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Grand Designs: Six of the Greatest Homes on the Planet

by admin

Barn or bungalow, cottage or cave, farmhouse or flat… an Englishman’s home is his castle. But what’s the state of affairs elsewhere? We’ve scoured the globe for the most enchanting abodes in existence, judging them not on their financial worth, but on their personality, presence, timelessness and ingenuity.


1. Pretty Beach House (Australia)

Dubbed “Australia’s most intimate and luxurious guesthouse”, the Pretty Beach is an idyllic getaway for you and your loved ones. With no TVs, time stands still. In fact, you’d be wise to check out some gift ideas for her before you go, taking something to read against the backdrop of ancient Bouddi National Park and infinity pools! We’re enticed by the laid-back personality of this home built of mud bricks and hand crafted timber posts.


2. Gary Chang’s Apartment (China)

Gary Chang’s apartment is only 105 square feet, making it the smallest home on our list. Using hydraulics, Gary’s design enables the walls to move to create 24 individual rooms and a great deal of storage. We think this home meets our definition of ‘greatness’ as it acts as an example of innovation at a time when Hong Kong’s population is struggling with an ongoing shortage of space.


3. Jacob’s Ladder, (England)

Jacob’s ladder just so happens to be Kevin McCloud’s favourite house in Britain – and with good reason. It has unparalleled personality, constructed from cedar, glass and steel, and is nestled modestly into surrounding woodland. Its creator, Architect Niall McLaughlin, explains its magical presence by stating that “…it sits in a gap in the trees and we felt like it was a window in the woods”. Sounds dreamy!


4. Bohumil Lhota’s Roundabout House (Czech Republic)

Bohumil Lhota’s home has been referred to a cross between “a Hobbit’s home and a building from Star Wars”. The dwelling moves up and down, and can rotate on its side to follow the sun. Granted, it’s not the most luxurious house on the planet – but it does have adequate living quarters and a swimming pool. By building it underground, Lhota’s home maintains a stable temperature all year round. So why has it made our list? Well, it blends design of the past and future, has tons of personality, and thoughtfully considers energy usage in a way that conventional homes rarely do.


5. Lake Wakatipu House (New Zealand)

This home is an absolute knock out. Set against majestic mountains, this house doesn’t just sit respectfully within its environment: it becomes it. The use of sharp lines, subdued colour and natural textures give this home a presence and timelessness that rivals even its highest snow-capped neighbours. It’s our favourite.


6. Tower Studio (Canada)

Tower Studio is a dark, twisting, three story home situated on a stretch of rocky coastline in Newfoundland. From the exterior, the thirty-two-foot structure is perplexing…. it appears to ‘buckle’, leaning forward and backwards as it reaches up towards the sky. Inside, however, is completely whitewashed, bright and minimal. So why’s it made it to the great list? As well as being ecologically sustainable, it prompts discussion: it’s quizzical, unique and impossible to ignore.

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What to do When You’ve Inherited a Property

by admin

When you inherit a property, there are a great number of factors to consider. Whether you’ve inherited suddenly after a bereavement, or you’ve inheritance has been planned for a while, there’s sure to be a number of things associated with inheritance that you’ve never even considered before you actually inherited the property. Here we look at what you can do when you’ve inherited a property and whether you should sell it, live in it or rent it out.


Live in it, rent it out, or sell it?

The first consideration you’ll have to have when you inherit a property is to decide whether to live in it, rent it out or sell it. The most common action for those who inherit a property is to sell it, but this doesn’t mean that you have to.

Selling a property can often be the simplest answer if you’re unsure what to do. This is because it avoids any possible implications with letting it out or owning multiple homes. Plus, on top of all this, there’s the emotional stress of dealing with a property that used to belong to a loved one and the possibilities surrounding joint ownership, which can be a potential legal minefield.

Due to all of these factors, selling can often be the easiest option. However, it doesn’t have to be the only option, and there are pitfalls too, such as immediately selling the home of a loved one and having to ‘let go’ so soon. Other options are available, so let’s look at the positives of living in the property and renting it out, too.


Living in it

If you’re only renting your current property, then moving into the inherited property could be a wise move, particularly if you’re the sole owner. In the long run, this could save you a large amount of money on rent, and could even make you feel closer to someone that you’ve lost.

Living in a property really is a great option if it can ease a financial burden. However, as previously mentioned, you need to be aware of the implications as well. Living in a property that was once owned by a loved one (particularly a close one) can mean that you suffer from a large amount of emotional stress and, if you’ve jointly inherited the house with someone you don’t live with (such as a brother or sister), you may not be able to inhabit it as they may wish to sell it. As a result, you’ll have to consider this option carefully.


Renting it out

Finally, if you’re not looking to sell as you think house prices may increase in a few years, then you should consider renting it out. If you find the right tenant, then the rental market can be a lucrative one, helping you pay off your own mortgage in the process, and maybe even turnover a small profit.

However, as with the other options, there are downsides to this. As part of renting out the property, you’ll be allowing someone to live in your loved one’s old home, so you’ll want to be sure they’ll take care of it. Additionally, becoming a landlord is also a huge responsibility, so make sure you know what it entails.

So there we have it, when you inherit a property you can sell it, rent it out or live in it. There are positives and negatives to each option, so be sure to pick what’s best for you.


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Keeping your home warm on a budget

by admin

Winter is well and truly upon us, and as the weather’s got colder, many of us have turned the heating on already –  and probably won’t be turning the thermostat down until after February!

Although energy prices are falling, the average family still spends over £1000 a year on gas and electricity, which is no small sum.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to cut your energy costs without shivering all winter. If you want to keep warm without breaking the bank, here are five top tips.

Maximise your radiators

How many of us have our sofa up against the radiator in the living room? It might be keeping the back of your sofa toasty warm, but the heat won’t get much further than that. Moving furniture away from the radiators, even just a few inches, lets the heat circulate through the room and warm it properly, as well as saving on damage to your furniture.

To make your radiators work even harder, consider investing in radiator panels; reflective panels you put behind a radiator to reflect more heat into the room – these really do make a difference: using them on every radiator in your house can cut your heating bills by as much as 15%! And if you don’t fancy buying them, you can achieve a similar effect by lining the wall behind your radiators with tin-foil.

Keep your home warm this winter.

Photo by Fredo, displayed under a creative commons licence.

Stop losing heat

You may already use draught excluders to keep heat from escaping under doors, but what about your windows? Even with double glazing, thin curtains or blinds can let heat out. Consider replacing yours with a heavier option to keep the warmth in the room, or line them with a thermal lining – a cheap fleece material will do.

And curtains aren’t just for windows! Try placing them over external doors for extra draught exclusion, as well as a bit of interior design flair. However, don’t keep curtains or blinds drawn in the day, as sunlight will warm your rooms up naturally.

Don’t heat what you don’t need

If you have a spare bedroom or second bathroom that’s rarely used, turn radiators off in those rooms, and shut the doors to them so that heat from the rest of the house doesn’t escape into them either. It might be unpleasant if you have to nip in to find something, but it’ll be worth it for the savings!

Additionally, if you have radiators in the halls or corridors of your home, these can be turned down slightly – if not shut off altogether – as you’ll only ever be passing through them for a couple of minutes at a time.


Professional home insulation can be costly, but DIY loft insulation is relatively cheap and simple. Foam insulation is cheap, and three 8inch rolls should be enough to give most lofts a decent layer of insulation. Make sure you know what you’re doing before you start, and wear protective clothing and goggles to stay safe, though.

Another part of your house to insulate is the hot water tank and pipes. You can buy a jacket for the tank and foam tubes for the pipes, both of which are easy to fit, and will keep the heat inside the pipes – so it heats the water, not your airing cupboard.

It’s all about timing

It’s a basic tip, but putting the thermostat on a timer is a great way to make sure you’re only heating the house when it’s needed. Set the timer for 20 minutes before you wake up and 20 minutes before you get home from work, and you’ll feel toasty 24/7 without having to think about it.

Additionally, try to keep the heat setting at 18C – this is the temperature that most of us should feel warm in a jumper and jeans, and ensuring your heating doesn’t go above this temperature often will save you cash. If it seems too cold at first, try bringing the temperature down 1 degree every few days until you’re acclimatised.

Liberty is writing on behalf of Lifestyle Blinds.

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The top five UK retirement hotspots

by admin

After a long hard life of working and bringing up kids, all most of us want from our retirement is a little bit of the good life.

Some nice views, friendly neighbours and plenty of opportunities for day trips and activities are all we ask for from a retirement property – in addition to top class facilities, high end fixtures and great staff.

If you’re looking for the perfect destination for your golden years, here are five of the best spots in the country for the older and more discerning members of our nation.

North Yorkshire

With breathtaking views, picturesque villages and friendly locals, it’s no wonder that North Yorkshire, and Skipton in particular have been voted the best place to retire to in the UK.

The result comes from findings put together by the government’s National Wellbeing Programme, and categorically show that retirees are shunning big cities in favour of the warmth and tranquillity of small town living.


Boasting miles of beautiful coastline, historic cities and plenty of sunshine, Dorset has been a firm favourite among retirees for many years.

As a result, developments are springing up in the best locations across the country – have a look at McCarthy & Stone’s Google+ Profile or website for all of the latest projects.


Like Dorset, Devon has more than its fair share of rugged countryside and spectacular beaches, both of which play a large part in tempting retirees from across the country.

Small cities like Exeter make excellent retirement destinations thanks to their proximity to the sea, wealth of facilities and community atmosphere.


The stunning countryside of the Lake District is enough to tempt people of all ages to relocate. And if you’re looking for a spectacular setting for your retirement, this could be just what you’re looking for.

The small market town of Kendal makes the ideal retirement destination, giving residents easy access to the countryside and a picture postcard setting.


If it’s calm and tranquillity that you’re after, look no further than Norfolk.

This peaceful and relaxed part of the country has been a haven for the elderly and retired for years, with few hills, friendly locals and great scenery just waiting to be explored.

Reaching retirement can be an exciting time in your life, giving you the opportunity to relocate to your favourite holiday destination or move closer to friends and family.

And with a wealth of great value and high standard retirement developments across the country, you’ll be spoilt for choice when the time comes.



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The Hidden Danger In Your Renovation Plans: Asbestos in properties

by admin

A strong, fire-resistant fibre, asbestos was basically the most popular insulation against fire, noise and heat before the 1980s. After this time though, research and studies found that any material containing this fibre was dangerous; potentially fatally so.

While we know this now, the hazards of asbestos continue to cause us problems. Last June, this article on the BBC by the British Lung Foundation warned us that deaths from asbestos-related diseases will only peak in 2016. If that wasn’t worrying enough, they already kill more people (around 4,500) each year than road accidents in the United Kingdom.

It is true that the use of asbestos was at commercial properties more than domestic ones, but home owners and landlords must be vigilant to the potential problem in their properties. With asbestos-related diseases developing over time (anything from 15 to 60 years), it really is a tricky substance to understand and deal with but if you don’t then it may lead to things like lung cancer or leave you fighting mesothelioma compensation claims from the work carried out in the past.

Only completely banned in 1999, back in 2011 it was believed that half of the homes in the United Kingdom housed some form of the fibre. Any concerns or misunderstandings can be cleared up by reviewing the 2006 Control of Asbestos Regulations where it tells you who has the duty, what that is and how to comply.

Dealing with asbestos during renovations

Whilst it is usually advised to hire professionals to do any renovations to the home, asbestos checks should always be the first port of call. To do this, you need to find someone trained to check for and remove asbestos and get them to do a full check on the property – particularly if it is an older build.

The fibres don’t pose any problems if they are in a material that hasn’t deteriorated but once disturbed through anything from sanding to drilling to handling you have a major problem. You are responsible for the health and safety of anyone who does any refurbish or remodeling work on your home.

Where is asbestos often found?

From kitchen tiles to guttering, asbestos was that popular and cheap that has the potential to be anywhere in the property. The most common spot is when it was used for insulation on the roof. But, it is also often found on pipe, wire and boiler insulation as well as in cement and building structures.

With your whole property having potential to house asbestos, it is always recommended to have a professional check before any renovation plans. While the levels in buildings might not be enough to be particularly harmful, if you’ve already started renovations and find a problem you will have already lost both time and money.

Asbestos is a Royal problem

If you are wondering what the chances are of asbestos being so widespread that you need to check every property with a tooth comb then one look at the Queen and you’ll realise it is a problem we all face. Accounts from the Royals last year showed that Buckingham Palace, and particularly the south wing, had cost everyone a lot of money due to asbestos.

Around one million pounds was spent last year to strip the material and it is thought that more will be spent on completely eradicating this problem for the next two decades. Aside from the Queen’s residence, the Houses of Parliament may close for the removal of asbestos and other refurbishment while the famous King’s College at Cambridge University was found to carry asbestos as well.

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Moving to a safe neighbourhood?

by admin

The winter months are traditionally a quiet time of year for house moves, but if you are planning to relocate in 2013 now’s the time to start your research. There are so many elements that factor into making a place a desirable one in which to live – good schools, leisure facilities, transport links and security and community spirit.

Moving to a new area can be unnerving when you don’t know your way around, or any of the locals, as such security can be one consideration. Rushing into a move without exploring the neighbourhood or wider region could lead you to feel less than settled when you move in and in some of the worst cases, land you with a property that you are unable to sell on in the future. So, what kind of checks can you make to ensure you are moving into a safe neighbourhood?

In the first instance you can check the Policeuk website. Here you’ll find local crime statistics by street or area, so you’ll be able to identify if you are moving into a particularly troublesome neighbourhood. You can also find out what type of crimes are being committed in the area so that you can be prepared. For example, should there be a high instance of car break-ins you might concentrate your property search on homes with secure garages or if there have been a spate of burglaries, you could install a monitored alarm system.

ADT - When Alarm Activations Occur

ADT - When Alarm Activations Occur

This recently published interactive graphic from security specialists ADT is also a useful tool. It uses the firm’s statistics to show where and when their monitored alarms go off and highlights problem areas and times.

Of course, there are very few communities that remain completely crime-free and many good areas do suffer crime problems. Be sure to visit properties during the day and evening to get a more accurate feel for the area. Chat to neighbours and call into local shops to find out whether current residents are happy and friendly and ultimately help you decide whether it’s a community you’d like to be part of.


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Improve the energy-efficiency of your home – before winter hits

by admin

With winter rapidly approaching, it might be a good time to improve the energy-efficiency of your home. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but it could help you save money throughout the cold spell – so check out these five simple tips:

Take a look at your Energy Performance Certificate

If you have recently moved home, or were thinking of selling up, you might have access to a recent Energy Performance Certificate. This will include information about your property’s energy use and typical energy costs as well as recommendations about how to make your home more eco-friendly. Take a look at these suggestions, as you could find several ways to reduce your outgoings when the temperatures drop.

Arrange a boiler service

The cold weather is sure to set in over the next few months, so why not book a gas boiler service in good time? An approved engineer will make sure everything’s running properly and will replace any broken or damaged parts if necessary. If your boiler cover’s in date, don’t forget to check the conditions of the policy, because annual gas inspections are often included.

Switch to energy-saving light bulbs

If your house is lit up like Vegas throughout winter (particularly at Christmas), try to use energy-saving light bulbs. According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact flourescents are a great alternative to traditional bulbs and LEDs can replace 50W halogen downlighters – so see what you can find. While we are on the subject of lighting, try to turn all switches off when you leave a room and use candles and lamps whenever possible to reduce your energy output.

Insulate your home

Does your house get a little chilly from time-to-time? Are there cold winds blowing around? If so, take steps to insulate your home. Get hold of some self-adhesive sealant strips to close up gaps and buy special foam to spray between doors and windows. Once that’s done, fit draught excluders to your letterbox and underneath your doors and buy yourself a keyhole cover. A few small changes can make a big difference, so it’s worth taking action – sooner rather than later.

Bleed your radiators

If your radiators are warm at the bottom and cold at the top, there might be an air bubble trapped in the system. This blockage is called an airlock and can stop your central heating from working properly. To solve the problem, try bleeding your radiators by turning the bleed valve anticlockwise and waiting for the air to hiss out. Once water emerges, tighten everything back up and check things are working as they should be. Still having issues? Then ask your insurance company to send out one of their qualified heating engineers.

Winter is just around the corner, so do all you can to make your house energy-efficient.

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The Housing Bubble explained

by James Cole

This weekend’s Independent on Sunday contained one of the clearest explanations of the 2000 – 2008 Housing bubble that I have read.  Two simple graphs: one showing the spike in ‘House price to average earnings ratio’ between 2002 and 2008 and the other showing a corresponding spike in ‘UK Net mortgage lending’.

The relationship between a huge net lending increase (credit creation) and house prices seems undeniable.

I won’t add any value with additional commentary so head over the the Independent website to read the full article:

Hamish McRae: Glimmers of light on road to ‘normality’

In fact print it off and keep it in your purse/ wallet and hand it to any bubble deniers you encounter.

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Nationwide Back Funding for Lending as House Prices Fall

by Sarah Halloran

The Nationwide Building Society, who have been at odds with house price figures from other sources in the past have backed up the overall view that the market is in decline. The Society showed that property prices across the UK fell by 0.4% in September to an average figure of £163,964 and that the annual rate of decline now stands at 1.4%.

These statistics represent a small drop from that reported in August although the overall pattern will be causing concern in some quarters. However, the Nationwide are another organisation who are hopeful that the new Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) will shortly start to show a positive impact on the housing market.

Robert Gardner, Chief Economist at Nationwide said that the market had “been impacted by a number of one-off factors this year, such as the ending of the stamp duty holiday that cannot be controlled by the usual process of seasonal adjustment”.

“For this reason the annual rate of house price change is a better guide to the state of the market at present. On that basis, the housing market remains fairly stable, with prices 1.4% lower than September 2011.”

Nationwide were one of the first mortgage lenders to sign up for the FLS and while they remain firmly behind the scheme, Mr Gardner warned that other factors were of equal importance if the property figures were to experience a sustained rise.

“Labour market developments will remain of paramount importance in deciding the trajectory of house prices. There are grounds for caution on this front, as the unusual combination of rising employment and declining economic activity that was evident in the first half of 2012 is unlikely to be sustained,” he added.

Once again, regional variations in the market vary wildly. At the top of the list, the average price of a property in London is now £301,168 while in Northern Ireland that average drops right down to £107,719.

“London continues to defy economic logic. To be just 2% below its peak in a paralysed economy is preposterous,” said Russell Quirk, of estate agents

Mr Quirk was also sceptical over the FLS, suggesting that it would not filter through to first time buyers and make a significant difference.

“I’m less confident than the Nationwide that the Funding for Lending scheme will have a major impact. Yes, it may make credit more available and cheaper, but will it get through to the people who need it?

“Cheap and available is idle chatter if it’s not getting through to higher loan-to-value borrowers,” Mr Quirk concluded.

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The Extras That Home Buyers Look For

by Sarah Halloran

When we’re looking to buy a property there are always going to be obvious factors that are more important than others. The number of bedrooms, the size of all rooms and the style and look of a house should be at the forefront of a property seeker’s mind but what about those added extras?

Is a garage more important than regular public transport links or would you favour high speed broadband access over the nature of your power supply?

A recent survey of 2,000 homebuyers revealed that broadband is now a number one priority and 19% of movers make sure that their service is the first thing they activate when they move in. In fact, one in ten potential buyers have rejected a prospective property simply because it had a slow connection.

“When it comes to buying a home it seems it’s more a case of broadband, broadband, broadband than location, location, location,” said Dominic Baliszewski, of the website

“Broadband has become something people are not prepared to live without, so it’s little wonder it’s now such a major factor for homebuyers.”

Estate agents have also shown that a faster broadband speed will secure more viewers as buyers consider this to be of higher importance than factors such as a garage, off street parking or easy walking access to nearby shops.

The increase of teleworking is undoubtedly at the heart of this growing need. With more people working from home, either on a full or part time basis, a fast broadband connection suddenly becomes essential.

“In this digital age, a fast broadband connection is becoming much more important for home-hunters,” said Miles Shipside of RightMove.

“People don’t just rely on a good internet connection for web browsing, but also streaming television and working from home.

“As the consumer technologies which rely on the internet expand, the need for a strong connection will be added to more home mover wish-lists.”

Once you move beyond the desire for broadband, the more traditional requirements start to emerge. Electricity and gas fired central heating may be more attractive than isolated properties that still rely on oil for their fuel source while garages, off street parking and local amenities are still taken into consideration.

However, it’s Broadband that has emerged as the main requirement in terms of those property ‘add-ons’.

“It is very easy to check broadband speeds in a specific area so we’d urge potential home buyers to do this rather than be left disappointed,” Dominic Baliszewski added.

While it may be easy to check, estate agents are finding that the inclusion of a positive broadband speed on their sales specifications will save time and is also becoming a powerful selling tool.

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