Manspreading

Have you heard of this term called manspreading? There is a video doing the rounds of a woman going around pouring bleach – light diluted ones – on men that deliberately spread their legs apart on public transport or take up more than the agreed space of the armrest. If you have ever been a victim of manspreading, you may agree this is a good punishment for those who do it.
And why exactly do people do it? The reasons for this may vary but it is like asking why people put feet on train seats. Because they are unlikely to be prosecuted for that (although one train company does make it an offence), they don’t really care about others, and because they are insecure. You may not necessarily agree with the suggestion that manspreading masks a certain level of insecurity, but if a person were a country, political commentators might remark that aggressive over-expansionism masks a psychological fear of being invaded and is triggered by such feelings of insecurity. People who manspread decide to take up more space than they need to so that if someone else does the same thing, they would have retained the normal space they are entitled to anyway. It is a pre-emptive strike.

Is it fair to pour bleach on someone who has manspreaded though? We must be careful we do not condone such acts, otherwise crazy individuals might take it upon themselves as vigilantes to throw water on women who do their makeup on public transport. We must be careful not to degenerate as a society.

But sometimes we feel the need to retaliate, in a tit-for-tat manner, in order to deal with the perpetrator. But perhaps a better way of investing our energy, instead of making life as difficult for the other person, would be to seek a resolution for all parties to move on. After all, disagreements can last so long a period and drain our energy so much that less might have been required to resolve it. We can take a lesson from classical music – the solo concerto. Both the soloist and orchestra compete, but in the end, success really depends on how they work together!

Airline mediation

Did you hear about the pony on a plane? He was told to stop horsing around during the take off and the landing procedures. Or how about the turkey that gobbled his inflight meal?

Now those puns are unlikely to get you first prize of the best punch line at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In fact, people that you know, and who might normally give a sympathetic laugh (or cough) might even look at you with a blank stare. Tell those jokes to younger children, and you might even get protest cries of “But animals don’t go on planes!”

It may seem as an oddity. But animals are actually allowed on planes. Some anyway. And there have been occasions in the past when animals such as ponies and turkeys have been on planes.

Animals were allowed on planes because some passengers feared flying and were allowed to take them on as some sort of comfort companion, as if having a best friend animal would alleviate the fear of ascending and descending in a metal tin can. Airlines, in a bid to look more inclusive, have recently introduced this new element to flying so as to make it possible for those with anxieties to manage them instead of going berserk forty thousand feet above the air.

However, there wasa recent case of a woman who was denied her chosen travelling companion in the form of a squirrel. The whole plane load of passengers had to be disembarked after the woman protested vehemently about her friend being asked to leave. It wasn’t as if the woman had tried to sneak a squirrel on; she had done it the correct and proper way, following the airline procedure. So who knows how they would have tried to mediate between that?

Does a dispute occur because one party’s view is too futuristic for another? In the world of classical music, the composer Igor Stravinsky sparked a furore with his ballet The Rite of Spring. It was too risque for the time and caused a public outrage. You can read more about this from the Crouch End piano lessons website.

The cases once again highlights the case for proper trained mediation between parties in order to achieve a proper resolution. For your housing disputes, seeking TPOS, The Ombudsman Property Service for dispute resolution!

Achieving a balance

You can imagine the reaction by firefighters tackling a blaze at B&M retail store in Clifton Moor, on a warm summer’s evening and in full firefighter equipment. They had been battling the fire for a long time (the building burned to its shell) and it took a long time to put out the fire. Some of the crew walked over to McDonalds to see if they could get a free drink – not that emergency services automatically think they qualify for benefits, but because the crew do not carry money when they are battling fires. And why not, you may ask? Without sounding silly, paper burns and you want to avoid that obviously.

Metal melts or at least gets hot, and no one wants a pound shaped coin on the bottom part of their torso. The emergency services had given their lives battling to bring the blaze under control, after hours, and what happened? Not even the offer for a drink by one of the largest corporations. It worked out all right for the emergency crew, which had a lady and young man pay for their sixteen teas and coffees, but it should not have had happened. McDonalds offered to reimburse the lady who had paid for the drinks, but unfortunately the PR damage has already been done.

What happens when you have a disagreement? It should have some form of mediation or mediating party. Unfortunately in this instance the mediating party who should have been there – a McDonalds store manager – did not choose the right option; or at least was unaware. (But how could you be unaware of firefighters in their gear walking in your store? It’s not like they changed into jeans during their “break” – if you can call it that – while rotating crews on shifts.) This shows the need for adequately trained mediating parties.

Finding a balance that meets all parties can be difficult. You can see this in other fields like music too. The Spanish guitarist Joaquin Rodrigo’s music involves two parties – guitar and orchestra – and while on the face of things it may be difficult to find a resolution, he successfully did and the result was a harmonious one, successfully mediating the needs between the two and balancing the outcome. (You can learn about Rodrigo from this post from the Manor House piano teacher website.)

The lesson to learn perhaps can be seen in this – try to get a successful balance by going to someone trained to achieve one. Don’t let the outcome be one of failure in the public eye!

Blending work and passion

Now, if one of your friends asked you what your dream job was – the thing you would envision yourself doing for the duration of your working life, what would your response be? Might it be a job that allowed you to earn a lot of money? You might say that money can buy you the things you want and the lifestyle you aspire to lead, but sometimes spending time doing something you may not necessarily like can have its limitations. Consider, for example, being a teacher. Now, teachers have paid leave for many weeks every year, they have half term holidays, end of term holidays, and long summers. But ask any teacher if they are in the job for the holidays, and I’m sure you will get a strict “No!” Firstly, no one would admit to being a teacher for the holidays, I guess. But teaching salaries rise year on year with experience, according to a scale – or to use the words, pay-spine – that you don’t really have to be better at your job to get an automatic raise. But it is a job that pays well, has many days off, yet you will find that there is a shortage of English teachers and many are leaving the profession. Clearly, the money is not necessarily the motivating factor.

And what about passion? If you like the job, doing what you love will give you a lot of job satisfaction. Yet will it give you the job security and the money you need away from the work? Speak to a musician in a band. In their twenties maybe playing in a band, gigging and performing to crowds is cool. But as they age and get to their forties and have responsibilities like children, the travelling and money may not be enough. So passion itself is not necessarily enough.

How does this work in a property context? Don’t be blinded by how the tales of income streams and revenues will come by easily, and you can earn lots of money doing nothing. It is a lot of hard work! You may not enjoy it, but you may tolerate it because the income would give you chances for leisure, such as scuba diving, playing the piano, travelling – or whatever else you prefer. Property management is not someone paying the mortgage on a property you own – make sure you know fully what you are getting into!

Being responsive avoids conflict

One of Derby’s newest estate agents achieved 99.78% of the asking price, on average, for properties it sold in 2017.

Andrew Sanderson, director at AKS Residential, said: “This is a huge feat. On average across the country estate agents normally achieve 96-97% of asking price, meaning our sellers are thousands better off.

“From the start we have always focused on service and building relationships with clients rather than short term gain which is why so many customers recommend us.”

Due to the company’s growth, AKS Residential has launched a 24-7 manned telephone service which supports its team when they are busy with other callers and out of normal business hours.

Operated by Oberoi Business Hub, the call answering service ensures all enquires are dealt with in a swift manner.

Oberoi supports a number of businesses across numerous sectors, including estate agents. Kavita Oberoi OBE, who launched the hub in 2012, said her team knows how to manage and handle calls.

She said: “Andrew knows too only well a business can never afford to miss a call.

“Speed of response is absolutely business critical – people don’t like not being able to talk to someone on the phone or leaving answerphone messages.

“Furthermore, for urgent queries, we can transfer calls live to Andrew and his team. We run the service as if we are completely part of the business and have access to live diary movements so can leave callers with a clear expectation on when the call will be returned.”

Oberoi said she was pleased AKS Residential chose to partner with Oberoi Business Hub, in St Christopher’s Way, Pride Park.

She said: “Andrew wanted to use a locally based company rather than the large faceless organisations during his growth phase.

“When a company is unable to justify the cost of an additional resource but need it to support business growth, our service works out to be a cost effective alternative to the employment route.

“Our service is particularly invaluable to AKS outside of normal business hours, as that’s when people have a little more time to focus on searching or thinking about selling their house.

“We are now looking at further opportunities to support Andrew’s business from the extensive range of Oberoi Business Hub back office support services that we provide – one these being the use of our excellent meeting rooms at the Hub for his client meetings.”

While the responsiveness of the estate agent has helped increase sales, it is no doubt too that the speed of the response has resulted in good customer satisfaction and avoided disputes and complaints.

Clients prize responsiveness as one of the factors in dealing with estate agents and a quick response especially over traditional means such as the phone means higher customer satisfaction. Oberoi Business Hub has also reflected the idea that people do not want to be typing long emails and wasting time over problems, they merely want to call a number, hopefully speak to someone and get the problem off their chest – whether it may be rental related or on a broader spectrum, a complaint from a tenant.

A word of advice for estate agents. Imagine being stood up on a viewing. Imagine someone has rung you to arrange a viewing and when you show up no one is around and you have wasted your time. This is what the majority of clients report to feel when an estate agent does not deliver or live up to agreements, or not have some effective means of communication.

The success of AKS shows that being available, or a least, being seen to be responsive does put agents in a good light and projects good customer service. When a large part of being an agent is dealing with customers, good service could make the difference between retaining clients, or being locked down in disputes which take up too much time and eventually force you out of business.

Renting in the UK and Europe

With renting and home ownership in the UK a big talking point, let us examine how renting compares with other major European cities.

Renting remains the choice for the majority of Germans, who are at the bottom of the list of European homeowners, with just 46% of households owning their own home. People much prefer to rent, for a number of reasons which range from the historical to cultural and economic. Wartime bombing destroyed about 20% of residential areas in German towns and cities, at the same time as refugees from eastern parts of the former Reich who had lost everything, streamed into the country and in 1950 there was a drastic lack of living quarters.

Culturally, there is nothing like the drive to want to own as there is in other countries. Banks do not help by being unlikely to give a mortgage to anyone unless they can provide 20% of the purchase price, and on top of that high add-on costs such as extortionate estate agent fees (typically 7.14%) and stamp duty of up to 6.5% do little to entice people to buy.

Renters have felt safe in the knowledge that the law is more on their side than that of the landlord. However in recent years soaring rents in many German cities – often fuelled by largely foreign buyer-driven property booms currently being experienced in cities such as Berlin and Munich – have led to increasing social disgruntlement, sparking a recent wave of street protests across the country.

However, the percentage of their income Germans pay for rent is still relatively low compared with other countries – 25% in Munich, 21% in Berlin, Cologne and Frankfurt, while the national average is 27%. This compares favourably with London, Warsaw, Madrid or Rome, where it is more than 40%. While this remains the case, few people will have an incentive to buy, experts believe.

Spain has traditionally had a high rate of home ownership, about 80% in 2008, when the building boom ended and the bubble burst. It has now slipped back to about 78% but is likely to fall further as unemployment remains high and mortgages difficult to obtain.

An inevitable result has been a rise in rentals and rents. Rents have been pushed up by demand but also by Airbnb and other holiday rental platforms. According the housing platform Idealista, rents in Barcelona have risen 55% since 2012 (23% in Madrid).

Rental contracts tend to be for one or three years, after which they may be terminated or renewed and the rent renegotiated. Rent-controlled apartments dating back to the Franco era have mostly disappeared. Increasingly landlords in tourist areas are demanding excessive rents to force tenants out, so they can turn apartments into lucrative holiday rentals. A flat with a rent of €1,000 a month can make five times that as a holiday let. Eviction also continues to be a serious problem as lenders are reluctant to negotiate terms.

In Ireland, price controls were introduced in early 2017 amid soaring rents in Dublin’s super-heated property market. The “rent predictability measure” caps increases to 4% a year for three years. But, one year later, the rent controls have done little to halt rises. According to website daft.ie, rents jumped 10.4% in Dublin in 2017, and at an average of £1,476 in the north of the city and £1,675 in the south, are now substantially higher than the average for London (£1,276).

Like the UK, high deposits and high house prices – along with strict lending rules – are turning home ownership into a distant dream for many young Irish workers, particularly in the capital. Home ownership rates peaked at 80.1% in 1991, but have now fallen below 70%. Amid a worsening homelessness crisis and a lack of housebuilding since the country’s economic crash in 2007-08, housing has moved to the top of the political agenda. Stories of desperate queues at new housing developments abound, while just a fortnight ago more than 10,000 marched through the capital demanding action on housing.

French tenants benefit from much stricter rules on landlords than in Britain. Rents on unfurnished dwellings are only allowed to be increased by an index, called the IRL. This year it permits an annual increase of 0.51%, and was close to zero for much of 2015 and 2016. Anyone renting an unfurnished property as their main residence is given a minimum three-year tenancy with an automatic right of renewal after three years, or must give three months’ notice if they want to leave. If the landlord wants the tenant to leave, they must give them a minimum of six months’ notice. Landlords must also give the tenant a first right of refusal if they wish to sell.

What’s more, eviction is forbidden in the winter months. A rule called la trêve hivernale (the winter truce) runs for five months from 1 November when landlords are not allowed to evict their tenants for any reason. It is meant as a humanitarian measure, but it also means evictions jump on 1 April.

Rent controls and tenancy protections in the US are decided at the state level. In dozens of states, laws promoted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, such as Illinois’ 1997 Rent Control Preemption Act, prohibit municipalities from passing laws that regulates rent. Last month, an advisory referendum in Chicago to lift the ban on rent control won 77% approval. The “Lift The Ban” coalition says a third of Chicago households cannot find affordable housing, and that a minimum wage worker will have to work 106 hours a week to afford the average city rent.

Elsewhere in the US, New York has the longest history of rent controls. More than 1m apartments in the city are rent-regulated under a complex set of laws. A tiny number have full rent control, with rents substantially below commercial levels. The vast majority enjoy rent stabilisation, controlled by the Rent Guidelines Board. It froze rents in 2015 and 2016 but in 2017 voted to allow landlords rises of up to 2%.

Home ownership levels have been falling in the US in common with much of the developed world. It peaked in 2004 at 69.2%, then fell to 62.9% in 2016, though it has recovered mildly since then.

Watch out, rogue agents!

he Government will crack down on gazumping with new measures to professionalise the estate agency industry and make the process of buying property easier for consumers.

It announced a raft of changes to overhaul the largely unregulated sector, which has long suffered from being seen as anti-consumer.

They include encouraging the use of voluntary reservation agreements, in order to stop sales from falling through, ending the practice of gazumping, where sellers accept higher offers following an agreement to sell.

The Government also plans to get rid of ‘rogue agents’ by ensuring that all estate agents have a professional qualification. It will also make it a requirement for these companies to be transparent about whether they receive fees for referring clients to mortgage brokers, surveyors or solicitors.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Buying a home is one of the biggest and most important purchases someone will make in their life. But for far too long buyers and sellers have been trapped in a stressful system full of delays and uncertainty. So we’re going to put the consumers back in the driving seat.”

Research carried out by the Government found that more than 6 in 10 people who bought or sold property have experienced stress due to delays in the property transaction process.

The measures come from a consultation held last year. More extreme proposals, such as creating financial penalties for buyers who pull out of purchases and cause chains to collapse, are not included in the new plans.

Some agents choose to be members of bodies such as the the National Association of Estate Agents or The Property Ombudsman. However, these organisations lack power, and there are currently no requirements for estate agents to have a formal training or certification, unlike in the United States. It is unclear what kind of qualification the Government will mandate, and it will hold another consultation to work out how estate agents can be brought up to standard like conveyancers, solicitors and surveyors.

Russell Quirk, chief executive of online estate agency Emoov, said: “This is really great news. The industry and Government have talked to a long time to clean up house buying. If you add both speed and certainty to the process, there will be fewer transactions falling through, less wasted money, and less stress for the consumer.”

He added: “For far too long it has got away with being almost entirely unregulated. How can it be that financial advisers dealing with the loan for the property are vetted, but the people dealing with the asset itself and the trauma of a protracted process are not overseen or licensed?”

Investing in Devon

According to some estate agents, Devon is fast becoming a good place to invest in.

Actually, that is not news. The Southwest has often been a good place to park your money in property. The region offers picturesque coastlines, a lovely country feel and loads of open space for your money.

Gill Fielding, founder of Fielding Financial, based in Totnes, claims that Exeter and Plymouth make particularly good investment areas. The towns both have Universities which attract high numbers of students, and hence can command high rental demand.

Also located within the vicinity are good hospitals and sporting facilities, which make them attractive to those actively seeking to rent.

The rise in tuition fees has put strain on students looking to enter University and do a degree and tuition fees of up to nine thousand pounds a year are now common. This has meant that universities which offer degrees for less cost, which would normally not have had a look in, are being considered. Traditionally these have been in the coastal regions, away from big cities, so the lower fees along with cheaper rents have started to make them look attractive to others. Ironically, this demand for rental properties will only push the rates higher for successive students.

How would you invest in property? Find an area that is in demand either by professionals or students. Good transport links, especially rail links or a tram network are essential. This means your property can be easily accessible without the use of a car, and within commute of the big cities. Some landlords even recommend checking out the local rail network timetable to see how often the trains stop, as properties along these areas tend to be more attractive. And if you can find an area that is cheaper to live in, invest in it quick before it is gone!

But it is not just about demand and transportation. Look at the entertainment scene and public facilities. Most rental properties are for younger people who have not yet managed to buy, so if the area you are investing in has an active entertainment scene, such as clubs for bands to perform, or comedy clubs, you may garner more rental income. Pubs, cafes and other social settings are good indicators. Which young person would choose to rent in a place with no social life and feel alone? Not many.

Whatever you do, though, if you do invest, you must make it entirely clear to your tenants that they should not sublet the property out. Increasingly, with the rise of sites such as airbnb, tenants are trying to gain income by even renting out their rented properties without permission. This has resulted in a lot of disputes between landlords and tenants which could have been avoided if tenants had been made aware of their responsibilities. And as a landlord, you would save yourself a whole lot of trouble if you had this point emphasised during the signing of a lease.

In any event of a dispute, remember you can refer to the property ombudsman for mediation. Tpos mediates between tenants and landlords and all other issues relating to property.

Is Edinburgh the new London?

Private landlords always seem to suggest that the best place for properties is in the north, in towns or cities with good railway and other transport links. Could Edinburgh be one of these?

The average house price in the Scottish capital grew by over ten percent in Dec 2017 compared to the previous year. This means that if you bought a property with the intention of renting it out, not only would you be a further ten percent richer already, but you have the means to let out the property for higher rents. But how is that possible? Well, higher property prices mean that people will find it hard to buy. And this simply will drive up the housing market.

The value of the housing stock across the city grew by £7.5 billion over the same period – more than any other Local Authority district in the UK as a whole.

This figure was for lower-end properties – if you can call it that – that did not exceed two million pounds. The same, however, could not be said for the more expensive properties.

The £2 million-plus market was at its lowest level since 2004. This is quite unsurprising as a ten percent increase would add the price of a one–bed property on to an existing one. The Land and Buildings Transaction tax (LBTT), which would see £198,000 added on to the price of a transaction at this level.

There are certain areas in Edinburgh that rode the increase in prices. The southern hotspots of Grange, Morningside and Merchiston accounted for a total of 377 sales transactions last year.

Faisal Choudhry, head of residential research in Scotland for Savills, said: “Scotland has witnessed its strongest market since 2007, with price growth now outperforming London. Values will continue to rise due to a lack of supply and strong city economies. “In particular, Edinburgh’s residential market profile continues to excel. The lack of supply and strong domestic and international demand for property in the Capital is one of the main reasons behind a rise in prime values in Edinburgh City.”

If you have always thought of investing in property, but are put off by London prices, Edinburgh may be the new place to consider. The number of new build transactions in Edinburgh increased by 30 per cent last year.

The strongest growth in transactions last year was witnessed closer to the city centre, where experts said the redevelopment of the St James centre had attracted people towards the city centre.

This is another sign that city centres, with their transport links, remain attractive places to invest in.

Common reasons for property investment

Why property? Many invest in property because it gives them an income and a pension pot, but it’s more than that. It suits their lifestyle, work ethic, skills, risk profile, personality, tax situation and inheritance plans for their children – and these are all things you need to consider carefully. You need to find financial professionals who can advise you properly but or now, let’s simply say that you will need some significant capital behind you if you’re serious about building a portfolio (I’d suggest at least £50,000 for each property you intend to buy) and I’d stress the importance of speaking to a wealth advisor. They can look at all your financial interests and plans for the future and help you decide the best way to invest in property to suit your own, personal situation – and whether property is even the right investment vehicle for you.

What I can do is explain why I chose property. Quite simply, it offers the most reliable, tangible, flexible, profitable form of investment I’ve been able to find, and I can break that down into six key aspects:

1. Leverage. No other asset class offers the opportunity to leverage in the way that property does. Banks and building societies lend against property at the level they do because property is seen as having a fundamental ‘bricks & mortar’ value. Markets peek and trough but a property will almost always hold a certain level of value, so while maximum Loan to Value rates may fluctuate (in the past 8 years, I’ve seen them fall from 125% to 60% and go back to 85%), you can still leverage other people’s money to make a better return on capital than you might otherwise – i.e. you can make your money go further. For example, if there was a 15% rise across all markets: £100k invested in stocks = £15k growth £100k invested in £25k deposits on 4 properties, each worth £100k = £60k growth

2. Refinancing. The ability to refinance a property, as an extension to leverage, means you can end up with an income-producing asset that has none of your own capital tied up in it. You can’t achieve this as quickly and easily as you once could, but if you manage to buy a property at a good price and that particular sector of the market rises sufficiently, you should be able to remortgage in time and release the money you originally invested. By reinvesting that money in another income-producing property, you’re expanding your portfolio and maximising the return on your capital.

3. Income. With all other asset classes, you mainly profit from growth on the capital. Although there may be interest payments on other types of investment, I haven’t found any that offer the same income potential as property.

4. Control. Unlike most other forms of investment, such as stocks or bonds, you have a high degree of control over the investment returns a property provides. While you can’t control either the property market as a whole or mortgage rates, you do have the power to decide: the type of property you buy what mortgage product you have how you let the property the type of tenants you accept the rent you charge (to a certain extent) how much you spend on managing and maintaining the property Essentially, you have a high degree of control over income and expenditure, and, therefore, profitability.

5. Opportunity. The diversity of opportunity to make money from property is really exciting to me, and is one of the reasons it’s used by so many people as a wealth creation tool. Whether you want on-going income, short/medium-term gain, a pension plan, a home for your children in years to come or a lump sum return in the future, property can work for you. You can buy to let single or multiple occupancy units; renovate a property and then sell or remortgage; self build or develop yourself; strike a deal to sell property or land to a developer; get paid for sourcing property; do everything yourself and make it your career, or work with other people to make it a more passive investment… It really does offer a huge variety of options – even one property can allow you to realise different returns at different times in your life, depending on what you need and when.

6. Systemisation. This is a big part of why property works as an investment vehicle for me. If you can put the right systems and team in place to effectively source, acquire, refurbish, let and manage a portfolio, you can reap considerable financial rewards for relatively little of your own time. That frees you up to either focus on high-value aspects of your business, or simply to enjoy some of your lifestyle activities. I said earlier that property is a business, and you need to have the ability to establish and manage a ‘head office’ in a way that works for you. But as long as you can do that, your systemised business should be able to function as a money-earner whether you’re there or not.