housequestduesouth

Joy of buying and owning property in England

Billboards or floorboards

Election is nearly here.

For the past few days political parties have been throwing dung at each other: for chaos – vote for such and such; for divided Britain – vote for such and such; and so on, planting fear and doubt in our heads. They’ve even spent their money on massive billboards to remind us all that.

That woke up an inner politician in me (we all have it; don’t worry. We all know better how to rule the world from the comfort of our sofa).

Seeing that massive billboard again made me very crossed.Politicians managed to upset me again; like I don’t have any other things to worry about.

1. Spending money on such hideous billboards.

Wouldn’t it better to put that money into food banks or nurseries for parents on the lowest incomes? Or do something for your local community to deserve the vote?

Wouldn’t that be a better advertising, especially now, in the era of Internet?

2. I find this kind of campaigning unprofessional. Yes, you are reading it right, unprofessional.

Imagine a builder or a roofer, who comes in to look at the job you’ve got for him. You inform him that you will get a few more people in to quote. Just to get a better idea what you are dealing with , costs involved, etc. And then he starts to slag them off. He didn’t tell you much about the job, didn’t explain anything, didn’t even indicate the cost. He just goes on and on about how bad the competition is.

Would you trust his dirty mouth? Would you be willing to employ someone like this?

3. It also feels very patronising. As if we are unable to tell who we don’t like to see at the steering wheel. As if we are complete morons that can’t make the decision at the polling station.

4.  And in the way we can’t make a decision because none of the parties explained to us their plan. They all have made promises: decrease this, increase that, build more, borrow less.

But these are just general phrases and empty slogans, thrown in there to please electorate and win the vote. I haven’t heard anything to convince me that a certain party knows what to do. Not in the debate, not in the last Question Time. There was nothing there to explain to me clearly what they intend to do. Only ‘I’ll get you out of this mess’, ‘I promise more houses’, ‘I’ll end the immigration’, ‘Balancing the budget’.

I can not see through the smoke screen that is being blown at me. Slogans but no details.

Yes, I have looked at some of the manifestos (three actually) and I still don’t see the information I am looking for. So can

Example

Q: How are going to improve the economy?

A: We are going to create more jobs.

But tell me HOW?! What industry? I need to know. We all deserve to know. Especially in the running up to election.

Don’t tell me who not to vote for. Give me a reason why I should vote for you!

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Estate agents – who are they and what do they actually do?

I’m glad that we have the renting period behind us. I’m glad that we will never again have to deal with estate agents.

 
In our experience they are sales men and women. Sale is at the heart of their job. Not properties.
 
They move from one estate agent to another; sometimes within the same chain. Sometimes they just change employers like women change gloves. Often working in the area they do not know much about at all. There are no courses, no qualifiactions to be gained in this trade; no trainings for them. 
At this point you might say ‘This does not matter. They do know everything about the properties and that’s important’.
 
But do they?
 
Here are some examples of ignorance.
 
1. We used to rent lovely two bedroom flat for several years. We have made few friends amongst other flat owners in the building and so we learned their stories as well as those of the building itself. Please note that all the flats had a share of freehold. 
At the end of the tenure I spoke to the lettings manager about necessary window repairs (windows were almost falling apart!).
To which she replied: ‘Windows are the responsibility of the management company, not the owner’.
 
Errrr… The management company does what owners tell them to do. Management company (in this case) was employed by the owners.
And shouldn’t you be reporting this to owners?
 
2. ‘This is a leasehold flat. I know because when I was on the phone to them, J. said she will have to check this in the lease’.
 
Of course there is a lease! Every flat has got a lease, be it a leasehold or a share of freehold flat.
Leasehold is the document describing who is responsible for example for the upkeep of windows.
 
3. ‘There is a rat visiting our kitchen. Can we have it sorted, please?’
Two days later nothing. I phoned the estate agent again. And she comforted me by saying ‘That’s normal in London. We are all always within 5 metres from a rat’.
 
4. First viewing of the flat, before signing the contract.
We arrived two minutes late but there was no sign of an estate agent. We lived three houses away so we didn’t take our mobile phones with us. What for?
After waiting for a several minutes Rupert decided he will go back for his mobile phone. No missed phone calls. Have they forgotten?
He phoned them and the lettings manager said that she is busy and can’t come to the viewing. But the current owner should be home so he will show us around.
And so he did. But he was as surprised as we were.
 
5. Week after we’ve moved out and returned the keys to the estate agent, there was still no sign of our deposit in the bank account.
I phoned the lettings manager to ask her about it and she replied ‘J. (The owner of the estate agency) must see the flat. Only she can sign it off’.
Why didn’t she come view the flat then and collect the keys from us?!?!

Why are we here then?

Why are we here then?

So you will ask ‘Why did you buy a property in conservation area. That’s how it is so just get on with it.’

The answer is we love it here. We love the style and character of period properties. We love the charm and the sense of living in a small town within the big city.
We wouldn’t want to live elsewhere and even if we knew beforehand about all those obstacles that wouldn’t effect our decision.

But personally I think that conservation areas are like Catholic Church – archaic and dry to the bone, stiff. They should move on with time and make the most of modern technologies to preserve all those important parts of our heritage with simultaneous care for the future and people.

Rip off Britain

Yes, I am angry / annoyed / fuming. Possibly few more adjectives could describe the state of me and my mind but you get the idea.

I really wanted to keep it all in chronological order but I have to get this out of my chest. The sooner the better. At the end of the day I want you to be warned.

So here we are in our lovely and warm nest (especially over weekend when we are at home and heating has been on for 12 hours). We are FTB, we are full of energy, ideas and good will. Less can be said about our pockets but we are trying our best.

As good and obedient citizens we are trying to follow government’s guidances and improve our nest’s energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprint (as Rupert rightly pointed out it is also because we like to keep warm and even with super-modern boiler it is difficult to keep this place warm, especially this spring!).

So, step one: replace single glazed windows with double glaze. 

Easy-peasy: let’s invite few window sales men in, choose the cheapest quote, shake hands, job done.

 Er… no, not if you live in conservation area.

 First of all no UPVC. UPVC windows are about 2, if not more, times cheaper, much better than wooden ones and they require less maintenance. Not only they cost cheaper to start with, they cost less in the long run too and they last longer!

I’m sorry, I forgot we all know that. I am not talking to council people. Duh!

I phoned local council, found out we need planning permission. Ok, not a problem. That will cost you £172.

Oh… ok.

Followed link to http://www.planningportal.gov.uk, start online application, fill in details, work proposed etc. attachments – none.

Oh wait, no, two are required. What are they? Let’s see… Maps. Yes, MAPS! Ordnance survey map in certain scale and site map. Not the land registry maps.

That’s £20.

Each.

Only because we want to replace windows.

Ok, let’s not panic, speak to council again, maybe that’s just for people who are building houses and extensions.

No, they do need a map. That’s another £20. Each. And another thing, elevation plans. Yes, we must hire an architect to draw us plans of the building. No, photographs of the building won’t do.

And let’s not forget about the statement of design. To explain what impact our new windows will have on conservation area.

So I’m fuming.  

Not that attractive after all

Are you still cringing after reading Donna Fergusson’s article on her leasehold flat? We were cringing for few days. And to top it up around that time we spoke to our friend who said ‘Check with your solicitor if loft really belongs to the flat’.
That got us thinking.

So what is leasehold? The best answer is ‘glorified tenancy’. 
There is still a landlord, the freeholder. He is The Boss and he decides how much you have to pay rent on the land your flat stands on. There is also management company involved, which decides how much to pay the gardener (or if to hire one in the first place), how much to charge for cleaning, insurance, electricity and all that hard and difficult admin work necessary to run the estate.
You, owners of the flat have got no saying in how the estate is managed.
Of course, you can choose the colour of paint you paint your bedroom with, carpets and tiles but the list of things you can not do is longer. You cannot say ‘insurance is too high, lets have a look at what we are paying for, or oh, perhaps this terrorist clause is not really necessary now’.
You also can not put new windows in without written consent from the landlord. You can not demolish that annoying wall between kitchen and lounge, keep animals, change carpet for wood panels and so on and so on, without the written consent from the landlord. 
And the loft doesn’t belong to you, although there might be access to it from your flat. 

It is tenancy all over again!

Clue is in the name: leasehold – you are leasing the right to live in the flat.

Another upsetting fact about leasehold is the length remaining on the lease. One would think that with 83 years there is nothing to worry about, we could leave this flat to our grandchildren and they could have little bit of fun in here but no, this is a very dangerous place to be. And definitely can become an expensive one. Freeholders are not charities, they are in this world to make money and so they won’t make it easy for owners to extend their leases.
Unfortunately most, if not all, of newly build British flats are leaseholds. And these are the cheapest flats out there. ‘Great for first time buyers’ these are being advertised as. Great for people who don’t have much money, much deposit and knowledge. I do hope government would look into this and change laws. Actually, that’s not true, I hope they dissolve leasehold altogether.
One thing to remember is that flats that are share of freehold also have leases. These regulate how the building is maintained etc. but as name suggests one has got share in decision making.

And don’t let any estate agent tell you that ‘this flat hasn’t got a share of freehold because there is a lease, it is a leasehold property’. Yes, one said this to me recently. But I’ll leave this story for later…

Leasehold or freehold?

We started our search online. We have spent a lot of time browsing, looking at plans and maps and after we have found few properties that we would liked to see we’ve arranged viewings with estate agent.

When browsing we noticed some flats were marked as leasehold and some as freehold. As we knew nothing about it we paid very little attention to it. I guess we both thought it would get explained to us by people who know what they are talking about, i.e. estate agent.

 And it was. As we have arrived at the property that (at least on the paper) was ticking all the boxes, guy who was showing us around casually thrown in ‘Oh, with this one lease is about 86 years. But that’s not a problem, this can be easily extended.’

And so we took his word for it. At the end of the day it is his daily bread.

Flat did tick all the boxes:  location, chain free, big lounge, nice kitchen and storage. Price wasn’t bad either, although as we were not the only interested party we agreed on the asking price (more on that a bit later).

 As it happened that was about three months before our tenancy agreement was to expire. Great! By the end of June we could be flat owners!

 Just as we appointed our solicitor (recommended to us by the estate agent) it turned out that the lease on the flat is more like 83 years. And that process of extension is not as easy as it would seem. One can only start it after living in the property for two years (although seller can start the process and then sign it off to the buyer). And that owner has to pay solicitors costs for both parties. And that when the lease reaches 80 years, freeholder can call the shots when it comes to the price (before lease reaches 80 there are certain rules on how to ascertain properties value and a special body to regulate this and all disputes arising between freeholder and a lessee ( HYPERLINK “http://www.lease-advice.org/”http://www.lease-advice.org/))

 After many phone calls between us, our solicitor, estate agent (constantly assuring us that it is easy and straight forward process) and Lease-advice we decided to go for it. 

We used online calculators to calculate the cost of lease extension, we spoke even more to solicitor as well as lease advice people, we read countles threads on forums. 

We were sure that this is the right decision to make. At the end of the day it is common practise and it is all being regulated by law. Easy-peasy.

Time went on and we heard nothing back from the solicitor. For the first  month from accepting our offer vendors went quiet. No documents were supplied to solicitor, no news on when we can exchange. 

One day while re-searching WWW for leasehold advice (there is no such term as too much knowledge in this household) I came across this post http://www.lovemoney.com/news/property-and-mortgages/buying-and-selling-property/11446/my-leasehold-property-nightmare-#comments

And so the first cracks appeared.

   

 

Prologue

My husband and I are first time buyers. Actually right now we are already owners of a flat. The flat. But our road to ownership and happiness was long and bumpy. Exactly not what I was expecting. I actually used to laugh at articles saying that buying a property is one of the most stressful experiences in one’s life.

 It all started over a year ago, when one of our local estate agent handed me in a leaflet with their latest properties to buy.

At the time we were renting lovely (but unfortunately badly managed) two bedroom flat in SE19. We have been already saving up for a deposit after a visit to one of the leading UK’s mortgage lenders few years back. Based on that one experience we knew we had to save hard and long before buying anything. 

The flat that caught our eye was newly refurbished Victorian property. And it was amazing! We thought we could at least go and see.

Sure enough we liked it. Price was terrifyingly high but thanks to estate agent’s smooth talk we got ourselves a meeting with their recommended mortgage broker. And don’t get me wrong, I am glad that we got convinced to do that. If we haven’t , we would be probably still renting, paying somebody else’s mortgage.

Mortgage broker we spoke to was a very nice man (it is my opinion only; somehow Rupert, my husband, and him took an instant dislike to each other). He gave us good and honest advice and was very cautious to keep our mortgage repayments at low level. But we couldn’t afford the flat we liked.

 And from that point, knowing how much we can afford to borrow, we started actively looking for our perfect home. 

We knew that we wanted to stay in the area we were leaving in, we knew it had to be at least two bedroom flat with a big and spacious lounge and storage space. Nice kitchen. Ideally first floor and above.

I think there were few more requirements but I can not recall them now. Oh, and a walking distance to the train station.

It was all very exciting: looking at flats online, seeing what’s out there, planning and dreaming. Suddenly we realised how many estate agents there were in our area, how many ‘For sale’ and ‘Sold’ signs there were around. 

Every time we went out we would notice new signs and say to each other: ‘Oh, that’s a nice place. Who is it with? We must look it up online when we get home’.

We were both first time buyers and we knew nothing about the process. I grew up abroad and have only been in the UK for several years. Most of our friends didn’t own their own place and those who did had it for few years already and their memories of the process were already a little bit tarnished. They would say ‘I hope it all will go well for you’ and I would smile thinking ‘Well of course it will: we want to buy a property, we will find a lovely place, shake hands with the seller, job done!’.

 But it is never that easy.