The Inside Edge
When it comes to home security you could end up spending a fortune on the latest high tech equipment or you could follow these seven simple tips and achieve much the same results at a fraction of the price. While it would be easy to dismiss the need for any security measures if you have never had any problems just remember that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and you never know when something might go wrong. Wouldn’t you rather be prepared; even if it’s just to ready and implement the tips in this article?
1. Thorny Plants Under the Windows
This is probably one of the prettiest security solutions that exist today. Plant thorny plants, like a lovely rosebush for instance, under your down stairs windows to deter anyone thinking the windows would make a good entry point. Not many would be criminals will relish getting caught up in a rosebush as they try to get in through the window.
2. Make Use of Fencing
Fencing or any other kind of barrier for that matter is a great way to define the boundaries of your property. Now this isn’t going to stop anyone who’s determined but by having a boundary in place you’ll at least be making the task a little harder plus it will also make the criminal think twice; I mean who wants to try and carry the plasma TV they just stole over a 6 ft. high fence?
3. Install Security Cameras
While these top tips mostly focus on non-high tech devices the popularity of security cameras and home security systems have brought costs down to a level where the majority of people can now afford to have some security cameras setup. Here’s a nice list of security cameras available in the UK ordered by price. It’s fairly straight forward to fit a security camera yourself and a great way to gain peace of mind knowing that everything’s being captured on tape.
4. Check Who’s at the Door
You hear parents tell their kids never to open the door to strangers and this should go for you too. Logically you know it’s odd if a plumber or electrician turn up unannounced claiming to be there to fix a problem you weren’t even aware of. Just because they’re wearing a uniform you recognise doesn’t necessarily mean you should let them in. This is why we have security chains on our doors, peep round the door and ask them to identify themselves; a quick call to the firm they represent should confirm they are who they say they are. Don’t worry about wasting their time, tradesmen and women want you to trust them and they’ll be more than happy for you to confirm their identity.
5. Give Your Place a Lived In Feel
If you’ve got your neighbours keeping an eye on your property whilst you’re away why not ask them if they wouldn’t mind moving your car every now and then. It will only take a few minutes and gives the impression to anyone canvasing the area that someone has been coming and going. Better yet ask a friend if they would want to stay at your place whilst you’re gone; with it being more and more difficult for twenty somethings to get their own place in the UK you shouldn’t have a problem finding someone appropriate and in need of a break from their parents.
6. Light It Up
A little bit of light can go a long way. Would be criminals often look for dark and gloomy properties in order to avoid being spotted. Thus a simple solution is to install some lighting around your property. This might be a porch light providing a warm glow, or perhaps some lights lining the driveway or even better a motion activated security light. Whatever you decide on will act as an extra deterrent and assure you that nobody is out there lurking in the bushes.
7. Let People Know Your Home is Secure
Finally make it obvious that you have a security system in place. Even if you don’t have a full blown alarm system in place doesn’t mean you can’t put up a sign saying you do. It’s a simple and very affordable security measure but, putting the shoe on the other foot, would you risk breaking in if you thought there could be an alarm system in place?
Now it seems that spring has finally sprung in the UK, many of us are turning our attention to the possibility that it might be possible to get the barbeque out in the next few weeks. But this winter’s heavy snows, frosts and general wet weather have taken their toll on the appearance of Britain’s gardens. Now’s the perfect time to get your gardening gloves on and start getting your outdoor space ready for relaxing and entertaining your friends and family this summer.
Photo courtesey of USDAgov
Below are some of our top tips for good places to start.
- If your outside space is more small patio than expansive green lawns, try planting a few brightly coloured pots full of beautiful summer bedding plants in a variety of colours.
- Make tired looking wooden garden furniture look good as new by painting it with some teak oil – there’s no need to splash out on an expensive new set.
- If moss has been ruining the look of your lawn, simply rake it out. Reseed your lawn to fill in any patchy bits.
- Invest in a pressure washer (or hire one from your local garden centre) to give dirty patios and decking areas a good scrub, creating a more appealing space in which to relax this summer.
- Place some solar lights around the garden to keep your al fresco entertaining spot well lit until long after the sun goes down.
- Make sure your flowerbeds are full of perennials that come back year after year, then simply fill in any gaps with summer bedding plants to add a spot of colour straight away.
- Focus on fragrance too – plant some jasmine, roses or gardenia near your patio to treat you and your guests to a heavenly aroma – you’ll be surprised what a difference it can make.
- Invest in a shed to house your garden tools, soil etc to avoid untidy areas. If you’re worried about theft or damage to your new equipment, switch to the AA’s home contents insurance, which includes up to £1,000 garden cover and £3,000 for the contents of your shed.
- Create some further points of interest in your landscape by adding some personality, whether it’s through wind chimes, driftwood, boulders, stones, or even lanterns – this will make a real difference and create a really stylish look.
- Finally, to keep your lawn looking good all summer long, with minimal fuss, make sure you have got a decent sprinkler system on the go, so you can kick back, relax and make the most of any good weather that comes our way.
According to a recent statement made by Ian McCaig, chief exec of First Utility, the cost of energy bills could potentially overtake mortgage payments within the next five years. This news may sound dire, but it is anything but surprising. Over the past five years, the average cost of utility bills in the UK has risen by approximately 35%. And if this trend continues, homeowners could very soon find themselves paying substantially more for their utilities than they do for their homes.
Coping with Rising Utilities
Many people across the UK will be able to deal with their rising utility costs, despite these costs having a significant impact upon their standard of living. However for many, these increases will prove devastating.
The worst consequences of rising utility bills can already be observed amongst those people who don’t have the financial capabilities to absorb such increases. These people tend to be the most vulnerable in society, including elderly people and the disabled. And for those living in ‘fuel poverty’, simply turning down their heating isn’t an option. This is particularly true in winter, and for those living in poorly insulated houses who don’t have the money to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Energy Efficient Homes
The homes which will be the least affected by rising utility costs will be those which have the highest energy efficiency ratings. There are many elements which contribute to how well a property is able to conserve energy, which include:
- Wall, floor and roof insulation
- Properly sealed exterior walls
- Energy efficient boilers
- Alternative energy sources (such as solar panels)
The more energy efficient elements a property is in possession of, the lower said property’s utilities will be. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the homeowner to ensure that their property has as many energy efficient features as possible.
Finding an Energy Efficient Property
There are three ways to make sure that you have an energy efficient home. The first is to buy a property which has already been fitted with energy efficient features. This can be achieved by utilising the services of a reputable conveyancer from Conveyancing Direct, to make sure the property in question has all of the features you desire – and none of the features you don’t.
The second way is to build your own energy efficient home. This is a choice which increasing numbers of UK homeowners are making, in order to guarantee that they are able to reside in a property whose energy performance rating is as high as possible.
The two methods outlined above are great solutions for some, but inaccessible for many. This is because the cost of buying or building a new home is simply out of reach for many people; especially those who may be classed as ‘vulnerable’. For these people it is essential that another option be provided. In this case, opting into the government’s Green Deal scheme may be a possible solution to the problem of rising utility bills. As a financing scheme designed to help people have their properties retrofitted for energy efficiency, it potentially gives hope to many who might otherwise have seen their utility bills spiral beyond control.
More and more it seems people are renting accommodation instead of buying. For first time buyers the reason is simple, the initial outlay. The average property in the UK is valued at around £240,000, so with a 95% mortgage you’re looking at a £12K deposit. Add to this the costs involved, such as arrangement fees and stamp duties, and you could well be looking at paying over £15K upfront. The next problem that immediately arises is repayment fees. The greater percentage of the property that is mortgaged, the higher the interest payments. In other words, if you take out a 95% mortgage you are deemed to be a greater risk than someone who has taken out a 70% mortgage and as such, you will pay more interest.
Rising house prices
Part of the problem is caused by house prices rising at a far greater speed than inflation. The average house in the UK is around twice the cost than in 1980 (allowing for inflation). This has led to more and more of those who earn less not being able to get on the property ladder, with properties going to those with more money, who in turn rent out the properties, thus leading to a nation of renters.
According to the Guardian owner occupation has been steadily declining for several years, with private renting increasing at the same time. Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Many people are having their incomes frozen or have pay rises that aren’t keeping up with inflation. As a result, mortgages aren’t as easy to obtain as they once were and more and more are being forced into renting.
With the lack of social housing, more people are having to opt for private renting, which is also becoming more expensive due to the basic economics of supply and demand. The more people that want to rent, the more landlords can charge. There is also the issue of a housing shortage. The population is on the increase and houses are becoming harder to find. With this, house prices are still rising and as such, more and more people will struggle to get on the housing ladder. Unless this issue is addressed at some point in the future, there doesn’t really look like an end in sight and the reality is that the nation will see more people renting and less buying.
Camberwell estate agents are one of a large UK network and can help you to find a home, whether it’s renting or buying, or even buy-to-let.
In today’s budget the Chancellor announced more support for people wishing to buy their own homes, but will it make things easier for you and how can you go about saving up a deposit of your own?
The additional support for would-be home owners comes in two forms. Firstly the New Buy scheme is being expanded. This scheme helps buyers secure a mortgage by reducing the level of deposit that you have to raise on your own.
It’s effectively an interest free loan from the Government which you can put towards your deposit and pay back when you sell the house. This scheme will be available to anyone buying a new home under £600,000. The second support mechanism will be launched in 2014 nd will be a guarantee provided to banks against mortgages, effectively allowing banks to reduce deposits to 5% without taking on so much risk. Think of it as an insurance policy for banks.
So where does this leave you?
If you are thinking about buying a house you will likely still have to raise some kind of deposit – whether it’s 5% or 25% – so how do you go about saving this?
One way is to get an ISA in each tax year so you can put your savings into an interest free savings account.
For 2013/14 the annual ISA investment allowance will be £11,520, of which £5,760 can be saved in a cash ISA and the remainder can be invested in a stocks and shares ISA. If you do not use your ISA allowance for a given year then you lose it, so it can be prudent to use your allowance each year to maximise your tax free savings.
In a competitive rental market, every landlord will want to do the best they can to ensure an attractive rental rate. A key issue to consider is whether it’s worth furnishing a property – or not. It’s no small decision of course, furnishing a property requires a major commitment, and a lot of cost – so it is really worth doing it? We weigh out the pros and cons to help you decide what the best way forward for you is.
Why furnish – the pros
Presenting a fully furnished property immediately creates an attractive first impression – one that tenants can imagine moving into straight away. For many tenants, a furnished property is a cost-effective solution, as they don’t need to invest in providing their own furniture themselves – in fact, most tenants will look for a furnished property as a priority when selecting a place to live. As a result, furnished properties are often let a lot sooner than unfurnished properties, saving both the landlord, and the tenant, a lot of time and hassle.
Furnishing can be a costly endeavour – but with careful thought and planning, this can be a worthwhile investment. After a tenant leaves, the furniture still belongs to you, and you can use it yourself – or choose to pass it on to future tenants. To ensure longevity, it’s worth investing in high quality staple furnishings, that are both attractive and practical. Key items include those that will receive the most amount of wear and usage, such as a good quality chest of drawers, bedding, and living room furniture. Rather than going for trend-led designs, classic styles that can easily be adapted to individual tenant’s tastes are a better choice.
What are the cons?
While furnishing a property creates an attractive first impression, for some tenants and landlords, choosing to keep a property unfurnished is a better option. The advantage of this is that it can attract tenants who wish to stay on a longer term – for tenants who invest in their own furniture, they may prefer to avoid the costly and complicated process of having to move again.
Letting tenants choose their own furniture also removes the hassle of checking for wear and tear, by leaving the responsibility to tenants themselves. By allowing tenants to pick and choose their own surroundings according to their own tastes, they’re also likely to be less problematic, as they’ll be happier with their home.
Is there a middle way?
The middle option is to leave it ‘part-furnished’. This gives both you and your tenants the flexibility to invest in key basics which they might not want to source themselves – such as beds, wardrobes and heavy kitchen units. This allows your tenant the choice to select other items which they can choose according to their own tastes and styles, giving them a feeling of involvement in their own home – without being forced to invest extensively in furnishing the property themselves.
However you choose to furnish your property, it’s important to protect both you and your tenant. Ensure that all furnishing and appliances meet up to date safety standards – while this is not a legal requirement, it does help to prevent any issues arising in future. It’s also worth investing in insurance for any furniture you buy – again, while it’s not an official requirement, it certainly gives you some practical protection for your property.
A guest post by commercial property management specialists Eddisons.
The credit crunch impacted on many investment areas and commercial property was no different. However, the sector is now becoming a viable option again, as investors look for more stable options, with cash and bonds returns continuing to fall. But where it was once the opportunity of capital growth that drew investors to commercial property, it is now rental income that pulls them in. So, what is it about commercial property rental income that makes it such an attractive proposal?
Whilst figures vary slightly throughout the UK, commercial property can yield in the region of 6% per year. What is more appealing is the length of the contracts that commercial property can command. Whilst residential property tends to be rented on a 6 or 12 monthly basis, landlords of commercial property can expect contracts of 10 or even 20 years. This obviously offers great stability to the landlord and plenty of time to negotiate a new contract or find a new tenant should the current one signal their intention to leave.
The value of UK commercial property decreased a national average of 2.3% during 2012. Although property prices in London fared much better, they still remain 21% below their peak price of 2007. This of course mans that there are some good deals to be had by investors. With the construction industry still struggling to recover and few new buildings planned, the demand for commercial property is increasing and will continue to do so in the coming years. Even once construction levels do increase; it will be some years before the properties are ready to welcome tenants. The situation will only help to strengthen the hand of commercial landlords and the rental figures they can command.
All UK commercial property has index-linked rent reviews that are carried out on a regular basis. This allows rental figures to stay in line with increasing prices; thus protecting against inflation. This low risk investment is further sweetened by the fact that tenants are responsible for the upkeep of commercial property, which is not the case with residential property. This hands off landlord approach is desirable to investors with other business interests to juggle.
Easy Entry and Exit
Commercial property does of course tend to be more expensive than residential property, but the prices are not a barrier to anyone looking to invest. Property funds and Real Estate Investment Funds (REIFs) offer a route into the sector; allowing investors to buy shares to the value that suits them. Should the investor wish to liquidate their assets, this arrangement also allows for a quicker and simpler exit; with shares being much easier to sell than a whole property.
The UK commercial property sector is currently in a strong position; with increasing rents and low capital prices providing investors with solid yields. There is no indication that this will change in the longer term, making commercial property a viable addition to your portfolio.
Work on the multi-million pound Crossrail is underway, with completion currently scheduled for 2018. Crossrail is set to link Maidenhead and Heathrow with Shenfield and Abbey Wood, passing through Ealing and central London, and is expected to bring with it a huge range of benefits. This includes a boost for the property market in and around London as well as wider economic benefits.
Real estate agents are predicting a significant boost in the value of properties along the new Crossrail route, with some London estate agents expecting increases of around 10 percent as a result of the new service, whilst others predict increases of up to 25 percent. Once Crossrail has been completed and is fully functional, many homeowners with properties along the route will see their property values soar. This is due to rising demand from the likes of traders, financial workers, and others who want to benefit from convenient access to central London.
Another major benefit that is expected to stem from Crossrail is increased foreign investment. This could include more foreign businesses moving into the area as well as increased property investment, both commercial and residential. Officials believe that Crossrail will play a big part in the level of foreign investment in and around London in years to come, and the service has been described as being a key part of London’s plans when it comes to growth and expansion.
Some of the wider benefits that could affect property prices
It is thought that in central parts of London, the service could see up to two dozen trains an hour in operation at peak times, each of which boasts the capacity to hold 1500 passengers. This will relieve a huge amount of pressure on London’s roads, as it will help to ease congestion considerably, which could also have a knock on effect on the property market both in terms of demand and values.
Crossrail is also likely to bring many more jobs into the area, partly due to new businesses and investments, and this could boost property demand further. A report carried out late last year on behalf of Crossrail indicated that there were plans to build many new homes and commercial premises close to the new stations. Eight of which are set to be built in central London and Docklands.
The Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce said that the service would have far reaching positive effects for London and some of the surrounding areas, not only in terms of property values and increased business investment but also in terms of regeneration, employment, and improvements to the local economy.
London has and always will be a very attractive location for investment, with figures released recently showing that overseas buyers are still very enthusiastic about buying property in the capital. Research by Knight Frank shows that in 2012, £2.2 billion worth of property was bought in London by buyers from overseas.
Overseas interest in London property is certainly nothing new; the UK capital offers some of the most sought-after locations in the entire world, but it may come as a surprise to some that the practice is still so popular in the current economic climate.
It appears as though there have been many buyers in countries where economic performance has bucked the trend and remained stable. The research shows that people from 52 countries all over the world bought property in London in 2012. The biggest share was surprisingly from Singapore, which accounted for 22% of the sales. It’s important to note that these percentages are ranked in terms of the number of transactions, not their value. Buyers from Hong Kong also proved to be great in number, accounting for 16% of sales. There were also considerable purchases from buyers in Russia, China and Malaysia.
Insecurities in the Eurozone have actually been of a slight benefit to the London property market, as some European investors have chosen to diversify by buying property not directly tied to the euro. The pound being relatively weak has also helped foreign investors buy property here in the United Kingdom.
It’s not just financial security and investment which is attracting overseas buyers either. Aside from the fact that London is consistently ranked as one of the most important cities in the world, the education opportunities are second-to-none. This makes the capital one of the best destinations to send aspiring children and students. London’s multicultural credentials also help it to be accommodating to nearly any nationality.
Aside from house purchases, the rental market from overseas is also very strong. Again, this is linked to the education prospects. While there may have been 52 different nationalities that bought property in London, there were in fact 77 that rented last year. Indeed, the number of foreign nationals living in the capital is extremely high; there are more Europeans living in London than the entire population of Frankfurt. There are also more French Londoners than there are French people in the city of Cannes. This is why French schools have cropped up in some of the more affluent areas.
While those in the UK might still be struggling to finance a home purchase or sell their home, with many looking for a quick house sale in order to get what they want, it appears as though overseas buyers are contributing to the slight improvements we’re currently seeing in the market. There are still a variety of incentives around for first time buyers, but more still needs to happen for UK nationals to start buying in force again, especially with the price of housing in London.
Come winter, we go into hibernation. The majority of our days are spent indoors where we can huddle around a warm heater or blazing fireplace. We find ourselves lounging around on the couch much more often, slippers on and tea in hand.
Coffee tables are the centrepiece of any lounge room. They’re where your remote lands, your tea cools and they’re where you’ll find some of your most interesting books. Instead of instantly reaching for the remote tonight, pick up a book that’s going to grab your attention with a combination of stunning imagery and great writing. This particular genre of book, known as ‘coffee table books’, are aimed at anyone who wants to flick through or do some light reading on just about any topic.
So what are the best coffee table books to add to your collection in 2013?
800 Views of Airports
This strange and quirky concept is a surprisingly interesting book. The 408 glossy pages are filled with the photography by Swiss duo, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who have been taking snapshots of airports for over 25 years during their travels. Their strangely peaceful transit images juxtapose the usual busyness of an airport and make the whole place feel silent. This expectedly banal topic has been turned into a fascinating coffee table book. The most interesting aspect has to be the technological changes that you can clearly see have occurred in air travel over the last two and a half decades. Plane spotters and travellers alike will love this book.
This beautifully presented guide covers everything about wine that any grape juice enthusiast would ever want to know. Written by a trio of experts, Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Joes Vouillamoz, this book tells you all about the genetic side of grapes, the history of wine and gives you various vineyard descriptions among other things. And, of course, it includes lists of all the best wines to sample. This wine bible is an interesting read for wine lovers and a fantastic conversation starter for dinner parties.
Todd Selby is a photographer by trade and his tasty book will take readers through some of the worlds’ most extraordinary and inspired kitchens, homes and gardens. This book has a comforting, homey feel and is full of pictures depicting the most creative figures working in the food industry today. The colourful photos are accompanied by profiles of world-famous chefs, who each include the recipe for one of their favourite dishes. This lively and bright book is for any cooking or food lover.
Photos that changed the world
This book is a compilation of the world’s most remarkable and moving images of events that have changed the world. Although it was released many years ago, Peter Stepan and Claus Biegert’s book continues to interest and inspire people through the iconic images it presents. Well-known photographers like Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, as well as lesser known individuals who just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, have images which feature in this important collection. From the bombing of Pearl Harbour to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, this book will evoke emotions ranging from joy to hope to sorrow and heartbreak. This is a must-have coffee table book for people interested in history or news.