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Keeping in Touch

Winter 2011 Newsletter

At last, the schools conundrum solved Yoga, cruising and letting Big projects affecting Oxford


Welcome Common sense tells us that in a service business the quality of your people defines your reputation more than anything else. We have always tried to find the best people and help them grow in the best roles for them. It is therefore a delight to receive a National Training Award and for our heavy and creative investment in training to be recognised (pages 4-5). This goes to the heart of the Finders Keepers point of difference: good staff behaving in a professional way and developing within the company. It speaks volumes about our industry’s approach to training that no other agent has won such an award in the past five years. This is despite the high volume of new letting legislation throughout the last 10 years, which requires constant re-education. As red tape and customer expectations rise inexorably, only persistent, sharp training can help letting and property management experts stay on top of their game. Innovation pushes our game forward, but it is easy to talk about innovating and harder to deliver. Good ideas require the catalysts of stubbornness and lateral thinking. We have worked our socks off to deliver true innovation for 2011: New schools catchment areas: we believe we are the first agent in Britain to define the catchment areas of which schools a home is in. Currently, most sites tell you how far away a school is, which is misleading and irrelevant if you are ineligible to apply. We have the catchment areas of schools, Ofsted Reports and academic results for all Oxfordshire homes accessible via the property pages on finders.co.uk. New language Renting Guides: our new guides in 10 languages help customers from abroad grapple with the intricacies of the UK private rental sector. See finders.co.uk/tenants. New landlord Club FK card: to follow our successful tenant card, our new ClubFK card for landlords entitles clients to offers from selected partners. See pages 10-11. New Navigator Area Guides: our bespoke, subjective guides to help those new to the area understand the character of each town and the main villages. The guides are slightly tongue-in-cheek as page 9 illustrates. New search filtering: there are some great property search sites around, but we would like to think our new ‘instant-filters’ progress property search slightly. Have a play at finders.co.uk. Property Intelligence 2011: in its second year we aim to grow this unique seminar in range and depth. See opposite. 2011 will be an interesting year for letting. Against the upsurge in rental demand (mainly caused by firsttime buyer problems) we have the VAT increase, public sector cuts taking hold and inflation outstripping earnings growth. Our skill at setting rents will be fundamental this year. Our overwhelming mission remains to deliver our landlords the best tenants at the best price and to provide the best homes in the market for our tenants – all with the minimum of melodrama. We look forward to working with you.

Chairman NORTH OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 311011 EAST OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 200012 CENTRAL OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 297999 AbiN Abi NgDON DON:: 01235 535454

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Property Intelligence 2011 All clients welcome All our landlords and business partners are cordially invited to Property Intelligence 2011 on Thursday 31st March in central Oxford. We will send more information and the venue details in due course. The aim is to give landlords further insight into the private rental sector, issues affecting Oxfordshire, investment opportunities and wider economic trends. Book your place via vlyall@finders.co.uk, 01865 302341 We have two headline acts: Justin Urquhart Stewart – Seven Investment Management – one of the most quoted economic commentators in Britain A developer round table including representatives from Berkeley Homes, Cranbourne Homes and Thomas Homes. The event is held in partnership with the accountants and business advisers Critchleys.

Property Intelligence 2010

We held the first Property Intelligence event at Rhodes House in March 2010, where over a hundred people enjoyed some short, sharp presentations and prolonged ‘ask the experts’ sessions.

How to be a successful Letting Only Landlord

Nick Sharland of Bricks & Mortar entertains the Letting Only audience

We had a good turnout at Lady Margaret Hall in October 2010 at our specialist Letting Only event. The aim was to update our valued Letting Only customers on market trends, legislative changes, all things TDS and more. The format seemed to work and initial feedback was very positive.

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Training investment wins praise: a special award We are delighted to report that our serious investment in training has been recognised with a National Training Award. Finders Keepers is the first letting agent in the South East ever to gain a NTA. It is also the first letting or estate agent in five years to gain such an award in the UK. The NTAs are arguably the most prestigious training awards in the country. The scheme is the government’s key tool to stimulate and reward excellence in training and people development. Importantly, the awards go across every sector, not just property, and so avoid some of the conflicts of interest inherent in any single-sector awards scheme. We are especially delighted since the award recognises FK’s ethos of developing its people. For many letting agents good training is a road less travelled, perhaps since it requires time, energy, money and creativity.

At Finders Keepers we start with the rationale that a service firm can only be as good as its people and our actions support this: Huge investment in 2010/11 in NFOPP Technical Award qualifications with 26 people already qualified and a further 12 people half way-through We were the first agent in our market to gain Investor in People status Each person has a 1:1 training needs analysis interview Each person receives a bespoke training plan Constantly evolving training modules with internal and external trainers Innovative ‘away-days’ for each department In-depth appraisals

November 2010 concentration: intense NFOPP Technical Award training in the North Oxford office

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter


Finders Keepers: the first estate or letting agent in five years to win an NTA

The National Training Awards: a tough process The submission process was, in a word, brutal: 1. The questionnaire demanded condensing three years of training. Every statement required evidence. One question was 300 words long, but we were only permitted to use 350 words to answer it! 2. Two judges visited our office. First, two directors were interviewed, then several members of staff were questioned separately. 3. The judges sifted through a mountain of paperwork: they wanted to see every training plan, training feedback form, details of each training module and calculations of how the impact of the training was measured. 4. We made the final in October. We watched companies including Legoland and Southeast Trains win awards in the Large Employer category. 5. Finally, our name was read out: Finders Keepers - Winners of a South East Regional Award, one of only two firms in the whole of South East England to gain such a trophy.

Our HR guru, Maryse Davies, at the ceremony

The Judges considered this to be a very interesting entry and were impressed at the on-site visit that the training has had a really impressive impact. National Training Award – Judges’ Comments

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The great new finders.co.uk

Our new website: your competitive advantage Norman Mailer compared writing a book to giving birth. Underneath his desire to shock is a vital point: major creative projects do not come easy. Doing something great is a labour of love, often with a painful gestation, unforeseen complications and panic as the dénouement looms.

With this in mind, please meet finders.co.uk, the gorgeous new addition to the Finders Keepers family, weighing in at 22,000+ visits a month, exceptionally advanced for her (his?) tender age and thankfully looking nothing like the parents. We hope you enjoy the site: feedback welcome at marketing@finders.co.uk.

1. The best pound-for-pound search in the UK? ‘Pound-for-pound’ is a boxing term used to compare fighters of different weights and we believe our search mechanism is highly effective for a company with only eight offices. Highlights include: A) instant filters with no page reloading; B) your selected filters displayed clearly; C) postcode search if you prefer; D) sort by price or available date; E) results in list, thumbnail or map view; F) store in shortlist or book a viewing.

C

E

A

B

D

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter

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The great new finders.co.uk

2. Market 1st – School Catchment Areas Most sites list the distance to schools, which is useless and misleading since you might be ineligible. Now, for Oxfordshire homes, we list the catchment area schools, irrespective of distance. Click to see Ofsted Reports and DfES academic data.

3. New marketing data for your properties In financial statements, click “Show marketing data” to see key popularity data for your to-let properties from finders.co.uk: the – ‘Click-Through Rate’ (the % of search result listings which result in ‘Full Details’ being viewed) and email leads.

4. Better financial statements It is easier to flick between statements for different properties: select all your portfolio or just one property. Click out of the results for one home and move on to the next.

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The great new finders.co.uk

5. More information for each home Serious debate has led to an elegant page: larger photos; new parking information; council tax area, band and price; currency converter; Google Street View; and our unique Navigator area guides for that personal touch.

6. Market 1st – Renting FAQ in 10 languages Our homes attract people from all over the world. To help our tenants, we have written a Renting FAQ guide to how letting works in the UK, and we have translated it into Arabic, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter


The great new finders.co.uk

7. Market 1st – New Navigator Area Guides

Applicants want to know what an area is like to live in. Enter our new Navigator guides, which are our subjective view on an area and include: a history; comparison to a celebrity and type of party; top villages; family days out; culture outlets; restaurants; sport; and walks.

One of our area descriptions Jericho 80 word description of the town or area

In the 18th and 19th centuries the houses in Jericho lacked even basic drainage. As a result, most of the area was little more than a squalid slum. Nowadays,as a result of its convenient location close to the city centre, Jericho has become a desirable area for young professionals. It often featured in the Inspector Morse series. The impressive offices of Oxford University Press dominate Walton Street, which runs through Jericho from one end to the other. It is lively during the day and even more so at night as it attracts numerous visitors to its arthouse cinema, salsa at Freud’s and many restaurants.

The town’s personality in three words

Vibrant, bohemian, cool

If the town were a celebrity, it would be…

Kate Moss

If the town put on a party, the party would be…

A Mardi Gras celebration

Famous residents or ex-residents

Tolkien’s writers’ group, ‘The Inklings’ regularly met at The Eagle & Child

8. Ask an Expert In the private landlord section, clients can send us a question and we’ll post a response if we think it helpful for the wider landlord audience.

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How will you invest in 2011? Come to our free advice clinic Yields increase when prices dip and rents stay robust. Smart investors can take advantage.

Call 01865 302341 to book your free appointment or email vlyall@finders.co.uk The clinics are held in our North Oxford office and are 1:1 with an experienced advisor. See Pages 12 & 13 for more details on our expertise.

Sat F5ULLFeb Sat 12 Feb NORTH OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 311011 EAST OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 200012 CENTRAL OXFORD OXFORD:: 01865 297999 AbiNgDON:: 01235 535454 AbiNgDON

Sat 19 Feb Sat 26 Feb bANbuRy: 01295 276766 bANbuRy: biCESTER bi CESTER:: 01869 329530 WiTNE TNEy y: 01993 700150 FK STuDENT LETT ETTiiNg: 01865 260111


Introducing …….

The ClubFK Card Exclusively for landlords We are delighted to announce the launch of the Club FK card for landlords. It entitles you to offers from and introductions to a range of high quality professional partners, specially selected for current Finders Keepers’ landlords with managed properties.

ClubFK

offers and experiences

This card entitles Finders Keepers landlords to special offers from selected partners.

Our exclusive launch partners encompass: Legal • Accountancy • Taxation • Insurance products • Financial Services • IT advice and computer hardware • Vehicle Leasing …. and more To see the current list of partner offers: - Log in finders.co.uk, as you would to check your accounts. If you are unsure how to do this, speak to your contact at Finders Keepers. - The ClubFK page is in the left margin. - Landlords can also take advantage of the tenant Club FK partners listed on finders.co.uk/tenants.

Access your offers Log-in at finders.co.uk to see your landlord offers. You can also experience tenant offers, see finders.co.uk/tenants. Scan this code with a ‘QR reader’ app on your phone and the page will appear.

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The Searchers Finders Keepers Investment and Acquisition is headed up by Director Frank Webster and Associate Director Simon Tyrrell. It’s the Finders in Finders Keepers. We are the only search and acquisition service in Oxfordshire whose advice is founded on decades of letting and management expertise. The benefits for clients are clear. From the initial meeting we give the most robust advice available about a property’s target letting market and predicted rental income to help clients succeed in their financial goals, avoiding the mistakes into which less rigorous investors fall.

Frank Webster

Acquiring a property is only the first step. Our different skills work in tandem for many clients, from renovation with Bricks & Mortar, our building division; and furnishing with Decorum Interiors; to letting and management through one of our eight offices.

Simon Tyrrell

These three recent case studies briefly illustrate how we tailor our strategy to suit the individual client’s needs. The investment section on finders.co.uk gives more detail.

To make an appointment, or to discuss your objectives, contact: Frank Webster 01865 302308 or Simon Tyrrell 01865 200012.

The brief was to acquire an easy-to-let, low-maintenance apartment for future occupation during retirement. A two-bedroom home in a five-year-old North Oxford development, popular with tenants, was ideal. It is a high quality build by a well-regarded developer and a substantial price reduction was negotiated.

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter


Reinvestment of residual funds from a larger property sale, in a flexible location, for future pension income was the brief. An excellent value, new-build, first-floor, spacious apartment in popular Woodstock with light east-west orientation and lovely views was identified. The apartment wasn’t openly marketed. It cost 60% less than an equivalent in North Oxford.

Quite a specific brief: a central Oxford freehold property for longer term capital gain and ready to let. This one-bedroom, split-level, mews-style house was purchased before hitting the open market from an existing client who wanted to free up capital for a move to Australasia. The tenant remained in-situ and all the contents were included in the price, including Decorum Interiors.

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Quarter 4 2010 – an unusually busy market Although the Comprehensive Spending Review was launched in October, its recommendations did not come into force in the last quarter of 2010. The result was three months of good tenant demand and an increase in stock levels. Trends experienced across eight specialist letting offices include: More stock from failed sales The increase in available property was welcome and more subtle than in 2008 / 9 when a flood of failed sales drowned the rental market. The trickle of new property was invariably from unsold property where owners feel satisfied they “at least gave it a go” over the summer months.

Demand is solid with larger houses letting unusually well With the local economy performing well, fears about 2011’s lack of growth on hold and the

Photo 1

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter

media full of ‘rent increasing’ stories, tenant demand was very solid in Quarter 4 with property of all shapes and sizes moving swiftly off the market. The ‘let on 1st viewing’ tag became more prevalent as applicants had to make decisions or miss out. Our average rent across eight offices is up 2% year-on-year (note: this includes many properties which have not been re-let in the past 12-24 months). An apt story is a Dorchester home on with multiple agents. We organised viewings, referencing and tenancy agreement signing in 48 hours and the tenant moved in within the week, just before Christmas. Decisiveness succeeds.


Photo 2

Photo 3

A big difference in 2010 was the high volume of larger properties (over £1000 pcm) let in Quarter 4 against previous years (double for our Abingdon and Banbury offices, quadruple for our Witney office). Traditionally rural family homes and winter letting do not mix well. A smorgasbord of factors created this year’s demand: corporate relocation, sold-and-renting, escaping London, migrating back to the UK, deciding to rent for a while and upsize. Photo 1 is a house near Charlbury with a lodge and a case in point. The two separate sets of tenants moved out of London to the property at the same time to try-before-they-buy. They have both then sold in London, bought in the Cotswolds and moved out in Quarter 4 to their next chapter. Group dynamics at work? Photos 2 and 3 show other examples let in the £2000 to £3000 bracket near Burford and Chesterton respectively.

Furnished properties inside Oxford move fast… City centre tenants tend to travel light and do not pack furniture. The better the furnishing, the better the tenant, and Photo 4 is a good case study. Furnished by Decorum Interiors, this very smart 2-bedroom duplex overlooking the canal was marketed for £1695 and let well – a decent rent for a 2-bedroom home.

…but outside Oxford furnished properties are hard work After October furnished properties outside Oxford suddenly became much harder to let than unfurnished homes. Normally younger tenants don’t mind furnished properties, but not in 2010.

Photo 4

The cause? Perhaps the (inaccurate) perception that unfurnished properties are cheaper.

Students are more responsible than stereotypes suggest Undergraduates spent Quarter 4 soaking in negative national publicity, but in our humble letting and property management world the news was good. The first maintenance inspections of the academic year saw only 1% of properties being a real concern. Most students keep their homes in good order – a story unlikely to make the front pages.

Mould and condensation will follow the cold weather This is slightly nerdy, but there is no shame in being a property management enthusiast. A long bout of cold weather will create more mould issues as tenants keep windows shut for long periods. Ensure that your property manager is giving the right advice to your tenants: good ventilation is critical to help prevent mould.

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The letting market in 2011 – Nine thoughts 1. Rent increases to slow down as more failed sales come to the market and the Comprehensive Spending Review takes effect. a. The sales market will slow due to the persistent low level of mortgage lending, high mortgage fees, budget-induced job cuts and a general mood of caution. b. More failed sales will come to the letting market and increase the supply of rental stock. This increase, allied to reductions in public spending affecting tenant demand, will blunt the edge of the rent increases seen in 2010. 2. interest rates and inflation will be a crucial lever in the market. a. Low interest rates have been a godsend for landlords, enabling them to avoid some of the financial pain of the last two years. b. However, if inflation keeps above 3%, there is a chance that interest rates will rise. Arguably, this is the biggest economic issue of 2011. c. One scenario we hope to avoid is interest rates going up to 4% or 5%: this would turn many landlords into distressed sellers, flooding the sales market and removing valuable rental stock from the market. 3. Renewal rates to remain above average as caution takes hold. a. Renewals (tenants extending their tenancies) are influential since they remove available rental stock from the market. b. Our renewals rose 7% year-on-year for April to October in 2010 due to people putting job moves and life decisions on hold. c. In 2011 we anticipate similar caution and more renewals. 4. international tenants will still come to live in Oxford, despite economic concerns. a. Oxford is a global city: we estimate that 65% of our Central Oxford office’s tenants are visiting

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter

from abroad, and this office has seen over 99% occupancy rates for the past 18 months. New lets for June and July were up 27% year-on-year. b. Oxford University remains the dominant attraction and employer, particularly postgraduate courses, many of which run countercyclical to economic trends. c. Despite the forthcoming 40% cuts to higher education budgets, Oxford University is still embarking on significant capital investment projects and we expect a similarly high number of international tenants in 2011. 5. Despite the climate of prudence, Energy Performance Certificates will fail again to gain traction with applicants. a. Logic says that since utility bills are so high, applicants (potential tenants) would use the A-H rating on an EPC to assess if they want to take a property or not. (A lower rating means higher bills.) b. In fact, since 2008 when EPCs became compulsory, very few of the approximate 8,000 applicants we have worked with have asked for the full EPC. c. Chris Huhne MP has announced top line plans for a New Deal related to home improvements for tenants, but few details have been announced and the 2015 timeline will not affect tenant behaviour in 2011. 6. The overall quality of private rental stock in the uK will not improve, due to the lack of tax breaks and the VAT increase. a. The new government wants to improve the quality of private rental accommodation, but it has issued zero policies and incentives to help in this regard in 2011. b. So we cannot see any scenario in which hundreds of thousands of landlords change their behaviour related to upgrades and capital investment in their portfolio.


Inflation vs interest rates – an ongoing debate for the Monetary Policy Committee in 2011

7. Landlords to – unfairly – remain social pariahs, an unfortunate consequence of the coalition’s policies and the uK’s fundamental housing shortage. a. The public – or the media – want someone to blame about the shortage of housing and affordability issues in the UK. When the sales market was buoyant, estate agents were seen as the personification of evil. b. Now it seems that the private rental sector landlord is the new pariah, with the inaccurate and negative stereotype of the equity-rich, buy-to-let landlord ubiquitous. c. In fact, 55% of stock is owned by landlords with fewer than five properties1, indicating that the majority of landlords do not sit on large portfolios. d. However, the landlord cohort lacks a unified, compelling voice, and in 2011 it will not succeed in challenging the negative media stereotype. (Editor: FK is trying to be a positive voice in this regard).

a. No matter how urgently the government wants to decrease the annual £21 billion housing benefits bill, it will find it difficult to introduce Local Housing Allowances caps if the tenants involved have no home to move to. 9. The average standard of letting agent will drop due to a continued lack of industry regulation and the slowing sales market. a. An unethical person can do a lot of damage as a letting agent: they can misappropriate deposits and rents and withhold payments. b. For example, franchisees of two large national letting franchises have misappropriated client funds2. In Oxford, a director of one estate agency stands accused of fraud and money laundering3 and at least one landlord has taken action against another agent for unpaid rent4. c. The trade bodies NAEA and ARLA have each launched voluntary licensing – which is a positive move – but until licensing is compulsory, the general public will be at risk. We do not expect new legislation in 2011.

8. The social housing rent cap will not be 100% enforced: the government will not evict families with no alternative accommodation ready. 1 2

Rugg Review 2008, Dept Communities and Local Government Source: Estate Agent Today 23/4/10

3 4

Source: ThisisOxfordshire 16/10/10, http://bit.ly/bTiHYl Source: Banbury Cake 4/6/09, http://bit.ly/b1csQ7

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The future of Oxford Oxford is a great city, but it faces challenges to remain competitive over the next 20 years. Summertown and Headington are secondary business areas, but it is less clear how this squares with the council’s proposal to build over the Summertown car park. The Summertown-Headington-Cowley pathway is the priority transport route to improve.

Major project update

Oxford skyline

Challenges include traffic overload on major roads, an affordable housing shortage, green belt battles, reliance on public sector for jobs and a shortage of land for employment and housing, and the resulting conflict. Planning decisions change cities. Here is an update.

Adieu Regional Spatial Strategies – or not? In July 2010 the Government dissolved the South East Plan, the primary planning document, arguing that top-down housing targets do not make sense. It wants the new Localism Bill to fill the void. In November 2010 the housing developer Cala Homes took the Government to court and won a judgement that regional plan dissolution was ‘unlawful’. Watch this space.

Oxford’s Core Strategy The strategy defines the planning framework for Oxford (inside the ring-road). Highlights include: Cowley is the priority business area (apart from the Northern Gateway, see right) since the business park has space to expand, and so the city centre may continue to shed employers.

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter

Northern Gateway: the Government’s Planning Inspectorate gave this controversial scheme the green light just before Christmas. The scope is 200 homes, 3000 jobs and up to 80,000m2 of office space on land between Wolvercote, the A40 and A34. Next the City Council must put forward traffic-reduction proposals and a full planning proposal. Grenoble Road: The planned 4,000 homes south of Blackbird Leys will not proceed, largely due to the dissolution of the South East Plan, which argued for reassessment of green belt protection. West End: Financial issues have delayed many of the 38 projects, but the Crown Estate buying the Westgate Centre for £56 million in May bodes well. Barton: Oxford City Council wants to build 8001,200 homes at 50 dwellings per hectare on its own land to the west of Barton by the ring-road and is now seeking a development partner. Summertown land: the Planning Inspectorate has agreed – with caveats – with the City Council’s request that non-green belt land owned by Summerfields School and Wadham College between Summertown and the River Cherwell be a) earmarked for housing development, and b) should be protected from development that would prejudice a). The land is currently mainly sports fields and the owners have shown no public desire to develop the site so far.


Oxford – the 100 project consultation The council recently asked for feedback on a range of potential schemes. Highlights include1: Ruskin College is keen to change usage for its fields opposite the proposed Barton scheme to housing. The various Primary Care Trusts in East Oxford and the Littlemore Mental Health Hospital want to redevelop their footprints to free up spare land which could be used for associated

projects, eg affordable homes for medical workers. AC Neilsen, a key Oxford employer, is considering how best to use its large site east of Oxford and whether to remain in place. Oxford United football club is keen to buy its stadium from Mr Kassam and build housing on the site perimeter, possibly in partnership with the council who wish to improve the land south of Blackbird Leys.

Didcot hits a growth spurt Arguably the most influential planning event of 2010 was the approval of 10,000 new homes by 2016 in South Oxfordshire. 9,000 will be in and around Didcot, 400 in Wallingford and 540 in Thame.

9,000 new homes are planned in Didcot

The old South East Plan highlighted Didcot as a priority growth area and 9,000 homes will dramatically increase the size of the town. South Oxfordshire Council had to consider strong opposition from residents near the proposed sites, who argue that the road infrastructure will suffer. The next steps are further consultation before formal plans are submitted to the Government.

New housing legislation HMO Additional Licensing Dispensing with the pros and cons: Oxford City Council is using recent legislation to widen the band of HMOs which need a licence. From 24/01/2011 three or more storey HMOs with three or four occupiers and two storey HMOs with more than five occupiers will require an additional licence. After 30/01/2012, all remaining HMOs will require a licence. Call us for advice on obtaining the licence.

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Green Deal The Energy Security and Green Economy Bill aims to improve energy efficiency in the UK with no upfront costs: homeowners and landlords will borrow to upgrade their homes and repay the cost out of energy savings. From 2015 tenants can demand ‘reasonable’ energy efficiency improvements. While Chris Huhne MP is claiming 100,000 new jobs will be created, much more detail is needed to explain the borrowing / repayment mechanism.

New Homes Bonus While top-down housing targets have been abolished (see main article), a new bonus pool of £950 million over 20112015 is a cashback reward payment to local authorities for building new homes.

Source = Oxford City Planning Department at the East Oxford public session, 24/11/10

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Homes for Horizons Letting your property can be a great springboard to spur on the great escape. Gap years for grown-ups are gaining appeal on a ‘carpe diem’ basis. Kevin and Claire Gardner rented out their carefully restored Grade II listed cottage in Old Headington, Oxford through Finders Keepers’ East Oxford office last September to go travelling.

Our main practical consideration was security. We really didn’t fancy leaving our old house unheated and unoccupied over the winter plus, of course, the rental income helped. We spoke to friends who had rented out previously and Finders Keepers were highly recommended. Anna Turner, Letting Department Manager, advised us on practicalities as well as doing a splendid job matching our property to an ideal tenant, who also agreed to take on our cat, which was perfect for us.

Katie the cat

Our advice would be to find a managing agent whom you really trust. Then you can get on the plane and start enjoying the trip from day one, safe in the knowledge that any problems at home will be dealt with by them, not you. We met our tenant on three occasions, which was particularly reassuring. Being able to access our property account statement online is really useful. Having an iPhone and using WiFi, where it’s available, have been invaluable for keeping in touch and planning different stages of our trip. So far, the highlights have been exploring the culture of the people of Bali as part of our retreat, participating in a Hindu temple ceremony and cycling through unspoilt villages from Mount Batur to Ubud, having risen at 4am for a yoga and meditation session overlooking the volcano at sunrise. This year has encouraged us to stop and enjoy the moment rather than feeling the need to rush on to the next thing – having the luxury of time makes this so much easier.

Kevin and Claire Gardner at a 4am yoga and meditation session

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter


Sea-change lifestyle A combination of determined planning; hard work; good judgement; rising property prices and serendipity enabled John and Mo Walker to realise their dream of buying a cruising boat and becoming ‘live-aboard’ sailors in the Mediterranean for most of the year. Acquiring investment property formed an integral part of their plan. They were attracted to the Oxford area by its strong year-round rental market, settling on a four-bedroom house in Headington aimed at professional sharer tenants. After a major re-vamp, it first let in 2001.

John and Mo Walker on shore in Dubrovnik

In 2002, they happened to be in Bicester and spotted a two bedroom house on a new development and snapped it up. Now with all the ‘ducks in a row’ they were in good shape to buy a boat. Along came Fuga, a ‘Dehler’ German built cruising type boat. Having both retired, the properties form a major part of their income as John explained “It’s important to have the security of our property in the UK”.

John and Mo on their sailing yacht, Fuga

At that point they placed both properties with Finders Keepers (East Oxford & Bicester). “FK have done an excellent job for us, for example, dealing with a major leak. It was all repaired before we knew it. FK’s insurers posted a cheque before we had to pay for the work. The financial side, previously a headache, has been perfect and preparing tax returns is a doddle with accounts online.” John and Mo Walker summed it up: “In a nutshell, one of the nice things about our lifestyle is that everyone is in it together, enjoying the same shared experiences and friendships. We have met the most amazing people – some are on a career break and others find work where they can. One of our best friends has been across the Atlantic three times. None of us knows what is in store for us in the future. If you want to do something badly enough, you can make it happen, but you have to be prepared to plan and work for it. If you accept the budget constraints, then a life afloat is surprisingly accessible.”

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Homes with history

1840’s house with a tennis court

Apartment in a fine country house

At the end of a long driveway is this four-bedroom, stone-built house dating back to the 19th century. This is an impressive property, with three reception rooms and an outbuilding. It also has an all-weather tennis court within the four acres of garden.

This two-storey apartment is part of Shipton Court in Shipton-under-Wychwood. Built in the 17th century, Shipton Court is a Grade II Listed Jacobean Manor House. With three double bedrooms, a study and two entertaining rooms, it is a remarkable apartment.

Set in the village of Steeple Aston (a conservation area since 1988), this home has lovely views. Iris Murdoch lived in the village, just a short walk away from the house.

Along with a private garden, tenants have use of the beautiful grounds. The gardens were landscaped by James Pulham, whose other commissions included the gardens at Buckingham Palace.

Converted from a Missionary College

On the site of the old ironworks

This two-bedroom, mews-style home has been converted to a very high standard from Dorchester’s former Missionary College, founded in 1878. The large living room has a unique stone spiral staircase leading to a galleried bedroom. There is also a bespoke kitchen and flagstone floors with under floor heating.

Formerly the site of the W Lucy & Co. Ltd factory, with a history dating back to 1825, Eagle Works is now a stunning development of apartments located just half a mile from the centre of Oxford.

Located in the heart of this quiet, historic village, but still within easy each of Oxford, this property is really special.

Keeping in Touch Winter 2011 Newsletter

This three-bedroom apartment is in Fettlers House, on the site of the old Eagle Works, where redevelopment was completed two years ago. With designer furnishings and a balcony overlooking the canal, this is a high-quality property in Jericho.


FK Student Letting team, on the day before The List was launched on 1st December 2010 some see one night of queuing as their opportunity to have one of our best properties for 365 days. They are quite clever about it though, and the larger groups take it in turns to do their ‘shift’ standing in the queue.

Preparation for The List begins about three months in advance. We begin in September by reviewing the rents and contacting landlords to discuss every property. October and November are spent proof-reading The List (a 188-page, A5 tome) and updating the property’s descriptions and photos on the website. We sign off The List in November, and we have 400 copies delivered in time for the launch. We have 170 properties on The List and we anticipate that around 30% will let in the first week from the launch. Unfortunately, the hard work doesn’t end with the release of The List - it continues into the New Year. The three weeks following the launch are very busy with viewings and administration. In 2010 we achieved a record breaking 65 lets in the first week of January. You can imagine the amount of paperwork in referencing three/four/five+ people per property! Students queue around the block on the morning of the release (something which we do not endorse in the cold weather). Groups are allocated a number and are brought into the office a few at a time to prevent overcrowding. For some students, queuing is not something they want to do. However,

We take basic references for the students (from their tutor and current landlord), but obviously they do not have the employer reference which would normally be taken for a tenant. Instead, each tenant has a guarantor and, importantly, we take financial references for each of their guarantors. At the end of a student tenancy, there is sometimes a higher level of cleaning required than in other residential properties. This isn’t necessarily because of the stereotypical idea of student cleanliness. It is often more to do with the fact that, on average, there are a larger number of adults in one household. For the most part, it is in line with residential letting in that it is rare for students to ‘trash’ their properties, and most make a good effort to prepare for a Check-Out. It is very common to see the same tenants return for two or even three years running. One student let through us three years in a row and when her younger sister came to University here, we were the only agent considered!

The List was released on 1st December 2010 and 55 properties were let in the first week. See photos and read more on our website fkstudentletting.co.uk

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11% DISCOUNT FOR 2011 In January and February with DECORUM INTERIORS Call 01865 302339 or see fkdecorum.co.uk for case studies and outline costs

Contract Furnishing

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Interior Design

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Style to Sell

Keeping in Touch - January 2011  

The winter 2011 newsletter from Finders Keepers - Oxfordshire letting agent.

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