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  • January, 2021 10th

    How to Protect Your Home if You Lose Your Job

    In recent years, a third of the UK’s adults has had a financial shock – redundancy, an incapacitating injury or illness or bereavement. 

    Most people worry about what would happen to their mortgage and their home if they were to lose their income for any reason. Similarly, most of us plough on, believing that we’ll always be in the lucky two-thirds of the population. 

    Savings can help you to weather financial storms

    Having a buffer of savings can help you, especially in the case of temporary (hopefully) redundancy, but if you find yourself out of work for the long-term, you might soon burn through your stash.

    Start up your rainy-day pot

    You should aim to have at least three months’ worth of living expenses squirrelled away, just for some breathing room. However, it’s not always easy to save money, especially as we’re all seeing the cost of living go up. There are lots of budget planners and automated savings apps on the market to help you to put away at least a small amount each month.

    Another option is income protection insurance

    This form of insurance is especially important if you have dependents. You could take out income protection insurance so that in the event of short to long-term unemployment or illness, your living expenses will be covered.

    You might find that you’re already covered for this by your employer anyway, so do ask HR about it so you know what you already have set up for you.

    Life insurance is another good idea

    If you’re worried about your spouse or children paying the mortgage in the event of your sudden death, then a life insurance policy could ease your mind. You could opt for a “decreasing term” policy which reduces the amount you’re covered for – and therefore the premiums – as your mortgage is reduced.

    Critical illness insurance might also help as it could off you a lump sum if you contract or develop one of several specified illnesses. You could pay off the mortgage or use the money for day-to-day living.

    Mortgage payment protection insurance 

    This form of insurance is pricier than the others, especially when you consider that it’ll only cover your mortgage payments. However, it covers your mortgage payments! It also covers them in full and for a set period of time so you can relax.

  • 10th

    Making Your Rental Bathroom Yours

    You’ve just moved into a new rental property and while it’s nice and clean, airy and spacious, it’s a bit anonymous. It’s not yours. You know that you can’t knock down any walls, repaint the lounge or landscape the garden, so what can you do to personalise your space?

    One of the easiest rooms to personalise without making permanent changes is the bathroom. Here’s how to turn your rental bathroom into your own little sanctuary.

    Change out your shower curtain

    This has to be one of the easiest fixes out there. All you need to do is to remove the existing shower curtain from its hooks, make sure it’s dry, fold it up and store it away. Once it’s out of sight, you can bring in another curtain that suits your aesthetic more. Simple.

    Use wall stickers

    The great thing about wall stickers is that they don’t have to go on walls. Of course, you can place them on the bathroom wall tiles, but you can also place them on the floor tiles if you want to. Similarly, if you have a window in the bathroom, then window clings can add interest and colour.

    Change the shower head

    If you prefer a rainfall shower head, or just a fancier-looking one, then this is an easy – and reversible – change to make. Sometimes, it’s the little touches that make the biggest difference.

    Fill the space with your bottles and towels

    If you have windowsill space or lots of shelving in the bathroom, then filling it with your favourite bottles of bubbles will make you feel at home. You can also bring in free-standing shelving of your own and fill it with your own towels and other bathroom accoutrements so that you feel right at home whenever you walk in.

    Lay down a brightly-coloured bathroom mat

    Very often, rental bathrooms are quite sterile and featureless, so a pop of colour and texture will bring the space to life, as well as add a touch of cosiness that is – crucially – easy to pick up and move to your next home. 

  • 10th

    Getting a Quick Sale

    Once you’ve decided to put your property on the market, you’ll almost certainly want a rapid sale so that you can move into your new home and onto the next phase of your life. Sometimes, fast sales just happen while other people might find they languish in the listings for several months. 

    While these different timescales are often down to luck (as well as great estate agents), there are several things you can do yourself to help things along a little.

    Make sure you have an up-to-date EPC

    Your Energy Performance Certificate is essential – your agent can’t market your property without it – so make sure yours is current. An EPC lasts for ten years and costs around £100, so if yours has run out, book a new assessment so that the report is available in good time.

    Go to market at the best time of year

    Spring is traditionally the best time of year to sell your property as everyone who postponed house-hunting for Christmas and New Year is hot to trot. Make the most of the suddenly longer days and warmer weather to attract buyers.

    Engage the right estate agent

    This is really important, as your agent will be doing most of the marketing, after all. If you’re lucky, your agent may already have a list of people looking for homes in your area, which is one of the reasons you should have all your paperwork ready…

    Get your paperwork together

    Engaging a solicitor, collecting title deeds, compiling the certificates for any structural work you’ve had done, or any planning consents, so that they’re all ready to present to your buyer, can save a lot of time.

    Start off your own hunt

    If you’ve got somewhere you want to move to, then this can increase the sense of urgency on all sides. A “well-motivated” vendor is a vital link in the chain and so you can encourage the other side to hurry along so that you don’t lose your dream property. 

    Create an information pack for potential buyers

    Your agent will know your area well, but you’ll know it really well. You’ll know that the corner shop owner sometimes closes 30 minutes early on Saturdays, how the old lady at number 77 likes to chat on summer evenings and what the local allotment waiting list is like at the moment. Added to the usual info about schools, GP surgeries and gyms, this micro-knowledge can provide that last little push a buyer needs to take the plunge.

  • 10th

    Keep Your Property Transactions Safe from Cybercrime

    Most of us know someone who has had their card details “skimmed” and then used fraudulently after a visit to a local ATM or online store. However, not many of us worry about cybercrime striking during property transactions; unfortunately, it’s a growing risk.

    Cybercrime is the biggest security threat to property transactions

    The Solicitors Regulation Authority reported £9.4 million in client money stolen in 2016 and £10.7 million in 2017, thanks to cybercrime.

    A common example of this type of crime is a solicitor emailing their company bank account details for you to send you deposit of completion funds to. A criminal then intercepts this email and changes the bank details to their own. The email looks legitimate, but the bank information has been changed. You send the money, which then disappears.

    This type of fraud comprises more than 70% of the cases reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

    Other examples include emails from fraudsters claiming to be working at your solicitor’s firm, as well as letters and phone calls that purport to be from your solicitor or conveyancer. These communications give you the bank details to send your money to and you do so in good faith without realising that you’ve just sent the money to a criminal.

    Beware of Friday afternoons

    These scams are known as Friday afternoon frauds because there’s often a high volume of transactions on Friday afternoons and people are also less vigilant then.

    These Friday afternoon frauds are becoming more common and also more sophisticated so your solicitor should be aware of the risks and also have safeguards in place to make transactions safer for their clients.

    Here’s what you can do to protect yourself

    When you receive an email, a phone call or a letter with your solicitor’s bank account details, call your solicitor to make sure that the numbers tally before sending any money. It’s worth the effort when there’s large sums of money involved.

    Check everything before making any moves. Is the email the right email? Very often, fake emails use a different server or provider to the legitimate one. Is the phone number the usual one? Is the letter presented in the same format as usual? On the same paper? If there’s anything different, check with your solicitor before parting with a penny. Don’t feel pressured to send money immediately – it can wait until you’re 100% certain.

    Make sure your anti-virus software and other security measures are up to date and working, both on your PC and your mobile devices. The more aware and cautious you are, the safer everyone in your purchase chain is.

  • 10th

    Don’t Let New Year Get in the Way of a Sale

    Now that Christmas and New Year are done, dusted and packed away for another 12 months, you might be thinking about putting your property on the market. 

    While you might think that January and February are quiet times for property sales, you shouldn’t let this dampen your enthusiasm for a move. There are, however, a few things you should do to make sure your home looks as desirable as possible, both online and in person (or should that be in brick?).

    Remove all traces of Christmas and New Year decorations or celebrations

    We’ve all done it – left a Yuletide-looking candle on the mantlepiece or neglected to remove festive window clings until March. Even if you’ve boxed away the baubles and taken the tree to be shredded, there might be some evidence of past festivities lurking on a shelf or windowsill. 

    Scour the place to make sure there’s nothing to indicate Christmas or New Year before your estate agent’s photographer arrives as this will “date” the photos. If you’re still on the market in February or March, then people will spot these tell-tale signs and wonder why no-one else has snapped up your place.

    Bring in as much light as you can

    With any luck, your photos will be done on a sunny day so that your interiors look as bright and vibrant as they can be. If your photos are booked on a day that turns out to be dark, then turn on all your indoor lights and open the curtains as wide as they go.

    Hold viewings during the day if possible

    The evenings are getting lighter in January and February, but if your viewings are conducted mainly after work hours, they’ll be in the dark. Try to organise appointments for weekend daytimes, or even early mornings if this is feasible. Lots of us are still working from home, so if you can vacate the place for 30 minutes, you could shift your viewings to daylight hours.

    Pretend that it’s spring already

    Spring always gets people hankering after new beginnings, especially at the end of several cold, dark, damp months. Invest in some bright cushions, throws and curtains, as well as in some fresh flowers, so that people feel they’re casting off the winter gloom as soon as they step over your threshold.

  • 10th

    How to Buy to Let Successfully

    Whether you’re new to buy-to-let or whether you’re expanding your portfolio, you need to look at these five factors in order to BTL successfully.

    Look outside your immediate postcode

    You don’t need to buy a property in your local area, especially if your annual yield won’t be that great. There are lots of areas in the UK in which purchase prices are relatively low but which have fairly buoyant rental prices. Think about the difference. If a nearby town has an average purchase price that’s 20% lower than your hometown but has average rents that are only 10% lower, you’re onto a winner.

    Make sure tenants want to rent in the location you’re looking at

    If you buy a property in a popular area then you’ll have no shortage of prospective tenants and few, if any, void periods. Look at properties with lots of amenities – shops, cafes, bars, schools, transport links and soon – nearby so that you can appeal to tenants.

    Look at properties with low maintenance costs

    Your yield shouldn’t be eaten up by maintaining a period property or a property that needs a lot of work to meet safety standards.

    While a period property might attract tenants due to its age or uniqueness, you might end up spending a lot of their rent on fixing the plumbing or sorting out damp. 

    Think about the properties that are the most popular with tenants

    While that one-bedroom flat in a popular school catchment area might be cheap and handy, how many families are going to want it? How many single people or childless couples are going to want to live in Motherland?

    Two-bedroom flats and houses are immensely popular – both with smaller families and with singles and couples – so focus on these rather than on one-bedroom dwellings.

    Find a great letting agent

    If you’re not living near to your BTL property, then a good letting agent is essential. You don’t have to do much – or any – of the work involved and you know your property and tenants are in safe hands.

    In addition to this, a decent letting agent will always have prospective tenants on its books so will be able to keep your property occupied, as well as taking care of any maintenance issues that may arise during or between tenancies. 

  • 10th

    Paying Your Rent Can Help You to Get a Mortgage

    When you apply for a mortgage, you need to convince the lender that you’re willing and able to make the monthly payments for the duration of the loan. The lender will look at your financial status, your income and outgoings and, probably most importantly, your credit score. If you’re a tenant at the moment, paying your rent on time can help to boost this score, so it’s important that you stay on track.

    What is your credit score?

    Your credit score is the rating created by the credit agencies that tells lenders how much of a risk you are when (or if) they decide to lend you money. The higher the score, the less of a risk you are and so the more willing lenders often are to offer you loans.

    This score is compiled using your past and present handling of credit products – credit cards, overdrafts, loans and even mobile phone contracts. The credit agencies take into account how diligently you’ve maintained credit agreements in the past, as well as any defaults, late payments and so on you’ve racked up.

    A rental contract isn’t a credit agreement, so how does it affect my credit score?

    It’s not a credit agreement, no, but it is a contract that involves a monthly payment and responsibility. Paying your rent in full and on time each month shows that you’re serious about paying your bills and credit some reference agencies include rent payments in your score calculation.

    Will my rental payments definitely feed into my score?

    Not all credit reference agencies look at rental payments, but in recent years there have been a few initiatives that offer platforms to keep records of rental payments. The Rental Exchange lets landlords and tenants sign up to it so that records of their payments can be kept and used by the CRAs that include rental agreements.

    Is it a good time for tenants to buy?

    It’s possibly the best time for a while! Last year saw the reintroduction of 95% mortgages, which became very rare in recent years. There’s also the extension of the stamp duty holiday – until at least the end of March – which could save buyers up to £15,000, as well as an extension to the government’s Help to Buy Scheme. For many first-timers, the next few months could be the time to take that crucial first step onto the ladder.

  • 10th

    Energy-saving Tips for the Winter

    Although Christmas and New Year are over for another 12 months (11 if you’re keen!), spring and its warmer, lighter days is still a couple of months away. In some parts of the UK, January and February can be colder than November and December, so your energy expenditure can rise when you’d rather be reining it in. Here are some good ideas for staying warm and well-lit for less until spring finally arrives.

    Turn down your thermostat just a notch

    Many of us set our thermostats to 21C or even 22C, believing that this is the ideal indoor temperature. In reality, 19C or 20C is comfortable, so turn your heating down by one degree to save on fuel. You won’t really notice it, but you could make significant savings.

    Turn off your heating 15-30 minutes earlier in the evening

    If you have central heating, your radiators will continue to kick out heat for a while after the heating is off, so cut down on your bills by setting the timer 15-30 minutes earlier than it is now. You’ll still be warm and toasty as you’re getting into bed.

    Look around the house for draughts

    If you have draughty windows and doors, you could be losing as much heat as you would if you left a window open! Check your front and back doors, as well as your windows, for gaps and if you find any, seal them with insulation tape.

    Use energy-savings bulbs

    Darker mornings and evenings mean that we use lights more, so make sure that your bulbs are as energy-efficient as possible. Switch to LEDs where you can and don’t forget to turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

    Do laundry at 30C

    Of course, you might prefer to wash towels and bedding at 60C, but aim for 30C for as many loads as you can as this can save quite a lot of energy. Another energy drain is your tumble drier, so try to use your washing line as often as possible. Clothes will dry quite well on cold sunny days – just don’t forget that they’re out there if it starts raining!

  • November, 2020 13th

    What You Wish You’d Known Before Moving

    We all know that moving house is a stressful experience and we all brace ourselves to a certain extent, but lots of Brits find it more taxing than they expected. 

    Property portal Zoopla conducted a study recently to find out what the average Brit feels, thinks and wishes they’d known before the moving process started. 

    The stress is higher than expected

    On average, a house move takes 14 weeks from start to finish and almost two-thirds (62%) of the study respondents said they’d found their move more stressful than they’d anticipated. 

    Only 11% of the study subjects said their move had gone without any extra hassle or hitches and an unfortunate 18% said their sale had almost fallen through or actually failed.

    Many buyers forge a relationship with the seller

    As well as the financial investment involved in a house purchase, many buyers make an emotional investment. More than a third of UK buyers said they’d developed a personal rapport with the seller in order to reduce the risk of the deal failing.

    The financial costs can be higher than expected

    Of the 2,600 survey respondents, 44% were hit by unexpected charges of more than £500, with 30% paying out an extra £1,000 or more and 15% paying more than £1,500 in “surprises”. Many of these extra costs were to surveyors and conveyancers. 

    If I’d known then what I know now…

    Almost half (46%) of the survey sample said they wish that they’d researched the area more before they decided to buy there. Chief among buyer regrets were:

    • Not speaking to neighbours – 16% of the respondents said they wished they’d spent some time getting to know their new neighbours before buying
    • Not checking out the broadband – 15% of the survey subjects said they should have looked at the broadband speeds in their new postcode, and
    • Not checking out the mobile signal – 11% of the respondents said they regret not looking at mobile signal strength at the property.

    Sellers had regrets too. Despite 84% of the respondents appreciating the importance of staging, 53% of sellers said they wished they’d bothered as it may have earned them a higher asking price. Unfortunately, 31% of the survey respondents said that a lack of funds prevented them from making this investment.

    Other regrets among sellers included not decluttering enough in advance of moving. More than half (52%) of movers said they should have done more before they started packing up.

    Underestimating the time and effort it takes to sell and move was the other big regret, with 20% of the survey sample saying they wished they’d gone to market earlier.

  • 13th

    Return of the Deposit

    Lots of tenants worry that they won’t get all of their rental deposit back, or, in the worst-case scenario, any of it at all. Rental deposits in the UK can run into several thousand pounds, so losing some or all of it can be a huge deal to tenants.

    In 2007, the government introduced deposit protection schemes to prevent landlords from withholding some or all of their tenants’ deposits and while these schemes have provided some reassurance, many tenants don’t know where they stand. They fear they’ll be at the mercy of an unscrupulous landlord with nowhere to turn. 

    Here’s what you need to know, as a tenant, about your rental deposit.

    Using a reputable letting agent is vital

    If your letting agency has a good reputation to uphold then it’ll only want to work with equally reputable landlords. A good letting agency will filter out unscrupulous landlords so you can be more confident about finding one who will honour the terms of your contract and deposit. 

    Always look for letting agencies that are members of ARLA PropertyMark, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or safeagent, as they have to abide by a strict code of practice when dealing with rentals.

    The law is on your side

    It’s the responsibility of the landlord to place your money in a scheme and to give you the scheme’s details. The scheme should also tell you under which circumstances your landlord can retain all or some of your deposit at the end of the tenancy.

    Take the inventory very seriously

    There’s no statutory requirement for you and your landlord to agree on a full inventory at the start of your tenancy, but it’s a good idea. If you have a full inventory, with photos of larger items and white goods, then you can argue against claims of excessive wear and tear if they arise.

    Fair wear and tear is to be expected and you aren’t, as a tenant, legally-bound to leave the property in exactly the same condition as it was when you moved in. Your landlord should expect some wear and tear and budget accordingly for things like paint touch-ups and new microwaves.

    Your landlord has 10 days after the end of the tenancy to return your deposit

    Your landlord is legally obliged to return your deposit – minus any reasonable deductions – to you within 10 days after your tenancy ends.

    If your deposit returns minus deductions that you think are unreasonable or excessive then you should contact your letting agency ASAP as they can usually help you to resolve the issue.

    Making a formal complaint about your landlord

    You should make your complaint via email to your letting agent if you have one. If not, you need to complain directly to the landlord

    Try to gather photographic evidence, as well as records of phone calls and emails, to back up your complaint. Your agent or landlord should also give you a copy of their complaints procedure.

    Most often, complaints are resolved within eight weeks, but if you’re not satisfied or the complaint is taking longer to sort out you can approach the Housing Ombudsman Service.

    You have six months from the last response from the landlord or lettings agency to file your complaint.

    There’s also the tenancy deposit scheme dispute resolution service

    If you decide to use this service then your landlord also has to agree to use it. The service will look at the evidence from both parties and its decision about the deposit is final.

    Your last resort is court action

    If you believe that your landlord has acted illegally by, for example, not placing your deposit in a protection scheme, then you can take them to court after you’ve complained to your Trading Standards office. 

    This can be very stressful for both parties, however, so try to exhaust all other avenues first. Finding a good letting agent is the best preventative measure you can take!

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