Sep 19

It’s been six years since the Help to Buy scheme was launched, with the honourable intentions of helping more people onto the housing ladder in the UK.

After some negative press in recent months and the scheme’s extension until 2023, I would like to shed some light on the nuances of the initiative. As a developer and someone whose business has benefitted from Help to Buy, I think it is important to delve into how it might be adjusted to be more helpful to its users.

Help to Buy was introduced back in 2013 and has proved very popular, especially with young people who might have thought that home ownership was out of reach without the opportunity to buy with only a 5% deposit. From my background as a property developer, I have really enjoyed seeing young people move into their first homes within some of my projects which have qualified to be sold under Help to Buy. However, I have a number of concerns about elements of the scheme, specifically whether it is really benefitting buyers or merely bolstering major housebuilders’ profits.

One issue that dominates is the restriction of Help to Buy to new-build properties only. This was put in place to stimulate a much-needed uptake in creating new homes in the UK, but the downside of incentivising developers in this manner is that premiums on new-build properties have spiralled further than they should. Developers are aware that Help to Buy is a closed market, and many properties are sold for premiums of 15-20%, a surprising statistic that may come to harm first time buyers perhaps more than it is helping them.

Buyers are paying an artificial price on day one, in comparison to buying an older property. My concern is that they won’t be protected in the event of a market correction if they have to repay their Help to Buy loan and mortgage company and fall into financial trouble. Just like in the case of new car sales where the minute the car is driven off the forecourt it has dropped in value, the same applies to any Help to Buy purchase.

Furthermore, conditions of the loan specify that subletting is prohibited so in the instance where a couple purchase their first home and subsequently decide to separate, they could be faced being unable to sell due to negative equity and unable to rent due the HTB restrictions.

The onus was on getting young people into the market, but if they then can’t afford to move when they want somewhere bigger, are we going to see the same issue with property availability in 10 years’ time?

There is also the matter of meeting the criteria of Help to Buy, which critics have claimed is an issue with the scheme, with the National Audit Office revealing in June that two thirds of purchasers could have afforded to buy without using the loan. In addition, one in 25 of those who used Help to Buy had a household income of over £100,000 per annum, which was widely criticised. From this outlook, it seems that the initiative is not succeeding at helping people who really need it. There is certainly a case for means-testing those who purchase using Help to Buy to ensure the system is fairer.

However, this would require the government to invest greater resources into the scheme, which is another fairly common complaint I hear from those I deal with in the property industry. The HTB completion monies for a property I recently sold arrived seven weeks late, and the estate agents I deal with on a regular basis say that the initiative is under-resourced and slow.

My final concern, and one that has been widely discussed in the media, is the amount of snagging issues found in many new-build homes, where buyers are not provided with adequate support after purchasing. Some major housebuilders have posted an enormous increase in annual profits on the basis of the Help to Buy scheme, and one has to ask whether developers are running away with themselves to fill their own pockets at the expense of compromising the quality of build.

To conclude, I think there are still a great deal of benefits to the Help to Buy scheme, but that it could benefit from some significant reforms. I think means-testing applicants or taking some elements of the Key Workers Scheme could help the system become more effective. I also think it should be applied to all homes within a certain value and not just new-build properties, to level out the market and ensure that developers are not applying enormous premiums to their developments. The scheme itself also needs greater investment to become more efficient in its dealings. With a little adjustment, I think Help to Buy could truly help those it was meant to.

Sep 19

The latest data released by Home.co.uk has shown a little light at the end of the tunnel for London landlords as soaring rents tempt investors back into the capital's lettings market.

According to the figures, rock-bottom sales and rental stock levels are initiating a revitalisation of the London sales market, led by several key boroughs. Wandsworth, Hackney, Haringey, Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark and Islington are all showing double-digit rent inflation, yields are soaring and, consequently, home prices are about to surge.

Overall, Greater London's price correction is complete. Both supply and residual sales stock levels have shrunk and this portends a return to price growth. Such is the rate at which yields are improving, we predict a wave of investment, commencing in the central boroughs and moving outwards, which will trigger breathtaking growth in home values over the next twelve months and beyond.

Nationwide, home prices are holding steady despite all manner of Brexit hysteria. However, at the regional level, the property market presents a very mixed picture. At one extreme, northern and western regions (especially Wales) are in the final throes of their growth phase while the East of England is firmly in the grip of the inevitable price correction, following a long period of unsustainable growth. Such is the cyclical complexity of the British property market.

The South East property market, like that of London, is showing some renewed strength.

Meanwhile, both the East and West Midlands property markets are destined for a painful period of price correction after many years of excessive growth (36.4% and 35.9% respectively since September 2012).

Steady home price rises continue in the northern regions and the risk of price falls looks very low. However, only Wales continues to show real growth (year-on-year home price increases above the official rate of inflation).

Annualised price growth across England and Wales remains in the red by the smallest margin of -0.1%, making this the eighth consecutive month registering negative growth; in September 2018, the annualised rate of increase of home prices was 0.9%

Sep 19

A new survey of 2,000 Brits has revealed that over half could be unknowingly breaking the law by pruning a neighbour’s garden bush without permission.

According to research, conducted by the shed and log cabin retailer Tiger Sheds, UK homeowners and tenants are breaking UK garden laws.

Over half (52%) admitted that they would just chop down a neighbour’s tree branch, bush or root without permission if it was in growing into their garden or without knowing the properties boundaries. This could see them at risk of being charged with criminal damage.

By law, you can trim branches or roots but only up to the property boundary. If you do more than this, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.

When it comes to managing wild birds and nests in gardens, Brits again could easily be facing trouble with the law. Worryingly, 17% of Brits would just move a bird’s nest from their garden, 16% would trim the hedges and bushes around the nest and 8% would entice them out with food.

It’s an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built³. By doing so you could face an unlimited fine and up to 6 months in prison for each offence if you’re found guilty⁴.

The survey also found that Brits were uncertain about the law regarding building a garden shed and whether you need planning permission. A quarter (25%) wouldn’t ask for permission to construct a shed in their garden regardless of the size, 12% don’t think planning permission is needed if it’s not living accommodation and 6% would just ask a neighbour for permission.

In fact, while it’s very rare to need planning permission for a shed, if you do construct a shed and later find it needs planning permission, the council can make you retrospectively apply for planning or you can face an enforcement notice to take the shed down.

And it also appears that when it comes to resolving common garden issues, Brits are just as unsure. The survey found that over half (54%) of people didn’t know how to correctly handle a noisy neighbour.

Over a quarter (27%) would report a noisy neighbour to the police, 17% would send the neighbour a hand-written note telling them to be quiet and eight per cent would do nothing and just hope that they go quiet.

In fact, legally, you must keep a log of any noise issues and, if it happens on a regular basis, you can report it to your local Environmental Health Officer.

Sam Jenkinson, Head of Marketing at Tiger Sheds, had this to say: “It’s interesting to find out some of the things Brits are doing in their garden that could land them in trouble. Just by cutting your neighbour’s branches you could be facing criminal damage charges.

It’s important that Brits are aware of these garden laws as simply carrying out some small work in your garden or moving a nest could lead to a number of issues if people aren’t careful.

We at the Tiger Sheds have a number of different guides and blogs to advise people on how to carry out some of the most common garden work. Nobody wants any nasty surprises from just cutting a bush or trying to remove a birds’ nest.”

Sep 19

OK, I'm going to use the C-word, so cover your ears if this is likely to offend you. Ready? Christmas. Whether you like it or not, the festive season is fast approaching and those considering a house move should act quickly if they want to be in before the big day.

The conveyancing experts at JMP Solicitors have compiled a list of top tips for moving house, taking into account logistical considerations such as smartening up a premises, and organising belongings, pets and post.

1.Get the property ready for marketing

Once the decision has been made to move house before Christmas, it’s a good idea to smarten up your home before putting your property on the market.

Declutter the property and redecorate if necessary, a coat of paint can work wonders, as can giving the house a deep clean, emptying the loft and turning the storage/junk room into a useable space. Your property will then be more appealing to a prospective buyer, especially with a realistic price tag – always check the competing market.

It’s also worth ensuring that you get the best survey you can before you commit to any purchase, if the boiler does not work and you’ve already moved in, prepare for an expensive replacement, especially around Christmas time.

2. Be patient

It’s important to be clear on timescales which can often shift depending on how long a chain is. Sometimes you have no option but to sit tight, however you can still communicate your wishes to an estate agent and solicitor who can then communicate these to a buyer/seller on your behalf. Such an approach doesn’t guarantee success, but it does increase the chance of a successful resolution. Ensure when viewing a property, you make it clear that you want to move before Christmas and check how the seller responds. The last day you can move house and complete the sale before Christmas is Friday 20 December 2019.

3. Choose your removal company wisely

Moving house without the help of a removal company may be cheaper, but it can also be very stressful. If you are opting for DIY packing, it is best to start as early as two weeks before your moving date to box up items you aren’t currently using. This will make the whole process less stressful and will also help with the de-cluttering of items that you never use or don't need, which can go to charity. Writing the contents and room on each box will help organise your packing and make unpacking easier. If you don't fancy packing yourself, get your removals company to pack for you. A good removals company will be able to supply you with purpose-built boxes and packing materials, and they will offer various packing options to suit you.

4. Don’t forget to tie up loose ends

Be sure to inform utility companies that you are moving and have all mail forwarded to your new address once you have exchanged contracts. Write your Christmas cards in plenty of time and post with your new address pre-printed inside, this saves time and money on separate letters and messages.

5. Look after your pets

Both pets and young children can find moving house very stressful. Whilst animals can be kept safe and secure in a separate room to the unpacking, it is best to see if family or friends can look after children for the day so that they do not get anxious about the moving process and leaving their old home, this way they won’t feel unsettled and can just enjoy the excitement of arriving at their new home.

Sep 19

A new study of 2,000 private renters across the UK has revealed the most and least popular attributes for rental properties, offering insight to landlords on the wants and needs of their tenants.

According to the research from buy-to-let focussed marketplace lender, Landbay, a home being pet-friendly is the most desirable attribute in a rental property with 14% of renters rating ‘pets being allowed in the property’ as their most important requirement.

That figure nearly doubles in the North East (27%) but shrinks to just 3% of renters in London. Women are more than twice as likely (18%) as men (8%) to prioritise a pet-friendly property.

A home which is unfurnished comes second, with 12% of renters saying this is the most desirable attribute. Perhaps tellingly, renters aged 55 and above (22%) are five times more likely to consider an unfurnished property as crucially important than those aged between 18 and 34 (4%.)

A garden was third, with 11% of renters rating outdoor space as their most important attribute. Parents (15%) are more than twice as likely to prioritise a garden compared to non-parents (7%.) Off-street parking and the quality of a property’s décor came fourth and fifth respectively.

Having a dryer came bottom of the list of most desirable attributes with just 1% of renters considering it key to their home. A king-sized bed, a balcony, and a dishwasher also polled just 1%. Just 2% of private renters consider a new build property as a priority.

Top Five Attributes

1: Pets allowed 14%
2: Unfurnished 12%
3: Garden 11%
4: Off-Street parking 9%
5: Quality of décor 7%

Bottom Five Attributes

1: Dryer 1%
2: King sized bed 1%
3: Balcony 1%
4: Dishwasher 1%
5: New build

Deborah Mudway, Director, Landbay comments: “This will make interesting reading for landlords, who could be forgiven for believing little luxuries like a dishwasher, dryer and even a king-sized bed make all the difference for tenants. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Landbay is investing in a research series to help landlords understand tenants and opportunities within the private rental sector. This edition shows renters value two key attributes above all others that are fundamentally free to bring in. In short, they want to make their property feel like home by bringing both pets and their own furniture with them. The reality is, aside from a deeper clean at the end of a tenancy, this really isn’t hard for landlords to implement.

Essentially, landlords knowing what renters want can make for a happier, more prosperous relationship which benefits both parties in the long run.”

Sep 19

Home moving experts, Compare My Move, have been crunching the numbers and found the most popular, most expensive and cheapest days to move home across the UK.

After analysing data from nearly 95,000 UK movers that moved house with Compare My Move during 2019, the firm found that the most popular day to move house in Britain is Friday, with 34% of home movers opting to move on the gateway to the weekend. Friday has long been a favourite for house movers keeping the time off work to a minimum and taking full advantage of the weekend to unpack.

Greater London and Northern Ireland prefer alternative days with Saturday and Wednesday being the most popular moving days in these regions respectively.

The most expensive day according to the data is Tuesday costing on average £1,110.36 - 21% above the weekly average. The cheapest and least popular day is Sunday with only 2.69% of movers opting for this. However, it cost only £717.13 - a 21% saving on the weekly average. Moving on a Sunday is almost universally deemed a bad idea by movers in Britain and with the closure of banks and the winding down of key services on a Sunday, plus the looming Monday morning, it’s easy to see why.

The most popular month to move in Britain is August, with movers taking full advantage of the (somewhat) dependable weather and long, bright days. Families tend to choose August to move to settle children ahead of the new school year.

A few regions buck the overall trend, with July being the favoured month for moves in Wales and the East Midlands. The North West and Yorkshire and the Humber prefer to move house in January whilst the North East and the West Midlands favour October.

Movers in Northern Ireland choose to move in July and Scotland prefer to move house in May rather than the trend of an August move.

Overall, movers in Britain prefer a Summer move, with August being the busiest month for Compare My Move removal part- ners. However, region-by-region, movers in the North East and the West Midlands prefer to wait for an autumnal move, whereas movers in Scotland and Northern Ireland choose to renew their living arrangements in Spring.

Compare My Move had this to say: “Our research shows that Friday still reigns supreme for movers across Britain, with a huge 34% of movers choosing this day. Booking one day off work nets you three days to get settled in across the weekend, so it’s clear why Friday is such a favourite. If you want to nab a Friday move at a decent rate, make sure you book at least three months ahead of time, and always compare removal quotes.

If you’re looking for a budget move, our data shows that the cheapest rates are on the most unpopular moving days of Sunday and Tuesday. Only 2.69% of our users opted for a Sunday move, and with businesses and banks winding down on the day of rest and Monday morning looming, it’s easy to see why. However, the potential for off-peak discounts by removal companies wanting to fill their working week on these days makes bucking the trend worth it.

Whenever you choose to move, remember to always compare multiple removal companies, always be prepared to nego- tiate, and always expect a free house survey for a watertight quote.”

Sep 19

Traditionally, Spring is the season to give your home a much needed refresh and time to complete all the jobs left over from the winter.

However, there are many essential jobs that can be done come Autumn to prepare you home for the cooler months. That’s why Hoppy.co.uk have decided to share some top tips on how to refresh your home and help to save you money as the nights get colder.

Seal the windows and doors

Checking all your windows and doors for even the tiniest cracks can not only keep your house warm but save you money on your energy bills. Look at every door and window and simply use Polyfilla to cover those cracks and limit any areas where heat can escape your home. Investing in thick curtains can also help keep your home warm. The curtains act as a barrier that prevents the heat escaping out the window helping to keep your home warm whilst also saving you money. Making sure that all the heat is trapped in your house can be relatively low cost and effort and can have a positive effect on your energy bills.

Freshen up your home

A lick of paint will not only give your home a refresh before the arrival of Autumn but a change in colour scheme may also be able to save on your energy bills! While cooler shades like magnolia and pale grey are perfect for creating a cool living space in the summer months, decorating your home with darker tones will absorb the heat in your home, resulting in a warmer space.

Choice of lighting can also have a vast impact on the look and feel of a room. Not only can your choice of lighting effect the aesthetic of a room but the bulbs you choose can also have a huge impact on your energy bills too. Simply changing the bulbs in your home to LED bulbs, can save households on average £7 a year on energy usage and the bulbs can last for two whole decades, saving the additional cost of rebuying.

Clear out those gutters

Forgetting to unblock drains and guttering can leave your home in danger of suffering water damage which can be a costly repair.

Insulate your pipes

Having exposed pipes through your house may be costing you money as the heat escaping is simply lost in your home. By wrapping some insulating foam tubes around your pipes, the heat will be contained to the pipes resulted in less heat wasted. Another benefit of insulation is its ability to stop pipes from freezing and avoiding another costly repair come winter

Time your heating

If you are away from the house during the day make sure you can put a timer on your heater and set for the heating to come one hour before you wake up and one hour before you return home. This will ensure your home is warm during the busiest times but also helps to keep your energy costs down.

Swap and shop

Before the colder months draw in, take a look at your gas, electricity and water contracts – all utilities that surge in use during winter months, to see if you could be paying less. Use online home management tools such as Hoppy.co.uk to compare all publicly available energy deals to provide you with the best deal for your household.

Aug 19

Benham and Reeves has researched which political party has had the most impact on the UK rental market and which way you might want to vote depending on whether you’re a landlord or tenant.

The letting and sales agent looked at the average rental cost across England between the joint tenure of Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2009 and during the more recent reign of Tory duo, Cameron and May.

The Tories have seen the highest average rent during their time in power at £767 per month. This is an increase of £218 or 34.1% on the average monthly rent between 2010 and 2019 - a 3.4% jump each year.

When splitting it between David and Theresa, David presided over the greatest hike in rents of both Tory leaders. In his six years in charge, the average rent was £717 per month and increased a total of 23.1%, an average of 3.9% per year. On the other hand, rents under Theresa did average £848 per month but only increased by 2.3% in her four years which is just 0.6% a year on average. Great for tenants for sure. But for landlords? Not so much.

On the face of it, Labour’s time in power was far more tenant-friendly with the average monthly rent hitting just £437 over the 13 years since Tony Blair took over in 1997. But when looking at the growth of rents during this time the figures tell an entirely different story. When Labour came into power, the average monthly rent was just £334 but by the time Gordon Brown left Number 10 this had soared by 86.9% to £624 per month. That’s an increase of £290 per month and an average yearly hike of 6.7%.

While Tony oversaw a rental increase of 39.67% in nine years, this averages out at 4.4% a year, while Gordon Brown’s rental increase of 28.8% averages out at a huge 7.2% during his four years.

But what about landlords?

Yields have dropped during the time both parties were in power due to almost continuous house price growth, averaging 4.5% per year under both Labour and the Conservatives.

However, they fell by an average of -2.6% per year from 1997 to 2009 under Labour - a total fall of -33.61%, but just -0.3% per year under the Conservatives, down -2.8% in total.

Blair oversaw the largest average yearly yield at 4.9% but saw a total drop of -3.4% during his time as PM, a fall of -0.4% per year.

Gordon oversaw the lowest average yearly yield at 3.8% per year but yields actually climbed 1.2% in total, a lift of 0.3% a year.

David Cameron and Theresa May saw a similar uplift in yields averaging 4.6% and 4.2% per year, both seeing a small increase during their time as PM and, with no average yearly growth under Cameron but a 0.1% uplift for each year under May.

Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, commented: “Probably not the first criteria that you would consider when deciding on your political allegiance but politics and a party’s housing plans can have a big impact on issues of supply and affordability within the rental market, so who you vote for could very well impact upon your personal living arrangements.

"We’re not taking sides either way, but on the face of it, Labour has been the most questionable party in power if you're a tenant struggling with rent affordability, while in terms of investing in the buy-to-let sector, flip a coin as they’re all as mediocre as each other really.”

Aug 19

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced plans for a new model for shared ownership in a bid to help more lower earners onto the housing ladder.

As part of the changes, people will be able to buy their home in 1% increments rather than having to save up 10% at a time.

The Housing Secretary also announced he will look at reforming the planning system to increase housing delivery and make home ownership more affordable for people looking to buy their first property, particularly in areas which are least affordable.

This could include increasing the number of homes sold at discounted prices to people trying to get onto the property ladder, boosting homeownership and helping build local support for new development.

Additionally, homeowners buying a property through Help to Buy will be given new freedoms which will make it easier to take out a 35-year mortgage.

The government has closed a loophole with immediate effect that prevented people from taking out a mortgage with a term of more than 25 years.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: "Building the houses this country needs is a central priority of this government. We know that most people still want to own their own home, but for many the dream seems a remote one.

"My mission is to increase the number of homes that are being delivered and to get more young people and families onto the housing ladder, particularly those on lower incomes.

"That’s why I am announcing radical changes to shared ownership so we can make it simpler and easier for tens of thousands trying to buy their own home.

"Help to Buy, the cut to Stamp Duty and our home-building programmes are already making a real difference, but I am clear we need to go much further if we are to make the housing market work.

"I will be looking at ensuring young people from Cornwall to Cumbria aren’t priced out of their home areas and how we can build public support for more house building and better planning."

Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, commented: "The latest changes to shared ownership are a novel idea from Robert Jenrick but as we’ve seen before through the likes of Help to Buy, an idea that will further fuel demand rather than address any real supply imbalance.

"While helping those in shared ownership will provide a leg up to some, the 200,000 homeowners in this position account for less than one percent of UK properties.

"Reducing the barrier to homeownership via shared ownership properties doesn’t supply more homes and it will be interesting to see if any concrete strategy on doing so comes from this latest government rhetoric.”

Aug 19

There were 95,126 mortgages approved by the main high street banks in July, the highest monthly total since July 2009, according to the latest data from UK Finance.

Its figures show that mortgage approvals for home purchase were 16.4% higher, remortgage approvals were 19.4% higher and approvals for other secured borrowing were 12.7% higher than the same month last year.

Gross mortgage lending across the residential market was £26.1 billion in July, 2.9% higher than the same month in 2018 and the highest since March 2016.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, commented: "Finally, some positive news for the housing market with mortgage approvals at the highest monthly level since July 2009. These give an indicator of lending activity in coming months so it looks as though many borrowers are shaking off their indecision and getting on with things.

"Lenders continue to offer cheap mortgage rates, so for those borrowers ready to take the plunge there are many excellent deals to tempt them."

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and former RICS residential chairman, added: "House purchase mortgage approvals are always a good lead indicator of market activity and although on their own don’t represent a summer bounce, they do show once again resilience among serious buyers and sellers and a determination to put Brexit concerns to one side.

"Looking forward, we are certainly seeing a little more optimism which will undoubtedly improve if the prospects for a deal pick up or even if negotiations are concluded one way or the other."