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  • July, 2017 24th

    Getting Ready For an Autumn Sale

    Autumn is the second-best season to sell your house (with spring being the best). Everyone’s home from holidays, the kids are back at school and people are thinking about being in a new home for Christmas. Plus that, the evenings are still long enough (in September anyway) for after-work viewings. It’s warm enough to view a property and then spend an evening walking through the neighbourhood or dropping into the local pub garden to check out the residents.

    If you’re getting ready to sell now, then you’ll probably be on the market during autumn, so here’s how to make the most of it.

    Tidy up the garden

    The leaves are falling, so make sure you rake them up. You should also cut back any excess growth that went on in the summer and may be obscuring windows or other external features. Get rid of dead flowers and clean up any garden furniture.

    Get some autumn kerb appeal

    You need orange and yellow blooms, as well as some pumpkins and squashes, for your front garden or porch. Put your autumnal flowers in pots and arrange your pumpkins around them.

    Clean the windows

    The summer makes things dirty! There’s dust, leaf matter, greasy fingerprints from the kids… Book a window-cleaner and get everything sparkling again. It looks better from the outside and it lets more light in, which is essential as the nights draw in.

    Clean your fireplace

    There’s nothing more autumnal than the smell of the first woodfires! If you’re lucky enough to have a working fireplace or a burner, get the chimney cleaned, brush down the fireplace and crank it all up again. If your fireplace is decommissioned, find some autumnal props – pinecones and pumpkins – and arrange them artistically.

    Use seasonal accent colours

    Again, it’s the red, orange, yellow and gold. Invest in some new cushions, bed linens, maybe some prints and even some knickknacks to make viewers feel autumnal.

    Let there be light

    The nights will be drawing in, so there’ll be more shadows and they’ll be wider. Open curtains, pull up the blinds and turn on as many lights as you can. This is why you should always clean the windows! Eliminate all dark corners.

  • July, 2017 21st

    All About the Leasehold

    Around 95% of new properties in London and 43% in the rest of England and Wales are leasehold properties. Most people buy these properties without thinking about what leasehold actually means, so here’s the 101 on being leasehold.

    How long can a lease be?

    Originally, leaseholds were between 90 and 125 years long, but these days 999 years is more common. Leases do count down with each year, so some older properties may be available with only a few years left and you do need to remember that you don’t own a leasehold property outright, so this can be a problem when it comes to getting a mortgage. Some lenders need there to be at least 55 years left on the lease, while others are even stricter.

    There may be service charges

    It doesn’t matter whether your leasehold property is a flat in a block or a house in a leasehold terrace, there will be a freeholder who owns the land and the buildings. This owner is responsible for maintaining and repairing communal areas and gardens, so you’ll need to pay service charges, which usually include ground rent and insurance.

    If your house is leasehold

    Some newer-build houses are leasehold rather than freehold and this means that your service charges may be more complicated, as may your mortgage be. Lenders tend to include service charges and ground rents in your affordability assessments and if your charges are high, your maximum mortgage may be reduced.

    Ground rent

    Very often, if this is separate from your service charges, it’ll be a small, nominal amount, but do check the clauses carefully as some unscrupulous freeholders may try to squeeze more money out of you here.

    Sinking funds

    Some maintenance works are expensive – a new roof, or double glazing throughout the building, for example. Landlords often ask leaseholders to pay into a collective fund to cover these works.

    Sharing the freehold

    Since 2004, leaseholders have been able to pool resources to buy the freehold and share ownership; they often appoint a management committee and look after the buildings themselves. This increases the value of the properties.

    If you buy the freehold

    By buying the freehold, you’re transferring the lease into your name. The freeholder must be informed and the original lessees’ names will still be on the lease. However, your solicitor will notify the Land Registry of the change.

  • July, 2017 17th

    Easy Ways to Pay Down Your Mortgage Faster

    Everyone dreams of being mortgage free a few years earlier than scheduled, but few of us ever do anything about it other than dream of a big windfall or a win.

    The truth is that huge inheritances and lottery wins are rare, sadly, so most of us keep paying the same old amount, month after month. Not many of us think of how making small overpayments every month can make a big difference over the years.

    Here’s four easy ways to chip away at your mortgage so it’s over a little early.

    Just add an extra tenner every month

    Assuming you have a mortgage of £200,000 over 20 years at 2.5%, if you pay an extra £10-15 each month, you could save £1,050 in interest over the lifetime of the mortgage and pay it off four or five months earlier. Think about it – £15 a month is a few lattes, right? If you can bump this overpayment up to £50 each month, that’s more than a year knocked off the end!

    Use your annual bonus

    OK, this is painful, and you don’t have to part with it every year, but if you make this most noble of sacrifices just once, you’ll have an impact. Assuming you take £5,000 home after your bonus is taxed, you’ll be mortgage-free eight months early! If it really hurts, keep half!

    Borrow a dog

    You’d be amazed how many dog-owners need someone to take out Rover when they’re working late, and if you can fit in an hour’s ramble, you can charge up to £10 per walkie! Your earnings go straight to the mortgage and you get your 10,000 steps a day!

    Hold a regular yard sale

    If you’re a fan of de-cluttering, then rather than taking stuff down to the dump, try holding a yard sale or put some of the higher-value items on eBay. If you raise a few hundred each year, and give up your bonus and make regular overpayments, you’ll be in clover anything up to two-and-a half years early.

  • July, 2017 14th

    Downsizing – Do It For the Kids

    It may take some sturdy steps to help Generation Rent to get onto the property ladder, according to a recent Equifax study on downsizing. The study, performed by YouGov, found that 46% of respondents were behind the idea of a government initiative that encouraged and helped older homeowners to downsize, leaving more housing stock available for younger buyers.

    A governmental White Paper outlined how last-time buyers could be incentivised to move to a smaller home so that the generations below them could move up a step. Second-steppers could sell their medium-sized homes to first-timers and so on up the ladder, easing the housing stock crisis.

    More sheltered homes

    This plan would involve building more sheltered accommodation complexes so that older people would feel comfortable with the move, but despite there being more support for (46%) than against (40%), it could still be a controversial move.

    Some may argue that it’s up to the government to build more affordable housing for first and second-steppers, rather than forcing elderly people to vacate the homes they’ve lived in for decades.

    However, many senior homeowners are quite willing to make this move, especially if it helps the younger generations. As long as it’s incentivised, rather than forced, it could prove popular. Other YouGov research showed that a lot of last-time buyers live in a four-bedroomed house but would love to move to a two-bedroomed house or flat. Around a third have thought about downsizing, but only 7% go through with it.

    Down with the kids

    Support for a downsizing scheme was strongest among younger people (18-24), who were 65% in favour. However, 68% of the respondents are fairly or very concerned about the struggles that Generation Rent face in buying their first home.

    Of course, downsizing alone isn’t a magic bullet, but if that 7% of last-timers could be doubled or even tripled (remember, a third would like to downsize), then this will go some way to easing the housing supply shortage and enabling older people to live more comfortably.

  • July, 2017 11th

    The Most Common First-timer Questions

    Looking for and buying your first home is amazingly exciting, but it can also be scary. Am I doing the right thing? What’s taking so long? What if the survey shows an abandoned mine under the kitchen…? Most sales go through OK and once you’ve bought and sold a couple of times you’ll take it all in your stride. However, to reach veteran status, you have to make that all-important first purchase, so here’s what to ask to make it a bit less daunting.

    How much should I borrow?

    Be strict with yourself here, talk to as many people – banks, brokers, relatives, independent financial advisers – as you can, make a realistic figure and stick to it! Once you know you have a mortgage amount agreed in principle, work from there to find properties within your range.

    However, you mustn’t fixate on the mortgage itself, there may be additional fees – housing association, landscaping or gardening and so on – so don’t forget to factor these in as well.

    Is this a long-term deal?

    Are you going to be happy there for a while? Make sure you’re not bending over too far backwards to get on the ladder. If that cheap flat means an extra two hours to get to work, or you’ll miss your family, then give it a swerve.

    Why are the vendors selling?

    Usually people are selling for “good” reasons – an overseas job offer, downsizing, moving to be near the grandchildren – but occasionally there may be reasons that could prove off-putting (think neighbours from hell). If there’s a good reason and the clock is ticking, then it’s worth making a lower offer.

    What exactly am I buying?

    Well, a home, obviously! Seriously, though, you need to ask if you get the shed, the cherry tree, the curtains and even if some pieces of furniture are available. You also need to see the deeds so you know how much garden you have.

    How often has the property sold in recent years?

    If the house has changed hands a few times in the last decade, there may be a problem with it. Of course, it may have been due to a series of investors, or academics (if you’re in a university city), or just coincidence, but you need to find out for your own peace of mind.

    How much is the council tax?

    This is another item to add to your ongoing budget. It’s a reoccurring expense so if you’re moving into an area with a higher rate than you’re used to, you’ll need to take it into account. It could also be lower, which is always a bonus!

    Have there been any neighbour disputes?

    You need to know if the vendor has ever lodged a complaint against a neighbour and if that neighbour is still there. Legally, they have to tell you, so don’t be shy.

  • July, 2017 8th

    Do You Regret Your First Time?

    Buying a property is probably the biggest decision and investment you’ll make so it’s important to get it right – or at least as right as possible. Sadly, though, as many as one in ten first-time buyers comes to regret their decision, according done by comparison portal Money.co.uk.

    Primarily, these regrets stem from making sacrifices in order to get on the property ladder that turn out to be too great.

    Affordability isn’t the be-all and end-all

    With high prices being a huge barrier to many, people tend to move longer distances to bag that crucial first home. First-timers tend to look at the cost rather than schools, amenities and transport links.

    This means that lots of people end up far away from family, friends and work. On average buyers move 37 miles away from their families and this can cause a lot of stress, with a quarter of first-timers regretting their move and naming the distance as their biggest regret.

    As well as the distance from friends and family, some people are forced into longer commutes, with an average of six extra hours tacked onto their daily journeys. Some (13%) have even had to reduce or compress hours to deal with the added travel, while around 20% lose out on their home lives instead.

    Unnecessary risks

    Some people take a chance on a property that’s cheaper because it’s in a high-risk area for flooding. The initial savings on the asking price can sometimes be outweighed by the expensive insurance – up to 75% more than low-risk areas – and certainly by actual flooding.

    Make the right sacrifices

    Don’t jump at the first affordable place you come across. Think about what could happen down the line. Will you be a long way away from family? Can you really handle six extra hours on your commute? The joy you experience at picking up your first set of housekeys doesn’t make up for the dread you feel every time you pick up your car keys…

    Shop around

    Not just for properties, but for good mortgage deals. The mortgage market can seem complicated, but a good broker or adviser – as well as a sympathetic estate agent – can make things simpler and narrow down the best deals for first-timers.

    Wait a while

    If you wait just a couple of years for a promotion or two, and for your savings to grow, then your deposit and salary (or salaries) will be bigger and you’ll have more properties to choose from.

  • July, 2017 4th

    How to Decide if a Home is Right

    We’ve all heard the stories from friends about how they “knew” they’d found their forever home as soon as they stepped through the door. It was instantaneous, even though there was no roof and there was an Indian burial ground underneath…

    In reality, however, it takes a bit longer to know if you’ve just viewed The One – 27 minutes, on average. However, this 27 minutes is an average, drawn from those thunderbolt moments and many hours of research and debating!

    In total, it takes more than 80 hours to arrive at that decisive moment. It’s quite a long process, and hardly any of it is intuitive or emotional.

    Here’s what you must do to get into the thunderbolt zone:

    Spend 10 hours researching online

    You have to look for likely candidates online, as well as examining crime stats, Ofsted reports, traffic reviews and so on.

    Three hours talking to estate agents

    You have to have someone to bounce ideas off and who will be able to tip you off about properties before they hit the market. Some of this three hours will be about building up a relationship with your agent and it almost always proves to be invaluable.

    An entire working week looking at properties

    Yes, 40 hours spent looking at 20 or so properties. You need to revisit likely prospects two or three times, while some will fall out of favour within minutes.

    Lose two nights’ sleep

    Many people lose sleep when they’re buying a house. This may be due to staying up late on property portals or waking up sweating at 3.00am thanks to Stamp Duty. On average, 16 hours’ sleep bites the bullet during the process!

    Drive around for 15 hours

    You need to spend some time in each likely locale, looking at rush hour traffic, pubs and restaurants, nurseries and parks, as well taking as a sneaky look at the prospective neighbours, of course (deceased and living…).

  • July, 2017 1st

    2017’s Best Home Improvements

    We all know that home improvements help to sell properties and to secure the best asking prices, but not all home improvements are equal, it seems. Some are more popular and effective, while others are more of an also-ran, attracting little more attention than routine maintenance.

    GoCompare Home Insurance compiled the top ten home improvements recently and the results might surprise you.

    New bathrooms were by far the favourite, with 39% of homeowners installing one within the last five years.

    The kitchen was just behind in popularity, with 38% revamping the heart of their home. In a more functional move, 34% of householders invested in a new boiler or central heating system.

    Looking to the outside, just over a quarter (26%) gave their garden space an overhaul, with the same number installing double glazing.

    Extensions are still in the top ten, with 17% of homeowners breaking new ground.

    Open-plan living spaces are still fairly popular, with 12% knocking through internal walls. Solar panels were equally in favour, at 12%, with loft spaces coming in at 10% and extra bedrooms at 9%

    Overall, 43% of homeowners performed some sort of major work on their properties. It’s clear to see that modern bathrooms and kitchens, as well as efficient heating are the biggest priorities for owners and buyers alike.

    If you’re selling

    If you’re selling, or about to go to market, you’ll be looking for changes and improvements that’ll bump up your asking price. It seems that it’s smaller, internal improvements that carry the most weight – modernised bathrooms, kitchens and heating systems are top of the list. An extra bedroom, for example, isn’t a priority for everyone, but everyone wants to save money on fuel.

    If you’re buying

    You’ll also be interested in the kitchen and bathroom. They’re often viewed as the two most important rooms in a home, so if you can find a property where the work’s been done for you, it’s worth paying extra! Of course, you might be looking out for new solar panels and efficient new heating instead and chances are, looking at the poll results, you’ll find them.

  • June, 2017 30th

    What Makes the Ideal Garden?

    It’s summer, we’re all out in our gardens, or dreaming of our ideal garden… Your garden is a hugely important feature of your property and can make or break a sale.

    If yours is a bit lacklustre, or a bit outdated, then you can boost your chances of a sale and a decent price by including one (or more) of these dream features to your garden space.

    A swimming pool

    This is the biggie, and of course not everyone has the space or the budget! If you can squeeze one on, even a small one, you’ll reap the rewards. If it’s way beyond you, though, then a garden room or a hot tub won’t hurt.

    A pizza oven

    This is a bit more achievable, as well as very trendy as people are choosing to make their own beer, their own yoghurt – and their own pizzas – these days. You could go the whole hog and build an outdoor kitchen.

    A sauna

    Then there’s the sauna, which will keep your garden in use even over the winter. This is in keeping with the recent hygge and lagom movements that have swept the world.

    On a small budget

    So, you can’t quite run to a pool, but how about a water feature or a pond? If you shop around, you could pick up a fountain for a decent price.

    A pizza oven is a more realistic prospect than an entire outdoor kitchen, too, as they can be had for as little as £200. You could spend £1,000 or more if you want to, but this is still cheaper than a tennis court or a hot tub!

    Think seasonally

    Your garden can’t be used all year round, of course, but having a feature like a pizza oven or a sauna could extend your outdoor enjoyment into autumn and even winter if it’s not sleeting! There’s something comforting about gathering around a hot oven in winter, sipping mulled wine while you wait for your homemade Primavera!

    If all else fails…

    No matter what feature you decide to bring into your garden, or even if you can’t quite manage any of the, you should make your garden as bright and welcoming as possible. Tidy it up, plant some bright flowers, pressure wash the flagstones…it all helps to make a difference.

  • June, 2017 26th

    Portrait of a UK Homeowner

    Research by bi-fold aluminium door and window manufacturer Origin has found that there are five distinct stages of homeownership in the UK, as well as formulating a portrait of the average UK homeowner.

    The average UK homeowner…

    The average UK mortgage is £130,000 and it’s paid off over a 20-year period, costing, on average, £134,864 with interest taken into account.

    UK homeowners generally move out from their parents’ house at the age of 21, live in seven houses over their lifetime and spend just over £26,000 on decorating. They’ll also spend just over £14,000 on removal vans, conveyancing fees and Stamp Duty.

    After they move out of the family home, people move 66 miles away on average and will live in just two cities over their lifetimes. Most UK adults live in two rental properties before buying their first home.

    Two mortgages

    UK homeowners tend to have two mortgages over their lifetimes, will take on average four months and three weeks to feel at home in their new place and will downsize at around 56 years of age.

    The average monthly mortgage payment in the UK is £542 and the average property is worth just under £250,000. One third of the UK’s homeowners live in a semi-detached property, a quarter in a detached house and 15% in a terraced house.

    The five ages of homeownership

    Origin’s research also looked at the changing needs and aspirations of British homeowners as they get older and found there’s five stages:

    Penthouse Pretenders

    These people tend to be pre-children and want a private garden, a big bathroom and lots of big windows offering natural light and amazing views.

    Multi-space Renovators

    These are couples with young children – under five – and need a playroom and a quiet space for homework. They also look for houses with room or potential for improvement, as well as one that’s near to a good school.

    Dynasty Dwellers

    Here we have several generations of a family living under the same roof – they have separate areas for teenage children and a granny flat or annexe.

    Zoneowners

    Families with teenage children need at least two bathrooms and a separate area for work and for relaxing.

    Full-spec Finders

    These guys are old hands at homeowning. They’re often retired couples downsizing after the children have left. They’ve lived in at least seven or eight properties and know what they want – usually a separate dining room, a downstairs toilet and double glazing.

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