August, 2020 18th
The number of cars in the UK has increased steadily since the end of World War II and while you tend to think of cars as existing solely on the roads, they actually spend more time parked. In order to park your car, you need somewhere to park it and as the number of cars has increased, on-road parking spaces have become harder to find.
When someone’s looking at a property, one of the first things they’ll think about is the parking situation.
Having no dedicated parking space can deter buyers
If a potential buyer has to park their car a street or two away from the property, it can be a dealbreaker. Insurers don’t like it too much either, and will often offer discounts for cars parked off the street as they’re less likely to suffer dings from passing vehicles. A driveway can be a great investment and a great incentive to buyers.
The cost of installing a driveway in the UK
The individual price of your driveway will depend on where you are in the UK, as well as the materials you choose and, of course, the size of the driveway itself.
On average, you can expect to pay around £4,000 for a small paved driveway for one car. For a two-car driveway, the costs usually go up to $£5,000 and a driveway for three or four cars will cost from £6,500 to £7,000.
What sort of returns can you expect on your investment?
It’s important to consider how much of a return you’ll get on the money you spend on your driveway before you spend it. You need to think about whether most of the other houses in your postcode have driveways, as you not having one could disadvantage you. On the other hand, if they don’t all have driveways, you’ll be doing yourself a big favour as you’ll stand out more.
There’s no one answer to the question of how much your ROI will be with a driveway. If your property doesn’t have a lot going for it in other ways, then a driveway won’t be able to work miracles. You could, if everything else is in your favour, increase your asking price by up to 10% by adding a driveway or parking bay.
The average house price around Cheltenham is just under £350,000 at the moment, so in theory you could increase your asking price by £35,000 or more by building a driveway.
However, every postcode and property combination has a price ceiling and so if you’re almost at that ceiling, you’re unlikely to take your price much above it, so consider this in your calculations.
One of the biggest downsides to renting is that you can’t make any permanent changes to the property to personalise it. You can still make your rental property feel like “yours” if you use a few clever decorating and furnishing tricks.
Use matching colours
By using matching soft furnishings, like cushions, curtains, rugs and bedding, you can make a place feel more like you, especially if you have a particular theme. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to paint any walls, so this is how you bring your favourite hues in. Painting your own furniture is also a possibility, but make sure you don’t splash the floor…
Try removable wall stickers
Discuss this with your landlord first, as they might not like the idea of stickers, but they are ideal for decorating a wall without marking or damaging it. They’re great for children’s rooms or for creating a feature wall. Speaking of removable, fridge magnets are a brilliant way to personalise your kitchen and anywhere else with a large expanse of blank metal.
Employ rugs, throws and lots of cushions
Soft furnishings like these add texture, colour and personality to a space and they’re guaranteed not to damage anything!
Shine a light
A lamp can make a huge difference to a dim corner and offer opportunities to change the colour and ambience of the light and the space. A good lamp opens out a room, too.
If you replace the ceiling lightbulbs with your own choices, do inform the landlord and keep hold of the original ones because they’ll have been used to assess the property’s Energy Performance Certificate. When you leave, put the older bulbs back if necessary.
Bring some plants in
A good bank of foliage can bring life into a space, especially if you use colourful pots and planters. Houseplants can help to clean the air within a building, if NASA is to be believed.
Change your shower curtain
Possibly the easiest way to bring “you” into the bathroom is to swap out the plain, utilitarian shower curtain with something you’ll enjoy looking at as you soak.
If you can’t hang, then lean
You can’t knock a nail into the wall but you can lean things against it. Try leaning a big mirror or two against a suitable wall (maybe use some padding on the mirror to make sure you don’t scuff the paint) or rest a print on top of the mantelpiece.
Living by a lake, a river or even by the sea is a dream for many people in the UK and it certainly does have a lot to recommend it. The advantages tend to stand out more than the potential downsides as it’s easy to imagine summer evenings by the cool water or maybe taking a boat out.
There are, however, downsides as well as upsides to waterfront living so it’s important to think about the good and bad.
The advantages of waterfront living
Living by a lake or a river usually means that there are fewer properties immediately around yours, which makes life a bit more peaceful.
The air around your home may also be cleaner as you’re not surrounded on all sides by roads and many people living by bodies of water claim that their breathing is improved.
Depending on what the body of water is, you might have opportunities for fishing, boating, wildlife spotting and swimming pretty much on your doorstep.
Simply by being next to a river or lake means you’ll probably benefit from the cooling effect of the water, which can be a real advantage during the increasingly hot and humid summers the UK is having.
The disadvantages of waterfront living
The cooling effect of the water can be a bit of a downside when it’s winter and you might find that your property needs a bit of extra damp-proofing.
If you’re by the side of a river you might actually own part of the bank and therefore be responsible for its upkeep. This might appeal to you, but if it doesn’t, make sure you talk to your estate agent and solicitor to find out what, if any, duties you’ll be taking on.
Summer + water often = mosquitoes! Mozzies are moving into the south of the UK more each year, it seems. Still bodies of water tend to attract them a bit more than rivers, and you may well have to install screens in your windows and invest in repellent every summer.
Your household insurance could be significantly bumped up due to the potentially increased risks of flooding. This is a serious concern and you should make efforts to find out how often your postcode has flooded in recent years and what precautions you may have to take.
If you’re living in a larger property, or a barn conversion with a large main living space, then you’ll face some design challenges that are different from those faced by people in a three-bed semi.
You can’t use the same techniques and furniture in a larger space because everything will look too small and, in some cases, more like clutter than anything else.
You have two choices – minimalism or maximalism
You can’t have a bit of one and a bit of the other, or find a middle way here. It’s one or the other. You can embrace (as it were) the expanse of the room, or make sure you fill it with colour and suitably-sized furniture.
Minimalism is probably the easier of the two styles, as you just need to choose a calm and simple colour scheme and then deck the rest of the space out with a carpet or rug, some furniture (remember to keep proportions in line), a table, TV unit, book cases and so on. All of these accoutrements should be within the same colour palette as your walls and floor. It makes for an open room, but it can easily tip over into feeling unwelcoming, so be careful.
Lots of colour, lots of patterns, lots of shelves and colourful books with ornaments a-go-go here! You’ll need bright rugs or carpets, a feature wall, prints, cosy nooks with plants, maybe a dividing screen and lots of comfortable furniture in as many different styles and colours as you want. As long as your key pieces are the right size for the room, you can mix in a few smaller items to fill up the space and provide texture and variety. Just as minimalism can tip over into sparse, maximalism can tip into cluttered, so do watch out.
About that big furniture
Smaller furniture can look out of place in a larger room, possibly even ridiculous. If it’s alongside larger items then it doesn’t really matter, but the main pieces must be proportional to the room and its height.
You don’t have to buy specialist items (usually), just go the next size or two up. If you’re fond of three-seater sofas, try a four-seater that’s also a bit plumper, for example. If your old dining table had space for six, replace it with one with eight settings and bring in taller or wider chairs.
The same applies to bedroom furniture, so if you currently have a king-sized bed, upsize it to a super-king with bigger pillows and expansive throws.
As a landlord, or potential landlord, you’re almost certainly aware of the legal requirements you have to ensure a safe place to live for your tenants. You’ll have your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, for example, as well as your gas and electrical safety certificates.
There are several other responsibilities you have as a landlord that you might not be so aware of. Here’s five of them for you to think about.
Ensuring the property is secure
This includes the boundary of the property. If part of the garden fence is blown down in a storm, for example, it’s your responsibility to fix it, even if your tenant is responsible for maintaining the garden.
You also need to make sure any burglar alarms, locks and other security measures are well-maintained and approved by your insurer. If you don’t, and the property is burgled, you could be liable for your tenant’s losses.
Maintaining any specialist equipment or features
Your tenant can only be responsible for what the average person can do in terms of maintaining the property and garden. For example, if you have a pond with expensive koi carp in, you’ll need to bring in a specialist or do the care yourself.
Implementing any leasehold rules
If you’re letting a leasehold property, you’ll still be responsible for ground rent, service charges and so on. You’ll also have to make sure that you can actually rent out the property, as well as making sure they abide by any no-pet rules and similar.
Giving the tenants and letting agent essential information and keys
Both your letting agent and your tenant need to know your contact details, the refuse collection schedule, where the electricity and gas meters are (with keys if they’re housed in cupboards), which car space is theirs and the instructions for the central heating and any appliances.
Eliminating tripping hazards
Of course, your tenant could fall over their own property, but if they trip up over something like an uneven floorboard or a loose stair carpet, you could be liable. Similarly, you should signpost low doorways or uneven stone steps so that your tenants and visitors are aware of these potential hazards.
Last month Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a big stamp duty cut aimed at revitalising the housing market. Sunak raised the stamp duty threshold from £125,000 to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland. The holiday started in July and will run until March 31 2021.
Almost 90% of property transactions will escape this duty, with the bills on properties still eligible falling by an average of £4,500 nationally. The south east and London could see reductions of up to £14,999.
These changes could encourage buyers to take the plunge a little sooner, as well as free up some money to spend on improvements.
Here’s what the stamp duty holiday could mean for you
The current rates of stamp duty are:
Up to £125,000 – 0%
The portion between £125,001 and £250,000 – 2%
The portion between £250,001 and £925,000 – 5%
The portion between £925,000 and £1.5m – 10%
Anything above £1.5m – 12%
There are already some exemptions in place. For example, first-time buyers don’t have to pay stamp duty on the first £300,000 as long as the property doesn’t cost over £500,000.
The holiday rates
The portion up to £500,000 – 0%
The portion between £500,001 and £925,000 – 5%
The portion between £925,001 and £1.5m – 10%
Anything above £1.5m – 12%
The holiday should revive the housing market
The coronavirus pandemic and the attendant restrictions on viewings and removals had a large impact on the property sector. There were projections of a year-on-year halving of property transactions in April 2020, leading to calls for a stamp duty holiday to encourage movers. The fact that the holiday ends next March could well act as a spur to some house hunters.
The saved money may go to other sectors
When you’re budgeting to buy a new home, some of your money may well be earmarked for improvements, especially if you’re buying a doer-upper. If you save, for example, £5,500 on your stamp duty, then you could improve the bathroom as well as the kitchen. This makes your life easier and also boosts the income of a local plumber.
Who’ll benefit most from the stamp duty holiday?
Developers and estate agents will benefit from the uptick in interest and transactions, obviously, but first-time buyers and buyers at the lower end of the market and in cheaper areas will also feel it.
There’s a wide range of average property price around the country, so much so that property buyers in the south east and London paid more than 70% of the nation’s stamp duty in the 2018-2019 period.
Most properties in London are priced way above the usual £125,000 (or £300,000 for first timers) threshold. Only 5% of property transactions in London and the south east didn’t attract stamp duty. In the north, more than 40% of transactions escaped the levy.
Buyers in the south east are set to benefit most
It’s the areas around London, the south Midlands and the Cotswolds that will see the biggest stamp duty savings, with up to 95% of the transactions there seeing no or very low stamp duty levy.
While house-hunters have had broadly the same aims for decades – a nice garden if possible, good neighbours, a fair price and ease of access to school, work and town – the covid-19 pandemic has added a few more must-haves.
Property portal Rightmove conducted a survey recently to find out what movers want in a new property and it turns out that more than a third have changed their priorities as a result of the pandemic and lockdown.
People want a bigger home with a garden and room for an office
According to the 4,000-respondent survey, this year’s crop of house-hunters wants:
– A bigger garden than before, or at least access to one (63%);
– A bigger home than they currently have (43%);
– Easy access to a garage or parking space (36%);
– A better and bigger working space within the home (36%);
– Closer proximity to a park or green spaces (31%), and
– A rural location (30%).
In May 2020, Rightmove reports, searches for properties with gardens rose by 42% on May 2019 for buyers and by 84% for renters.
If you’re a vendor without a garden, don’t worry
If you’re about to put your property on the market and you haven’t got much of a garden, or one at all, then you don’t need to feel discouraged. If all you have is a little postage stamp of grass, then you should do as much as you can with it – landscape it, add some fairy lights and a chiminea, maybe. Making the space you have as welcoming and functional as you can will make all the difference.
If you’re in a flat with no individual access to a garden, then big up the communal outside space as much as possible, or make sure your lovely local parks feature highly in your listing. Realistically, all of these house-hunters clamouring for a garden won’t be able to find or afford one, so offer them a halfway house on the way to their dream.
Back in April 2020, the government’s Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations came into force and they’ve applied to all new private tenancies since July 1 2020. For existing tenancies, these regulations apply from April 1 2021.
Previous to these new regulations, mandatory electrical safety inspections were only required for houses in multiple occupation (HMO) in England. Landlords with other types of private tenancies were recommended to have an Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) every five years, but it’s wasn’t a legal requirement.
What do the new regs mean for landlords?
Under the new laws, private landlords must
– Make sure that electrical safety standards are met while the property is occupied by tenants
– Make sure every electrical installation on the premises is inspected and tested at regular intervals and by a qualified person. Regular intervals are five years, unless a previous inspection report recommends shorter intervals
– Make sure that the first inspection and testing is done before a new tenancy starts (July 1 2020), and
– Make sure the first inspection for existing tenancies is performed by April 1 2021.
Once the inspection and testing are done, landlords must:
– Obtain a report from the qualified person with the results of the inspection and the date of the next inspection
– Supply a copy of the report to each tenant on the premises within 28 days of the inspection
– Supply a copy of the inspection report to the local housing authority within seven days of a request
– Retain a copy for the qualified person who carries out the next inspection and test, and
– Supply a copy of the most recent report to new tenants and any prospective tenant who ask to see it.
What does the inspection and test actually involve?
EICRs must be performed by a fully-qualified and registered electrical engineer and their purpose is to find any potential fire or shock risks, to identify any substandard or defective electrical wiring, look for any lack of earthing or bonding and track down any overloaded circuits or appliances.
Local authorities will only accept certificates issued by qualified persons so the inspection must be performed by a qualified and registered engineer.
The engineer will issue an EICR with the details of any damaged, defective or dangerous components found. If the property is deemed to be unsafe, then the electrics will be declared unsatisfactory and the landlord must take remedial action.
If your electrics are unsafe
You must engage a qualified person to undertake remedial work within 28 days of the date of the inspection, or within the time period specified in the report if this is sooner.
Your engineer must give you written confirmation that the work has been done and that safety standards have been met. This conformation must then be supplied to your tenants and the local authorities, as well as the original report.
LAs can impose fines
If your LA believes you’re in breach of any of these duties then it can serve a remedial notice to force you to carry out the work.
If the LA concludes beyond reasonable doubt that you’ve breached the regs then it can issue a notice of intent to impose a financial penalty. Penalties will vary, but can’t exceed £30,000.
I had an EICR done within the last five years
Your EICR is valid for five years (unless your engineer recommends shorter intervals) and so if you had a valid report as of April 1 2020, you don’t need another inspection until it expires.
July, 2020 24th
The property market has mostly reopened after the covid-19 lockdown. The government announced on May 13 that buyers and tenants in England could view properties and move, with Northern Ireland following suit on June 15. Scotland held out for a while longer and relaxed the rules on June 29, while Wales said that moves could only be completed if the property had been left vacant for 72 hours minimum.
Estate agents can market occupied properties, but there are no in-person viewings allowed. There should be a Welsh government review in mid-July.
Can people move?
Buyers and sellers can move home, as well as view properties and market their own. Estate agents can visit properties to value them and to take photos and videos. The government has advised, however, that house-hunters do as much as possible online to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
How are estate agents affected?
Agents can open branches as long as they can abide by covid-19 workplace safety rules. Estate agents should only allow people to come into them by appointment and then only if no-one in the client’s household is showing symptoms. Virtual viewings are ideal, with in-person viewings allowed only if someone is seriously considering making an offer.
Open-house viewings aren’t permitted and agents can’t drive clients to properties.
How will viewings be conducted?
Viewings should be appointment-only and during the viewing, the agent and prospective buyer should wash hands and observe social distancing, as well as wear masks if possible. The current tenants or owners should leave the property if possible and upon their return, clean surfaces, door handles and so on.
Lots of conveyancing work can be done remotely, so a lot of conveyancers and property solicitors have been able to carry on as usual. Contracts, however, need to be made a bit more flexible so that any delays due to the virus are accommodated and understood.
Surveyors can resume surveys as long as they don’t enter any properties in which a household member is isolating or showing symptoms. Inspections should also be by appointment only, with only one surveyor visiting at a time. Social distancing is expected and sellers should minimise contact while allowing the surveyor access to all parts of the property. Lots of banks and lenders are offering automated valuations so that they can carry on processing valuations.
Removal companies can still work, but there are some guidelines. Movers need to contact removal companies as soon as possible in advance of the move and they should also do as much of the packing themselves as they can.
Movers also need to open all the internal doors and observe social distancing, as well as offer hand sanitiser and hand-washing facilities. Ideally, removals companies should use a buddy system so that the same people work together all the time. If a household member is isolating or showing symptoms, the removals company must delay the move.
July, 2020 21st
Japanese knotweed is the most invasive plant in the UK and while most people have heard of it, it’s a particular concern for homeowners, especially ones planning to buy and sell.
How to spot Japanese knotweed
If you suspect you have knotweed, you need to make fairly sure it is before calling in a professional removal service. There are other plants which look very similar to Japanese knotweed, so if you’re not quite sure, you can often send photos to a removal service for more expert identification.
Why is it such bad news?
It’s very destructive. It can cause a lot of structural damage by growing through cracks in concrete and brick, as well as by growing through asphalt and even into drains. This can mean expensive repairs.
Japanese knotweed is very common. It’s been spreading across the UK since it was introduced in the 1850s and now an estimated 4-5% of UK homes are affected.
It’s very difficult to kill. The usual rules don’t apply with Japanese knotweed – you can’t use weedkillers, cover it up, burn it or cut it up. You need, in fact, intense herbicide treatments for two or three years, or specialist excavation.
Japanese knotweed and the property market
Knotweed can scupper sales. Lenders won’t even think about a mortgage unless there’s a professional removal plan in place (and preferably in progress) and with an insurance guarantee.
The cost of treating knotweed can reduce the asking price of a property by as much as 10-15%, depending on how bad the infestation is and how much it’ll cost to remove.
Knotweed doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker
As long as you’re upfront about the presence of the knotweed, you can still sell your property, as long as you are honest with any potential buyers and make sure that there’s a plan in place to eradicate it.
You must, however, be open about it with your estate agent so that they can pass this information on to any potential buyers