We have recently covered how to find good electricians and plumbers, as well as how to identify a reputable building contractor, but in this article we will focus on how to identify the people we will trust with designing and planning any major building or renovation work we want done. We’re talking about the architects and designers whose ideas and expertise will be crucial when it comes to making our own vision for a particular property become a reality.
How to Find a Good Architect
All architects should be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) after completing a training period lasting seven years. The ARB is an independent organisation set up by the Government to be the UK’s regulator of architects. You can call the ARB at 0800 389 6221 or visit the ARB website where you can take advantage of a multitude of resources to gain information on finding and using the right architect, as well as using their ‘find an architect’ search function to check up on a business or individual you may potentially hire. You can search for an architect using their registered business address, their company name or via their ARB registration number.
If you don’t know of any architect firms that you want to check up on, then you can also input your postcode to identify the architects that operate in your local area. Once you have identified the architect you want to use, the ARB website should provide you with the contact details you need to get in touch with them.
Additionally, you can call the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on 020 7580 5533 or visit the RIBA website which is another registry that only accepts membership from architects who adhere to a strict code of conduct. Again, you can search for a registered architect using your postcode, town or city.
How to Find a Good Kitchen or Bathroom Designer
To find a reputable bathroom or kitchen designer, you should call the Institute of Kitchen, Bedroom & Bathroom Installers (iKBBI) on 0845 519 2007 or visit the iKBBI website where you can use their search function to find a good designer in your local area. The organisation carries out credit checks, police checks and ensures their members adhere to strict regulations. You can also use the website to research your rights as a consumer and find out what to do in case of a dispute between a contractor and yourself.
Additionally, if it is a bathroom you intend to renovate or have built, you can call the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) on 01782 631619 or visit the BMA website. The BMA is the trades body specifically for businesses dealing with bathrooms and bathroom products. Find out which firms are registered with the BMA to ensure they will adhere to the trades body’s strict code of practice.
Some ‘Brexit Clauses’ Have Indeed Been Activated
It seems some buyers are indeed activating their Brexit clause and pulling out of purchases due to the uncertainty that a Britain forced to go it alone will bring. However, a majority of purchases still seem to be going through.
The Managing Director of the luxury development firm Two Fifty One, David Humbles, told The Guardian newspaper that, “We can confirm that a few purchasers have decided not to proceed given the uncertainty of the market. However, the majority are continuing with their purchase and the marketing strategy to offer the pledge at the launch was a worthwhile exercise.”
Number of ‘Brexit Clause’ Activations is Growing
While the number of the clauses being activated to cancel sales is still relatively small, it does seem like the number has the potential to increase as more and more uncertainty over the future of Britain grows. Part of that issue is down to the immediate resignation of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said in his resignation speech that, “I would reassure those markets and investors that Britain’s economy is fundamentally strong and I would also reassure Britons living in European countries and European citizens living here there will be no immediate changes in your circumstances. There will be no initial change in the way our people can travel, in the way our goods can move or the way our services can be sold.”
However, it’s clear that the British people won’t get a clear picture of what exactly the future does hold until Britain officially declares its intention to leave the EU and negotiations on the manner of that exit are complete.
Scotland Sees a Boost in Market Interest
One region of the UK that might ultimately benefit from Brexit is Scotland due to their likely determination to remain part of the EU. The property website Rightmove revealed that on the morning of the Brexit result, searches for properties in Edinburgh shot up by 250% from the previous day when the result was unknown. Despite that interesting statistic, there doesn’t appear to be any great panic throughout the UK property market and it remains to be seen exactly what the future holds.
For a new buy-to-let investor, choosing which to go for can be a dilemma, especially if they have the means to take of everything themselves but could possibly do with a more experienced head taking care of certain matters.
The Two Options Provided by Letting Agents
Within the letting agent option there are usually another couple of options depending on exactly how much of the burden the landlord wants them to take, with most letting agents offering a two-tiered service.
The first tier is a ‘let only’ service where they take care of finding a tenant for the property. They will identify or advertise for potential tenants, then interview them and check their references. If successful, the letting agent would then take care of the tenancy agreement and secure the deposit and first month’s rent from the tenant, for which their fee is likely to be somewhere around the 10 to 15% mark of the monthly rent. This option can be ideal for new buy-to-let investors who need that experienced head to get them rolling but would then prefer to take full control of the reins thereafter.
The second tier would be a ‘full management’ service, which would be ideal for anyone who might be too busy to be on stand by for any issues your tenants might have, or who doesn’t want the stress and bother of chasing up rent payments or arranging for plumbers to go and fix a broken boiler. When a letting agency takes full management of the process, they take care of everything in the ‘let only’ service but will then remain in charge of maintenance of the property as well as securing the monthly rent payments. This full management service can cost upwards of 15 to 20% of the monthly rent, and is of course an ongoing payment rather than a one-off as it is for the ‘let only’ fee.
When using a letting agency, it’s important that you only use an agent that is registered with one of the professional estate agent organisations such as those listed below.
ARLA (Association of Residential Letting Agents)
NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents)
UKALA (United Kingdom Association of Letting Agents)
The reason for only using an agency registered with one of these national organisations was explained by Ian Potter, Managing Director of ARLA, to the Telegraph newspaper. Mr Potter said:
“There are no restrictions on who becomes a lettings agent, so seeking advice from an agent affiliated to a professional organisation is highly recommended. They are trained, offer client money protection and there is a redress scheme in place if things go wrong.”
Letting agents are certainly worth the money if the time you have to spend on looking after your tenants is severely limited as occasionally they will need you to be there for them which will intrude on your other endeavours. Paying a letting agency to take care of everything for you will repay you in time and reduced stress, so they are certainly worthwhile in many cases.
The latest Housing Market Report by the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) says that 28% of total property sales during March were by people purchasing their first home. That number has risen from 24% in February and there is every possibility that it will continue to rise in the coming months, though perhaps not by such a large jump as 4%.
Availability Set to Increase for First Time Buyers
The NAEA’s latest report also reveals that 36% of estate agents (who are NAEA members) believe that the first time buyer numbers will increase significantly due to the drop off in competition for properties. An even larger 39% believe that the Stamp Duty rise of 3%, introduced on April 1st, will reduce interest in available properties from investors seeking properties to let out or keep as second homes, thus further increasing the availability of properties for first time buyers.
The NAEA Managing Director, Mark Hayward, says that, “The last few months, first time buyers have had to compete with landlords for the same properties and those landlords have really pushed hard to complete ahead of the rise in Stamp Duty. Now, in theory, things should get easier for first time buyers as we have seen with a slight increase in sales this month and as those seeking to buy-to-let will tail off.”
Long Term Prospects Have Not Greatly Improved
Although this sounds very hopeful for first time buyers, Mr Hayward did sound a warning that buyers seeking their first homes should not expect any major changes to their prospects. He continued, “However, in reality, it’s unlikely in the long term that first time buyers will notice a huge difference, as prices remain high and housing is in short supply. The Government needs to significantly increase the number of homes that are being built in this country to really make a difference to those that are struggling to get on the housing ladder.”
Supply Increases as Demand Decreases
The NAEA Housing Market Report reveals that the supply of houses available to all kinds of buyers, not just first timers, grew by a huge 54% in March from 35 properties available to buy (per branch associated with the NAEA) in February to 54 in March. However, demand actually decreased in March, with NAEA estate agents reporting 417 (on average) potential buyers registered per member branch, which is significantly down from the 463 that were registered in February, which was the highest level in well over a decade.
A relatively large 63% of agents are already predicting that supply will significantly decrease as the stamp duty increase pushes many landlords out of the market.
Research Reveals Current Buy-to-Let Increase
The research by the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), which discovered the widely held belief that rents are going to rise after April, also revealed that a small majority of letting agents (52%) have reported an increase in interest in buy-to-let properties. That amount has increased from 47% in January. Supply also increased a little during February, with demand for letting properties at 37%, which is actually the highest percentage it has been since the same time last year.
ARLA’s Managing Director, David Cox, said, “Stamp duty changes are now imminent, and as well as hitting small landlords, they will also impact institutional investors. Although members are reporting a rush from landlords trying to snap up their buy to let investments now, it’s likely that we’ll see the buy-to-let market drop like a stone come April, and probably not pick up again until next year. This will most certainly cause rents to increase, with supply dropping, as competition for the limited availability of properties intensifies.”
Housing Demand has Also Increased
ARLA’s report reveals a rise of 19% in demand during February. That works out at about 37 prospective renters registered with each UK letting agent (who are members of ARLA). Last February in 2015, that number was at 40 but dropped significantly over the rest of the year. It is now climbing back near that recent peak.
Mr Cox continued, “The demand for housing continues to intensify as supply remains an issue across most of the country. We are concerned that the government rhetoric of wanting to help people on to the housing ladder does not tally with their action of continuing to target the rental market with additional costs. Some landlords will simply withdraw from the market whereas others who can take the hit of the extra stamp duty will simply raise rents to cover the extra costs. The dream of home ownership will remain out of reach for many as we move closer towards becoming a nation of forever renters.”
There can be a lot more to creating flow if you want delve deeper into the various methods used to create positive flow in a home, but the following ideas are good basics to start with to see if it’s something you might be interested in doing for your own house.
Knock Through Non-Structural Walls
Most of these ideas will depend entirely on the lay out of each individual home, and that’s especially the case when it comes to knocking through walls. But if your home features a separate dining room and living room, or any kind of spare room downstairs, then you should seriously consider removing the dividing wall (assuming it is a non-structural wall). While you technically ‘lose’ a room, you have actually created a huge living area which features less of the divisions that can impede the natural flow of the home.
Remove Kitchen Islands
If you have an enormous kitchen, then a kitchen island might be ideal for your circumstances, but beyond that they can take up unnecessary space and cause blockages in the flow. These blockages are areas that are awkward to access or cause a space to appear smaller or more cramped than it actually is. Kitchen islands can make a kitchen feel so much smaller, so if you are not living in a home with a huge kitchen that practically swallows up the island then start imagining the space without it.
Remove Unnecessary Doors
There are so many homes which feature hallways with an abundance of doors leading off them. This creates the impression that the hallway is a separate entity with little purpose other than to lead you to other rooms. But if you remove the unnecessary doors you can incorporate the hallway into the rooms it leads onto. Do you really need doors on the living room, the dining room and the kitchen? Possibly you do, but if not then remove them so the hallway feels almost like an extension of the rooms it is connected to rather than a closed-off space with little purpose beyond its basic function.
In the future, we will have more blogs detailing more advanced tips and tricks to help open up the right kind of space in the home and create that magical-sounding ‘flow’. Such amendments to a house will not only improve your every day living experience, but can also make your property a much more attractive proposition to a prospective buyer.
Find the Right Tenants
This is the most obvious one but a lot more goes into it than you might imagine. Mostly, it’s all about picking the right tenant to begin with. You want somebody reliable, of course, but you also want to find a tenant who will be in the property for the long-term. This means you must ask for and then follow-up on their references. Find out about their recent living situations, their reasons for moving out of their previous property and their plans for the future.
Some people will obviously tell you what you want to hear, so you’ll need to check up on them as much as possible and play it smart. For example, if you have a one bedroom flat available and a young couple with a new born baby are interested, then you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be looking to move onto somewhere with an extra room as soon as possible.
Keep the Tenants You Have
First off, you need to keep the property in a desirable condition so that it is a pleasant place to live. This means staying on top of any maintenance and always being available should problems with the property arise. If your tenants do move out, then find out why they are moving out and see that you make any amendments to the property to avoid the same issue arising in the future.
Another facet of keeping your tenants is the rent. Obviously, we all want to make as much money as possible but if raising the rent causes your tenants to move out and leave you with a tenancy void of even just one month, then you will end up losing money. If you have a good tenant already, then it might be in your best interests to keep the rent as it is to ensure you don’t lose the tenant.
Take Advantage of Tourist Seasons and Special Events
Obviously this can depend on where your property is situated, but should there be any tourist attractions reasonably near you, then you can possibly solve a summer tenancy void problem by renting out to visitors on short-term contracts. Special events can offer a similar opportunity to rent your property out for the short-term as well.
One last bit of advice is to make the most out of your tenancy voids by investing in the property to improve it, even to the point of raising it into a higher rent bracket. You can use the period when nobody is in the property to make any renovations that will improve your tenants’ living conditions. Such work will pay dividends in the end so think positively and make the most of the time.
Renovation and Regeneration
Massive improvements to the local infrastructure along with extensive redevelopment in the residential zones in Southwark, Borough and Bermondsey, has seen prices rise by 106% in the five years since the market was at its lowest ebb. The SE1 area has seen a boom in stark contrast to most of the rest of the city, with the average London price rise over the same period lagging far behind SE1 at just 51%.
The construction of the Shard is being credited with inspiring commercial development and investment in the area, as well as attracting an influx of young professionals. Many new jobs have sprung up around the Southbank, as well the area being close to the hub of technology and creative industries. The close proximity of the financial sector is another benefit which has helped fuel the surge in property prices.
No Sign of a Slowdown in SE1
Chestertons’ Tower Hamlets Sales Manager, Matt Johnson says there is no sign of a slowdown when it comes to the new homes sector, stating:
“The residential sales market has not been without its challenges this year, the number of transactions has fallen slightly in fact when compared to 2014, and we’ve seen slower price growth than last year. But owners are still enjoying average sales values in SE1 that are 70% above their pre-global recession peak in 2008.”
Johnson concluded, “Coming into the final quarter of the year, a total of 2,916 homes in 21 schemes were under construction and a further 4,146 homes in 22 schemes had planning permission.”
Rents Rising with Sale Prices
Chestertons’ Lettings Manager, Laura Kitts, added, “Tenant demand was nearly eight percent higher in the first three quarters of the year compared to the corresponding period of 2014, and the number of homes available for let was up by more than half. The wider choice of lets available hasn’t dampened rental growth either, with the average rent [prices] on new tenancies having risen by around five percent over the past year alone.”
It appears that there are still plenty of opportunities for property investors in various parts of London looking to make money on housing in the capital.
The average cost of buying a home now sits at £290,963.
Good News for First Time Buyers
These recent figures were collected by Rightmove, who also have some good news for first time buyers. Rightmove say that the lower end of the market has seen the smallest increases, with two bedroom houses only seeing a maximum rise of 0.1%. This is particularly good news for first time buyers as these two-bed homes are exactly the kind of properties they will most likely be looking for in order to get onto the property ladder.
Rightmove’s Director and Housing Market Analyst, Miles Shipside, said, ‘Upwards price pressure remains with the second highest rise seen at this time of year for nine years. But encouragingly for first time buyers, there’s more fresh choice with more property coming to market in their target sector.’
Rightmove also believe that changes to the landlord tax laws could be having a knock-on effect to the housing market in general. Shipside added, ‘With their asking prices pretty much the same as a month ago, perhaps the knock-on effects of the more punitive landlord tax regime have arrived early and they now face a dilemma over whether to buy now or wait to see if prices drop in this sector over the next few months.’
House Price Variations Across the UK
Another interesting facet of this recent data is the variation of price rises throughout the whole country. Prices have also fallen in some areas while actually increasing year-on-year. The East Midlands, for example, has seen a decrease of 1.8% but are actually up by 2.8% year-on-year. Similarly, Yorkshire and Humber saw a decrease of 0.2% but are actually up by 2.8% year-on-year. In Greater London, the different is quite dramatic, with a decrease of 0.9% but a year-on-year increase of 7.8%, leaving the average Greater London house costing £610,741.
All of these house price trend figures from Rightmove are good news in general for the UK housing market, with growth across the board but less so in the lower end where first time buyers should find themselves still able to afford to get their foot on the ladder.
From April 2016, those in England and Wales will have to pay a 3% surcharge on each stamp duty band.
George Osborne said the new surcharge would raise £1bn extra for the Treasury by 2021.
Landlords reacted angrily to the change, saying it would "choke off" investment in rented properties.
The stamp duty surcharge will lift each band by 3%. That means that for properties worth between £125,000 and £250,000, where the stamp duty is 2%, buy-to-let landlords will pay 5%.
For the average buy-to-let purchase of £184,000, that means they will pay an extra £5,520 from April 2016.
Commercial property investors, with more than 15 properties, are expected to be exempt from the new charges.
Buy-to-let landlords will also be hit by a change to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rules.
From April 2019, they will have to pay any CGT due within 30 days of selling a property, rather than waiting till the end of the tax year, as at present.
Landlords are already due to get a lower rate of tax relief on mortgage payments.
In his summer Budget, the chancellor said that landlords would only receive the basic rate of tax relief - 20% - on mortgage payments, a change being phased in from 2017.
With the New Year not far away, it’s probably a good time to look into some interior design ideas to refresh your home and give it something of a makeover without splashing out too much cash. So here are ten excellent general design tips to give you a little inspiration.
Use two contrasting pairs of cushions to enhance the appeal and comfort of a couch. Mix and match the two contrasting patterns or sizes for the best effect.
MULTIPLE SEATING OPTIONS
The dining area need not be one table surrounded by six identical chairs. Pair a couple of traditional dining chairs with a pair of a more modern design along with a longer cushioned bench to enhance your dining area’s style (as well as your seating options).
THINK BIG IN THE BEDROOM
One interesting trick that can help make your bedroom appear larger is installing a high-standing bed with a large headboard. Contrary to what it sounds like, the bigger bed and large headboard actually help the room appear to grow.
OPEN DISPLAY CABINETS
If you have a cabinet like an armoire with items such as your finest china on display (or literally anything for that matter) then try leaving the cabinet doors open for the wonders within to have a stronger influence on the vibe of the room.
Small rooms can greatly benefit from dark colours being used when painting the walls. The darker shades help diminish the immediate smallness of the room.
NO MORE BATHMATS
Instead of the standard bathmat so many of us use in the bathroom, use a much larger real rug which can usually take much more wear and tear than a bathmat anyway.
Utilise space above doors and at the top of cupboards for storages purposes. This is an excellent way of making the best out of a small area or to maintain a larger area’s openness while still allowing you to store your gear.
LAYER THE LIGHTING
Multiple lamps are ideal for creating a warm and comforting atmosphere in a room, but layering them is equally as important. Four lamps all at the same height won’t be as inviting as four lamps with two on one level and two either higher or lower.
If you have a couch and a matching armchair along with a high table and some dining-style chairs in the same room, all the legs can create a less than relaxing atmosphere. Solve that problem by simply skirting the couch and armchair and any other suitable item with multiple legs.
Any room corners that don’t see a lot of action and are pretty much useless space can be livened up with a lovely potted plant. And it doesn’t just affect the lonely corner, but a large potted plant with its vibrant green leaves can cheer the whole room up.