Coronavirus. Should I be investing? Should I be pulling out of my deal?

It’s an unusual time for property, as it is for every other aspect of life at the moment, but particularly for those who buy for investment, I’m confident property will continue to perform well in the coming years.

Whilst many clients are understandably happy to hunker-down and simply focus on getting through the coming weeks unscathed, others are tuned-in to buying opportunities that may start to present themselves as the lockdown continues.

There’s talk for example of discounts by major developers on some new-build developments. It seems some might be beginning to prioritise money in the bank over their desire for profit. I’m investigating this and will be letting my investors know what I discover in the coming days.

In the meantime, the Property Podcast is an excellent resource that I regularly listen to for up-to-date, sound advice on all things property. You might find this episode particularly helpful if you’re either in the process of buying during the outbreak or were thinking of investing and considering what your next move should be:

The north’s star is rising and it’s time to invest

This year new tax changes designed to take the buzz out of the buy-to-let market began to bite and yet investors kept investing. Not in the over-priced south though. This time, the smart money moved north. 

Foreign investors spotted the signs early and saw the tax benefits in buying many, & buying cheap. Others followed suit and though we’ve seen prices climb, the general feeling is that this only the beginning.

I’m about to complete on my 4th northern buy-to-let house search in as many months. This time it’s Manchester, without doubt a city that’ll benefit most from the lift in the north’s fortunes. With really significant investment projects taking place like the £1billion injection in the airport transformation project, the new southern bypass and HS2, to name a few, it’s hard to see how it could do much else. Not to mention having recently been identified as the top city outside London for direct foreign investment projects in the UK.

Remember as well, following Brexit the Government are determined to keep the United Kingdom, well, united. They intend to do this by moving money and investment that traditionally has stayed in London, in to the many large, innovative Northern powerhouse projects that are happening across the region.

If you’d like to get in on the act in Manchester or any other rising stars like Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds or Sheffield, then get in touch.

A £125,000 terraced buy-to-let in south Manchester will cost you £30k with the mortgage taking care of the rest. You can expect a rental of around ££650/month. This represents a 6%+ yield. In this instance though it’s capital gain that should be your main motivator, as the north features more & more on UK and overseas investor’s radar.

Buy-to-let landlords are heading North. What do I need to think about before taking the plunge?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the north just lately and there’s a buzz around the northern property scene. Two trips in as many weeks for interested clients and it’s clear I’m not the only one looking. Would-be southern landlords are turning-up in the most unlikely places, drawn by lower prices, higher yields and the chance of a credible source of passive income. My enquiries from keen newcomers are up. I’ve also been encouraging my existing landlord clients to re-think their strategies and look north too.

This comes at a time of recent tax changes causing some to lose confidence in the buy-to-let model. Whilst it’s sensible to do your research (check out this ‘Which’ guide) tax surely only exists on houses that make profit; and there do appear to be profits to be made.

Here a bit of guidance and a few suggestions on how you might go about it:

‘The South’ is perhaps best avoided for a bit. There are still some places with prices rising and moderate rental yield but mostly the value is North. The stats suggest this starts around Birmingham and goes north from there where yields are higher and prices are lower but rising

Think about your strategy. Is it a high yield you’re after or capital growth? The distinction is important. I personally think a place like Stoke, where prices are extremely low, is a place for landlords who want yield, but isn’t all that likely, at least in the near to mid-term, to jump in value as much as bigger cities like Liverpool, Manchester & Leeds. Here you have desirable places to live, work and bring up a family. Plus they’re firmly on the radar for some very big investment projects that are happening too. For capital growth I’d be more inclined to put my money here

Realise the value in your existing properties. If you’re a landlord already who’s seen a significant increase in the value of your houses or flats over the past few years, you need to be bold. Look at using the equity you’ve amassed by re-mortgaging or sell one or two. Something I’m doing myself in fact. You’ll be surprised how far your money stretches in the north & a rental yield of 6% is quite achievable

£30k will do it. Less in some areas. You can borrow the rest on a buy-to-let mortgage (the amount’s calculated the rent you’re likely to get on the place you intend to buy). A house costing £120k is within your grasp with £30k and at current rates, you’ll pocket at least £250/month after you’ve paid the loan & agent fees, whilst all the while, sitting on an appreciating asset

Communications are key. While a city’s prices may rise generally, areas with particularly good links will do best. That and big business or development plans for an area, of which there are many going on now

Do some serious research. You get big differences from area to area and even street to street. If you’re short of time or busy at work, employing a property finder who knows an area or will research it for you is a sensible thing

Be ready to move fast. If you have the cash, great; you’re in the strongest position for sellers who want a quick deal. If not, have a mortgage ready to go. I can help you with that

Pay the right price but don’t over-do it. There’s an expression: ‘you make your money when you buy’. Whilst it makes total sense and I’m all about ‘the deal’, there’s also a touch of ‘you snooze you lose’ to things at the moment. You make your own call on what represents good value of course and I can advise on that. You don’t want to spend over the odds but will £127k over £125k seem so significant in five years time? While you pour over the detail, others are generally getting on with it and in a rising market, that’s where you need to be

Don’t be scared-off. Property seems a scary prospect for the uninitiated. It really isn’t difficult once you get started. Like everything, do it once and it gets easier. Do it again and it’s actually very rewarding and enjoyable.

If you’re worried about not knowing how to do it, get people around you that do. I have contacts in finance, mortgages, conveyencing and lettings that will take care of everything, (incidentally I don’t take commission from any of my contacts) so you get the investment you’re after with minimal fuss and can immediately start enjoying your new life as a buy-to-let landlord and with a new passive income stream



Planning a home build? It’s important to get the basics right

Don’t daunted by the idea of starting a building project. Writing as the dust settles, quite literally on my own home extension, I can confirm it doesn’t have to be an ordeal

Mine was a relatively small build so I opted to self manage. You may choose to employ a project manager. Either way, whether you’re a budget conscious landlord or planning a grand design style make-over, it’s important to get a few things right

Go and see the planner before submitting your application. It saves wasting time on things they’ll turn down. In addition, it sets-up a good relationship early on & in my case really sped-up the process once I submitted my application. 5 weeks in total

Choosing a builder

Never easy. Tempting as it is, price shouldn’t be the only factor. Recommendation is best. If you don’t know them, ask to speak to previous clients, visit a past project, read reviews/social media comments. There are organisations like the FMB where you can find a list of builders met at least some basic quality criteria
After whittling 6 quotes down to 2, it came down to who I thought was most honest, I could work with and also tolerate for 4 months!

Building inspectors
I’d been told councils can be difficult. I’m not sure that’s true but I used a private company (JHAI) all the same. They act as a kind of middleman between you and the council. The chap was helpful & efficient, advising at all the important stages. Reasonably priced too.

Give as much detail as possible when seeking quotes
For better or worse, I did my own drawings (sketched-over from scale drawings from the surveyor). Not entirely recommended! IMG_1677It was time consuming & the lack of detail made builder’s quotes less reliable and harder to compare. The danger here is the cost bumping-up later when the unexpected crops up. That said, you can save you money with a builder who’s experienced enough to fill in the gaps. With or without architect drawings &/or brief your builder will ask for your general level of finish. Prices, products & quality vary enormously. Do your research & try to give specifics. What exact skirting do you want & from where? Solid oak or panel doors? Metal or plastic fascias & guttering? Aluminium doors? What colour? What type of render? Wood cladding, cementboard? As for joinery. There are a million jobs for a good carpenter as you near completion. Try to get it thrown in to the quote

A good electrician will help you but try to have a clear idea of number, type & position of lights, switches & dimmers. Get more sockets than you think. Buy lights in advance e.g. outside wall lights, garage lights, bar lights and so on, & have them ready for the electrician. Try to get the jobs included in the quote that you’ve always wanted done but never bothered like hanging-up that lampshade you always intended to, moving lights & switches in bedrooms etc. A technical point since I almost forgot. A kitchen needs a 60 litre/min extractors or 30 litres/min if over the hob (Building regs). Don’t forget, like plumbers, builders & electricans work closely on things. Get them together as regularly as possible

I had a major water leak that could have been devastating had it not happened before the floor went in. Worth talking through liabilities with the builder should something major like that happen. Builder’s insurance goes without saying. On a personal note, we’re disappointed with the position of the boiler flue (outside a landing window). A result of my of sketchy plan, ignorance of building regs & not being there at installation

Think about details
Where do you want an outside tap? How will pipework be hidden? What style of radiators? Do you want pipes from the floor or wall? Visit lots of bathroom stores. You’ll get a better deal if you know what it costs down the road plus there are installation practicalities you’ll learn about like hiding a cistern in a wall cost £100s more. Some walls are too thin anyway. Sinks hang-off wall battens so make sure they’re in place before the walls go up… Yes I did forget

If money saving is important do you need Italian polished granite? Composites look amazing (shop-around). There are great budget laminates too. Will you notice if units are 19 not 20mm? Aren’t soft close doors actually quite annoying anyway? Do you need 10 drawers? You’ll save £100s with fewer. Do you need all those wall units? It’s more contemporary to have a clean wall now Plus you can personalise with smart shelving. Visit builder’s merchants. Go on the internet. You’ll find handles, pull-out bin units & taps for a fraction of the price of kitchen suppliers. Landlords check out LNPG. They can offer sometimes better-than-trade discounts on Magnet kitchens & lots of other products by uniting landlords in to one national purchasing group

What doesn’t the quote include? Coats of paint? Tiling? Who’s buying the tiles? I was nearly drawn-in by expensive off-whites before coming to my senses. Pure brilliant white looks great

Doors & windows
For large patio doors you’ll need to go aluminium. UPVC won’t support large panes of glass. Prices vary massively so shop around. I went for sliders over bi-folds realising view, not open-ability was my priority. Delivery times are long so order early. Yah and believe it or not, UPVC actually looks pretty good in grey, so if you’re trying to save the pennies and you’re going grey on an aluminium bi-fold, go UPVC on windows and get a colour match. You won’t notice they’re different.

Putting right damage
Get an agreement from the builder that they’ll put right things that occur as a result of the build. In my case a sunken drive due to concrete lorry, a knocked-over fence, major cracks in walls & wallpaper upstairs as a result of the new steels going in (wait a few months for it to settle before re-decorating). Getting trades in later is expensive. Include it in the quote and hold back money for such eventualities

Agree the price of extras as you go
Problem is these decisions are often needed on the spot so difficult but you don’t want any major surprises at the end. I didn’t escape the final final bill scenario either

Factor in blending old with new
Some issues/costs arose as a result of trying to blend old with new e.g floor, celing and walls of the room leading to the new extension needed replacing, insulating and decorating. I hadn’t factored that in and the builder didn’t point it out. It represented the majority of my over-spend

Agree what the internal finish will be upfront. Skimmed? Fibre-boarded? Painted? Mine’s ok but more rustic than I would have wanted. Is the garage door included in the quote?

They vary a lot. Neff is high-end. AEG middle. Don’t assume own brands are bad but do your research. It’s certainly worth comparing outputs of induction hobsI avoided an integrated microwave. Only heard bad things

Garden landscaping14-connecting-feature-1002x668
If there’ll be some fixing to the garden needed at the end, is it included in the quote? Can you get some landscaping thrown in too?

Remember too…
•It’s easy to get carried away on spending. Keep records. Useful for the taxman on investment builds and good for keeping you on top of your spending
•Get an airmiles/points card! You can dream of returning to your lovely new home as you jet off to Barbados in business class!
•A new home needs new things. Keep plenty in reserve and shop for furniture in good time
You have a lovely new space. Plan what you want in it or the old tat will creep back in
Your house will be seriously knocked about. Prepare for major disruption and dust. Seal-off areas, tape & nail doors shut & plug gaps with dust sheets. Still it won’t be enough though. Box-up & ship-out all your most treasured possessions
Set yourself up for the long-haul. Which rooms will you live in while the building’s going on? Where will you eat? Where will your temporary kitchen go? How do you plan to wash-up? Ideally next to a water supply. Get the builder to set it up for you
Communicate, communicate, communicate with your builder. You don’t need misunderstandings & fallings-out
•Builders can be messy. A secondhand ‘Henry’ is useful to. Portaloo hire might be worth it if you want to keep dirt outside
•Timing makes things more bearable. Summer’s a better time to be without heating, gas & electric. Less mucky too

Hope that helps & the very best of luck with your next building project

Is Help-To-Buy still a help?

Help to Buy isn’t finished. It’s just changed. And if it’s your first time on the housing ladder and you’re keen on a new-build home, you can still benefit.

Here’s an update as to what’s gone and what’s staying in 2017.

What’s changed?

The Mortgage Guarantee Scheme has just ended. This allowed a 1st time buyer only to buy a property of up to £600,000 in the UK. They needed a 5% deposit, they had to live in it & it had to be their only residence.

What remains and what’s the difference?

The Equity Loan Scheme stays & you can access it if you’re an existing home owner.

– you need a 5% minimum deposit

– the Government will lend you up to 20% of the property value

– it’s only available on new builds

– you can look at houses up to the value of £600,000

There are different schemes in Scotland & Wales, reflecting, in part, lower property values, as well as individual their parliament’s desires. The Welsh Equity Loan Scheme is like the English one but for homes of up to £300,000. The Scottish Equity Loan Scheme is available through participating new-home homebuilders on homes of up to £250,000 (£200k after March). The Government will assess it’s contribution which will be anywhere between 10% & 20% of the property’s value.

Not ready to buy yet?

You could consider the Help to Buy ISA scheme. This is a scheme to help you get a deposit together for your first house.

Initially you can put in £1000 then up to £200/month to which the Government will contribute £50 for each £200. Like any other ISA you get tax free interest on it. The Government will also give you a 25% bonus when you buy a house.

For more information the Money Advice Service offer a helpful first-time buyer guide and you may also find their Mortgage Affordability Checker useful.

Tough times for buy to let but is it time to throw in the keys yet?

In a poll of over 1,000 landlords, half said they expect to see the value of their investments fall considerably in the next few years. Why?

The introduction of two new Government tax changes designed to help first time buyers on to the property ladder.
The new taxes are significant:

1. There’s a minimum of 3% rise in Stamp Duty (paid on purchase) kicking in in April ’16TKi_Buy_to_Let_Aug
2. The removal of mortgage interest relief over 4 years from April 2017

It’s great news for first time buyers and provides a much needed leg-up for people wanting to buy their own home. 

For landlords it’s not so good. Where mortgage interest is concerned wealthier landlords will suffer most, as every £1 of finance cost they currently incur allows them to pay 40p or 45p less tax. The changes will almost double the effective cost of borrowing for them.
The new stamp duty levies add further pressure. Whilst a mortgage of up to $250k will incur 2% tax, those buying at the higher end will pay as much as 12% on properties over £1.5m.

So is it time to pack it all in?

For many it may be the end to any plans to continue to invest. Those with small deposits for starters, may find upfront costs prohibitively high or simply be excluded by lenders. Supported by the Bank of England, lenders are beginning to up the pressure by being increasingly demanding about who they lend to and the size of deposit they require.

With regards to stamp duty, higher rate taxpayers proportionately will pay the most but those on lower incomes may be able to compete, and with a reasonable deposits may be able to continue to operate effectively.

On the plus side, housing shortages are unlikely to disappear any time soon so good landlords will always find a steady stream of tenants. A few are considering a company structure that avoids some of the tax. That way they pay corporation tax and not the new stamp duty levies.images

Some believe the taxes are counterproductive and tenants will continue to suffer as landlords  up rents to try to offset some of their new costs.

The 2% stamp duty levy at the lower end might make cheaper properties the more ‘investable’ ones.  Landlords may then continue to snap them up, rendering the new taxes ineffectual as a way of encouraging first time buyers in to the market.

Many worry about both capital growth and rental yield. It remains to be seen what will happen in the next few years. It’s the Government’s intention to encourage private home ownership and at first glance this may not be compatible with many landlord’s aspirations. However, the property shortage won’t be fixed any time soon so it’s hard to see how shortages will keep prices and rents down over the medium to long term.

Landlords have had it pretty good over the last few years and the new taxes are likely to bring some balance back to proceedings. My belief is that buy-to-let still represents a good long term investment for those who choose carefully, treat their tenants well and buy and sell at the right time. More than ever, sound financial advise before taking the plunge is important.

One thing’s for sure. If you were thinking about buying in the next six months then don’t delay. You have until midnight on 31st March to complete on any buy-to-let or else be subject to the new charges.

Get in touch now and give yourself the best chance of beating that deadline.


For an interesting overview of renting & letting, listen in to this week’s Moneybox live has arrived but who might be the winners and losers?

New property search portal has just launched and the early signs are that it might be a worthy rival to Rightmove & Zoopla.

Some agents are resenting the fees they pay to ‘the big two’ and now appear to have had enough. A consortium including Knight Frank and Savills launched the new site two days ago which, interestingly, allows an agent to only use one other web portal. With fees only ever having risen, OTM could be an attractive prospect for many agents; but what about the users of the sites?

In effect, OTM will be run for estate agents, by estate agents, many of whom have actually invested in the venture in the hope that more agents will follow suit. It’s unlikely to attract them all, not least those with shareholdings in Zoopla or Rightmove.

So why are they switching? 
Well one reputable London sales and lettings agent who’s decided to switch told me “Rightmove and Zoopla pretty much had us over a barrel each year with their price increases. We pay RM over £40k a year and Zoopla £20K. With OTM, our fees are about £20K too but they are fixed for 5 years, with the aim that they will reduce once they’ve reached a certain number of clients”.
2 days in, it looks as though Zoopla’s lost more agents to OTM than Rightmove but not nearly as many as investors feared; hence their 12% share price jump.

In the meantime, Zoopla’s playing hardball. Agents report ‘unusual’ visits from people claiming to be buyers, followed two days later by letters demanding the removal of the Zoopla logo from all promotional material; a risky strategy by Zoopla if true – if the mighty Rightmove were to fall, agents will be looking for a friendly 2nd option, and that’s not very friendly!

So who’s set to benefit?
For agents it’s a gamble that depends to some degree on how well they organise themselves. They’ll certainly face lower fees, and you’d like to think they’ll pass that on to their clients (!).
Some question their motives. Alex Gosling of House Simple calls these ‘high street agents’ actions “a cynical, anti-competitive and desperate reaction to a market that is changing”.For-Sale-Sign[1].jpg-pwrt2

But blaming the newcomer for spoiling the party seems disingenuous as agents argue that’s it’s the actions of the big two thats forced their hand.
My agent friend in London is cautiously optimistic. “It should benefit the end user” he says. “There are no fancy frills / adverts / confusing click here and click there. It won’t show how long the property has been marketed for or if there have been any price reductions either, which actually often serves to put potential tenants and buyers off”.

Competition in the long term may well be a good thing but right now it’s true that ‘end-users’ are getting a raw deal. With 3 large sites and countless smaller
ones out there, it’s a more confusing and inconvenient process than it should be.

On launch day, I noticed a distinct drop in the number of properties coming up on Zoopla compared with the day before. I was actually in a village with over 25 houses for sale but the Zoopla-app only showed me three!

Aside from being worrying for Zoopla, that’s just not helpful and many users have no idea that they’re missing out on properties like this.

Time will tell who the winners and losers will be.

Remember, the best way to ensure you don’t miss anything is to use all the sites, not just one. In the meantime, check out and let me know what you think. Better still, save the hassle of finding a new home alone by getting in touch and letting me do your search for you.

Looking for quality of life without dropping off the radar? Perhaps you should visit Exeter..

IMG_3871Exeter’s a historic, relaxed & vibrant city sitting neatly in the rolling Devon countryside. Recent years have seen significant change, mostly enhancing it’s laid-back character and charm and as cities go, it seems to suffer few of the problems of others of similar size.

There’s a little bit for everyone here. The international University, vibrant arts and culture scene, good pubs, clubs and music, and as a result of it’s unique situation, a thriving ‘outdoorsy ‘culture. The Council cottoned-on a while back and  now like to promote Exeter as such, attracting people from all over the country looking for quality of living and a settled family life.

You’re never far from the countryside. The forests of Haldon Hill can even be seen from the High Street. You’re 5 miles from the sea at the historic port of Topsham where the River Exe meets the estuary, with Exmouth beyond. Along the coast to the east you have the pretty ‘Jurassic’ coastal towns of Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and Dawlish, Teignmouth and Torquay to the west. The rolling Devon countryside is all around.

IMG_3886Historic Exeter
Geography has shaped much of Exeter’s development over the centuries. The River Exe flows gently by the popular ‘Quayside’ area where the old Customs House still stands and where you’ll find bars, restaurants and independent craft shops. Though perhaps not quite a Chester or a York, Exeter’s majestic 13th Century Cathedral and Green stand just behind the main street, not far from the cobbles of Gandy Street. There are remains of the old roman wall, trips down the 14th century underground passages and guided walks conducted by the city’s ‘Red Coats’.

Exeter’s split neatly in two by the River Exe. On the lower, flatter south-west side you have The Quay, where you’ll find attractive waterside apartments and access to the riverside and park. In St Thomas, the 1920’s terraces are an attractive and affordable option between main southern arteries of Alphington Road and Cowick Street.

The city centre’s up the hill on the other side of the River. Newtown, St James’s (Football ground) and St David’s (Mainline station) provide some affordable more central options.

The 1930’s rows of Heavitree and Polsloe have proved particularly popular over the years with families looking for good quality housing stock, a friendly neighbourhood feel, shops, parks and good local amenities, including the R,D & E Hospital.

Neighbouring St Leonard’s is the leafier part of town, covering both sides of the Topsham Road all the way to the Heavitree Road. Here you find substantial houses, a number of private schools and the small but pleasant Magdalen Road shops. Waitrose arrived on Heavitree Road about 3 years ago and it only helped in boosting St Leaonard’s rep as the ‘smart’ end of town.

Pennsylvania and Duryard rise up steeply from the town centre to the North. It’s a stiff walk but as a result you’ll find peaceful neighbourhoods, great views and fantastic housing stock. The University’s here too. Students tend to live nearer the bottom of the hill. Lecturers and those with cars (!) further up.

There’s been a fair bit of building on the outskirts of late. New neighborhoods are popping up all the time like Beacon Heath to the west and now the huge project and of Cranbrook, a bold project to create a ‘new-town’ with shops, schools, community centre; even a church. It’s just the other side of Junction 29 of the M5 on the way to the airport.

Further afield & commutableDSCN0734
There are a number of villages to choose from within easy commute. Chocolate-box villages abound like Shillingford, Bramford Speke, Upton Pyne & Thorverton.

Topsham, Exton, Lympstone are popular estuary villages and prices reflect that. As well as being near the water, they have a nice community feel, good schools, decent amenities and are on the railway line between Exmouth and town.

Dawlish, Starcross and Exminster are close, or a bike ride away on the estuary cycle path, and 30 minutes by rail there’s Honiton. Worth a look if ‘small-rural-town’ is your thing.

The state school system is thriving. There’s good choice at Primary and Secondary. Some like to specialise. St Peter’s is strong on languages. Exeter School for the Deaf has a very good reputation.

Private schools include Exeter School (Mixed), Maynard (Girls), Magdalen Chapter (Mixed to GCSE), Cathedral School (Prep) Bramdean (Mixed), St Wilfrids (to GCSE) and The Steiner Academy. Many but not all are found in the St Leonard’s area. Nearby independants include Blundell’s, (Tiverton) St Peter’s (Lymptone) & Taunton.

The University, Exeter College, Bicton College (for outdoor & countryside pursuits) St Luke’s teacher training college, Peninsula Medical & Dental School and many more.

When the Met. Office arrived, others followed. Flybe, EDF, DEFRA & Barratt and Exeter University are all here and the new Science Park at Junction 29 is vying to be a major hub for UK tech. firms. New businesses arrive all the time.

There’s been some big investment in Exeter’s cultural scene. The RAMM Museum was recently completed, as was the New City library. There’s the Phoenix Arts Centre, Picturehouse Cinema, Cathedral & choir, comedy, jazz.. Incidentally, The Cavern Club has always punched above it’s weight, regularly attracting some of the biggest names in music.

There are 3 cinemas & 7 theatres (!) if you count Westpoint Exhibition Centre. Northcott, Barnfield & Bike Shed to name a few.

Voted ‘Britain’s blandest High Street’ in 2005, things have  changed a lot. The Princesshay shopping precinct opened in 2007. The 1950’s tired Post Office and old precinct have been replaced with cool glass buildings and sleek brand stores like Neil’s Yard and The Apple Store. Coffee culture has definitely arrived and up-market fashion and jewelry outlets reflect Exeter’s changing fortunes.

John Lewis is the new kid on the block. Some complain that the independents have been pushed out but there are empty units at favourable rates so perhaps not quite yet.

On the edge of town to the west and south there’s the usual supermarkets and electrical outlet/furniture malls. Dart’s farm near Topsham provides the antidote with an array of interesting often locally sourced gifts & farm produce, outdoor store, wholefoods cafe and more.

Marsh Barton is the go-to place for trade stores and car showrooms. Ikea’s on the way and there’s talk of a couple of new railway stations linking the business parks with the town centre.

Exeter does adventure particularly well. Here’s just a taste.
On the Quayside, there’s the new £multi-million Haven Banks Outdoor Education Centre, The Climbing Centre, soon-to-be-expanded Rowing Club, John Bridger Marine Store. There’s canoe & bike hire, A/S Watersports (kayak shop) & Tad’s surf shop.

There’s sailing at Starcross & waterskiing & kitesurfing at Exmouth, Birdwatching at the RSPB reserve at Topsham & Dart’s Farm and fishing on the sea, canal, river or Dartmoor.

The National Park of Dartmoor is 40 mins away where you’ll find rivers, walking, biking, camping, fishing, climbing, kayaking to name just a few. If you’re in to mountain biking then Haldon Hill’s the place a purpose-built off-road facility of forested graded trails

Exeter Chief’s Rugby ground, Arena Athletics Stadium, John Lloyd Gym & 2 or 3 leisure centres

Traditionally things have been slow to develop but local celeb-chef Michael Caines has brought new life to the city with his ‘Abode’ restaurant at the Royal Clarence Hotel on Cathedral Green. Southernhay House, Harry’s, Magdalen Chapter are all good. So too are an increasing number of small independents like Lily’s on Fore Street and Al Farid in Cathedral Yard. A ‘Jamie’s Italian’ is about to open too.

Rendezvous Winebar, Southernhay, The Cosy Club, The Monkey Suit & Coolings are a few.

Time Piece Club/Bar (An Exeter institution), Mama Stone’s (Joss Stone’s Mum!), The Cellar Door and the famous ‘Cavern’ Club just off Gandy Street.

Multi-culturalism was slow to reach Exeter but it’s getting there. There’s now an increasing diversity of cultures, colours, religions and languages and residents appear to be embracing change positively.

Parks & open spacesDSCN0783
Exeter is a green city. The largest park is the flood relief area between the river and canal. It begins at the Quayside and runs for nearly two miles before turning in to an RSPB wetland reserve, passing under the M5 and joining the estuary at Topsham. Other parks include Ludwell Valley, Mincinglake and Stoke Woods. There’s a 13 mile ‘Green Circle’ walk/run too if you fancy a circumnavigation of the city – a great way to get your bearings.

Hospitals – the Royal Devon & Exeter near the centre.. (NHS) & Nuffield (private)

Devon County and Exeter City Council share the task.

Labour have 27 Councillors, Conservatives 10 & Liberals 3.

Ben Bradshaw (Labour) is a the local MP.


As the gateway to the South West, Exeter is well plugged-in to the national network. The M5 brings you straight down from the midlands and the north. Bristol’s an hour away. There’s the A38 beyond to Plymouth, A30 to Cornwall.

In town, conjestion can be a problem, particularly at rush hour and school pickup times, most notably on routes heading west and south. It’s an old city and a re-think is needed.

Stagecoach seem to have the monopoly. There are regular buses in all directions in and outside the city. There are Park-&-Rides and buses connecting to most outlying towns and villages.

Exeter’s on the main line to Bristol (1hr) and London (2hrs 10) but connects to Waterloo too through east Devon, Dorset via, amongst others, Honiton, and Yeovil,  Salisbury and Basingstoke.

Beyond Exeter, trains slow down a lot. The coastal line to Plymouth and Cornwall is one of Britain’s most scenic and repaired now, following last winter’s storms.

Many feel Exeter Airport is yet to fully realise it’s potential. Flybe run the show with a selection of UK & European flights. There’s a new morning flight to London. Other flights a little limited. With the catchment Exeter enjoys, the hope is that we’ll soon be properly ‘international’. KLM, if you’re reading this…

It would be wrong not to mention Exeter’s cycle network here. Off-road commutes are now possible all the way from Exmouth and other estuary villages taking you right in to town along Riverside Valley Park to The Quay and town.

In summary, in Exeter you have a bit of everything. People who live here seem to enjoy the work-life balance that being so close to the countryside allows, and yet high speed trains, the M5 and airport mean that you don’t feel cut-off. Trips to London for example are easy, and yet 3 hours after leaving you’re back, and enjoying a quiet drink watching the sun set over the Exe estuary.

Scotland’s decided. What now for the housing market?

We can stop holding our breath. It seems the Scots feel we’re not so bad together after all. Britain Scotland
Big change is coming though. More devolution of powers and greater control over their income and spending seem inevitable. Even the regions are talking of their desire for more autonomy. 

So does the current state of Scotland’s housing market give us insight in to the source of Scottish grievances? What’s the situation right now and how might this morning’s decision impact both North and South of the border?

Yesterday’s figures from the Office of National statistics revealed interesting disparities in the national picture. The average UK price now stands at £272,000; an increase of 11% from £245,00. But look at the differences by country.
gEngland. Up £255k to £284k (11.4%)
Scotland. Up £183k to £198k (8.2%)
Ireland. Up £160k to £171k (6.9%)
Wales. Up £132k to £139k (5.3%)

 It’s clear that England is well out in front and continues to push ahead. Latest figures suggest    Scotland is enjoying some recent price rises but as you see, prices are still relatively low having not yet bounced back from the deep falls of 2007. The same is true of Wales and Ireland.

But should the English feel bad about languishing in wealth and prosperity while the rest suffer? Perhaps not, as many of them appear to be suffering quite badly themselves.
If we’re to assume that property prices are a reasonably reliable indicator of the financial well-being of a place, then spare a thought for Newcastle. It has been identified as the UK’s worst performing city for house price increases at 3% this year and an average price of £181k. A similar pattern is true of large swathes of the north of England. Not too terrible you might say but not good to have such disparity.

What a very long way from the booming south where the UK’s best performers – Cambridge, Oxford, St Albans, Brighton and yes, you guessed it, London are responsible for such distortion of the national picture. The average London is now reported to have risen by 19.1% this year to a staggering £519,000.

But it’s not just prices of course, it’s whether people can afford to buy. Here though, Scotland’s not fairing brilliantly either. It seems that they, like many other areas of the UK suffer from significant disparity between price and affordability.
In Midlothian, prices are over 8 times average earnings. In the apparently ‘booming’ oil town of Aberdeen prices are a staggering 10 times more. Compare that with 2003 where prices in both places were a much more affordable 4 to 5 times earnings.
Yes there are affordable areas, but would you want to live there and are they where the jobs are? Incidentally, Glasgow, where the ‘Yes’ campaign won a majority this morning, has an average property price of £126,000.

The accusation in Scotland, and now other parts of the Union, is that this southern England bias, aside from not being very fair, runs the risk of being somewhat de-stabilising. The call for an election over the matter suggests they might be right.

So, is it all bad for Scotland?

Quite probably not. EXCLUSIVE: Boris Johnson pictured filling his car with unleaded petrol
With the world’s spotlight firmly on them and talk of devolving more powers and money to Holyrood, this could be a major turning point for Scotland’s fortunes. 

This morning, Lloyds and RBS have firmly backed Scotland again; committing to a ‘significant presence’ there from now on.
Availability of mortgages is no doubt set to increase, which is likely to give the market a further boost.
Prices have already made steady upward progress, especially in the middle of the market and it’s likely that wealthy buyers will soon return too, now that stability and certainty have returned.
The little rattle of confidence in the Scottish people to make ‘the right decision’ brought big promises from Westminster in the final days of the campaign and in that respect, the Scots can be pretty happy with what’s likely to be coming their way.

My tip –  get yourself up there and snap up a nice little crofters cottage while you can. If the world didn’t know about Scotland before, then they certainly do now!

It’s the likes of Newcastle we need to be worrying about. You’ve got to wonder who’s shouting for them?

Where next for London’s sizzling property market? An investors guide to buying in the capital

P1010329It might be Spring but London’s never been hotter – in the property market that is. With homes priced at 8 times average income, last year increases of more than twice the average UK salary and 12 buyers for every  sale, it’s not surprising there’s talk of a ‘bubble’.
Price increases are big all over the south east as buyers now rush to snap up anything they can, fearing this to be the last opportunity of affordability before home buying for the masses is gone forever.

Bubble? Maybe. Will the slow-down in prime central cool things off? Hard to say.
Here’s the low-down on current prices, future predictions and for investors with the stomach for it, advice on areas worth considering and the 
types of property you might consider.

The national picture
Prices have been on the up in the last year:

South West: 5.8% (Av price: £234k)
North West: 5.9  (168k)
East mids: 7.6%  (£164k)
East: 7.7% (£265k)
South East: 8%  (£312k)
London: 18% (£458k)
Prime Central London: 7% (down from 12%) and slowing (£1.6m)
Best performing cities:
Manchester 21% (£210)

London 13%

Brighton 12% (£348) 
Leicester & Birmingham 11 & 10%
Worst performers –  
Edinburgh, Carlisle, Newcastle, Glasgow, Coventry had 1-2% rises. 

The South east

Buyers are moving out of central London due to lack of affordability. 
Predictions for the South east is that it’ll outpace London in next 5 yrs. Current hotspots are places such as Guildford Cambridge, Redhill, Farnborough, Egham – Commutable & seen huge rises in last yr. Towns like Oxford, Brighton, Canterbury & Cambridge have seen big increases too.
Oddly there have been some fallers – Haywards Heath, West Sussex (down 3%) Caterham, Surrey (down 9%), Crowborough, East Sussex (down 10%). 

..and in London?
London prices are high and rising fast. An 18% price rise in last 12 months.IMG_8385
Here are the Rightmove figures for the last year. For London see pages 8 & 9.

Some find it hard to envisage a cooling off any time soon:
– The Govt’s help-to-buy scheme has been extended to 2020
– there’s a drastic shortage of housing. (availability down by 7% in last qtr alone)
– the population is growing and London is where the majority need to be
– London is a ever-expanding world hub of infrastructure, development, jobs & innovation
– Foreigners want UK homes too meaning the UK economy is only one factor driving growth
– London’s now a ‘global currency reserve’ and safe haven in worrying times
Prices/sq ft in prime central double New York & Paris

Prime central
There have been huge rises from 2012-2014, mostly fuelled by foreign investment looking for a safe haven & drawn by favourable tax laws. Many properties are simply investments & stand unoccupied. Early signs are that prices have flattened. (3.1% to 2% in last qtr) and some predict a 1% fall in prices in the top 10% of the market in 2015. That said, contrary to what you might have imagined, the Ukraine crisis may actually be stoking the fire yet again as Russians and Ukrainians are running to off-load their wealth to London before things get worse.

Some boroughs are reported to be experiencing a house-buying ‘frenzy’. Estate agents report shortage of houses coming to the market in these areas. There have been big rises in the last year and these may continue.

Biggest annual rises can be grouped and explained to some extent:

– Traditionally less attractive & rel. cheap areas but with good transport & good housing stock – Brent (North), Hackney Haringey, Tower Hamlets (E), Lewisham (SE)
– Areas just outside traditionally popular & expensive areas – Hammersmith & Fulham (W) Merton (SW), Islington
– Areas just south of the river that are being re-generated, better connected and linked by new bridges to the north side so the Thames isn’t the barrier it once was e.g. Lambeth, Southwark & Battersea have risen a lot.

Outer metropolitan
Outlying towns and outer suburbs are attracting families looking for more for their money. They’re willing to compromise on commute for better quality of life & value for money
Areas south west of London perfomed best – Bracknell, Rushmoor, Slough. Kent too. Sussex hasn’t seen some of the rises of other areas. Surrey too has been lower in parts – perhaps because they were already extremely high

Will the foreign demand remain in London?

– new capital gains tax to be introduced in a few days for homes sold by foreigners. It’ll be a 18%-28% tax on the sale of a property that isn’t a primary residence. (depending on an individual’s tax band)
– Politicians regular talk about a possible Mansion Tax. Might be a 1% tax on anything over £2m
– Strengthening pound might make London a less attractive investment
– Company ‘envelopes’ that have previously been used to avoid paying tax will now be subject to it. Buyers may then choose to buy property in their own name but will then be subject to inheritance tax
– The £ may be strengthening which makes London less attractive
– Have the financial crises passed? Do investors need a safe-haven anymore?


– many believe corporate ‘wrappers’ are used just to be anonymous and not to avoid tax so multi millionaires won’t be too bothered.
– favourable foreign exchange rates may counteract any negative effects of new taxes
– Tax wise, London’s simply coming in to line with most other popular investment hubs like New York & Paris

Will prices continue their upward trend?

– Some believe income-to-wage ratio has become unsustainable. Average London prices are now 8 times the average wage so eventually demand falter
– tighter lending criteria have just been introduced which may make more people ineligible for loans. That said, many lenders are already complying so the effect may not be that great
– Mortgages are way more affordable than they were in 2009 (the crash) which has boosted demand but rates WILL go up and this will inevitably hurt many and reduce demand
– Help to buy scheme has just been extended to 2020 which has boosted house-building and will continue to push up demand for homes
– London is the world’s capital
– the largest centre of technology, finance, innovation, jobs etc. Will this change in the next 10 years?
– The gov’t aren’t addressing housing shortages in any great way so the shortage will continue and demand will remain.

So for investment, what should I consider?
1 bed or 2?
– 1 person & 2 person households are the fastest growing. A 1-bed appeals to both individuals and couples
– Prices are getting beyond the reach of many. Renters are having to compromise in order to keep the price down (just as buyers are) so demand for 1-beds is on the rise
– Fractionally better rental yield with a 1 bed (price you paid vs rental income) i.e. you recoup more in relation to the size of your investment.
– Many would opt for a 2 bed if they could afford it. An argument for going for a 2-bed if you’re further out of central London or in a provincial town
– 2 beds are attracting sharers in greater numbers due to high rents. Downside is a little more wear and tear.

Ultimately for buyers in London, if you’re set on a location, the purchase price might be the deciding factor.

Best rental yields
Nationally, the ‘regions’ are generally the best performers for yield. Coventry, Southampton, Liverpool, Blackpool, Sheffield, Cardiff– All around 7.5%. Basically areas with lower house prices; & University towns do well too. 
Generally the further from London you get, the better the rental yield has been. The best performing have been places like Blackpool, Birmingham & Merseyside; but it’s too simplistic.

As you move south & more so in the south east & London returns drop, but the potential for house price growth MUST be factored in. ‘Real’ yield means that the south east and London are top.
Beware the age of this article but it explains the concept. best yields in London are in traditionally less popular areas in London’s east, though house prices are catching up here fast. e.g. Bethnal green, Bow, East ham & Plaistow.

New-build or period?
New buildIMG_2685
– Low stress purchase especially when buying off plan
– Minimal maintenance
– Almost always leasehold so may have a high annual management charge
– modern fixtures & fitting can be attractive to renters
– often no chain
– 10 yr NHBC building guarantee
– a danger of over-inflated prices as they’re more popular with overseas buyers

– some evidence that period properties increase in value at a faster rate
– lower maintenance charges, shared with a few neighbours rather than a large hard-to
-manage block
– can sometimes be bought with the freehold
– on-going charm & limited stock will ensure strong demand in the future
– don’t look tired and dated after a few years.
– New-builds age fast
– can be larger with higher ceilings than many new-builds– need a more maintenance
– although all improvements are tax deductible in buy-to-let
– perhaps scope to add value by improvements/upgrades. New build not so easy

With brand new new-builds you’ll pay a premium, especially in areas where foreign investment is high e.g. The City, the West, as foreigners don’t have the time or the inclination to do work and are attracted by the gleaming exteriors and fancy kitchens.
Better deals are there to be had on blocks that are 10 years old or more and looking a bit tired inside.
If you’re prepared to do a bit of work, sometimes as simple as a new kitchen and a coat of paint, then you’ll get a significantly better deal

So where next for London?IMG_2688
– Some fear there’s a bubble and it’s going to burst for the reasons mentioned.

– There have been huge rises generally perhaps initially caused by Prime central rises but these have tailed off.

– People are running to snap up the ‘cheaper’ areas, starting with the ones with good housing stock and the more ‘trendy’ parts. Areas once considered a bit down market are now firmly up and come e.g. Brixton, Camden & Shoreditch
So perhaps the next areas are in the east – Hackney & Stoke Newington have seen big rises and look to be joining that group. Stratford too. Whitechapel, Bow & Bethnal Green look to be next on the list and have already seen big rises – though housing stock is mixed.

– Taking the whole ‘cheap areas’ thing a stage further. Harlesden & Willesden have had pretty bad reps for years but are well linked up, could link with HS2 if it ever comes, It’s on the Bakerloo line to Paddington and beyond to Marylebone & Regents park. Might be worth a look.

– Battersea is obviously going to be great but has seen huge rises already. Launch of Phase 2 is happening next weekend – 26th April. 1 beds start at £800k. Don’t think you can go too far wrong. 10% now, 10% in a year and final payment on completion in 2017. Downside – no income for 3 years but worth a punt for some. Is there another Battersea?

– The re-development of Earls Court looks like it’s going to be a huge project and be a massive regeneration. Not much happening there right now but it’s coming. This is the first. Already sold-out, prices started at £850k for a 1-bed.One idea might be to look in the close vicinity to the site – around Lillie Road. Somewhere you might benefit from the development but be able to get going straight away, get a tenant and sit tight. I might go for a period apartment for reasons mentioned earlier. 

What about neighbouring a well-established area? IMG_2684
Well if you want ‘affordable’ City then Aldgate might be the ‘cheap’ side though it’s seen a lot of new builds and foreign money recently so might already be a bit ‘done’.
Shoreditch is firmly established now. The area just to the east of Brick Lane is so close to the action but still a bit cheaper and will no doubt go the same way. 
Earls Court falls in to this category to an extent – Fulham to the south, Chelsea to the east.
Further out Wapping/Shadwell look good- less than 20 mins from the City but still rel. cheap & near the water so desirable. They’re arguably a longer term investment (10 years) as the coffee shops and bakeries haven’t quite arrived.

South of the river?
Always popular. Clapham, Wimbledon etc all solid but have seen big rises. Areas that might be more up and coming are to the east of there – Tooting is firmly on the rise. Streatham appears to be next – well connect on overground to London Bridge & Victoria. Crystal Palace & Croydon are possible though could be a while getting there. (10 yr+)

Transport links are everything
– Crossrail is the big one. Prices have already risen along the line. E.g. Acton & Ealing in the West have seen big rises. Liverpool street & Whitechapel in the east too. Anything that’s walking distance to the station is good. Another reason to look at Aldgtae/Shadwell & Wapping or Bethnal Green perhaps?

– HS2 route – Swiss cottage/Hamstead, Harlesden, Willesden & Wembley are all options. 2017 start. Completion estimated 2026.Established central & affordable? – The edges of The City to the east – Aldgate, Shadwell & Wapping perhaps

– To the west of Marylebone is a little niche of better affordability. In Edgware road prices seem to drop a touch before rising again as you head north west on the Bakerloo line. Still not many 1-beds for less than £550k

Useful links:

Price statistics.

Type of property

Where to invest
London Boroughs set to take off. FT.
Homes & property.

Buy-to-let advice


Price analysis
New Statesman.
London Standard.
This is money:

Tube map.
Map of London.,-0.1015987,11z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x47d8a00baf21de75:0x52963a5addd52a99