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The eco improvements that add the most value

If there’s one agenda that won’t be pushed to the bottom of the pile, it’s the eco agenda. How much energy we use, where we get our energy from and what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint is a narrative that has become persistent in the property market. 

While most of us acknowledge that building and running homes contributes to harmful emissions (it’s estimated that 40% of the UK’s carbon is emitted by households), the type of improvements that make the most positive contribution to a greener planet are sometimes the most intrusive – and expensive.

So where does this leave the homeowner who wants to improve their eco credentials but has potential plans to move in the near future?

The good news is adding energy efficiency measures may increase the value of your property and make your home more desirable to buyers when it comes to selling – on top of any gas and electricity savings you make while living in the property once any changes are made.

Which eco improvements add the most value? 

Rated People helpfully ranked 15 of the most common energy efficient home improvements in order of how much value they add to a property, as follows: 

  1.     Solar panels – £13,512 (value increase)
  2.     Wind turbine – £12,941
  3.     Triple glazing – £12,788
  4.     Underfloor heating – £12,290
  5.     Ground source heat pump – £12,251
  6.     Double glazing – £12,005
  7.     Extra insulation, like cavity wall insulation – £11,764
  8.     Biomass boiler – £11,756
  9.     Air source heat pump – £11,670
  10.     Solar water heating – £11,646
  11.     Electric car charging point – £11,538
  12.     Green/living roof – £11,477
  13.     Biodiverse garden – £11,444
  14.     Old appliances replaced with new ones – £11,190
  15.     Draught proofing – £11,151

How much do the most popular eco improvements cost?

Air source heat pump: expect to pay in the region of £10,000 for the purchase and installation of an air source heat pump. This cost can be reduced significantly if homeowners act quickly. The ‘first come, first served’ Boiler Upgrade Scheme offered by the Government will reduce the bill by £5,000 and there’s zero VAT on the purchase of heat pumps until 2027. 

Verdict: you may just about break even when balancing added value with purchase/install costs but if you take advantage of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme and zero VAT, you’ll potentially add £5,000 in value.

Solar panels: figures will vary according to the size and type of your property, along with the model you opt for. As a general guide, the supply and installation of solar panels will set you back around £5,000–£10,000, although the purchase of the panels will be VAT free for the next five years. 

Verdict: install solar panels in the next five years to take advantage of zero VAT and this installation could add in the region of £5,000 to your home’s value.

Electric vehicle charging point: expect to pay anywhere between £800-£1,100 to buy and install an electric vehicle charging point at a domestic property. If you’re a homeowner who lives in a flat, you’ll be able to apply for the Government’s new ChargePoint grant, which offers a 75% discount on the cost of purchasing and installing a charging point, up to the value of £350.

Verdict: installing an electric vehicle charging point is by far the most lucrative eco improvement. An outlay of around £1,000 could see you add another £10,000 in value to your property. 

If you are thinking of selling a property you own, contact the team for advice and a free valuation.

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Should you aspire to be chain free?

A state-of-the-art kitchen?  A spacious garden with an outdoor room? A home office with the fastest broadband speeds possible? You may think you know what adds value to a property but a new report reveals that being chain free is one of today’s most valuable aspects.

Data analysis by HBB Solutions found that a chain-free home carries an average property price premium of £23,131, with buyers willing to pay extra for a simpler and quicker sales transaction. 

Being in a property chain is one of the downsides of moving home, as sellers are dependent on the speed and efficiency of others above and below them. Therefore, the fewer people involved in a chain, the better.

Increase the appeal of your property

There is monetary value attached to being a chain-free seller but are there any other advantages? Advertising a property as ‘chain-free’ certainly appeals to buyers, as they know this reduces the risk of delays to the transaction and a potential chain collapse above them. In fact, Rightmove recorded a 72% increase in the number of buyers including “no chain” in their search terms in 2021, so it’s fair to say a chain-free home will often be favoured over those with long, complex chains. 

Conveyancing can be much quicker

With fewer people to coordinate in a chain, the conveyancing process will, naturally, become more straightforward and speedier. This advantage has actually been measured; it was found the conveyancing attached to a chain-free property was reduced to 4 weeks – down from the average of 10.  

Perks of being a chain-free purchaser

Just as no chain above is very appealing to buyers, sellers also appreciate the simplicity of dealing with a purchaser who doesn’t have a chain below. In a seller’s market where multiple offers may have been made on one property, a chain-free buyer can edge out the competition thanks to having no one else behind them to complicate the transaction.

How to become chain-free

If you’re a first-time buyer, you will naturally be chain-free and a good prospect among sellers but what if you have a property to sell? One solution is to sell your property and move into short-term rented accommodation to break the chain. Not only will this make you the end of the chain when selling, you will also be chain-free when it comes to buying again.

Sellers can also commit to making their onwards purchase a chain-free property, which will cap the chain, or they can consider buying a brand new home where there will be no other transactions above.

If you can’t be chain-free…..

It’s estimated only 10% of homes listed for sale are offered on a chain-free basis, giving you an idea of how hard it can be to achieve this cult status. Thankfully, there are other ways sellers can give themselves an advantage in a competitive market:-

  • Choose an estate agent with a proactive sales progression programme, with staff who will chase other agents, solicitors and movers involved in the chain
  • Be ready to start your property search as soon as you’ve accepted an offer on your property
  • If you need extra finance to purchase your next home, ensure this is approved before the ‘for sale’ board goes up
  • Have a conveyancing solicitor instructed and ready to proceed at the same time as you appoint an estate agent

Thinking of selling your home? Contact us to discuss your plans and the possibility of becoming chain-free.

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Your options when inheriting a property

Inheriting a property is not an everyday conversation topic, so it comes as no surprise that people have been turning to Google to find out what’s involved. Knowledge gaps were revealed in 2021 when Google Search Trends were analysed. The top eight most searched for property phrases included ‘power of attorney’ and ‘probate’, which had seen a 450% and 100% increase in enquiries, respectively.

Whether your Great Aunt Rose has left you a house in her will or your family home is no longer needed, you may inherit a property at some point in your lifetime. Knowing what to do with it will depend on your own circumstances and if anyone else is involved. Here’s our guide if you find yourself with an unexpected property.

Prepare for probate

It’s a common misconception that if a will was made, the distribution of a deceased person’s assets can go ahead without intervention. In many cases – especially if the property owners were ‘tenants in common’ – a process called probate is needed before the wishes of the will are respected. 

Probate is applied for by the next of kin or the will’s executor and once ‘grant of probate’ is granted, any property owned by the deceased can be dealt with. Generally, only those who were a joint property owner with the deceased – known as joint tenants – can bypass probate.

Are you the sole owner?

Before you make any grand property plans, you need to establish if you are the sole heir to the property or whether you now share ownership with other people, such as siblings. If it’s the latter, the property’s future needs to be a joint decision. If you’re the only beneficiary, you can start moving forwards.

Move in yourself

Inheriting a property may give you an instant accommodation upgrade, especially if you are currently living with family or are in rented accommodation. If the property is empty and it suits your circumstances, there is nothing stopping you moving in as the new owner.

Sell up

Sometimes selling an inherited property is the only option, especially if there are debts in the deceased’s estate, a large inheritance tax bill or if there are multiple new owners who can’t agree on the property’s future. 

Selling an inherited property is one way to benefit from any equity. Remember, if the property is still mortgaged and this sum isn’t settled by a life insurance policy, proceeds from the property’s sale may go towards paying off the home loan. There may also be income tax to pay upon completion.

Become a landlord

One way of retaining an inherited property is to rent it out to tenants. As well as keeping ownership of an asset, there are opportunities to earn an income from the monthly rent and the possibility of long-term price appreciation. You’ll also have the option of moving back into the property in the future, as long as tenants are given the correct amount of notice.

It’s worth noting the tax implications of becoming a landlord. As well as paying income tax on any rental income, you’ll have to pay capital gains tax on any profit you make if you sell the property at a later date. 

Inheriting a buy-to-let

If you’re left a property that has been used as a buy-to-let, the tenant status will dictate what happens next. If tenants are still in place, they have the legal right to stay in the property in line with their legal notice period. 

If the buy-to-let is empty, there is nothing stopping you from selling the property. If it’s inhabited, you’ll have to wait for the renters’ tenancy agreement to end or start the eviction process (if there are qualifying circumstances) before selling up. Alternatively, you could take over as the landlord.

Inherited properties & first-time buyers

The picture is slightly more complicated when a first-time buyer inherits a property. For instance, someone saving for a deposit using a LISA (a lifetime ISA) would automatically become a homeowner if they inherited a property. As a result, they would lose their first-time buyer status by default and have to pay a 25% withdrawal charge before accessing the money in their LISA. 

It’s worth noting that other first-time buyer assistance packages may not apply if a purchaser has inherited a property, such as the Government’s Help to Buy scheme and mortgages specifically created for first-time buyers.

The second property trap & stamp duty

Existing property owners who keep hold of an inherited property will be classed as someone with ‘additional properties’. The same rule even applies to first-time buyers who inherit a property but who have yet to purchase their own home and this has stamp duty ramifications.

First-time buyers who retain an inherited property will no longer qualify for the zero stamp duty on the first £300,000 of their initial property purchase. In addition, all additional home purchases incur an extra 3% on top of basic stamp duty rates, and this applies to everyone who owns more than one property. 

If it looks like you may inherit a property in the future and you’d like to take advice now, please get in touch.

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Keep buyers engaged and stick to your asking price

As experienced estate agents, we pride ourselves on providing realistic and achievable valuations that take into account local demand, the wider property market and the circumstances of our clients.

Despite our accuracy, what we can’t control are the offers potential purchasers will make. Please don’t be offended at the price some people suggest as it’s almost an unwritten rule that a buyer’s opening gambit can be well below the advertised price. 

We are actually obliged by law to pass on, in writing, all offers that are made on your property within 24 hours. If you’d rather not see a raft of ‘cheeky’ offers from speculative chancers, we can write it into your terms and conditions that we should only pass on offers that are above a pre-agreed value.

Sometimes there is a niggling discrepancy between the asking price and the submitted figures but don’t fret. We are adept at weeding out the time wasters from the buyers who have the potential to make the best offers. We also have the following advice:

Hold your nerve

You may be excited to receive an offer on your property – and perhaps even feel pressured to accept it – but in a good market such as we’re experiencing now, there should be multiple offers. With the support of our skilled negotiators, you can agree the very best offer for your personal circumstances.

Our team will balance all the buyers who are interested in your property with the feedback from viewings and the likelihood of a bidding war. Low offers can quickly be upgraded if there’s competition and we’ll minimise the risk of losing a sale.

Extras extras….read all about it

While intrinsic value lies with bricks and mortar, what’s inside your home can also help achieve your asking price. As the seller, you’re entitled to take as many fittings, fixtures and items inside your home with you as you like, leaving the new owner to replace whatever you remove. 

While we don’t suggest stripping your property bare, the cost of white goods, curtains, accessories and freestanding furniture soon adds up. It may be that you can strike a deal with a buyer, asking them to offer as close to the asking price as possible in return for leaving high-value or convenient items behind. Don’t forget to confirm any such arrangement using the legally-binding TA10 contents and fixtures form.

Plan ahead for project-hunters

Many buyers are looking for a project but they’ll place more value on a home they know they can definitely alter, rather than make an offer on a property where the potential to remodel, extend or convert is unclear. 

Listing your home with ‘planning permission granted’ is a winner. It can cost as little as £206 to submit a full planning permission application for alterations/extensions to a single dwelling house or a flat but it could add as much as 10% to your home’s value. Commission an artist’s impression or computer generated image of what’s possible for extra appeal. 

Offer valuable assets that aren’t tangible

If your asking price is non-negotiable but you need some stimulus that will keep buyers engaged and interested, you may have to think more laterally. Buyers can be encouraged to make their best offer when sellers present a set of favourable moving conditions. 

If sellers can make themselves the top of the chain – perhaps by moving into rented accommodation – value can be added by simplifying the transaction. If you can be flexible on the completion date, you’ll also find favour. Even committing to a really quick exchange will give you leverage when negotiating on the asking price. 

Sort survey setbacks

It’s a common situation: the survey is back and it reveals a few issues that will cost money to rectify. The buyer has obtained quotes for the works and wants to knock the equivalent amount off of their offer. 

Sounds fair but we understand many sellers need to achieve a predetermined sales price in order to fund their next step. When the asking price, personal circumstances and finances are intertwined, it can be advantageous for the seller to get the work done themselves so the offer price remains unchanged.

Contact us to start your sale

When the asking price really matters, we will create an achievable valuation, prequalify buyers so only the most genuine proceed and help you through the negotiations process. Get in touch for more advice.

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Don’t forget your toothbrush holder: the TA10 form explained

There are a multitude of acronyms and abbreviations to get your head around when buying or selling a property. Something you may see in your pile of paperwork are forms with the letters TA at the start.

The TA stands for transaction and these letters come in the form of templates drafted by The Law Society. They are sent out by conveyancing solicitors and estate agents to those involved in the moving process, and one form that every seller will be asked to complete is a TA10.

More commonly known as a ‘fittings and fixtures’ or ‘fittings and contents’ form, a TA10 is completed by the seller so they can clearly identify what’s included in the sale and what is going to be removed. 

A TA10 form is largely a tick-box exercise. Once you have filled in details about yourself, your solicitor and your property’s location, the most common fittings are presented as a list with boxes by their side. The seller simply ticks ‘included’ if it’s being left at the property, ‘excluded’ if it’s being taken with them and ‘none’ if the item listed is not relevant to their property. 

It’s completely natural to think of fittings and contents as items such as integrated storage, kitchen appliances and built-in furniture. When it comes to a TA10 form, however, even the smallest and sometimes most unconventional of details needs consideration. Be prepared to weigh up whether you’re going to leave your toothbrush holder, loft insulation, dustbins and even your doorbell. Yes, these are all listed on The Law Society’s TA10 template form.

The latter item – the humble doorbell – is actually part of a wider conversation within conveyancing. The Law Society is currently holding a consultation with solicitors on the matter of smart products and connected appliances – items that are increasingly being fitted to homes. These can include smart doorbells, wifi-enabled CCTV and app-controlled central heating systems.

The current TA10 template doesn’t have a smart device section and this may not appear until after The Law Society’s consultation ends on 28th February 2022. Until changes are made, sellers should use the ‘other items’ section at the end of the TA10 form to list any smart devices, being clear on what’s being taken and what is being left. If it’s the latter, the seller should detail how the new occupant can access the service and take over any subscriptions. 

There are also boxes for ‘price’ and ‘comments’ against each item on the TA10 form. It is here where a seller can let the buyer know what items are for sale, for how much and if there are any related notes. 

Negotiations to purchase items are usually conducted between the buyer and seller directly, or we can mediate, if that’s preferred. It is sometimes possible for the solicitors to negotiate the sale of any items but there may be an additional charge for this service. If a price is agreed and an item is to be bought, both solicitors need informing.

As with all paperwork relating to a property sale or purchase, speed is of the essence if you want to complete without delays. If you are a seller, fill out and return your TA10 form to your solicitor promptly. If you are the buyer, ensure you read through the form upon receipt, flagging up any questions and requests to purchase as soon as you can. We’re here to offer guidance, so get in touch with any TA10 form questions. 

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Your council tax & property band questions answered

With so much focus on energy bills at the moment, it’s easy to forget the other costs attached to running a property. One unavoidable bill, whether you’re an owner occupier or living in a rented property, is council tax.

Many of our clients ask us property band and council tax questions, so we have answered the most common below:-

Q. What is council tax?
A. People living in properties have been paying money to local authorities or those in charge since the Norman Feudal System in 1066. Today, people living at a domestic address in England have to pay their local council authority a set amount every year – usually paid over the course of 10 months – and this is known as council tax.

Q. What does council tax pay for?
A. Your council tax helps to pay for the services that a local authority supplies, such as refuse collection, street lighting, environmental health, trading standards and libraries, among other day-to-day essentials. Some of the money may also be shared with the emergency services.

Q. Does everyone pay the same amount of council tax?
A. How much a household pays depends on the value of their property. Even now in 2022, the value is based on the price the property would have sold for on the open market on 1st April 1991 in England, and 1st April 2003 in Wales.

Q. What are property bands?
A. Each property is given a letter that puts it into a set property value ‘band’. The bands range from A to H. In England, properties in the A band are worth £40,000 or less, with properties in the H band valued as the most expensive. The full set of bands and more detailed information about them can be found on the Government’s dedicated webpage – How domestic properties are assessed for Council Tax bands

Q. Can I challenge my property band?
A. If you’re not happy with your property’s band, you can ask the Valuation Office Agency to perform a reassessment. You may ask this to be done if you have made your home significantly smaller, for instance. Be aware, however, a reassessment may see your property put into a higher band.

Q. Do I still have to pay council tax if my property is empty?
A. That depends on your circumstances and the local authority’s stance on vacant properties. In some cases, council tax will be suspended after a death or if the property is derelict awaiting refurbishment.

Q. Can I get a discount on my council tax?
A. Some individuals can apply for a council tax discount but each council will have its own criteria. Qualifying characteristics can include: being in receipt of benefits, student status, receiving a low income, having a disability and sole occupancy. Discounts are sometimes granted where a property is empty due a lack of tenants but this is at the discretion of the local authority.

Q. Does a landlord or a tenant pay the council tax bill?
A. This depends whether the property was offered to rent with ‘bills included’. The tenancy agreement will stipulate if the annual council tax is included. If the property is a House in Multiple Occupation, each self-contained unit may receive its own band and, therefore, its own council tax bill. It’s advisable to check with the landlord if there’s an individual or shared bill when budgeting.

If you would like to know more about the band of a property you are interested in moving to and what the annual council tax bill may be, contact us for advice.

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All you need to know about Japanese knotweed

There are a couple of phrases that strike fear into the hearts of property sellers – ‘serious subsidence’ and ‘negative equity’ being two of them. Another phrase you never want to hear is ‘Japanese knotweed’, but is having this invasive plant among your borders really a property death sentence?

Over the course of 2021, it is estimated that £11.8 billion was wiped off the value of UK property due to the presence of Japanese knotweed, with values taking a dip as soon as the plant is identified in a survey report or disclosed by the seller.

This figure, however dramatic it sounds, is a little misleading. Homeowners should be aware that only around 4% of UK properties are affected by Japanese knotweed and even when it is detected, it impacts the value of a property by about 5%. In many cases, a home’s full value is often achieved after an appropriate course of action is taken, despite the plant’s presence.

Even though the plant is found at less than 10% of UK properties, Japanese knotweed isn’t something that can be glossed over when it comes to selling a property. When you have decided to sell, you’ll be asked to fill out a Property Information Form (TA6). 

This form requires sellers to give detailed information about the property and the surrounding area. It is a legal requirement to disclose if the property is or has ever been affected by Japanese knotweed, as its presence can create or worsen cracks in mortar and structural joints, as well as push up through paved and concrete areas. 

It’s important that the ‘affected’ aspect is understood too, as sellers will need to divulge if they’ve ever had to treat the plant if it spread from a neighbouring property. It’s worth noting that a Japanese knotweed plant can be up to 7 metres away from your boundary and still need disclosing on a TA6 form.

Identifying Japanese knotweed (fallopian japonica) can be troublesome if you have no horticultural experience – it can look similar to other harmless plants but the RHS provides a good point of reference. If you’re in any doubt, it’s wise to revert to a specialist removal company for identification.

There is good news. Selling a property is entirely possible if there is Japanese knotweed. It really isn’t the barrier that some people imagine it can be. The vital aspect is to seek guarantee-backed treatment that mortgage lenders will accept. 

It is usually the seller who instructs a specialist Japanese knotweed removal company to excavate and remove the plant’s rhizomes. The plant is rarely eradicated for good through hand weeding or with the use of herbicides as the rhizomes will be buried deep underground. 

If a removal company offers an insurance-backed guarantee, lenders (sometimes referred to as knotweed IBG, a Japanese knotweed indemnity or a knotweed insurance-backed warranty), there’s a high chance a mortgage lender will loan against the property.

Don’t forget, the Japanese variety isn’t the only invasive knotweed out there. Dwarf, giant and bohemian are the other top three knotweeds buyers and sellers need to be on guard for. You can visit the Government’s web page dedicated to the prevention, treatment and disposal of knotweed for further details. 

If you are planning to sell a property where you suspect a case of Japanese knotweed, or are buying a property where the plant has been disclosed on the TA6 form, please contact us for advice and guidance

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Interest rate & mortgages update

After staying the same for the last three years, the Bank of England decided to use its December 2021 meeting to start raising the interest rate from its record low of 0.10%. The widely predicted move comes as inflation continues to rise – something monetary policy makers hope to stop.

So what does the new interest rate of 0.25% mean for those with a mortgage? The good news is most will not see any change to repayments, as figures from financial trade body, UK Finance, indicate that 74% of all current mortgages are fixed and as a result, the monthly repayment is protected.

For the other 26% on tracker or variable-rate mortgages – who will typically pay an extra £10 to £15 more every month as a result of the rate hike – thoughts may turn to moving to a fixed-rate product, especially as experts widely believe further rate rises could be on the cards as we move through 2022. 

Talk of fixed rates brings us neatly to other news from the world of mortgages – another 40-year, fixed-rate home loan being launched to the UK market. This unusually long term, with a rate that remains unchanged for up to four decades, may spark interest among nervous borrowers who would like a buffer from further interest rate rises. 

Committing to the same mortgage product for 40 years does, however, need careful consideration. Although there is financial security in the fact that the mortgage’s rate, and therefore the monthly repayments, will remain unchanged – even if interest rates rise – the home loan’s small print needs reading.

Before borrowers get excited, they’ll need to check they’re happy with the product’s rate of interest, given that they’ll be living with it for a number of years. They should also confirm they have the necessary deposit or equity needed to meet the lender’s loan-to-value criteria. 

Those interested in long-term, fixed-rate mortgages will also need clarification about ‘porting’ the mortgage, which is the ability to take the mortgage with them if and when they move home. It’s also worth checking the cost of paying the mortgage off early, which can incur early redemption penalties.

There is another piece of finance news that may affect borrowers for the better in 2022. Although it remains a consideration at this point – and the news was announced before December 2021’s interest rate decision – the Bank of England is mulling over easing mortgage affordability checks. 

Any change would affect how borrowers’ financial capabilities are assessed at the application stage. Currently, lenders want proof that a borrower could afford repayments if interest was charged at its standard variable rate, plus three percent. 

The Bank of England may downgrade the three percent figure, making it easier for more people to pass the affordability checks and potentially borrow greater sums of money. We will provide updates when further details are released.

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First-time buyer? 6 top tips when saving for a deposit

If you’re a first-time buyer, putting down a deposit is part and parcel of purchasing your first home. We all know the bigger the deposit the better but how can buying novices save effectively in 2022?

A little background about deposits
A cash deposit is provided by buyers to show serious commitment to a property purchase. The deposit is paid to the seller’s solicitor at exchange and if the buyer withdraws from the purchase, they will forfeit their deposit. When you consider Halifax’s UK average house price in November was £272,992, 10% of that – £27,299 – is a sum most of us can’t afford to lose.

Deposits and mortgages
The cash deposit provided at exchange is the same deposit that is considered when applying for a mortgage – there’s no need to save twice! The bigger the deposit the better as this will improve the LTV (loan-to-value) – the ratio of mortgage to property value. For example, if you’re buying a £200,000 flat with a £20,000 (10%) deposit, you’ll need a 90% LTV mortgage.

Lower LTVs – where the lender loans less and the buyer provides a larger deposit – result in cheaper monthly repayments, the ability to reduce the mortgage term and access to the lowest interest rates, and this is why saving for the biggest deposit possible is advisable.

Existing homeowners don’t need a deposit
If you’re already a homeowner, you won’t need to save up for a deposit when making an onward purchase as the conveyancers involved will use what’s referred to as the exchange deposit. This is where the deposit paid by the buyer at the bottom of the chain moves up and provides the security for the others involved.

How much is enough when buying your first home?
Mortgage lenders offer a number of home loans where buyers need to supply a 5% deposit, although lower rates of interest are generally attached to products where the purchaser can supply a 10%, 15% or even 20% deposit. If you’re at the start of your savings journey, these 6 tips will help get you started:-

  1. Open a specific account
    Use a comparison site to find the account that pays the best interest rate and open an account for the sole purpose of saving for a deposit. Look for accounts that limit how many times you can withdraw money to stop you accessing the account in an emergency.
  2. Save in a deposit-specific ISA
    An alternative to a savings account is the lifetime ISA (LISA) – a tax-free savings or investment account designed specifically for those saving for their first home or for retirement. You must be between 18 and 39 to open a LISA, and for every £4 saved, the Government will add £1, up to a maximum of £1,000 every tax year. Savings can be withdrawn after the first 12 months and used as a deposit on a property worth up to £450,000.
  3. Make saving automatic
    Manually moving money between accounts is a habit you can easily fall out of, so set up a standing order that automatically transfers money on a monthly basis into your dedicated deposit account. You could also ask for all birthday and Christmas presents to be in cash, to be paid directly into your deposit account.
  4. Re-evaluate your renting situation
    It can be hard to save for a deposit while paying rent. You can reduce your outgoings by moving to a smaller property or by taking in a lodger (check with the landlord first). You could even remove the need to pay rent altogether by moving in with family or friends.
  5. Change your eating habits
    A milkshake here, a pizza there – it all adds up, with a twice weekly trip to Starbucks for a caramel frappuccino and a muffin setting you back at least £5 every visit. Home cooked food will always save you money, as will swapping your food shopping habits. Replace Waitrose with a continental budget supermarket and your deposit fund will look a lot healthier.
  6. Shop around & switch
    Save more money by reducing your monthly bills. Use comparison sites, switching incentives and introductory offers to cut what you spend on gas, electricity, broadband and mobile phones. Easy wins include changing your SIM card plan and asking rival broadband suppliers to beat your current deal.

If you need help with working out how much deposit you may need and what loan-to-value you should aim for, we’d be happy to help crunch the numbers with you. Contact us for advice and guidance.

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9 tips for becoming a power buyer

As far as property trends go, 2021 was the year of the ‘great reset’, with more people wanting to buy property than homes available for sale. The demand and supply issue has already created a trend for 2022: ‘the hangover’. With thousands of would-be purchasers thwarted last year due to red-hot competition, many buyers will roll over to 2022, hoping a new year will bring them new buying opportunities.

With sellers set to enjoy multiple viewings and offers on their properties, being a ‘power buyer’ in 2022 will be crucial. This means presenting yourself as the stand-out, most bank-able purchaser when compared to the buying competition – someone who will offer the seller the simplest, most straightforward transaction.

So what can you do to become a power buyer in 2022? Here are our top 9 tips:

  1. Don’t make silly offers: you can risk coming across as a time waster if you offer well below the asking price. Aim for as close to the advertised value as you can justify and don’t nitpick over a couple of pounds here and there.
  2. Sell first, buy second: all estate agents will advise sellers to choose a buyer who already has their property under offer. In a competitive market, merely having your home ‘for sale’ may not be good enough, especially if a rival has already sold their property.
  3. Present as a chain-free purchaser: if you’re a first-time buyer, you’ll already be a power buyer but selling-up and taking an interim rental property or moving in with family before you buy again are two other ways of making yourself chain free.
  4. Come to the table as a cash buyer: cash buyers are power buyers as they’re not relying on a mortgage to buy a property. This simplifies the transaction, reduces the seller’s risk and can trim weeks off the moving process.
  5. No cash? Have a mortgage lined up: many transactions fall apart at the finance stage, therefore sellers prefer buyers who can prove they’ll be loaned enough money to buy the property. This is called a mortgage agreement in principle – something the seller’s estate agent will request. 
  6. Have a solicitor lined up: showing you are serious about the sale will stand you in good stead. A power buyer will have researched solicitors before they start looking at properties and will instruct one as soon as their offer is accepted. 
  7. Have your deposit ready: potential buyers will be prequalified by the seller’s estate agent so they know who’s in a financial position to proceed. By having your deposit in one bank account, together with valid evidence from your bank or building society, you’ll edge ahead of disorganised rivals.
  8. Be accommodating: if you really love the property and want to impress the sellers, be as accommodating as you can. This may mean flexibility when it comes to viewing times or leeway when it comes to the completion date.
  9. Tell the seller your intentions: sellers won’t warm to dithering, stuttering buyers who don’t seem 100% committed. Use a viewing to tell the seller you want to buy the property, and avoid saying  you’re ‘interested’ or may ‘possibly’ make an offer.

If you have seen one of our properties for sale that you’re interested in purchasing, talk to us about your status and how we can help you make a successful offer.

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Supercharge your sale with storage

The ‘race for space’ is a well-used phrase to describe the property buying activity over the last 12 months. We’re all pretty familiar with the idea that people have been moving to gain a home office, an extra bedroom or more of a garden but there’s another form of space that’s highly prized by home buyers.

Storage is a top seller

When looking at houses and flats for sale, today’s buyers are craving good storage and they’re willing to pay extra for the privilege. Hammonds Furniture wanted to find out just how much more potential purchasers were willing to fork out to have ample space to store their stuff, so it surveyed 2,000 Brits.

Attract up to £55,000 extra

The results were eye-opening. Of those questioned, 84% said adequate storage space was a must when looking for a new home. Everyone was willing to pay more money for a property where there was good storage – to the tune of £12,574, on average. Storage was, however, more valuable to some than others. Of those surveyed, 7% said they would be willing to offer £55,000 over the asking price if they were particularly impressed.

Age is a factor

Perhaps it’s because we are encouraged to declutter and downsize as we get older but younger home movers place more value on storage. The survey found those under the age of 44 were most likely to increase their offer by an average of £15,870 in order to buy a property that met their storage needs. In contrast, those aged 65 and over would only offer £8,710 above the asking price for a home because of storage perks.

What adds the most value?

There’s storage and then there’s serious storage. Thanks to its size, space and versatility, a garage was the top storage option, with 42% of buyers willing to pay more for a property with this facility. Also well regarded was the small and mighty utility room – a feature that would encourage 40% of buyers to offer over the asking price. Even a kitchen with lots of cupboards and drawers would push 34% of buyers to make higher offers.

Storage matters more to…..men

One of the most surprising statistics from the survey was the willingness of men to pay more for storage than women. Although both placed value on storage facilities, men were prepared to offer £13,814 more than a property’s asking price, whereas women would increase their offer by £11,565.

How to maximise your storage before a sale

If you are selling your home soon and want to attract the best offers, pay attention to storage before you go on the market. You may like to consider the following:

  • Think statement storage: it doesn’t have to be plastic or dull. LivingEtc has some fantastic ideas for those who don’t want to compromise the creativity of their home.
  • Ensure your existing storage is well organized: think neatly-folded bed linen and drawer inserts that prevent a jumbled mess.
  • Create a pantry: add shelves and internal lighting to an underused cupboard to create an on-trend pantry.
  • Under stair stars: consult with a carpenter to see if your void under the stairs could be transformed to provide extra storage.
  • Invest in storage: clutter hotspots can be overcome with added storage – buy something freestanding and it can move with you.

Thinking of selling your home? Start with one of our free valuations, which will take into account your storage and any other beneficial features within your home.

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Extinguishing the gas boiler flame: home heating latest

While most of the country was glued to October’s Budget, hoping for news of a cheaper pint or a public sector pay rise (yes to both), there was very little in Rishi Sunak’s address that directly affected property buyers and sellers.

Although there were notes for the housebuilding sector and welcomed funds for those caught up in the cladding scandal, it was actually an announcement the previous week that will have the biggest impact on everyday property owners and future home movers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled more details of his Net Zero green agenda in October, with a focus on the future of domestic heating. Responding to the statistic that residential property is currently responsible for 16% of the UK’s total carbon emissions, gas boilers will eventually be replaced with greener ways of heating our homes.

The news is important for purchasers and sellers of property as the age of a boiler installed in a property and the fuel it runs on will become a big part of the decision-making process in the future – and it may even affect a buyer’s ability to get a mortgage. So, what are the top take-aways from the Prime Minister’s latest eco address?

The good news is there are no imminent changes and it’s fine to keep heating your home with a gas boiler. The key dates are 2025 and 2035, depending on who you are. The first adjustment applies to house builders and developers, who will be banned from fitting conventional gas boilers in new properties they construct from 2025.  

The second change won’t happen until 2035, when the sale of gas boilers will be prohibited. What does this actually mean? If your current gas boiler is condemned, is beyond repair or needs upgrading due to inefficiency, you won’t be able to replace it with another gas boiler after 2035.

There is no suggestion that perfectly fine, working gas boilers fitted to UK homes will need ripping out in 2035. If it’s annually serviced and safe, homeowners can continue with their current gas boiler until it irretrievably breaks down or is deemed unsafe to use.

Many homeowners are beginning to question what the alternatives to gas boilers are. The Government is hoping we’ll all convert to heat pumps – either water, ground or air types. And the cost? Currently the average supply and installation of an air heat pump will set you back approximately £10,000. 

Encouragement to make the switch to heat pumps sooner rather than later is coming in the form of a boiler upgrade scheme. Some £450 million is being made available, with households able to apply for a grant worth up to £5,000 to help fund a new heating system. The scheme, to be called the Clean Heat Grant, will launch in April 2022, and the current plan is for energy regulator Ofgem to become the scheme’s administrator.

Experts have, however, sounded a note of caution. Calculations show the £450 million fund will only cover around 90,000 heat pump installations and those interested will be processed on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.

So are there alternatives to heat pumps? There is nothing stopping homeowners looking after their current gas boiler until it reaches the natural end of its lifecycle, which could take them beyond the 2035 deadline. An ambitious and not totally reliable alternative would be to bank on hydrogen technology being made widely available in the future. It is hoped ‘dual fuel’ boilers that start by running on gas but can switch to hydrogen power will advance to such a state that they can be installed in domestic settings, but the jury is out on whether this will be possible.

There is also the option to go all-electric with storage heaters, electric radiators and hard-wired underfloor heating, with additional options including wood-burning stoves, solar panels and oil-powered central heating. The future of oil-fired boilers is unclear at this stage, although we do know they will also be banned from new builds from 2025.

A word of warning when considering future sources of domestic heating. Boris Johnson has also underlined his intention to make it harder to mortgage homes with the worst energy ratings in the future.

Banks and building societies will be encouraged to offer the best mortgage deals to the properties with the highest EPC ratings, and the danger is that properties with poor eco standards will face higher-than-average arrangement fees and interest charges – or they may even become unmortgage-able. 

The Government is also considering introducing a date for all homes to meet minimum energy standards, ahead of its 2050 net zero target. What exactly does that mean? The Prime Minister wants all owner-occupier homes to be of a certain ‘green’ standard, achieved through eco-improvements and energy assessments. Heating your home in the most energy efficient way will help homeowners reach any new targets and it’s quite possible, but not confirmed, that homes with a poor EPC may become more challenging to sell in the future, forcing the owner to make eco alterations.

If you would like to chat about your current central heating or EPC rating, get in touch today.

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Boost your home’s value via the bathroom

How much importance do you place on the condition of your bathroom? If you’re thinking of selling, the smallest room in your home can have the biggest impact on potential buyers – and it can lead to higher offers and increased desirability. 

When Royal London asked UK homeowners about buying decisions, they were prepared to offer an extra £10,915 for a property with a new bathroom – the second most valuable home improvement after a new kitchen. Even an upgrade can add up to 5% in value, so we strongly recommend paying particular attention to your bathroom ahead of a sale.

What adds the most value?

According to research by Plumbnation, installing an extra bathroom could add £50,000 to your home’s value – especially if there are more than two bedrooms and only one existing facility. If you can’t create an extra bathroom, making your current one bigger will also add around 5% in value, according to QS Supplies.

Next on the value adding list is creating an en-suite – a feature that a 2020 survey by the Nationwide Building Society found could increase a property’s value by 5% – adding around £13,300 to the average home. 

Offering a similar return on investment is a cloakroom. Providing a WC on the ground floor can lift your property’s value by 5%. Even shaking up your bathroom’s heating can be a winner – install underfloor heating and potentially add £7,000 to your asking price.

Bathroom blues: 4 to avoid when selling

As a seller, you really don’t want to give buyers any excuses to put in a low offer, so presenting your bathroom well will help you achieve as close to the asking price as possible. You may wish to consider.

  1. Coloured bathrooms: the avocado suite is always used as the biggest bathroom faux pas and for good reason. In fact, a 2017 survey discovered homebuyers would offer almost £5,000 less for a home with one in situ. Rarely installed since the 1980s, this and pastel-hued sanitaryware instantly date when a bathroom was fitted. It’s an acquired taste, so the first thought of many viewers will be the cost and hassle of replacing it. 
  2. Carpets: another hangover from the past is a carpet in the bathroom. They can harbour bacteria, are hard to clean and can feel depressingly damp underfoot. Anything is better than carpet – even cheap vinyl – so make the swap before selling.
  3.  Signs of mould: water leaks and damp issues can be expensive to fix, so any sealant or grouting that shows signs of mould will worry potential buyers. Mould on ceilings and walls can also be an indication of poor ventilation, and needs investigating prior to a sale.
  4. Bad smells: whether emanating from your toilet bowl or from a pile of wet towels, unpleasant odours can confront buyers on viewings, putting off a reputed 78% of people. Always remove the source of bad smells, open windows and use a subtle fragrance to freshen the air.

We are happy to appraise your current bathroom and make some value-adding suggestions, based on your budget, floorplan and selling timescale. Contact us today and we can make an appointment to visit your property.

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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.

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Top 10 apps to manage your home move

Increasingly our lives are run from the palm of our hands, especially now almost everyone owns a smartphone. As buying, selling and moving home is made up of lots of elements to keep track of, apps can really help streamline the process. Here are 10 we recommend:-

  1.     Emma – Budget Planner Tracker  

Available on iOS and Android

Emma can show you what you spend your money on and can help you economise, helping you save a deposit for your dream home.  

  1.     Freecycle

Available on iOS and Android

If you are decluttering before you move, Freecycle is a great way of giving unwanted items another life rather than taking them to the tip. Just list the items you want to give away and arrange a collection time. 

  1.     Houzz Interior Design Ideas 

Available on iOS and Android

If you need ideas for a new home or want to spruce up ahead of a sale, Houzz offers more than 20 million photos of home interiors and exteriors for inspiration.

  1.     Pinterest

Available on iOS and Android.

Pinterest offers a digital place to store visual resources. Create a board for every room in your new home, browse the app for ideas and pin photos you’ve already taken. 

  1.     Photo Measures 

Available on iOS and Android

This app enables you to take photos of rooms or furniture and note down measurements directly on the image, so you can make sure your furniture will fit in another property while you’re on a viewing. 

  1.     MooveMe: Let’s Get Packing

Available on iOS.

With MooveMe, you can print QR code labels for your moving boxes. Simply scan the code and see the pre-populated list of what’s inside without having to open or unpack the box. This app even works offline – great for when your Wi-Fi isn’t set up. 

  1.     Moving App – Moving Checklist 

Available on iOS and Android

This app will help keep you organised in the run up to moving day, with a weekly tasks section. It can also help organise your packing, keeping notes of what’s in each box and print box labels too.

  1.     Google Keep – Notes & Lists

Available on iOS and Android.

Google Keep enables you to quickly capture photos, ideas and checklists in one place. You can share your notes with others and set up reminders to make sure important tasks are done on time.  

  1.     Nextdoor 

Available on iOS and Android

If you are settling into a new area, Nextdoor can help you meet your neighbours, find local businesses, buy and sell homewares, and find out about events in your area.  

  1. Dulux Visualizer

Available on iOS and Android

Download this app before you go on viewings to visualise any paint colour from the Dulux range on any wall – invaluable if you turn up to discover the seller’s decorating taste is nothing like your own.

Whilst apps can help you keep track of your move, there really is no replacement for estate agency advice, so always use apps in conjunction with a property professional. Get in touch with us to see how we can help.

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Planning ahead: selling properties with permission granted

Getting planning permission for work on a property you are looking to sell may sound counterintuitive but it could have its advantages. We look at whether obtaining planning permission can make a property more alluring to would-be buyers and add value to your home in our Q&A blog.

Q: Is my property suitable for an extension, conversion or remodelling?

A: If you want some advice as to the potential in your property – and if any works may require planning permission – the best thing to do is to ask a reputable local estate agent for advice. They will be able to advise you if properties like yours in the area have already been remodelled, extended or converted, and talk to you about what could be feasible.

Q: How will I know if any works need planning permission?

A: The best way to find out if a planning application is needed is to have a conversation with your local council’s planning department. There’s also lots of information on the Government’s planningportal.co.uk – it’s worth a quick check before you get carried away.

Q: Will planning permission add value to my property?

A: Having planning permission in place usually increases a property’s market value, as it shows buyers the true, permitted potential that the property offers. Having planning permission granted also saves purchasers the hassle of applying themselves – and that alone can be a deal clincher. Precisely how much value planning permission adds depends on a number of factors, like the type of property, its location, the work covered by the permission, the type of permission and when it was granted. 

If you achieve planning permission before going on the market, remember to ensure that your property listing includes information about the planning permission – this will not only substantiate your home’s valuation but it can also spark interest from a wider range of potential buyers. 

Q: How much does it cost to get planning permission?

A: In most cases, there will be a planning application fee to pay when you make a submission. The cost varies across the UK and depends on exactly what you’re applying to do but as a very rough guide, a basic householder application is just over £200. It’s best to contact your local planning authority before you submit your application to make sure you apply correctly and pay the appropriate fee – any errors can delay your application. Although getting planning permission incurs some costs, it’s far cheaper than carrying out the works yourself and you should recoup the submission cost through a higher sales price.

Q: Does planning permission lapse?

A: In most cases, planning permission is valid for three years from the time the local planning authority grants it. This means you have three years in which to start the work, rather than actually complete it. Despite this, it’s worth checking the dates on any planning permission that you’ve had granted in the past and allow plenty of time for a sale to reach completion before the permission expires.

Q: Should I get some plans drawn up to show what’s possible?

A: If you can afford to employ an architect to draw up plans, it’s a great way to help potential buyers envisage what is permitted. This can be especially useful for those who lack forward vision or a strong ‘mind’s eye’. An illustration, computer generated images or even a revised floorplan will all help persuade buyers and can be included in property listings.

If you’re looking to sell and want to unlock the potential in your home, get in touch. We can show you what homeowners of similar properties have done, and give you a valuation for your home both with and without planning permission in place.

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Is summer a good time to sell?

Early summer usually heralds the start of the great British getaway, with suitcases packed, passports located and flight times double checked. This year, however, looks set to be a repeat of 2020, with a degree of uncertainty around holidays overseas.

What is a travel agent’s loss may be the property industry’s gain, as more Brits look to buy and sell in the traditionally quieter summer months. There are a number of reasons why 2021 is different, so if you’re sitting on the fence over the matter of selling your property, read on.

Stamp duty holiday…it’s not over!

While many of the headlines have focused on the 30th June 2021 deadline, when the maximum £15,000 stamp duty saving ends, the initiative has been extended. Although the discount threshold will drop to £250,000, home movers can still save thousands. From 30th June 2021 until 30th September 2021, there will be no tax to pay on the first £250,000 of a property purchase (or zero stamp duty if the property is worth £249,999 or less). The usual stamp duty thresholds will return on 1st October 2021, so movers looking to save money need to take action now.

Mortgage interest rates drop to sub zero

Borrowing money is at one of its cheapest levels for decades, thanks to a war between mortgage lenders to secure business. The competition has seen the re-introduction of rates below 1% this summer – 0.95% in some cases. The borrowing affordability is prompting previously hesitant buyers into action, which is boosting the entire home moving market.

Saving money has been a silver lining

If you’re thinking of selling but are worried about a lack of buyers, think again. Curbs on holidays, eating out and leisure activities last year allowed many to save healthy deposits. When combined, this summer represents the ‘perfect storm’ of buying conditions. We’re finding many purchasers are looking to make offers in the coming months for fear of missing out.

Selling your home this summer? 

Here are our top 5 presentation tips ahead of photography and viewings this summer:-

  1. Tidy gardens: there is no doubt that outside space sells so if you have a garden, make sure it’s neat and tidy. Mow lawns, weed flower beds, prune back overgrown shrubs and clear away kids’ toys as a minimum.
  2. Set the scene: entertaining al fresco is big news, so set aside some time to illustrate what’s possible outside. If you have garden furniture, set it out as if you’re hosting and even dress the table as if you’re about to eat.
  3. Create kerb appeal: don’t let potential buyers get the wrong impression the minute they arrive outside your home. Attend to flaky exterior paint, hide recycling bins, sweep your front path, fix a broken gate and clean your front door or even give it a fresh coat of paint. You’ll get extra bonus points for a hanging basket in full bloom or a pair of artfully-placed bay trees.
  4. Make inside light and airy: summer is no time for stale air and dark rooms. Ensure all windows are sparkling clean inside and out, throw open windows and doors if the weather is fine, use fresh flowers or a natural home fragrance to scent rooms, and ensure blinds and curtains are open.  
  5. Keep viewers comfortable: bear in mind viewings may take place during a heat wave….or a torrential summer downpour. Be ready to accommodate either with a cold drink or an umbrella, and don’t forget to keep the property’s temperature at a comfortable level.

If selling your property is this summer’s focus, let us know. We can get you on the market in a matter of days, making the most of this season’s super selling conditions.

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Broadband becomes the number one priority

Whether you work from home, are a serious gamer or like streaming films, super fast broadband is a must. Home movers are increasingly motivated by the reliability, speed and type of broadband supplied to a property, especially as we move towards a more permanent work-from-home approach to professional life. 

Online reliability moves up the must-have list

Rather than a trend based on anecdotal evidence, a number of new studies among the general public have shown that broadband is seriously shaping home moving activity. A 2020 study by TalkTalk revealed that nearly two thirds of Brits admit they would be reluctant to buy a house if it didn’t have a strong, reliable internet connection.

The survey also revealed 1 in 2 of us would consider a fast, reliable internet connection a priority when house hunting – a number that almost doubles to 9 in 10 when answered post-Covid-19. Even when someone has got the keys to their new home, TalkTalk found that setting up the internet connection was the number one activity – ahead of unpacking boxes and taking meter reading for 3 in 5 of those questioned.

A premium people are willing to pay

Home movers are now prioritizing broadband to such an extent that they are prepared to pay more to live in a home with excellent internet provision. A survey by Broadbandchoices discovered 62% of homeowners would pay more for a house in an area with a dependable and speedy internet connection. 

In fact, if a superfast broadband connection was guaranteed, 25% of those questioned said they could increase their offer by £3,000-£5,000, with 10% saying they would increase an offer by more than £5,000. Not only is this aspect important to sellers, it’s also crucial for landlords who want to attract tenants and add resale value for the future. 

Improve your broadband offering

If you have a property that’s destined for the open market and want to ensure it offers the best broadband connectivity to attract interest, there are a few steps you can take to improve speeds and reliability. 

These include:-

  • Making sure you’re signed up to the internet supplier who offers the fastest speeds
  • Checking that you’re receiving fibre-to-the premises broadband  
  • Improving your signal strength 
  • Exploring whether a wired connection would be better than wireless
  • Moving you router to a new location
  • Upgrading to the latest router
  • Considering installing Wi-Fi repeaters or extenders 
  • Connecting a better aerial to your router
  • Checking that neighbours are not using the same channel as your property

Moving home? Check the broadband beforehand

Instead of discovering a poor service after you’ve moved in, it is possible to assess the quality of the broadband before you’ve made an offer on a property.

As long as you know the postcode of the home, you can head over to Uswitch or Broadband Speed Checker, among others, and use their free online service that analyses the broadband. You’ll see the download and upload speeds, as well as the ping time in milliseconds (the smaller the better)

Further reading

If you’re new to broadband, Ofcom’s broadband basics article is a good place to get more information and if you already have broadband but you would like to improve your internet speed, there’s a wealth of additional and more in-depth suggestions in this guide. Most improvements start by contacting your current broadband supplier but be prepared to shop around for the best deal.

If you’re looking to move home, get in touch for advice and available properties.

 

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Monthly mortgage repayments: fixing the cost

For many of us, knowing what our monthly bills are going to be provides a comforting level of security and while many costs vary month-on-month – such as gas and electricity – having a set mortgage repayment is achievable.

Mortgage rates: why do they matter?

Every mortgage has an associated rate of interest – the amount charged by the lender for the privilege of loaning the buyer money. As a simple example, for every £10 loaned, the borrower will pay the bank £11 back – an extra pound for providing the loan. Actually, how much is repaid depends on the rate of interest set by the lender – and this figure is influenced by the Bank of England interest rate and by wider financial conditions. 

A lender has the right to increase – or decrease – the rate of interest applied to a loan during the term of the mortgage. In previous decades, rates of mortgage interest quickly rose from 7% to 17%, making repayments unaffordable for many homeowners.  More recently, mortgage rates have plunged to their lowest levels and it’s possible to secure a rate of around 1% in some cases. 

Every time the lender changes their mortgage interest rate – and that can be as frequently as monthly – the repayment amount will also change, becoming more or less expensive.

What is a fixed rate mortgage?

Fluctuating repayment amounts particularly affect borrowers on tracker and variable rate mortgages, as they are at the mercy of the lender’s intentions and of the Bank of England’s interest rate decisions. Fixed-rate mortgages are the truest way of knowing what your monthly mortgage repayment will be, as a fixed interest rate is agreed at the start of the loan and it will stay the same for a pre-agreed period of time.

Fixing: for how many years?

The traditional home loan term is a 25 year mortgage but there is unwavering certainty when it comes to repayment costs. 

It has now become commonplace for lenders to offer fixed mortgage interest rates for 2, 3 or 5 years, with a few 10-year fixed rate products creeping into the market. When the fixed-rate period ends, the borrower has the choice to take out a new fixed-rate product, choose an alternative home loan or revert to the lender’s standard variable rate.

Considerations when taking out a fixed-rate mortgage

Given the ups and downs of life, many borrowers love fixed rate mortgages, knowing their repayments won’t climb higher and higher every month. There are, however, some considerations that you should talk through with a mortgage adviser or your lender. These include:-

How competitive are fixed rates?

Variable rate and tracker mortgages usually carry a lower rate of interest as lenders know there is the likelihood of repayments rising. Fixed rate borrowers will see higher rates of interest set at the start, as the predetermined repayment is seen as a benefit that carries a premium. The size of your deposit will also impact what rate of interest you are offered – generally, the bigger the deposit, the lower the rate. It’s also worth comparing the total repayment costs of different fixed rate mortgages – including any arrangement fees – with other products on the market.

What happens when the Bank of England lowers its interest rate?

Lenders usually – but not always – pass on a cut in the nation’s interest rate to borrowers. That means a tracker and variable mortgage rate that was 3% may become 2.5%, bringing down the monthly repayment in the process. Borrowers with a fixed rate mortgage will not benefit from a cut – their monthly repayment will stay the same.

What happens if you want to end the mortgage early?

Sometimes fixed rates that looked good value to begin with start to look costly as new mortgages are released with lower rates. It is possible to leave a fixed rate mortgage but there could be a fee, depending on your timing. Those exiting before the fixed term expires may have to pay an early repayment charge – usually a fee between 1% and 5% of the outstanding mortgage balance.

What happens if I want to overpay?

Long-term fixed rate mortgages tie borrowers to a certain product or lender for an extended period of time. It’s worth knowing what it may cost to make overpayments during the term – establish this before you sign any loan agreement.

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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!