Oxford

 A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine!

As the old prayer goes, ‘From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, oh Lord!’.

 

Here’s my more modern one for this day and age: Domine salva nos a procrastinatione: Lord save us from procrastination…

 

It is Viking Day today for Key Stage 2 at Cutteslowe Primary School, and Hrothgar the Dane is visiting to provide some hands on, fearsome and beardy education (my favourite sort). And so a letter went round a few weeks ago to tell us parents that our beloved progeny could dress up as Vikings today, with a homework task on how to make some Viking clothing and weaponry in advance:

“Perhaps we can help Leila make a sword and shield this weekend, dear,” Jenny said to me a few weeks ago…

 “Yes!” I said, “I’ll get to B&Q this week for some balsa wood and metallic spray paint,”…

 ---

“Perhaps we can help Leila make a sword and shield after school tomorrow, darling,” Jenny said to me last week…

“Oh, yes!” I said, “I'll get to B&Q in the morning for some balsa wood and metallic paint,”…

 ----

“Rowan! It is Viking Day tomorrow. We need to help Leila make her sword and shield!!” Jenny finally snapped yesterday.

 “By Thor!”, I cried, “I haven’t been to B&Q yet for the balsa wood and metallic paint!”.

 “Forget balsa wood and metallic paint!”, my ever practical wife said, “we’ve got toilet rolls, cardboard boxes and tin foil… it’s a bit of fun at primary school, not an audition for The Last Kingdom!”.

 ---

And so in the space of a half hour in the evening, together with Leila, we cobbled together a tunic and hose out of an old dress and some PJs, cellotaped together a triple-layered cardboard sword with its blade wrapped in tin foil and its hilt bound with string, fashioned a foil-wrapped cardboard shield complete with arm straps (and a foil-wrapped Nescafé jar lid for a shield boss), and Leila added the finishing decorative flourishes in marker pen this morning.

 

And you know what, she looked the part. Hrothgar, I'm sure, will have been thrilled - or suitably terrified. Either way: result!

 

When it comes to marketing property, people can be equally guilty of procrastination. We have managed to wind the process up into being this all important thing in this country, that life and death can seem to hinge upon, and so it's no wonder that so many people now worry that their property isn’t meeting some vision of perfection yet that they’ve imbued in their minds through watching endless episodes of Location, Location, Location and other similar house-porn. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t like entirely complacent sellers, those who make no effort at all (our professional photographers, especially), but the truth is that a little effort goes a long way and you really don't need to obsess about achieving 'perfection'; in fact, given how subjective property buying is, it's usually an impossible dream on the part of any seller: you can't appeal to everyone, no matter what you do.

It is important to get some basics right, it is important to present the house in the right way; but just because you haven't got round to fixing the toilet seat yet, is not a reason to be losing out on buyers - particularly in stagnating and falling market places.

Here are three common procrastinator objections that might surface in your own mind whenever you come to sell your home, and here a couple of tips that might just help you if the process starts to stress you out:

 

1) "We need to redecorate first, before marketing…"

- Really? Look, maybe you do (and sometimes, you really do!), but just remember that when you start redecorating you might never stop. Once you’ve done the walls, you’ll think your joinery looks a bit off; so you do that woodwork, but then your ten year old windows now look a bit ropey… one thing leads to another and all of a sudden it's like painting the Forth bridge. A good clean - particularly carpet cleaning - will often be all you need to achieve the ‘lift’ you’re looking for; and also just remember that buyers often do want to put their own stamp on things. 

 

2) "We’re going to replace our furniture so it looks better in photos…"

- Seriously? You were worried about knocking a couple a hundred quid off agency fees, but you want to go and spend thousands at Laura Ashley on sofas that you’re not even selling to the buyers!? Don’t get me wrong, some sofas I’ve seen look and smell like they've come straight out of my 6th form common room - bits of Space Raiders down the sides of the arms, and all; but it's nothing that a nice throw from Dunelm can’t fix most of the time. So if you are obsessing over the idea, think throws, think scatter cushions and think the odd vase of flowers, and suddenly your Living Room doesn't look out of place in a Good Housekeeping double page spread.

 

3) "We're going to wait until the summer as the garden looks better…"

- I’m sure it does. You know whose else’s looks better, don't you? Lots of other people's, also selling their houses. You know when they’re waiting until? Then. You know who isn’t waiting until then, though? The Buyers we’ve got looking now. And you know what many buyers will be doing in the summer? They'll be enjoying the summer - in Portugal.

 

There are always reasons to wait - believe me, I know! And to be fair, I fully recognise that I am speaking a little flippantly in this article, so let me caveat the whole thing by saying that sometimes there are genuine, serious and personal reasons that rightly and understandably hold you back. Of course, in those cases, you should wait. But if the time is right for you, now, then grab the metaphorical tin foil and stop procrastinating - because Hrothgar is not waiting.

Article by Peter Jones, ADI Pro Leak Ltd.:

 

Why Water Leak Detection Should Be a Key Component of Your Landlord Business Model

 

As a landlord, the number of tasks and jobs that fall under your responsibility can seem endless, and it is all too easy to make the wrong decisions when it comes to prioritization. Leak detection should, in our opinion, be one of your number one focuses because a hidden leak or a burst pipe can have devastating effects on your property and your tenants.

 

Let's start by considering the financial implications.

 

  • It is highly likely that if your tenant's possessions are damaged due to a hidden leak or burst pipe, you would be legally responsible for replacing those items.
  • In severe cases, your property might require very expensive structural restoration.
  • You could lose your tenants if they have to find alternative accommodation while the property is repaired.
  • Your Insurance Premiums are likely to increase.

 

Water Leaks Are Much More Prevalent Than Many Landlords Anticipate

 

It might be reasonable to assume that a water leak in a property is a relatively rare occurrence, but statistics from the insurance industry blows that theory out of the water. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), Escape of water damage is one of the most common types of domestic property damage claims, with insurers paying out £1.8 million for it every day, with water claims rising every year.

 

The pandemic has changed how many people work, with many now working from home on a more regular or even permanent basis. This means that toilets, baths, showers and central heating systems are likely to be used more, which will inevitably increase the wear and tear they face. If anything, water leaks and burst pipes are only going to increase.

 

What Other Factors Are Contributing To The Increase In Water Leaks in Rental Properties?

 

  • Modern homes are designed with aesthetic appeal at the core of every new property. Unfortunately, this means that pipes and other essential but not necessarily attractive components are hidden away behind walls or under floorboards. This means that when a leak does develop, it is much more difficult to trace, and in many instances, it can develop over many months before either your tenants or yourself become aware of the issue.

 

  • The materials used in modern buildings are not necessarily of such high standards as in previous years.
  • Tenants will never be as concerned about preventative measures in the same way that the property owner will be.
  • Push-Fit Pipes for appliance fittings are dramatically increasing in popularity.

 

What Measures Can A Landlord Implement To Minimize The Risk of Water Leaks

 

As part of your annual inspection, ensure that the plumbing and any appliances that are connected to a water supply. Ideally, it would be beneficial to conduct these checks every three months, but that will depend on the agreement you have in place with your tenant.

 

Develop and Nurture A Good Relationship With Your Tenants

 

Tenants can be your best tool in protecting your property and minimizing any water leak damage. A good tenant is worth their weight in gold, so go the extra mile to ensure that they are happy and take pride in your property. You could educate them by showing them where the stopcock is and responding quickly to them when they have an issue. You want them to feel free to contact you rather than being viewed as a hassle. This means that they will contact you quickly when any issue does occur.

 

You should ask your tenants to notify you if they notice anything that could indicate a plumbing issue – such as a leaking tap or a dramatic increase in their water bill.

 

Make Sure You Have Sufficient Insurance in Place

 

Never assume that your insurance is adequate without checking all of the terms and conditions properly. You should have proper rental insurance rather than just a standard home insurance policy, as the last thing you want is for something serious to go wrong, only to find that your insurance is invalid due to some technical issue or concern.

 

Find a Specialist Leak Detection Company

 

As mentioned above, not all leaks are easy to locate, and sometimes even though you know, there is a leak finding it can be problematic or even seemingly impossible. That is where the services of a specialist leak detection company can be worth its weight in gold. These companies have knowledge, experience and specialist tools to locate and trace a leak no matter how small or challenging the problem may seem. As a landlord, we would always advise you to find a reputable leak detection company and store their number on your phone. Your Motto with water leaks should always be to prevent the leak from happening in the first place, but if it does happen, respond with haste and get the problem sorted.

Fully expected, and yet a total shock: on Thursday February 24th, 2022, war came once again to Europe, as Russia invaded Ukraine on a pretext about as solid as a rotten sole plate. I have watched, mesmerised, as footage has rolled out across 24 hour news; I have been driven to dark dismay by news stories of little girls the age of my youngest daughter being killed in the fighting; I have been awestruck by tales of courage and bravery coming out of beleaguered Ukraine - everything from grandmothers challenging Russian tanks, to farmers stealing them with their tractor and a towing rope, to Ukrainian Sailors telling Russian warships to go fuck themselves rather than surrender, to the President of Ukraine himself, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, rising to the occasion - a true leader at the very moment his country needs one most. 

With all of this unfolding before our eyes, it has felt somehow crass and even guilt-inducing to continue to behave 'as normal'; to attend that event; to grab that pint at the pub; to celebrate that new listing; to revel in that quick sale. Our lives go on, whilst lives in Ukraine - and in Russia, for that matter - are being shattered even as I write. Neither have I felt I can express my thoughts about what is going on, for fear of being misinterpreted as doing so with selfish intentions. I know I'm not alone.

I say 'our lives go on', but whilst it's easy to feel that this is happening somewhere else to somebody else, the effects of it will be far reaching and will be felt here. We are fortunate that we can live here without fearing the sight of Russian tanks rolling down our own High Street, and we may feel guilty relief at the thought. Nevertheless, it is worth taking stock of the various ways in which we will be affected here in the UK, and that includes the effect it could bring to the UK Property Market - important, if not as obviously serious in the way that lives being lost in Ukraine clearly is, but important nevertheless because this market drives so much of our national economic activity. Here are some points to consider - but I hasten to add, I write as an individual and as an Estate Agent, and I am certainly not claiming to be an economist; besides which, my views are my own:

 

Inflation and Interest Rates

Inflation has been shooting up even before there was a European war going on, driven not in small part by the rising cost of food and fuel. When inflation rises, central banks often aim to control it by increasing interest rates, and we have seen The Bank of England do this already with two increases within the last quarter - a 0.4% rise on where the base rate was. It hasn't had huge impacts so far, but I already had a sense that interest rates would be likely to go up at least once more before June, and we could well see this expedited and, perhaps, go further than it might have; maybe another increase at the next meeting of the board, and perhaps by another half of a percent in one go, rather than by just a quarter. That would be a 0.9% rise within a four to six month period, and we would see consequent increases to mortgage rates as a result, with a more noticeable impact on mortgage ability than we've seen thus far - for first time buyers and second-steppers, but also for those remortgaging. The reason we can expect this is due to those aforementioned food and fuel prices; Ukraine is one of the largest producers of agricultural produce in Europe, so the supply of staples such as grain - and wheat in particular - is going to be hit, thus pushing food costs up. Likewise, Russia is a major exporter of gas and oil, and whilst it only supplies 3% of the UK's gas and only 6% of our crude oil, it supplies greater quantities to Europe and the rest of the world. Europe and other countries will be drawing more gas and oil from other suppliers, including those that supply the UK, making those commodities more scarce and in turn more expensive - so expect to feel it at at the petrol pump soon. With regards to fuel, the energy price cap was already raised in the UK earlier this year, to add around £700 to our household bills each year. This cap could well be raised again to cope with increased procurement costs, and this will fuel inflation - already through 5%, predicted to head towards 7% and I think likely to bust through even that, to 8 or 9%, with these added pressures.

Sanctions against Russia and Russians

The British government, like many others, has imposed sanctions and penalties against Russia which will bite - not least the withdrawal of SWIFT which allows the movement of money internationally. There are around 150,000 Russians resident in London alone, let alone throughout the rest of the UK, and their inability to move money will have some impact on the property market. Some, but not as dramatic as one might think. The 3% stamp duty levy imposed on international property purchasers, as well as restrictions Russia imposed itself to keep Russian money at home, has already reduced the number of Russians purchasing UK property - and so whilst there could well be some noticeable wobble in the super prime and luxury property market, the general property market should remain largely unaffected compared to where it has been in more recent times. Something to bear in mind, but not dwell on, particularly outside of the capital.

Russian Roubles, Global Economics

The measures imposed on Russia by countries right across the world has perhaps taken it by surprise, and after just a few days it is clear to see the immediate and rather extraordinary effect this has had. Russian citizens - and let's remember here, not all are in favour of what is going on in Ukraine, not by a long way - have started to run on the banks, withdrawing money to purchase commodities as the value of the Rouble plunges. At the time of writing, it has fallen by 40% and looks to be falling further, whilst by contrast the FTSE has already recovered the majority of the value that it lost after the initial Russian invasion on Thursday. Still, although (perhaps surprisingly) the Russian economy makes up just 2% of the global one, we won't see such dramatic losses within that economy without feeling the effects here; we are all too interdependent and interlinked in the 21st century not to. We can feel some comfort in knowing that very little of British pension funds are directly exposed to Russian markets; but, there will still be some ripple effect, and as global markets adjust - depending on how long troubles do last in Ukraine (and one suspects that the damage will be long-lasting, even should tanks and troops remove themselves sooner than later) - the general downturn that we can expect is bound to have an impact on property prices here. Whilst they may not drop, I do think that when combined with inflationary living costs and rising interest rates, we can definitely expect property price rises to slow down and that the volume of property transactions will be behind where they may otherwise have been.

 

As a general summary, when it comes to  the property market, my prediction is that we will be looking at a slower market with shorter price growth than I might have predicted at the beginning of the year, particularly relative to the very fast pace and peaked prices that we have seen over the past months. The noticeable effects of this will probably kick in by the third quarter of 2022, but my expectation is that it will look like a 'flattening off' rather than a drop. It is not a disaster - and certainly not by comparison to what life might look like if you were in Kyiv right now. This article is certainly not written to in any way suggest an equivalence; it is written because 63% of householders in the UK own the homes that they live in, and therefore this matters - even if it only matters relatively speaking. 

Allow me to sign off by describing with no room for doubt my own personal shock and outrage that this is going on at all in this day and age, an equivalent outrage to that which I feel about recent events in Syria, Ethiopia, Myanmar, the Amazon, and in so many other parts of the world. I unequivocally stand with Ukraine, as I do with all oppressed peoples around the world whom have war and oppression brought to them against any will whatsoever. 

Живи, Україно, прекрасна і сильна!  -  Zhyvy, Ukraino, prekrasna i syl'na!  -  Live, Ukraine, beautiful and strong! 

 

Sometimes, something comes along that just knocks my socks off, and SoloHaus by Hill Group is one of those things.

Hill is a familiar name in the property game, constructing high spec, high quality housing developments across London and the south.  In Oxford, Mosaics at Barton Park, on the northern edge of the city is one such build. With almost twenty years in the game myself, I am well advised on Hill developments but I hadn’t come across SoloHaus until just recently – and now that I have, I am determined to get the word out!

I’m jumping ahead slightly so let me just reverse here and provide some background to what becomes the most fantastic story. Hill Group was founded by Andy Hill back in 1999, after he was made redundant. Building a construction firm that has gone on to become one of the most recognisable names in the industry in the UK, The Hill Group is the second largest privately owned housebuilder in the UK. He admits that he was only able to achieve this with help and support from family, something that he recognises many people just simply do not have when facing similar circumstances. In 2019, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the business, Hill pledged to give back to the communities in which he operates by setting up Foundation 200, a £15 million initiative to provide modular homes for people experiencing homelessness. Following a report in 2019 about the staggering homeless crisis we have in the UK (over 250,000 people being classed as homeless on any given night in England alone) and recognising that circumstances such as he faced twenty years earlier can push many people into homelessness if help and support is not at hand. In April 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was just beginning to bite, Hill set up Foundation 200 with his pledge ‘to build and gift 200 free homes in order to provide hundreds of people a meanwhile home, in a safe, secure, purpose-built single dwelling.’

The SoloHaus is that solution, and it is remarkable.

Hill joined forces with Volumetric Modular Ltd, taking a 50% stake in what was at that time a start-up design and manufacturing business in Shrewsbury, whose mission was to design and produce MMC (Modern Method of Construction) properties. Thus, SoloHaus was born – a self-contained dwelling, fabricated and assembled in a factory environment in as little as 15 days. The homes are easily transported and deliverable on the back of a flatbed truck, able to be lifted off and into place within just 30 minutes. They are designed to be stackable (to two storeys) meaning that small sites can be put to use to create multiple dwellings, requiring only waste, water and electric connections. Each unit provides 24 square metres of comfortable living accommodation. These are the first homes of their type to be designed specifically for the homeless, and this has been realised in collaboration with homeless stakeholder groups to ensure the design is anti-ligature, secure and created to provide a safe place.  Built to Future Homes Standards, well insulated to retain heat in the winter but cool in the summer, the homes have proven to be cheap to run – just £5 in electricity costs, and this on a card-operated meter to encourage budgeting. For the end user, they provide safe, secure, comfortable and incredibly dignified accommodation, including fitted kitchen with integrated low energy white goods, fully furnished living room and bedroom with built in storage, plus a shower room with controlled-flow shower and dual flush cistern to reduce water consumption. These really are high quality individual homes that are quickly constructed and delivered, low carbon and sustainable – and with a 60 year BOPAS accredited life span, SoloHaus qualifies for grants, loans and mortgages.

People might feel that similar concepts have been tried before, but these are very different from the recycled, converted shipping container homes that gripped my own imagination once on a 1990s episode of Blue Peter (albeit that that particular idea stayed with me ever since). They are also very different from some of the modular and ‘fold-out’ homes that we have seen hitting the industry press over the past decade or so. And one of the main differences, of course, is their intent: deliberately low cost in delivery whilst maintaining high quality construction methods, and of course, notably, being specifically for homelessness. The interest from Local Authorities and other partners has meant Hill is delivering more Solohaus than expected including many purchased privately by affordable housing providers

These smart home solutions, with their intelligent objective makes me ponder whether they could provide a solution to other housing crises. As an Estate Agent, the first that springs to mind is our general housing crisis, where young people in particular, really struggle to afford quality accommodation. SoloHaus, or homes like it, could quite conceivably, in my opinion provide low cost, low rent, affordable yet safe and secure homes – and no doubt by combining units, clever engineering-types could create larger homes fit for couples and families… and remember, the more affordable solutions that we see, the more that general house prices will soften as supply starts to meet the insatiable British demand.

However, thinking more widely than just that, these homes could be quickly delivered to provide disaster relief or create safer, semi-permanent refugee camps to replace the unsanitary and insecure ‘Tent City’ camps that we see on the news; a solution to tackle what is often the sudden need to house large numbers of desperate people.

Andy Hill… what a way to give back, eh?

 

    

 

If we want to tackle climate change, we have to talk about cement - which is a problem not just for the construction industry but also for the British government, which rightly sets ambitious targets for carbon reduction, at the same time as it sets ambitious targets for housebuilding. Cement is obviously a big deal in construction generally, not least for the production of concrete, for which it is a large component part and something which won't go away as a building material, no matter how green we get. But the real trouble we have therefore, is that cement is now responsible for 8% of global carbon emissions - a quite phenomenal statistic. 

There is hope, however, as CEMEX - one of the largest global producers of concrete - has announced a pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by 60% by 2030, and to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2050. Gonzalo Galindo, the head of Corporate Venture Capital at CEMEX, was a guest on the property podcast PropCast earlier this month, where he spoke to Blackstock Consulting's Andrew Teacher, explaining how they aim to achieve this.

Their first step has been to tackle the process of creating cement in the first place - a process which involves incredible amounts of heat (kilns heated to 1700 degrees Celsius), which logically is achieved by cement factories around the world by burning fossil fuels. Galindo explains that they as a producer have already managed to reduce their fossil fuel consumption by 50% in favour of renewable types of energy, and expect to go to 100% renewable electricity within a decade. Excitingly, they have invested in a particular company, Synhelion, which has developed solar power technology capable of generating enough heat for industrial level chemical reactions. They hope to have their first solar powered kiln up and running within 2022, and to be able to roll this out at scale by as soon as 2023. 

Another big issue in the production of cement however is the chemical reaction that occurs in the process, which necessarily produces carbon dioxide. Galindo admits there is no way to work around this chemical reaction itself - it can't be avoided and CO2 will be released as a result. What can be done however, is to recapture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. CEMEX is investing in companies such as Carbon Clean, which create technological solutions to capture and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, to then safely store it.  

Galindo goes on to explain how as a corporation they are also investing in AI technology to create much better efficiency in the supply chain, reducing waste; everything from wasted materials, which by their nature have unnecessarily emitted carbon, to wasted fuel. AI is also being used to predict the way that different soil types behave, and by studying this it is possible to calculate the minimum quantities of concrete required to provide safe building foundations, depending on soil type.

Fascinating times. Fascinating stuff.

 

To listen to the PropCast episode featuring Gonzalo Galindo speaking with Andrew Teacher, click the link at the top of this article - or, copy and paste the following into your browser: https://soundcloud.com/propcast-property-podcast/cemex-bosscast?utm_source=clipboard&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=social_sharing

Contact Wallers Estate Agents Rather speak to someone? Contact us!
Book a Property Valuation