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  • October, 2019 10th

    Selling in Winter

    While you might think that winter is one of the worst times of year to try to sell your property, but you’d be wrong. It’s true that most people take their eyes off the ball around Christmas, but this still leaves you with November, early December and January to get going.

    If you have the right attitude and a few tricks up your woollen sleeve, you can make the most of the winter months and you could even be in your new home by the new year!

    Offer viewers a warm welcome

    If you’re having an evening viewing, make sure that your heating is on as soon as you get home from work and bump the thermostat up a degree or two. You should also turn on radiators in rooms that are usually unoccupied so that every corner is toasty and comfortable.

    Make a good first impression

    Gardens and laws can look a little sad and tired in winter, so make sure your lawn, paths and borders look as clean as possible. Remove dead leaves, any mould that’s developing and add in some winter bedding plants, even if they’re in pots straight from the garden centre.

    If your front door is a bit tatty, give it a coat of paint, polish the brass fittings and replace that dead bulb in the porch. Install some new lights for the porch and any seating areas so they still look bright and inviting.

    Turn on all the lights indoors

    Every single lamp. Even the ones in the cooker hood. You need as much light as possible so that every nook and cranny is illuminated. If any bulbs are blown or too dim for purpose, replace them with brighter ones. Then, leave the curtains open so that people can see the bright, warm interior.

    Christmas decorations

    Do decorate if you celebrate Christmas, but scale things back a bit so that walls, mantelpieces and shelves are visible. A real tree is a great idea, but if it tends to crowd the room you usually have it in, think about putting it in a different room this year or shifting out some furniture into storage.

    An important tip is to get your photos done before the decorations go up so that you’re not looking out-of-seasonal if you’re still on the market in January.

  • 10th

    Colouring Up Your Kitchen

    Your kitchen is the heart of your home and you probably spend more time in there than you realise, either with friends and family or cooking yourself (well, the food…) into a zen-like state. As the heart of the home, it needs special attention when it comes to décor and palette, so here are some ideas to help you bring some love, light and colour into your kitchen.

    Use some contrasts

    Not many kitchens can accommodate a feature wall, so you may have to look to your counters and splashbacks to add that pop of colour. If you have your worktops in a neutral or dark shade, for example, get a glossy red splashback to stand out from it.

    More on splashbacks

    You may have mainly solid colours in your kitchen, so one idea is to have a patterned splashback to draw the eye. Try to keep the colour scheme of the splashback roughly in line with your prevailing palette, with at least one colour matching the overarching shade.

    Get some new stones

    Marble is great, as is granite, but if you’re after something different with a broader range of shades and patterning, then you could choose onyx for your counters and walls. You can find golden and green shades of this semi-precious stone, as well as dark brown and even rainbow.

    Paint or re-cover your cupboard doors

    A really cheap, quick and effective fix is to change the colour of your cupboard doors. You can use special glossy paint or use sticky vinyl for an almost instant upgrade.

    Stickers aren’t just for books

    There are loads of different wall stickers out there for you to choose from, so if you don’t fancy spending a day or two painting, then simply peel and go (after you’ve washed the walls down first). You could change your wall decals every season if you wanted.

    Bring in some colourful furniture

    If you can’t do much with your kitchen space in the way of redecorating or redesigning, you can freshen the place up by getting some colourful new furniture instead. Think of primary colours and lots of gloss.

    Install some LED lights

    Not only are LEDs much cheaper to run than incandescent or halogen lights, you can change the hue to suit your mood, from operating theatre white to relaxing-with-a-glass-of-Bordeaux red.

  • October, 2019 9th

    Should You Buy a Holiday Home?

    We all dream of buying and owning a holiday home, maybe somewhere by the sea or in the back of beyond, or maybe a little pied-à-terre in a city…

    The best things about owning a holiday home are that you have your own retreat for yourself and your family, you can earn some additional income from renting it to holidaymakers and you can pass the property on to your children or grandchildren.

    It’s a big step, though, so you need to think a few things through.

    The advantages

    Beneficial tax arrangements

    If you decide to let out your holiday home, HMRC will see it as a venture rather than an investment, which may mean discounts on council tax and mortgage interest relief.

    To be eligible for these benefits, your property should be available for rent for 210 days out of the year and actually let out for 105 days. You can’t let the property out to one particular individual for more than 31 consecutive days within this period, either. You should get some financial and tax advice before you set out so you understand your obligations and rights.

    You can get significant returns on your investment

    If you have a property in a popular area and you take advantage of the peak seasons, you could easily make £1,000 per week during the busiest times. There’ll be downtimes as well, of course, but with clever marketing you can have people trickling in. You should be flexible and offer short-notice two and three-day stays, as well as accept well-behaved pets, especially if you’re in a rural area.

    During vacant periods, you should decorate, do inspections, make repairs and maybe even relax there a bit yourself.

    It may be your retirement home

    Lots of people buy a holiday home in the area that they intend to retire in. You might even be able to retire mortgage-free and spend your golden years relaxed and worry-free. Plus, you may well have made friends in the area over the years so you’ll fit right in.

    The disadvantages

    You’ll need specialist insurance

    If you’re letting the place out, you’ll need a special type of insurance that covers potential damage caused by guests and also extended void periods that may mean a dip in income. Some areas may be more expensive to insure a holiday home in, depending on factors like flooding, security and so on, but you must have it anyway.

    Maintenance and repairs

    You’ll need to clean the property in between lets, as well as make regular inspections and carry out any repairs that arise. If you’re working full-time or you live some distance away, then you’ll probably have to hire a cleaning service to do this for you, which will eat into your profits.

    Stamp duty rises

    In April 2016, stamp duty levels rose for people buying second and subsequent properties. The starting threshold for stamp duty also fell to £40,000 for second homes, so many holiday homes involve an extra 3% in stamp duty on top of the standard rate.

  • 9th

    Appealing to Generation Rent

    House prices aren’t getting any cheaper and so there’s an entire generation of people in the UK that will have to rent for most, if not all, of their lives.

    As a growing demographic sector, they’ll have more and more of a voice and leverage as time goes on, so you’ll have to work with them rather than just rent to them. There’ll also be more rental stock coming onto the market as the build-to-let boom continues, so here’s how to compete with all the other landlords to make sure you appeal to Generation Rent.

    Reaching Gen R

    Gen R has been marketed at, to, on and in for pretty much all its life, on TV, online and, well, pretty much everywhere. This means that they’re all-but immune to most advertising, it’s more a case of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” with these guys.

    You have to know your people and know how to press all their buttons.

    They’re renting out of necessity

    Your potential tenants may be saving up a deposit of between five and 20%, which could be anything up to £50,000 or £60,000.

    Until they achieve that figure, they’ll have to rent and in many ways it’s a more flexible way of living, especially among younger people. At the moment, less than half of the UK’s households own the property they live in.

    Some prefer to rent

    Renting actually suits lots of Millennials because they can up sticks and move to a new job in a new area without the hassle of selling or letting their owned property. For many, renting is easier because they don’t have to do any serious upkeep and they can simply give notice and move if they need to.

    They’re more demanding

    It’s not enough to simply let a place out, despite the occasional leak and a funny smell when it rains. Tenants want, need and deserve a high-quality place to live that’s safe, secure and offers the same stability as having a mortgage.

    Marketing to Gen R

    Gen R is looking for experiences rather than possessions. Millennials area among the biggest spenders in the UK when it comes to leisure, nights out, gigs and food, spending 50% or so of their disposable income on doing and enjoying rather than owning.

    This is why you should emphasis how near the Korean noodle bar is to your rental property, as well as the comedy clubs and gyms.

    Allow your tenants to really make the place a home

    Tenants are more likely to want to buy homeware than owners because it’s the only control they feel they have. If you add to this feeling of control by letting tenants decorate the place (within reason) while they’re there, you could have the edge over your rivals.

    Do all your maintenance ASAP

    Generation Rent wants their repairs done ASAP because they might not have the remit to do it themselves. A responsive and proactive landlord is a landlord who keeps hold of tenants.

    You should also conduct regular inspections to make sure everything’s in working order.

    Be open and direct

    Gen R is informal and doesn’t expect euphemisms. They don’t like being talked down to, either, or having their time wasted. Be upfront and available to chat.

    Try a bit of live-streaming

    Millennials are busy people. They work hard and play hard so they don’t always have time to get to viewings. Live-streaming a tour or an open house is a good way to reach your target and also to boost the number of people interested in general.

    Write a blog

    Blogging about your properties and the locales they’re in is a good way to start a dialogue with your existing and prospective tenants. It’ll show that you understand them and their lives, as well as making you look approachable and competent.

  • October, 2019 8th

    Making Your Home More Sustainable

    We’re all looking to make our homes more sustainable, especially with the threat of climate change looming ever larger and energy prices doing pretty much the same.

    The one thing that deters or delays many of us, however, is the cost of solar panels, heat pumps, extra glazing and so on. This means you can be stuck forever at the planning stage, never realising your dreams of an eco-friendlier house.

    Sometimes, though, you have to work with what you’ve got and you can make a difference by simply changing a few habits. Some of these changes will actually save you money rather than cost you.

    Make sure your boiler’s well-maintained

    In the UK, more than half of a household’s energy costs are heating-related. You don’t have to endure the cold to save the planet, though; just get your boiler serviced once a year or so to ensure it’s working efficiently.

    You can also turn down the thermostat by one or two degrees without even noticing (try it, it’s true), which can cut your annual fuel consumption by up to 10%.

    Bring the outdoors in

    Most of us have a pot-plant or two in our homes, but by upping the number of living plants in your house you’ll be improving your indoor air quality.

    Many plants are great at absorbing and neutralising various pollutants, which is a brilliant alternative to purifiers. You can also build a living wall of herbs if you’re green-fingered enough, which will save you money on your groceries.

    Reduce your heat loss

    As well as turning down your boiler and getting it serviced regularly, you should prevent heat from escaping your building by installing insulation in the walls, floors and roof.

    This will involve some initial outlay, but you may be eligible for a grant or subsidy from your local government, so find out. It’s worth the investment and you may even be able to turn down your thermostat another notch.

    Choose second-hand décor and furniture

    Instead of heading straight to a well-known Scandinavian furniture store, or even a not-so-well-known independent store, for your decorations and furniture, how about a trawl through your local charity shops?

    You’ll be doing your bit to reduce plastic pollution, both in terms of the item itself (if it has any plastic in) and in terms of packaging.

    What’s even better is that you could find an amazing vintage piece for a knockdown price and you’ll be helping a good cause.

  • 8th

    How to Plan a Conservatory

    Having a conservatory can really add to the living space within your home, giving you extra room for dining, entertaining or just for, well, living.

    It’s not as simple as just planting a glass, concrete and metal structure on the side of your house, though. There are lots of things to consider before you start thinking about size, shape and materials.

    What will your conservatory be used for?

    What’s the main purpose of this conservatory going to be? Is it a playroom, a dining room, a home office or just an all-purpose breakout and occasional guest space?

    If it’s a playroom, for example, then you’ll need blinds to keep out strong sunlight. If it’s going to be an office, with expensive equipment in, then you’ll need extra security measures and thick blinds so no-one can see in even when the lights are on inside.

    How big does it need to be?

    When you know what it’ll be used for, you’ll have an idea of how big it should be. You’ll need enough floorspace to fit all your furniture in, as well as some space to move it all out of the way if necessary.

    What materials should you use?

    There are loads of designs, as well as the types of glazing, roofing and masonry, so think about what you want the conservatory to be. If you think of it as another room, then choosing brick for the lower walls will be ideal. If it’s “set apart” from the rest of the house, then floor-to-ceiling glass will help this feeling along.

    What about planning permission?

    Most conservatories don’t need planning permission, but a quick check won’t hurt and could save you a lot of money.

    If the roof will be higher than the roof of the main property, or if the footprint is more than 50% of your garden, for example, you might need planning permission.

    Where’s the best position?

    This is possibly the biggest consideration because if it’s south-facing you could be too hot in the summer, whereas north-facing is too cold in the winter. Of course, you could use special glass to prevent excessive heat gain, or extra insulation for a northern conservatory, or opt for a west-facing structure instead.

  • October, 2019 7th

    Have a Stylish Halloween

    It’s that time of year again; the nights are drawing in, the leaves are falling and terrifying supernatural creatures come out to prowl the earth… But enough about estate agents in autumn; if you’re going to market in October, you need to thrill viewers without sending them running.

    Here’s how you style your way to a Halloween sale.

    Focus more on the outdoor decorations

    If you’re usually that house with the crime scene tape and bloody-handprint window clings, you’re going to have to give it a rest this year. Your viewers aren’t expecting a film set or an escape room experience, they’re looking for somewhere to live.

    You should nod towards the season instead, by placing pumpkins, gourds, and autumnal-looking leaf wreaths on your porch and doorstep. You need to show that you’re fun and friendly, rather than deeply sinister or, worse, cold and boring.

    A good tip for your pumpkins is to use fake ones if they’re going to be on display for more than a few days. Otherwise, you end up with a squishy, smelly mess.

    Having said that, you can decorate a little bit indoors

    No, that doesn’t mean the window clings can come out of the loft. Use some autumnal decorations, like pumpkin spice candles, soaps, subtle fairy lights in the shape of leaves and so on.

    One good idea is to place a bowl of classic Halloween candy corn on a table, or maybe a bowl of crisp apples.

    Make sure your garden and porch are safe for people to walk in an around

    If you’re placing pumpkins and other decorations outside, make sure your porch and garden are well-lit so that no-one falls over. Similarly, it might be an idea to use flickering LED lights in any lanterns or gourds instead of real candles.

    Get the photographer in before you decorate

    Obviously, you want your place to be snapped up before the witching hour, but just in case it’s not, make sure people can’t see that you went to market in October, as it’s not a great look in January.

    Clean up on November 1

    We’re all guilty of leaving those spider webs up and those intricately-carved pumpkins out a bit too long. Not this year, though. Set aside some time on the days immediately after Halloween to tidy up and remove all evidence of spooky goings-on.

  • 7th

    What to Do if There’s Bats in Your Belfry

    If you’ve found your dream home and you’re all excited about getting the buying process started, you might feel somewhat horror-stricken by the realisation that you won’t be alone in the new place. Yes, you have bats in your belfry. Or, rather more likely, in your roof.

    You can’t remove them yourself

    In the UK, bats are actually an endangered and protected species. If you try to remove the bats, harm them or block the access to their roost (which is also, incidentally, your roof or attic) then you’re breaking the law.

    What can you do?

    Despite all the dodgy 1980s horror flicks you’ve seen over the years, you don’t have to do anything and you don’t have to worry abut them, either. Of course, if you’re a bit phobic about bats, then you might want to give the property a swerve, but if you’re more concerned about hygiene and long-term damage to your roof, then worry no more.

    Bats aren’t really a problem

    Instead of giving up on the new property, consider these points:

    • Bats are very clean animals and, as they’re not rodents, won’t chew at your wiring, the timber or anything else (like your neck);
    • they don’t build nests so there’ll be no messy and smelly bedding brought into their roost;
    • as seasonal animals, they won’t be in your loft all year round, although you can expect them to return on a predictable schedule;
    • the females usually have just one baby each year, so the numbers don’t increase significantly;
    • all the UK’s bats eat insects, so they’re doing you a huge favour, and
    • they really don’t turn into vampires; not even at Halloween.

    You only need to do anything if you’re working on the roof.

    As a protected species, bats mustn’t be disturbed. If you’re planning some non-urgent work to your roof or loft, then you’ll have to wait until they’ve left for the season, especially if it involves treating timber, for example.

    If it’s urgent work, then you must call the Bat Conservation Trust for advice and possibly help from specialists who can safely remove the bats and relocate them.

  • August, 2019 23rd

    How to Beat a Slow Market

    If you hear about the market being slow, then you might feel it’s not worth putting your place up for sale at all. You might be worried that you’ll be stuck, waiting for viewings for months and then lowering your asking price to a level that just doesn’t work for you.

    It doesn’t have to be this way, though. By following these tips, you can get ahead of a slow market.

    Choose the best estate agent

    Make sure you get the best estate agent possible. Ask friends and family for recommendations and comb through reviews. You need someone who’s proactive and who can offer something above and beyond the competition.

    Have a reasonable asking price

    Your estate agent wants to sell your place, so if they’re recommending a particular price point, it’s because they know it’ll work. They’re also going to take into account the prevailing market conditions, which may result in a slightly lower price than you hoped for, but if you’re looking to sell, you may have to accept this.

    Realise that you’re in a cycle

    So, your asking price is lower than you wanted… Well, so is pretty much everyone else’s! If you’re £10,000 below your ideal, see if you can’t knock a similar amount off the place you buy. Your sellers will be in the same position, because they’re trying to make moves in exactly the same market.

    You can also help yourself by looking for a property that’s been hanging around for a while; the sellers might be delighted to hear from you.

    Make the most of what you’ve got

    Do what you can for as little money as possible. Choose cheap but effective DIY projects so that you get as much improvement as possible without eating into your eventual profits.

    Stay out of the way when you have viewings, too, as this can make you look desperate and also cause prospective buyers to rush through the place without really looking.

    Be quick off the mark

    Make sure your paperwork is all sorted out and that you’re in a good position to proceed. If you’re up against a similar property, the fact that you’re ready to move forward could tip the balance in your favour.

    Have all the information about your energy performance, your warranties for appliances and so on all collated, as well as all the forms that your buyers’ solicitors will need. It might even be a good idea to get your own survey done so that you can present it to buyers, saving them money and you time.

    Be patient

    It’s not called a slow market for nothing. You can only work with what you have and if this involves waiting for longer than average, then you’ll have to accept that.

  • 23rd

    Does Overpaying Your Mortgage Pay Off?

    If you overpay your mortgage you can save money by lowering the balance of your home loan and also by reducing the amount of interest you’ll have paid by the end. You could be mortgage-free several years ahead of schedule.

    You can either make a one-off payment, for example if you have a windfall or inheritance, or make smaller payments on a regular basis, with your monthly payment, maybe. Improving your loan-to-value ratio by reducing your outstanding balance usually means you get preferential interest rates when you refinance, which helps you to save even more.

    Use an overpayment calculator

    Overpayment calculators look at how long it’ll take you to pay off your mortgage at your “usual” rate and also at your overpayment rate. You’ll also find out how much interest you’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

    Overpaying your mortgage can be better than putting money into a savings account; you’ll be paying less money at your mortgage’s interest rate, which could work out better than leaving your savings to grow at currently very low savings rates.

    Making overpayments

    Many mortgages have limits on the amounts you can overpay annually, usually 10% of your existing balance. Some let you pay more than this before penalising you, so do check.

    If you go over this limit, you may have to pay penalty fees which can eat into or even negate your savings, so call your provider to find out where you stand and how much you can pay in each year.

    How to make overpayments

    You can create an additional standing order or direct debit each month, or simply increase the amount that comes out at your statutory repayment. Alternatively, you might pay in a lump sum once a year or even a one-off windfall. You simply have to phone your provider and be ready with your card.

    The potential drawbacks

    Your lender may apply penalties

    This may be the case even with smaller overpayments, so make sure you’re not running to stand still. If you have the cash to spare, it’ll be better off in a savings account in these circumstances.

    Could the money be put to better use?

    If you have credit cards or loans with a higher interest rate, then your extra money should be diverted there instead.

    What will the money actually pay off?

    If you have a repayment mortgage, then make sure the money comes off the principal balance, not the interest.

    If your mortgage is interest-only, then all you’ll be doing is paying off more interest. To pay down your principal amount, you’ll have to talk to your lender.

    You may not have enough contingency cash

    Not all mortgages will let you redraw overpayments or take mortgage holidays, so even if you’ve made big overpayments, you won’t be able to get the money back in emergencies. If you think you might need to do this, then look for a flexible mortgage, as this will let you access the “extra” cash.

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