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.

Buy to let market slows

Recent reports suggest that the buy-to-let market is cooling after recent measures introduced by the government to control the power of landlords and other individuals buying second properties.

The new 3% additional tax was one of the measures introduced in April 2016. In short, it levied an extra tax on top of stamp duty, which was meant as an attempt to cut back on the accumulation of properties by private landlords.

Another attempt to introduce rent control was the removal of tax relief on mortgage interest altogether which came into April this year.

The laws affected mainly individuals, but not companies, and this has not gone unnoticed. In fact, some individuals are continuing to exploit the loopholes.

One such measure is to buy commercial properties for conversions into private flats. Commercial properties are unaffected by the additional tax levy, and hence at the point of purchase the tax is lower.

Some individuals have also set themselves up as a company, and purchases are done via the company. While many of them claim this tidies up the accounts – as the properties come under the financial expenses of the company, others accuse them of profiting from this because the interest is treated in a business expense.

It appears that many private landlords too are contemplating that the company structure is the way forward for them. Certainly, it seems that many considering investing in buy to lets are setting up companies first, and then making purchases. Those who have yet to set up companies but wish to assimilate this form of structure may find that they are coming under the financial squeeze of the government.

What does that hold for the rental market and the many thousands of young professionals that are dependent on renting as a step to the housing ladder? It appears it may be a step they never come down from. Landlords – in the form of companies – may only resort to raising rents in order to cover costs.

A brief history of housing in England and Wales

The historical recognition of the form of houses tends to be identified by reference to a period of English architectural style, for example Tudor or Victorian. The majority of the current housing stock dates from the middle of the nineteenth century and later, although there are earlier houses in existence, such as sixteenth century (Tudor), seventeenth century (Stuart, Carolingian, William and Mary), eighteenth century (Queen Ann, Georgian) and early nineteenth century (Regency). Nearly all of the extant houses of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are houses that were built for the so-called middle class (e.g. merchants and professionals) and upper class. Only rare examples of cheaper housing from these periods still exist.

The mid- and late nineteenth century (Victorian) saw a huge boom in the construction of housing in response to the mass movement of people from the countryside into the cities as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Cheap terraced houses for the workers, more spacious semi-detached houses for the managers and detached villas for the owners were developed in vast numbers on the outskirts of older towns, often by speculative builders, sometimes by the well-off themselves. These houses had solid walls of brickwork and/or stone, sometimes finished with render, roofs of clay tiles or slates, brick or timber-framed internal partitions, gas lighting, rudimentary cooking, washing and lavatory facilities and coal fires for heating. Much of the cheapest housing was of poor quality, using, for example, sun-baked bricks, and has subsequently been demolished. However, large numbers of terraced, semi-detached and detached Victorian houses are still in existence, albeit modernised at various times during the intervening period.

Houses built in the first decade of the twentieth century (the Edwardian period) are considered by many experts to be the pinnacle of quality in terms of workmanship and materials. Facilities are similar to those of the preceding century but of better quality. This period also saw the rise of the Garden City Movement, based on the writing of Sir Ebenezer Howard, who was highly critical of the urban development of the period and promoted the idea of a planned city with generous public spaces and buildings, low-density houses with large gardens in broad tree-lined streets and separate zones for factories and other industrial development. This led to the creation of garden city towns, such as Letchworth, Hampstead Garden Suburb and Welwyn.

The period between the First World War and the Second World War (the inter-war period) saw much greater state intervention in housing. Previously, involvement on the part of the state had been restricted to the provision of legislation encouraging local authorities to take action, but now the government legislated and provided the funding for the development of council housing, i.e. local authority social housing. There was also considerable private speculative housing development, leading to the suburban expansion of many cities. Both the council and the private housing of the period, particularly the former, reflected some of the principles of the Garden City Movement, especially the low-density housing, large gardens and broad tree-lined streets. This period saw cavity-wall construction and concrete foundations become standard. Floors and roofs were still constructed using cut timbers, bathroom and kitchen fittings were installed as standard, but were still very basic, hot water was often provided by a gas heater and space heating was again based on open fireplaces. Many rural houses still had no piped water, mains electricity or mains drainage.

During both World Wars housing development was suspended and after the Second World War little housing construction took place, apart from repairing bomb-damaged houses, until the mid-1950s when the post-war period of house building really commenced. Both council housing and private speculative development boomed for the next 20 years, although the standards were still relatively low, e.g. few new houses had central heating and roof insulation was non-existent until 1965, and then only minimal. However, most rural properties now had mains electricity and water, and mains drainage became more common.

Gradually, from the 1970s onwards, trussed roofs, often finished with concrete tiles, became standard and modern timber framed construction became relatively popular after a difficult introductory period; even where cavity construction continued to be used, timber or steel framed internal partitions were commonly installed. Central heating became the norm, and during the 1990s, cavity wall insulation and double glazing became standard in new housing developments. Dry wall finishes were also prevalent for new development. During the past 30 years or so, increasing use has been made of new materials and techniques. Examples include composite timber products for structural purposes and finishes and plasticised products, ranging from components such as windows to paint systems. There has also been recognition that many older and sometimes discarded, or unfashionable, products and materials are still relevant, e.g. clay roof tiles, roofing slates, lead work and lime mortar.

Five Golden Rules of Investing

1. Always buy from motivated sellers
Instead of looking for a property you’ll like and then negotiating with the seller, a smarter strategy is to look for motivated sellers who will be flexible on the price and / or the terms of the sale, and then decide if you want to buy that particular property.

If they are prepared to sell at a discount for a quick sale, the amount of discount will vary depending on the motivation of the seller and the general market conditions.

In a rising market you may be happy with a 15% to 20% discount. In a falling market you would want a bigger discount of 25% to 40% to give you more of a safety buffer in case prices come down further.

Just to be clear here, this is not saying that you always need to get a discount off the sales price. Sometimes property is already a great buy at the full asking price because it may already have been lowered for a quick sale. This is where knowing the values in your local market is really important so that you can spot a good deal when you see it.

Many investors get fixated about buying below market value, which means they are likely to miss out on potentially profitable deals because they don’t think they should pay the full asking price. If it is a good deal, investors may sometimes pay the full asking price and more, especially if they can add value to the property. We also need to recognise that some sellers may not be able to offer you a discount because there is no equity in their property. However, if they are motivated, they may be more flexible on the terms of the sale, for example, when you actually pay for the property.

Price is not the only factor in negotiation. This means you may be able to use strategies such as ‘Exchange Delayed with a Completion’, or ‘Purchase Lease Option’. These strategies only really work if the seller is motivated.

2. Buy in an area with strong rental demand
This is a very important rule. As a property investor your aim should be to buy an investment which will not only pay for itself, but also make a cash profit (positive cash flow) each month. There are running costs associated with owning a property, but the basic concept is that the rent you receive from your tenants more than covers all of the costs. If you have no tenants, you have no income, which means you have to cover the costs yourself. Your investment then becomes a liability, rather than an asset.

You need to accept that as a landlord you may occasionally have void periods on your property, which means no tenants, and so you need to meet the costs. You can dramatically reduce potential void periods by only ever buying property in an area with strong rental demand. You want to ensure that if your current tenants decide to leave the property you can quickly and easily rent it to new tenants at the full market rent.

A general rule of thumb is to buy properties in areas with strong local employment and good transport links with local facilities and amenities. When you know how to do it, you can easily assess the true rental demand in any area by using the internet to find like comparisons, speaking to local letting agents, and even placing dummy adverts to test rental demand. If you are not sure about the rental demand in an area, then don’t buy the property to avoid longer than expected void periods, which will cost you money. Due diligence is very important before you make any investment decisions.

3. Buy for cash flow
As already mentioned in Rule No 2, your property should create a monthly positive cash flow for you, so that it is an asset rather than a liability. As prices shot up towards the end of the last property boom, it became increasingly difficult to find properties that stacked up to give a positive cash flow. Many investors were buying properties which would only just “wash their face”, where the rent just about covered the monthly costs. Even worse, in the hope that prices would keep going up, some investors were buying properties that had negative cash flow, whereby the rent was not enough to cover the monthly costs. This meant that the owners had to subsidise the property each month, not a good position to be in, especially if you have a lot of properties like this.

When the property market crash came in 2008, many investors, both amateurs and professionals, owned properties that were worth less than they had purchased them for and were costing money each month just to hold them. In this situation, if you can afford to hold the property, you just need to sit back and wait for the market to recover. But if you can’t afford to continue subsidising it, and you are forced to sell, then that’s one of the ways you could lose money in property. Fortunately, the good news is that, with the benefit of hindsight, you can learn from other people’s past mistakes, so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes yourself.

You should only ever buy property where each month there is a profit from the rental income you receive after paying all of the expenses, including mortgage payments, insurance, repairs and management fees. Positive cash flow is king. Although we expect property prices to rise in the long-term, if you buy your investments ‘as if prices will never go up again’, you will be forced to buy only properties which give you great cash flow now. Extra cash flow will help you to build up a safety buffer, and help you cover potential rises in interest rates in the future.

4. Invest for the long-term buy and hold
Some investors like to buy and sell property to make a profit. This is a good strategy (in a rising market), however, each time you sell a property you will crystallise your profit and you will never make any more money from that particular property. Whereas, if you buy and hold, you can make money from the rental profit each month, as well as long-term capital growth. This way you work once and get paid forever by that property. The real profit in property is in buying and holding for the long-term to benefit from significant capital growth. The key here is being able to afford to hold it and this is why a positive cash flow is so important, so that you don’t have to subsidise ownership of the property. If you plan to hold for the long-term and your property is rented out creating a positive cash flow, you needn’t be concerned by short-term fluctuations in price.

If you do sell a property investors may suggest you reinvest some of the proceeds into another property that will give you a better return. To conclude, many believe it is best to hold property for the long-term. That is how you can become very wealthy and pass wealth on to future generations.

5. Have a cash buffer
Often you meet investors who had to sell their properties because they could not afford to hold them. A problem investors sometimes hear about is of properties occasionally getting damaged or just enduring wear and tear, making them difficult to rent. The landlord may not have the spare cash to make the necessary repairs and improvements and so the property remains void, which ends up costing the owner even more money. This becomes a vicious circle whereby the landlord can’t afford to make the improvements because he has no rent coming in, and can’t get any tenants because he can’t afford to make the improvements. These landlords often become motivated sellers.

The way to avoid this potential problem is to make sure you always have a cash buffer set aside to cover unexpected expenses. In reality, you can get insurance to cover most of the potential issues, including a tenant not paying the rent. However, the more insurance policies you have, the higher your costs and so the less cash flow you will have each month. Investors may recommend you have a cash buffer in place, which you can use if need be. This could be cash in your bank, a clear credit card, or some cash in someone else’s bank that you have agreed you can borrow if necessary. The size of this buffer depends on your personal level of risk. A few thousand pounds per property might be a good idea. This will help you avoid becoming a motivated seller yourself.

An introduction to planning permission

If you are ever considering being a buy-to-let landlord it is likely you will envision at some point making changes to your property in order to enhance its value. Depending on whether you wish to alter, you may need to obtain planning permission. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to go as far as to say that knowing about planning permission is an essential part of any buy-to-let landlord.

In 1948 the right to carry out property development was nationalized. In other words, landowners’ right to build and alter buildings, or to use land or buildings for a different purpose, was taken away by the government. Since that date, anyone wishing to carry out development needs permission to do so.

Permission is given mainly by the local planning authority for the area, which in most cases is the district, borough or city council (collectively referred to as ‘district’ councils). In addition, local government was charged with preparing plans for their areas showing where various kinds of buildings could and could not be built. Thus, the modern comprehensive planning system was born. The system is now overseen by Department of Communities and Local Government in England; the Scottish Government; the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland.

The planning system was introduced so that property development could be controlled in the public interest. Previously, buildings could be built anywhere, or they could be demolished, and land and buildings could be used for any purpose the owner chose. This was thought to be inefficient and sometimes had harmful consequences. The idea behind the planning system is that new buildings and uses are controlled to ensure:

that incompatible uses are not sited together;
the preservation of important buildings and areas;
the conservation of the countryside and natural environment;
the prevention of urban sprawl;
that the appearance and layout of new development is compatible with existing development;
that resources are not wasted;
that infrastructure can be provided efficiently;
that people’s enjoyment of their properties is protected;
highway safety;
co-ordinated provision of new housing and employment facilities.

However, the planning system is not coercive. It relies on landowners wanting to undertake development. An owner does not have to use land in a particular way just because it is allocated for that use or development. Similarly, even when permission is given, the owner is not compelled to act on it. The system is only concerned with what can be built. It does not deal with how it is built. Structural stability, health and safety, sanitation and so on are dealt with under separate legislation and regulations.

Fundamental to the planning system is planning policy. As well as allocating sites and areas for certain types of development, council development plans contain guidance and standards for buildings and uses, relating to matters such as design, layout, density, garden space, privacy, noise, highway safety, size and mix of buildings, parking and many other issues. This guidance, and standards, is known as planning policy and can be set out in a range of development plan documents. There is a preparation process that development plans must go through and public consultation and opportunities for public comment are built into the procedures.

In addition to local policies, the governments of the UK publish national planning policy documents. Inevitably, these are more broad-brush in nature. Their function is not only to guide decisions on individual development proposals but also to give direction to the development plans drawn up by local authorities. The government indicates what should be taken into account when preparing local plans and, in some areas, the thrust of what they should say. When seeking permission for development, planning law requires the body responsible for making the decision to do so in accordance with formally drawn up local planning policy, unless there are sound reasons for coming to a different conclusion. Therefore, planning policies are the prime consideration in whether planning permission will be given.

Permission is needed for development; consequently there is an application process for seeking that permission. Two types of planning application can be made. First, there are ‘full’ or ‘detailed’ applications. These show all aspects of the proposal and are specific about precisely what would be built, what alterations would be made or what use would be made of land or buildings. Second, there are outline applications. These are made to establish, in principle, whether a building can be built, leaving some or all details of the scheme to be determined subsequently. Outline applications can only be made for buildings not for changes of use, including conversions. The details of the building and site layout are called ‘reserved matters’, because they are reserved from the outline application. Another type of application is then made for the approval of reserved matters within the scope of the original outline permission. Once they have been approved, the outline and reserved matters together are the equivalent of a full planning permission.

Although planning permission is supposed to be obtained for development before it takes place, inevitably building work and changes of use happen without the necessary consent. In these circumstances, an application can be made for permission after the event. This is generally referred to as ‘retrospective’ planning permission.

There are various other applications which can be made after planning permission has been granted. Conditions are attached to permissions and there is a procedure for applying to remove or vary conditions. In certain circumstances, this type of application can be used to make changes to the design or layout of an approved scheme. There is a separate procedure for making very minor changes to a planning permission, called a non-material amendment. One condition attached to a planning permission is a time limit within which to begin the development permitted; this is usually three years for full planning permission (five years in Northern Ireland and Wales). Applications to extend the duration of planning permission are often referred to as ‘renewals’ although they are, technically, new applications.

Of course, not all planning applications are successful and the system includes an appeals process. Appeals are made to central government bodies: the Planning Inspectorate in England and Wales, and the Planning Appeals Commission in Northern Ireland.

The appeals system in Scotland is a little different. Appeals against decisions taken by council officers are decided by a group of elected councillors. Appeals against decisions taken by the council’s planning committee are made to the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals.

Appeals can be made when a council refuses permission, fails to make a decision within set time periods, or grants planning permission subject to conditions which the applicant wishes to vary or remove.

Appeals provide the opportunity for the merits of a proposed development to be considered by an independent inspector (reporter in Scotland, commissioner in Northern Ireland), free of local politics. Appeal decisions, and the interpretations they contain, are supposed to be taken into account by councils when deciding planning applications. Thus the appeals system is intended to keep a check on councils and to provide some consistency in decisions between councils.

Adding property value from studies and cellars

One of the biggest changes that has occurred within the family home over the past 10 to 15 years is the growing popularity of the home office. An increasing number of people now choose to work at home, either to create a better work-life balance, to avoid the misery of commuting, or simply to undertake the work they love in the comfort of their own homes.

Britain has become an entrepreneurial state, with many ambitious individuals and small groups keen to set up companies on the lowest possible budget. It’s undoubtedly true that setting up at home cuts overheads significantly, and allows you to work long, productive hours without completely giving up family or home life. Just over 10 years ago, I remember leaving a large practice to start my own business from my spare bedroom. It was an enormous downscale –believe me! However, even though I now have a much larger, fully staffed office, I still like to spend time at home in my own study, in quiet contemplation. It can be an amazing place, allowing me to avoid the distractions of the outside world and focus on delivering work that needs high levels of concentration.

Whether you choose to use a corner of your living space, or create a study or home office in a designated room, it’s undoubtedly important to keep it tidy and make it ruthlessly efficient. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful. Seamless, integrated storage will keep chaos at bay, and you can focus on creating a comfortable, motivating place to work.

A study is a good place to have if you have to work from home. Another place that can add value is a cellar.
If you are lucky enough to have a small cellar underneath your house –perhaps used for nothing more than some storage or a place to keep some wine cool –you may be able to change this into much-needed, usable space.

One of the problems with existing cellars is that they have no natural light –and no natural ventilation. It is also common for cellars to have very restricted headroom.

If you are working to a tight budget then your best option is to waterproof the existing space as it is, paint and decorate it, install some decent artificial light and some mechanically extracted ventilation, and then use the space as a decent family utility room.

The great thing about putting washing machines and dryers in this sort of underground space is that the surrounding walls give a large amount of acoustic protection. It’s great to move all of these noisy appliances from the ground floor down to the cellar. If your budget can stretch a bit further, why not consider digging out the cellar’s ground slab, and building in a new, insulated concrete floor at a lower level, to give you some increased headroom. If you have a few more spare pennies stashed away, you can always look at enlarging the cellar and extending it underground –either towards the front or back of the property. This may provide you with the opportunity to install some glazing at ground level –to allow natural light into the basement spaces and encourage some good, old-fashioned natural ventilation. This makes your basement utility room a much nicer space in which to spend time –rather than being shut away in a dark and dingy dungeon.

The truth is that any additional space for utility-room storage, which can be easily accessed by a cellar staircase, is always going to be a great asset and a selling point for any good family home. Even with the tightest budget, any conversion of an existing cellar is going to be a good use of space.

The construction processes vary depending on the type of property that you live in, but the general principles of creating a new basement under an existing building go something like this:

1 The basement company constructs a hoarding at the front of your house, which allows them to start digging through your front garden.

2 Once they have dug down to the basement level, they then start to make their way underneath your house, by forming a one-meter-wide tunnel right down the middle of your home. They go down the middle because all of your structural foundations run along the edge of the house. For the time being, they have to stay away from them.

3 They then have a skip located on the road outside your house and a conveyor belt that goes from the underground space up through your front garden –over the top of the street footpath and into the skip on the road. As the guys dig out the mud, they throw it on to the conveyor belt and it goes from the subterranean space and into the skip. The skip is unloaded regularly by a lorry with a grabber.

4 They then tunnel off to the corners of the house and begin to underpin the house with huge, deep, new concrete foundations. They gradually and very slowly do this in sections to provide the much-needed structural support to your foundations before they can remove the surrounding soil.

5 They underpin, remove a bit of soil, then put up some Acrow props to provide some temporary support for your flooring above.

6 Once all of the perimeter walls and foundations are completely underpinned, the remainder of all the soil under your house is removed.

7 Steel beams and steel columns then span beneath your existing ground floor to keep it in place.

8 Light wells are formed at the front and the back of the property, to allow in as much natural light and ventilation as possible. These can either be sunken external courtyards or glass skylights inserted at ground level.

9 Next, the waterproof tanking system is put up against all of the concrete walls.

10 Insulated concrete slabs, under-floor heating pipes and screeds are installed.

11 All the drainage and plumbing is installed.

12 The walls are timber-batoned, dry-lined and plaster-boarded before being given their final finish.

Living room and kitchen design for aspiring landlords

Living rooms have changed so much over the last few generations. In the good old days, your living room might have been known as a sitting room, a drawing room, a front room or a parlour. The living room was often the space in which you could grandly declare your style, status and taste, because it was here that visitors would be invited when they came to your home. In many families, the living room was a child-free zone, kept for ‘best’ to impress! Times have undoubtedly changed, and not that many houses have space for such luxury – spreading out to fill every room in the house instead! In fact, the separate ‘formal’ drawing room often feels like a fairly boring and redundant space – rarely used and usually not very comfortable.

Here in the 21st century, we are much more adventurous with our use of space, and it’s increasingly common to combine the kitchen-dining area, making the kitchen very much the central hub of the home. Many kitchen-diners have their own TV screens, and most homes have a number of TVs scattered throughout. For this reason, the ‘new’ living room isn’t necessarily a place for sitting down to watch TV. In fact, in my home we watch more TV in the kitchen than in any other room. So maybe it’s time that we rethink the way we use our living spaces. Sure, get a TV in there for times when you really want to flop and chill out; however, it makes sense to think about giving your living room a new role.

Today’s living rooms can provide space for reading, listening to music, having a relaxed chat and gathering around the fire. Where kitchens can often feel like ‘harder’spaces, with functional flooring and finishes, the living room wants to be a place where you can curl up and get cosy. It’s important that any living room feels relaxing and comfortable. It’s undoubtedly a space where you can hang out with your kids, but there is also an opportunity here to make this a space that is a little more grown-up. The TV will always be the inevitable focus of any living space (or, indeed, any room in which it is situated), but by planning a room properly there are ways to give equal priority to a beautiful, real fire. Real fires have such a powerful psychological appeal, and represent one of the very best ways to truly relax.

We live in an age in which we all love a greater sense of space in our homes. Most of us don’t want to live in tiny, box-like rooms, all with a similar scale, size and proportion. Instead, we like variety in our homes, diverse spaces with plenty of light and a great flow of air. We like rooms to be sized to match our requirements; in other words, we need them to be big enough to host our lifestyles, and smaller when we want to be cosy. The lighting and finishes are then chosen to create an atmosphere appropriate to those rooms.

If one thing’s for sure, kitchens are the absolute heart of the home. They aren’t just places for cooking, but a hub for socialising with family, friends and relatives. The 21st-century family kitchen is a virtual hive of activity and, for me, it is without a doubt the most important room in the house. Dining rooms are, however, something completely different. There really has been a change in our view of these spaces, particularly in smaller homes. Sure, if you have a grand house with loads of space, then a formal dining room is a fantastic space for those special occasions – huge dinner parties, or family gatherings. However, if you need more space in your house, and need it in rooms that might sit alongside your dining room, then this is the first room that needs to go.

Another reason why we are seeing the death of the formal dining room boils down to the fact that younger families simply don’t use formal dining spaces in the same way that previous generations did. The modern family is much more relaxed and far less stuffy. Times are changing and we don’t seem to mind the idea of entertaining in what is effectively kitchen space.

Your kitchen has to be ruthlessly functional, highly durable, and intelligently planned to suit the exact needs of your family. If it’s not, then you have not only wasted a large proportion of your refurbishment budget (even the most affordable kitchens still cost money), but it will drive you mad every time you use it. Cooking for you and your family should be a pleasurable and rewarding experience, and not a source of frustration.

In the early 1950s, researchers in the US developed the idea of the ‘work triangle’. This is an ergonomic concept derived from research to improve industrial efficiency, which was then applied to the domestic kitchen. Whether you are planning your own kitchen, or enlisting the help of a professional, you can use the ‘work triangle’ method to check the efficiency of your design. The three points of the triangle correspond to the three main kitchen activity zones. There is the wet zone (the sink), the cold zone (the fridge) and the hot zone (the cooker). Their position and relationship to each other is critical to achieving an efficient and comfortable kitchen design.

The recommended overall distance (the total length of the three sides) is 6 metres (20 feet), with no two points being less than 90 centimetres (35 inches) apart. Sound complicated? It’s not really. Read on! If the total is less than 4 metres (12 feet), then your appliances will be too close for comfort. If it’s greater than 8.5 metres (26 feet), then your appliances will be too far apart and you’ll waste time and effort trekking between them. A good way to burn off the calories that you are about to put on, but not an efficient kitchen design! Try to assess the traffic flow across the triangle, too. If you have a large kitchen, people walking through the space may not be a problem, but in small rooms it can reduce efficiency even further.

Design choices affect your rental yield

Some, if not most, people look to property as a way of making money. The attraction with being a landlord is that it offers you lifestyle options, a stream of income that once set up, provides you with income so you can get out and make the most of life. Is it unfair to say there is a secret landlord inside most of us? If you are able to let out a property, making the right design choices may allow you to reap the most income possible, because it gives a good feel to a tenant who would then be willing to pay a high rent.

Every single decision you make – from the smallest design detail to the selection of finishes and furniture, and the overall arrangement or layout of a room – has an impact on the way that your entire home feels. Together, these decisions can have a profound effect on the way you live your life, and the dynamic you create within it.

Building a conservatory or an extension on your home can add massive value. Not only can it transform the quality of the architecture in your ground-floor spaces, but the additional space will also increase the overall floor area of your house, which will automatically increase its value when the estate agent whips round with his tape measure. Best of all, if your new spaces are well designed, you’ll certainly add that ‘wow’ factor. In fact, extensions are a magical way to flood your house with light, create space where you didn’t even know you had it, and open up the rooms in your home to make them work the way you want them to.

The first question that you have to ask yourself is what kind of extension you want and why? Before even considering your options, you need to analyse your existing house plans very carefully to fully understand the impact your extension will have on the design of your existing house. You also have to be sure that whatever you build completely fits your needs. The most common form of extension on a property is a ground-floor rear extension; the most popular form of extension is a rear, ground-floor addition. Both of these can have a substantial and dramatic effect on the way that the ground-floor spaces work.

In many cases, these types of extensions are used to expand the kitchen-dining area, which has pretty much become the heart of the typical British family home. Creating additional space where the average family needs, wants and uses it most means that you’ll not just be making your home more productive in terms of space, but you’ll be in a fantastic position if and when you do come to sell.

Standard conservatories bought directly from a manufacturer can be even more affordable, but it’s worth being wary of this approach. If selected in the wrong style, a standard, off-the-shelf design can conflict with the architecture of the existing house. This doesn’t have anything to do with whether the extension is modern or traditional – far from it. Most people don’t have a preference for either style, as long as the design of the extension is good – and appropriate for your house. Often, however, I find that the standardised conservatories in mock Georgian, Tudor or Victorian styles don’t really work well when added to the back of a house from a different period. A well-designed and well-built extension will always be a good preference over a low-budget PVC conservatory that won’t necessarily enhance the standard of your home. The truth is that agents sometimes wonder why people do go for fully glazed conservatories with glass roofs, which they then cover completely with blinds because they are worried about their privacy! This high level of glazing is not necessarily very comfortable, either! In the winter months you can end up with a freezing-cold extension and, in the summer, the equivalent of an indoor greenhouse. A more considered design, which overcomes the issues of privacy, heat loss and solar gain , is by far the best way forward. Planned correctly, you’ll still be able to achieve fantastic views and access to your back garden.

We live in an age in which we all love a greater sense of space in our homes. Most of us don’t want to live in tiny, box-like rooms, all with a similar scale, size and proportion. Instead, we like variety in our homes, diverse spaces with plenty of light and a great flow of air. We like rooms to be sized to match our requirements; in other words, we need them to be big enough to host our lifestyles, and smaller when we want to be cosy. The lighting and finishes are then chosen to create an atmosphere appropriate to those rooms.

When it comes to bedrooms, they must be beautifully calm and comfortable spaces, for adults and children alike. The ideal bedroom should be cosy and serene, allowing your mind to be cleared of the pressures of the day when you retire to bed. When you consider the fact that we do, on average, spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping, the quality of our beds and the rooms they sit in become that much more important. The space should be beautiful; the bed should be a haven.

It makes no difference if you are a traditionalist, enjoying an over-the-top bedroom and indulging in Louise XIV-style splendour, or an avid minimalist, with a room stripped bare of any ornament, decoration or distraction. In both cases, comfort and cosiness should be the order of the day, and a fundamental part of your design brief. This means that the selection of your finishes and furnishings is actually the most important choice you will have to make in your bedroom. However, to create a fully successful bedroom, all of the principles of good design need to work together.

Bedrooms need to serve a dual purpose – lulling you to sleep and allowing you to languish in bed for those all-too-infrequent lie-ins, but also stimulating you adequately to give you the get-up-and-go you need to get out of bed in the morning. It’s also an extremely personal room, where we undress, dream, mull over the day that has passed and plan the day ahead, and also spend intimate time with our loved ones. We take to our beds when we are ill, and retreat to our bedrooms when we want a thorough rest. It’s not surprising, therefore, that creating the perfect bedroom is a challenge on a major scale.

Think carefully about your needs before working on the design brief for your new bedroom. A bedroom should be a sanctuary, but a functional one at that. Take your time to work out exactly what will work to create the optimum environment.

A quick summary of what mediation entails

Mediation is a voluntary process in which the people involved in a dispute agree to sit down together with a neutral third party – the mediator – and discuss their mutual problem. They then work together, seeking a solution to the problem with which they can all live. Most often there are two people involved in a dispute, but there is no limit to the number that can be involved, or to who can attend a mediation to help resolve the dispute. While the mediator facilitates this process, the solutions that the people in the dispute come up with are entirely their own.

Mediation is voluntary because if someone absolutely does not want to attend a mediation, trying to force them to do so is unlikely to help in reaching resolution. You may have all kinds of misgivings about the party or parties with whom you are in dispute as you go into mediation, but essentially you must want to at least try to solve the problem. Mediation cannot work in any other way.

Generally, as the first step in the mediation process one party will contact the mediator expressing his or her desire to explore the options for mediation. If the dispute has reached a point where the parties are no longer in communication, most mediators are happy to speak to each person individually and confidentially, and to handle all contact in setting up the meeting between them if that facilitates the process. What the mediator cannot do is to force or coerce the other party to attend. All he or she can do is to talk to them and to explain the principles and processes of mediation, taking care to answer all their questions. Once the parties agree in principle to mediation, and before they’ve even sat down with the mediator, they are showing a willingness to resolve the dispute.

Mediation’s emphasis is on moving forward – not on looking back. Your dispute has got to where it is now and, however it got there, focusing on that part of the problem usually does not help anyone come to a resolution. Mediation’s purpose is to focus on the future and to progress on new terms with which everybody can live.

When you go to court, the focus is always on the past: who has been at fault, who has broken a contract, who has done something wrong, who has done what to whom. At the end of the court process a decision is handed down by the judge which attributes blame and prescribes a remedy. The court generally makes no attempt to give direction on how the parties should proceed in the future, and certainly does not want to involve itself in any ongoing supervisory role. This can be particularly difficult if the parties have to remain in any sort of relationship with each other such as in family cases or in cases involving relatives or work colleagues.

Mediation’s focus is on how to move forward and this is achieved by directing attention on how to solve the problem. It can also contain agreed terms for the future conduct of the relationship, if that is what the participants want.

Disputes in any context tend to generate a lot of bad feeling and high levels of stress. Have you ever been in a dispute with anyone? Most of us have. No matter how small the argument, feeling angry, unheard and misunderstood does not feel good, even if you are convinced that you are 100% in the right. Relationships of all kinds can be heavily damaged by dispute. The longer people remain in dispute with each other, the more they look for evidence to support their point of view in the argument and they therefore focus on the dispute. They fixate on this and focus all their energy on it to the extent that finding a workable and amicable solution that helps find a way out could not be further from their thoughts.

When people are in conflict, stress levels can rise sharply, and this is not healthy for anyone on either side of a dispute. Relationships outside the argument can also suffer when someone is very angry for such a very long time. When an amicable, acceptable resolution is reached, stress levels immediately drop and people feel much more positive and much lighter. A weight is lifted from their shoulders and the time and energy they once focused on the argument can now be used for things that are helpful and enjoyable to them.

Mediation is entirely confidential. This is another very important point and must be strictly observed by the mediator and by all parties to the dispute. Anything that is said or done in a mediation cannot be revealed to outside parties either during or after the mediation.

Mediation is also ‘without prejudice’. If your mediation is one of the few that is unsuccessful, and the decision is taken to proceed to court, whatever was said in the mediation may not be relied on in court by either party without the express permission of the party that made the statement. This means that if something new comes to light in an unsuccessful mediation, this information cannot be brought into the legal arena. Neither can the mediator be brought into the legal arena as a witness, save on the orders of a Judge.

The description of the mediation process as without prejudice means that anything said during the mediation cannot then be used as evidence in any legal proceedings which are being considered or already started. This allows parties to talk openly about options for agreement. Parties are able to suggest new and creative possibilities for agreement without jeopardising their chance to go (or to go back) to court if an agreement isn’t reached. A mutually agreeable outcome is often one which could not have been reached in court.

With the exception of family mediations, where some records must be kept, the mediator destroys all notes and information relating to the meeting apart from the agreements to mediate and the record of the attendees at the meeting. This further protects the confidentiality of all who attend as there is then no danger of any information falling into the wrong hands.

The voluntary and non-binding nature of mediation means that parties are not compelled to reach an agreement and options for an agreement can be discussed without binding themselves to a particular outcome. There is no consequence on the parties if they are unable to agree (other than financial loss where the mediation is self-funded). Mediated agreements are only binding if both parties wish them to be.

During a mediation, while the mediator assists and facilitates the process, the parties are responsible for generating options for agreement and the terms of any settlement reached. The mediator does not offer their opinion on the merits of either party’s case or seek to determine or impose any outcome. They do not make suggestions or recommend proposals for agreement (but may pass offers between the parties if requested to do so). Any agreement reached must be mutually acceptable to all parties and will have been created by them.

It is integral to the mediation process that parties are able to make informed choices, about what to propose by way of agreement and whether to reach a settlement. Mediators encourage parties to explore their positions so that any agreement reached can reflect their needs and interests. Mediators also encourage parties to consider the likely alternatives to reaching a mediated agreement to objectively assess any offer on the table. When a dispute involves legal rights and entitlements, parties should seek legal advice before commencing mediation. Parties may have a legal adviser present during the mediation (or available on the telephone), or be given the opportunity at the end of the mediation to consult a legal adviser before reaching a legally binding agreement.

Mediation invites parties to widen the potential options for agreement and explore new possibilities and ideas. Mediated settlements can be reached where direct negotiations have failed by getting the right people in the same room and breaking down barriers to communication. The time spent by a mediator encouraging parties to explore their own needs, as well as those of the other party, enables participants in mediation to make practical proposals. Such offers may have added-value as they may have huge significance to one party but can be provided with minimal inconvenience to the other. It may involve looking at previously unconsidered options and widening the options for agreement.

The Property Ombudsman offers free, impartial and independent service for the resolution of unresolved disputes between consumers and property agents. The scheme has been providing consumers and property agents with an alternative dispute resolution service for 27 years. A member agent signed up with The Property Ombudsman is obliged to adhere to a code of practice which consumers can take confidence from.

Factors influencing property development

Deciding to become a property developer as a vocation is an important decision that requires various considerations before you take the plunge.

Developing a property in poor condition as basis for a successful business venture which gives a sound return on investment requires a lot of energy, time, money and luck. How much energy, time and money are required multiplies with an increase in the scope and level of activities. If you move from developing a large, Victorian property to two properties, or more, the demands rise commensurately.

Using project management ideas to succeed – the feat of managing a project based development process, whether of a single Victorian house, a single larger scheme, an old warehouse conversion to provide dwelling units for 20 people, as in for example, a block of flats being adapted for Home in Multiple Occupation (HMO, each require the application of the same basic principles. Even when the challenge is that of working on two sites simultaneously, sites, which are next door to each other, you still need lots of energy. The point of note here is that, each of these scenarios will pose their own challenge.

For some, these challenges can sometimes prove so daunting, that developers with years of experience get into trouble, which is when, some take appropriate, corrective measures and the result can be survival from where they rebuild and live to tell the tale. Others may not be so lucky and go under. You have to keep your eye on the ball in relation to the factors which will help you to not only avoid going down but to move from one successful development project to another. This said I am reminded of the old Chinese saying which goes something like; the glory is not in not falling but in rising even higher after any fall.

When it comes to property investment, as with other times, location and unrealised, hidden values hold the key to success in this business. Furthermore, in a UK context, London and the south of England, are the ultimate magnet for property developers. This is an area consistently identified as offering ideal investment returns on account of; development opportunities, the high rents achievable and the considerable capital appreciation over time are all contributory factors. Demand and supply factors, which favour the developer’s side of the equation, have contributed in no small way to property price appreciation over the last three decades and more, with supply unable to match or catch up with demand in over three decades, especially since the 1990s.

Spreading London ripple effect – what is often referred to as the ‘London ripple effect’ in relation to high prices always sees the higher London price rises, spread to the surrounding regions and beyond. Such ripple effect is dependent on the prevailing economic climate of the time. Examples abound of out-of-London property hotspots like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds to list a few.

Scotland and Wales Farmers’ diversification into the market for holiday accommodation – for a couple of decades now, it has been noticed that in locations far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, for example in Scotland and Wales, areas which have not witnessed property price increases, like those found in the south of England, farmers have included diversification from core farming activities into providing accommodation for tourists. For the farmers who have taken advantage of the opportunities opened by tourism, refurbishing old barns and disused farm cottages has become an established strategic route to generating additional revenues. This has to be seen in the context of dwindling grants and subsidies, formerly built into the income streams of members of the farming communities. It is as much driven by political pressures and dwindling government support as by the survival exigencies of the day. You can be sure that where there is a development tag attached, you will soon find a property developer knocking on the door. Could that developer be you in the near future?

Scotland and the City of Aberdeen and surrounding districts – still on Scotland, there had, until recently, over several decades, been intense development activities in and around the city of Aberdeen. This relates to Aberdeen being at the centre of Scotland’s oil industry, with people coming to work in the industry or to study about different aspects of the oil industry at Aberdeen University and the surrounding colleges.

Supply demand factors as drivers – in Aberdeen once more demand – supply factors act as drivers and according to 1st quarter figures from the Halifax Price index, annual price rises in Scotland stand at 9.3%, in August 2016, while that for the UK as a whole is 10.1%. A check on house prices in Aberdeen and its surrounding districts, relating to different types of housing; flats, period properties and new builds, prices are comparable to those in some areas around Greater London. A fact, which may come as a surprise to many of us, cocooned as we are in our city life bubble. The government estimates a shortfall of 3 million homes exists at the present time.

Scotland and the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh – the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, between them have a combined population of just over a million, and 8 universities, four in each city and several colleges in their patch. There has always been a steady hive of development activity by which students’ accommodation needs have been catered for. Over several decades developers and buy to let investors busy themselves working the students’ districts assiduously.

Ever present opportunities – there are constantly emerging development opportunities, which can be capitalised on, if you’re at the right place at the right time, and for those who know their patch, and are also known, they are first to be notified, when opportunities suddenly crop up. And the elephant in the room requires that you be financially ready to take advantage of such opportunities when they arise. These are hallmarks of discerning developers.

The feel good factor as relates to the property market, may come and go and irrespective of the state of the market, opportunities are always there, explained another. When asked about the negative equity phenomenon, one property developer’s response was that the phenomenon which descended on the property market in the late 80’s and early 90’s is a distant memory, and long forgotten. Negative equity was the term coined for properties losing their value – even overnight properties became worth far less than had been paid for them just a few weeks before.

Negative equity may well be a distant memory. However, it serves to remind us that while the last forty years have seen steady property price increases averaging over 9% annually it is worth stressing once more that property prices can go up but they can also come down. A cautionary tale: as distant memory it may be, but it serves to remind us that whilst the last forty years has seen steady property price increases, averaging over 9% annually, it’s worth stressing that property prices can go up as well as come down.

Healthy employment figures – among the many factors impacting on the property market, are recent UK employment figures, (August 2016) which show a high proportion of people in work compared to the years 2007-2010. The importance of healthy employment figures to the property development process lie in its relationship with other factors which impact on the market for materials, labour and income.

Traditionally, factors such as interest rates reflect the state of the market in relation to supply and demand and its impact on the property market. Interest rates is a subject to which we will return later. The simplest relationship which can be adduced is that higher labour costs can lead to higher incomes for the working population. Improved incomes in turn mean those who wish to purchase properties; flats or houses are better able to afford them.

A dynamic market is good for development – a corollary of the above, is this; the greater affordability made possible for those purchasing in any segment of the market; low, high or in the middle, the more dynamic the market is, the better it is for the developer. It means the greater the numbers of people in the market well placed to afford to purchase properties, the likelier the chances the developer has for a quick sale and turnaround, followed by a move to the next project.

A developer who takes too much of a narrow perspective, may end up paying the price, as a result of the adverse consequences which may result from ignoring details from other perspectives, even when such details are minute. For example, using wrong structural engineering calculations or failure to take account of small recommended measurements because the builder thinks you could get away with not doing so. When the correct details are ignored and corners cut, they can result in unstable structures, which end up imperilling thousands of pounds of development investment.

Property development is much like any other economic activity; retailing, banking, running or hotel or any of the businesses we see on the high street. Each one of these businesses requires coordination of human, raw materials and financial resources with the latter acting as the glue that holds the business together.

Deciding to become a property developer is an important decision. There are many considerations to be undertaken beforehand, and during the process. But done correctly, it may be rewarding, both financially and vocationally.

Reasons for investing in properties

A lot of mediation cases result from disputes between landlords who want to maximise their bottom dollar and spend as little as possible, and tenants who feel they are being pushed to do the landlord’s job of upkeeping properties because the landlords are not responsive enough. What makes someone want to invest in property in the first place if they are not prepared to invest time and money into maintaining it?

Cash Flow: Whether you buy with all cash or use today’s favorable financing with a low mortgage payment, positive monthly cash flow occurs when the monthly rent is greater than the monthly expense. This gives you a monthly income from your property investment.

Appreciation: Appreciation is the increase in the property’s value, which generally occurs over time and can also be increased by an investor who adds value to the property through repairs and/or enhancements. This is a great way to create equity in the property.

Depreciation: Even with an increase in the property’s value, the government allows owners a tax deduction on their property over its life span. This annual deduction is called depreciation which you can start taking when you have owned the property for at least one year. By taking advantage of depreciation, the cash flow you receive is protected so that you receive some or all of it tax free. If you are an investor with an income from another source such as a regular job, it can also protect all or some of that income from state and/or federal income taxes. Talk to an accountant to completely understand the full benefits of depreciation.

Tax Benefits: In addition to depreciation, an investor can usually claim the interest portion of his monthly mortgage payment as a tax deduction.

Leverage: Leverage is a very powerful reason for investing in property. If an investor uses 100% cash to acquire a house worth $100,000, and the house increases in value by $5,000 in one year, then the investor makes a return of 5% (assuming no other costs in this case). However, if the investor obtains 80% financing, only $20,000 cash would be required at the closing table, and a bank or other lender would loan the remaining $80,000 to acquire the property. Assuming the same $5,000 increase in value, the investor’s cash contribution of $20,000 would yield a 25% return on investment ($5,000 increase in value divided by the $20,000 investment) in the same one year period of time.

Using the above example, if the investor is able to net even a conservative cash flow of $200 per month, this will result in an additional $2,400 per year added to the increased appreciation. The return for the year would now be $7,400 ($5,000 appreciation plus $2,400 cash flow) and the return on investment would now be 37% ($7,400 divided by $20,000). Even if the property value remained stable with no appreciation, there would still be a positive return of the $2,400 in cash flow with a return on investment of 12%.

Considering these benefits in addition to the low interest rates for financing, you can see how easy it is to accumulate wealth and become a successful investor.

Other Reasons Why People Invest in property
Now let’s look at other reasons why people invest in property. First, let me ask you a very simple, yet provocative question: Why would you invest in property? Understanding the answer or answers to this question will help you along your investment career. Following are the most common answers I have heard during the course of my property career:

Freedom: Frankly, this is why most people start investing in property. They get star struck with the idea of riches that would give them the freedom to stop working for someone else. They may have a great job that they absolutely love that pays the bills, but they still want to achieve long-term freedom. They can see that by buying and holding cash flow properties over time (and sacrificing and delaying gratification), in five, ten or twenty years, they can have a pile of monthly cash flow and have gained the freedom they desire.

Control: Some investors I speak with want property in order to gain some degree of control over their financial lives because, let’s face it; we have zero control in financial investments outside of property investing. If you invest in the stock market or money market funds, you have no control over the return you will make. With property, there are things that you can do to control your return on investment as shown above.

Alternatives: Some investors will admit that property is nothing more than a portion of their overall investment portfolio. Perhaps they have divided their portfolio to include mutual funds, stocks, property, etc. Or they may be looking to achieve higher returns from their cash through active management.

Job Escape: A few investors look at property investing as a career, or a chance to own their own company. Others may look at property as a means to eventually replace the job or career they currently hate. Creating Value or Thrill of the Hunt: Many investors love the thrill of the hunt, chasing down a deal or cashing in on their last remodel. They pursue that addictive feeling and are always looking for the next rush or opportunity to turn an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

Options: After many years of property investing, I have come to realize that in the end people love investing in property because it has given them so many more options. They have the options to keep working their current job, to buy property as a full time career, to have the time and money to travel, etc. The more they invest, the more option doors are opened.

The Real Reason to Invest in property
People fall hard for the sexy pitch of earning freedom. Frankly, freedom is good but I think what people really want is options. That is why they keep working so hard to find the next deal, to find the next investor, and to keep building their growing portfolio. Some might think freedom and options are the same things. But freedom is more sustained while options are more temporary. But to me, freedom means that a person can stop doing something while options mean a person can do other things. I can tell you firsthand that having options is better than having freedom. I would say you get freedom first and then you build or acquire options.

Before you take the plunge in investing in property

Many potential investors are asking whether, given current market conditions, it is the right time to invest in property development. This is because property prices are falling in many parts of the United Kingdom and people are beginning to worry about the ‘credit crunch’ and the effect this will have on their family finances. To be able to answer this question it is important to understand the relationship between the UK economy and the housing market, consider short- and long-term trends and undertake a full assessment of market conditions. It is also important to consider possible benefits for investors of the current market position, especially in terms of the availability of bargain properties such as repossessions and failed buy-to-let investment properties. Once you have considered these issues you can then ask whether it is prudent to invest in property development at this time.

If you are thinking about investing in property development you need to have a thorough understanding of current and future economic and market conditions, and understand how they relate to the housing market. As we have seen in the United States, when the economy expands, lenders tend to extend too much credit and consumers are happy to accept this credit, usually because they have confidence in the housing market. This results in many people taking out larger mortgages than they can realistically afford, and leads to much greater borrowing on credit cards and hire purchase agreements. However, when economic conditions worsen, excessive borrowing means that people are unable to meet their payments, confidence in the housing market slumps, property prices begin to fall and homes are repossessed.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) believes that the UK housing market will follow the US market, but on a two-year time lag. Experts fear that many homeowners in the United Kingdom who have overstretched their borrowing will suffer as a similar credit crunch begins and inflation rises. Indeed, recent figures indicate that the number of repossessions in the United Kingdom reached 27,100 in 2007, up from 22,400 in 2006 according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), and experts fear that this figure will rise to more than 45,000 in 2008. This has prompted the UK Government to begin talks with mortgage lenders to try to avert the crises and deal more favourably with homeowners who find themselves in arrears and facing repossession.

Some experts, however, think that the media in particular are over-emphasizing the financial problems being faced by the United Kingdom and that, in doing so, they are making a bad economic situation worse. Financial crises are always big news and the media has had some spectacular financial stories to report recently, including problems with rogue traders and bank collapses. Some people believe that this type of scaremongering could lead to people reducing their spending and saving money, which means that less money is spent and large amounts of money are removed from the economy. This can help to increase the likelihood of a recession and a property market crash.

One view is that buyers are being manipulated by stories in the media that do not reflect reality. This is because the media need to tell a story, but they also need to entertain, which often leads to a concentration of personal stories that do not reflect what is happening in reality. However, despite stories in the media not always reflecting reality, the media do have considerable influence on the public. Indeed, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found in a recent survey that 23 out of 200 surveyors cited media gloom as having an impact on confidence in their local property market. If people are new to a particular market, such as property development, it is understandable that they will take note of the media when making investment decisions. However, you should balance this information with your own research.

The economy in the United Kingdom is suffering, and there is potential for a property market crash, but this does not mean that property development is not still a viable investment opportunity, as long as careful decisions are made backed up by thorough personal research.

If you are thinking about investing in property development, it is important to monitor inflation and interest rates carefully to make the most of your investment. At this present time, the UK inflation rate is well above the Bank of England’s 2 per cent target and above average for the European Union as a whole. Inflation determines the real return on any investment that you make and can have a major impact on the value of your investment in the future. This is of particular importance when viewing property investment as a long-term strategy. Therefore, you need to make sure that if you decide to invest in property development, your plans are not at the mercy of inflation and any future rises that may occur.

In the United Kingdom the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measures changes in the prices of selected household goods and uses this to determine the rate of inflation. For more information about the CPI and for up-to-date figures, visit www.statistics.gov.uk.

When economic growth is strong more money chases fewer goods and services, which pushes up prices and leads to higher inflation, which is what we have seen over the past few years in the United Kingdom. When this occurs, interest rates are used to keep growth broadly in line with its long-run trend of around 2.5 per cent each year.

This is one of the reasons why interest rates rose in 2006 and 2007. Higher interest rates tend to discourage borrowing and encourage saving, which should slow the economy. Lower rates encourage borrowing and should have the opposite effect. This is one reason why we have seen the recent cuts in interest rates. Movements in interest rates affect the overall level of demand in the economy and so can have a powerful influence on the inflation rate. Although higher inflation rates tend to be good for borrowers and bad for investors, you need to consider this link between inflation and interest rates when making your investment. If you intend to take out a mortgage on a property, the real value of your mortgage could be reduced considerably in times of high inflation, so this could work in your favour, but only if interest rates are favourable. Therefore, if you have cash to invest it may not be prudent to invest all of it in property by buying outright when inflation is high. Instead, you could decide to borrow on the property, or you could look to other types of investment.

When doing this you need to consider the trends and prospects of other types of investment. Other assets, such as shares, can produce better returns than the property market, but this type of investment is much more volatile. In general, bonds and high-interest savings accounts will not provide as good a return as property has done over the last 35 years, but, in general, they are much safer options. If you are interested in other types of investment, you should seek the advice of an independent financial advisor.

To gain a better understanding of the trends and prospects of the housing market it is useful to look at how the market has performed in the past. Two useful house price surveys are produced by the Halifax and the Nationwide Building Society. The Halifax House Price Index was first produced in 1983. It shows that since then house prices have increased by 8 per cent a year, while inflation has increased by 4.5 per cent a year. The Nationwide house price survey began in 1973 and in that time house prices have increased by an average of 9 per cent a year. This compares to an average rate of inflation of 7 per cent a year over the same period. These figures show that house prices have beaten inflation over the last 25–35 years, and that therefore buying property has represented a good long-term investment.

Where investors can lose out is when they view their investment as a short-term strategy during times of market uncertainly. For example, in the five years from 1990 to 1995 house prices fell by around 10 per cent. Short-term investors who spent large amounts of money on properties and then tried to sell them lost out considerably during this time because prices were falling so quickly. However, in the 13 years since 1995 house prices have more than trebled in many parts of the United Kingdom. This means that, during this period, short-term property development strategies did prove to be very lucrative. Even people who bought properties that they sold on without doing any work were able to make a profit as prices were rising so quickly.

Currently we are experiencing another drop in the market. Therefore, there will be less opportunity for short-term developers to make a profit, whereas long-term developers can buy properties cheaply and keep hold of them until prices begin to rise again. If you are only interested in short-term development you must be very careful in your property choices if you are not to lose money on your investment.

Opinion is divided about whether we will experience a property market crash. Experts have predicted that house prices will fall over the next two years anywhere between 5 and 40 per cent. As we have seen above, short- and long-term fluctuations in the housing market have always occurred and it is inevitable that an adjustment to the housing market will take place after the boom of the last decade. House prices have more than trebled in certain parts of the United Kingdom over that time and it is impossible to sustain this type of growth.

In March 2008 the Halifax reported that house prices fell by 2.5 per cent, which is the biggest single drop since the property market crashed in 1992. However, these figures do not reflect the whole story, as this kind of drop is not occurring in all parts of the United Kingdom. Indeed, house prices are still rising in some areas, such as parts of London, the East Midlands and parts of the South West. However, as a potential investor you must be aware of the types of property that are rapidly losing their value and the areas that are dropping at a higher rate than others.

For example, over the past decade buy-to-let investment has become very popular for part-time, amateur investors. Unfortunately, many of these people felt that it would be an easy way to make a large profit without putting in the required amount of work, again fuelled by over-the-top success stories reported in the media. This has led to investors making inappropriate decisions about when, where and what to buy, and many have paid too high a price for a property that is difficult to let. Many of these investors are now getting the jitters, again due to media reports about a property crash. They, along with other buy-to-let investors, are trying to sell their properties. This has led to a number of similar properties appearing on the market at the same time, which has pushed prices down further and made the properties harder to sell. Although this is unfortunate for the people trying to sell, it creates more opportunities for potential buyers who can negotiate considerable price reductions. However, you must understand why the venture has failed in the past and make sure that you don’t make similar mistakes. This involves undertaking a careful assessment of the current and future rental market in the area.

With all the current and potential financial problems we are experiencing in the United Kingdom such as rising inflation, the increasing costs of mortgages and credit, and the rising cost of food and fuel, you are bound to be asking whether the present time is really the time to invest in property development. Investing in property development can no longer be viewed as an easy way to make a quick profit, especially given current market conditions. However, it can be a lucrative and fulfilling venture if you are prepared to put in the required work and conduct all the necessary research. The property market is facing uncertainly over the next few years, but wise investors and full-time professionals who are in for the long haul know that property investment is safe and secure if they treat it with the respect it deserves. As long as you are careful, do your research and make wise decisions, then the time can still be right to invest in property development. Indeed, recent movements in the market, fuelled in part by the media scare stories mentioned above, has meant that there are more bargains available, if you know where to look and know how to compete with other property developers.

At the moment it is a buyer’s market and there are plenty of bargains available. You need to undertake a careful assessment of your present and future finances when you think about investing in property development. It is important to consider these in terms of the amount you can afford to borrow, the interest rates you will have to pay and how these may rise or fall in the future. As the housing market begins to slow down, how will this affect your financial investment, over both the short and the long term? You must make sure that you do not put your family and your home at risk through unwise investment choices.

Short- and long-term trends need to be taken into account when you consider your investment strategy. Although short-term strategies may still work in areas where property prices are rising, they will not work in areas where prices are falling. You must bare this is mind when developing your investment strategy.

In conclusion, to invest successfully in property you must understand the relationship between the UK economy and the housing market, consider short- and long-term trends and undertake a full assessment of market conditions. While present market conditions may not be so favourable for property developers who wish to renovate and refurbish to sell on, there is still plenty of potential for developers who see their investment as a long-term strategy. If you are hoping to invest in property development, there are a number of different strategies that you can adopt, depending on your family circumstances and finances, your skills, the property market and the area in which you live.

Property Investment Appraisal

What exactly does the ‘appraisal’ of property mean? There are two distinct applications in mind. By ‘appraise’ we could mean

a. To fix a price for (an asset);
b. To estimate the amount, or worth or value, of (an asset)

The first of these meanings implies what is known, in the UK, as the valuation process or, in the US, as the appraisal process: the estimation of market value or the prediction of the most likely selling price. There is now widespread acceptance of the international definition of market value set out in the valuation standard of the International Valuation Standards Committee, commonly known as ‘the White Book’ (IVSC, 2005), which is now in its seventh edition.

This definition is the estimated amount for which a property should exchange on the date of valuation between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm’s length transaction after proper marketing wherein the parties had acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion.

Many nations also feel the need to have their own valuation standards, not least the UK, whose standards [maintained by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)] have been through a number of editions of what is commonly referred to as ‘the Red Book’. The latest edition (RICS, 2003) is the fifth and has adopted the aforementioned basic international definition.

There are even attempts to create regional standards (such as the European ‘Blue Book’, published by TEGOVA, The European Group of Valuers of Fixed Assets), and this has created some tension and rivalry between international, regional and national bodies, particularly in Europe.

However, there is now very little disagreement, if any, on the general wording of the market value definition, even if there are some differences in interpretation. These differences will continue to diminish as the property investment market becomes more and more international.

The second of the two meanings, the estimation of worth or value, is not necessarily market-based. Since 1995 this concept has been developed and institutionalised, having entered UK valuation standards in the 1990s as the ‘calculation of worth’, and now defined in the White Book under the term ‘investment value’.

The term ‘calculation of worth’ has now – happily – been dropped by the RICS in favour of the international definition.

The definition is as follows: the value of the property to a particular owner, investor or class of investor, for identified investment objectives. This subjective concept relates specific property to a specified investor, group of investors, or entity with identifiable investment objectives and/or criteria. This definition does appear to fudge a major issue, specifically whether worth or value is to an individual investor or to a group of investors. This has significant implications about how it might be assessed in practice, as the value to an individual and the value to a group may not be the same.

Individual investors are influenced by a set of criteria by which the value of an asset might be assessed. For example, their tax situation, the rate at which they can borrow, how much equity capital they have to spare, what adjoining assets they own and the strengths and weaknesses of their existing investment portfolio are all factors that may lead them to perceive value in a particular property.

Hence, while all investors may agree upon such important variables as the size of the asset being appraised, the cash-flow implications of the lease and the likelihood of achieving planning permission for a change of use, individual investors will always be subject to different motivations.

The distinction between value and worth can be important. Further, it is possible that a group of investors will use the same criteria and share the same characteristics, and would as a result attach a similar value to a property asset. Identifying the possible buyer group is very relevant to appraisal, which is therefore the process of identifying a mixture of objectively measured market variables and the prospective owner’s (or group of owners’) subjective estimates of other relevant factors.

We could use the term ‘appraisal’ to cover the process of estimating either market value (the prediction of the most likely selling price) or investment value (the estimation of worth to an individual or to a group of individuals).

We could therefore encourage the use of the term ‘market valuation’ or ‘valuation for pricing’ for the former, and we would prefer to use ‘investment value’ for the latter. We hope this will not cause too much confusion, but the possibility of confusion unfortunately exists, grounded in the fact that the development of property terminology has been influenced by the isolation of the property world from the securities markets.

There is no doubt regarding the meaning of valuation in the securities markets: it means the estimation of worth.

Pricing is a function that is carried out by buyers, sellers and market makers. The price of a particular company in the stock market is publicly quoted, and large numbers of identical shares in that company can be bought and sold. In property, however, there are no market makers.

The price at which a transaction will take place has to be influenced by an expert opinion – a ‘valuation’ – because there is both insufficient market evidence and insufficient homogeneity of product for traders to be able to fix prices. It is therefore to be expected that at any one time different views of worth will be held by different individuals and these differences will fuel market turnover.

In addition to the main concepts of market value and investment value, ‘sustainable value’ (mortgage lending value), a relatively new phenomenon used in the bank-lending process, has been developed in mainland Europe. It has found some favour, particularly within German banking systems, and the mortgage lending value basis has been adopted, along with market value, within the international banking regulatory process known as Basel.

The concept sustainable value has been subject to intense criticism, as of it does not conform to any recognised economic concept of value and the definition is virtually incomprehensible. The implications for investors can be damaging and may have had some impact on the German open-ended fund crisis of 2005/2006. But it is arguably of no merit and should be abandoned.

The stock (property) selection policies of both major and minor property investors often include an examination of the mismatch between estimates of market value and investment value in order to spot pricing anomalies, and any investor or advisor will benefit from a clear understanding of the difference between the market value of an asset and its worth to an investor or group of investors.

If there is a difference, is this evidence of poor-quality appraisal? It is widely believed that market valuations should primarily be accurate; that is, they should closely predict selling price.

Accuracy may therefore be a relevant and useful test of the quality of a market valuation. Investment valuations, on the other hand, should primarily be rational; they should be professional and expert reflections of a combination of objectively measured market variables and the prospective owner’s subjective estimates.

Building a Property Portfolio? Some considerations

The overall demand for private rented property is now stronger than ever, with the mortgage market restricted for purchasers and house price inflation, particularly in the south east, creating the need for high deposits which people cannot find. Lending has become far more stringent, owing to the onset of the credit crunch and the banks unwillingness to loan money, particularly to property investors. Essentially, accessing finance has become a big issue. The banks favour those with large cash deposits. This is the same in the buy-to-let sector as for domestic mortgages.

However, if finance can be arranged then the yields that one can expect from buy-to-let properties are high by comparison, currently standing at 6%. Of course, this depends on where the property is located. See overleaf for a table indicating the best buy to let areas in the UK. A yield is a portfolio’s annual rental income as a percentage of total value. The reason is that demand for private rented property is high, particularly as first time buyers cannot get a toehold in the market. They are instead turning to the private rental sector. Therefore, investing in property, for the longer term, as opposed to investing for short-term gain, is still a viable option.

Rental returns on buy-to-let are biggest in regional centres like Southampton, Manchester and Nottingham – where one in four homes are now privately rented. Property investors are looking way beyond London and identifying regions where yields are almost three times as high as in the capital. Cities offering the greatest yields – rental income measured against the property cost – include Southampton, Blackpool, Nottingham and Hull.

The latest data on buy-to-let returns, from lender HSBC, also shows the proportion of property in each area already owned by landlords. And in many of the top-yielding areas private landlords already own one in four properties, or more. Southampton, with rental yields of 8.73pc, currently tops the list for rental returns. Manchester, Nottingham, Blackpool and Hull complete the top five locations with the best rental yield at 7.98pc, 7.67pc and 7.47pc respectively.

In all of those areas, except Hull, private landlords already own one in five properties, or more. These areas also offer the characteristics that make for excellent buy-to-let investment, the experts say: relatively low house prices coupled with strong demand for rental property from large student and young professional populations.

The lowest yields were registered in areas such as London where recent price rises have been large and rapid, outpacing the growth in rents. In London in particular, there is a higher proportion of rental property than elsewhere, with 38pc of property in Westminster, for example, being privately rented.

Rental yields
Investment properties which are rented out receive an income from tenants. In order to calculate the gross rental yield the annual rental income is divided by the purchase price of the property (annual rent÷price) × 100 = Gross rental yield).

So, if the property was purchased for £75,000 (total) and the rent received is £450 per month the yield would be: £5400 (annual rent) ÷ £75,000 × 100 which equals an annual yield of 7.2. This is a very respectable return on your capital. Of course if you are a landlord then you will want to factor in the costs of being a landlord, such as maintenance, insurance, loan costs, empty periods etc.

Capital yields
If and when a property increases with time, this is known as capital growth. A simple example is if you buy a property for £75,000 and it increases by 25% there will be a capital appreciation of £18,750. It is a rule of thumb that low price properties might produce a high rental yield and low capital growth and vice-versa, although this is not always the case. Again, each case differs and many factors will play a part but as long as you know what you want then you should be safe with your investment.

If you are interested in averages, landlords receive £678 in rent each month as a national average. However, as always, averages don’t give the whole picture. Landlords in London and the South East collect the highest rents, with £1,079 and £816 respectively. In the west Midland rents average £678 and in East Anglia £676. Approximately 60% of this is spent on borrowing and management costs, leaving landlords with a healthy 40% profit on average.

With buy-to-let mortgage rates so cheap (at the moment) now is the time to expand your portfolio releasing equity and raising deposits to buy new properties. However, when expanding your portfolio it is important to be realistic and ensure that you invest in properties that can be sold on easily, as there may come a time when you need to get your hands on the capital that you have tied up. As with everything, property is a good investment as long as it is managed well.

Too many would-be landlords buy property and neglect it which has a negative impact on the environment and also a negative impact on the investment as a whole. A run down property will decrease in value and the possibility of renting it out for a full market rent will also diminish.

What kind of property is suitable for letting? Obviously there are a number of different markets when it comes to people who rent. There are those who are less affluent, young and single, in need of a sharing situation, but more likely to require more intensive management than older more mature (perhaps professional) people who can afford a higher rent but require more for their money. The type of property you have, its location, its condition, will very much determine the rent levels that you can charge and the clients that you will attract. The type of rent that a landlord might expect to achieve will be around ten per cent of the value of the freehold of the property, (or long leasehold in the case of flats). The eventual profit will be determined by the level of any existing mortgage and other outgoings.

If you are renting a flat it could be that it is in a mansion block or other flatted block and the service charge will need to be added to the rent. When letting a property it is necessary to consider profit after mortgage payments and likely tax bill plus other outgoings such as insurance and agents fees (if any).