a story. Glass bell jars and cloches, sea shells, driftwood and decorative urns all work well, and you shouldn’t underestimate the power of a vase. As well as choosing the actual display vessel according to its stature, the height of your flowers (either fresh or dried) can draw the eye and add a dynamic edge.

Photo frames are another mantel staple where you can express yourself and have fun. Choosing to frame only black and white images lends a classic feel, especially when the photos are in gold or silver frames. A more casual look can be achieved by simply propping up postcards, small, unframed prints or even invites to weddings and thank you notes.

Mantelscaping is also rivalling the door wreath as something that can reflect the changing seasons, especially when it comes to festive events. Why not pile your mantel high with mini pumpkins and gnarly gourds when it’s Halloween, or intertwine battery-operated fairy lights between your every-day items at Christmas? For an effortless option, choose a pre-lit, pre-decorated garland – readily available online and in garden centres. Look out for seasonal versions with pine cones, autumn leaves and berries, studded with tiny, warm fairy lights for a cosy glow. 

When mantelscaping, it’s up to you whether you opt for symmetry, with a focal point in the middle of the mantel and items mirrored either side, or whether you follow the interior designer’s much favoured ‘power of three’ rule, where objects always appear together as a trio. The joy of mantelscaping is its accessibility – simply arrange what you love most and make small tweaks until you can sit back and enjoy your display.

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Lettings Group 1

Student lets leapfrog other property investment prospects

September can only mean one thing – back to school. While the concerns of younger students include pencil cases and packed lunch boxes, undergraduates will be thinking about more serious matters, such as where to live.

Student lets are big business for landlords, even for institutional investors. The Financial Times recently reported on Blackstones – the world’s biggest commercial landlord – offloading offices and retail units so it could bid to buy student housing operator, GCP Student Living.

Even for the humble one-property landlord or investment novice, there are gains to be made in the student let market. A shortage in traditional ‘hall’ accommodation, coupled with the desire to live with like-minded undergraduates in a freer environment, has buoyed the private student rental market.

A recently published student living index found that growing demand was behind student rents increases of almost 20% over the last 12 months. Students in Leicester were most affected, with a £188 rise in their average monthly rental costs.

The ability to increase rents is important when it comes to yields and there is good news for those aiming for the university market. Analysis of 5,000 student lets between January and July 2021 found that yields were climbing steadily, with marked gains in the North East, the North West and the South East. 

Investing in a town where there is a single university has also been proven to be a good strategy, with research revealing 7 out of the top 10 cities for the best student rental yields only had one main university. Swansea came out as the top location, with landlords enjoying student yields of +9.56%, followed by Hull (+8.68%) and Sheffield (+7.58%).  

If your head has been turned by the attractive student let market, here’s some advice about appealing to undergraduates:- 

 

  • Operate compliantly

 

If you’re hoping to run a house share, also known as an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation), you’ll need to check with the local authority about a license to operate and also familiarise yourself with the extra compliance required when renting to multiple households.

 

  • Consider fully furnished

 

Students like fully furnished properties so they can move in with just the basics. Budget for buying furniture and ensure anything you purchase second hand, or are given meets fire safety regulations. When offering a fully furnished student let, an inventory will be especially important. 

  •  Minimise financial risks

Don’t hesitate to ask for a parental guarantor or a whole year’s rent upfront. This is quite normal in the student let market, giving landlords a greater degree of financial security and less chance of arrears.

 

  • Offer brilliant broadband

 

With many lectures remaining online, reliable and fast broadband is on the top of every students’ housing wish list. Installing the very best WiFi could be part of a ‘bills included’ package, should you choose to follow this path.

 

  • Students are driven by location 

 

Think about the property’s location when looking to purchase a student buy-to-let. The holy trinity of places to be close to include the university campus, shopping facilities and any social centre – walking distance is preferred as students will not necessarily drive or own a car.

 

  • Don’t hesitate in marketing

 

It’s never too early to market your student let. Competition for the best properties can be fierce and as a result, many students will look for a place to live in the autumn, ready for the following academic year.

We are well versed in helping landlords get ready for the student market. If you would like advice on compliance and HMOs, setting the rent, how to operate a ‘bills included’ let, working out yields, how to find tenants and managing a student let with the minimum of fuss, talk to us today.

Categories
Lettings Group 2

Rental guarantors: the new normal in lettings?

If we were to draw positives from the pandemic, one would be that workers have been presented with the opportunity to change their career path. Whether they’ve started a cottage industry from their kitchen table during furlough or have gone it alone after being made redundant by an employer, one thing is for sure – self-employment is on the rise.

In fact, the number of those working for themselves broke through the 5 million barrier for the first time at the end of 2019, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts a record rise in solo self-employment in 2021. So why does this have a bearing on the lettings industry?

Financial security and employment prospects form a critical part of the referencing process when vetting potential tenants. Those looked upon most favourably are those with job security – workers with a stable income and for the same employer for a number of years.

With the last 18 months seeing a dramatic shift towards freelancing and self-employed status, many tenants renting in the near future will have a largely unsubstantiated income. When it comes to referencing, a few months as an untried and untested self-employed worker may not be enough to satisfy landlords. This is why rental guarantors may be the most important aspect of lettings moving forward – and not just the preserve of student renters. 

What is a rental guarantor?

A guarantor is someone who agrees to step in and pay the rent if or when the tenant can’t. Becoming a rental guarantor isn’t a trivial matter – it carries legal obligations and the agreement has to be made in writing. As well as covering any payments, a rental guarantor also acts as a second point of contact, should the landlord be unable to reach the named tenant, and they will be called upon to pay for any damage to the property if the tenant can’t. 

A landlord will also want to know that the nominated guarantor has the financial means to pay the rent and to cover damage. As a result, they too may also need to clear credit checks before they are accepted, proving they have an income or savings of their own as part of the process. 

Who can be a rental guarantor?

Usually a rental guarantor takes the form of the tenant’s parents or an immediate relative, although it’s also possible for a close friend to become a guarantor. It’s worth noting that some trustworthy people will be declined as a guarantor, such as those who are retired, those who don’t own a property and those who are themselves self-employed.

There are also businesses who will act as a guarantor – useful for when a landlord wants 6 or 12 months’ rent upfront or when the tenant can’t provide a UK-based guarantor. The renter pays a one-off or a monthly fee in return for the company guaranteeing to pay the rent if the tenant can’t.

An option if you can’t get a rental guarantor

If you’re newly self-employed and your earnings are still on the ascendancy, a guarantor is a great option when renting a property. If you’re not in the position to secure a guarantor, you can offer to pay the rent six months in advance, as a clear indication to the landlord that you have the funds to meet the monthly rent. When the six months is up, you may be able to prove your earnings and switch to conventional monthly rent payments.

Landlords and tenants looking for further information about the referencing process and the option of a rental guarantor should contact our team for friendly advice.