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How Landlords Can Nip Garden Disputes in the Bud

In this three-minute read, we look at who is responsible for maintaining the garden at a rental property.

The most significant property trend to emerge from the pandemic has been the surge in demand – from buyers and renters – for properties with gardens.

The race for space is undoubtedly good news for landlords marketing properties with a garden, balcony, or courtyard. 

And it’s not just easier to rent out a property with a garden; it’s more lucrative, too. New research shows renters are willing to pay on average 25% more for a home with a garden*.

But letting a garden property isn’t always a bed of roses (see what we did there?); almost a quarter of all deposit disputes are over garden maintenance**. 

Often, the cause of tension is confusion over who is responsible for what when it comes to maintaining outdoor spaces.

This all should be spelled out in the contract, but generally speaking, the tenant should keep the garden in good condition and return it in the same state it was in at the start of the tenancy. Jobs that fall under the tenant’s remit include weeding, watering, and removing litter.

The landlord is responsible for tasks that require expertise, such as lopping off tree branches, fixing broken fences, and any other structural work. 

Here are a few ways landlords can safeguard themselves from getting dragged into a garden dispute.

  1. Lay the groundwork

Ensure that the garden is in good condition before you rent out the property. Plant low maintenance shrubs, sort out uneven paving stones, and get rid of that rickety old shed. 

  • Outline responsibilities

Explain (in person and in writing) what you expect from the tenant and what they can expect from you.

  • Keep records

Often landlords diligently record the condition of the fixtures and fittings of the property’s interior but make little or no mention of the exterior. Check-in and check-out reports should detail the condition of the garden with photographs and descriptions. 

  • Regular inspections

When you carry out a property inspection during a tenancy, don’t forget to look at the garden. Document its condition (photographs are a must), and if any issues are apparent, ask the tenant to rectify them.

  • Be flexible

A tenant is not allowed to make changes to the garden without the landlord’s permission. But if they ask to plant a veggie patch or add some more plants, be flexible. If your tenant is reliable and responsible, allowing them to create the garden of their dreams will encourage them to stay long term. Always clarify any agreed changes in writing beforehand. 

If you have any questions about tenant/landlord responsibilities, get in touch with us here at Nest in Essex.

*Analysis carried out by Paving Direct, based on the average price of renting a three-bed home in cities across the country on Rightmove. Read the full report: https://bit.ly/3gyOJEj

** Data from The Dispute Service. Figures cover the year up to March 2020. 

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Advice on Choosing a Good Removal Firm

This three-minute read gives you a few ideas to consider when choosing your removal firm.

Getting the right people to help you move home is so important. This means your estate agent, your conveyancer, and the people that will do the physical heavy lifting. Choosing the right removal firm will make a big difference, not only on moving day itself, but before, and after, your move.

Reviews and recommendations

A good place to start looking for a removal firm you can trust, is to ask people you know. This could be friends, family, or your property move team, like your estate agent and conveyancer.

After you’ve been signposted to a few companies, it’s time to do some research for yourself. People move home infrequently so it’s always a good idea to check for recent reviews.

If property professionals have themselves used a particular company when moving home, it’s normally a pretty good sign that they’re the best.

Do your research

You’ve looked at the reviews on the company website, social media pages, and an independent review site, like Google Reviews or Trustpilot. There’s a few bad ones but mostly positive. Should you just leave it at that and book with them? Of course, you could but there are a few more recommended steps to take.

  • Ask the company for some previous customers’ contact details. You can then have a real-life conversation with someone to explore the service they received. If the company decline, that’s a red flag.
  • Ask the company what their insurance policy is. Ask them to send you a copy. This is standard practice so if they have any objections, you know this is another red flag.

Check the Ts & Cs

It’s easy for someone to ping you a quote: “That’ll be £5,000 for your move”. What should also be attached are their terms & conditions. It’s important that you get these to look through and that you actually read them.

The British Association of Removers have a set that are good. Even better companies will adapt them to their own requirements.

Extra suggestions

When it comes to arranging a moving date, exchanges and completions can be a moveable feast. One removal firm we spoke to described it as ‘like juggling jelly’. Find out how good the removal firm is at communicating. What methods will they use? Email, phone, text, social media? You need to know that they will keep lines of communication open throughout, what can be, a tense time.

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. It helps if the firm has a clear, concise website and if the staff and offices are presented tidily. Check their vehicles are clean and in good condition.

Bonus tip

Did you know? Many insurers will be able to extend your existing contents cover. This means that when the movers are in your home, you’ll have extra cover. It’s always worth taking a ‘belt and braces’ approach.

If you need any recommendations, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 01268 500988

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The Truth about Bad Tenants

In this three-minute read, we look at what can go wrong if you side-step tenant reference checks and wind up with a bad tenant.

New landlords often flirt with the idea of ditching traditional tenant selection processes and taking a DIY approach instead.

After all, there are so many ways to source tenants these days – like Gumtree or social media – why bother with anything else?

Trust us, side-stepping a formal selection process may seem like it might save you time, but it can be so much costlier in the long run.

Wind up with a bad tenant and you can expect:

  • Sleepless nights.
  • Sky-high legal bills.
  • Lost income.
  • Property damage.

Let us explain more about the risks of skipping proper reference and credit checks.

If you use an online platform like Gumtree

The internet has made it easier for landlords to find tenants, but not easier to find good tenants. Post an ad online, and you’ll get lots of responses – but many of them will be from time-wasters and con artists, not genuine candidates. Professionals are more likely to use a traditional bricks and mortar letting agent because they’re wary of getting ripped off in an online scam.

Tenants aren’t the only ones to fall prey to online scammers; landlords can be targets, too. Online crooks often use ‘to let’ adverts as ‘phishing’ opportunities. They pose as tenants to get as much information as they can about you and your vacant property, before they get to work fleecing you.

If you let to a mate or relative after asking around on social media

You may be tempted to ask your contacts on WhatsApp or Facebook if they’re looking for a place to rent. But be warned: things can get very messy when you blur the lines between personal and professional. If things don’t work out, it could cause a major family fall-out or friendship rift.

Sometimes, when a landlord knows the tenant, they don’t bother with a contract. Please, never, ever do this. If you do get into a dispute later, your legal options will be limited.

Some buy-to-let mortgages prevent landlords from renting to a family member or friend. Always check the fine print before making a decision.

Insurance companies often get twitchy if the tenant is a relative. In some cases, your cover is invalidated if the tenant is a family member. In other circumstances, you won’t be covered if you haven’t conducted reference checks.

What’s the alternative?

Here at Nest in Essex, we have a gold standard tenant selection process that offers you peace of mind and legal protection. It involves screening candidates by phone, in-person interviews, and rigorous reference, credit, and employment checks.

If you want to know more, contact us here at Nest in Essex.

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Should You Use the Help to Buy Scheme for Your First Property Purchase?

Three-minute read to help you consider the Help to Buy Scheme from all angles.

The Help to Buy scheme is a government-backed equity loan opportunity. It is also referred to as ‘shared equity’.

The scheme is currently only available on new build properties. The loan from the government is up to 20% of the purchase price (40% in Greater London). This means that you only need to raise a 5% deposit and get a 75% mortgage (55% in Greater London).

Let’s consider the benefits and downsides of using this option.

Pros

Although this can be called a ‘shared equity’ scheme, you will own the property 100% outright.

This low deposit amount is what can make the scheme appealing to many. It allows you to get onto the property ladder often much quicker than if you had to save for a 10% or more deposit. It’s also cheaper than getting a 95% mortgage, which is what you’d have to do without the scheme.

The first five years of the loan are interest-free and there is no maximum household income cap.

You have 25 years before it has to be paid back in full.

Cons

There isn’t a household income cap but there are regional price caps. For example, in the North West, you couldn’t purchase a property for more than £224,400 using this scheme. In London, you couldn’t spend over £600,000.

The first five years are interest-free but after that, you’ll be charged an annual fee of 1.75% on the outstanding loan amount. This fee goes up each year with inflation. The loan becomes more expensive over time but your wages may not increase at the same rate.

When you sell the property, you must pay off the loan in full. However, because the loan is a percentage of the market value of your home, the loan amount may end up being more if your home has gone up in value. This might mean that you are left with a lot less from the property sale than you would have otherwise had. This can make upsizing harder as you’re not scaling the property ladder in a linear manner.

It’s important to seek specialist financial advice if you are looking to take advantage of the Help to Buy scheme. We can recommend trusted independent financial advisers and mortgage specialists.

If you would like some support to explore what route to take when buying your first home, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 01268 500988

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The Benefits of Regular Property Inspections for Landlords

In this three-minute read, we look at why regular inspections should be central to your property management strategy.

When you’re a busy landlord juggling a multitude of responsibilities, it’s easy to let a crucial part of managing a property – regular inspections – slide.

Landlords usually carry out inspections with clockwork regularity at the start of a tenancy, but things can get a little lax over time.

Perhaps the tenant presents as a model citizen, and the landlord develops a false sense of security. (To which we say, remember Walter White, the unassuming science teacher turned crystal meth baron in the TV series Breaking Bad.)

Or maybe, the tenant pays their rent on time and never says a peep, so the landlord assumes that everything is ticking along nicely (silence is golden, right?).

No matter how much you like your tenant or how busy you are with other commitments, never skip or delay a property inspection. They are one of the best ways to protect your investment – and head off disaster.

Here are six reasons why landlords should carry out regular inspections.

  1. Maintenance

It’s easier (and cheaper) to rectify a minor maintenance issue than a major one. A tenant may not mention a leaky tap or a little bit of damp, but these problems can morph into expensive repair jobs if left unresolved. It’s also essential that you check that carbon monoxide monitors and smoke alarms are working.

  • Paper trail

The photographs and notes you take during each inspection (yes, you should be doing this) create a valuable paper trail. If there is a dispute at a later date, you’ll have evidence to support your side of the story.

  • Build rapport

If your tenants find you approachable, they’ll be more likely to let you know when there is an issue and treat your property respectfully.

  • Contractual obligations

It’s important to know that your tenants are complying with their contract and haven’t sublet the property or sneakily adopted a pack of Great Danes.

  • Spot illegal activities

With regular inspections, you can ensure your property isn’t being misused by a criminal gang. We know this sounds far-fetched, but gangs – particularly those involved in cannabis production – are becoming increasingly brazen. Trust us, the last thing you want is a police cordon and Sky News reporter outside your property.

  • Insurance disputes

Many insurers won’t pay out on a major claim if the landlord hasn’t conducted regular inspections. They argue that by neglecting to visit the property, the landlord has not been vigilant and has therefore invalidated the policy. Whatever you make of this justification, cover yourself, so you don’t wind up out of pocket.

For advice about our property management services, please contact us here at Nest in Essex.

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Five Reasons to Leave Property Viewings to the Experts

In this two-minute read, we look at why it pays to get an experienced estate agent to handle viewings.

When it comes to selling a property, many people overlook the important role viewings play in the process.

They mistakenly believe that viewings are simply about opening doors and making sure would-be buyers don’t nick any valuables.

In fact, buyers share crucial information during viewings that can be helpful during negotiations and push up the final selling price.

Cutting corners on viewings – as many low-fee and online-only agents do by insisting the seller handles them – only chips away at the end result. Here are five reasons to entrust viewings to an experienced professional.

  1. Honesty

Brits are a polite bunch who don’t like hurting other people’s feelings – which is lovely if you’re hosting a tea party, but not much use if you’re selling a property. Buyers are much more likely to give honest, constructive feedback to an agent than an owner.

  • Personal safety

When you open your front door for a viewing, you’re essentially letting a stranger in to wander around your home. In most cases, buyers are genuine and well-meaning, but many sellers prefer to have a professional in charge for peace of mind.

  • Buyers prefer it

There’s a reason why sellers are asked to remove family photos and personal belongings before a viewing: too much personal information is a turn-off for buyers. Similarly, buyers can feel awkward when an owner, especially one with a strong emotional attachment to the property, conducts viewings.

  • Spot genuine buyers

Viewings are an opportunity for the seller to suss out if a buyer is for real. As well as achieving top price, you’re looking for a buyer who won’t mess you around or drop out at the last minute. A good agent will ask the right questions during a viewing to glean if the buyer means business.

  • Negotiation

If you’ve never negotiated a large transaction before (and let’s face it, selling your home will probably be the largest transaction of your life), why start now when so much is at stake? Let an experienced agent with a proven track record handle it for you. They’ll be calm and level-headed and immune to any buyer shenanigans.

To learn more about our sales success, get in contact with us here at  Nest in Essex

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Do Landlords Need to Register with the ICO?

This two-minute read takes a look at the ICO and what landlords need to do.

Back in 2018, the rules around the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and data handling changed. Things like ‘This website uses cookies; do you accept?’ popped up everywhere.

The ICO is the Information Commissioner’s Office and covers the whole of the UK. The ICO website explains that they are ‘The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.’

It’s the law

It doesn’t matter how many properties you have, how many tenants, nor how many people you work with or have working for you. It is the whole business that must be registered. As a landlord, you are considered to be a business, even if you’re a sole trader.

Not just for agents

Some landlords think that their letting agent has to be registered and therefore, they themselves are exempt. This is not the case. Anyone who handles personal data and stores it electronically must register. This could be as little as a name or phone number for the tenant that was texted or emailed to you.

What are the costs?

The ICO fee will be between £40 and £2,900 per annum. The fee is paid annually. It is worked out depending on the size of the business and turnover. There is a self-assessment you can carry out on the website. Have a look at it here. This will show you what amount you will have to pay.

What’s the risk?

Tenants could raise complaints about you to the ICO if they believe you’re misusing their data. The ICO might then investigate. If you had a complaint about the tenant, like unpaid rent, the tenants could use your non-registration against you. If you don’t register with the ICO and get caught, the fines can range from £400 to £4,350.

How to do it

It’s a simple 15-minute process to get registered. It’s not something an agent can do on your behalf. Visit this webpage to get started.

You’ll need to give the ICO:

  • The name and address of the business that needs to be registered
  • Turnover and staff numbers
  • Business details
  • Credit/debit card details

The fee will be due again in 12 months’ time. It could be easier to give the ICO direct debit details.

If you are an local landlord and would like further advice about this or any other lettings issue, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a free, no-obligation chat on 01268 500988

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What Can I Do To Boost My Property’s Kerb Appeal?

This three-minute read will help you maximise the kerb appeal for your property.

A HomeOwners Alliance survey showed that 68% of potential buyers felt a property’s kerb appeal influenced their decision. Use these quick and easy tips to help your potential buyers fall in love at first sight.

Pathways and driveways

If you access your main entrance via a pathway or over a driveway, make sure you give it some TLC.

  • Refresh gravel
  • Pressure wash to remove discolouration or slippery bits
  • Remove weeds

Top tip: Add solar lights along the route for added elegance.

Front façade

The front of your property is like its shop window. Make sure any soffits, fascias, or guttering are clean and in good order. Clean the windows and frames, or repaint if necessary. Little things like that subliminally reassure viewers that the bigger things have been taken care of too.

Top tip: Clean or repaint your front door, polish the hardware, and add a hanging basket for a burst of colour.

Green fingers

There are low maintenance ways of making a front outdoor area more appealing. You can pick up outdoor plants, even from a supermarket. Pop a few around to brighten any space. If you have a lawn or hedging, keep it tidy. Alternatively, ask a responsible young person if they’d like to earn some pocket money by doing it for you.

Top tip: Choose plants without flowers if you won’t remember to deadhead them. The foliage and pots will still look striking.

Add storage

It might be that you don’t mind your bins and recycling boxes at the front of your home. However, for others it can be off-putting. Broaden your property’s appeal as much as possible by adding a bin store. You can use some trellising to create a divider or go all out and box them in.

Top tip: Surround or cover with pots of flowers or shrubs. You could even train climbers up the side.

Boundaries

If you have fencing or gates, make sure they’re looking their best. This might mean a lick of paint or wood stain. If you’ve got a fence post or panel that’s seen better days, just replace it. It’s unlikely to cost much in time or money. It does, however, prevent any offers from including that as a reason to knock the price down.

Top tip: Add trellising to a fence for some extra foliage.

Identification

You know where your house is. It seems obvious to you. But when you’re travelling around trying to find somewhere, possibly battling with family members, sat nav, or other traffic, it can feel stressful. Make it easy for your viewers. Add a house number or name that is clear and easy to read.

Top tip: Visit your local garden centre. They often have a range of signage so you can choose one that fits the style of your property.

Give your property the best chance of making a good impression. If you would like any advice, please do get in touch for a free, no-obligation chat on 01268 500988

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