Choosing the Best Kitchen Fitters for Your Renovation Project

Owning a property that one can call home is a dream come true for a lot of people but with the realisation of this dream comes many responsibilities.

Speaking for myself, I have found some of these responsibilities quite hard to handle. Keeping my house in a good state of repair has been a challenge for me, principally because I am no DIY expert and every time that something needs doing, I have to find a local handyman to help out.

Last summer, I went a step further and decided to attempt a full kitchen renovation, with, of course, the help of a team of experienced fitters.

Kitchen-Renovation-2-After

How to Make Your Selection

Although DIY may not be my forte, I am somebody who likes to take a methodical approach to everything I do. When I started my search for the best kitchen fitters, I decided to split my evaluation of local firms into three distinct phases:

 

1.       Local Reputation – If a company has successfully completed a number of kitchen renovations for other homeowners in the town or city where you live, it stands to reason that you will be able to find local residents who have a good opinion of them and are prepared to recommend the company in question. With this in mind, I started searching for testimonials online, mainly on websites with a local focus, as well as canvassing friends and work colleagues for their opinions on the companies I had come across.

 

2.       Willingness to Please – A good renovation firm, in my opinion at least, needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to please their clientele. Renovating a kitchen to meet the specific needs and style preferences of an individual is not an easy task and whoever takes it on is going to need to be a good listener and be committed to providing excellent customer service, if they are to be able to do a good job. To check each firm’s willingness to please, I asked as many questions as possible over the phone and changed my requirements at least twice, to see how they reacted.

 

3.       Competitive & Comprehensive Quotation – The final step, once I had narrowed down my choice to those companies that had an excellent reputation in the area and were willing to do whatever it takes to please their customers, was to request a detailed proposal for the work I wanted to have done in my kitchen. I then ruled out any companies that did not take accurate measurements before preparing their proposal, as well as those whose quotations were either too sketchy on details or too high compared to the competition.

 

Once I had completed these three steps, I was left with 2 companies and I chose the one that I felt the most comfortable with. If you would like to follow my evaluation method, I suggest you take a look at a few kitchen design ideas online first, to get some idea of what you would like to ask your chosen firms to quote for.

Drain Clearance in Ramsgate: How to Find the Best Service

Having gone through the nightmare of trying to deal with severely blocked drains on my own recently, I am sharing my story in the hope that it may help others to avoid making the same mistakes I did.

First off, let me start by saying that, unless you happen to be an experienced plumber who specialises in drains, tackling a serious blockage is not something you should attempt. The only practical course of action is to call somebody who is.

However, there are so many plumbers from which to choose, whether you live in Kent as I do or another area of the UK, that selecting the right one can be quite a difficult task.

drain-clearance

 

Picking the Right Team for Drain Clearance in Ramsgate

You are most likely going to need a company of plumbers rather than an individual so I will focus on how to go about evaluating the firms in your area that specialise in unblocking drains (what worked for me in Ramsgate should work for you wherever you happen to live).

  • Make Sure They Are Qualified – There are several plumbing industry qualifications that practitioners in the UK may hold and you should make sure that any you hire hold the relevant certification for the job they are doing. Given the huge choice you have, it is not worth taking a chance on a company that says its workers have plenty of experience but no qualifications.
  • Make Sure They Have Insurance – Any firm that sends people to work in your home must carry liability insurance that will cover the cost of repairs to your home in the event they should accidentally damage it, and the cost of medical care for any people that may be injured as a result of their workers’ actions. This is very important as without this insurance, you could find yourself liable for any such costs even if you are not at fault.
  • Ask for Testimonials – Insist on seeing testimonials from previous customers. If you are looking for firms that carry out drain clearance in Ramsgate, make sure that the testimonials  you see are from customers living in the town. If you are in another part of the UK, you should request references from customers in that area.
  • Insist on an Obligation-Free Quotation – Only consider those firms that are willing to quote prices without any obligation on your part to use their services. If they try to insist that you sign a contract or make an upfront payment before they will provide you with a quote, move on to the next company.

 

If you follow the advice above, you should be able to put together a shortlist of companies in your area that are capable of doing a good job.

Once you have done so, you can then make your final choice based on price, convenience or any other factor that is most important to you. Good luck with your search and don’t forget to let me know how you get on.

Why Timely Boiler Replacement Is Very Important

Why Timely Boiler Replacement Is Very Important

Central heating appliances may not be very glamorous but they are an essential part of any home in the United Kingdom. With this in mind, you might like to spend a little time thinking about when and why you should replace your existing boiler: do some research on current makes and models and consider the difference a new boiler could make to your home and to you personally. If you are in a hurry or you would like a quick primer before you start your research in earnest, I have jotted down a few of my own thoughts on the matter, collected over the last 30 years of moving from home to home and replacing at least 3 complete central heating systems in the process.

When You Need to Seriously Consider Boiler Replacement

Whether you have just moved into a new home or you have been living in the same property for a number of years, the following are all good reasons to seriously consider replacing the boiler or the entire central heating system in your home:

  • Continual Repairs – If the local boiler repairman visits your home so often that you are thinking of giving him his own front door key, this is a very good indication that it is time to invest in a new appliance! All joking aside, when the cost of repairs over a period of two to three years is getting close to the cost of a new unit, you need to question why you are sticking with your old boiler.
  • Very Old Equipment – If your central heating equipment is 20 years old or more, you should definitely think about having it replaced, sooner rather than later. Some models may continue to function after the first couple of decades but will probably be quite inefficient and prone to breaking down.

What a New Boiler Can Do for You and Your Home

The latest condensing boilers are very efficient and could therefore save you a significant amount of money by reducing your energy usage in the future. If you are concerned about the environment, the fact that you are burning less fossil fuels will help you to reduce your carbon footprint as well.

Another benefit of installing a new central heating appliance is improved reliability. Winters are not so much fun when you spend most of the time praying that your boiler will not decide to pack up completely in the middle of the night.

Possibly the most important benefit of a combi boiler replacement as far as many people are concerned is the positive effect it has on the home environment. A modern, reliable and efficient boiler will make light work of keeping every room in your home at a comfortable temperature and of providing you and your family with plenty of hot water, day and night.

Finally, if you are someone like me, who moves on a regular basis, a new central heating system will make it much easier for you to sell your home.

Like Style, Quality Painting and Decorating Never Go Out of Fashion

With standards in many industries sliding backward to accommodate the hunger for ever greater profits finding a product or service that actually delivers when it comes to quality is becoming increasingly difficult; and increasingly expensive. This problem extends to painters and decorators as well. There are plenty of companies that will dangle a rock bottom price in front of you to get the job but it’s probably worth it to just ignore them and pay a little more.

Like Style, Quality Painting and Decorating Never Go Out of Fashion

The Value of Paying More for Painters and Decorators

We live in the era of the cheap knock-off. Everything it seems is priced to sell rather than being made to last. This cutthroat attitude has invaded the home services sector as well with companies offering bargain basement prices on painting and decorating services. But are they worth it? What, if any, advantages are there to paying a bit more?

  • Better training – Typically the people who charge a bit more for their services are the ones with more formal, comprehensive training in the field of home decoration. They’ve attended design school and learned about things like colour theory and proportion. They know what they’re talking about and can provide you valuable guidance when it comes to your most pressing interior decoration issues.
  • Better materials – When someone agrees to provide a painting or decoration service for a rock bottom price they’ll have to cut corners somewhere in order to turn a profit. The first thing that typically suffers in such circumstances is the quality of materials. As a result you wind up with a paint job that cost 40% less than anyone else’s price but will need to be repainted in 2 years instead of 5 because they used cheap paint to protect their margins.
  • Better customer service – Companies that are sliding by on razor thin margins don’t have either the resources or the inclination to invest time and energy into customer service. They get in, slap on the paint and get out. By paying a bit more you’ll get dedicated professionals who will take the time to answer the phone when you call and address your concerns.
  • Prestige – Let’s face it, paying a little more for a higher quality service also provides a measure of brag-ability when it comes to discussing the project with family and friends. Nobody brags about their discount paint job. But there’s a definite air of prestige bestowed upon those who dig a bit deeper for quality painters and decorators.
  • Guarantees – No cash-up-front discount operation is going to guarantee anything they do. The only guarantee you’ll have is that you’ll need to redo their work in short order. Committed professionals may cost more but will typically guarantee their workmanship. This way if problems arise after the fact they’ll see to it that the situation is rectified.

Your home is the one place you should avoid cutting corners. When you make the stretch and pay a bit more a quality painter or decorator you’ll not only be enhancing the experience of the home for everyone involved you’ll also be enhancing your home’s market value as well.

Should You Tornado-Proof Your House?

Here are six ways to tornado-proof your home. Warning: These aren’t cheap — nor foolproof — methods.

Interlocking steel shingles

Ever been awakened by a tornado siren in the middle of the night? It’s plenty scary — tornadoes move fast and can tear apart your house in seconds.

To keep you and your family safe, the best defense is a tornado storm shelter — a rugged safe room or pod you can scurry into if there’s a big storm.

But there are other measures you can take to strengthen your house and prevent costly damage. These aren’t simple fixes — most involve major retrofit projects — but they might make sense if you’re planning a substantial remodel, such as replacing your roof, windows, and doors.

They’ll add to the cost of your project, but if you live in a tornado-prone area, you can probably justify the extra 20% or so premium expense for these beefier methods and materials.

Here are 6 tornado-proofing ideas suggested by our friends at Safer, Stronger Homes.

1. Extra fasteners for roof sheathing

The risk: Winds tear off roof sheathing, exposing the interior of the house to damaging rain and debris.

Fix: Use ring-shank nails or screws to fasten plywood sheathing to roof rafters. Use tighter nail spacing than required by code (typically 6 inches apart). Careful nailing is a must, especially at the edges of sheathing panels.

Cost above conventional practice: $450 (average)

2. Seal roof sheathing seams

The risk: Winds lift off underlayment (the protective layer directly below shingles), exposing joints in the roof sheathing.

Fix: Seal sheathing joints with bituminous peel-and-stick flashing tape. Cover sheathing with self-adhering membrane roofing underlayment (as opposed to traditional roofing felt).

Cost above conventional practice: $800-$1,200 (average)

3. Install wind-resistant roofing

The risk: Winds destroy roofing, your house’s primary defense against water damage.

Fix: Install a roofing type that exceeds wind ratings for your region:

  • standing seam metal roofing
  • heavy clay or concrete tiles
  • asphalt/composition shingles rate either Class G (120 mph winds) or Class H (150 mph winds)

Cost above conventional practice: $1,000-$3,000 (average)

4. Use wind-resistant siding

The risk: Even minor damage to siding can let moisture inside walls, where it can lead to mold and rot.

Fix: Use wind-resistant siding products that are nailed directly into wall studs, not simply into the wall sheathing:

  • vinyl siding should be rated to withstand 150 mph winds and feature a double nailing hem
  • fiber-cement siding is extremely heavy and wind-proof

Cost above conventional practice: $1,000 (upgrade vinyl) to $15,000 (all-new fiber-cement siding)

5. Add impact-resistant windows and doors

The risk: Windows and doors break or blow open, letting in rain and destructive winds that can lift off roofs.

Fix: Install impact-resistant windows and doors rated for winds at least 30% stronger than demanded by local building codes. Install out-swinging windows (casements) and exterior doors so that wind pressure tends to compress seals. Avoid double-swinging windows, doors, and sliders unless they are rated for high wind resistance.

Cost above conventional practice: 2-3 times more expensive per unit than comparable conventional windows and doors

6. Install wind- and rain-resistant roof vents

The risk: Roof vents are designed to exhaust hot, humid air from attic spaces, but they are weak points during storms with high winds, letting rain water inside your house.

Fix: Replace vents with wind- and rain-resistant models.

Cost above conventional practice: $1,000 replacement cost (average)

7 Top ‘Flip Tips’

Flipping, or buy to sell, buy, refurb sell, or option to purchase to sell, can make you a years income in one deal.

Or leave you so financially and emotionally burned you’ll be begging your old boss for your old job back that you asked him to put in his pipe and smoke.

Here’s the right, and realistic way in 7 easy Tips:

Tip 1. 20% return on valueYou should be looking at a 20% return [on the value, not necessarily your cash]. Anything above 30% is possibly a bit unrealistic or ‘best case’ (best case assumptions in flips are dangerous – see below). On a £30K gross profit you should come out with £15K to £20K Net, depending on the quality of the refurb. (These figures are based on a purchase under stamp duty. IN London, you should achieve much higher figures)

Tip 2. London or rest of UK
You’re going to be either side of £100K on a 3 bed terrace outside London. Stay under 1st stamp duty threshold. Buying at £90K sell at £120K is do-able – good in fact. London figures are better, and will sell quicker, but costs and risks can often be higher. In London you have a tougher entrance (more buying competition) but an easier exit (faster rising market). In most other areas of the UK you have an easier entrance (less growth and competition – though that could be changing soon) and a tougher exit. It’s rare to get easy entrance and exit unless you time between the seasons of the market.

Flip Tips Be pessimistic

 

Tip 3. Be pessimisticI’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of person, but it is vital to be pessimistic with your investment figures on a flip; likely sale prices, costs, repayments, and e s p e c i a l l y timeframes. It will take longer and cost more if you don’t think it will. We have a deal analyser that analyses 3 scenarios – ‘best case,’ ‘likely case,’ and ‘worst case,’ (My business partner is infamously paranoid). If you can’t make £5K profit on a £100K flip (or 5% net profit) on w o r s t case, might be best to walk away.

 

Tip 4. The Rule of 3

For every 3 flips you do, one will be ‘best case,’ one ‘likely case,’ and one worse or slightly worse than ‘worst case.’ Most people fail because they have happy ears and expect every deal to be best case. So on a £100K property, if best case is £30K (it’ll end up being £20K), likely case £15K (end up £10K) and worst case £5K (end up zero), then you’ll end up with around £35K on every 3 flips – or an average of just below likely case (£12K each flip average).

That’s actually pretty good on 3 £100K flips, but most people don’t get realistic to start with – you can’t blame them as they don’t know what they don’t know. Always ‘flip in 3’s.’ Of course most people make their biggest mistakes on the first one because they’ve never done it before, and then decide IT doesn’t work. THEY didn’t make it work, or weren’t realistic. Once you have ‘flipped your first 3,’ your next 3 will be that bit better. And interestingly, your ‘best’ flip will be the worst case because you’ll learn the most in the shortest possible time with the most pain experienced (which makes it real).

Tip 5. Refurb to Sell

Don’t cut corners or ‘refurb to rent.’ Someone wants to live in and love this ‘home.’ Find out what the typical buyer wants. (First Time Buyers funded by the Bank of Mum & Dad are often the best market). Pay attention to the details. Ask the Agent for feedback on what ‘sticks,’ and what ‘flies.’ You’re likely to spend 2 to 3 times more on a sale refurb than a rental refurb

Flip Tips home-improvement-420x280

Tip 6. Reward

Why would the Agent sell your property before anyone else’s? Why would they list it in the paper, or push vendors your way? If you chip them on fees, they won’t. Pay overboard on their fees. Give and don’t haggle. Ethically reward for ‘special treatment.’ You’re their favourite, or someone else is. A reality most people shy away from.

 

Tip 7. Good Deals

Good Deals find the money whether it’s your cash, the banks’ or a JV partners, an option or a commercial facility. A ‘lack’ of money should never stop you. A good deal finds finance. The better the deal the lower the risk.

And remember every area is different – some work very well for flips, and others not to – and it’s important to know the difference

Happy Flipping

Cut the running costs of your country house

Cut the running costs of your country house

Running a country house is expensive, but you could be spending more than you need to.

Know your costs

No two country houses are the same but the principles of successful ownership are comparable, regardless of size. It all comes down to protecting and enhancing your investment, and being sensible about every day running costs.

 

Take a step back

It’s easy to keep spending money on something simply because that’s what you’ve always done. If you are often away from your property, for example, why keep it fully staffed in your absence? You only need a core staff to keep it functioning, bringing in extra labour when required. By stepping back and taking an objective look, you will see how things might be done differently.

 

Use a benchmark survey

Benchmarking your spending against similar properties will help you indentify potential savings, without compromising on quality or lifestyle. The most common areas of overspend are labour, energy and insurance costs, with labour often accounting for 50% of expenditure on a large property. It’s not unusual to find savings of 5-10% per year.

Benchmarking can also highlight underspends where, for example, the house and contents are underinsured or where maintenance is falling behind.

 

Tips for new owners

Putting the right protocols in place from the beginning can make the running of a country house far more efficient, cost effective and enjoyable. Consult the experts.

 

Further information

Savills country house consultancy team can help you with all aspects of country house ownership, from daily running costs to major renovation projects.

Some Tips on Protecting Your Home

It is sounding irresponsible when they say insurance is the guarantee that you won’t be devastated when your home is damaged or when you lost it, either by storm, earthquake or any undesirable disaster. Some things can never be replaced by money, our homes are a unique and a memorable place where the family stayed together thus contain a sentimental value. When your house is destroyed it comes that you mourn, there will be a feeling of defeat, and worst, a depression.

imgresI for one don’t believe in claims, I’d rather believe in prevention. Although it is wise to have property insurance as it will ease financial constraints during loss of home, here are some tips to prevent claims on property:

  • You need to insulate pipes and tanks to avoid freezing during cold weather. Make sure your main water stopcock is always working properly in case of emergency water stopping due to leaks or breaks in the pipe. There are fitting that can automatically stop the water flow when leak is detected.
  • Look for the best contractors to fit durable and standard locks for your windows and doors. When signing an insurance for your homes, you are in anyway demanded that you take a certain minimum security for your property.
  • If you happen to live in a place that is vulnerable to floods, take any necessary advise that is circulated by concerned government agencies, never take those advise lightly as it will not only protect you from loss of property but also loss of life to the worst. Have necessary emergency numbers always in a visible place writtenimages in a very readable text. Try looking for flood risk assessment from professionals and make sure you perfectly carry out  recommendations properly to reduce damage to property.
  • Make sure you’ve got the working fire alarms installed in your homes.
  •  Make sure you are considering the soil where your property is standing, like clay soils usually shrinks when it doesn’t get water in a period of time, it will crack and will cause damage to your property. Trees can influence this, it is advisable that you get professional advise before planting or before cutting trees in your property.

 

How many property buyers are offering more than the asking price?

Around 19 per cent of buyers are continuing to offer more than the asking price to secure a home, despite signs that the property market is cooling, figures showed today.

 

How many property buyers are offering more than the asking price

Around one in five homes sold for more than their asking price during May, according to the National Association of Estate Agents.

The group blamed the situation on the shortage of properties on the market, with the number of homes estate agents have on their books falling by 27 per cent during the past year to average just 44 per branch.

It said the low level of supply was creating intense competition for the limited number of homes for sale.

The number of people paying more than the asking price is nearly three times higher than when the NAEA first began collecting the data in September 2013.

At the same time, just 46 per cent of sellers accepted less than their asking price, the lowest figure recorded.

But in a further sign that the property market is beginning to slow down, there was a slight fall in the number of house hunters estate agents had on their books, with potential buyers falling to an average of 374 per branch, down from 392 in April.

The figures came as the Council of Mortgage Lenders said mortgage advances during May had held steady at £16.5bn.

Although the figure was 12 per cent higher than in May last year, it was seen as a further sign that the market is beginning to slow.

May is the first full month since tougher affordability criteria was introduced under the Mortgage Market Review.

CML chief economist Bob PannellCML chief economist Bob Pannell said: “Market indicators point to a slowdown in activity levels, in part associated with new mortgage rules, but it is unclear how lasting this will be.”

Despite flat lending levels, the NAEA said estate agents sold an average of 10 properties per branch during May, up from nine in April.

But soaring house prices are continuing to hurt first-time buyers, with the proportion of sales going to people buying their first home shrinking to 25 per cent, down from 28 per cent in April.

Mark Hayward, managing director of the NAEA, said: “With limited numbers of houses for sale, unfortunately it means that those who simply can’t afford to increase their original offer will often be priced out the market.”

He also warned that the MMR could create ‘mortgage prisoners’, preventing people from moving home.

just 46 per cent of sellers accepted less than their asking price, the lowest figure recorded

But he added that this could lead to a slowdown in house sales, which coupled with recent sharp rises in house prices, take some of the heat out of the market.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee warned yesterday that interest rates were likely to rise from their record low of 0.5 per cent sooner than markets expected.

The Bank’s Financial Policy Committee is also expected to announce measures to help cool the property market later this month.

But recent data suggests the market may already be slowing, with the Royal Institution for Chartered Surveyors reported a fall in buyer demand in May, while chartered surveyor e.serv said mortgage approvals for house purchase fell to their lowest level for a year in the same month.

London property hotspots to watch in 2016

Finding the perfect London property investment is as much about hunting down the best buoyant market as it is about the property itself. The London property market cemented itself as the world’s first investment choice this autumn, when the value of its property stock surpassed the behemoth New York property market. This latest accolade will set a shining precedent into 2016, with a fresh crop of hotspots to watch.

Below Winkworth share their list of top property areas to watch, based on their own personal insights across London.


Battersea

The development of Battersea Power Station has created obvious investment potential in the area. The revival of the London landmark may have taken centre stage since work began in 2013, but residential spots inside the wider Battersea area, such as Lavender Hill and St John’s Hill, , have weighty investment potential. Lavender Hill for example boasts large shops that rival those in Clapham and Wandsworth, but retains a large number of quiet residential streets that are perfect for young professionals and families.

Between 2008 and 2013, the Battersea market recorded one of the strongest property recoveries, with prices rising by more than 90%. The popularity of Clapham Common has had a strong influence on the Battersea housing market, and with the upcoming United States Embassy headquarters and two tube stations on the way, with the New Covent Garden Market now in place, Battersea’s residential streets are all paved with long-term investment success that is hard to ignore.


Victoria

Centrally-located property areas like Victoria, which have an essential transport hub, have a winning hand going into 2016. Developers recognised the full potential that Victoria had to offer back in 2010 with the swift creation of the Victoria Business Improvement District (BID).

The £2.2 billion regeneration of Victoria has already left its commuter stop-off reputation in the past, with mixed-use developments, like 897,000 sq ft mixed-use Nova project, creating a welcoming place to live and work, and sought-after views of neighbouring Buckingham Palace to enjoy. By August 2014, development had elevated a typical three-bedroom mansion flat to £1.8 million, and today, the average overall price for a typical property is just over £2.1 million.

We expect this prime residential market to challenge its wealthy neighbours in SW1 over the next five years as ongoing development comes into fruition.


Clapham

2014 was a bumper property year in London, where prices rose dramatically in pockets across the capital.

The resilient rise of Clapham in the south has proven that it has what it takes to be a leading property investment choice to rely upon, with a 37% price rise between 2013 Q2 and the summer of 2014. Alongside its price boosts, the Clapham market has witnessed an influx of young buyers who hold the key to its future success: it is one of the top areas where under 35 wealth creators now outnumber the over 50s by two to one.

Since stamp duty reform was introduced in 2014, house hunters looking for a value-for-money home have also propelled Clapham into a growth market to watch now and in 2016.


Kennington

Transport improvements are almost always a boon to a property market. Like many other areas in London, Kennington transport links are undergoing an upgrade, and its property market is amassing attention in the process.

Once called an ‘untapped’ market in 2014, Kennington has now been named as a top 20 investment spot in London. Sandwiched between Nine Elms and Elephant and Castle, both of which are undergoing billion-pound investment projects, Kennington residents are feeling the flood of confidence south of the Thames.

The average property value in Kennington is now more than £830,000, a figure that is likely to skyrocket as work on the Northern Line extension from Kennington to Battersea becomes tangible. With a large number City workers choosing Kennington, younger demographics will ensure that Kennington’s Georgian properties will become valuable nest eggs that should be bought sooner rather than later.


Pimlico

The price of a central, luxury property in London is forecasted to rise 21.5% by 2020, a complete contradiction to the negative press surrounding London’s luxury markets this year.

Wealth generation in the London prime markets is simply too irresistible to investors. London’s reputation as the world’s number one market will see places like Pimlico, on the doorstep of grand Westminster, stay on course for success, despite setbacks like stamp duty reform and the mortgage market review.

White-walled Georgian townhouses, pockets of greenery in garden squares, and a close proximity to London’s political hub make Pimlico a growth market that is here to stay.