February 14, 2017

EPC Minimum Standards Changes 2018 – What About Them?


The EPC rating as we know, was introduced in 2011 as part of the Energy Act and gives a property a rating based on their energy efficiency from A (the most efficient) to G (the least efficient).  This grade is valid for 10 years.  Previously, the EPC rating acted as a warning – an official grading that demonstrated if your property was underperforming on efficiency.  However, the government is now taking serious action, and The Energy Act should perhaps have been a warning to all landlords that were coasting along ignoring eco-friendly alternatives.  Looming on the horizon now, as of 1st April 2018 landlords will not be allowed to let out properties which fall into an F or G category, with very few allowable exceptions or excuses.  It is estimated that approximately 20% of all properties are in the F and G ratings, which means you not only need to make sure that you know in which bracket your property lies, but also plan on how to bring your property up to muster and create an “Energy Efficiency Plan.” You may well need to invest considerably in the refurbishment or remodelling of your home to enable you to actually rent it out legally.

The EPC inspection will look at details including your property’s age, insulation of the walls, floors and lofts, water heating as well as your glazing type. Some simple methods of making sure your property is up to scratch include:


–          Replacing old, inefficient halogen bulbs with compact fluorescent lights or LEDs


–          Ensuring your roofing insulation is 270 mm in depth.  This change should prove relatively inexpensive and if your current insulation is less than 90mm you can apply for government funding to get your loft filled


–         Replacing old boilers with a more modern brand


–         Or for a slightly more affordable option, using modern controls such as adjustable thermostats to make sure you’re not unnecessarily heating empty rooms, which may help upgrade old bowers without the added expense


For those who are concerned over the price of these works, there may be some leeway for those who have implemented the maximum package of works allowable under the Green Deal.  The “Green Deal” is actually a pretty reasonable measure which limits borrowing to the amount that would be covered by money saved on fuel bills, or over a seven-year payback period where Green Deal funding is not available.  Landlords will also be exempt where a tenant has refused consent to improvement works or Green Deal funding in the past five years, or if the works would decrease the value of the property by more than 5%.


That being said there is still a fair amount we don’t know.  There may well be exemptions to certain types of properties via secondary legislation, but we don’t yet know how large these proposed fines will be.  Although the rumours suggest they could be pretty hefty, with the largest figures reaching up to £150,000.


If you are a concerned landlord, feel free to give me a call on 07969 927 422 or drop me a line on leah@lmaproperty.com. Even if it’s just for some friendly advice, I am only too happy to help. I can help carry out a full review of your property portfolio and review which properties don’t meet the new EPC rating, establish the cause of the poor rating, manage all necessary improvements, as well as providing energy performance reports and rating for statutory compliance. Let’s discuss how you should move forward and prepare for 2018.

February 6, 2017

What are the potential effects of the Southern Rail strikes on the housing market?


The Southern Rail dispute seems interminable, with strikes having blighted much of the Christmas season, although thankfully the more recent strikes that were due to take place at the end of January were cancelled. This slight respite, doesn’t detract from the union concerns over safety, as well as potential job losses. There seems little doubt that they are absolutely committed to their cause and there seems to be little end in sight. It is extremely frustrating, but it is beginning to have an impact far beyond isolating commuters from their offices in London, (which, for some, may well be a much needed Christmas bonus).


This is because the recent actions of Southern Rail cannot be taken in isolation – they are part of a far greater whole that sees Southern Rail marked as one of the least popular rail providers among commuters. Blighted by complaints of poor service, late trains, and frequent strike action. In fact, in December, MPs warned that employers were beginning to reject applicants who lived within the parameters of Southern Rail for fear they would constantly be late for work.


So it is unsurprising that this is starting to affect the price of houses. Whilst elsewhere in the country, despite Brexit and Trump, they seem to be constantly on the rise, the South is the one exception to this rule. Only four stations along Southern Rail’s routes reported increasing housing prices in the last three months – Hove, Pulborough, Haywards Heath, and Gatwick Airport – and this was only by an average of 0.05%. For the rest of the Southern commuter belt, the uncertainty caused by Southern Rail strikes has seen house prices rise 50% more slowly than the national average. Most concerning is the difference in the last six months alone, when the strikes were causing the most disruption. During that period, homeowners enjoyed an average increase of 4% in property values whilst those living in the Southern commuter belt increased by only 1.4% overall.


But, what does that really mean – these statistics and their impact on real people? Well, places like Brighton (which has traditionally done very nicely as an alternative commuter city with a great night life and easy London access), Portsmouth, and Seaford have dropped by £1,875 over the last 3 months. Basically, it means that Londoners are keen to avoid this now blighted landscape whilst those in the area are desperately trying to find a way out.


In fact, according to Jonathan Hudson, director of Hudsons Property in Fitzrovia, a number of wealthy Southern commuters have approached him looking for somewhere to rent in London whilst they weather the storm.


We would love to hear from you. How have you been affected? Are you a Southern Rail member and feel the strikes are worth the disruption? Or are you a commuter tired of having their daily life disrupted? Feel free to give us a call on 07969 927 422 or email to leah@lmaproperty.com



November 21, 2016

Hands up if you need more support


Generally in life we get used to being given support.  When growing up we learn to expect that to come from our parents and from school, and later from our friends or partners or colleagues.  We take for granted that it may be.  If you work in a large firm there may be an officially integrated system of support through meetings, well-being check-ups and places to go or people to speak to if you are struggling.  Even if not in a tricky situation however, we still need support for the day-to-day tasks we face, be there an unusual situation we haven’t experienced before, a difficult client, or even to step up to the next level when we find ourselves coasting.  When self-employed however you often don’t have someone working alongside you who can support you, and so you need to find this through other avenues, actively.  Sometimes you have to find your own support.  Nowadays there are many ways that this can be found, believe it or not not everyone is self-absorbed and uncaring (yes, even in London!)


Firstly, there are those people you already know or knew.  Keep in touch with them, half of the effort lies within yourself!  Don’t assume that people won’t want to hear from you, or that you’re bothering them – don’t think the worst.  Be approachable but don’t be scared to approach others.


Secondly, there are now 1000s of networking groups bringing together willing, like-minded people.  I have to admit this is fairly new for me too and so I know that it takes a bit of sifting, planning and a lot of commitment, but it does pay off.  Have a look at meetup.com, your local council’s chamber of commerce, and places specific to your interest or industry.  Finding a good group takes trial and error, visiting a few different types in different areas or with slightly different specialisms until you find what works, or which contains a solid group of regular and friendly people.  Along with this, there are an increased number of mentors out there.  Do your research, ask for recommendations, and try to meet informally first with a potential mentor to see if you will get on enough to relax in each other’s company.


Thirdly, there are local seminars, exhibitions or regional meetings and updates.  Whilst these might not give for much one-on-one support or conversation, being in a room with those in the same ‘boat’ as you, hosted by people who are on your side, really does give a confidence-boost.  I recently attended the ARLA regional meeting (www.arla.co.uk) which was hosted in part by the President Nik Madan, and it was refreshing to hear from him about what is going on behind the scenes to potentially help you and your business – as well of course, as it being beneficial for you to keep updated on your industry.


So if you feel like you need some support – go out there and get it!  Ask for it, offer it, be open-minded but keep focused.  Don’t say yes to every invitation (that being another, well-worn piece of advice), as your time is precious.


November 1, 2016

Are you getting the service you deserve?


‘Customer Service’ often conjures up images of disgruntled members of the public being faced with uninterested faceless employees of some firm or another.  However, some people choose to work in Customer Service based jobs, and thus relish the sometimes challenging but often rewarding role.  It may be that they enjoy problem-solving, though they do have to often remain thick-skinned on the occasions that they are not flooded with thanks by the consumer.

Is your Agent, Clerk or anyone else you have employed doing their best for you or are they falling into 1 of the following 3 traps?


1.  Passing the buck

If there’s a problem do they blame someone else or take responsibility for their mistake?  Ultimately if they are the customer-facer then it is their company’s responsibility and they should know that you don’t care what goes on behind the scenes, you just want the solution.  Watch out for too much buck-passing, as it’s likely that they don’t have your best interests at heart.


2.  Waiting for you to alert them to a problem

This is probably my pet hate, when someone knows or ought to have known that there may be an issue but they still wait for you the consumer to report something.  It is not your responsibility to report everything, you probably don’t have time hence instructing them in the first place, and by them not doing so it looks as though they were just hoping you wouldn’t notice.  They are not being proactive, which is essential to good customer service.


3.  Not expediting a resolution

If they’ve made a mistake then they should pull out all of the stops in order to set things right again.  I am amazed when businesses have the nerve to tell customers to wait just as long again for something as they have already done.  If they are not willing to go ‘above and beyond’ even when they are at fault, then you may want to think about looking elsewhere.

London and the property world are both very large and very small at the same time.  It is large enough that Agents should be doing their utmost within reason to keep you happy, else you have plenty of other options out there, and it is small enough that any bad press will be known, and so they should want to do their utmost!

Don’t settle for second best.  Poor Customer Service can cost you clients, tenants, and thus income.

October 20, 2016

Choosing a Good Managing Agent


As a landlord you must ask yourself what sort of involvement you require from and are able to give your managing agent and this will often depend on the type of property you are letting and the type of tenants expected (of course the latter will not always be guaranteed!)  Communication, as in many areas, must be the key here.


Most landlords make use of the same agency who let their property to also manage it, but many agencies do not focus their staffing skills in this customer service based area which is very different from the sales, target based skills which secured the tenants in the first place.


Are you a ‘business landlord’ whose property/ies are purely an investment and in place for maximum return?  Or are you a ‘homeowner landlord’ who used to live in said property and are reluctantly letting out the home that your children grew up in due to circumstance, your top priority being that they do not damage it?  Or of course you may be somewhere in-between the two.  Depending on this, the levels of communication you expect and desire will vary greatly and so would the type of Property Management service that would suit you best.  It could be assumed that the former may find it easier to find a managing agent that they are happy with, wanting little involvement themselves and simply requiring the figures at the end of the tax year with minimum fuss.  This is not necessarily so though, as there is of course still the need to manage effectively in keeping costs down but tenants happy (maximum return) and also to make those executive decisions in such a way that would please the landlord, without having to bother them frequently.


Landlords often feel that it would be easier to keep all of the dealings for their property in one place, however the job of a managing agent is to look after the property and tenancy and so to a good one this should include ensuring a smooth transition and good communication between any Letting Agent and themselves, thereby alleviating any hassle in this respect.  A good Property Manager by their very nature being in the job, is a problem-solver and so won’t let a small issue of dealing with another agency for you for Lettings cause issue.


If you don’t simply use the agency who let your property for you then how do you know where to find a good Property Manager?  Recommendations, reviews and previous dealings are the best ways.  Perhaps you dealt with someone else’s managing agent due to a leak into your property or suchlike and you liked what you saw, or perhaps your landlord had a managing agent looking after a property where you were a tenant and now you are a landlord who requires one. The London property world especially is a tiny place.


The cost of a managing agent is likely to be less than your SKY subscription and a personalised one focusing on Management only, even less so.  Alas, even and especially when trying to maximise your profits, I am sure you will agree it is worth it.  Talk to any prospective managing agent before you engage them to ensure that they can meet your needs.


October 10, 2016

The decline of the family rental home?


With the extra 3% stamp duty now on buy-to-let properties, many people who would usually let out their old house when they buy another will now be considering selling.  The would-be ‘accidental landlord’ may be looking to buy a new house due to the need to upsize, relocate, or perhaps because they’ve met a new partner and they want to purchase a home together but still keep one or both of their former homes that they’ve worked hard to buy.  It is just not worth them retaining it now though in some circumstances, or they can’t if they don’t have the funds available at that crucial point to cover the extra tax.


This fact, coupled with the increasing comfort of the idea of so-called ‘rent 2 rents,’ which is the renting out of properties room-by-room and which is often more profitable for larger properties than the standard single let, means that very quickly we could start seeing less family homes for rent on the market.  As landlords are squeezed on taxes and look to maximise their profits they are more inclined to rent even their beloved former homes to 3 or more individuals with a guaranteed rent company than to rent to the nice family who are stop-gapping in London or saving up to buy a home of their own.  Renting in London is generally seen, although common and it is said that there are more renters than homeowners now, as temporary.  There are though still many families who rely on the private rental sector for housing because they can’t or don’t want to rent from the Local Authority and they can’t get a mortgage, but who need to remain in a certain area due to schools etc.  Taxes aside as we cannot unfortunately change these, other means of filling properties are simply businesses trying also to make a living, along with landlords who are trying to get the most out of their asset.


There is an interesting rise I have discovered in community rental living which are rental properties purpose-built for families, such as the one which is just popping up in Greenwich.  These come with facilities such as buggy storage, play areas and communal gardens and which will obviously not see professionals or students taking over, or be sub-let.


I would be interested to know though if others have seen a drop in tradition family rental homes on the market and / or who have families on their books looking for homes, on behalf of whom they are struggling to satisfy-?