Thursday, 26 November 2020

Preparing your property for Winter

 

The following tips can be applied all year round but they’re particularly relevant at this time of year as it gets colder, darker and wetter outside.


 Familiarise yourself with your property

Ensure you know where the fusebox, gas safety valve and water stop valve are and how they operate, in case of an emergency (I provide a house guide to my tenants with this information and also show them when they move in).


 Keep on top of basic maintenance

Check roofs and gutters for slipped or damaged tiles and for any leaks. Check overflows and pipework for any leaks as well as damp smells or flaking paint, which may indicate a hidden problem.

Bleed the radiators and check the pressure of the boiler to see if it needs topping up.


Avoid condensation

Build-up of condensation can be more prevalent in winter as more heating is used, clothes are dried inside and there is a tendency to want all the windows shut.

All this moisture in the property needs to go somewhere and will invariably attach itself to cold surfaces (exterior walls/window surrounds) and create unsightly condensation/mould patches.

Keep windows open throughout the property, particularly in bathrooms and kitchens and especially during and after showering/bathing and cooking. Use extractor fans where fitted and wipe down any wet surfaces after using the shower/bath.


Don’t turn the heating off completely

This is very important to prevent the freezing of the water system and expensive burst pipes. It’ll also help in the fight against condensation, which thrives on a changing temperature.

The easiest solution if you are planning to be away from the property is to leave the boiler on and set the thermostat to a low temperature i.e. 12 degrees.


Fire safety

Do not overload electrical sockets with appliances and Christmas lights as this can cause a fire hazard. Avoid using candles, particularly near Christmas trees, decorations and curtains.

Test all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to ensure they are working correctly.


I believe prevention is better than cure, which is why I pre-arm my tenants with a 'winter maintenance guide' at the beginning of their tenancy and re-issue it as winter approaches. You can download this short guide, free of charge, from www.crjlettings.co.uk/winter-advice



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Monday, 16 November 2020

BUY-TO-LET DEAL OF THE WEEK: 2 bed house in Tangmere, £260,000, 4.6% yield

Summary:
2 bed house in Tangmere
Listed for sale on 06/11/20 @ £260,000
Rent = £1,000pcm
Yield = 4.6%
Last sold for £249,950 in 2016 (+4% in 4 years)

My last buy-to-let deal was also a two-bedroom house in Tangmere. This one, however, is on a new(ish) estate in Tangmere, having been built in 2016. That means it is in great condition throughout with modern fittings and amenities you don't get with all of the older properties (such as a downstairs cloakroom and en-suite shower room). This makes it more desirable than the older properties and yet it is priced only £10,000 more than it's older counterpart.

What's interesting to note is that I used to say the older-built properties were often better value. If you look back to 2016, when this property was built, it sold for £249,950. It is now available for £260,000; which is a mere 4% increase in four years. Yet the older two-bedroom house in Tangmere I highlighted last time (currently available for £250,000) also sold in 2016...for £209,950. That means there was around a 20% premium on the new-builds just four years ago, whereas now the premium is a mere 4%...it seems I was quite right to suggest buying the older stock back then!

Now though, that argument is reversed (at least at current asking prices). When it doesn't cost much more to buy a nearly new property than it does one that is 30+ years old, it seems clear to me where you should put your money. Tenants will typically feel the same too, opting for the newer property and justifiably paying a (small) premium to do so. I believe with the current strong demand and low supply that £1,000pcm is attainable for this property, which would produce a solid 4.6% from a new(ish) freehold property in a continuingly attractive and growing village (Tangmere).

The property is on the market with Bell & Blake and full details can be found on Rightmove via the following link: 



Friday, 6 November 2020

How will lockdown 2.0 affect the housing market?

 

England has entered another lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The restrictions may be less severe than back in March when the first national lockdown was announced, but nevertheless it will have many serious knock-on effects for a large number of people, which in turn is sure to impact the housing market. 

During the first lockdown, some estate & letting agents were known to have furloughed all their staff, unplugged their phones and become completely uncontactable! Most agents however (myself included) were even busier than normal, creating solutions so as to best serve their customers and continue to provide a service. 

Ultimately people still wanted to move home - particularly those moving for critical work positions or who would be made homeless, having already sold or given notice on their current property! I was still able to accommodate such people during lockdown as the majority of the lettings process is completed online and via the telephone anyway. My normal move-in process however, where I guide the tenants around their new home and show them how things work, was replaced by me videoing myself doing this instead. 

The use of video has of course been one of the few winners this year. In the property world, this has meant the ability to do virtual viewings as well as pre-recorded video tours. These are commonplace amongst agents now (with varying levels of quality and success) and have become a great way for people to minimise their physical contact and travel, whilst being able to provide a good overview of any particular property. 

The housing market is one of the industries allowed to remain open during this second lockdown though, so there won’t be such a dependence on these methods this time round. Nevertheless, for everyone’s safety, convenience and to help fight the spread, it seems foolish to simply abandon these technologies, which I believe are now likely to become a permanent pre-cursor to ‘in-person’ viewings.

Similarly, I shan’t be undertaking my standard tenancy check-ups during this second lockdown, even though the less-restrictive guidance suggests I could (unlike during the first lockdown). They’ll either be postponed until lockdown ends or conducted via telephone, which worked well previously, especially for those tenants I’ve seen several times and note their home to always be beautifully looked after. 

Maintenance works can continue as normal this time around though, whereas the first lockdown restricted such call-outs to emergencies only. Simply carrying on because it’s allowed in the rules though, as opposed to actively reducing people’s travel and contact during the second lockdown, becomes a fine balancing act between serving customers, maintaining tradespeople’s livelihoods and keeping people safe.

There is likely to be an overall slowdown to the economy regardless of whether that’s through enforcement or sentiment though. Indeed, one thing that is likely to repeat itself during this lockdown is my need as a letting agent to acquaint myself with the variety of (ever-changing) financial support schemes on offer. Much of my time in March and April was spent helping my tenants navigate the choppy waters and, ultimately, to help them pay their rent so as to support my landlords through the difficulties too. The government has again extended the furlough scheme (of which 1.7 million people were a part of in October), as well as the self-employed income support scheme. In addition to these emergency schemes, there were 2.4 million people who sought Universal Credit for the first time in the two months after the first lockdown started!

The period between the two lockdowns was noticeably busy for the housing market. Predictions of property prices dropping were quickly quashed as the market was propelled by a variety of reasons for people wanting to move, along with a further reduction in interest rates and the stamp duty savings on offer for purchases completed by 31st March 2021. This has led to property prices across the UK standing 2.5% higher than a year ago. 

From a rental point of view supply has been low, yet demand has been strong. The majority of properties I brought to market in the past few months were ‘let agreed’ within 48 hours, with houses especially quick to get snapped up. Some of this demand has come from tenants whose landlords have decided to sell, which is increasingly the case due to rising taxation and legislation. Plus, some landlords have been scared off or had their fingers burnt during the pandemic, which afforded many more protections to tenants, such as extended notice periods and a ban on evictions. 

The sales market may be facing a perfect storm next Spring though, as this supply/demand imbalance is likely to reverse. Many more landlords will finally get their properties back from non-paying tenants after the prolonged notice period and court backlog, whereby they will simply cut their losses and exit the market. This could coincide with both the stamp duty relief and Help to Buy schemes ending, putting a sudden stop to many transactions. If this occurs at the same time as the furlough and self-employment support schemes end, unemployment will surely rise, meaning disposable incomes and affordability will decrease. 

Of course, the politicians will be aware of this, which is why there’s already suggestions that an extension or further tinkering to some of these schemes is probable for the medium-term. As the days get shorter and the focus turns to Christmas, the property market typically slows down during the best of years. Lockdown 2.0 is likely to add fuel to that and without further government support to the economy there doesn’t seem too many reasons as to why the property market will start 2021 any stronger than it is likely to finish the annus horribilis that has been 2020.


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Monday, 2 November 2020

BUY-TO-LET DEAL OF THE WEEK: 2 bed house in Tangmere, £250,000, 4.6% yield

Summary:
2 bed house in Tangmere
Listed for sale on 29/08/20 @ £259,950
Now = £250,000
Rent = £950pcm
Yield = 4.6%
Last sold for £209,950 in 2016 (+19% in 4 years)

Highlighting a two-bedroom house in Tangmere as a buy-to-let deal is not uncommon for me. What is uncommon is highlighting one that isn't particularly cheap. The reason for that though is it is in truly fantastic condition. It is a very good example of how to modernise a house - nothing too flashy or outlandish, just simple, neutral spec to provide a really great end product.

Ordinarily I'd rather highlight the same house down the road for £25,000 less and then suggest you update it to create a great end product like this. But, many landlords don't want a project, nor the lack of income for several months whilst the property undergoes its makeover. For landlords like that, this house could be a great buy.

The fundamentals are all there; two bedroom houses are in short supply, yet remain ever-popular and in demand. Tangmere continues to be a good hunting ground to find tenants and this particular house should have no problem standing out due to its great condition. It also has gas central heating and double glazing alongside the modern kitchen & bathroom, plus a conservatory and a garage.

It should therefore rent at £950pcm, which is relatively high for a two-bedroom house of its age and location, but is justified by all the good qualities it possesses. This includes two double bedrooms, which will also help widen the scope of who might want to rent it from a young couple / family to two sharers not having to fight over the bigger bedroom.

The property is on the market with Sims Williams and full details can be found on Rightmove via the following link: 



Thursday, 29 October 2020

Five tips to avoid ‘nightmare tenants’

tips on how to avoid your new tenant turning into a nightmare:

Most tenants simply want to live in peace in a home that they can treat as their own, whilst happily paying the going rate to do so. A very small percentage, however, will set out to either mistreat the property or purposely not pay the rent. Here are five tips to avoid these so-called ‘nightmare tenants’:

1. Offer tenants a nice home

If you offer a neglected property in poor condition, you are likely to attract less interest and will have to settle for tenants who are perhaps unable to secure a ‘nicer’ home. Meanwhile, if the property is well-presented, it will attract a wider pool of tenants to choose from and they will most likely take pride in keeping it in good condition. 

This applies to ongoing maintenance issues too; afterall, if you don’t care about the property, why should your tenants? Furthermore, tenants will feel aggrieved paying full rent for a property that isn’t fully-functional or being maintained as it should be. 

2. Match the property to the right tenants

It’s hard to say no sometimes, but a property needs to suit its occupants. For example, most blocks of flats won’t accept pets as it is part of the head lease. This isn’t unreasonable if you think about trying to live with a dog in a small second-floor flat with no access to outside space and with neighbours on all sides of you. It might also be unwise to allow two adults and three children to rent a two-bedroom flat; they simply need more space and amenities than that to live comfortably and to be able to keep the property in good order.

3. Reference thoroughly

This is probably the most critical step in ensuring you avoid ‘nightmare tenants’. Helpfully, referencing is something that prospective tenants with something to hide will try to avoid. Do not take shortcuts because a tenant wants to let the property quickly, can offer monies upfront or because a ‘friend of a friend’ says they’re “good for the rent”. Genuine tenants won’t quibble about you undertaking credit checks and asking for documentation, such as payslips and bank statements, so as to give you a full picture of their financial standing and rental history.

Furthermore, (and similar to point 2) you aren’t doing someone any favours in allowing them to commit to a rental property that is simply too expensive for them in the first place.

4. Ensure all the paperwork is in place

Tenancy agreements should contain clauses relating to sub-letting, noise, pets and other common do’s and don’ts, which will help avoid conflicts later on (and can become grounds for eviction if they are ignored). A detailed inventory, including photos, not only serves as a record if there is a dispute over the deposit at the end of the tenancy, but acts as a deterrent in the first place (as the recording is so detailed) and a guide for tenants at the end of tenancy (so they can check how the property should be left so as to receive their deposit back).

Ensuring all the paperwork is completed and provided to the tenants in the correct manner will also avoid problems later on. For example, if not served correctly, you open yourself up to fines, compensation claims and difficulty in progressing eviction notices if necessary; all of which a ‘nightmare tenant’ could use against you.

5. Keep in touch

Maintaining an open dialogue with tenants and responding to tenancy-related and maintenance queries promptly will encourage a good relationship. Visiting the property regularly will allow you to spot problems early, as well as checking all is ok with the tenants so as to maintain and prolong their tenancy. It also shows you are pro-active and haven’t just ‘left them to it’; tenants are more likely to take liberties with absent landlords. 

How to avoid bad tenant problems

There are many other ways to minimise the risk of letting your property to problematic tenants, some of which are quite subtle and come via experience. Ultimately there is no fool proof way to avoid a ‘nightmare tenant’, although these five tips will go a long way to avoid those who seek to enter a tenancy agreement with bad intentions from the outset.


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Monday, 26 October 2020

BUY-TO-LET DEAL OF THE WEEK: 2 bed flat in Westhampnett, £280,000, 4.7% yield

Summary:
2 bed flat in Westhampnett
Listed for sale on 12/10/20 @ £280,000
Rent = £1,100pcm
Yield = 4.7%
Last sold for £240,000 in 2017 (+17% in 3 years)

Having bestowed upon you the potential benefits of buying a ground floor flat, it seems fitting that I choose one as an example for this week's buy-to-let deal to demonstrate my points.

This property was actually chosen as a buy-to-let deal a few years ago, when the current buyer paid £240,000 for this very large two bedroom ground floor flat. Its size remains a key selling point, with two double bedrooms, a good-sized kitchen and a large lounge, plus a conservatory (you rarely get those on the first floor!).

The fact it has a conservatory might offer a clue that it also has its own private garden - one of the perks of being on the ground floor! It also has its own private entrance, meaning there are no communal areas you need to share with neighbours, so it is much more like a house than a flat in many senses.

In fact, I'd say it's better than many of the two-bed houses nearby! Other than a set of stairs and being on two floors, it offers everything the houses do and more - with more floorspace to boot! It is also in good condition and remains modern throughout, with double glazing, gas central heating, as well as an en-suite shower room off the principal bedroom and a separate bathroom with a full-height shower above.

I've suggested a rental figure of £1,100pcm, which is quite punchy when the two bed houses in Westhampnett typically rent for £1,000pcm - £1,100pcm. But, if its marketed in the right way. I feel this is justifiable based on the points I raised earlier. The two double bedrooms and two bathrooms open it up to couples, young families and sharers - many of whom are likely to work at Rolls Royce, which is a key employer in the area and is within easy walking distance. This should make it popular with prospective tenants at a time when there are a limited number of good-quality rentals in the area.

The property is on the market with Purplebricks and full details can be found on Rightmove via the following link: 



Thursday, 22 October 2020

Is a ground floor flat a good buy?

 

Which floor a flat is on is an important factor when deciding what to buy (or rent). Some are ardent in their opinion that an upper-floor flat is the only way to go, whilst others can see plenty of benefits in keeping your feet on the ground. Typically, top floor flats have achieved a premium price over their ground floor counterparts, but is this justified?

Many will say it is and that flats on the ground floor represent both a privacy and security risk. In theory that is true; people walking past will be able to see into a ground floor flat rather than one higher up. And it’s easier to hop through an open window or break the glass of one on the ground floor than if you’d need a ladder to do so. But the same could be said for any house that isn’t built on stilts, so that logic doesn’t really cut the mustard in my opinion.

Certainly the view can be better in a flat on a higher floor and they tend to be brighter too. Plus, heat rises, so they are often easier and cheaper to heat in the Winter. I think there’s still something of a ‘status’ about being higher up in the sky though (think top floor penthouses), which largely clouds people’s opinions on the matter. Having said that, there’s definitely something to be said for only having neighbours below you, compared to ground floor flats, which in a poorly insulated building can mean hearing ‘footsteps on the ceiling’.

Ground floor flats though make perfect sense for those wishing to avoid the stairs. Whilst many immediately think of the elderly in this regard, the benefit is also there for young families with pushchairs and people with mobility issues. They’re also easier to evacuate for the safety conscious and you won’t have to worry about leaking roofs (although they’re the first ones to feel the impact of rising damp or drainage problems).

But the real bonus of having a ground floor flat is that many come with their own private garden or direct access to communal grounds. Apart from the obvious benefit this provides, which came to the fore as we were stuck at home during the pandemic, it can also make ground floor flats suitable for pet owners compared to their more penned-in upper-floor flat counterparts (although you’ll need to check the head lease to ensure pets are allowed at all).

I have long argued that houses are more popular than flats with both owner-occupiers and tenants. This is because they come with their own entrance, private outdoor space and, normally, better parking. But I’ve visited many ground floor flats that also come with these benefits and it’s not surprising that demand for these are holding up noticeably better at the moment compared to flats without these bonuses.

So for me, a ground floor flat that provides access onto its own outdoor space could be a winner; particularly with an aging population that values their own private space. This is a good way of getting many of the benefits associated with a house, but with a lower price tag.


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