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  • December, 2017 14th

    Is Stamp Duty Stamped Out?

    The autumn budget of 2017 contained a nice surprise for first-time buyers from Chancellor Philip Hammond. From November 22, first-timers will pay no Stamp Duty on properties priced up to £300,000.

    There’ll also be some Stamp Duty relief on the first £300,000 on properties worth up to £500,000. This move is to ease the pressure for first-time buyers in areas where property prices are high, like London and Oxford.

    Most first-timers will benefit

    According to the Treasury, this Stamp Duty abolition (or relief) will mean that 95% of first timers will pay a reduced amount of duty, with 80% paying none at all.

    The average national Stamp Duty bill for first-timers in the UK is around £3,000. In areas of the country where properties are priced at around the original £125,000 threshold, however, this change will have hardly any impact. Some first-time buyers will save only a few pounds.

    In areas where first-timers could can expect to pay between £125,000 and £300,000, however, the changes will make that all-important first move that little bit easier.

    It’s in cities like Oxford and London where the impact will be felt the most; many first-time buyers in Oxford will save around £4,000 on their Stamp Duty bill. London first-timers, who pay an average of £479,000 on their new home, will save £5,000, which is the maximum amount anyone will see slashed off their costs.

    When does the change come into effect?

    The Stamp Duty change took effect in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on November 22 and remains in effect until March of 2018. Scotland has another, independent, form of land tax that isn’t affected by these changes.

    If a property is priced at more than £300,000, then the band between £300,000 and £500,000 will be taxed at 5%.

    If a couple is buying a property together, they must both be first-time buyers. If one half of the couple has bought a property before, then there’ll be no Stamp Duty relief.

  • December, 2017 13th

    Buy-to-let is a Slow Burn Not a Quick Fix

    Despite this proviso, many Brits buy a property to rent out; it’s actually seen as a sensible money-generator. It doesn’t matter if it’s a single property that a couple lets out to supplement their pension, or whether it’s a property empire in a big university city, renting can be a steady source of income – but the investment has to be handled right.

    Do your homework first

    You need to think about the area you’ll be buying in – the city and the part of the city too – as well as thinking about the sorts of tenants you’ll be targeting. Are they likely to be undergraduates, young professionals or families? The tenants you’ll be renting to determine how much you’ll get in rent, whether there’ll be voids every summer and how much insurance you’ll need to pay, among other things.

    Your homework also involves some maths. Renting is a business just like any other, so you need to work out how much you’ll take home every month and year after all your expenses.

    How to work out your gross rental yield

    This is calculated by dividing your total annual income from the property by the value of the property before multiplying it by 100.

    Then you need your percentage net yield

    This is worked out by subtracting your running costs from your total annual income, then dividing this by the property’s value before multiplying it by 100.

    And finally, your annual running costs

    Your running costs are your mortgage payments, estimated refurbishment and repair costs, vacant periods, the service charge and the ground rent.

    As you can see, it’s not a case of sitting back and watching the money roll in… You may be tempted to set a higher rent once you see how much it all costs, but this could backfire by discouraging tenants and increasing your void periods.

    The best thing you can do, if you’re planning a buy-to-let investment, is to take advice from a letting agent who knows the area well. The agent can tell you who to expect and, most importantly, how much you can expect so you know whether your plans are worth it or not.

  • December, 2017 11th

    Interior Design for Renters

    One of the problems with renting a property is that most landlords don’t want you to do any decorating so you can’t put your own personal stamp on the place. You may be able to paint, but only as long as you return the walls back to their original neutral colours. You certainly can’t knock down a wall or hang a picture up – unless you want to lose your deposit! So, how can you make your rental property feel like home? It can be done, certainly; you just need to think outside of the box.

    Work with the walls

    If you can’t change the colour of your walls, make it work for you. If they’re a bright white or a light neutral, bring in some vibrant soft furnishings to act as a contrast. Think about colourful rugs, cushions, bed linen and furniture to break up the whiteness – the colours will stand out even more. If your landlord is agreeable, then you could try some nail-less picture hanging strips to hold up prints and photos.

    Move the furniture around

    It’s great if you have your own furniture, as this gives you some flexibility. If, however, you’re living in a furnished house or flat, then you have to work with the items you’ve got. You could try rearranging, of course, which can often give a whole new look to a room. Using colourful throws is also a great idea, as is bringing in some smaller items of your own like side tables.

    Instant wallpaper

    If you feel like adding a statement wall to a room but you really need your deposit, then you can put some wallpaper or paint on an MDF or plywood panel and lean it up against the wall. Just make sure no paint rubs off on the wall underneath…

    Add some greenery

    A really easy way to add some character and colour to the place is to bring in some houseplants. They can add some life to any space and they’re very portable too, which is a definite advantage. What’s even better is that some varieties of plant help to purify the air while they’re performing their makeover – how could you resist?

    Get the lights

    You won’t be able to move the ceiling lights, but what you can do is to change the lightshade to your own taste, as well as to bring in your own floor and table lamps. Again, these are portable and will dress the rooms it’s more in line with your character.

  • December, 2017 9th

    Carpet or Wood? The Choice is Yours

    After decades of wall-to-wall carpets, the last ten or 15 years have seen a big resurgence of wooden floors. Both solutions have their pros and cons, of course, despite trends coming and going. If you’re about to renovate a floor, then you may well be weighing up the two options, so here’s a quick rundown to help you do just that.

    Wood doesn’t date

    A wooden floor won’t suddenly go out of date or become the butt of jokes like your gran’s dizzying swirly carpet. These floors are neutral and will work with pretty much every style or colour scheme without clashing.

    Wood is also easier to clean than carpet, as it doesn’t absorb liquids and can be ideal for a home with pets. Allergy sufferers also benefit from wooden floors as they can be kept scrupulously clean and free of dust and other allergens.

    However, wooden floors are more expensive than most other types. You can get luxury vinyl tiles or engineered flooring, or you could look for reclaimed flooring, of course, if your budget is an issue.

    There’s also the chill factor to take into account. Unless you have underfloor heating (which some experts advise against), then your shiny wooden floor will often feel a bit cold underfoot. This can make it unsuitable for bedrooms and playrooms; it’s also unsuitable for high humidity areas like bathrooms and kitchens as the water can warp it.

    Hallways and living spaces, however, can be transformed by gleaming wooden floors; they can make a big impact on visitors (and buyers). If cold feet are a concern, then you can always throw down a warm rug or two.

    Carpeting

    Carpets are warmer than wooden floors, as you can no doubt imagine; they’re also soft and they absorb sound, making them ideal for flats and upstairs rooms. They also help to provide some insulation if they’re downstairs.

    There’s also a lot more choice when it comes to patterns and colours with carpets – you can make a real statement with a carpet and this flooring is also cheaper and easier to lay down.

    On the downside, carpets are notoriously difficult to clean and they will need to be replaced after a number of years. They can stain, absorb water and allergens and if you have pets, they will start to smell eventually. They’re also, like wooden floors, unsuitable for humid areas like kitchens and especially bathrooms.

    So, what will work for you? A combination of wood and rugs? Wood downstairs and carpets in the bedrooms? It’s up to you…

  • December, 2017 7th

    How to Boost Your Asking Price

    It goes without saying that you want the best asking price possible and so you’ll try your hardest to impress viewers. You’ll primp and plump the cushions, clean the windows, mow the lawn… However, these won’t bump up your asking price as much as some types of improvements will. What are these magic buttons, then? A swimming pool? A rockery? Not necessarily. In fact, a pool might put some people off as they don’t want the maintenance that comes with it!

    If you’re about to throw money at your place before it goes to market, it helps no end if you can focus your attention – and money – in the right directions.

    Here are the surest ways to bump up that asking price.

    Converting your loft

    Increasing your living space is the best way to increase your value, so converting a loft or building an extension is ideal because you’re working with what you already have. A loft conversion can increase your asking price by as much as 20% and most conversions won’t need planning permission.

    Think carefully, though. You may dream of turning your three-bedroomed semi into a five-bedroomed dwelling by creating two bedrooms in the loft. This means two extra bodies in the place, however, when the garden and downstairs rooms aren’t big enough to accommodate them. Just one more bedroom will suffice in most cases. You also need to make sure that the pitch of your roof is steep enough to create a proper, useable room.

    Work on the garden

    Everyone loves a big, well-tended garden and these can certainly sell properties, especially if the buyers are keen gardeners themselves. If, however, the garden needs a lot of work on it – weekly or even daily attention – then most people will be put off.

    You should aim for an uncluttered space that’s easy to keep neat and inviting. Creating a patio or decking area is a good way to do this and if you can strike the right balance you could add up to 10% on your asking price.

    Make an extra bathroom

    Almost everyone wants an extra bathroom now, even if it’s an under-stairs toilet with a hand sink. Think carefully, though. If you can fit a littler littlest room under the stairs, then great. If you’re thinking of changing a third bedroom into a bathroom; stop! There’s no point having a two-bedroomed, two-bathroomed (ahem) house. If you have four or five bedrooms, then it could be a good move.

    Get planning permission

    Having planning permission for an extension means you can ask for more money. You don’t have to do any work yourself, you just need to be able to say your buyers can do it; this is a good way of getting a good price with almost no financial investment on your part.

  • December, 2017 5th

    Market Towns Attract Premium Prices

    Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise in this nation of shopkeepers, but it seems that market towns have the edge when it comes to property prices.

    It’s an edge that’s worth quite a bit, too. Market towns have property prices that are, on average, £30,000 more than their neighbouring conurbations, according to recent research from Lloyds Bank.

    The prices of properties in market towns have risen by 21% since 2012 to a national average of £280,690 – eight times the size of the average full-time salary in England.

    The UK’s favourite market towns

    Beaconsfield is by far the priciest market town in the nation as it recently became the first to break the £1,000,000 average house price barrier. Henley-on-Thames follows close behind with an average house price of £831,452. In third place is Alfresford in Hampshire, where houses are a relative snip at £541,529.

    It seems it’s the proximity to London and to the Chilterns that makes Beaconsfield so attractive – and expensive. As usual, ripples will spread outwards as people look for more affordable properties, so any market town in the south of England will start to pick up momentum, especially if it’s within two hours or so of London.

    What’s the appeal?

    The thing about market towns is that they offer the village feel of a, well, village, within a well-served town. These towns are usually quite historic, too, with their own individual quirks and character, as well as a good stock of period properties. It’s these advantages that people are willing to pay over the odds for, especially if the town is near to bigger cities, especially London, Oxford, Bristol and Manchester.

    Don’t rest on your laurels, though

    Of course, location alone doesn’t sell a property, so if you’re about to go to market, don’t be complacent. You’ll still need to appeal to potential buyers, so make sure your property is as good as it can be before you go live.

  • December, 2017 3rd

    What Makes a Great Investment Property?

    Whatever your reasons for buying a property, whether it’s to let it out orto live in yourself, you need to buy somewhere that’ll increase in value over time, or at least hold its value. Here’s how you can tell if somewhere is a great investment property.

    If it’s in an up-and-coming area

    If the property is in an area that’s being improved or has recently come on in leaps and bounds, then it could be a goer. It’ll still have a reasonable price tag, so if you buy now, you’ll benefit from further rises. Look for new bars and restaurants, new transport links, good or outstanding schools and so on. If you can’t find an up-and-coming area, look for a doer-upper in an area that’s already very desirable.

    If it has at least three bedrooms

    Buy a place with as many bedrooms as you can afford, preferably at least three. If you’re planning to let it out, this means more tenants and if you’re looking for your new family home, you’ll have space to grow. It also means you won’t spend more money five years down the line when you have another baby and need to move.

    If you can’t run to that third or fourth bedroom, look out for a property with a decent-sized loft, a basement or even a big garden so you can extend up, down or out in a few years.

    If it has a low-maintenance garden

    Whether it’s tenants or you living in there, an easy garden is always a bonus. It’s nice to have a landscaped space, but who’s going to look after it? If you find you have to bring in professional gardeners every time tenants leave, then this wastes time and money.

    If it has sturdy foundations and a good roof

    Your roof and your foundations are the hardest and most expensive repair jobs you’ll face. Check out the roof and ask about the condition of the foundations before you even think about putting in an offer. If your top and bottom will last for a good few years, you’ll get the most out of your investment.

    If it still has some original features

    If there’s the original fireplaces, or some old beams, still in the place, then these can bump up the value, especially if you can restore them to their former glory.

  • December, 2017 1st

    Vendors! Avoid these Traps

    Selling a property is always fraught with worry, stress and the possibility of making a false move that breaks the chain for everyone. Some pitfalls are easy to avoid, however, so if there is an aspect of your house sale that you can bring under your control, do it. Here are the most common – and most avoidable – pitfalls vendors should beware of.

    Not using an estate agent

    Many vendors think they’re clever by opting to sell their house themselves or by using an online agent. In this way, they either reduce or avoid the commission and so this can seem like an attractive option. However, selling a property doesn’t just happen by itself and the time, energy and effort that would be expended by an estate agent has to be expended by…the seller. This is on top of a full-time job, children, hobbies, other commitments and keeping the place ready for viewings. Usually, it’s just not worth it.

    Being too present during viewings

    More than half of potential buyers want to be able to wander around a property without being shadowed by the owner so they can talk frankly. Some viewers like to be able to talk to the owner though. If you are going to be there, maintain a polite distance while being available to talk if the viewers want to.

    Not being scrupulously clean

    Make sure the place is as clean as possible. Wash down walls, tear up any damp and smelly carpet and clean the windows and curtains. A lack of natural light can put off buyers, so do everything you can to bring the place up a notch or two. Don’t be tempted to try to cover up smells with air fresheners, though – it doesn’t work and you’ll come across as deceitful.

    Being too eager

    What’s the worst thing about shopping? That’s right, the over-enthusiastic shop assistants. They’re intrusive and discomfiting when you’re looking for a bath bomb, let alone a new home. Be polite and friendly, but don’t force anything; people will feel pressured and they’ll also wonder if your neighbours are dodgy.

    Speaking of the neighbours…

    If you’ve had a dispute with your neighbours, no matter how it was resolved (or not), you must be honest with prospective buyers. If you lie about it, or try to cover it up, it could derail the sale and even land you with a lawsuit. It may well be that the issue you had with your neighbours simply wouldn’t arise again.

    Skimping on the décor

    Well-decorated homes sell three or four weeks faster on average, so it’s worth spending time and money on bringing the place up to date. If your budget is an issue, identify the features that need the most TLC (or replacing altogether) and focus on them. Be prepared to spend a few hundred here as you could really benefit from the investment.

  • November, 2017 24th

    How Tenants Can Win Landlords Round

    No matter whether it’s the student, young professional or family sector, there’s stiff competition to bag a place to live if you’re a renter. Bigger towns and cities are particularly difficult places to find rental properties – not because there’s a deficit, but because each place has at least five other candidates vying for the keys.

    There are a few things you can do to stand out from the crowd, though, so if you’re looking for a rental property, here’s how to win over the landlord or letting agent.

    Have your reference information on you

    If you like the property after viewing it, tell the agent or landlord that you’re all set to go and give them your details there and then. These details should include your employer, bank details and your references from previous landlords.

    Walk the walk

    Don’t just say you’re ready to move – be ready to move! If there’s one thing landlords and letting agents hate it’s a void, so if you can move in a week before the other guys, you could clinch it.

    Mention your job

    If you have a good professional job, or you’re a tradesperson in a steady industry like plumbing, then let the agent know. They want someone who’s responsible and will pay the rent. If you wear a suit to work, wear it for the viewing. If you’re a plumber, dress smartly and maybe arrive in your work van.

    Go together

    If you’re in a couple, or you’re planning to rent as a group of sharers, go at the same time. This is important because you’ll lose valuable time if you have to get Danny’s opinion and he’s not back from skiing until next Tuesday…

    Be enthusiastic

    Landlords like flattery and if you say their place is the best you’ve seen so far and you love the artisan bread shop three doors down and you promise to polish the brass doorknob once a month, you could be onto a winner. You should call the agent or landlord as soon as possible after the viewing to reinforce this message, too.

    Offer a holding deposit

    A decent letting agent will accept a holding deposit because it means you’re serious about moving in. If you don’t get the place in the end, you’ll get the deposit back and if you do, it should be deducted from your first month’s rent.

  • November, 2017 20th

    Why Buying a House Near a Park is a Smart Move

    When you’re house-hunting you probably notice that houses and flats that are located near to public parks or other open spaces have something of a premium attached. This extra cost might dissuade you, but you should stop and think for a few minutes about the benefits that living near a park can bring to you and your family.

    According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a property next to or very near to a public park can sell for as much as 19% more than a similar property further away. For bigger open spaces, or for parks with more amenities and events, this premium can be even higher.

    It’s not just about the money

    You might wince at this premium if you’re buying, but having your home near to a park can pay off in the long run. Living near an open green space can help you to stay active and fit, so you may finally get around to ditching that expensive gym. You could also make new friends there, especially if you have small children. Simply by being near to green spaces you’ll be improving your mental health, as well as being shielded from the worst of the pollution a town or city can throw at you.

    You could also opt for a slightly smaller house than you would have originally done, or one with a smaller garden, as you can take advantage of the open space that the park offers you. Picnics in the summer, walks through the snow in the winter, kicking leaves in the autumn – it all makes returning home to a few square feet less that bit easier to bear.

    When it’s time to move on

    You were attracted by the space and didn’t mind paying the premium, right? Well, neither will the people who buy your house when you come to sell it. You can use the park as a big selling point, too, especially if it’s well-known for community events and festivals. A local park brings a community together, which can only encourage people to move into the area.

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