At this time of year the shops and media are flooded with Valentine’s Day specials. Tables for two, store-bought bouquets and teddy bears – but there’s something that lacks spontaneity, and the chocolates and champagne may be heavy in colour and calories but they’re often a bit light in creativity.
It doesn’t mean you have to buy into it, especially if you and your partner prefer not to outsource your emotions to Hallmark. Stay at home this Valentine’s Day instead, and make a gesture of appreciation that your significant other will remember long after the roses have wilted. Here are a few creative and romantic gestures to get your evening under way:
1. Create a nook
Many homes have a corner of underutilised space that can be converted into a reading or breakfast nook. A must-have for this space is comfortable seating, whether you opt for an armchair or neat breakfast bench. Designed as a place to unwind, a nook can be decorated however you like as long as you find it relaxing. If you’re short on space, create a temporary Valentine’s Day nook, add soft cushions and serve your favourite munchies.
2. Trip the light fantastic
One of the easiest ways to set the scene without spending a huge amount of cash is with lighting, which can make magical even the mundane spaces. Avoid messy candles and opt for a string of battery powered fairy lights, which you can use to illuminate a bouquet of flowers, a tree in the garden, a canopy in the bedroom, a mirror or a wine bottle in the dining room.
3. Home spa retreat
Pick up scented candles, bubble bath or salts, masks, wraps and even a fluffy bathrobe and slippers from your local health and beauty store. Give the bathroom a thorough scrub from top to bottom and fill the room with fresh flowers, music and a bottle of something fizzy. Much cheaper than booking a session at your local spa, this kind of pamper session requires a little bit of effort but it’s just as relaxing.
4. Revamp the room
It can be as simple as moving furniture around to create that perfect ambience, but perhaps it’s time for a grander gesture. That room you’ve been meaning to clear out but never get around to tackling? Roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. That light fixture she loved but wouldn’t buy for herself? Install it before she gets home from work. Think lamps, lighted shelves, wall sconces or more temporarily, paper lanterns and string lights. Buy a new duvet and pillow set, frame and hang some photos that have long been languishing in your drawers or hunt down some vintage door handles.
5. Invest your time
Some of the most memorable gifts are those that are personalised – hand-written messages, home-cooked meals, gifts that may not be luxury but are certainly tailored for the individual rather than the masses. Even if it’s just a dinner or breakfast, made with favourite ingredients and served in a temporarily or permanently re-designed room, you have already separated yourself from the pack of usual Valentine’s gestures.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to be a matter of spending money on anonymous trinkets. Just use your imagination, invest some time and be ready to transform your home with romance in mind. Do you have any creative ideas to share with us ahead of this Valentine’s Day?
We all want to reduce the energy bills from our leaky homes, but few of us want to pay up front for making them more energy efficient. It’s either at the bottom of our list of things to do or we’re worried we’ll never see the return on investment. The government’s answer is the Green Deal: a flagship scheme to help homeowners make their homes warmer, with little upfront costs.
How does it work?
1. You can get a loan for up to £10,000 to make improvements
2. Possible projects include loft and cavity wall insulation, new boilers, draft-proofing, and solar energy.
3. The Golden Rule – Improvements can be funded by the savings on your energy bill which will cover the payments on the loan, so you should be quids in if you can find the right deal.
4. For people on low incomes or harder to treat properties there will be an ECO subsidy
5. You stop paying if you move – the loan is attached to the house. If you move it will be paid off through the new homeowner’s electricity bills.
6. Cash-back scheme – early adopters can get a maximum of £1,000 per household. The best value option has to be cavity wall insulation where you will get £250 back on work that costs around £500.
No money upfront, a warmer house that is cheaper to heat? What’s not to like?
High interest rates.
You will be charged 6.9% upwards on your Green Deal loan, plus other costs and depending on how long you take the loan out for. This means that it could cost more than if you paid for the work in other ways – with cash, a personal loan, or extending your mortgage. So shop around.
Interested? What do I need to do?
It’s early days, there are still a few unknowns and it is a little complicated. But if you’re motivated to do your bit, be warmer and save some cash then:
Step 1. Contact a Green Deal assessor to assess your home. Their report – costing £90 to £150 – tells you the most cost effective ways to improve the efficiency of your home.
Step 2. Get a Green Deal loan from one of 25 different approved Green Deal Providers including British Gas and Npower. Don’t forget to shop around and be clear about what you’re signing up for. Once agreed, you will repay your loan via your energy bill, which your Green Deal Provider will arrange with your energy supplier.
Step 3. You then need to find an installer on the government’s approved list to do the work.
For more details go to the HomeOwners Alliance Green Deal Guide and be aware of what you’re signing up for.
The HomeOwners Alliance: providing independent advice and services to homeowners and aspiring homeowners. If you liked this advice, sign up the HomeOwners Alliance free monthly newsletter
This is a guest post and written by Angela Kerr at the HomeOwners Alliance: We’re on your side
Jessie Hewitson speaks to property professionals about the art of negotiation.
Talking about money is usually not a strong point for us Brits. This awkwardness is quickly overcome, however, when buying a house – then the panic of not making a smart decision overrides our inbuilt squeamishness about haggling over pounds and pence. Here are some tips from experienced estate agents and property professionals about how to handle the delicate price negotiations between would-be first-time buyer, agent and seller when purchasing a flat or house.
“Treat the process as a business deal,” recommends buying agent Amanda Ake of Stacks Property Search. “As a rule of thumb, look at the peak price in 2007 – the Zoopla website is a good place to find this info – and subtract 30-35 per cent. Ask the estate agents how they arrived at the price: was it based on some science, and if so what, or just what the vendor thought it should be?”
“Any buyer should make their offer with confidence and be able to back up their reasons for offering that amount, ideally with comparable evidence,” suggests Matthew Dabell, director of Aspire estate agents in Fulham. “Any agent will be looking for clues as to how much a buyer may be willing eventually to offer, assuming they have offered below the asking price. If you do find yourself in a position of having to increase your first offer then try to negotiate some additional fixtures and fittings into any new price you are able to offer, to ensure you are getting the best value.”
“Don’t always believe your agent,” says the head of the Chelsea office of Douglas & Gordon, Ed Mead. “If they tell you there are other offers, take a ‘if it is meant to be it will be’ attitude and stick to your guns. If it really isn’t meant to be, another property will come along. Currently 40 per cent of deals are falling through, so don’t panic.”
“You can also find value by researching the position of the vendor,” adds Amanda Ake. “If the vendors are in no particular rush to sell, you may find negotiating more difficult, but if there is some level of pressure to sell due to their circumstances, you will almost certainly find more room for manoeuvre. As much as you want to know about the vendors’ circumstances, it makes sense to be less forthcoming about your own. Be polite but keep your revelations about yourself to the pertinent – that you’re a cash buyer for instance. If it’s the house of your dreams, don’t let it show! And don’t be aggressive as a buyer – vendors don’t want to be bullied. They want to like the person that’s buying.”
If you have a tips or advice for those looking to buy, let us know via the comments below and we’ll add them to the above.