It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 7

money-word

Manners maketh Man.

A well known expression credited to William Horman, headmaster to Eton School around 1600 who wrote ‘Vulgaria’ a book of expressions and sayings of the time, so it is likely that particular idiom belongs to someone else. Nevertheless it has been used for centuries in an effort to remind us that good manners and politeness are the building blocks of humanity and civilisation.

But try as I might, living by this virtuous standard and other than the occasional slip treating everyone with the utmost respect and regard, given the behaviour of some, I have come to the conclusion that manners are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

However it would seem there is another ‘m’ word that does it for many…

Money maketh Man

Let me state my case; at the moment we are keeping our head above water. With some exhausting and wild underwater activity going on, we have stopped ourselves from sinking without any help from anyone. During this time we would doubtless have been entitled to all manner of financial support in the way of income supplements and benefits, but if we pulled in our belts and were sensible we knew we could cope.

At over £25billion, housing benefit is one of the fastest growing areas of the welfare state

It just didn’t seem right to claim financial help when we could manage, you could say it would have been ‘bad manners’ and I like to think we are setting a good example to our sons.

Also during this time we have been beholding to the different letting agents we have had to deal with during our 12+ years of renting, and I say “beholding” because that is how we have always been made to feel by every agent, bar one.

For instance, the letter telling us our tenancy was up for renewal in three months so it was decision time and by the way that’ll cost your £96. Cheque sent and cashed by the agent, three months later we are told in another letter that the tenancy has renewed and the £96 fee is due immediately.

When I pointed out to the agent they had already been paid, their reply was “the letter was merely confirmation that the tenancy had renewed” and yes, they had received my cheque. When I pointed out the letter also demanded the £96 we had already paid they didn’t even bother responding.

Rude, unprofessional and discourteous in my humble opinion #BadManners

Then there are the banks, building societies, credit card companies etc who won’t touch you with a barge pole unless they can either a) make some money out of you, or b) see you have masses of the stuff that you might want to invest with them.

Of course if you move from the lowly loss-maker to the highly profitable prospect, I will guarantee you every one of them will be clamouring to reach your door.

Suddenly your poor pariah status of yesterday is forgotten and they welcome you with open arms.

57% of 18-34 years olds have had their credit application turned down (Feb 2015)

Over 50% of business employing 50 or less have been turned down for a bank loan (Sept 2015)

So here we are, people who have managed to keep going without turning to the welfare state, paying what is due and keeping our head above water #GoodManners

However, it seems without that other ‘m’ word, no matter how good our manners, we are still not worthy of so much as an accurate letter from our letting agent, or for that matter, an acknowledgement from Lloyds Bank who incidentally have still not responded to either my original letter or the chaser.

I just wonder, if I suddenly came into a large sum of money, large enough to buy a property outright, do you think their manners might improve?

I have seen several properties in my area that are either empty, run down or looking very dated perhaps because the same person has been living there for the past 50 years and I just wondered whether it would be bad manners to drop them a line, just a short note enquiring if they ever thought about selling, would they get in touch. But I’m just a bit wary of doing this in case the person takes offence at my direct approach and they may think it bad mannered of me.

Perhaps that explains why Lloyds Bank haven’t bothered responding, but then I can’t imagine they worry about good manners too often.

 

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 6

house-for-sale-lyme-regis

At £395,000 this terraced house will be another one for the holiday/second home market

Boxes.

That word is used quite a lot when it comes to houses, house moving and house renting. You need boxes to pack your belongings in; you’re surrounded by boxes for days before and after you move and if you’re renting maybe you don’t bother unpacking.

Then there are the boxes that have to be ticked to ensure we meet the criteria set by the politicians and corporations so we all fit into their boxes.

Boxes are everywhere.

“Little boxes on the hillside…

And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky

And they all look just the same”

So sang Malvina Reynolds in her 1962 hit that embodied the unquestioning quick-fix mind-set of middle America as the massive post-war house building project got underway. Whilst it mocks the middle classes for their subservient acceptance of being slotted into their ‘box’, it could be said that the same mind-set exists here in the UK; as  thousands of people accept they are unlikely to own their home, they acquiesce to the demoralising diatribe of the politicians and money markets who tell them they will never have enough money to secure a deposit, will never earn enough, they don’t fit the mould,  are too big a risk, they don’t tick all the boxes; they are ‘boxed in’.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

We need to think ‘outside of the box’ figuratively and literally.

When I was growing up we moved a lot, I remember my mother property searching. There was no internet then so it was a case of driving to the area and visiting estate agents; but it wasn’t unusual for her to try a different tact that would nowadays doubtless by completely unacceptable (possibly even an arrestable offence). She would drive around the area we wanted to live and if she saw a For Sale board, would knock on their door and ask to have a look round. I don’t recall her ever being  refused. There were even times she would knock on someone’s door even if there wasn’t a board, just in case they were thinking of selling!

But the point is she didn’t let the rules stop her and she thought outside of the box.

Which is how I feel about the housing crisis today; the rules need bending.

For instance if you were considering a level of risk, would you trust a couple who had paid £1,000 every month without ever needing a payment holiday, or a repayment plan or any other sort of concession; through thick and thin, good times and bad, a couple who had paid their monthly rent for over 16 years without fail?

Or would you trust someone who was younger, had been working for perhaps 18 months, is well paid but has little in the way of a record to show they can be relied upon to pay the same amount every month; someone who may or may not keep their job given the economy’s sometimes dodgy state?

Sadly it is nothing to do with reliability, it boils down to the number of boxes they have ticked.

But surely there is less of a risk with the couple who have a proven track record of paying their full rent no matter what, but they are self-employed and their accounts are only just starting to show an upward trend.

It’s time for the lenders to start thinking outside of the box.

The one size fits all has to go as our economy changes to a self-employed workforce. The UK population is nothing like it was 10 years ago and no matter how determined the decision makers are, our different shapes and sizes mean we don’t fit in their box.

They have to stop slotting people into boxes that were made to a ‘one size fits all’.

I am my mother’s daughter and I’ve been thinking outside of the box for quite a while.

I wrote to Richard Branson a few years ago asking him to set up a whole new way of lending to help people like us.

Of course he didn’t reply, his office didn’t even bother acknowledging my letter.

But I am not to be thwarted and whilst I am still holding on tight to our very small lifeline that we were thrown recently, I saw another opportunity with Lloyds Bank. I wrote to their Head Office and the district branch with my proposal. It was an unusual proposal I cannot deny, but it wasn’t unreasonable. However, I doubt it will tick any of their boxes.

They haven’t yet replied.

But I have to think outside of the box because one of the reasons we cannot afford a property in the area we are currently renting is because prices have rocketed due to people buying properties as second homes or to rent as holiday homes.

On average 14.3% or 1,073 houses are second/holiday homes in our area; add to that the number of houses (like the one we are renting) that people buy as an investment and it soon becomes obvious that the housing market is being driven by the select few.

Two properties I recently saw for sale were snapped up and the decorators began work almost immediately so the house is ready for the summer season.

If the politicians and banks would only move out of their enclosed boxed-in world, the housing crisis would diminish.

There need to be less standardised boxes and more different shapes and sizes.

 

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 5

whalley-lane-damp

What’s reasonable? It depends on the person involved, what is acceptable to one may not be to another.

One of the most important aspects of  my job when I worked for a city insurance company was meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Nowadays despite individuals’ behaviour and the growing trend of not caring about consequences, I continue to believe there is still such a thing as good customer service, no matter who is supplying or receiving it.

Perhaps I have high expectations, although over the years I have had to adjust and sometimes lower these, but when I am relying on and paying a significant amount of money to another to ensure the house I rent meets a reasonable standard, I hope and expect that person to do all they  reasonably can to ensure the accommodation and facilities are not below standard. I also expect their customer service to reflect the client/agent relationship commensurate with their fee.

Sadly when it comes to renting, the client/agent relationship is more often than not loaded in favour of the agent. For instance, when viewing 3 of the properties we have rented in the past, before I had even got half way round the house it was pointed out to me that I had to make a quick decision because there was a queue of people waiting to look at the property i.e. hurry up, stop wasting my time, if you don’t want it I have someone who does.

On another occasion, after having lived in the property just a couple of days, I noticed some damp appearing on the wall. I was told to draw around the area with a pencil and monitor it to see if the damp patch got any bigger. The agent showed no interest and made no contact after this, even though you  would have thought they had a duty of care to the landlord let alone the tenant.

At one property I kept a snagging list and after one week I gave the list to the agent; it included a broken dishwasher, kick boards that had no fixings so each time they were touched they fell over, a broken toilet seat, shower and towel rails hanging off the wall, light fittings that didn’t work and blocked guttering. Other than the blocked gutter (that evidently hadn’t been cleared for years) the response I received to everything else was

“You knew what it was like when you took it on…if you are unhappy with this, then really you need to decide whether you wish to stay…”

Reasonable? Clearly they thought so, but not to me. However, with the veiled ‘take it or leave it’ threat, I soon realised there was little point in trying to improve the various things that were wrong and I had niaively thought any reasonable landlord would put right.

But not for the first time I have been proved wrong and for all the years I spent putting the customer first and encouraging staff to exceed customer expectations, with a few exceptions, that level of service does not seem to exist in the house letting world and the tenant is left feeling they have no right to complain even when something is so obviously wrong.

In the meantime I continue to focus on the light I think I can see at the end of the renting tunnel and perhaps when I reach that point and I no longer need the services of the letting agent, I will make a different list for them, this time headed

‘Customer Service’

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 4

Have you noticed how the government are blaming our OAPs for contributing to the housing crisis? Not content with accusing them of being a drain on the national pension as everyone continues to live longer, they are also one of the main causes of the bed blocking problem we have in our hospitals and now they are being labelled as the house-blockers.

By staying in their home where they may have lived for decades, where they have invested time, money and love to create a place of warmth and happiness; they are being told it’s selfish to stay in their 3 or 4 bed house, that they should move out, downsize so another family can have their home instead.

The government are considering financial incentives including stamp duty concessions and help with moving costs.

Anything to get the geriatrics out, anything to divert attention away from the fact it is the government who have caused the problem by letting the financial world control our property market.

The housing crisis started in the 1990s when interest rates went through the roof and people were buying and selling property virtually overnight cashing in on the panic that ensued and as available properties became scarce, so the price went up. Then the bubble burst and people were left with enormous negative equity which meant they had to either stay put and wait until the price went up or sell at a huge loss.

Years on the prices have remained high and availability is still limited whilst wages have remained relatively low; the result is no one other than the high earners or first time buyers who are being given extra government help are able to get a mortgage.

That leaves a huge tranche of people like me who are stuck in the middle; our income is good but not good enough, we are not first time buyers so cannot access any of the special deals and because of the rent we are paying, we cannot build up enough of a deposit which needs to be around 10 or 15% of the amount being borrowed.

So assuming most families like us consist of two children and two adults, that means a three bedroom house preferably with parking and a garden is needed.

When I scanned through the property paper this week I found these:

  • 3 bed detached £575,000
  • 3 bed mid-terrace £365,000
  • 3 bed chalet bungalow £399,950
  • 3 bed bungalow £350,000

 Then under the rental section these:

  • 3 bed terraced £750/month
  • 3 bed semi-detached cottage £800/month
  • 3 bed rural semi-detached £995/month

A £300,000 mortgage will cost roughly £1,800/month and with a £30,000+ deposit needed it doesn’t take a genius to understand the problem we and thousands like us face as the cost of private rental continues to rise.

So whilst the government continue to look for their fall guy to excuse their irresponsible behaviour, property prices will continue to rise, rent will go up and the possibility of us owning our own home will move further away.

It is nothing to do with our elderly population house-blocking but everything to do with the ministers and financial houses not accepting there is a different housing landscape out there that needs new innovative solutions. There also needs to be a cap on what private landlords can charge and more importantly, the lending rules have to be changed so people like us who have been renting for over a decade despite the ups and downs of our own economic status, rent should be undeniable proof of our ability to pay a mortgage.

By changing the lending criteria the housing market will organically adjust allowing the thousands who are stuck in rented properties to buy and that will inevitably have a knock-on effect to the rest of the housing market without evicting one single OAP.

So forget about the blame game, just get on with adjusting the lending rules that need to recognise circumstances are different now, only then will we see a solution to the housing crisis.

 

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

In my dreams

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 3

There have to be some positives when it comes to renting rather than owning your home, although I use the word “home” loosely because for the past 13 years I have at no time felt like it was my home and the agent and/or landlord/lady was always there to remind me the property was not somewhere I could call my own.

But there will be some who enjoy it and there will be many who have no choice, I am especially concerned for my son’s generation who are still at school and already worried about incurring debts if they go to university, thus starting their working life already owing money to the big organisations.

So for those people who are planning to or currently do rent, I am going to be a bit more upbeat and say there is an upside of renting; the main one being you can up sticks and leave relatively easily which can be a big advantage.

According to one report, one in three of us don’t get on with our neighbour and one in seven of us will move house to get away from them.

But when you own your house it’s not that simple because as we all know it takes weeks and sometimes months to get an acceptable offer and it is another two or three months before contracts are exchanged, assuming nothing goes wrong with the sale.

Then of course there is the vendor questionnaire that asks if there are any known problems with neighbours, so if you’ve had a few humdingers over the garden wall, then you have to disclose this information which may impact on your sale.

Aside from annoying neighbours, you may have visited your area of choice on a quiet sunny Sunday afternoon and enjoyed the idyllic rural setting with church bells ringing and birds singing. However, at 7.30am on a Monday the local mechanic starts work and that innocent brown building with the chimney turns out to be the local knackers yard! But if you’ve bought your house then it’s going to be a long time before your can change things; however if you’re renting, whilst the likelihood is you have signed for an initial six month tenancy, after this time you can move out if you decide the location is not for you.

Unlike that pair of bright red shoes or that enormous roll neck sweater you bought, there are no returns allowed when it comes to buying a house, once you’ve signed on the dotted line you are committed. But renting means you can ‘try before you buy’; what is it like living in that remote village miles away from the nearest shop or GP surgery? What will your trip to work/the school run be like? How noisy will it be living near a main road even with that thick row of Leylandii?

How often has someone bought a house only to find the area wasn’t quite what they thought or the commute to work was too far or having lived all their life in a town, decide to give country life a go only to find they miss the streets, the crowds and reliable public transport?

By renting, all of your questions about an area could be answered before you buy.

Then of course there is the family; what could be better for small children than growing up surrounded by fields or within walking distance of the sea or a river. But once they reach the world of teenagers they may want more than cows and long walks, they’ll want to meet up with friends, go skateboarding, to the cinema, for a pizza. But living out in the sticks means someone is going to have to taxi them around.

If you rent, you can move to accommodate your growing family and what they want out of life.

Since moving down here nearly 13 years ago we have lived on a farm in rural Somerset, in a medium sized village that was within driving distance of a small market town and on the outskirts of a larger town where everything was within walking distance.

We have also suffered the horror of having neighbours from hell who hated children and thought nothing of threatening local youngsters with the police. Because we knew we didn’t have to stay there it was manageable.

Then there are the many friends we have made that we might not otherwise have done and we frequently bump into them and enjoy a catch-up.

So nothwithstanding my dislike of renting, there are some benefits and as I continue to strive to secure our own home, I now have a pretty good idea where I would like to live, the question is will I be able to afford it?

boys in sea

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 2

I think it’s fair to say we all like to get value for money; not necessarily a bargain as such, but recognise the money we pay is commensurate with the goods or service we receive.

Which is why I weep at the amount of money we have had to fork out over the years with absolutely no prospect of anything in return.

One of my mother’s warnings (she had many) still rings in my ears.

“Renting is dead money”

We have been renting since we moved down here 12 years ago and during that time we have paid an average of £1,000 in monthly rent, which means we have paid £144,000 dead money.

It makes me scream to think with that money we could have virtually paid off a mortgage by now, but instead it has fuelled the lifestyle of the landlord/lady.

But it’s not just the rent that is dead money; letting agent fees have also run into the thousands because with each move there has been a different agent, each of them charging a different amount and all charging a ‘new tenant’ referencing fee.

At least the government has recognised the sometimes outrageous sums of money being charged and they have said letting fees will be banned in the autumn statement; too late for us and quite frankly, it is nothing more than lip service because all that will happen is the landlord will be charged more by the agent and hey presto, the monthly rent will increase to cover the cost.

So once again the tenant carries the can.

One particular agent charged us £125 every six months when the tenancy renewed despite them taking three weeks to sort out some faulty plumbing and thinking nothing of leaving us with a broken boiler during the winter months.

Another agent charged £288 and for that we moved into a house that still had scum on the bath fittings, no bath panel for the first month and a broken shower. We also had to have the front door lock changed because it was broken, the back door rehung and the garage door lock replaced because they couldn’t find the key.

When I pointed out several other areas that were substandard, their reply was

“Well you knew what it was like before you moved in”

To add insult to injury, just three months after moving in with two ‘property inspections’ already having taken place, we were sent a bill for £96 to renew the tenancy even though there were still three months left to run.

And of course there are the removal fees that have increased over the years; so far we have paid in the region of £6,500 and then there is the upheaval of it all and living for days surrounded by boxes. I would calculate it takes roughly two weeks each time to pack and unpack, so over the last 12 years we have been packing/unpacking for nearly 4 months.

So have we had value for money? It doesn’t even come close; the rent has gone to finance someone else’s nest egg; I was told by an agent:

“This is a business for them and a pension”

and there has been no pleasure living in someone else’s house where we are not allowed to hang pictures on walls, change a hideous colour scheme or have a pet without permission and then there are the ‘inspections’ when a complete stranger comes into the house and walks around checking everything.

No, my mother was right, renting is dead money and for many hoping to get on the property ladder, they come to a dead end and as I encountered face a ‘like it or lump it’ attitude:

“…for once, it would be nice for you to have something beneficial to say rather than complaining. How about giving us some valuable information we can do something with?”

No, for us renting has been a big black hole but I hope the chink of light I can see will be our way out.

dscf1524

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 1

We have lived in rented accommodation for well over a decade, initially by choice but six years ago we made the mistake of not buying when we could and now we are struggling to even get close to the bottom rung of the property ladder. However, at the end of 2016 we were thrown a very small lifeline and so began our journey along the bumpy road to what will hopefully be home ownership. This weekly blog plots our route with stories of renting, mortgages, agents, banks and buying.

 

Moving house is said to be amongst the most stressful experience second only to a family member dying.

I’ve moved 24 times.packing-boxes

By the time I was 14 years old I had moved house 8 times; it was sadly nothing as romantic as being a ‘forces’ family, no, it was a different kind of force altogether, that failing of human nature my father suffered from otherwise known as the grass is always greener and within months of settling into our new home and school, he would decide there was a better job opportunity so off we’d go again.

I promised myself that if I ever had them I would never subject my children to this nomadic cum gypsy style of living, but as Mary Poppins so accurately said, promises are like pie crusts, easily broken.

In my defence the middle tranche was during an entrepreneurial phase of refurbishing properties but since moving south we decided to rent until we had sorted out various aspects of family life. In the last 7 years, three of the moves had to be made when the landlord decided to sell the house we were living in and the only reason we haven’t bought our own home is because of the change in lending rules brought about by the few greedy financial fat cats who ruined it for the rest of us mere mortals.

The fact is it was those same fat cats who caused the housing crisis that started back in the 1990s; the consequences and fall-out of their selfish gluttony continues to be felt by the majority of the population who are left carrying the can.

Gone are the days when an understanding bank manager would treat a customer like an individual, so too the days when self-certification allowed the self employed to get a foot on the property ladder. Today you have to have a whopping great deposit, no loans or debts and earn in excess of £40k per annum.

With landlords becoming the new breed of greedy fat cats and rental payments often being more than you would pay for a mortgage, there is very little hope for anyone to clear their debts let alone build up a big enough deposit.

But after years of renting, lining the pension pockets of other people, having to pay £1,000s in agent’s fees, house removal fees and deposits, we have been thrown a life line.

I’m not going to make any promises, but 2017 will hopefully be the year we finally stop moving and this blog is going to follow our progress to see how easy or difficult it will be to start again at the bottom of the property ladder. I will give you a weekly update to plot our passage through the mortgage maze with some additional anecdotes on renting.

I have to accept we may not end up with the house I expected to be living in by now, but it has to be better than living in someone else’s house where you are under constant surveillance by the agent and regularly reminded it will never be your home.

So as the dull grey of January once more sweeps across my horizon, I will try to see beyond the bleakness and keep telling myself the outlook is sunny.

dscf0687

 

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