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.

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.

Increasing numbers of buy to lets by cash buyers

According to Countrywide, nearly two thirds of the properties purchased by landlords were made using cash buyers. This is in contrast to the other third, which were completed using arranged mortgages. The value of properties purchased for the purpose of buy to lets totalled £31.5 billion, and of these, those made using cash payments accounted for a staggering£21.0 billion.

What can we glean from these financial statistics? The first we can deduce from the smaller percentage share is that some landlords are leveraging their existing properties in order to expand their portfolios. The one third of properties purchased are to have been based on buy to let mortgages, where perhaps an existing mortgaged property is remortgaged to release equity that goes towards a second property intended for lease. It reflects the thinking that buy to let is increasingly seen as a better investment than traditional bank investments. And while buyers are aware that a fall in house prices may result again in the future, they seem to be banking on the annual percentage gain to negate that loss.

Slightly more worryingly is the fact that two thirds of purchases were made outright with cash buyers. This highlights the fact that landlords are increasingly getting richer through the housing market, increasing their financial wealth considerably enough to afford such purchases in cash. And it points towards a worrying trend where those who have capital find it easier to accumulate even more capital, while thousands of young buyers are increasingly priced out, and have to resort to one of the following options:

Commuting to work in an area where salaries are higher and living in an area where the house prices are lower; this commute length is likely to increase as the property prices and rents increase;

Paying high rental rates and not being able to save for a deposit towards a house until significantly later in life, or not at all;

Having to make do with a lower standard of rental housing, to be able to afford to live in a particular area;

The figure of two thirds of landlord purchases by cash surpassed the three in five figure in 2011. In 2007, this figure was only two in five. In other words, the proportion of landlords buying in cash has increased by 26% in ten years, from 40% in 2007.

A favourable location for outright buy to lets is in the North of England and Scotland. While that may be good news for home owners, in that it drives house prices up as well as rentals, tellingly, the majority of purchases made are not made by people within the area, but by landlords outside of it. And this cannot be good news for the people who live in these regions. The ideal scenario for most people is to work in an area where salaries are higher, to have an income that outstrips living costs such as rentals or mortgages. But with landlords buying in Northern England and Scotland, turning it into an investment hotspot, the people in the area are trapped in a cycle of comparatively lower salaries and high prices.

Nearly four out of every five homes in the North East of England were bought by outright cash buyers, an astounding figure.

The trend was however reversed in the capital. It can be surmised that property prices in London were too high for many outright cash purchases. Landlords buying in London were the most likely to use a mortgage and London was the only region where statistically, two out of five purchases were cash-backed, well under the national average. Of course, this suggests that in some areas the proportion of outright cash buyers was even higher.

What inferences can we draw from the data? The first is that investment properties are on the rise. For estate agents, a registration with The Ombudsman Property Service is a sign that you work within a framework of established rules and regulations, which may be the distinguishing factor in determining if landlords choose to entrust their properties to you to manage or not.

Young professionals seeking to rent a property should choose one managed by a landlord or agent signed up to The Ombudsman Property Service. This means they are obliged to work to professional standards. You may get the offer of a cheaper rental property from a private landlord, on fairly informal terms, but accepting this may mean you have no means of redress when disputes arise.

The news that rental costs are increasing are not good. What can young professionals do in order to get on the property ladder? No one wants to be committed to a lifetime of renting, if they could help it, because while the ability to move from place to place and lead a bohemian lifestyle may seem idyllic in your twenties, having no roof over your head when you’re in your sixties is hardly a thrilling nomadic existence. And when you can see it coming from the vantage point of your forties and fifties, these thoughts will continually prey on your mind.

A recent report suggested young professionals could give up certain luxuries in order to accumulate enough capital to form a substantial deposit. The deposit for a London property is approaching £80,000 or £90,000. Taking the average annual salary of £26,000, minus rent, the average person would be in their forties by the time they got a foothold on the ladder. The report suggests that a foothold might be more quickly established if nights out, takeaway sandwiches and coffees were forgone, among other expensive luxuries like cigarettes. But it would be difficult to live a life that seems devoid of any entertainment, even though it may be a sacrifice the first time buyer may have to make.

The difficulty with reconciling what one wants from life with what one can afford is one of the difficulties we all have to overcome. Young people have aspirations of how they would like their lives to turn out, and aspirations of lifestyle that they have to manage. But perhaps the notion of doing without luxuries for a few years is a step too far, and those that have their eyes on the gulf between house prices and salaries have decided they cannot bridge the gap, or commit to closing the gap, and have decided to enjoy life and all its luxuries while they can.

The divergence between salaries and house prices has also inadvertently fuelled another trend. This trend is the currency of hope. Young professionals, unfortunately, are increasingly seeking an outlying factor to help them expand their savings enough to meet their dream property. An outlier is an event that lies outside traditional empirical data, what might call a one-off that defies evidence. An example of an outlier might be a lottery windfall. There is no past evidence that points towards a future win, but when it happens suddenly a sudden restructuring of the status quo results. Another outlier is perhaps an inheritance; a sudden unexpected sum of money would help make up the gap for a deposit. First time buyers are relying also on parental help. But there is also an increasing number of young professionals who are turning towards reality television, singing competitions and all kinds of sudden fame in the hope that it would suddenly lift them out of the existing situation, and provide some additional financial boost into their dream one.

Are others relying on property as their hope?