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?”

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.

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.

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.

Factors involved in residential property valuation

The residential market is imperfect. There is no central market place as a result buyers and sellers are relatively uninformed and even their professional advisors, valuers and agents, only have a limited knowledge of what is available for sale and of what is happening in the market.

Every house, flat, bungalow or other unit of residential accommodation is unique in some respect. Even a pair of semidetached houses differ as between right-hand and left-hand units.

This makes the task of valuation much more difficult than in those markets where there are standard units or products such as stocks, shares, gold, apples and cars. It is further complicated by the fact that there is no acceptable unit of comparison.

Residential property can occasionally be compared on the basis of a price per m2 (or sq ft) of floor space, but issues such as the number of bedrooms, reception rooms, car spaces, circulation space, views and the like can all vary between properties of precisely the same floor area, thus making the total unit of accommodation the only acceptable unit of comparison.

In the past the market had seasonal fluctuations, with greater activity and steadier, possibly rising prices, in spring and early summer, a quiet period in August followed by a mini-spur in September. These seasonal movements are less pronounced today but can still be detected. They can be different in different parts of the country and significantly different between London and popular holiday areas such as the Lake District. They can be affected by significant changes in market forces such as a change in mortgage interest rates.

In addition to seasonal movements, there are cycles of under-supply and over-supply and other movements of a migratory nature such as the desire to balance proximity to work with proximity to the country, and leisure activities with travel time and cost.

In most markets increases in effective demand against a fixed supply will lead to an upward movement in price. The upward movement in price encourages suppliers to produce more and for more suppliers to enter that market. In the residential market the response to such a shift in demand is slow.

It is argued that planning controls impede the supply of land and hence the supply of new houses coming on to the market. Even without such controls there would be a delay caused by the inability of the house-building industry to raise productivity in the short run. It is difficult for the market to respond precisely to match an increase in demand in an area because land becomes available in sizeable chunks and house-builders tend to be market followers, not market creators. The result is that an increase in demand in an area may in time be followed by an over supply.

The valuer’s task is to interpret the state of the market in an area at a point in time. Currently the residential market in the UK is experiencing a period of continuing price growth which is seen to be a reflection of: people living longer, greater single occupation of property, migratory growth in population and increased demand by individuals and investment companies to acquire property on a ‘buy to let basis’. The residential sector has been identified by many, at least in the short term, as a safe place for capital.

Over a number of years changes in consumer preferences occur which can be incorporated in new home design but are more difficult to incorporate in the existing housing stock. These style changes can shift the demand and hence value patterns of an area and must be monitored. The upper end of the market can be particularly vulnerable to these changes of fashion.

Residential property has a fixed location and can only be enjoyed at that location. The enjoyment of a property will depend upon general environmental factors and specific local factors. In the case of owner-occupation, the market reflects the relationship between employment opportunities, communications, general facilities of an area and the environmental factors. Growth in economic activity, more jobs and better pay, tends to cause a rise in values because of the relatively fixed level of supply.

Analysis of the economic opportunities of an area is essential if house buyers are to make sound house purchase decisions. Current concerns of global warming may begin to affect values in areas identified as liable to increased flood risk, coastal areas at risk and greater concerns by discerning buyers for environmentally sound energy efficient homes.

Total home demand has to be translated into effective demand. Effective demand is a function of the national economy and gross national product. The valuer needs to know and to consider what is happening to base indicators such as the level of unemployment, the way employment is changing, current wage levels, and the propensity of the population to save and to invest in their own homes.

The reduction in employment during the early 1990s caused by cutbacks and closures led in some areas to reductions in value both in real terms and in money terms. Money in bricks and mortar will not always be safe.

The housing market and levels of home ownership are closely connected with the availability of credit. Effective desire can only be translated to effective demand through the availability of credit, largely in the form of funds for mortgage loans offered by the building societies, the banks and the insurance companies. Availability of, and the cost of, finance are socioeconomic elements in the market-place, as are the loan terms of such organisations. Lenders are very competitive but changes in lending policy can increase demand. Thus increases in income multipliers or joint income multipliers can increase the number of potential buyers or their potential price range.

Credit for house purchase offered by banks and building societies is dependent upon two factors: the security of the property offered against the loan, and the financial status of the borrower. Very simply, the more one earns the more one can borrow. Thus in a housing market where demand exceeds supply higher salaries and wages will provide purchasers with greater purchasing power: this balanced against the fixed supply leads to higher property prices through competition between buyers. The cost of buying, the interest payable on house purchase loans (mortgages), is outside the control of the banks and building societies in that to maintain a flow of savings to sustain a flow of loans they have to compete in the money market. As a result, mortgage interest rates can rise and fall with the world’s changing view of the British economy and with changes in the Bank of England’s base rate. Many mortgage interest rates are linked formally or informally to base rate. A rise in base rate will generally give rise to an increase in mortgage interest rates and a fall to a fall in interest rates.

The government can influence the economy, finance and hence the marketplace. Governments set minimum standards for new homes, through planning control, building, energy and health regulations. These standards affect costs, which influence developers’ attitudes as to feasibility and influence the volume of new houses in the market-place. EU regulations may also influence market forces. The requirement for a statement as to the energy rating of a property may impact on the value of low rated properties in the same way as energy ratings have led to the disappearance of most non A rated electrical goods.

The government can and has influenced the market in other ways, such as by encouraging public sector tenants to purchase their homes, by imposing rent control and protection on the private rented sector, and by changes in taxation.

The general level of values depends upon the general and area-specific levels of economic activity, community income and wealth; the existing quality and quantity of residential property in an area; the rate of addition to that stock; the point at which a local market happens to be in a particular cycle, and the underlying confidence that people within and outside a particular area have in the economic future and prosperity of that area.

The fixed location of property means that the nature of the neighbourhood and the immediate surrounding properties are crucial factors in terms of buyers’ attitudes and hence in determining a value for a property within the level of values for that area.

A number of factors affect the attitude of buyers. These factors in turn determine whether an area at a point in time is considered to be desirable with rising values, acceptable with stable values, or depressed with falling values. A similar house in each such area could have very different values.

People need property, in this context people need somewhere to live. The size and composition of the population is an indication of the number and possible size of houses required by that population. But the residential market is a local market so it is important to consider the population within a definable area and to know its composition and the extent to which it is changing. Is it an ageing population, is it growing or declining naturally and/ or by migration into or away from the area? Demand characteristics can change both across the country and within local areas. Over recent years developers have become niche operators, seeking to satisfy current demand.

Market analysis identifies the need for, say, starter homes, single-person homes, family homes, luxury homes, retirement homes, student villages. Market analysis will also identify preferences in terms of type of accommodation, design, materials, construction, internal layout and facilities.

The socio-economic composition of a neighbourhood has a major impact on values. A socially deprived or underprivileged area will display that fact in the deterioration of the urban fabric, including the deterioration in physical condition of homes. Deprived means depressed, which signifies low incomes, multiple occupations and low values.

In time, however, a combination of other factors, including the architectural and historic nature of an area, may draw in a wealthier class who will gentrify or reinstate the properties to their original condition and turn such an area into a high value area. Such movements are observable but not always predictable.

In a similar way areas historically noted for housing the wealthier owner-occupier may go into decline as large units or large plots become a financial burden and are sold for conversion and multiple letting. In time the same area may revert back to single family ownership or be substantially redeveloped for low-cost housing or high-value housing, depending upon the level and nature of demand at a point in time when redevelopment is seen as the proper solution for a declining neighbourhood.

The level of vandalism and crime are regrettably indicative of an area’s undesirability. Such changes are partly attitudinal and, like a disease, can spread very rapidly If a community senses that no one cares about an area, in particular the authorities, then the residents cease to care. The result is decline, which is immediately reflected in falling property values.

Active residents’ associations and neighbourhood watch committees show concern by the community for their neighbourhood which can stimulate pride in an area and lead to rising values. The market and market values are obvious reflections of social desirability.

The extremes of social deprivation and social well-being coincide with the extremes of values to be found within a defined geographic area. The residential valuer must be alert to the potential for change and be aware that within broadly defined residential groupings there will be pockets of properties which appear to defy logic but nevertheless maintain high values in areas of low values or areas of low values in an area dominated by high values.

Once a change in an area is signaled the value movement tends to be fairly fast as the new socio-economic group moves in to replace the higher or lower socio-economic group.

These social features are closely related to the income profile of the population and the underlying economic activity of that section of the population that predominates in a given residential area. This is further reflected in market activity. Properties in desirable areas change hands quickly, with a minimum of properties remaining vacant. Properties in declining areas tend to remain on the market for longer periods, tend to become vacant and remain vacant, deteriorate, shift to multiple occupation, and may finally be condemned.

Local politics are a reflection of and a response to these changing social and economic forces. The future of a neighbourhood can be affected by the strength of the community in political terms. Strong representation can produce improvements to schools, health and community services and dictate the attitude of the authorities to that area. Small changes on their own have little impact, but in combination can strengthen a neighbourhood. Thus the attention of the authorities to street cleaning, refuse collection, repair and maintenance of roads and footpaths, street furniture, local schools etc will all become part of the environmental picture which impacts upon buyers’ attitudes and hence on their willingness to commit themselves to a purchase at a particular price.

Physical and environmental factors help to define the neighbourhood. Those areas which are, in physical terms, well maintained and environmentally most attractive are those which are likely to become socially most desirable and hence in time occupied by the economically stronger. This tends to create a community with political strength which becomes protective and perpetuates the status of the area.

Natural and man-made features may provide the boundaries to identifiable residential areas. In some cases there may be a spill-over effect, with values declining gradually from high value areas to low-value areas. In other locations there can be pronounced changes in value either side of a building or road. Roads, particularly motorways and main commuter routes, railways, rivers, lakes, village greens, sports fields, parks may all act as boundaries.

Proximity to one or another may give rise to higher or lower relative values depending upon the desirability or otherwise of being close to such a feature. There are rarely any hard and fast rules about the behavioural attitude of the residential property market. This is because it is often the combination of many factors that creates good or bad in the eyes of the buyer. Some river locations are highly sought after, others far less so given the current increased awareness of flood risk.

Motorways and railways may act as boundaries but the combination of ease of access, visual intrusion and noise, together with other environmental factors, will determine whether they add to, or take away from value.

Soil, subsoil, natural drainage, probability of flooding, micro-climate, topography and aspect are all physical factors which historically may have determined the desirability of building in an area and may still today have an impact on values. Proximity to the right schools, shops, libraries, golf courses, country club, leisure facilities, may add to value.

But on the other hand, proximity to anything likely to cause a nuisance such as factories, sewage-works, football grounds, bingo halls, discotheques or anything that might give rise to rowdyism and general misbehaviour will tend to depress values.

Communications to the rest of the area, surrounding public open space, motorway linkages and places of employment are all very important location factors. So too, is the existing quality of development, road patterns and standard of property maintenance in determining the good, the bad and the indifferent areas of a defined residential market. Nor would it be a complete story without mentioning the importance of pressure groups in the form of conservationists, environmentalists, ecologists and politicians.

All of these have an impact on the market for residential property. Thus at a given point in time these various forces will have combined together to create a particular level and pattern of values in an area. A change in one or more of any of the forces or components mentioned will alter the supply of, or the demand for, all residential property; or for a sector of the market or just for one specific property; the result being an increase in supply or a decrease in demand or a decrease in supply or an increase in demand and a corresponding change in prices and hence in values. It would be rare indeed for only one force to be moving, so interpretation of cause and effect can be very complex. The general economic climate together with the quality of different residential areas creates a pattern of values for a defined market. Within that market the valuer must now consider the site-specific qualities of a house and its physical condition in order to assess its market value.

What the terms for different property buyers can reveal to you

There are many terms familiar to estate agents that come to categorise buyers. Take for example the term “first time buyers”. The term itself may or may not be accurate in the impression it conjures – it makes us think of a young couple with no children, but of course it could equally apply to a couple with children, or an older couple, or a single person who has been renting for a long time. So the term does not really paint a useful picture of the individual’s age. What it does, though, is give some inkling of the buyer’s position. A first time buyer has no previous property to sell and is hence chain free, and has that benefit on his side.

If an individual is identified as a “next- time buyer” in estate agent parlance that means he is hoping to move up, but the purchase of the next property may be complicated if there is an existing property still on the market. A next-time buyer, however, is likelier to have a more sizeable deposit, if the sale of the existing property goes to plan. Next-time buyers will be seeking properties with more rooms, possibly garden space, better schools around, because the move may be motivated by children, or the thought of preparing the nest for the arrival of children.

Empty nesters is a term that is increasingly common in usage. What is an empty nester? It is a couple whose children have left the family home and are hence looking to buy a different property – with a difference. While most people keep buying bigger properties as they go along, empty nesters are looking to downsize.

It makes sense to downsize in your latter years. Firstly, it frees up equity that can be used towards retirement. Secondly, the upkeep of a smaller property is easier, rather than one with lots of rooms. Thirdly, it means you do not need expend finances to keep heating unused rooms, just to keep away mould.

The government feels that empty nesters could make up one in five home buyers, and it would help relieve the housing crises if existing family homes were sold to growing families while grown families reverted to smaller homes. The empty nesters market is expected to grow and for that reason financial products catering to the elderly may be in greater demand; estate agents may also find it beneficial to have a greater number of downsizing properties on their books.

Making it as an estate agent in a world of dwindling commissions

If you are an estate agent, and have been at it for a fair while, you may remember the days when a commission of 2-3% for each sale of property was pretty standard. Then as the years went by you may recall how this figure gradually dwindled by percentages, almost like the Bank of England base rate, until it gradually became as low as 1%.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any lower, the internet continued to slash commissions further, and periodically you had to do special promotions to get people to list their properties with you.

Could margins be squeezed any tighter? It certainly seems so. A quick Google search for the term “estate agents” will now see online agents offering to sell for fixed rates of around £650, or offering no sale no fee guarantees. How can you make it as a property agent?

Determine your minimum
The first thing you must firmly establish, and hold on to, is the minimum sum you want to make from each property sale. Never let the client bargain you down below that figure, even if they say there is another agent they are considering. If you go below what you can accept, you will find yourself unmotivated to make the sale, or to arrange property viewings. In other words, if you accept less than what you normally would, the property is a white elephant on your books, and would only take up display space in your store front. You might as well not bother. And if you show you can be pushed, you will only attract the kind of clients who want to squeeze out every pound’s worth out of you, never mind that you are already working at the bare minimum.

Emphasise what you can offer
Even if you commission rate is higher than other agents in your area, or more than the fixed fee online agents, all is not lost. You are hardly disadvantaged. Mention what you can offer for the price you charge. After all, it is not the lowest price that is important, it is value for money that people go for when it comes to deciding which estate agent to list with. In other words, if you charge more than the other agents, make sure you show how you can offer more.

Play to your strengths
Competing against an online agent? Emphasise your local presence. Emphasise to a potential client how they can walk in to your branch to chat about the property sales progress. They can’t do that with an online agent. An online agent may be willing to respond to emails, but mention how a prospective buyer can walk to your branch, discuss the property for sale and see it all in one fluid motion. You can’t do that with an online estate agent.

How do you compete with other estate agents? Find a way to use facts to your advantage. If a prospective client mentions your lack of clientele as an indication of a lack of trust, suggest how it means you will be more focussed on selling their property. If a client worries about listing with you because you have too many properties on your books, mention how your branch attracts large number of buyers because of this and the right buyer will come along.

Also emphasise your experience if it is an advantage. Show how knowledgeable you are in your field or in other areas. Always take the change to demonstrate your knowledge beyond the immediate sale, to show the buyer or seller you know about things such as flying freeholds or right to manage.

Be more prominent in your local community
Know any local events? Sponsor a stall or an annual fun run. Some estate agents sponsor school summer fairs. But why not sponsor a monthly competition, such as an art or story writing competition, where the prize is a grocery shopping voucher? Have different categories for children and adults. Parents will be urging their children to enter, and adults will be trying their luck in their own category too. Every one will be talking about your competition, and you’ll be the buzz of the town!

Or sponsor a singing competition or talent competition at a local fete where the judges are prominent members of the community. You can be fairly creative with your efforts and generate a great deal of publicity for yourself in the process!

It may pay to be more involved in your community. Elderly buyers will come to recognise your brand as a mark of trust. A word about trust though – make sure your practices build on these too. For example, try to avoid using sealed bids as a means of eliciting an offer from a group of bidders, because it leaves all but one buyer disappointed, and if you become known as the “sealed bid” estate agents for resorting to it, it does your name no good.

Be personable
Being an estate agent doesn’t mean sitting at your computer, checking emails, editing listings of properties or checking social media accounts. Get out there and be seen. Buying a newspaper? Chat to your newsagent. Make sure the people in the community know who you are by your live presence, and not just your avatar or twitter handle!

Some things to consider before investing in commercial property

Commercial property is property that is not designed or used for residential purposes, or for purposes associated with the primary industries such as agriculture and mining. The three main types of commercial property are offices (single office buildings and business parks), retail (individual shops, shopping centres, retail warehouses and supermarkets) and industrial (factories, warehouses and distribution centres). The remaining properties are those used for leisure (pubs, restaurants and hotels), sport, education, the provision of utilities and healthcare (hospitals and nursing homes).

The value of UK commercial property at the end of 2015 was £ 871 billion, about 10% of national net wealth, almost half of the value of government bonds and 40 % of the UK’s stock market. Within that figure of £ 871 billion, retail accounted for £ 360 billion (41%), offices £ 270 billion (31%), industrial £ 168 billion (19%) and other commercial properties £ 73 billion (9%). Commercial property activities employed almost 1 million people and the sector contributed about £ 68 billion (4.1%) to the UK’s Gross Value Added. (The figures quoted are taken from the Property Data Report 2016, produced by eight members of the Property Industry Alliance.) Although the residential property sector is over six times larger (by value) than the commercial property sector, the vast majority of residential properties are owned by private householders, so there is not as much scope for residential property investment as there is for commercial property investment.

About 45% of all commercial property is bought by owner-occupiers, who need land and buildings from which to conduct their business. Some of these occupiers want to buy a freehold or long leasehold interest in the property because they need certainty and complete freedom to deal with the property as the business dictates, but it does means that a lot of capital is tied up in the building. Other occupiers prefer to take a so-called ‘rack rent lease ’, where the occupation cost is paid, usually quarterly, over the period of the lease by way of rent, rather than all at the beginning. In recent years, particularly among the large food retailers, there has been a move away from freehold ownership through ‘sale and leaseback’, where the freehold interest in the property is sold to an investor (thus releasing capital for use in the operating part of the business) and the occupier takes a rack rent lease instead.

The other 55% of all commercial property is bought by investors, who buy property to let out to others so that they can make an income from the rent and a profit from any increase in the capital value of the property. Although the capital value of commercial property suffered a considerable fall in 2007 and 2008, it remains popular with certain types of investor because the average lease offers an income stream of about seven years. So the income return (or ‘yield’) from commercial property is reasonable (13.1% for directly-owned commercial property in 2015, better than UK equities and bonds). Over the 44 years prior to 2015, commercial property produced annualised returns of almost 10.9%, somewhere between gilts and equities (see page 18 of the Property Data Report 2016). Commercial property has tended not to track the performance of gilts and equities particularly closely, so including some commercial property in your investment portfolio is a way of diversifying and spreading risk. Moreover, by good management of tenants and/ or refurbishment of a tired building, a property investor may be able to enhance the value of the asset, even in times of economic downturn.

There are two ways to invest in commercial property, directly or indirectly. Direct property investment involves buying a property in your own name or in the name of a group company, letting it out, taking responsibility for managing it and selling it on when you no longer require it. Although you can employ surveyors and other professionals to assist you, this still uses up a considerable amount of time and effort. It also means that you have to find a considerable amount of cash, or a loan, or a combination of both, to fund the initial purchase. An alternative way is to buy shares or units in a company that invests in a range of commercial and residential property, such as a real estate investment trust (REIT) or an offshore property unit trust (PUT). These indirect property investment vehicles offer opportunities for smaller levels of investment, some taxation advantages, less management responsibility and, arguably, greater flexibility as it may be easier to trade units than to sell a property. However, indirect property investment is beyond the scope of this book.

So who invests in commercial property? According to figures in the Property Data Report 2016, overseas investors held the largest block of directly-owned investment property (28%); UK insurance companies and pension funds held 17%; UK collective investment schemes held 16%; UK REITs and listed property companies held 15%; and UK private property companies held 12%. Traditional estates and charities and private investors held 5% and 3% respectively. Some of the units in the UK collective investment schemes are bought by private individuals, but many are bought by the investors who also buy property directly. For example, in 2015 the UK insurance companies and pension funds invested £ 84 billion (2.8% of their total investments) in directly owned UK property, £ 57 billion (1.9%) in collective investment schemes and £ 37 billion (1.2%) in UK and overseas property company shares.

Buying to let? Some issues you may wish to consider

Property is great whether you’re looking for a steady supplement to your retirement income or a secure financial future. Most buy-to-let landlords want to become financially independent, and property is a proven investment strategy for achieving that goal. But after you sign your name on the dotted line and officially enter the world of owning rental property, you face some tough decisions. One of the very first concerns is who will handle the day-to-day management of your rental property. You have properties to let, rents to collect, tenant complaints to respond to and a whole host of property management issues to deal with. So you need to determine whether you have what it takes to manage your own buy-to-let property or whether you should employ a managing agent.

A great advantage to building wealth through property is the ability to use other people’s money – both for the initial purchase of the rental property and for the ongoing expenses. Although the availability of buy-to-let mortgages has suffered since the downturn, more lenders are re-entering this market, so choice is increasing all the time. You will need to raise a deposit and then borrow the rest of the money from a mortgage lender.

The deposit required for a buy-to-let mortgage tends to be higher than that needed for a residential mortgage, and is significantly higher since the downturn. Expect to pay at least 25 to 30 per cent of the purchase price for the best rates, although some lenders request as little as 15 per cent.

The ability to control significant property assets with only a relatively modest cash investment is one of the best reasons to invest in bricks and mortar. For example, you may have purchased a £100,000 buy-to-let property with a £20,000 cash deposit and a mortgage for the remaining £80,000. If the property’s value doubles in the next decade and you sell it for £200,000, you will have turned your £20,000 cash investment into a £100,000 profit. This is an example of capital appreciation, where you are able to earn a return not only on your cash investment but also on the entire value of the property.

Rental property also offers you the opportunity to pay off your mortgage using your tenant’s money. If you’ve been prudent in purchasing a well-located rental property in a stable area, you’ll have enough income to pay the interest on your mortgage, as well as all the expenses, maintenance and insurance.

Over time, your property should appreciate in value while your tenant is essentially paying all your expenses, including the interest on your mortgage.

Your lender and tenant aren’t the only ones who can help you with the purchase of your rental investment property. Even the government is willing to offer its money to help your cash flow and encourage more people to become landlords. In calculating your income tax obligations each year, the government allows buy-to-let landlords to offset their rental income against interest payments on their mortgage and certain expenses. For example, you can claim 10 per cent of the annual rent for wear and tear on fixtures and fittings in furnished properties.

Over time, rental income generally outstrips operating expenses. And after your tenants have finished paying your mortgage for you, you’ll suddenly find that you have a positive cash flow – in other words, you’re making a profit.

One of the first steps in determining whether to completely self-manage your rental property or delegate some or all of the duties to other people is to analyse your own skills and experience. Many very successful property owners find that they’re better suited to deal-making, so they leave the day-to-day management for someone else. This decision is a personal one, but you can make it more easily by thinking about some of the specifics of managing property. Property management requires basic skills, including marketing, accounting and people skills. You don’t need a university degree or a lot of experience to get started, and you’re sure to pick up all kinds of ideas on how to do things better along the way.

If you’re impatient or easily manipulated, you aren’t suited to being a property manager. Conveying a professional demeanour to your tenants is important. You want them to see you as someone who will take responsibility for the condition of the property. You must also insist that tenants live up to their part of the deal, pay their rent regularly and refrain from causing unreasonable damage to your property.

Good management leads to good financial results. Having tenants who pay on time, stay for several years and treat the property and their neighbours with respect is the key to profitable property management. But, like most things, it’s easier said than done. One of the greatest deterrents to financial independence through investing in rental property is the fear of management and dealing with tenants.

If you choose the wrong tenant or fail to address certain maintenance issues, your buy-to-let investment may turn into a costly nightmare. By doing your homework in advance, you can reduce those beginners’ mistakes. Experience is a great teacher – if you can afford the lessons. If you already own your own home, then you already have some basic knowledge about the ins and outs of owning and maintaining property. The question then becomes how to translate that knowledge into managing rental property.

As a landlord, you may choose to handle many responsibilities while delegating some of them to others. Look at your own set of skills to determine which items you should delegate. A contractor may be able to handle the maintenance of your rental property and garden more efficiently and effectively than you can.

The skills you need to successfully manage your own rental properties are different from the skills you need to handle your own property maintenance. Most buy-to-let landlords find that using trusted and reasonably priced contractors can be a valuable option in the long run.

Ultimately, you can delegate all the management activities to a professional managing agent. But hiring a managing agent doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Depending on the arrangement you have with your agent, you may still oversee the big picture. Most agents need and seek the input of the property owner before they start so that they can develop a property management plan that meets the owner’s investment goals.

Keep in mind that no one else will ever manage your rental property like you will. After all, you’re more motivated than anyone else to watch out for your buy-to-let investment interests. Only you will work through the night painting your property for the new tenant moving in the next day. And who else would spend his annual leave looking through the local newspaper classifieds for creative ad ideas?

You may find that a managing agent can run the property more competently than you can. Many buy-to-let landlords possess the necessary skills and personality to efficiently and effectively manage their rental properties, but they have other skills or interests that are more financially rewarding or enjoyable. Hiring professionals and supervising them is often the best possible option.