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Future of Property Property Advice

Five tips on improving your work from home experience

COVID-19 has changed the way we work and the perceptions we have about workplace structure and dynamics. Many companies made the transition to working from home – WFH. On a wider scale, this has changed employees’ daily routines and lifestyles. WFH has raised questions about ensuring productivity and a different work-life balance.

WFH includes a key aspect – the home! The SearchSmartly team would like to touch upon the transitions you may have to face to adjust to WFH. Also, many companies are musing about a full-scale transition to a remote-first working environment. So, what should your home look like if you plan to continue working from home?

There are other reasons why WFH might be a better choice. Harvard Business School research found that companies with WFH policies can boost employee productivity, reduce turnover, and lower organisational costs. Yet, converting our largely comfort-focused homes into efficient work-spaces can be challenging. We are here to help you tackle that challenge by exploring what you might now need to have at home.

There should be a separation between your work life and your domestic life. To put it simply, you should have a home office – but what does that mean?

1.     Choose green. Getting a small plant on your desk lowers stress and anxiety levels. Spruce up your work area with more plants to reinforce a calm working environment. If you’d want to go all out, why don’t you set up your home office facing the garden or with a green view? On warm days, you can choose to work in the garden too.

2.     Choose to cut distractions. Work and kids? You might have already experienced having to juggle the two. Consider setting up a playroom for your kids so they’re occupied during your most important working hours. Maybe even a garden for them to get some fresh air while you work away? Additionally, you might want to set up your home office further away from the kids’ area, and that’s not always easy. Once more, requiring extra space.

3.     Choose taking a break. It may become difficult to separate working hours, especially if you have easy access to your work computer at home. Make sure to take some time between tasks to get some exercise in or take a walk. Breaks you’d have at the office include catching up with coworkers or stepping out for a coffee. Now that you are WFH, why don’t you replace that with a nice neighbourhood to step out for a walk in while you’re on a call? All those calls you listen-in on, use that time for the treadmill or pedal away on your stationary bike. The health benefits of moving while you work are enormous.

4.     Choose a modern, well-equipped kitchen. Many people would go out during their lunch break to grab a quick bite, but you usually won’t be doing that if you are at home. For that reason, your lunch break might also pose a challenge. You now need to make your own lunch, and that requires time and effort. Having a comfortable, easy-to-navigate kitchen will allow you to remain worry-free about your lunch plans.

5.     Choose moving out. You might need an extra room at home to allow for a home office. It may make more sense financially to find a better-suited home than to fix up your old one. Remodeling and redecorating come at a price, so consider whether those costs pay off. A new home might lead to an easier transition into WFH – a fresh (WFH) start. You might also save on rent if you lived in a central location nearby the office. You don’t need to make the journey into the office anymore, so why are you still paying high rent for a centrally located home?

And if you’re not quite ready to move out yet, here’s some other things to consider:

·       A neutral background with adequate lighting is crucial for video calls, and you’ll be having many of them.

·       Natural light bulbs: believe us when we say you’ll be doing your eyes a huge favor.

·       Artwork. Make your workspace feel like your own with a painting, motivational poster or kids’ drawings.

·       Comfortable and ergonomic chairs as you’ll probably be doing most of your work sitting down at your desk.

·       A convertible desk? A good workstation starts with a good desk, we all know that. But did you know that you can also do your work standing up? Get a desk with adjustable height so you’re not sitting around all day.

Many home-based employees will tell you; it may not be easier to work from home – it’s just a different location. But remember, there are so many things you can do to make the most of your WFH experience! 

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Property Advice

How to submit an offer

How to Submit a Successful Offer on a Rental Property

You’ve invested lots of time in your search, and now you’ve finally found the perfect flat to rent. 

Once you are at this stage, it’s really important to act quickly to maximise your chances of securing the place, particularly when other people may also be interested in the same flat.

What’s the most important information you need to have at your fingertips to get your foot in the door? And how does the whole process work?

SearchSmartly has compiled a useful guide to make sure you’re fully prepared. 

First of all, you’re going to have to formally submit an offer on your chosen property. Your estate agent will provide you with a template form to fill in, but this will include key information about who you are, how long you’re interested in renting the property for, what you are willing to pay for it, and any other critical details such as whether you’d like the property furnished or not. It’s important to get this right to make your offer the most interesting one for the landlord, and avoid making some common mistakes that can result in your offer being rejected immediately.

When you have submitted your offer, you will be asked to pay a holding deposit equivalent to one week’s rent in order for the agent to take the property off the market during your referencing process. This period is when all paperwork and background checks will take place and can typically last for up to three weeks.

Price and Tenancy Dates

It goes without saying that the more you are willing to pay for the rent, the more likely your offer will be accepted! Start by checking if the asking price for your flat is reasonable by comparing similar flats in the area.  Also, ask if any bills (water, electricity or gas) are included in the rent. With this information to hand, if you are willing to pay the asking price then this will maximise your chance of getting your offer accepted. If you feel the asking price is too high based on your research, you can put in an offer below the asking price. We have seen offers at 3-5% below the asking price getting accepted in some cases, but bear in mind that this will only work if there isn’t much interest in the property – perhaps because it’s slightly older, or if there are too few people searching in that particular area. In places where there is lots of demand, particularly in parts of London, the ‘winning’ offer can be above the asking price!

Every property has a date from which it is available to move in. This is typically when the outgoing tenant has vacated the property, and will usually be advertised in the property listing itself. The closer to this date that you can move in, the more attractive your offer will be. This is because your move date will reduce the potential ‘void’ period for the landlord where nobody is paying any rent, and will improve their return. 

‘Void’ periods can impose high costs for landlords, as can the listing fees that they have to pay to agents every time a new tenant moves in. As a result, shorter tenancies are generally less attractive to landlords. Consider offering to sign a longer contract to make your offer more attractive. It is most common for tenancies to last around a year, but you could have a lease of two or three years.

Contract

Make sure you check the contract carefully. There are a number of things to look out for and to negotiate, such as if the property is furnished. Make sure you agree on refurbishment or purchase of additional furnishings in the offer. For example, if you love a flat and are happy with the asking price but want a mattress included with the furnished bedrooms, it is perfectly reasonable to make this a condition within your offer. The same goes with replacing old furniture or fixing any fittings that don’t appear to be working as they should.

Be upfront about what you expect and go into detail about this. You don’t want to discover later down the line that something you wish to have in the contract hasn’t been included when you’ve paid the deposit. 

Payment and Fees

For rental properties, agents will typically require that incoming tenants meet the financial eligibility criteria which is as follows:

  • The tenants earn 30 times the monthly rent, OR
  • The incoming tenants have a UK guarantor that can meet the above requirement, OR
  • Incoming tenants are able to pay 6 months’ rent up front.

The good news is that agents are no longer be able to charge renters any administration fee for tenancies by law, so make sure that this is the case by ensuring that the only payments you make relate to your refundable deposit and the rent that you pay in advance of your move. 

SearchSmartly Top Tip: Make sure you get this information in writing from the beginning so that you have a paper trail of what is agreed. This can be done via email. 

References

Get your references lined up from people who are likely to put in a good word on your behalf. Use people who know you and can attest to your reliability. For example you could use former flatmates or former landlords (where you’ve been a respectable tenant of course). 

You could also obtain a ‘character reference’ from an employer to show you are reliable. 

Make sure you have the documentation for your references ready to go before you put your offer in place, as things can move quickly and you’ll want to make sure there are no unnecessary delays on your end.

Deposit

Make sure you have enough money readily available to put down for the deposit. You’ll be in a great position if you have the money in your account ready to be bank transferred ASAP. The value of this deposit should be no more than the value of 5 weeks worth of rent.

We hope this information will allow you to secure that gorgeous flat you’ve been eyeing up in London and beyond. Good luck!

Categories
Property Advice

Take a Stamp Duty Holiday in London

SearchSmartly’s top 5 family-friendly neighbourhoods under the stamp-duty threshold.

You may have heard the headlines recently about the stamp duty holiday. What does this mean for London property prices and why should you be paying attention? 

In England and Northern Ireland, the tax threshold for property purchases has been temporarily increased from £125,000 to £500,000. That means you don’t have to pay a penny in tax on the value of any property under £500,000. Whether you’re a first-time-buyer or not.

For properties valued over £500,000, you only pay stamp duty on the value over £500,000. It works in a similar way to income tax thresholds.

This reduction in tax means you could save up to £15,000 when purchasing a house. Buying a home has suddenly become more attractive.

“But I’ll still never be able to buy a comfortable family home in a nice, safe area of London, even with this tax reduction!” I hear you scream. 

This isn’t true. London is full of fantastic areas that are suitable for families. You don’t have to put up with an unappealing area or squeeze into a poky flat to be able to afford a property in the capital. Looking beyond the obvious areas can help you to find a property that really matches your needs, at an affordable price.

We’ve taken a look at 5 London neighbourhoods using SearchSmartly’s personalised search tool so you can get a flavour for how far your money goes. All these properties come under the new stamp duty threshold of £500,000. It may surprise you.

  1. Penge, SE20 – South East London

Penge has become a prime location thanks to  an excellent mix of affordable house prices, a desirable community feel and transport links. There are three accessible railway stations and regular buses across town. This has attracted the attention of a range of buyers, young and old when looking to live in South London.

Penge has a good supply of Victorian terrace houses and converted spacious flats. Take a look at the Alexandra Cottages housing estate. Detached houses have a village feel, with leafy gardens and appealing driveways.

A short walk away from Penge is the beautiful Crystal Palace: an 80 hectare Grade II listed park. Here you can find lakes and the National Sports Centre with regular events.

We found this 2-bed house with a charming garden at just £425,000. 

2. Barking, IG11 – East London, Best Location for Low Property Prices

If you’re looking for fantastic value, Barking is your best bet. The cheapest houses in London can be found in Barking. That doesn’t mean that Barking doesn’t have anything else to offer other than saving you a few quid.

Barking is a traditional suburban town where many families have lived for generations. It’s within easy reach of Canary Wharf and short 15-minutes to Fenchurch Street. Or you can cycle to work along the Cycling Superhighway to Tower Hill in 39 minutes. 

The nearby Barking Riverside development is underway, and the overground extension is set to complete in 2021. This area is only going to improve, providing a good place to invest your money. 

A 3-bed in London for £390,000?! Well under the stamp-duty threshold.

3. Morden, SM4 – South West London

Perhaps leafy, quieter Morden is more to your taste. The open spaces of Surrey and 125-acres of National Trust parkland are right on your doorstep. You can relax and escape the hustle and bustle of London life. Commuters shouldn’t worry though, Morden is the last stop on the Northern line. You’re sure to secure a seat in morning rush hour.

It’s not just fresh air and green grass in Morden. Many properties enjoy affordable off-street parking – unheard of in nearby Wimbledon. 

Check out this gorgeous 3-bed with a garden and driveway in Morden. 

4. Greenford, UB6 – West London

Why not try Greenford in West London. Greenford is conveniently located; situated on the Central line. Sudbury Hill Harrow train station offers a direct train to Marleybone in 15 minutes. If you are a cyclist, there is a direct 45-minute route from Greenford Quay to Paddington Basin.

Wembley is a stone’s throw away, with plentiful attractions. Head on over to Bunny Park to get lost in the maze. Take a stroll down Hanwell Lock or climb to the top of Northala Fields for views of central London and Canary Wharf.

Look at this 2-bed house for £425,000 in Greenford. 

5. Highams Park, E4 – North East London

Highams Park is nestled between Walthamstow and Chingford. There’s a real community village feel here. A fantastic area for families looking for social and environmental well-being. Highams Park has three well-regarded schools nearby. There’s a great mix of independent shops, restaurants and events most weekends. Spend an afternoon in the picturesque Epping Forest lake. You can go fishing here (fishing in London? Really?). 

We found this spacious 3-bed on SearchSmartly. 

Feeling Inspired? 
Act quickly because this holiday isn’t going to last forever. The temporary change in the threshold is set to end in March 2021. Everyone’s needs are unique, and SearchSmartly’s intelligent house-hunting tool can help you find your perfect home. Get started here, and you may surprise yourself. Time to spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon browsing those lovely houses in Penge…

Categories
Property Advice

COVID-19: Tenancy Deposit Guide

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect us all, many tenants, letting agents and landlords may be in the dark around issues concerning their tenancy at various stages. As a result, we’ve decided to shed some light on this for our users and those who may seek value in it. 

Thanks to our friends over at the Tenancy Deposit Scheme for providing their expert, impartial advice. 

Pre-Tenancy

I am a tenant who is about to move-in without a check-in/inventory run, how can I best deal with this?

  • Without the ability to have a re-move inventory or clean, we advise tenants to work with landlords to have a written record of issues on photo/video so that it is not held against you on checkout. We advise that all correspondence is done via email to maintain a trail for future reference. 

I am signing a tenancy agreement for a future date but am currently out of work so unable to afford a deposit, what can I do?

  • If you are unable to currently afford a deposit, you can work with the landlord to agree to pay the deposit at a later date. Alternatively, it may be possible to pay the deposit in instalments with the landlord having to protect the deposit for 30 days within receiving it. 

Mid-Tenancy

I am unable to pay this month’s rent, can this be taken away from my deposit instead?

  • Unfortunately in this instance, it would not be possible to use your deposit against any rent due until the end-of-tenancy process. 
  • According to the law, it is only possible to use your deposit against your rent once a record of rent payments have taken place, after which any outstanding unpaid rent would be able to come out of your deposit.

I have lost my job, what does this mean for my tenancy?

  • Should this unfortunate event occur, you  should work together with your landlord to establish a rent reduction or an affordable repayment plan. 
  • Under the government guidelines, the landlord is unable to use your deposit for the rent. It is only possible to use the deposit to pay arrears once the tenancy agreement has come to an end. 

I am a student who is about to leave a rented property, do I have to pay rent?

  • You will have to pay rent if you are still under contractual obligation. The only time this is not needed is if you reach an agreement with the landlord that it is no longer due, or to end the tenancy early with no further obligation to financially cover the remainder of the tenancy agreement. 

Post-Tenancy

My tenancy is about to end during self-isolation

  • During this period, landlords and agents are expected to work alongside tenants to navigate through these problems. A suggestion includes:
    • Tenants doing a video call and a virtual walk-around

My tenants are moving-out during self-isolation

  • During the pandemic, it may be more sensible to give a maximum of 4 weeks from the end of tenancy date for the delivery of a check-out report.
  • Landlords and agents are advised to maintain an email trail advising the tenant that a check-out inspection will be unable to take place immediately, therefore delaying the return of their deposit. 

My tenancy agreement ends during isolation, how do I best navigate this?

  • Normally, a check-out report should be completed as close to the tenancy date as possible, and to avoid any doubts about cleaning or damage being caused by anyone other than the tenant (for example, contractors or prospective tenants). During the pandemic, it may be more sensible to give more time (up to 4 weeks from the end of tenancy date) for the delivery of a check-out report in order for any traces of the virus to die out before the check-out is conducted. However, this will delay the return of your deposit, and may make it difficult to ascertain the source of any damage found on check-out.
  • For this reason, we suggest that tenants offer a thorough video walk-around of the property as close to the end of the tenancy as possible to provide documentation of the state of the property on checkout, and to expedite the return of your deposit.