Slashing the Risk of Fire in Your Home: A Home Safety Guide

Our homes are, without doubt, the most expensive asset that any of us will ever own and although we can insure against the financial damage caused by fire, the real value in most of our properties is in the people that occupy them.

In 2017, there were a total of 30,340 incidences of fire in the home with a total of 256 fatalities and a further 5,316 casualties. Fire can not only cause unimaginable tragedy with the loss of loved ones but can also destroy irreplaceable belongings. Whilst most fires are accidental (89.32%), the majority of these accidents can be avoided with proper fire safety assessments. Coupled with pro-active and up to date fire alert system and escape plan, you can help reduce your family’s risk of becoming another statistic.

In this feature, we look at how to assess your home for fire risks, avoid common causes of fire and ensuring you have reliable smoke detection and a safe means of escape.

Common Causes of Fire in the Home

According to data analysed by the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service the most common causes of fire in the home are distraction and having dangerous or unsuitable equipment in use.

Distractions occur naturally during our day to day lives and usually result in nothing more than an annoyance or minor accident. However, when cooking or using heaters, distractions such as answering the door or telephone, getting waylaid by children or other family members can be extremely dangerous.

home fire safety kitchen fires

Kitchen fires are a common way that domestic fires are started and can happen quickly. Image via Flickr.

Ill-maintained or unsuitable equipment can have electrical faults and are at risk of overheating. Coupled with other dangers such as equipment being left on charge and using too many plugs in extensions cables run from one socket, our modern lives can pose a real threat.

Assessing Fire Risk in the Home

You can reduce the fire risk in your home by performing some basic checks:

Cooking with Oil

You should never fill the pan you are using more than one third full of oil and always keep a close eye on the pan; over half of all fires are caused by cooking accidents with a fair majority of these being related to cooking with oils.

If your oil does catch fire then never use water to try to douse the flames as this can cause a fireball. If it is safe to do so, turn off the heat and get out, stay out and call the fire brigade out. Few of us are organised enough to have an appropriately rated extinguisher for oil fires so it is best to take your safety seriously and call the fire and rescue service.

Candles and Oil Burners

If you are a family that uses candles or oil-burners in the home then consider the risk that these pose and ensure that you follow the safety guidance issued by the Fire and Rescue Service:

  • Never place tealights on flammable surfaces or objects as the aluminium base can get extremely hot.
  • Likewise, never place candles or burners underneath flammable surfaces and objects such as shelves or near curtains.
  • Always ensure that all candles and exposed flames are fully extinguished before going to bed.
  • Never leave a naked flame unattended, particularly if you have small children and pets.
home fire safety candles

Candles should never be left unattended or near flammable materials or surfaces. Image via Max Pixel.

Portable Heaters

If you use portable heaters around your home then you should ensure that they are kept well away from flammable material whilst they are in use and switched off when unattended.

As with other electrical equipment, the cables should be maintained in good condition and be switched off before you go to sleep (see below).

Never dry clothes near portable heaters.

Electrical Safety

Take the time to visually inspect all of your cables, extension leads and plug sockets. Any damage such as cracking, scorching or visible wires should mean that this component is scrapped or not used. All extension cables and plugs should be checked to ensure that they are not supporting more than their maximum load (usually 13 amps) with high-powered items such as washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers having their own socket.

Extensions leads should not be plugged in to each other and reeled extension cables should always be fully unwound to prevent overheating of the cables.

Extension cables should never be run into damp rooms such as washrooms, bathrooms or even the kitchen where water could get in to the sockets causing a risk of electrocution.

It is also worth inspecting your mains electrical box to ensure that there are no visible signs of overheating such as charring or scorch marks. Combustible materials should also be stored well away from the mains intake position.

Unplugging appliances at night is recommended, particularly with older machines; washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers account for 20% of fires started in the kitchen/utility room. This should also be applied to devices left on charge including e-cigarettes, some types of which are known to have volatile batteries.

fire safety in the home electrical safety

Ensure that your electrical appliances aren’t overloading a socket or extension lead. Image via Pixabay.

Electric Blankets

Though not as common as they once were, some households still use electric blankets to warm the bed at night. They should be regularly checked for:

  • Signs of scorching
  • Exposed elements
  • Fraying fabric
  • Damp patches
  • Loose connections
  • Worn leads
  • Creasing and folding

You should never use an electric blanket that has any of the above signs of deterioration. You should also unplug these before you go to bed unless you have a device that is fitted with a safe all-night thermostat.

Even if your blanket looks okay, you should still have it checked every three years and replaced every ten years.

Smoking and the Home

If you smoke inside your property you should always make sure that you have fully extinguished your cigar or cigarette and matches. Never smoke when you are sleepy or in bed.

home fire safety cigarettes and smoking

If you smoke indoors then always make sure cigarettes are extinguished properly and never left burning unattended. Image via Pxhere.

You should always keep your matches and lighters away from children and ensure that your ashtray is cold before tipping the contents into a bin (preferably an outside one).

Fires started by cigarettes are the most common cause of fatalities with one in three deaths being started this way.

Making an Escape Plan

Always make sure that you and your family have at least two escape routes planned for an emergency situation, including a fire. They should take in to account the possibility of your main route of entry/exit to your home being blocked by fire as well as consider the eventuality that you are trapped on a level above the ground floor.

Escape routes should be easily accessible and kept clear; a back door (however infrequently it is opened and closed) should not be used as a storage area. Security is important but consider how you would open a locked back door in the middle of the night in a house that is rapidly filling with smoke.

Always take your mobile to bed with you so that you have a method of contacting the emergency services and remember that the number to dial from a mobile is 112.

Every member of your household should know the escape routes and it is worth having a regular check to ensure that children can follow this routine.

Remember, if you discover a fire the advice from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service is simple; Get Out, Stay Out and Call the Fire Service Out.

fire safety in the home

If in doubt, get out and call the fire services out. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Importance of Smoke Alarms

The simple fact is that you are twice as likely to die in a fire if you do not have a smoke alarm fitted in your property.

All homes should be fitted with a smoke alarm, one per floor and fitted to the ceiling in either the middle of a room or on a hallway/landing. With most fires starting at night, they need to be positioned somewhere that the alarm will wake even the deepest of sleepers.  Never fit an alarm in a kitchen where it is likely to go off regularly as this may cause you to take the batteries out or remove the device entirely.

These simple, cheap and easy to replace alarms are a vital early warning device designed to give you the best chance to escape from an emergency situation.

Not only should your home be fitted with smoke alarms but they should be tested weekly, the batteries should be replaced regularly and the alarms themselves replaced every ten years. Did you know that 20% of fires that start in the home occur in properties that have smoke alarms but where the batteries have been removed or have run down?

Property Assistant is an independent estate agency based in Wokingham but covering property related sales, lettings and relocations within the Thames Valley. We see things differently to our competitors and lead by example in putting our customers in the know when it comes to all things property related; sharing knowledge empowers people to make the best choices.

To find out more about the services offered by Property Assistant, contact us today on 0118 912 3270.

Featured image via Pixabay.

Regulating Estate Agents in the UK

Are UK estate agents regulated?

It’s a pertinent question that many people ask, and the short answer is yes. However, there have been many calls from the public to further improve the regulation of the business to help professionalise and improve customer satisfaction in the industry.

According to government research, over 60% of homebuyers and sellers have experienced stress during the homebuying process with almost a quarter stating that, if they were to do it all again, they would choose a different estate agent.

The research formed the basis to the government’s plans to professionalise the industry. So, we take a look at the current regulations, how these are going to change and what you can do if you are unhappy with your estate agent.

estate agent regulations

Just how professional are estate agents supposed to be in law? Image via Pixabay.

Current Regulations for Estate Agents

The work undertaken by estate agents is already covered by plenty of regulations, many of which are covered in separate parliamentary Acts, principally the Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007.

The general guidance of this law means that estate agents must act in the best interests of their clients, and that both sellers and buyers are treated fairly, honestly, and in a timely fashion. Standards of the profession are upheld in law which cover all aspects of an estate agents role including marketing, handling negotiations, passing on offers, handling clients money and the preparation of sale particulars.

Estate agents must also carry suitable insurance to cover any liabilities from their business dealings as well as be a member of an approved property redress scheme.

Agents who do not comply with any aspect of this law could be banned from trading. Failure to follow this ban can result in prosecution and substantial fines being imposed.

Additional areas of regulation include:

  • Cancellation of Contracts Regulations
  • Provision of Services Regulations
  • E-commerce Regulations
  • Data Protection Act
  • Anti-Money Laundering Regulations
  • Town & Country Planning Act (Sale Boards)
  • Equality Act
  • Energy Performance Certificates

However, currently there is no requirement by law that estate agents must be licensed or qualified.

Regulating Estate Agents: Proposed Changes

The proposed change, announced by the Housing Secretary, Sajid Javid, last week will go further than the current regulations to ensure that all estate agents:

  • Must hold a professional qualification.
  • Must be transparent about the fees they receive from referrals to mortgage brokers, solicitors and surveyors.

In an effort to curb the practice of gazumping (see Property Jargon Buster), measures are also likely to be introduced to encourage voluntary reservation agreements.

The plans also lay out changes in other areas to help facilitate smoother housing transactions including reducing the timescales currently in place for the return of local authority searches. The proposals will ensure that these are returned in under 10 days.

Lastly, the government wants to provide more resources to the National Trading Standards Estate Agency Team to help enforce regulation, including banning non-compliant agents from trading.

regulating estate agents UK

It is hoped that the new regulations will professionalise the estate agency industry. Image via Pixabay.

What to do if you are unhappy with your Estate Agent

The first port of call should always be directly with your agent themselves and, even if the professional relationship has broken down, you need to give them a chance to put things right before escalating the matter.

Some things take time to resolve, so be prepared to be patient whilst matters are dealt with but, if you are still not getting satisfaction, you should follow the complaints procedure.

Since 2007 (under the Consumers Estate Agents and Redress Act 2007), all estate agents must belong to an ombudsman scheme. Typically, this will be one of the following:

You can also lodge a complaint with their professional trade body such as the National Association of Estate Agents: Propertymark (NAEA) or the Independent Network of Estate Agents (INEA).

property redress schemes regulating estate agents

Property redress schemes are designed to make estate agents accountable and provide customers with an independent body to complain to. Image via Pixabay.

Each of these channels will outline the official procedure for investigating your complaint to find a suitable and appropriate resolution.

Here at Property Assistant, we go to every length to keep our customers happy and we like to think that we can resolve any complaints; no matter how big or small. Communication and trust are key to the success of any relationship and we believe that our bond with you is an important one.

If you would like to know more about the way we do business then we’d like to hear from you.

Featured image via Pixabay.

 

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Thames Valley Area Guide: Ascot

Principally known for being the home of the Royal Ascot Racecourse, Ascot is a small town in East Berkshire. It also has a reputation for being one of the most expensive places in the UK, both to rent or buy a property.

In this guide, we take a close look at what Ascot has to offer its residents as well as focus on the demographics, facilities and our top picks for things to do in the town.

Ascot: A Snapshot

Life, and the facilities, in Ascot tends to be focused around the racecourse with the main high street running parallel to the course itself. You can find all of the essential services including a supermarket (Tesco Express), banks, library, police station, cafes and small independent shops.

explore the ascot area

Ascot is a commuter town with a small high street. Image via Geograph.

The town is also the site of the local NHS hospital, Heatherwood. Though it has no emergency facilities, it is the closest facility for minor injuries to the surrounding area of Bracknell, Sunninghill and Bagshot.

Notable residents of Ascot include Chris Evans and Marti Pellow as well as being the home of both Ringo Starr and John Lennon for a time.

Of course, the face of this small commuter town changes entirely during Royal Ascot Week when the racecourse plays host to the world’s most famous horse race meeting. Dating back to 1711, the event (and the build-up) has a huge impact on local services including trains, traffic and businesses.

Ascot: The Detail

Part of the civil parish of Sunninghill and Ascot, administration of the town itself is split between Bracknell Forest Borough Council and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead unitary authority.

It has long been a part of the Crown Estate and the racecourse is still technically owned by the Queen. The history of Ascot and its racecourse can be dated to the early 18th century when Queen Anne noted the open heathland was an ideal place to gallop. Not five miles from Windsor Castle, she founded the racecourse and the first meeting was held in 1711 to contest for Her Majesty’s Plate.

Location

Ascot is situated 10 miles to the east of Bracknell and south of Windsor. Like Bracknell, Ascot is well located for the M3, M25 and M4, being just a ten-minute drive from the former.

Ascot is also on the main Reading-Waterloo line being under an hour from London Waterloo. You can also change at Ascot for services to Aldershot, Guildford and Bagshot.

thames valley area guide asoct

Ascot is less than an hour by train to London Waterloo. Image via Wikimedia.

Demographics of Ascot

Categorised by the Office for National Statistics as being a commuter suburb, Ascot is part of Bracknell Forest Borough Council.

At the last census report, a total of 5,753 residents were recorded in a total of 2,228 households, being split as follows:

  • Detached house or bungalow: 718
  • Semi-detached house or bungalow: 1011
  • Terraced house or bungalow: 185
  • Flat, maisonette or apartment: 297
  • Caravan or other mobile or temporary structure: 17

The occupations of residents in Ascot is varied but the majority are employed in professional or senior roles:

  • Managers, directors and senior officials: 16.6197%
  • Professional occupations: 22.2183%
  • Associate professional and technical occupations: 17.0775%
  • Administrative and secretarial occupations: 11.5845%
  • Skilled trades occupations: 8.9789%
  • Caring, leisure and other service occupations: 8.9437%
  • Sales and customer service occupations: 5.1761%
  • Process, plant and machine operatives: 2.7465%
  • Elementary occupations : 6.6549%

The vast majority of resident are either in very good or good health (87.6%) with just 0.49% being in very bad health.

27% of the population are under the age of 18 with 16% over the age of 65, the median age is 40 years old.

Education

Ascot itself has a couple of primary schools with South Ascot Village Primary School and St Francis Catholic Primary School, classed as being ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ respectively in their latest Ofsted reports.

There are also several independent schools including Heathfield School, the LVS and Papplewick as well as St George’s School, The Marist Preparatory School, and St Mary’s in neighbouring Sunninghill and Cheapside. St George’s has the prestige of being attended by Princess Beatrice of York; St Mary’s was the school of choice for Caroline, Princess of Hanover.

Secondary education is provided by the Charters School in Sunninghill which is an ‘Outstanding’ school.

Our best picks for…

…eating out.

La Sorrentina on Sunninghill High Street has a great reputation for its Italian food including seafood, steaks and classic pasta dishes. It’s a modern restaurant but is far from pretentious and doesn’t have a price tag to suit the local property prices.

eating out ascot

Reviews for La Sorrentina are excellent. Image via website.

…live music.

Jagz is situated right outside the train station and has a reputation for incorporating several entertainment venues in one. It offers a nightclub, bar and live music platform. During the summer, the place can get exceptionally busy and during Royal Ascot Week there is always a big queue to get in.

However, off-season, there are plenty of events being run including Northern Soul, tribute acts and even cabaret nights. It’s a popular but intimate venue and offers membership if you want to be guaranteed entrance.

…picking up a gift.

Little Wishes on Ascot High Street is a cute little boutique gift shop offering an intriguing selection of toys and inspirational knick-knacks.

It’s quite small but stock changes all the time so it’s worth dropping in to see what’s new. Little ones can play with the train set play table whilst you enjoy a browse.

They are open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5.30pm.

…a sweet treat.

On the high street you can find a small bakery, Anne-Marie Patisseries that serves some wonderful cakes and bakes. It’s best to hit the shop as early as you can as most of the best treats are sold well before lunch. It’s a small shop but they often have a few tables outside on sunny days where you can get a coffee.

…horsing around.

Of course, no experience of Ascot would be complete without spending some time at the racecourse. Whilst the main event of Royal Ascot Week is certainly worth attending, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the facilities on offer at this landmark location. As well as other racing events, you can also experience open air cinema, fine-dining plus some great events.

They regularly hold the festival of Food and Wine, Beer Festival and fireworks spectaculars. See their website for details.

ascot area guide

Ascot wouldn’t be Ascot without the racecourse. Image via Flickr.

Housing in Ascot

The overall average house price in Ascot is a whopping £871,508 which is 45.49% more than nearby Sunningdale and 83% more than Winkfield Row.

The majority of houses that have been sold over the last few decades have been detached where the average house price is £1,449,697. A semi-detached property is priced at around £530,936 with flats being £595,703.

House prices over the last 12 months have increased by 8% and by 22% since 2014.

ascot house prices

House prices in Ascot are among the highest in the UK. Image via RightMove.

If you are considering a move to Ascot or looking to sell your home then we would love to hear from you. We think it’s important that you know all you can about an area before you buy property and, as trusted local estate agents, we think we are well placed to give you all the information you need.

Property Assistant is an independent, family-run estate agent serving clients across the Thames Valley specialising in property sales and lettings. Contact us today on 0118 912 2370 to discuss your plans for your next move.

Featured image via Geograph.

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Green & Ethical Mortgages: A Guide to Alternative Property Lending

Once a quirky option for the staunch environmentalists, green and ethical living has become a hot topic over the last few years. As more of us recognise our social responsibility to the planet and our communities it seems only right that our choice of finances should also reflect our higher aspirations for green and better living.

So, what are green and ethical mortgages and can they offer more than just a ‘feel-good’ factor? We take a look at the mortgage markets

What is a ‘Green’ Mortgage?

There are several types of green mortgage but typically it constitutes a loan on a property which meets certain minimum criteria for energy efficiency.

In April 2018, Barclays became the first major UK high street lender to offer a Green Home Mortgage. The product is designed as an incentive for the purchase of homes that have an EPC rating of A or B. Offering lower interest rates than other similar mortgages, the mortgage is currently only available on new builds through certain developers but it is hoped that this will be extended to cover all major housebuilders by the end of 2018.

green mortgages

Green mortgages are applicable to any kind of property but generally require you to invest in energy efficiency. Image via PxHere.

As well as Barclays, there are several other smaller lenders in the UK that offer green mortgages to incentivise owners of existing properties to invest in energy efficient technology. These include the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society and The Ecological Building Society.

Another variation on the green mortgage is one which is designed to offer buyers the opportunity of making their investment ‘carbon neutral’. In these cases, the mortgage company pledges to plant a number of trees each year for a fixed term; the idea being that the carbon emissions of your home will be offset by your choice of mortgage.

These types of mortgage are more of a gimmick and there is some debate as to whether the action taken by the lender truly results in a ‘carbon neutral’ exchange.

Some lenders will also offer green mortgages which include additional capital to help homeowners to invest in energy efficiency improvements to their home.  In these instances, it is usually the property (rather than the person) who is being approved for the mortgage.

Another form of ‘green’ mortgage is one that is sourced from a lender whose corporate investment strategy does not include any forms of fossil fuel development.

In general, there are relatively few green mortgages available on the market and most of these are at a premium to other similar products. However, as more banks and building societies commit to sustainable financing then we can expect to see more of these kind of mortgages available at comparative costs.

What is an ‘Ethical’ Mortgage?

Ethical mortgages are different to green mortgages in that they are not linked to the house against which you are borrowing but are sourced from lenders who meet certain criteria when it comes to their own investment strategy.

ethical mortgages

Ethical mortgages tick boxes on many different core values. Image via Creative Commons Images.

Most commonly, ethical mortgages are only available from lenders who do not invest in unethical sectors (including fossil fuels). They are companies that approach investment for their customers based on co-operative values, sustainable housing and community projects and creating a culture that promotes ethical business relationships. Their own investment profile usually includes lending and donations towards projects such as reforestation, charities and climate change.

For this reason, mutual lending societies are the most common way to source an ethical mortgage.

The following building societies tend to score highly for their ethical lending:

  • Skipton Building Society
  • The Ecology Building Society
  • Nationwide Building Society
  • Leeds Building Society
  • Newcastle Building Society
  • Coventry Building Society

The traditional high street go-to for ethical lending, The Co-Operative, has been struggling over the last few years to maintain its profile in this area but are still a good source of responsible, ethical lending.

Choosing an Ethical or Green Mortgage

Before choosing any kind of financial product, particularly a mortgage, we would strongly recommend discussing your options with an Independent Financial Adviser (IFA).

alternative mortgages green and ethical

Whatever mortgage you are looking for, make sure it is the right one for you and the property you are buying. Image via Flickr.

It is important to thoroughly understand the terms of your borrowing, particularly with green mortgages as they may require you to make substantial renovations to your property to meet minimum energy efficiency requirements. Sometimes the cost of these upgrades can make borrowing unviable.

Again, it is important to point out that most green and ethical mortgages come at a premium to other forms of lending. A reputable IFA should be able to advise you on alternatives depending on your goals.

 

Here at Property Assistant, we work with both local and national IFAs that provide reliable and independent advice. Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, we can recommend the services of a suitable adviser to help discuss your needs for any form of home lending, whatever your needs.

Featured image via Public Domain Pictures.

Property Jargon Buster: An A-Z Guide

All industries have their own jargon, whether it’s healthcare, banking or snowboarding, knowing the lingo can mean the difference between seeming a fool and making a foolish mistake. In the property industry, the majority of terms used are self-explanatory but some could do with a little guidance to help the layman to understand its meaning.

In this guide, we’ve put together an at-a-glance view of all the main terms and phrases used by estate agents, conveyancing solicitors and property professionals so that anyone can navigate their way through the jargon.

At Property Assistant, we like to think that we speak plain English, so no-one gets confused or mislead, but we also know that sometimes things get lost in translation so consider this excerpt your English to EstateAgent-ese translation tool.

For the full property jargon guide to download as a PDF, visit our library where you can also find other useful resources.

Chain

A common term relating to all of the parties (or, links) involved in the sale of a home. A simple chain will only involve two links; a buyer and a seller. In complicated chains, there can be many more links involving several properties, each having a sale or purchase which is dependent on another party.

As a result, chains are subject to collapse; one party pulling out of a purchase can impact many other

Chain-Free

Used to describe either a buyer who does not rely on the sale of a property in order to complete their contract. First time buyers are often ‘Chain Free’ as are properties cash (or investment) buyers.

property chain definition

Chain Free. Image via PxHere.

Conveyancing

A term used to describe the legal processes involved in the sale and purchase of a house.

Exchange of Contracts

The stage of the contract process where both the seller and buyer are legally committed to the sale and purchase of a property, but at which point the transfer of the home has not been made. Though the Completion can still become delayed, it is typical for the final transfer of ownership to be made within 28 days after the exchange of contracts.

Flying Freehold

A term used when part of a freehold property overlaps (either overhangs or underlies) another freehold property (or land). Common examples include balconies which extend over neighbouring land or a room that is situated above a common passageway.

definition flying freehold

Flying Freehold. Image via Flickr.

Gazumping

Coming from a Yiddish word (‘gezumph’) meaning ‘to cheat or overcharge’, gazumping is a common term used in the property market when a vendor accepts an offer from a seller but later rejects it in favour of a higher offer from another party.

Gazundering

Derived from the term, gazumping, this term is used when a buyer reduces his offer price on a property just before the exchange of contract.

Gifted Deposit

Referring to a deposit that has been give you for the purchase of a property. It is often used by developers with new builds and is a way to incentivise sales, especially with first time buyers.

Ground Rent

Applying only to leasehold properties, Ground Rent is a sum of money paid to the owner of the property by the leaseholder. It is usually billed annually along with service charges.

Guarantor

In the event that a buyer has poor credit, a guarantor will be a person who has a better credit rating who offers their security that the loan or debt will be repaid by them instead. Guarantors pledge to be liable in the event of a loan being in default to meet the repayments or the full cost of the debt. Typically, guarantors are a family member and it is common for young first time buyers to have their parents stand as guarantor for their first mortgage

IFA

Someone who has been trained and qualified to offer financial advice. They should offer solutions to their clients based on the whole market and not be tied to a certain lender or type of product. All IFA must meet strict competency requirements and are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Whilst there are plenty of ways to engage the services of a reputable IFA, Property Assistant has worked with many individuals and organisations who offer a local service.

ifa definition financial adviser

Independent Financial Adviser: Image via Flickr.

Inheritance Tax

More commonly known as ‘Death Duties’, inheritance tax is a levy paid to the government on your estate once you die. If you have dependents, it is worthwhile discussing the impact of these taxes with an IFA to ensure that you have your financial affairs in good order.

As of April 2018, the rate is 40% owed on all capital owned above the value of £325,000 (unless you leave a minimum of 10% to charity in which case this reduces to 36%).

Interest Only Mortgages

As the name suggests, this is a mortgage where the repayments taken by your lender cover only the interest of the loan you have taken out. At the end of the term of your mortgage, the original value of the loan will be due in full.

This type of mortgage is usually taken out in conjunction with another investment vehicle that is set up to cover the cost of loan at the end of the mortgage term. This can be something like a personal pension, endowment policy or ISA.

Leasehold

A leasehold is the ownership of a property by lease and grants the right to use the land and property to which this relates for a fixed period of time. Ownership is usually subject to payments of ground rent to the owner of the freehold.

Leasehold properties can be for a short term period such as 40 years but are more often long term such as 90+ years.

Maintenance Charge

Used when referring to leased properties, this is a charge levied by the landlord that covers the maintenance costs associated with the property and the communal areas. These are usually agreed in advance and can include items like cleaning, gardening and general repairs to keep the property in good condition.

Peppercorn Rent

A type of ground rent which is nominal in value. The exchange of money is usually so ‘token’ so as to constitute a legal lease, that no money actually changes hands

definition peppercorn rent

Peppercorn Rent. Image via PxHere.

Portable Mortgage

A type of mortgage that is linked to a borrower and not a property. In these situations, a buyer can move home without having to switch mortgage lender or paying any early repayment charges.

Probate

The process of establishing the validity of a will. Probate properties involve the executor of the deceased’s estate and require additional court processes before contracts can be exchanged or completed.

Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT)

A tax due to the government, paid by the buyer, based on the value paid for a property. As of April 2018, the stamp duty rates are 0% on all properties up to the value of £125,000, 2% on properties valued between £125,001 and £250,000, 5% on homes worth £250,001 to £925,000 and 10% up to £1.5 million.

stamp duty definition

Stamp Duty & Land Tax. Image via Blue Diamond Gallery.

Survey

A type of report that is conducted on a property. This can include, but is not limited to, a valuation survey, a condition survey or a structural survey. You can find out more about the definitions of each type of survey in our full Property Jargon Buster guide.

Here at Property Assistant, we think a property jargon buster is an essential way to help communicate with our customers and communication is key to a good relationship. If you would like to know more about the way we do business then you can contact us on 0118 912 2370.

Don’t forget, you can also download our free Home Buyers Guide as well as find other useful information on our blog.

 

Featured image via Pixabay.

 

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Cost of Living: Wokingham Compared

Often ranked as one of the best places to live in the UK, Wokingham is a popular commuter town for people working in cities like London, Winchester and Oxford or commercial towns like Reading, Bracknell and Basingstoke.

You can find a more comprehensive guide about why Wokingham is so popular in either our Thames Valley Area Guide or Wokingham: The Happiest Place to Live. But, in this guide, we wanted to look at the cost of living in this popular market town.

Cost of Living: Wokingham vs London

No-one will be surprised that the cost of living in Wokingham is lower when compared to the nation’s capital. London has a reputation for being an expensive place to live and, in January 2018, was ranked the highest cost for property rents in Europe for the third year running. But, how does the overall cost of living in Wokingham compare to the capital?

cost of living wokingham

A Wokingham is a popular commuter town for people working in London. Image via Wikimedia.

According to the global crowd-sourcing database, Numbeo, you would need around £3,388 in Wokingham to maintain the same standard of living that you can achieve on average in the capital. This is based on a figure of £4,400 per month for living and renting in London.

This is made up of the following differences in the following important indices:

  • Consumer prices (excluding rent) are 13.87% lower.
  • Consumer prices (including rent) are 24.71% lower.
  • Rent prices are 38.68% lower.
  • Restaurant prices are 4.04% lower.
  • Grocery prices are 16.15% lower.
  • Local purchasing power is 57.67% higher.

Restaurants (Wokingham vs London)

There is little difference in the cost of restaurant prices between London and Wokingham with the main difference being in the cost of alcohol.

  London Wokingham Difference
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant  £    15.00  £    15.00      0.00 %
Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course  £    50.00  £    47.50      -5.00 %
McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal)  £       5.50  £       5.00      -9.09 %
Domestic Beer (0.5 litre draught)  £       4.50  £       3.80      -15.56 %
Imported Beer (0.33 litre bottle)  £       4.50  £       3.60      -20.00 %
Cappuccino (regular)  £       2.68  £       2.60      -3.14 %
Coke/Pepsi (0.33 litre bottle)  £       1.22  £       1.21      -1.24 %
Water (0.33 litre bottle)  £       0.95  £       0.98      +3.12 %

 

Markets (Wokingham vs London)

The cost of groceries in Wokingham are all cheaper than in London with the only exception being rice and water from a standardised list of items used to compare shopping costs.

  London Wokingham Difference
Milk (regular), (1 litre)  £       0.92  £ 0.85      -7.37 %
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)  £       1.07  £ 0.90      -15.42 %
Rice (white), (1kg)  £       1.46  £ 1.50      +2.72 %
Eggs (regular) (12)  £       2.15  £ 1.90      -11.80 %
Local Cheese (1kg)  £       5.77  £ 4.70      -18.53 %
Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (1kg)  £       6.69  £ 5.25      -21.48 %
Beef Round (1kg) (or Equivalent Back Leg Red Meat)  £       8.61  £ 7.00      -18.66 %
Apples (1kg)  £       2.03  £ 1.98      -2.45 %
Banana (1kg)  £       1.06  £ 0.89      -16.15 %
Oranges (1kg)  £       1.74  £ 1.20      -31.01 %
Tomato (1kg)  £       2.36  £ 2.20      -6.87 %
Potato (1kg)  £       1.36  £ 1.00      -26.38 %
Onion (1kg)  £       1.17  £ 1.00      -14.36 %
Lettuce (1 head)  £       0.81  £ 0.59      -26.10 %
Water (1.5 litre bottle)  £       1.02  £ 1.05      +2.97 %
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)  £       8.00  £ 7.00      -12.50 %
Domestic Beer (0.5 litre bottle)  £       1.63  £ 0.88      -46.37 %
Imported Beer (0.33 litre bottle)  £       2.07  £ 1.23      -40.35 %
Pack of Cigarettes (Marlboro)  £    10.00  £ 8.50      -15.00 %
wokingham cost of living

The average cost of a weekly shop is lower in Wokingham than in London. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Transportation (Wokingham vs London)

Surprisingly, whilst the overall costs of transportation in Wokingham are lower, it is local transport which is more expensive. This will be no surprise to regular bus and train users and just validates the good value that Transport for London offers its users.

  London Wokingham Difference
One-way Ticket (Local Transport)  £           2.50  £           4.50      +80.00 %
Monthly Pass (Regular Price)  £      132.00  £         65.00      -50.76 %
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff)  £           3.45  £           3.90      +13.04 %
Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff)  £           3.00  £           1.50      -50.00 %
Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff)  £         30.00  £         10.00      -66.67 %
Gasoline (1 litre)  £           1.21  £           1.14      -5.79 %
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 (Or Equivalent New Car)  £20,000.00  £ 18,000.00      -10.00 %
Toyota Corolla 1.6l (Or Equivalent New Car)  £20,336.93  £ 23,000.00      +13.09 %

 

Utilities (Wokingham vs London)

The cost of gas, electricity and water were all higher in Wokingham than in London though internet and mobile charges are lower.

  London Wokingham Difference
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment  £  135.61  £155.25      +14.48 %
1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans)  £       0.11  £     0.10      -7.53 %
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)  £     28.89  £   27.50      -4.81 %

 

Sports & Leisure (Wokingham vs London)

Reflecting the higher rental and business rates, entertainment and leisure facilities in London are much higher than in Wokingham.

  London Wokingham Difference
Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult  £    48.08  £   30.00      -37.61 %
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend)  £     11.33  £   10.00      -11.76 %
Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat  £     12.00  £   10.00      -16.67 %

 

Childcare (Wokingham vs London)

Comparing the cost for childcare, Wokingham is also significantly cheaper than the capital.

  London Wokingham Difference
Preschool (or Kindergarten), Full Day, Private, Monthly for 1 Child  £   1,125.75  £    766.67      -31.90 %
International Primary School, Yearly for 1 Child  £15,852.94  £6,000.00      -62.15 %
childcare costs wokingham

Childcare costs are lower in Wokingham than in London. Image via Flickr.

Rent (Wokingham vs London)

Though property rental prices in Wokingham are higher than the national average, compared to London, they are much lower.

  London Wokingham Difference
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre  £         1,628.35  £1,250.00      -23.23 %
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre  £         1,181.22  £    850.00      -28.04 %
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre  £        2,984.96  £1,400.00      -53.10 %
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre  £         1,975.19  £1,275.00      -35.45 %

 

Property Prices (Wokingham vs London)

The overall average price of a house in London was £619,181 compared to £473,331 in Wokingham; that’s a difference of 23.56%.

Salaries & Financing (Wokingham vs London)

Though the average salary is lower than in London, the cost of a mortgage is cheaper.

  London Wokingham Difference
Average Monthly Net Salary (After Tax) £2,358.74 £2,800.00      +18.71 %
Mortgage Interest Rate in Percentages (%), Yearly, for 20 Years Fixed-Rate 3.15 2.9      -7.69 %

 

Cost of Living: Wokingham vs Reading

Compared to Reading, Wokingham is, surprisingly for some, cheaper when it comes to achieving the same standard of living. In fact, you would need £3,511.32 to maintain the same lifestyle in Reading as you would in Wokingham.

This is broken down as follows:

  • Consumer Prices in Reading are 10.67% higher than in Wokingham
  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in Reading are 3.27% higher than in Wokingham
  • Rent Prices in Reading are 10.11% lower than in Wokingham
  • Restaurant Prices in Reading are 3.12% higher than in Wokingham
  • Groceries Prices in Reading are 24.51% higher than in Wokingham
  • Local Purchasing Power in Reading is 17.53% lower than in Wokingham
reading vs wokingham compared

Reading is more expensive to live than Wokingham. Image via Flickr.

Cost of Living: Wokingham vs UK National Average

Compared to the rest of the UK, the cost of living in Wokingham is higher with costs in each of the following key areas breaking down as follows:

Restaurants

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Meal, Inexpensive Restaurant  £            12.00  £           15.00 20.00%
Meal for 2, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course  £           45.00  £           47.50 5.26%
McMeal at McDonalds (or Equivalent Combo Meal)  £              5.00  £             5.00 0.00%
Domestic Beer (0.5 litre draught)  £              3.50  £             3.80 7.89%
Imported Beer (0.33 litre bottle)  £              3.50  £             3.60 2.78%
Cappuccino (regular)  £              2.55  £             2.60 1.92%
Coke/Pepsi (0.33 litre bottle)  £               1.17  £             1.21 3.31%
Water (0.33 litre bottle)  £             0.88  £             0.98 10.20%

 

Markets

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Milk (regular), (1 liter)  £              0.89  £             0.85 -4.71%
Loaf of Fresh White Bread (500g)  £              0.95  £             0.90 -5.56%
Rice (white), (1kg)  £               1.21  £             1.50 19.33%
Eggs (regular) (12)  £              1.86  £             1.90 2.11%
Local Cheese (1kg)  £              5.33  £             4.70 -13.40%
Chicken Breasts (Boneless, Skinless), (1kg)  £              5.82  £             5.25 -10.86%
Beef Round (1kg) (or Equivalent Back Leg Red Meat)  £              7.66  £             7.00 -9.43%
Apples (1kg)  £              1.82  £             1.98 8.08%
Banana (1kg)  £              1.00  £             0.89 -12.36%
Oranges (1kg)  £               1.64  £             1.20 -36.67%
Tomato (1kg)  £              1.80  £             2.20 18.18%
Potato (1kg)  £               1.17  £             1.00 -17.00%
Onion (1kg)  £              0.93  £             1.00 7.00%
Lettuce (1 head)  £              0.73  £             0.59 -23.73%
Water (1.5 liter bottle)  £              1.00  £             1.05 4.76%
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)  £              7.00  £             7.00 0.00%
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)  £               1.56  £             0.88 -77.27%
Imported Beer (0.33 liter bottle)  £               1.71  £             1.23 -39.02%
Pack of Cigarettes (Marlboro)  £               9.30  £             8.50 -9.41%

 

Transportation

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
One-way Ticket (Local Transport)  £               2.40  £             4.50 46.67%
Monthly Pass (Regular Price)  £             60.00  £           65.00 7.69%
Taxi Start (Normal Tariff)  £               3.00  £             3.90 23.08%
Taxi 1km (Normal Tariff)  £               1.55  £             1.50 -3.33%
Taxi 1hour Waiting (Normal Tariff)  £             20.00  £           10.00 -100.00%
Gasoline (1 liter)  £               1.17  £             1.14 -2.63%
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car)  £     18,000.00  £   18,000.00 0.00%
Toyota Corolla 1.6l 97kW Comfort (Or Equivalent New Car)  £     18,107.19  £   23,000.00 21.27%
local transport wokingham

Overall, transport costs in Wokingham are higher than the UK national average. Image via Wikimedia.

Utilities

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment  £           140.47  £         155.25 9.52%
1 min. of Prepaid Mobile Tariff Local (No Discounts or Plans)  £               0.14  £             0.10 -40.00%
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)  £             26.05  £           27.50 5.27%

 

Sports & Leisure

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Fitness Club, Monthly Fee for 1 Adult  £             31.32  £           30.00 -4.40%
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend)  £               9.66  £           10.00 3.40%
Cinema, International Release, 1 Seat  £             10.00  £           10.00 0.00%

 

Childcare

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Preschool (or Kindergarten), Full Day, Private, Monthly for 1 Child  £           846.37  £         766.67 -10.40%
International Primary School, Yearly for 1 Child  £     12,863.14  £     6,000.00 -114.39%

 

Rent

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre  £           752.57  £     1,250.00 39.79%
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre  £           601.66  £         850.00 29.22%
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre  £       1,204.02  £     1,400.00 14.00%
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre  £           928.29  £     1,275.00 27.19%

 

Property Prices

The average UK house price is currently £211,625 compared to £473,311 which makes house prices in Wokingham a staggering 124% higher.

Salaries & Financing

 UK National  Wokingham  Difference
Average Monthly Net Salary (After Tax)  £       1,795.04  £     2,800.00 35.89%
Mortgage Interest Rate in Percentages (%), Yearly, for 20 Years Fixed-Rate  £               3.23  £             2.90 -11.38%

 

Property Assistant Wokingham are local estate agents working in the Keller Williams Network. We offer a refreshing change from many people’s perception of property agents. A family run business with a focus on offering a professional but personable service, we pride ourselves on telling our clients what they need to know, not what they want to hear.

If you are considering a move, in or around the Thames Valley area, then we’d love to hear from you; renting, buying, selling or downsizing, we call help you find your perfect home today.

Featured image via Geograph.

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How NOT to Present Your Home: A Picture Guide

With the advent of the internet, the process of selling homes has changed considerably. Most listings now have a considerable number of external and internal images. Combined with Google Earth, 360o tours and floorplans, buyers can conduct a virtual viewing without leaving their own home.

Though this can improve the reach of your potential audience, it is a double-edged sword. Get your property listing done properly and you can convert these browsers into genuine viewings. Get something wrong and you will find a huge drop in the expected number of potential buyers.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets property listings right, but we can turn their mistakes into a fun learning exercise for us all. Want to know exactly what we mean, take a closer look at the featured image above.

So, with that in mind, here is our guide to what not to do when you are listing and presenting your home online.

Oh, and all of these examples have been taken from genuine online property listings!

Always Use High Quality Images

There are several mistakes you can make when preparing your property listing. The first is ignoring the power of high quality images over poor ones.

In an age when digital editing is widely available and mobile phones have excellent resolution cameras, there is no excuse for poor quality imaging and editing.

Here’s some examples of when people listed using photos that were substandard.

bad photoshop image estate agent

There is no doubt that agents will prefer to take external pictures on a bright sunny day but this is taking Photoshop to a new level! The edge of the world kind…

 

good quality images estate agents

There is never any excuse for the ‘finger’ in any property listing photograph. Schoolboy error.

 

bad photos estate agents

Every photo should have a point and help to sell your home. Even Alan Titchmarsh wouldn’t find this photo illuminating. The worrying  thing about this listing is there was only one photo….we are a little scared about what the property looked like!

 

bad images sell home

If we need to explain why this picture won’t sell your home then we may need to start with something more basic…like an eye test!

 

bad estate agent photo listings

If images need editing then leave it to the professionals!

 

bad estate agent pictures

Okay, so it’s not just the grainy quality of this image that is wrong but it quite nicely leads us onto the next issue with photographs.

Always Clean Up Before Taking Pictures

It might sound patronising but if pictures are the first impression that you give potential buyers of your home then you want to put your best foot forward. You wouldn’t show up on a first date wearing unclean and ripped clothes so give your home the best chance of someone falling in love with it by tidying up.

Though extreme, here are some examples of when people ignored this advice:

clean your house before taking pictures

Spare room clutter can build up but it’s not useful to show buyers how to play household Jenga.

 

poor photos estate agents

Okay, so this might be an extreme case but it does aptly illustrate why cleanliness is important when it comes to listing images of your home.

Quirky is Good but Doesn’t Always Sell Homes

We all have a bit of character in our property, it’s what makes them unique to us and what transforms a house into a home. However, they are not always the most useful of tools to endear a listing to potential buyers. Listings should always show off the property first. Look carefully at rooms to see if there is anything that could be off putting to buyers before taking a photograph.

Whilst not always a deal breaker, these images illustrate the need to be discerning about the content of a picture.

bad estate agents photos

A beautiful kitchen…shame about the cow.

 

how to present your home

Those ‘cute’ little touches might sometimes be a little off putting. It’s not everyone who appreciates a four-headed toy ‘mer-fish-doll’.

 

quirky photos homes

We dread to think what’s being prepared for dinner tonight?!

Review the Images You Use

The second big mistake is overlooking the content you are including in your images. You might be oblivious to the foibles, quirks and mess of a family home but to make a good impression, always make sure that every room is clean and free of any obvious ‘oddities’.

Here are our favourite examples of when people (and their agents) got it wrong…

 

bad estate agents photos how not to present your home

Don’t ignore the elephant (or deer) in the room when you are uploading pictures.

 

how not to present your home guide

By all means, clear surfaces but hiding things in plain sight is just lazy!

 

getting good quality images for property listings

Quality wood floor, not such great quality photography skills.

 

good images estate agent

Unintentional photo-bombing is not acceptable.

 

how not to photograph your home

Beautiful swimming pool…floating corpse not included!

Use a Professional

Here at Property Assistant, we understand the importance of professional, high quality images that showcase your home in its best light. Getting a property listing right can make the difference between achieving your home’s true market value or struggling to sell. And, whilst listing your home yourself might seem like a good money saving idea, if you want to get the best price for your home the you should consider using a professional.

If you are considering selling your home then we’d love to talk to you. Call us on 0118 912 2370 today to discuss our services and how you can benefit from being in competent hands.

All images courtesy of Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos.

Best Easter DIY Projects: 5 Jobs to Tackle in a Long Weekend

Looking for the best Easter DIY projects?

Bank holiday weekends are traditionally the busiest times of the year for garden centres and DIY stores as the nation eschews the chance for a relaxing break and, instead, turns to home improvement.

Easter is fast approaching and those extra few days away from work offer a great chance to finish some bigger projects that need a little extra time.

In this feature, we take a look at five Easter DIY projects that can help increase the value of your home as well as give you a fresh new look for the spring.

Easter DIY Project #1: Give Your Kitchen a Fresh New Look

Kitchens are the heart of any home and get a lot more wear and tear than other rooms. Often the hub for mealtimes, parties and daily traffic, they can be a place where some members of the family seem to spend most of their time.

Unfortunately, they can be expensive rooms to completely overhaul but we’ve got some great ideas for a revamp that won’t cost the earth and can also be completed in just a few days.

Here are a couple of options which can easily be achieved in a few days and cost less than a few hundred pounds.

  • Adding (or replacing) tiles to the wall behind your counter tops can instantly transform your kitchen without the need to repaint the whole room. Choosing larger tiles can make the job quicker and can also help make smaller kitchens seem larger. Opt for a neutral or contrasting colour for kitchens with bright units or lift the tone of a plain white kitchen with the use of a colourful tile.
  • If you have real wooden counter tops then giving these an overhaul by sanding them back and re-oiling can bring them back to life. The best results will be achieved with the right preparation and working from a coarse to a fine grade sand paper to give a smooth finish. A good quality Danish oil (or liquid wax) worked in to the direction of the grain will bring the natural wood up a treat.
  • To really change the face of your kitchen, consider painting the cabinet and drawer fronts. Again, the results are all in the preparation and it is important to detach all your existing drawers (remember to label where they came from) and remove all of the handles and knobs. If they are made from wood then sand them back before applying your choice of paint. You can also paint over melamine using a primer. Use a roller and ensure the drawers/doors are flat for a neat finish and don’t forget to paint the sides. A fine sand between coats will give a smooth finish but always follow the paint manufacturers instructions. For an even bigger transformation, consider replacing the handles.
kitchen makeovers easter DIY

Give your kitchen a makeover by painting the doors and drawers. Image via Flickr.

Easter DIY Project #2: Upcycle

Upcycling has been the buzz word of the new millennium. Taking a piece of old and unloved furniture and revamping it to create something unique is a real buzz. You can create a contemporary or retro piece of design and the beauty of this DIY project is that you can let your imagination run wild.

You may already have a suitable candidate around your home that is crying out for some attention or you could take this opportunity to hit the second-hand shops or auction rooms to find something that sparks your creative side.

For some inspiration on ways to upcycle furniture, check out these projects on Real Homes or take a look at Pinterest for some inspiring ideas.

upcycled furniture easter DIY project

Be as imaginative as you like to create a unique design for your own home. Image via Flickr.

Easter DIY Project #3: Build a Summerhouse

Building a summerhouse is a great way to kick off the outdoor season and add some much needed space to your home. With the right planning and installation, your new garden structure could provide vital storage and/or entertaining space.

Generally speaking, as long as your temporary building does not exceed 15 sq m and does not include any sleeping space, you won’t need planning permission. It should also not exceed 2.5m in height if it is within 2.0m of your boundary. Always check local planning for full details as other requirements may need to be met.

build summerhouse easter diy projects

If you get your planning right, you can easily build a summerhouse over the Easter weekend. Image via Pixabay.

The first stage of erecting a summerhouse is to build a suitable base. Allow a full day to prepare the ground and ensure you have sufficient hardcore to create a solid foundation. It will take 24-48 hours for your base to set so start this on Good Friday with the plan being to start construction works on Easter Sunday, finishing on Easter Monday.

Building a summerhouse is definitely a two-person job so make sure you have an extra pair of hands to give you the help you need.

Easter DIY Project #4: Fully Decorate One Room

Many people mistakenly believe that painting a room is a one-day job but to really get a good job done you need to set aside at least 3 or 4 days. This is a perfect DIY project for the Easter weekend and you should start by fully clearing your chosen room. If you aren’t replacing the floor or carpet, then start by covering the floor before preparing the walls and woodwork.

A feature wall using wallpaper is doable within the time and papering is not as hard as you might have been led to believe.

decorate a room easter DIY project

Focus your attention on one room for a manageable Easter DIY project. Image via Flickr.

For some extra impact, consider replacing plain sockets and light fixtures with stainless steel or chrome replacements. If you are doing this then always ensure the power is isolated before commencing any work on electrical installations.

For a crisp look, choose a clean colour for your woodwork in either matt or silk and a darker tone for the walls.

Between coats you could always nip to Ikea or Dunelm to pick up some soft furnishings to dress the room with when it is finished.

Easter DIY Project #5: Board Out the Loft

Most houses have reasonable sized loft spaces that offer some storage; however, most lofts are difficult places to access and the lack of a suitable floor can restrict what you use the space for.

Boarding out a loft is an easy job and can transform the available space for storing seasonal items as well as general clutter from around the home. In fact, having more readily accessible storage will mean you can free up space in other areas around the home such as under the bed, the top of wardrobes and under the stairs.

Whilst you are laying the boards, this is an ideal time to add, replace or increase your loft insulation. This DIY project will not only free up storage around the room and allow you to declutter but it will also save you money in heating bills.

board loft easter diy project

Boarding out your loft can give you a sizable area for useful storage. Image via Wikipedia.

Make sure you have the right tools and always be careful to avoid screwing into electrical cables that often run across the ceiling joists.

Whatever you plan to do over the Easter holidays, we hope you enjoy the break from work. Here at Property Assistant, we will be spending time with family and making sure the Easter Bunny visits our grandchildren. Have a very happy (and safe) bank holiday weekend.

Featured image via Pixabay.

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Shopping Local: A Guide to Independent Traders in the Thames Valley

Reading has the Oracle, Bracknell has the Lexicon and Basingstoke has Festival Place. They are all great places to shop and offer the convenience of centralised mall parking with access to popular retail chains like Next, HMV and Waterstones.

However, independent traders are a vital component of a diverse high-street experience, often offering unique products and personal service, we ignore them at our peril. Small local businesses face the threat of closure every day as rents and rates increase but footfall is being lost to online retailers and national chain stores.

We think that independent traders are an essential part of the towns and communities in which we live. Though their prices may not always be the cheapest, you are almost always guaranteed a service that is second to none. I cannot recall the number of times that shopkeepers have provided with help to locate an item for me and it has always been worth that extra time and effort.

In this feature, we take you through best independent traders in the Thames Valley, all of whom rely on our custom to keep them in business. So, if you are tired of being treated like just another customer or are sick of battling with queues, crowds and unhelpful sales assistants then we urge you to visit your local independent traders instead.

Wokingham

With the ongoing regeneration works expected to last throughout 2018, the impact of a drop in footfall to Wokingham Town Centre could be devasting to independent traders. The town has suffered several closures of key shops over the last few years including the pet store on Peach Street, Cara, Bookends and John Wood Sports.

We are fortunate to still have some excellent shops in the town, but they will only survive if we continue to patronise them. Whilst some offer a specialist service, others offer the convenience of a drop in closer to home, but all are owned and run by local businesspeople who need our support.

Parking at the Paddocks is free after 3pm so do head into town when you can.

Our choice of the best independent shops in Wokingham include:

Antique Rose and Maison Rustic

Bush Walk, Market Place, Wokingham RG40 1AT

www.antiquerose.co.uk & www.maisonrustic.co.uk

For a great selection of homewares, gifts and interior design, this boutique has some really unique items on offer. Handpicked by the owner, you can find a great selection of jewellery, personalised items and furniture.

antique rose maison rouge wokingham

It’s worth taking a trip up Bush Walk to discover what Antique Rose has to offer. Image via website.

Wokingham Decor

56 Peach St, Wokingham RG40 1XG

www.facebook.com/wokinghamdecor

This family run business has been providing hardware and decorating supplies for the residents of Wokingham for decades. Current owner, Michael Flint is a friendly and helpful trader with excellent professional knowledge. A traditional ironmongers, they stock a reasonable selection of tools and hardware but they can often order in exactly what you need for collection the following day.

Kaanaanmaa

22 Denmark St, Wokingham RG40 2BB

www.kaanaanmaa.co.uk

Often overlooked due to its unassuming corner spot on Denmark Street, Kaanaanmaa is more than just a retail jewellers. A specialist designer and maker of fine jewellery, the staff here are traditional craftsmen who can bring your ideas for a unique gift to life. The shop has been operating for over forty years and has been a Fairtrade jeweller since 2011 using only ethically sourced gemstones and gold.

Other Independent Shops in Wokingham

Don’t forget to drop in on these other traders whilst you are in town:

  • Stitchery Do, 31-35 Denmark Street, Wokingham, RG40 2AY (Haberdashers and knitting supplier).
  • Stefan’s Butchers, 4 Denmark St, Wokingham RG40 2BB (Artisan meats and locally sourced produce).
  • Angelo’s Deli, 4 Central Walk, Wokingham RG40 1AJ (Great selection of fish, meat, cheese and wine).
  • Oslar Coffee, 2-2A Denmark St, Wokingham RG40 2BB (Unique coffee blends in a cosy atmosphere).
  • Rococo, Bush Walk, Market Place, Wokingham RG40 1AT (Innovative and contemporary jewellery designs).
  • The Station Furniture Co, 46 Station Rd, Wokingham RG40 2AE (Established in 1969, unique range of home furnishings, lighting and wall clocks).
stitchery do wokingham independent shops

The small and cosy interior of Stitchery Do houses a huge stock of knitting, sewing, quilting and embroidery supplies. Image via website.

Reading

Despite the opening of the Oracle in 1999, many of Reading’s independent traders have continued to survive and there are plenty of great shops in the town which all offer something a little different and worth stopping in for.

Since the closure of Jackson’s department store in 2013, after 138 years of trading, the fate of all independent shops continues to hang in the balance

Our choice of the best independent shops in Reading include:

Eclectic Games

5 Union St, Reading RG1 1EU

www.eclecticgames.co.uk

Winner of the Retailer of the Year 2014 in the Reading Retail Awards, Eclectic Games is a niche shop supplying a huge range of party, board and roleplaying games. The staff are very knowledgeable and very friendly making every visit a real experience. They stay open late on 5 nights a week to host gaming events.

Just Imagination Memorabilia & AT Collectables

14, Harris Arcade, Station Rd, Reading RG1 1LG

www.collectorscentrereading.co.uk

Two shops trading under the same name, you can find some truly unique gifts including vintage comics, toys, books and vinyl as well as militaria, antiques and collectables. Both shops are a retro return to the way second hand stores used to be. The owners are very helpful if you are looking for something specific but browsing here is a real delight.

Hickies

153 Friar Street, RG1 1HE

www.hickies.co.uk

Hickies has been running since 1864 and sells, services, repairs and rents a good range of musical instruments. As well as guitars, drums and keyboards you can also pick up orchestral instruments including brass, string and woodwind.

hickies music shop reading independent shops thames valley

Hickies has been in business for over 150 years. Image via Geograph.

Staff are very friendly, knowledgeable and you can browse at leisure with no pressure or commitment. They are a popular shop in Berkshire particularly due to their ‘Rent to Buy’ scheme; a great (and affordable) idea for keeping up with the ever-changing demands of children who want to learn to play an instrument.

Other Independent Shops in Reading

These shops are all owned by small businesses and have a good reputation for excellent service and quality:

  • Aldridges, 90-91 Friar Street, RG1 1EN (Established in 1879, this specialist luggage shop sells a great selection of suitcases, computer bags and briefcases. They also supply replacement Samsonite parts as well as provide repairs).
  • Creative Crafts & Workshops, Station Road 1ND, Harris Arcade, Reading RG1 1DN (The brainchild of local artist, Adriana Fernandes-Bowyer, this niche craft shop stocks a good range of art supplies as well as running regular events).
  • Delikatesy Smaczek, 1 St Mary’s Butts, Reading RG1 2LN (A polish delicatessen, Delikatesy Smaczek is an exciting place to try some Eastern European fare).
  • Drews the Ironmongers, 71-73 Caversham Road, RG1 8JA (A specialist hardware store with exceptionally knowledgeable staff and a great range of supplies in stock, all at competitive prices).
  • But Is It Art?, 7-9 Queen Victoria St, City Centre, Reading RG1 1SY (Unusual gifts and cards as well as novelty items, quirky art and kitsch homeware).

Henley on Thames

Henley has long had a reputation for being home to many independent shops and the tradition continues with more local traders than high-street chains. It’s a great town to find some really unusual items and you can feel good about supporting local businesses as well as coming away with unique purchases.

Our choice of the best independent traders in Henley include:

  • AH Interiors, 42 Bell Street Henley on Thames RG9 2BG – Home furnishings, accessories and lighting.
  • In The Groove, 14 Reading Road Henley on Thames RG9 1AG – Rare and vintage vinyl
  • Gabriel Machin, 7 Market Place Henley on Thames RG9 2AA – Award winning butchers with their own smokehouse.
  • Boatique, 5 Friday Street Henley on Thames RG9 2AU – Nautical themed shop with all things boating inspired from gifts to accessories and even furniture.
  • Jonkers Rare Books, 24 Hart Street Henley on Thames RG9 2AU- Specialist dealer in antique, rare and collectable books including some first editions.
  • Tudor House Antiques, 49 Duke St, Henley-on-Thames RG9 1UR – An emporium, hung to the rafters with an eclectic range of vintage and antique items.
  • Bagatelle Toys, Bell Street Henley on Thames RG9 2BA- A traditional toy store the way you will remember them from your childhood.
  • Asquiths Teddy Bear Shop, 2-4 New Street Henley on Thames RG9 2BT – An extraordinary range of traditional, and world famous, teddy bears.
asquiths famous teddy bears shop independent shops thames valley

The World Famous Teddy Bear Shop, Asquiths, sells and makes luxury bears. Image via website.

Other Independent Shops in Thames Valley

Of course, the Thames Valley has plenty of other towns and villages where supporting independent traders is important.

However, our favourite places in the area are:

  • Abingdon Clockwork Dragon, 42 Bath Street, Abingdon (Steampunk Victoriana, fantasy gifts and TV/Film memorabilia).
  • EtonEton Antique Bookshop, 88 High Street, Eton, SL4 6AF (Prints, maps and books in this old-fashioned second-hand book shop).
  • GoringBarbara’s Antique & Bric-a-Brac Shop, Wheel Orchard Car Park, Station Rd, Goring, Reading RG8 9HB (a great range of vintage, retro and antique goods from a range of traders).
  • Maidenhead Craft Coop, 79 Queens Walk, Maidenhead, SL6 1LB – (A co-operative store stocked with gifts and art produced by local artists).
  • Twyford Berkshire Dollshouse & Model Shop, 9 Wargrave Rd, Twyford, Reading RG10 9NY (Specialist model and doll’s house supplier).
  • WindsorA Vida, 49 Peascod St, Windsor SL4 1DE – (High-end women’s designer fashion boutique)
antiques shop goring independent traders

Buying independent often means buying unique and unusual goods. Image via Barbara’s Antiques Facebook.

Supporting local businesses is an essential way to develop sustainable communities and keep the local economy thriving. We would urge as many of you as possible to try something new and get out into the local towns to see what makes these shops unique.

You can find out more about the Thames Valley Area by catching up on our area guides or by contacting Property Assistant. A local estate agent with its finger on the pulse, we set ourselves apart from the competition by staying in touch. Make sure you do the same by signing up for our newsletter.

Featured image via Google Earth.

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Should You Sell Your House Fast For Cash?

Looking to sell your house fast for cash?

Whether you have been trying to sell your home for a while or need to shift a property fast, it can be tempting to consider a quick cash sale. There are plenty of companies on the market that offer a fast service by purchasing your home for you or finding a cash buyer at short notice. But is this the best way to sell your house fast and what are the pros and cons?

In this guide, we take a look a what kind of service is being offered when you sell your house fast for cash, the positives and the negatives as well as offer some alternatives.

Benefits of Using a Quick House Sale Company

A quick house sale company is an organisation, agency or individual who will offer to purchase your home or find a third party to do so. They usually offer to pay cash thus speeding up the process of completing an exchange of contracts.

The service is a useful one for homeowners who need to unlock the cash in their homes very quickly. This could be for many different reasons including financial difficulty, swift disposal following marital breakdown or an unexpected relocation due to work or health reasons.

sell your house fast for cash

Most people would bite the hands off a cash offer to sell their home quickly. Image via Pixabay.

For others, it might be the result of a long period of trying to selling their home via the traditional route and wanting to sell in a hurry to secure another property.

For other people, the rapid service can be a useful way to dispose of inherited property to settle probate finances.

The major benefit of using these services is the rapid turnaround from offer to completion which can suit a lot of people. Most sales do not involve any chain and there is usually very little that can prevent contracts from completing within 4-6 weeks.

Some companies also offer to pay all your fees for you including searches and solicitors costs.

Downsides of Using a Quick House Sale Company

The principle downside when you sell your house fast for cash is a financial one and the only reason companies like these will be interested in your property is if they can make a profit on it.

According to the government’s Money Advice Service, the typical cash value achieved via these companies is around 75% of the true market value. This may seem like a very steep sum to pay for achieving a quick sale and may not stack up with some of the claims made by some companies in their advertising. However, the final sum paid does not always match the initial offer made.

There is the added downside that, though many sell your house fast for cash companies purport to offer a ‘hassle-free’ service, there can still be delays in the process. The sale process must be proceed in a conventional way and is therefore subject to some of the same hold-ups that happen in traditional conveyancing.

money advice service sell your house for cash

The Money Advice Service state that typical sale prices are 75% of the true market value. Image via website.

Lastly, there is plenty of anecdotal and reported evidence to suggest that it is common for the initial offer price to be reduced close to the exchange date. Though this can happen in the ordinary process of a house sale as a result of unexpected findings from a survey, the extent of these price drops can be significant.

The Money Advice Service reports a recent case study where a homeowner accepted an offer of £120,000 for his property which was reduced to £80,000 just days before the deal was due to be signed.

Sell your House Fast for Cash: The Process

When you initially make an enquiry to a quick house sale company, you may well be quoted an initial offer against the value of your home. This can range from a reduction in the market value of between 5% and 25%. If you receive a quote for 95% of the value of your home in cash with a guaranteed turn around of 4-6 weeks, you may be tempted to accept the offer.

Firstly, it is important to get a clear idea of the value of your home. Whilst some of these fast sale companies may value your home for you, clearly it is imperative that you get an independent assessment so that you can accurately judge the offer on the table.

sell your house for cash

It is crucial that you know the true value of your home before you consider any cash offers. Image via Flickr.

It is worth remembering however that surveys can throw up any number of issues and it is common for the initial offer to be replaced before the exchange of contracts. If the revised offer is too low then you will have wasted several weeks in the process.

As if this weren’t enough to put potential sellers off, some quick house sale companies make it a part of the initial agreement that you may not sell your home to another party for a fixed period of time without incurring penalty charges to them.

Unfortunately, this area of selling a home is not regulated so there are few protections that any industry body can offer you when you are using the services of a sell your house fast for cash company. However, you can mitigate this risk by only looking at those companies who are registered with the National Association of Property Buyers (NAPB). A not-for-profit organisation, customers of companies who are registered with this body can access independent redress in the case of any complaints.

Alternatives to Using a Quick House Sale Company

Of course, there are other ways to sell your house fast, the most secure way being via a reputable estate agency.

If you are looking to sell your house fast for cash then doing so on the open market via an agent offers plenty of advantages over a quick house sale company, including:

  • Professional accreditation and full redress
  • Transparency of offer and contract process
  • Independent advice and support
  • Better chance of securing competitive value

The chances are that, if you are prepared to accept a reduction in the value your property can be sold quickly and, often, at far less of a reduction in price than the typical 25% offered by quick house sale companies.

You might also wish to consider selling your home at auction with a minimum asking price. Auctions are a pot-luck when it comes to the achieved sale price but, as long as your reserve has been met, are an almost guaranteed way to sell a property. You could be fortunate and achieve a higher sale price than you were expecting.

sell your house fast at auction

Selling your house at auction might be a good alternative. Image via Pixabay.

Using a Sell Your House Fast For Cash Company: Advice

If you do decided to go down the route of selling your house through a quick house sale company then remember the following advice:

  • Always get everything in writing; valuations, survey results, fees etc. Never accept any verbal assurances.
  • Shop around. There are plenty of companies to choose from so review feedback, fees and always look for a company that is registered with The Property Ombudsman.
  • Get some independent advice. Always seek an independent valuation of your property to determine how fair the offer made on your home is. You should also ensure that you appoint your own legal adviser. Though some companies will ask you to use their own conveyancing team (to speed things up), they cannot force you to do so. You would be well-advised to have independent legal advice.
  • Read the contract carefully. Make sure that you are not signing up for a long tie-in or that there are any clauses that could cost you downstream.
  • Take your time. Though you may be in a hurry to sell, always make sure that you give due consideration to the legal paperwork and don’t be pressured into making any decisions over the phone. Some companies have a reputation for being skilled at last minute negotiations to reduce the price. Taking advantage of some people’s need for instant cash can lead to significant drops in the sale price.
  • Be honest. You should never withhold any information pertaining to the sale of your property as this can delay or jeopardise any contract. Be upfront about known problems, issues and information to avoid hold-ups later on.

If you would like some more advice on how to sell your house fast, contact us today to discuss your options. We are happy to give you some impartial advice on the ways you can get a faster sale without needing to resort to a sell your house fast for cash company.

Not only can we market your home for a fast sale but we also work with a new company in the UK that guarantees completion between buyer and seller. To find out more about this, and other services, call us on 0118 912 2370.

You might find our other posts on ‘Top Tips For Getting Your House Ready for Sale’ and ‘5 Reasons Your House Might Not Be Selling‘ useful.

Featured image via Flickr.