No space to grow? Branch out to your windowsill suggests Jessie Hewitson.
It is summer and you yearn to be sat in a cool, well tended garden. For many of us – particularly first and second time flat-dwellers in a city – the best we will get to this dream is by sitting in our flat with the window open next to a lovely blooming window box. Here are some tips on creating a mini-Kew Garden on your windowsill.
- Choose a container with drainage holes (or make them yourself if there aren’t any holes)
- Fill the box with compost and place your plants in without packing them too tightly. Fill the gaps with more compost, pat down and water
- Place your window box on a deep ledge, or fix brackets on the box, securing it to your window sill (councils and passers-by below take a dim view on falling boxes)
- Water to keep the earth moist, but not too damp. As a rule of thumb, once a day in the evening during summer is best. Add fertiliser once a week to the water if you’re feeling particularly green fingered.
- Evergreens like ivy, lavender, heather and hebe are ideal window box choices, perfectly happy in cooped up spaces.
- Consider growing veg: according to the National Trust, the equivalent of 344 football pitches’ worth of growing space can be found on our windowsills.
- Most veg will want direct sun, but some – such as lettuce, onions, parsley and radishes – like shade. Beans, carrots and herbs are all possible to grow on your windowsill. The deeper the windowbox the greater variety of veg you can grow. (NB. Courgettes needs lot of room to grow so possibly best left until you have a garden)
- If you have a small balcony, consider laying a small patch of lawn.
- Some websites for inspiration: balconyboutique.co.uk, rocketgardens.co.uk and thebalconygardener.com.
Search all properties with gardens on Zoopla.co.uk
Before contemplating whether to buy a property or rent a property, it is vital to do as much research as possible and consider whether the long-term financial commitment of home-ownership is for you or whether renting would better suit your lifestyle. There are a number of elements that need to be taken into account. This month I am going to explore the things to bear in mind when renting a property and next month I’ll focus on buying.
Most of us will rent at some point in our property journey. Although renting is often seen as a short-term or temporary solution before getting on the property ladder, for some it will be a long-term lifestyle choice. When renting, there are various factors that can make or break enjoyment of a property.
Tenants face a multitude of potential pitfalls when it comes to finding the right property, just as prospective buyers do. It’s important to go through the all the elements with a fine toothcomb to make sure you’re clear where the responsibilities lie.
A tenancy agreement is legally binding, and while landlords may make allowances beyond what is in the paperwork, they can also use it to enforce the law rigidly. So make sure you’re happy with the rental agreement and not just the bricks and mortar!
Here are some top tips to ensure you have a happy rental.
Before you start the process work out what you can afford. It’s not just a case of the monthly rental payments. You can expect to typically have to come up with a deposit of at least one-month’s rent as well as paying one month in advance. When you know your budget, make sure you thoroughly research the area as well as what is available to rent. A good place to start is the to rent section on Zoopla.
2. Hidden costs
The agent, working on behalf of the landlord, will probably ask you to pay for a credit search and other admin fees which could be in the region of £40-£100. Make sure you also consider how you will move your worldly belongings from your current property to your new one and the costs involved. You may also need to store some items, which is when the costs can start to mount.
3. Terms & Conditions
It is essential that you go through these with a fine tooth comb and understand all your obligations and those of your landlord such as upkeep and maintenance of the property, respective liabilities, renewal processes and costs. When raising and queries it is always helpful to do so via email, so that you have a record.
4. Maintenance of the property
Make sure you’re aware where the responsibilities lie. Who will react to any maintenance issues? If you think the property needs any work before you move in, make sure you request it to be done before you sign, or at the very least ask for it to be written into the contract with an agreed completion date or perhaps negotiate less rent until the issues is resolved. Often overlooked are the boiler and the windows. In summer these are rarely an issue but a few months later, when the temperature drops, you want to make sure you have a fully working boiler, so ask to see any maintenance certificates. Similarly if you’re starting you’re rental in winter a few months later when summer is here, you don’t want to find that the windows don’t open!
5. Renewal costs
Some agents will charge renewal costs for extending / taking out a new contract so ask the questions and make sure you understand the liabilities up front so you are not caught out down the line.
Look at who is providing the utilities and what the process is to take over these services. Try to ensure where possible that the services are all still running thereby avoiding set up and/or and reconnection fees.
7. Break clause
Check if there is a break clause. It’s important to understand whether it can be activated by either the tenant or the landlord. You don’t want to be caught out with a week’s notice! A month or longer is the standard notice period for both the tenant and landlord, but these periods can vary.
8. Insurance/Tenant Deposit Scheme
Tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes ensure that money paid by tenants (as deposits) is kept safe. Landlords must use a government approved scheme. Whilst the letting agent may process the deposit finds, it is the Landlord’s responsibility to ensure that the funds are held in such a scheme and you will want to see evidence that that this has happened.
Is the landlord insuring the contents or is it your responsibility as the tenant? It is unlikely the landlord will pay for all contents and more likely that they will cover any items of furniture that they leave at the property. Check what is covered. At the very least the landlord’s policy should cover the building. As with most advice it pays to find out the answers before signing your contract.
10. Inventory/moving in
Go through the inventory thoroughly. It should schedule what is the landlord’s property and it will be used at the end of the tenancy to attribute responsibility for any loss or damage and ultimately, who should pay for the replacement costs. This is where many tenant disputes arise. Don’t be afraid to take pictures of walls, rooms, carpets, etc. to record the state of them when you move in. If you do this make sure you email them to the agent so they can be kept on file.
Check out Phil’s previous tips on the Zoopla blog:
How long is too long? Jessie Hewitson takes a look
In an ideal world a freehold sale could complete within six weeks; a leasehold sale takes longer – a minimum of eight to 10 weeks. The current property market is far from ideal, however, for the speedy purchase. It is a market in transition – one that is becoming busier in many places in the country. This has meant solicitors and surveyors are finding themselves stretched and this is causing delays. So how long is too long, what can you do to prevent any hold-ups and how can you speed things up?
Some tips from the experts are here to help:
- A simple sale with no chain that lasts more than three months could be considered too long. Sales involving chains can take far longer – six months is not uncommon.
- “Don’t rely on the agent to do all the communicating” advises estate agent Trevor Abrahmsohn, of Glentree International. If there are issues that need resolving, he suggests arranging a meeting with the other party to discuss things in person. Requests or questions can seem less confrontational when dealt with in person, too.
- Solicitors, who can appear to have no incentive to act quickly, are one of the biggest causes of frustrations. Best to avoid understaffed, smaller practice, advises Mark Poole, Chiswick branch manager for Felicity J Lord – and don’t go for the cheapest.
- To try and avoid delays (if you are selling), check all the relevant property searches are up-to-date and the sales process can progress quickly. Make sure you have an agent and solicitor in place – and you’ve communicated your desired time frame – and that your buyer has sorted out their finance. “With a chain, establish a completion date as soon as possible for all parties and try to work that into the negotiations at an early stage,” recommends Annabel Morbey of the Stamford branch of Smiths Gore.
- If there is a delay, a bad or inexperienced estate agent will often do nothing and wait it out. This is less than ideal. “Where an estate agent can really make a difference here is by chasing this process on and making sure all parties are kept in the loop” says Stephen Binder, associate partner at the Grantham office of Fine & Country. “For example, within 48 hours of emailing a draft contract, call up the solicitor to see if it has been successfully received. Constant maintaining and feedback reduces stress, delays and any confusion in the process. A good estate agent will do this and if there is a problem, they will strive to solve it. They are the oil in the engine.”