It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 11

garden

I mowed the lawn today; well actually, that’s a bit of a white lie because whilst the grass was cut it was not cut by me, I had to call on a neighbour who happens to be a gardener and luckily owns an industrial sized petrol powered strimmer. Because that’s the other white lie, the area in question could never be classified as a ‘lawn’ and even calling it grass is being generous. I call it the ‘scrub’.

Gardens and house renting don’t always sit comfortably together because the landlord or lady doesn’t want the bother of a fancy garden or investing time/money in something they are unlikely to enjoy. The tenant is similarly unlikely to invest their time/money in  something that doesn’t belong to them and they always have the risk the tenancy will not last long enough to see the daffs emerge.

No, gardens and rented houses are not best mates.

However, when you rent a house it is not unreasonable to expect the garden to be tidy, low maintenance and hassle free. You don’t expect to have the remnants of two very large bonfires where someone has obviously tried burning every bit of garden and household rubbish they could find including fence posts, chicken wire and garden tools, the charcoaled remains of which were simply left in an untidy black cindered patch. Hopefully the tree that was scorched by the inferno will survive although I have my doubts as it is showing no signs of spring activity.

When we viewed the property the agent assured us the garden rubbish would be cleared enabling us to cut the grass as per the terms of the tenancy.

After we had moved in it was still there so the agent suggested we ask someone to get rid of it.

But whilst that may have removed the charred debris, that wouldn’t have solved the underlying problem; the entire area is littered with huge rocks and various bits of household rubbish that had been slung on another dump to the side of the garden and were slowly migrating across the scrub.

I did try to run our robust petrol driven mower over it but the combination of different wild grasses including the awful Bermuda grass, rocks and other debris made it impossible to use.

In the meantime we got to know our very lovely neighbours and discovered one of them was a gardener so after a quick look he was able to offer a solution.

So on a dull spring day he soon reduced the overgrown scrub into less of a paddock for ponies and more of a domestic patch. I’m also very pleased he paid particular attention to the odd clumps of pretty primroses that have survived, despite the neglect of their surrounds.

It’s never going to be anything other than a rectangle of scrub and the burned remains can stay there for the next tenant.

It’s all part of the rental package that we have experienced

On another note, I received a response from the civil servant in response to Jamie Pogson’s petition (see Week 10). Not surprisingly they have wheeled out all the old nonsense as justification to ignore the demands of over 100,000 people. No surprises there.

Also, I see another family sized home has been sacrificed by a wealthy property owner; a large double fronted grade II listed house in Lyme Regis is being completely renovated with no expense spared including closing off the road for 4 weeks whilst the work is done. What’s it going to be? No longer a warm and loving home for a family of four; the top floor will be a flat for the owner then the rest of it is going to be four holiday lets.

Lyme house

I wonder what his/her garden is like?

 

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 10

marshwood

Housing Association new builds, but how long before they fall into private hands?

Interesting times since Plymouth dad, Jamie Pogson started an online petition to Parliament demanding that rent should be used as proof that someone can afford mortgage repayments.

Interesting because that is exactly the point I have been making for years and interesting because it has been picked up by the media and the injustice of the situation highlighted by people from within the financial industry.

The number of signatures quickly racked up and the 100,000 point was soon passed meaning his petition stands a chance of being discussed. Sadly there are no guarantees and if I’m honest, I’ll be surprised if it happens given the state of national and international affairs, but what this petition has shown is that there are thousands of people who agree and it’s not just the people who are suffering from this unfair system.

Media and Social Media latch on

Amongst the many press reports there is also a LinkedIn post from Ryan Crighton, director of Marketing at Aberdein Considine, a Scottish law firm, and he states renting a property is now more expensive than paying a mortgage; the last time renting was the cheaper option was back in 2008. Whilst he is applying this to Scotland, I am confident it also applies south of the border.

The London Metro picked it up and published a comment from Mark Homer of Progressive Property in Peterborough who said ‘lenders should be more intelligent about it…they are simplistic in their approach’.

Prudential Regulation Authority

A friend of mine who signed the petition told me I was on a hiding to nothing because it was not within the government’s remit to change things; it has to be the lending houses who make the decision. But it seems this may not be the case; it is the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) created under the Financial Services Act 2012 as part of the Bank of England, who are responsible for and regulate the financial institutions. The Bank of England is owned by the government.

The PRA was set up in the wake of the 2008 financial crash that happened due to the greed of those same institutions. But now, some 8 years on, the archaic rules are too prohibitive and have gone too far the other way preventing 100s if not 1,000s of people from getting a mortgage.

A nation of shopkeepers? No, a nation of no-hopers

It seems obvious to me that given the massive increase in the number of people renting, this level of financial commitment is absolute proof you can pay a mortgage.

I keep being told the UK is moving away from a nation of home-owners to a nation of renters and the government is encouraging local authorities to increase building of homes to rent.

But that is not the answer.

We are not turning into a nation of renters, we are becoming a nation of those who have and those who have not and it is being made worse by government short term goals and human greed.

As fewer people are able to get a mortgage, those people who can are snapping up properties the moment they come on the market, giving them a quick coat of paint then renting them out at extortionate prices to finance their pension pot.

The net result is property prices keep rising, supply dwindles, property owners increase their property portfolio, the average person can’t get a mortgage so have to rent, often a sub-standard house and their rent is funding the landlord’s next property purchase.

A never ending circle.

There is only one solution; the PRA has to adjust the lending rules allowing rental payments to be used as proof of ability to pay a mortgage, this will open up a large bank of people who will become house buyers. The rental market will become less popular therefore rent will go down and/or the landlord will sell the property. Those people who want to move onto or up the property ladder or downsize will be able to because there will be more available properties to buy.

Property investors are capitalising  on the misfortune of others, the trend needs to be reversed.

The Saffron Building Society were offering ‘Rent-to-Buy’ mortgages back in 2011. They were unable to tell me anything about this product or why they stopped selling it, perhaps it’s time to take another look at it.

With so many people agreeing the lending rules need to change, to me it’s a no-brainer and the thought that there could ever be a possibility I will never own my home fills me with despair.

The rules need changing. End of.

 

 

 

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 9

dscf2146

I’ve been suffering from déjà vu this week. It happens a lot when you rent, or at least it does to me.

My son has been asking for a pet; perhaps not every waking hour, but certainly at every opportunity. From the moment he comes down to breakfast to last thing at night. There is a certain tone he uses so I can predict what it is he’s going to ask “can I have a pet” and when I say no, he asks why. It has reached the stage where I have a stock reply,

“For the same reasons that I gave earlier/this morning/last night/yesterday/last week/last year”

You’d have thought he would have got the message by now but perhaps he thinks the constant asking will wear me down until I relent.

The Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA) estimates 40% of the UK households have a pet & the pet population stands at around 57 million

Of course it does wear me down, sometimes I despair especially if it has been a long day and all I want to do is collapse. It also makes me feel like the meanest most unkind mother in the universe. Particularly when he reminds me that I grew up with a menagerie including chickens at one point. Reassuring him that I would love to have pets, including chickens and when we have our own house we will, simply doesn’t wash.

Because I’ve been saying it for years and he’s been asking for years.

Because that has always been one of the many restrictions placed on us as tenants renting from private landlords. All they are thinking about is the next tenant, how quickly they can move them in after the old tenant has gone and how little work they want to have to do.

Our current tenancy stipulates:

Not to keep any cats or dogs on the property. Not keep any other pet, animal, bird, reptile, fish, insects or the like on the Property, without the landlord’s consent

A previous tenancy stated:

Not to keep or allow to be kept on the Property of any part thereof any animal, bird, fish or reptile without the written permission of the landlord

Looking back at our other tenancy agreements they all say the same thing and every time my son asks me if he can have a pet, I repeat this mantra

We are not allowed

We did have a gerbil once, the same son was so desperate and at the time we thought our days of renting were numbered, so it was a good idea to test my son’s animal responsibility ready for the pet proper. But gerbils aren’t much fun and anyway he didn’t live long.

The RSPCA says: Dogs and children can be great friends and having a dog can help children develop kindness, understanding and respect for living things. Dog companionship can improve a child’s social skills with people and caring for a pet can encourage responsibility

There are many people who say ‘oh but it’s not the bricks and mortar, it’s the people, it’s enjoying your family and not thinking about never being able to call it your home’. But to every one of you who say that, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

We have no memories of ‘remember when H first climbed those stairs’ or ‘remember when J used to make a camp in there’. Our memories are of each problem in each house, of each move, of every unreasonable landlord or agent and of every pet we have never been allowed to own.

But at least one of my repeated chants has seen a change this week. There’s a government petition ‘Making paying rent enough proof that you are able to meet mortgage repayments’ which as you will know if you’ve read my previous posts, is something I have been saying for years. There were over 120,000 signatures as of 4 March which means it has at least jumped through one hoop.

But I have the feeling my pet déjà vu will continue for a while longer.

Here is the petition if you would like to sign it https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/186565

 

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It’s your move, or more likely mine. Week 8

lloyds

How would you feel if you’ve been working your socks off to keep the wolf from the door  and done everything you possibly can to try and secure a mortgage only to discover there are thousands of people being given preferential treatment allowing them to buy their home?

I’m pretty sure you’d be annoyed.

I learned this week that the government’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme is being actively promoted once more.

To say I was “annoyed” would be a bit of an understatement; I was furious, outraged, fuming and any other adjective you can attribute to my anger.

Who in their tiny miniscule minds thought the Right to Buy scheme was a good idea? It has to have been one of the stupidest and most unfair government policy ever. That’s not even taking into account the depletion of council house stock that has never been replaced and has therefore been a major contributor to the housing crisis.

The civil servant who came up with the idea and the minister who pushed it through are clearly as thick as two short planks and living in cloud cuckoo land.

If you’ve been following my weekly blog, you will know why we cannot get a mortgage at the moment i.e. it is due to the unreasonably restrictive lending rules that were altered following the financial meltdown caused by the banks themselves.

However, if you live in a council house ergo you are likely to be on a low income, possibly with financial challenges, you will be given the right to buy that house. Not at the market value, but with a discount of up to £103,900

It beggars belief.

Here we are, doing everything we can to keep our heads above water, paying an extortionate rent to a private landlord, claiming nothing in social welfare benefits, but cannot get a mortgage.

You couldn’t make it up.

The government Right To Buy website prompts

Why you might like to buy

Your home could be a valuable asset for you and your family and an investment for the future. Home ownership could give you more freedom to make the changes you want to your home. This could be your first step on the property ladder.

To justify their stupidity, the government state:

The money raised through extra sales since April 2012 goes towards building new affordable homes for rent.

More than 60,000 households have taken up their Right to Buy since discounts were increased. Money raised through extra sales is now going towards building new affordable homes for rent.

Which we all know is cobblers. Then they decide to make it even easier for council tenants:

Recent Changes

From May 2015, the eligibility criteria has been reduced from five years public sector tenancy to three. This means you now have to be a tenant for three years instead of five before you can apply to buy your home

Not content with favouring this demographic, the government is making a controversial addition they have slipped into the small print of the white paper. They want to include properties that are being built by ‘arms length’ building companies; this was a way round financial restraints put on local councils. So far these developments have been exempt from the Right to Buy fiasco, but for some unfathomable reason the government want them included.

Around 40% of Right to Buy homes end up in the hands of private landlords rather than owner/occupier which was an obvious consequence.

Why can’t anyone see this entire system is not only counterproductive but it is fuelling the housing crisis.

What is more, why on earth should council tenants be given over £100,000 to buy a house and just a few years later sell the property for an enormous profit and yet people like us are being prevented from even getting a mortgage?

Unfair? I’d say it’s bordering on illegal.

Anyway, I at least had a reply from Lloyds Bank this week, rather frustratingly on the same day I sent my chaser which meant I wasted a stamp, but at least they replied.

Sadly the response did not contain what I had hoped, in fact it created another frustration. They informed me that they do not own the property that is occupied by the local branch and because of data protection they are not permitted to tell me who does. They go on to assure me they will forward my correspondence to that organisation, but I won’t hold my breath.

I can go to the online Land Registry property search and for £3 receive a brief report telling me who owns the site. But time is ticking and I don’t want to miss the opportunity so I shall ask around to see if anyone knows.

But perhaps I’ve got it all wrong, maybe I should apply for a council house, live there for three years, buy it then sell raking in the huge profit. But that wouldn’t be right or fair would it?

 

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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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