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  • June, 2019 25th

    Coming to Work at GCHQ? Here’s Five Great Things about Cheltenham 

    If you’re about to join the 6,000 or so people working at GCHQ, then you’ll most likely be moving to Cheltenham. Cheltenham may already be familiar to you or you may have no idea at all about the place. As any town or city, this hub of the Cotswolds has some downsides, but let’s focus instead on the good bits. Five good bits, to be precise.

    Cheltenham has some serious history

    Although it’s been inhabited since the Anglo-Saxon period, Cheltenham became famous in the 18th Century after a spring was found to offer mineral-rich water. This signalled the transformation of Cheltenham into a spa town, which meant something of an uptick in the local economy as the wealthy flocked there for their rest-cures and healing waters. You can (if you’re feeling brave enough) head to the Pittville Pump Rooms to try the water. Or you could just stroll through the nearby Imperial Gardens, checking out the flowers and the statue of Gustav Holst, who was born at Clarence Road in the town in 1874.

    It has amazing architecture

    You can see the development of Cheltenham from a market town to a famous spa town in its architecture. You have cosy little artisanal Cotswold cottages within the same postcode as impressive Regency crescents and townhouses. This makes Cheltenham a relatively diverse and trendy place to live, especially when you factor in the gorgeous countryside that’s pretty much on the doorstep.

    There are some great schools

    Cheltenham has some famous independent schools, including Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Cheltenham College and Dean Close. There’s also Pates Grammar, one of the UK’s top grammar schools, as well as some Ofsted-rated outstanding state schools like Fairford C of E Primary.

    You can visit lots of bars and restaurants

    There’s a wealth of restaurants in Cheltenham, including the recently-opened Ivy, as well as The Daffodil, which is housed in an old 1940s cinema building. The pubs are friendly too, so head to The Beehive and The Retreat for a quick drink, or the Montpellier Wine Bar for a more upmarket experience. Cheltenham natives are very approachable, so just get talking and you’ll soon have some new friends.

    The Cheltenham Races

    Every March racing fans make their way to Prestbury Park in the town for this famous National Hunt Gold Cup week. The town is essentially invaded by lively racegoers and the atmosphere is unforgettable. Remember this, however, if you have to commute through the middle of town!

  • 25th

    Are You Tooled-up?

    Whether you’ve just moved into a new place or you’re working to keep your property in good nick while it’s on the market, then you need a well-equipped toolbox. You never know when you’ll need to re-hang a picture, remove scuff marks from the wall or tighten a loose tap, right? Well, actually, you usually need to do at least one of these things ten minutes before a viewing… This is why you need to have at least the basics already to go.

    Stocking up on the essentials

    It can cost quite a bit, getting an entire toolbox together, so you should start with the basics – a set of screwdrivers, spanners, Allen keys and a hammer or two.

    You can always rent tools and equipment like sanders if you need them, but if you know you’ll probably be using a particular item once or twice a year, then buy it.

    Getting really minimalist

    You can actually do a lot of DIY jobs with the bare minimum to hand – some WD-40, adjustable pliers and duct tape. WD-40 has literally hundreds of uses (including removing crayon marks from walls) and we all know that a roll of duct tape will one day save the entire world. Fact.

    Add in a multi-tool of some sort when you can, ingratiate yourself with the neighbours and you’re sorted.

    A basic-but-comprehensive toolbox

    A slight upgrade on the minimalist kit features these ten tools at the least:

    • a tape measure;
    • sturdy pliers;
    • a set of at least 10-15 screwdrivers;
    • an adjustable wrench;
    • a claw hammer;
    • a spirit level;
    • an electric drill;
    • a torch;
    • a hacksaw, and
    • a utility knife.

    These are the basics that you need for rewiring a plug, putting up shelves, cutting up pipes and making sure your furniture will fit the new place (this involves the tape measure, not the hacksaw…).

    Safety first

    Make sure you have goggles, strong gloves and a first aid kit too!

    A more involved toolkit

    Once you’ve undertaken a few DIY tasks and you’re feeling handier, you can expand your toolkit to include a stud finder so you can locate studs in the walls to hang shelves more securely. It’s also a good idea to get a putty knife and a combination square, as well as some socket wrenches for plumbing and fixing bikes.

    If you find you have a real flair for a particular area of DIY, then invest more in the tools you need for it and let your friends and neighbours know so that you can pool your equipment and expertise to improve all of your homes.

  • 25th

    Creating the Ideal Home Office

    Lots of us are setting up a home office these days. We need one because we’re working from home either full-time or for part of the week, or because one of the family has a side-gig that needs time and space away from the other members.

    When you’re thinking about how your home office should look, it’s easy to get carried away with visions of a treadmill in the corner, a hammock, a water feature… In reality, all you need is a relatively quiet and motivating space so you can get things done. You also need to stay in budget, so here’s the essentials of the perfect home office.

    Preparing the space

    Ideally you should be separate from the rest of the household, even if the office is actually in your house. This helps you to make a clear divide between work and home (although getting this through to your dog and children might not be so easy…).

    You also need to think about what you need in the space. Will you be on the phone a lot? On your laptop? Do you need one monitor or two? Do you need a printer regularly? An ergonomic desk and chair? All of these factors will determine what goes into the office and how it’s all laid out.

    Size doesn’t matter, but separation does

    Just because your office is in your home or your garden doesn’t mean that it’s not a workspace, no matter how big or small it is. Just as you wouldn’t dry your laundry next to your desk at work or take your office chair home, you need to create and maintain very clear boundaries between what’s used for work and what happens at work. The same goes for work hours. Obviously, when you’re self-employed you’ll have the occasional late-night rush to finish up a project, but you should never get into the habit of answering client calls and emails in the evenings.

    The physical layout

    You’re always going to need the basics – a chair, a desk and some storage furniture. You’ll probably spend most of your time at your desk, so make sure you have everything you need immediately by it – filing cabinet, printer, phone and so on. Order might be boring in itself, but it paves the way for creativity.

    Your colour scheme

    Of course, this is up to you, but most people prefer their working environment to be on the cooler, calmer and more creative part of the spectrum. Greens, blues and maybe a touch of yellow often work best when it comes to your palette. You might want a feature wall for a bit of vibrancy, but keep most of your space calm and focussed.

    Your equipment and furnishings

    If you’re working from home and especially if you’re self-employed, then efficiency and speed is vital. You need to buy the best quality equipment and software that you can afford so that you’re not plagued with outages, crashes and, when it comes to furniture, a painful back or RSI.

    A laptop is probably best so that you can take some work home with you if you ever need to, as well as a comfortable chair, a footrest and a wrist-supporting mouse-mat.

    Creating privacy

    If you’re working in a garden office, then there’s some form of physical barrier already, which is great. However, if your workspace is in your house, then you’ll need it to be in a spare room or at least sectioned off from your family members by a screen or tall bookshelf. Once you’re ensconced at your desk, headphones in and tapping away, then everyone (including you) knows you’re busy earning a crust.

  • 25th

    Make Your Home Brighter

    While we’re still keen on bright and bold colours for rooms, it can be difficult for some spaces to handle these schemes if they don’t get much light. If you’re looking for a change from neutral and greige colour schemes but you’re worried that these changes might make smaller rooms too dark and claustrophobic, you’ll have to work on the lighting.

    Make the most of your natural light

    One problem may be that there’s not enough natural light coming in to the room. Fortunately, this issue is often easily solved. You could, if possible, create an extra window or skylight, especially if you have a south-facing wall.

    If this isn’t an option, then doing something with your existing windows. Thick, plush curtains might look cosy and luxurious, but if they’re obscuring half of the window even when they’re drawn, that’s a lot of light you’re missing out on. Try replacing your heavy drapes with thinner or lighter fabric, or maybe even a translucent film on the pane itself so that you’re getting as many rays as possible into the space.

    Use some white paint

    You don’t have to go all out with the bold and vibrant colours. Mixing it up with some white or paler shades will bring up a room that’s just a tiny bit too dark for a full makeover. Using glossy finishes and metallics can also help to reflect any available light back into the room regardless of their colour.

    Use better artificial lighting

    However much natural light a room gets, it’ll always be dark at night-time! If you’re looking to bring a bit of extra light, colour and mood into a space, then you have a huge range of artificial lighting to do the job for you.

    You can have concentrated spotlights for workspaces, diffused lighting for nooks and crannies or dark corners, as well as strips of coloured LED lights for underneath and even behind cupboards. Stop thinking in terms of one harsh overhead bulb backed up by a corner lamp and get creative!

    Keep everything clean and shiny

    It might seem obvious, but cleaner and brighter surfaces reflect more light. If you have shiny or chrome fittings in your kitchen, make sure they’re always dust and grease-free. Washing down walls and skirting boards also keeps things light and bright as it’s easy to overlook how dingy surfaces like these can get, especially if you live with kids and pets.

  • June, 2019 18th

    To Re(mortgage) or Not to Re(mortgage)

    Once you’ve got your foot on the property ladder and even after you’ve climbed a rung or two, you can feel trapped in your deal and in your property. It may be the case that you up and move, or you may decide to stay put and improve if you can’t quite afford the moving fees or you have an appreciation target. It may be time to think about remortgaging.

    You can save money by remortgaging

    When you remortgage, you’re taking out a new mortgage deal on a property that you already own, be it your primary residence or a holiday home. You can replace your existing deal with a slightly cheaper one, or you can borrow more money against it to pay for some serious home improvements. If these improvements increase the value of your home, then it’s an investment.

    Around a third of mortgage deals in the UK are remortgages and while many people remortgage routinely when they reach the end of their existing deal, it’s also possible to look for and secure a new deal beforehand. You need a good reason, though.

    Remortgaging to take advantage of an increase in value

    If you find that your property value has increased due to home improvements or because the average value in your area has increased, then it’s often a good idea to look for a new deal. If your home is worth more, you’ll have a better loan-to-value ratio, which usually means lower interest rates. This, in turn, can mean some big savings over the next few years.

    Remortgaging because your circumstances have changed

    When you consider that the average mortgage in the UK is around 20 years long, it’s no surprise that homeowners’ life situations and circumstances change. People have babies, get promoted, receive inheritances, the kids grow up and go to college. All of these things mean that you might want to upsize or downsize, to pay more each month or even to pay a large chunk of your mortgage off.

    You may not be able to do any of these things with your current deal without being penalised. Some mortgage deals only allow small overpayments, while some don’t allow mortgage holidays except for very serious circumstances. If you’re looking for an easier-going, more flexible deal, then remortgaging might be your best solution.

  • 18th

    Finish these Jobs Before You Even Think about Selling

    While no-one is every completely finished with their home improvement projects, if you’re about to sell, then there are some jobs that really do need to be wrapped up before you hit the market.

    Finish up the decluttering

    You should really finish it up; as in, really do it. It’s important for two reasons. You need to get the place ready for viewings so you need all your best features brought to the fore and you also need all your junk out of the way so you can see what other jobs need to be done.

    Put unseasonal items and clothes into storage, give all your unwanted possessions away to charity or sell them and start to pack away your more personal items like family photos and ornaments.

    On to the home improvements

    It can be the minor details (well, flaws) that viewers notice and if there’s a few of these flaws then they can add up to a negative impression. This is a shame because they’re minor! Leaky taps, squeaky doors, dim lightbulbs, grubby windows and scuffed paintwork – all easily sorted.

    Think about redecorating

    If you’re suddenly noticing the scuffed paintwork, then why stop at a slight touch-up? You might also notice that you’ve had the same colours for a decade, or that your colour scheme isn’t what you’d call neutral. It could all just look a bit tired, so one simple answer could be to give the place a new coat of (neutral) paint. A neutral palette is important because people need a blank slate to put their own imprint upon.

    Sort out the flooring

    Squeaky floorboards aren’t good news as viewers can worry about how safe the floors are. Similarly, if you have chipped, worn or cracked tiles, lino or vinyl, then things can look and feel tatty. If you have carpets, give them a professional cleaning and, if necessary, rip out the worst ones and replace them. Wooden floors can start to look worn so sanding and resealing might be a good move.

  • 18th

    That Important First Night in Your New Home

    When you’re going through the process of moving home you can get so wrapped up with the costs, co-ordinating removal vans, moving your internet over and so on, that you don’t prepare for actually living in the new place. You can’t live in the new place without spending that first night there, so here’s how to make it as smooth and successful as possible.

    Pack some “First Night” boxes and bags

    One problem is that when you pack up to move, you group items together – bathroom products, kitchen utensils, jumpers, books and games – and when you’re at the other end, you can spend hours looking for things. This is stressful, especially if you have children and pets, or if you want to crack open that bubbly and you can’t remember which box the flute glasses are in.

    The easiest way to avoid frantic box-cutter action and potential injury is to get together some First Night boxes and bags so everyone has what they need. These boxes travel with you to the new place and should contain things like toothbrushes, nightclothes, bedding, medications, pet foods, kid foods treats, toys, comfort blankets and everything else you can think of.

    Don’t forget about the food

    It’s tempting to just pack treats so that the children are happy and occupied, but if you end up too busy to get some shopping in, or your removals people are late, then you’ll need some easily-prepared provisions to see you through. Think about tins of soup or stew, easy-cook noodles, biscuits, soft drinks and bottled water. Oh, and chocolate…

    Make sure you have a separate essentials kit

    It’s not just about comfort for the first night; you also need other items and tools to help you to make the move. Include bin bags, cleaning products, scissors, a tin-opener, a corkscrew, a first aid kit (someone always gets a scrape), lightbulbs batteries and device chargers.

  • 18th

    How to Damp-proof Your Property

    Having damp in your property is a serious issue as it can cause structural and even health problems. If you’re planning to sell your house or you’ve recently moved into a new property, then ensuring there’s no damp problems is vital.

    Ideally, your property should have a damp-proofing course already installed, as this will stop any problems in their tracks and put your mind at ease. If you know this is the case, then this is all well and good.

    You might not know if a property has a damp course, however, or you may be wondering if you need to take action against dampness. Here’s how you can spot the signs of damp; if you do see any, then it’s time to call in the professionals.

    Look for flaky and crumbling exteriors

    If you see any external mortar or brickwork puffing out, flaking or cracking, then this can be a sign of damp in the structure so you should have it looked at.

    Have your existing damp course checked over

    Damp courses can last for many years, but there’s always the chance that it’s been damaged or compromised. This can let water into your walls and foundations, so make sure all’s well.

    Look at your internal walls

    Pay special attention to any basements and cellars. If there’s any white or grey powder in a sort of tidemark, or if the walls feel unusually cold to the touch, there may be rising damp.

    Keep your gutters and downpipes clear

    It’s important for water to escape freely from your roof and pipes because if it’s impeded in any way, it can overflow into your brickwork and seep in. Remove any build-up of leaves and other debris to let the water escape.

    Check over your roof after severe weather

    After severe storms, heavy rains and extended snow coverage, make sure all your tiles are still there and that none are cracked. If rainwater gets into your loft, it can seep downwards and cause dry rot and other problems. You should also look at your lead flashings, engaging a professional if necessary, to make sure there’s no chance of water getting in.

    Keep the air flowing

    By keeping windows open as often as you can, you’ll reduce the amount of condensation inside your property. Pay particular attention to utility rooms, cellars and bathrooms, especially if there’s no window or extractor fan. Never let walls stay damp for long.

    Follow your nose

    Damp has a distinctive smell and if you notice it, don’t turn a blind eye (or, indeed, nostril) to it. Take action as soon as you can.

  • May, 2019 28th

    Make the Most of the Light Nights

    Summer is pretty much here and so it’s time to spend more of our days and evenings outside in our gardens, enjoying the sun and the warmer nights.

    It doesn’t get dark until at least 9.00pm over the summer months, so not only is this season the right time to kick back and enjoy the light and warmth, it’s also a great time to promote and sell your property.

    Here’s a few ideas for using the extra daylight to get a summer sale.

    Hold an open house in the evening

    This is quite novel, as most open house viewings are held on weekend afternoons, but house hunters are also advised to look at their target property and neighbourhood after office hours to see what the residents and rush hour traffic are really like. Offer a barbecue in the back garden, complete with beers and fairy lights so that viewers can imagine themselves wielding tongs and skewers right where you are now.

    Have some of your photos done in the evening

    Most online property portals feature photos that are taken in bright daylight, with blue skies and dazzling UV. If you have a good-looking garden, then spruce it up a bit more, add some solar-powered string lights to strategic corners and get some arty and enchanting twilight summer shots to add to the more conventional images of shiny chrome sinks and wooden floors.

    Make appointments for early evenings

    When it’s hot, people either want to get home and shower if it’s a weekday or they want to get out and about at the weekends. This can lead to a dearth of viewers over the summer as most viewing appointments are just after work or on Saturdays. Beat the weather and people’s heat-induced apathy by offering much later viewings. Once the temperature’s fallen a bit, people will want to venture out to look at a property, as it’ll still be light. Lots of other vendors won’t be doing this, so you’ll be ahead of the curve and you may well be in your new home by September.

  • 28th

    Improve Your Plumbing

    When you’re selling your current home, or when you’ve moved into a new place and you’re looking to make it really comfortable, a good way to increase the value or make the most of your investment is to improve the plumbing. Bathrooms and kitchens are no longer just utilitarian spaces in which to get clean and cook, they’re sanctuaries and focal points, so they deserve an upgrade.

    Your bathroom is an ideal place to make these improvements as there’s no carpet to pull up or plug sockets to move around. One good idea is to rip out the old fixtures and replace them with a round tub with a Jacuzzi, or a rainfall style shower head, as well as a lo-flow toilet and a slimmer sink.

    While these improvements involve a bit of hard work and maybe even a skip, there are smaller changes that you can make to bring new life into an older bathroom. By replacing taps and the shower head, as well as maybe the sink and counter, you’ll give the room a new look without having to strip out larger items like the bathtub.

    Increase your space

    If you feel that your bathroom is too small then you may want to replace your fittings with smaller, more efficient modern ones, like ergonomic sinks, wall-mounted toilets or a corner bath.

    The kitchen

    This is another area where plumbing and appliances can be changed and updated to take up less space and be more efficient.

    Your kitchen sink may need to be replaced. The days of single sinks are long gone, as people want dual sinks so they can rinse vegetables at the same time as doing the washing up. You may decide to eschew cold porcelain or stainless steel in favour of resins as these materials hold the heat for longer.

    You could also add a sink to your kitchen island for more convenience, especially if you spend a lot of time cooking and prepping food.

    You should always aim to replace older appliances with water-saving and energy-efficient versions. Not only do these new fixtures save resources ad money, but they’ll bring your kitchen up to date, too. Think about new taps, pasta arms or a water heating tap instead of a kettle.

    Other ideas

    Install a water softener or filtration system. If you live in a big city or in a hard water area, then having softer, filtered water can make a huge difference. You no longer have to buy bottled water or spend hours descaling appliances and cleaning mineral deposits off shiny surfaces.

    If you have a utility area or an outdoor kitchen, then a utility sink is a brilliant addition to your home because you don’t have to use the kitchen sink to clean muddy football boots, wash the dog or soak badly soiled clothes anymore.

    Outdoor taps are also great for gardening, filling paddling pools and cooking, as well as for cleaning outdoor areas like the patio or garden path.

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