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Property Tips

  • Property is Going Back to the Future

    July 2021
      The onslaught of advertising We are bombarded constantly from advertisers, all vying for position to get in front of us with the sole purpose to make us buy. Not so long ago this was restricted to just newspapers, magazines…
    Read this article
  • The Empty Homes Scandal – Who’s The Fool?

    July 2021
      648,114 empty homes – let that sink in for a moment. That is the number the Government published in their report from October last year, on the number of uninhabited homes in the UK. Of this, 225,845 were classed…
    Read this article
  • What Are You Really Paying An Estate Agent For?

    June 2021
      When selling your property, have you ever asked the question – ‘what are you really paying an estate agent for?’ The sceptics out there will say this sounds like an oxymoron; however it has never been more important to…
    Read this article
  • Cladding Scandal – The Bigger Picture

    May 2021
      Cladding isn’t just cladding. Following the tragic events at Grenfell in 2017, it has come to light that a high proportion of ‘modern’ apartment blocks across the UK were built and fitted with inadequate and flammable cladding, balconies, cavity…
    Read this article
  • How to Make Your Property Sale Easy

    May 2021
      As I write, there are widespread reports that the market is ‘on fire’. Ferocious pace, competition for properties, best and final offers – the list goes on. Given the current relentless market activity, many may be lulled into a…
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  • One Estate Agent Or Two?

    April 2021
      From time to time I’ll be asked by a vendor if they should be using one estate agent or two to better their chances of selling their home – to which I often advise this isn’t necessarily the better…
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  • Property Guide Price – When You’ve Got It Wrong

    March 2021
      There are a few taboo subjects when it comes to the property sector and one of the most common seems to be when it comes to property guide prices. Start mentioning this to most vendors and they immediately get…
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  • The Hidden Time Options When Selling Your Home

    February 2021
      Time. It is one of the most important factors when trying to buy or sell your home – more often than not, matters do not move at the pace you want – don’t even get me started on local…
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  • PLC New Homes: Why I Would Never Buy One

    December 2020
      Apples – sometimes you bite into one and what lies beneath the pristine surface, is nothing but a floury rotten core. You could say this is like buying a new build home from a PLC developer (ie one who…
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  • As part of the Barclays Private Bank monthly podcast, I discuss the latest and fast-changing trends in the property market also featuring the thoughts from Head of Savills research, Financial Times property journalist and Barclays Private Bank.

    Property Trends and Forecasts

    Full transcript below:

    Whether you’re buying, selling, or investing in prime property, is now the right time? Are we headed for a downturn in prices? And which markets will remain the most resilient? Tune into Real Estate Realities, the new podcast series from Barclays Private Bank, where we give you the inside track on prime and super prime residential markets. We uncover the trends and the opportunities. As global events evolve, we analyse the data and ask the experts for their opinions and insights into what’s next for prime property.

    Zoe Dare Hall (ZDH): Hello, and welcome to Real Estate Realities from Barclays Private Bank, the podcast series that gives the inside track on prime residential property through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m your host, property journalist Zoe Dare Hall and in this episode I’ll be asking the experts for their views on the UK prime markets beyond London. Joining me in our virtual studio are Lucian Cook, Director of Residential Research at Savills.

    Lucian Cook (LC): Hi, Zoe, really nice to be here. I’m coming to you from our Winchester office, from the board room of our Winchester office today.

    ZDH: Excellent, and joining us from his office in Harrogate is Independent Property Consultant, Alex Goldstein.

    Alex Goldstein (AG): Great to be here, thank you, Zoe.

    ZDH: And from Barclays Private Bank, we have Product and Proposition Director, Stephen Moroukian.

    Stephen Moroukian (SM): Hi, Zoe, good to be here again.

    ZDH: Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us in what I’m sure will be an interesting discussion in very strange times. As far as I’m concerned, the past five months have passed by in a bit of blur of homeschooling, battles over that, and totally failing to secure any kind of holiday. But it feels like things are busy property-wise all around me, people are moving, moving home, lots them are leaving London for homes on the coast or in the countryside. Lucian, what has your experience been of things in recent weeks and months?

    LC: Yes, well, I just started venturing back up to London a couple of days a week and I think that is, you know, that’s probably the most interesting thing to get your head around, doing the commute again, and, and I have to say, like I think like a lot of other people, we’ve all slightly reassessed our work-life balance over the last few months and that commute to London has, sort of, entrenched those views for me. It’s, it’s all about getting back into the swing of it.

    ZDH: And Alex, what about you? How, how has it been in Harrogate?

    AG: I think the Harrogate and indeed the Yorkshire market has almost gone into overdrive at the moment. It has been an incredibly, incredibly busy patch at the moment and let’s see how it all pans out.

    ZDH: Stephen, what’s your experience of these recent weeks of semi-lockdown?

    SM: Yes, I think living in the London suburbs as I do, I’ve got a foot in both camps and so taking advantage of some of the local recreational opportunities that perhaps I didn’t get time to because I was so busy commuting has been a really interesting experience. So, I think similar to Lucian that this particular period of time that we’re in gives a real opportunity for reflection on some of the ways that we live and work.

    ZDH: Yes, definitely. That’s right. Well, before we dive in, there are a couple of themes that have been emerging in the UK property press since the real estate markets effectively unlocked, which was mid-May in England and then mid- through to late-June in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

    It seems across all markets, mainstream as well as prime sales and lettings, agents have been reporting record numbers of enquiries as homeowners realise their need for more inside space, more outside space, and also lots of home working space. And it also seems that city dwellers are looking for their slice of the good life as a direct result of the change in circumstances during lockdown.

    So, what’s the outlook for the UK as we navigate the short- and longer-term effects of the pandemic? Are people really looking for a good life in the country and if so, where are they hoping to find it? So, let’s begin by talking about what’s happening in the market generally. Lucian Cook, you must have some good numbers that can paint the picture for us. What’s the Savills research telling you in terms of transaction numbers and property prices?

    LC: Yes, well certainly the resurgence in deals which are being agreed has taken us all by surprise. We got a hint of it back in April. We did a survey of a number of our clients and we were quite surprised at that point, just as we’d gone into lockdown and were experiencing it, that the experience of lockdown had made people marginally more committed to move than they were prior to the pandemic.

    By the time we got to June, that balance of opinion was strongly positive, so really I think the experience of lockdown, trying to work from home, being on top of other family members over that period and probably that reassessment of work-life balance that we just talked about has been a major driver for moving and in that respect, I think that’s slightly overridden a fairly sobering economic backdrop.

    So, whilst we saw during lockdown, unsurprisingly, a very significant fall in transaction levels, pretty much unprecedented, that’s reflected in both sales that were agreed in that period and the transaction figures from HMRC, the rebound has been quite staggering.

    HMRC is always a bit lagged, so we had some figures for July, they showed that month on month transaction levels across the UK were up 20% but they were about three quarters of July for the previous year, but those are a bit lagged. They are completed sales that have gone right through to completion and a stamp duty return has been made for.

    If you look at sales actually agreed, then the figures are incredibly strong. In reality, in the first two weeks of August, those sales agreed were 76% higher than the same period last year across the country as a whole and the market which has performed most strongly has been the top end of the market where I think people have got pretty stable incomes.

    They’ve got quite strong financial security and a lot of equity behind them, and the levels of deals being agreed in those markets are double, are more than double, there have been 113% first two weeks of August than we saw in the same period last year.

    Pricing is a bit different, actually. I think just that economic backdrop has made people fairly cautious around pricing. So, whilst demand has come back into the market pretty quickly, I don’t think, and certainly there isn’t the evidence to date, that we’ve had the sort of same upward pressure on prices.

    Indeed, if you look at the number of price adjustments which are being made relative to the number of sales, that’s pretty much in line where it’s been in the period since 2016 when we started talking about Brexit, something we’ve almost put to the back of our minds of late.

    ZDH: Well, it’s clearly a positive story in terms of activity and a kind of dramatic rise in transaction numbers there but not such a significant upward trend in prices then, and I imagine the backdrop of the UK’s now declared status of recession is another filter we’ll need to apply to any property outlook. Stephen Moroukian, how does this picture align with what we’re seeing in terms of lending activity?

    SM: Yes, thanks Zoe. Look, banks always have to be balancing in environments like the one that we’re in at the moment and that can be very difficult. Clearly, looking at what has happened and trying to understand what will happen is something we’re all trying to do in a very dynamic market. I think if you look at the period between April and May, that was really peak concern, peak uncertainty as we went through the true effects of COVID in the market.

    What Lucian referred to in terms of those transaction levels I think is really encouraging and it’s really great to hear. We don’t know what that looks like for the next six, 12 and 24 months but clearly there’s a pattern of a trend emerging, potentially. We had the effects of the government schemes such as furlough and the mortgage holidays. Those are beginning to come to an end and what will occur after them remains unclear but the backdrop of the macro economic environment that you’ve alluded to is bound to have an impact.

    ZDH: Yes. I mean it seems that there is something of a honeymoon period right now and the data seems to suggest that. What about buyer behaviour, what are serious prime or super prime buyers looking for right now and Alex Goldstein, are you seeing increased interest in the North from London-based buyers?

    AG: Very much so, Zoe. I think if we go back well before lockdown to 2009, say, there were already gentle rumblings that 1% of Londoners and those in the home counties were looking to leave and head northbound. We then had the BBC jobs, they all moved to Salford in Manchester in 2011 and 2012. Channel4 more recently, they’ve got a footing in Leeds.

    Harrogate is another example, consistently voted as one of the happiest places to live and you jump forward ten years to 2019 and that figure of people leaving London and home counties has crept upwards to 13%. So, the impetus was already there.

    Also, pre-lockdown, what was quite interesting is that employees were lobbying their employers for more flexible working and better lifestyle-work balance and I think companies have now realised that there is a significant cost saving and lifestyle benefit to their workforce and I think all of these were significant catalysts, really, in propelling and rebalancing the property market and as I see it, the North-South property divide has been rapidly shrinking.

    ZDH: That really is quite a striking rise in the number of Londoners moving North in the last ten years. It certainly seems that people are less wedded to London living at the moment if they can make it work elsewhere. So, Alex, what are your clients looking for? Is it the acres of green space, the sense of village life as a lot of recent surveys seem to indicate?

    AG: I think it’s very much all the things that you would expect. Yes, of course, it’s bigger properties and greater amount of outside space. Self-contained offices ideally that are away from the house and set in the garden, again for obvious reasons, is a very high priority nowadays as indeed is having children’s play and study spaces and it’s almost going to this multi-functional space and the options, more importantly, to provide that flexibility, as is to having the easy connections back to the major cities, London, Leeds, York, Manchester and Sheffield.

    Recently I helped a younger client, it was a daughter of a longstanding client of mine and the daughter was based in Shoreditch with her new husband and they were looking to start a family. They were toying with the idea of moving to the home counties and were considering heading to Hertfordshire but as they had a family link back in Harrogate in Yorkshire, they decided that they could get far greater value for money as first time buyers by heading northbound and that’s what they decided to do.

    ZDH: Plus the free babysitting that often comes with moving near your family, I suppose. So, it seems that the country lifestyle is very alluring but people don’t want to cut their ties totally with city life or the need to be near cities. Lucian, is it a similar story from Savills?

    LC: Yes, I think so. I mean, I think you’ve got various types of buyers, actually. I think you’ve got those who remain quite committed to London and what they’re tending to do is to move along the wealth corridors, the established wealth corridors of London. So, the most obvious of those is the one that probably starts in Fulham, runs down through to Wimbledon and ends somewhere just the other side of, of Guildford.

    In addition to that, you have those who are thinking about working from home more often but still working in a London office two, three days a week, perhaps. Some of those have moved out to the commuter zone. I think the term probably best that describes where they’re looking is accessible countryside – so, they want a reasonable commute on the days that they do commute, but they also want some of the benefits of the additional space, garden space and just sort of outdoor living that comes with countryside living.

    I think community for those people is also incredibly important and the feel of the community, and the amenities that are available, particularly if they’re looking towards village locations.

    ZDH: I’m interested in the idea of accessible countryside locations – what do you mean by that?

    LC: So, when we talk about accessible countryside, one of the things that’s really important there is the commute into London and that is not just about the straight travel time, it’s about the reliability of the trains, the frequency of the trains and the number of people who are commuting on those lines.

    ZDH: Stephen, on the subject of trains, HS2 obviously springs to mind… let’s touch for a moment on how these types of big infrastructure projects might impact the commercial property market.

    SM: Yes that’s right Zoe, big infrastructure projects have always been used as an effective lever by central governments to drive investment and confidence and therefore ultimately jobs, and that’s happened all over the world. Now, we’ve already seen form the 2020 budget a signpost of unprecedented billions to big infrastructure, whether that’s’ roads, railways, new homes, schools, and so forth. But I think the dynamic will be different this time, there’ll be much more local and regional government influence expected.

    I think if we look at the commercial real estate assets for a moment, let’s specifically look at retail, we’ve got large shopping centres all over the country and we’ve got our beloved high streets. Those assets will have to find their price in the market, that’s natural. At this point there’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of what that will actually look like, and it will really only be over the next months and years that we’ll see what the true impact of the Covid overlay will have been.

    ZDH: Yes, it definitely sounds like there are a lot of question marks around what’s going to happen in the market in the coming months and years. But let’s focus on what’s been happening recently. Alex – tell me about some of the deals you’ve been seeing since the market opened up again.

    AG: Well, I think, overall, Zoe, the Yorkshire market has performed very strongly.

    Just recently, in the last few days actually, I’ve just exchanged and completed on a sizeable family home and this was about 5,000 square foot, detached, you went up a drive and it was essentially set in about an acre of land.

    Interestingly, the husband, he worked in central Leeds, he’s got a secure financial job but it was the family wanting the lifestyle and the outside space but in particular, this property there was a small annex and a small range of out buildings and that gave them a lot of flexible usage.

    So, when it was friends of family, or indeed the grandparents coming up to stay and indeed plays into the whole work from home theme as well, very much in a superstar village. It had a couple of amenities with it, so there was a village shop and a very good pub.

    Quite importantly as well there were easy connections over to York, Harrogate, Leeds, and indeed sometimes down to London just for the husband as well and again, that was secured off-market.

    Another very interesting property that I’m involved with at the moment is actually a converted historic chapel right here in central Harrogate and that’s got six bedrooms and five bathrooms and an orangery, and really is perfect for home, flexi-living.

    Very unusually, it’s actually got a passive income stream because it sort of partly operates as a guest house, could easily become a wedding venue, but has also been fairly prolific on the creative side and it’s being used regularly by high end magazines for photo shoots and indeed some filming as well and again, because of these points, the property has got, I feel, London and indeed international appeal. You’ve got the whole life-work balance and indeed the income generating option as well.

    In addition, there’s been some interesting ones in central Harrogate in the duchy and this is a very prestigious area right in the centre of Harrogate and again, I’ve been involved with a few sizeable deals and transactions on family homes ranging from between one and a half million up to three million.

    ZDH: So, definitely some good value for money deals for the right buyers there and I have to say, I love the idea of superstar villages, that sounds like a theme in its own right. Lucian, what other kinds of deals are on the table and what else are you seeing demand for?

    LC: Yes. Well, I think some of it’s location and some of it is about the property. When it comes to property, it’s a lot of the things that we’ve already talked about. So, it’s garden space, separate space to work from home. I think the other one that people have realised has become critically important not least of which is apparent as we were preparing for this recording, is the importance of good Wi-Fi and I think increasingly people will be paying attention to that when they look to buy their new home.

    But, when it comes to the areas that we’re looking at, just backing up some of the stuff that Alex has said, if you go to Yorkshire and the Humber and you look at where the demand has been strongest, we’ve taken some data from a data provider called 20CI and they look at all of the properties marked as sold subject to contract each week across the country and the three local authorities that have performed strongest in that area of Yorkshire and the Humber have been Rydale, Harrogate and Hambleton.

    So, very much the more affluent markets which give you all of those lifestyle benefits.

    In reality, though, the markets that have even out-performed those have tended to be those within the commuter zone of London. So, very strong demand for the likes of Guildford, Saint Albans and Winchester.

    I suppose what’s interesting about those areas is in the period, essentially, since the credit crunch, what we saw was the prime urban living in those areas became slightly more popular than buying your village or country property and I suspect the experience that we’ve had of the recent past means that that reverses slightly. Because we saw that trend since the credit crunch, actually, we saw the performance of those prime urban properties outside of London in the uber-towns out-perform the neighbouring villages in the countryside.

    That created a bit of a value gap, so this slight rural renaissance that we’re seeing at the moment actually comes at a time when those village properties are looking pretty good value.

    So, particularly that country house market has been something of a sleeping giant for quite some time now and it does mean in terms of what you can get for £1 million, £2 million, whatever the figure might be then you’re getting a lot more for your money in those locations. So, a bit of the reversal of the trends that we’ve seen, I would say over the past, over the past decade or so.

    ZDH: Yes, and I suppose prime and super prime buyers will always want to have a foot in around London still. Does that interest and that investment stretch into the regions, though? Alex Goldstein, what are you seeing?

    AG: Very much so, Zoe, at the moment. In the north, all the talk is currently about the football, of course, and Leeds United are back in the Premiership and it does and it has made a major different to the market and again, you look historically at the difference that that made when they were back up.

    This is now driving international investors and they’d always historically focused on Manchester, obviously you’ve got the two major clubs there but you’ve now got that connection, you’ve got this whole band stretching across the Pennines from Manchester heading over to Leeds and arguably slightly beyond, and that entire area still has very good access back to London.

    So, for example, and it’s the journey that I do if I go to London, York, direct down to London, you can do that in under two hours quite happily. Leeds down to Kings Cross, that’s just over two hours and you can even now go direct from Harrogate to London Kings Cross and that takes about two hours and 55 minutes.

    ZDH: So, still looking at lifestyle trends, I imagine many of our listeners will also think about how we live in the future and lockdown has certainly emphasised the need for those who can to be close to family. Alex, you mentioned earlier the demand for annexes and outbuildings, can we extrapolate from that that people are looking more at multigenerational living?

    AG: Very much so. I feel that there is a, a cultural shift that’s coming full circle precisely because of the pandemic. A, a couple of recent examples I’ve had where, where families are actually combining, they’re coming together with grandparents who are living on-site but they’re in a separate cottage and they can be there now for childcare, sometimes sort of school work and equally, they can be looked after and feel secure themselves. And, again, it plays into this demand for larger family homes with outbuildings that are very attractive.

    Generations are combining their funds and reducing their risk and another trend that seems to be emerging is just this sort of gentle move away from urban living and this want and need for having everything on one’s doorstep. I think let’s be clear, in a post-COVID environment, I think it’s very clear we all want the good life at the end of the day, we want to be self-sufficient in our own little bubble and happy.

    Now, to drive the twenty minutes or so to the nearest urban centre, I think it’s very much the driver of wanting and having that space and the openness, the views and having that key, flexible lifestyle at home both in terms of how your rooms are actually utilised within the house but also how that combines with your work lifestyle as well Again, it’s having that need to quickly get back over to wherever the major city is that the employer is in.

    I’ve had an interesting recent example, one client of mine he runs a fairly major IT firm, he’s the managing director and he’s currently got offices in Edinburgh, Leeds and London and one over in the United States and it’s only really just dawned on him in the IT business that he can run his business remotely and very efficiently indeed.

    Now, he was going to buy a second property, a bolt hole in London to be close to the office for whenever he was down there but he’s now put a complete hold on that and he’s actually investing back in Yorkshire.

    ZDH: Interesting that it’s taken lockdown for that mindset shift. Stephen, from a lender’s perspective, if interest rates are going to stay lower for longer, do you think this could potentially have a positive effect on transaction numbers and the knock-on effects on the wider property economy?

    SM: Interest rate reductions have been off the back of two shocks in the market – the global financial crisis of 10 years ago, and this current crisis we’re in. Rates in general show no sign of increasing, and therefore the cost of borrowing remains incredibly low compared to the 30 years that preceded the global financial crisis.

    The opportunity for some borrowers, of course, is to then buy that bigger property in the cycle, or making an existing asset work a lot harder for them. I think in terms of the wider economy, that question remains one that’s related to what happens after the government schemes transition.

    ZDH: I think a lot of people would agree with that cautious outlook. But what are some of the other factors that are likely to have an effect on the market in the coming months? Like stamp duty. Lucian?

    LC: Of course, we have a stamp duty holiday coming to an end in March of next year, I think that will support the market in the first quarter of next year, as is always the case when people can see an increase in stamp duty on the horizon, they will do pretty much anything in their power to avoid paying that, even if that means paying a little bit more for the property that they’re buying.

    I think thereafter, the recovery in prices from 2021 onwards, I think it’s more likely to have sort of sustained upward traction from in 2022, interest rates remaining low, economy back on its feet.

    Again throughout that period, I think what you’ll see is some of the lifestyle changes that we’ve talked about playing out in which properties in which locations are in the most demand. And so, when we talk about some of those lifestyle drivers, it’s also important to remember that’s not just about people who are upsizing and looking for more space.

    One of the things that we’ve found is that, increasingly, that older population who have been quite reluctant, historically, to downsize, the experience of the pandemic has made them much more open to that and that is supporting some of the prime urban markets, particularly some of the new-build property in some of those areas and areas such as the likes of Clifton and some of the markets in, similarly, somewhere like Bath.

    ZDH: A lovely part of the country, and Alex, I hear you’ve been involved in a deal recently in another very pretty spa town, Ilkley in West Yorkshire.

    AG: I have indeed and it was a property for a client actually relocating from Los Angeles over in the States and they needed access down to London and Manchester as they were in the media. And Ilkley just seemed a very obvious choice with all its amenities and equally, very well connected on the train so it’s pretty easy to get down to London, across to Leeds and Manchester as well and there’s some very good, outstanding even, schools locally.

    What was interesting as well on this one, this was conducted again off-market but we also had to go over guide price in order to secure it.

    ZDH: I suppose I can’t really ask you how much your client’s paying, Alex, but I wonder if there are some relative bargains outside of London. Lucian, can you share any examples?

    LC: Yes, I think perversely, actually, you almost need to look to the very top end of the market to see where some of the bargains are. So, we’ve suggested that that top-end country house market has been something of a sleeping giant for a number of years and we’ve also talked about the prime central London market where values have been off somewhere like 20%.

    Because the profile of buyers in, say, the likes of Saint George’s Hill, Saint George’s Hill in Wentworth, sorry, it often is a bit more reflective of that prime central London market than some of the other prime country house markets. That market also is looking relatively good value, particularly in terms of the square footage which you’re getting comparable to some of the other locations they might look at such as sup-, such as central London.

    So, we’ve seen a real resurgence in demand in some of those markets, and then really that I suppose is also representative of a number of micro-markets. Another good example then would be the market, say, down at Sandbanks, down in the Bournemouth Pool conurbation, a market where location is of course absolutely paramount and all important but which commands some very high values, but nonetheless is looking relatively good value as things stand.

    ZDH: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground there. Final question to all our guests, if you could move to the country tomorrow, where would it be? Alex, if we could pry you away from Harrogate.

    AG: That’s an easy one, I’m going to see you on the East Coast over at Whitby for some proper fish and chips.

    ZDH: Great, okay, and Lucian, where’s your dream country property?

    LC: Well, I already live in the countryside. I am very much a rural boy, I grew up in deepest, darkest Somerset, but I’ve managed to migrate to Hampshire. Both of those I have affinity for. If I was having to move, though, I think I would probably go back to that area of North Somerset, access to Bristol and Bath, access to some exceptional apple-based cider and equally, not a million miles from the Mecca for me, which is Taunton and the county grounds where I can go and watch my beloved Somerset county cricket club.

    ZDH: I love it, Taunton as the Mecca, and Stephen, your escape to the country, where would that be to?

    SM: Yes, well I probably should say Windsor because that’s where my in-laws live but of course, I’m a fan of the sea, as is my family so I think we’d have to be on the coast somewhere and that really probably looks like the South Devon coastline.

    ZDH: Yes, I’m with you there, Stephen, it would have to be coastal for me, too. I think I’d like to do the impossible and transplant my leafy London village of Blackheath and put it somewhere lovely on the South Coast and then obviously hope there are some fast trains to get me back to London if I need to. So, thank you to all our guests for your expert insights. Just say goodbye to all of you, Lucian Cook, Director of Residential Research at Savills.

    LC: Thanks, Zoe, it’s been my pleasure.

    ZDH: Alex Goldstein from Alex Goldstein Property Consultants.

    AG: Thank you, Zoe. Great to take part.

    ZDH: And Stephen Moroukian, Product and Proposition Director at Barclays Private Bank.

    SM: Thank you very much, Zoe, see you next time.

    ZDH: I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Real Estate Realities. Join us next time when we’re going to be taking a virtual trip to the sunny south of France to check in on the prime property market in the French Riviera. Thank you for listening.

    Property Trends and Forecasts

    September 2020
  • Richard Christian of BluSkills is a former Royal Marine Commando and now runs his own security services business. Pulling on his years at the top of the military, Richard discusses personal and home security and what to be aware of. Equally how estate agents, vendors and purchasers all merge together and if you are security conscious, how to go about securing your home and ensure your family are safe.


    Full Transcript below:

    Alex: So welcome to the Alex Goldstein Property show and this time we are talking with a very high-profile security expert Richard Christian from BluSkills who is a former Royal Marine Commando and now has his own security business, which helps private individuals and indeed companies and those in the public eye. Richard, great to have you on board today.

    Richard: Hi Alex thanks very much for having me. I’m not sure about high profile maybe not yet but working on it.

    Alex: I’m glad to hear, I’m glad to hear it but it’s very much a hot topic at the moment and I think there is an increasing mindfulness out there in the in the public domain of personal security and certainly when it comes to banking and finances and it just seems to be in the media more and more and certainly when you integrate that into the property sector. I certainly from what I see in my role I dare say. Will be very interesting to hear your thoughts when we overlay it from your perspective that I think there are a number of shortcomings or areas that people just don’t think about when it comes to property. I mean what’s quite interesting at the moment given the lockdown and the way that technologies come about is the whole sort of virtual tour and you can now look in online and have a viewing round of property but I think there are risks involved with that but what’s your take on it all.

    Richard: Well that’s right Alex it’s why it’s so good to speak to you as I think you’re a very security-minded individual. What we’re seeing is tech moving at a very fast pace that’s allowing people to use fantastic new features but often the implications of those features and services are overlooked the ease of them is appealing to people but the security considerations and the security implications may be coming a little bit behind that so in terms of virtual tours is a fantastic selling tool for estate agents but for the person selling the home there’s probably no real security implication perceived. However, if the home doesn’t sell they should be aware that that video could still remain in the public domain if it isn’t removed and for someone buying I think they should be looking at ensuring that if there was a video tour done then it’s a timely removal by the by the agents. And they should be mindful that people may have recorded that video and people have used it for electronic surveillance if they were interested in the property. And they’ve done the kind of electronic surveillance of the property. They may have recorded that video. They may have it stored. They may have been able to work out plans of the layouts of the building and observe any security measures that are in place. So there’s a lot of information given there, and you have to be mindful of that.

    Alex: Yeah hugely so. I think from my perspective on the property side of things virtual tours are, almost you could argue, a bit of a gimmick at the moment and of course you’ve got a sort of camera drone footage going through your property. Obviously, it’s a security risk because if there’s any sort of valuables. Or it’s notification where the main alarm panel is or any alarm sensors for example are as well. But equally, and this is the one of the big things I always say is, as soon as information goes online, whether it’s a virtual tour or it’s imagery. It’s stored, it’s archived and it’s the whole spider’s web effect that you have no control of that information. It very quickly gets dispersed and if you’ve got a virtual tour of a property circulating around. I say websites generally again you can run into issues down the line if someone does an historic search for example.

    Richard: That’s right and I’d say it’s important to think about anything that you’re putting onto the internet into the electronic ether is to think that you’ve put that out there and then that’s permanently going to stay out there. Now there are things that you can do to reduce how easily it is how easy it is to find that information and data a later date and third parties play a big part in that but I would say approaching the mindset that that information is out there for good and are you happy with that.

    Alex: No, indeed. I mean when it comes to actually buying a property how should one and how do you actually evaluate the security of a property and what should people actually look out for at the end of the day?

    Richard: So from my perspective and probably because I’m kind of security minded and because we provide these services, I would I would advise people, certainly your type of client Alex, to be looking at conducting a pre-purchase security assessment and I would say that much as you would do a home buying survey or a detailed survey to find out the state of the physical property, the foundations, the windows, etc. and what the associated costs might be, I’d say it’s probably wise to do that pre-purchase regarding security as well. You may be buying a property where you’re going to have to spend a great deal of money investing in security measures post-purchase and it’s good to bear that in mind when you when you come to purchase the property. I would say for an individual who doesn’t want to go down that route and wants to do it themselves, there’s a number of things that they can do. I would say firstly, look at the electronic footprint for the property. So as you’ve mentioned virtual tours and what images are available for the property. What links are there to the property? So companies house, what businesses are linked to it? So that’s the electronic side of life and then we look to the kind of the physical side of life. So we work from the outside in when we look at properties. Is there a boundary in place or is access to the site open? Are the gates to the property to restrict vehicle access? So access control is one of the key phases. Then we work through towards the outside of the property looking at any other measures there. So a layered security approach. Are there other gates? Is there planting which screens from view or planting which obstructs? So you know your real thorn bushes and things like that. Yeah what kind of vulnerable points are there. And then we’re looking at the outside of the property and cameras, CCTV. You know does that give a good view of the of the property? Does it cover vulnerable points? And then through to basics kind of the real basics which is do we have good solid locks on doors? Locks on windows? Have we got door contact sensors? And then inside which are the impassive infrared motion detectors linked to your armed systems. And then finally we’ll be looking at things like creating different zones within the house and detecting movement throughout the house so should someone get into your home, they’ve bypassed all your security measures, can you trace their movements around the home and slow them down until the police can get there? And when you trace them, they may have had to go through at break windows and therefore to bypass the locks. But we’re introducing other elements, so we’ll have internal locks on doors and that just slows them down. So certainly doors to key areas, people coming through windows we  can we keep them in rooms rather than allowing them access to stairwells. So we’re restricting them going up through the property. So let’s say you’re in the property that buys you time, you can lock yourself in your room ring the police and hopefully they’re going to get there way before the burglar can get access to your valuables or worst case scenario to you.

    Alex: Right and when you look to a point if you’re doing this yourself and you’re looking to select a security company, whether it’s alarms or CCTV what sort of things, should one look for?

    Richard: I think this is probably one of the biggest areas people don’t necessarily pay enough attention to, this area when you think a security company is going to come to your home they’re going to know your home and your security intimately. Whether you engage with them or whether you decide not to, so I think one of the first things that we’re going to look at is reputation have you have come about that company, what’s their online reputation? But then also who can we speak to? How can we verify the level of service that they’ve given? How long have they been established? All those kind of background things. We should be looking for them to be accredited so what that’ll mean is that they’re working to a quality management standard so they’re going to give high levels of service and they’re also going to have good processes and procedures in place as recommended. Through things like British standards and also that they’re working to those kinds of British standards. We’re then looking for things like good measures to have in place so engage with them and see the staff and the installers and the people that they’re employing. Have they done background checks on those people which they should have done working in the security industry? And then finally we can look at things like the financials of the business. So go to sites like Companies House. Check the directors. Who are they? Are they entitled to be directors? They’re not struck off? And check the financials.

    Alex: Interesting point as well I know you’ve mentioned companies house and especially if it applies to if you’ve got your own business as well and again, I think a lot of people sort of forget that you can register the company at your accountants and I think a lot of people sort of inadvertently fall into the trap of registering their business at their home and again it just forms another layer of information whereby those looking for phishing, scamming or indeed worse, can use that information to their advantage.

    Richard: That’s right. Yes, the thing with online data is in isolation it probably doesn’t give too much away. It’s the compounding effect of lots of different sources of information that can be pulled together. So as you rightly allude to, people do register businesses  to their home address. I think that’s a decision that that needs to be made based on levels of risk. Kind of what type of business is it. Is it customer facing or is it just something that you might use for your property for example. But yes, a Company’s House very searchable feature is very high on Google so if you’re looking for a Director, it’ll it will link you to your home address very very quickly. We’ve also seen that with electoral roles as well they provide exactly the same information. The public ones are searchable with a little bit of information given up but unfortunately removing yourself from things like the electoral role causes other implications around things like finance where they use the electoral information to confirm your identity. But yes it may be wise to disassociate your business from your home. The last thing you want is a disgruntled customer turning up at your gate or your home and challenging you face to face.

    Alex: No, no I quite agree. I mean I think the other hot area is there I say social media because again I think a lot of people are unaware of the implications of  anything that they put onto social media, photos for example and videos, and that those have all got sort of  metadata behind the scenes which again provides another avenue to source information.

    Richard: A very good point. Social media is a fantastic platform. I think when you look at higher profile figures, they’ve got a kind of love-hate relationship with it. It’s a maybe a necessary evil. A lot of images and videos contain  metadata as you’ve rightly pointed out, which can include things like location. So you may innocently snap a photo of, I don’t know, a new watch or present or some part of your home and that will contain location data depending on the settings that you’ve got on your on your mobile phone and I’d say occupants of homes are probably more  likely to be conscious about what they’re posting but what I am seeing a lot of is photos posted on social media by contractors so people who visited your  home doing work there and they take pictures  pictures of work they’ve done for their portfolio without permission. Which could subsequently compromise you. I think if you are using social media and you are posting images just, I’d urge you to consider what’s captured in the image. What’s in the background? What might be present that you haven’t noticed immediately? Are you taking a picture of a room that shows that you do or do not have security there? Does it show that your windows are insecure? Does it give a criminal motivation? That seems to be a strong amount of high-profile people putting pictures of high-value items on and that just that just creates motivation. You’re just telling people you’ve got things that they could steal and that they could make money.

    Alex: Well now indeed and I know the obvious  one because they’re so easy and accessible is of course mobile phones but I have to say a lot of the modern digital cameras as well also store the location metadata and other information behind the scenes, such as your name and other items for that image and people take that and then they also put that online unwittingly. And equally I have seen like you, contractors. those in the property sector again just taking what they feel is something low-key. An image or a feature of a property and put it out to  say well look what we’ve seen today but again as you say, they’ve unwittingly released additional information into the ether of the Internet and again that’s all searchable. And it just provides another level of information. I think again people need to  be aware and mindful of that. So I mean when you start, when you first move into a property, there are the basics that one should do regarding security. Just talk everyone through that and what the next steps thereafter as well should be.

    Richard: I mean it can vary. It depends if you’ve  had a security  survey done  prior to moving in. Then you’ll have a list of tasks that you need to undertake. And what I would suggest that there’s various things you can do, and I would look to quickly establish a baseline which is the pattern of life in your area. What does normal look like? You’re new to that area so you don’t really understand what’s going on. By tuning into the environment you’ll be able to quickly establish what normal looks like so anything suspicious or out of place will be flagged to you. People often forget that crime isn’t just the action happening. Someone doesn’t just break into a house, usually there’s a period before that the target selection and then also the  the surveillance phase. Where people will, no matter how short, will spend a period of time surveilling your home prior to breaking to make sure you’re not there. To see what security’s in place and to see how they how they’re going to undertake the  the crime. So establishing that baseline will give you a chance of spotting suspicious things early. I would say one that people often don’t do is changing the locks to your home. Very very simple, not high cost but when you buy a home how do you know that you have all the keys to that house? It’s not necessarily like a car where there’s a finite number of keys and you can track them. Neighbours may have keys; estate agents may still retain some keys. It’s hard to know where those keys are so simply changing your locks gives you control. And putting very good locks on is a great start. Changing alarm codes or gate access codes and things like that. People, contractors, you don’t know who’s got access to those. So that’s a great place to start. And then I’d say ensuring the basics are in place. So have you got locks on your windows? Have you got restrictors for downside downstairs windows to limit how much the windows can open? Are your door locks to the highest standard? Do you have access control to the site? So that’s a big one. Just controlling who can come onto your premise when you’re not there. And high value items. Simple things like making sure that high value items aren’t in sight. So cars is a big one at the moment people are targeting. People simply based on the vehicles that they’re driving. If you leave those on your driveway, you leave yourself open to being targeted.

    Alex: Yeah, it’s a very valid point and that’s partly where I suppose garages are making a bit of a comeback because you can hide it all and keep it out of sight.  A garage is a very useful tool. Exactly though when you talked about external people coming on site. I mean when you say for example, have contractors in, whether it’s for security means or it’s the builders or whoever, it’s going to be what most measures should you think about or put in place.

    Richard: I think it’s very interesting when you think of your home. It’s quite a secure environment simply because people don’t really know a great deal about it. It’s hard to get a lot of information. A lot of the stuff we’re talking about is just building up that information picture and anytime you have contractors into your home, you expose more information. More than would be openly available. So it’s very important when you get contractors in to consider who is doing the work. Are they reputable? Do they could have good policy and procedure in place? Are they vetting and screening the people who are working for them? How are you controlling access? Are you giving them a key to your home when you’re not there, which is obviously high risk. Are you giving them access codes? Are you supervising them while they’re there? And we would strongly recommend that you restrict access in your home. Allow them to only work in the areas that’s necessary and that you that you supervise them. You monitor what they’re up to. High-value items make sure that they’re not on display. Just temptation can get the better of people and also things like recording who’s attended the site so you get the company in, you just have to do a simple sign-in with their names and their dates so that you can trace back should an event happen and supply to the police names and addresses of people who’ve been to your property so they can eliminate them.

    Alex: Yeah I think it’s a certainly a very valid point that last one and certainly I suppose when estate agents show people around property, there’s various measures you can, I suppose, put in place up to a point but at the end of the day from an estate agent’s perspective it’s just a few phone calls sometimes with an individual but I suppose it’s thereafter with regard as we previously talked about. The images and the rights to those and the virtual tours and where those have gone and it’s this sort of legacy, if you will. What should one consider or/and indeed estate agents consider with that data and how to also vet people?

    Estate agents play a huge part in safety and security and I guess when people are selling a home, they’re probably less concerned. It’s probably people buying a home that are inheriting any potential problems or information control. From there I’d say with when you’re engaging with an estate agent, you should be looking for someone who’s aware. So when you when you speak to them and you speak about how they’re going to promote the property, you should also ask how they’re going to control that information. What’s their process for removing that information? So when we do security assessments and surveys, we’re doing an online trawl and regularly we’ll find legacy images on third-party websites, so not the estate agents directly necessarily but the third-party websites are still left on there and on our clients behalf we’ll speak with them and we’ll get them to remove those images and that legacy data. From an estate agent point of view, as I mentioned, they’ve got a big part to play and I think there’s a lot that they can do and you should be asking them what their policy and procedures are and I know you’re very swept up with this Alex but that qualifying leads is a huge one for me. Especially when you move to the higher end stuff and there was a great piece of research done by a company called Perpetuity Research and one of the offenders that was interviewed in there a convicted burglar was quite candid about how he would visit high-end properties that were for sale on the market, pretend to be interested in purchasing and then go back months later and burgle them. So qualifying those leads, confirming the identity of the people who are going to visit the property, credit checks. I mean it’s in their interests as well. Why waste time with people who can’t and won’t buy the property as well as put your clients or the new purchaser at risk.

    Alex: Indeed and it’s a very very fine balance because sometimes, certainly with the higher end properties, people, as you’ve just said, should be private and restricting what information you give. You fall into GDPR which most of the agents fully comply with as well and again it’s just getting that. It’s just striking that balance but I think it’s very much an evolving frontier and a lot of agents say, indeed myself, can sign up to all the various governing bodies and there’s ways and means to go about these things but I have to say I always play on this, it comes back to its experience. At the end of the day, you know there’s a sort of a sixth sense as an agent when you’re speaking with someone and just how they’re answering or not answering sometimes relevant questions or are they forthcoming with information, you can instantly tell and I have to say it’s becoming more and more at the front of agents minds that if you’re not quite getting the right answer or not quite that right feel, then you put a stop on proceedings and you don’t allow people around. Equally just going back momentarily to the virtual tour side of things, agents are now, not necessarily putting those on the website. They’re using that as a tool so that if a buyer is mindful of the virus situation or they’re at the other end of the country or abroad, they can view it online via a shared computer screen if you will with the estate agent. And again that helps retain that element of control which I think more and more agents are aware of.

    Richard: That’s right and  I know from speaking to you as well you’re seeing a great increase in people wanting to sell homes off the market out of the public eye completely. I thoroughly understand why people would want to do that especially when you get to the higher levels I know it’s not necessarily pertinent to the general market, but I know with bigger, more expensive homes I can understand that people really want to maintain privacy of that that home.

    Alex: I know. very much so. And in some circumstances because it’s  a rare or a more unusual property, you can apply a bit more of a premium for that and it’s offering the exclusive. So it’s almost a win-win situation by trying to sell something off market. You can get a higher value but equally as you said not everyone wants their property and their name all emblazoned in lights and again it’s just having that insight and a sensible judgment call on it all.

    Alex: Richard it’s been really useful to talk everything through with you and if people want to get in touch and talk through their security measures and go through things in a bit more detail, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

    Richard: I’ll say the simple way is to visit our website and get in touch with the website. So it’s or you can drop us a line on 0333 3056615.

    Alex: That is super Richard. Really appreciate your time and insight and look forward to speaking with you soon.

    Richard: Thanks Alex. Great to speak to you.

    Richard Christian of BluSkills (Home Security Expert & Former Royal Marine Commando) Discusses Personal Safeguarding

    September 2020
  • Homeowners often believe that they can cut legitimate corners with their home whether it comes to builders, solicitors or estate agents. However, what are they losing sight of and why shouldn’t they do this?


    Don’t Cut Corners with your Home!

    Full transcript below:

    Alex: When it comes to our homes we form such an emotional connection and for many of us we work very hard over numerous years to be able to afford the property in the first place so when it comes to selling our beloved home, many homeowners lose sight that it’s our most sizeable financial asset. So why do some choose to cut a corner? It defies all logic to instruct a conveyancing solicitor because they were cheap, or an estate agent who will sell your home for £50 for the same reason, or have that extension done because the builder could get lower-quality materials. My absolute top tip is to never cut a corner when it comes to your home. It is the one asset that has been historically proven to be the safest investment you can make over the medium to long term. So, if you’re going to add value with an extension get it done to the appropriate standard. A cheap estate agent or solicitor will only cost you down the line. Value for money does not mean the cheapest or indeed the most expensive deal, it’s about getting the job done for the best result at the right price. As with everything in life you get what you pay for, so don’t make it at the expense of your most valuable asset.

    Don’t Cut Corners With Your Home!

    July 2020
  • It’s an age-old question – who should show people round when selling your home? Should you do it, as you know your home best, and you’re familiar the local area? Or is it better to leave it to the estate agent who has no emotional ties to the house? Should the buyer ever meet the owner and if so when? Property consultant Alex Goldstein discusses this issue and shares his advice on this often debated topic.

    Who Should Show People Around When Selling Your Home?

    July 2020
  • Property expert Alex Goldstein asks Are Interior Designers Worth the Money in this chat with design expert Eleanor Goddard from Furnish and Fettle. He discusses what clients use designers for, from simply helping to choose paint colours, to ideas for a full design project. He also asks Eleanor for her top tips for people who are thinking about using an interior designer.

    Are Interior Designers Worth the Money?

    Full transcript below:

    Alex: It’s great to have Eleanor Goddard from Furnish and Fettle here in the studio with me today. Eleanor thanks so much for coming in. Tell us a bit more because it’s quite interesting where you guys are at the moment, because it’s all a relatively new business isn’t it?

    Eleanor: It is Alex yes, basically Furnish and Fettle was born last summer on the morning of Brexit actually which was a swell time. We bought the James Brindley business in Wetherby which had to be rebranded so Furnish and Fettle was born then.

    Alex: Fantastic, and also, I hear there’s some more exciting news as well, you guys don’t really hang about from what I gather.

    Eleanor: No, we definitely don’t. So, we had the opportunity to buy the James Brindley interior design division in January this year, so we set ourselves a very short timescale and we opened our second Furnish and Fettle showroom in Royal Parade at the end of March.

    Alex: So that’s in Harrogate, right by Valley Garden so within what timeframe is that from opening your doors initially to then opening up your Harrogate branch? Must only have been about six months I guess?

    Eleanor: Yeah, I think it’s slightly longer, I think it’s eight, maybe nine months.

    Alex: There you go that’s pretty impressive to start with, given that you’ve now also taken on the James Brindley side of things. You’ve got this amalgamation, what are the sort of things that say yourselves an interior designer, what are the services that you actually offer now?

    Eleanor: Alright, well essentially now we’ve got the original James Brindley interior design team back together, so we’ve got a very established team of people that are used to working together and not only do we have the design team, we have the installations team and that’s really important because it doesn’t matter how good a design is if actually when you get your curtains arriving if they don’t fit properly and they’re not put up properly and the end result isn’t going to be that great so that’s really key to what we offer is the whole process really. So, we can offer anything whether its just a tin of paint or a roll of wallpaper for a feature wall through to a full interior design service and we can also work on large projects and renovation projects in conjunction with architects. We really can offer that whole process.

    Alex: How does an interior designer actually help a homeowner? What can you actually do, what do you do?

    Eleanor: Yeah, I think it’s a big misconception that interior designers are really only there for people like footballer’s wives in these amazing great big pads so really, we offer two different sides to the way that we work. There’s the very straightforward accessible to everybody option, where you can come into our showroom and can spend the time choosing the right colour and getting that expert advice which won’t cost you anymore than if you went to B&Q to buy a tin of paint.

    Alex: Got you, I suppose that’s the more simplistic side of things and general sort of basics for wallpaper and paint, and what’s the reverse side of things?

    Eleanor: The reverse side of things is that you would pay an interior design fee which is £175, which we’re confident is market leading for the value that it represents. So, the designer would then come out to your home and would spend as much time as they need to, understanding what it is that you’re really looking to achieve from your project and how you live in the space, how you want it to feel and what it is you are looking for at the end of that project. They would then come back to the showroom and they put a lot of work in behind the scenes, getting different things together and sourcing pieces for you and putting a scheme together, perhaps getting some ideas for different wall coverings or fabrics for putting curtains together and then at that stage they’d probably invite you back into the showroom and take you through it. So, all the way through it’s a collaborative process. I mean essentially, we’re pulling together all the different projects that are out there in the marketplace and it’s a vast marketplace, I mean I think we’ve got something like over 100 different suppliers just of fabrics and I know for a fact that we’ve got over 2,000 fabric books just in Harrogate because we had to move them over from James Brindley into our own showroom at Wetherby.

    Alex: So that’s really where an interior designer would come into their own because they will intrinsically know inside out all of that information and can pinpoint the fairest options and save effectively the homeowner a lot of time and hassle and start to hone in on specifics at the end of the day.

    Eleanor: Yeah it’s like when you would walk in and we see it all the time, people walk into the showroom and go oh crikey where do I start and you say right ok well what you looking and get all I want is some curtains for my lounge and it’s then pairing that down into what it is they’re actually looking for and then being able to take to perhaps looking through five or six books which might then have thirty fabrics in each, and being able to pair that down to a couple of choices and just taking away that completely overwhelming situation in that you can walk in and go ooo.

    Alex: I quite agree and what happens, I mean obviously a lot of listeners have got children everyone’s always mindful and yeah you pick up these fantastic interior design magazines, everything is all beautiful and white and very much sort of the French country look sort of thing. How can you guys fit in with that because again if you’re a family with children you can’t sort of have that pristine white?

    Eleanor: Yeah, I think that’s really important because it’s our job really to make sure the space doesn’t just look beautiful, but it actually works. So somebody comes to us and tells us that they live on a farm and they’ve got three dogs, the last thing we’re going to suggest they do is have a beautiful cream sofa, we’re going to suggest to them that perhaps you need something a little bit more practical something that you’re going to be able to get cleaned, something that you’re going to be able to perhaps throw over it to stop is you know getting, the dogs can jump on the throw and you can chuck the throw in the washing machine. We are very practical as well as having that sort of design side with it and I think the two very much need to marry together to make sure that it works.

    Alex: How does it work if, I know we briefly touched on the budget side of things, obviously as you said at the beginning if you are sort of a footballers wife territory and budget is no option, its meaningless that’s fantastic but what happens if you’re the other side of the fence and your saying well I just need a helping hand in the right direction but I’m a bit more constrained on budget, how can you then help a homeowner to get that look?

    Eleanor: I think it’s going back to that industry knowledge so if somebody tells us that they’ve got a budget we can work within that budget. The designers are trained to know which items are going to make a really big difference so it might be that together with your designer you would choose to spend a lot of money on a real big wild piece in a bedroom or it might be having a beautiful upholstered bed head made in a lovely fabric but then you might chose to use a less expensive fabric on your huge windows and therefore you’re making that budget goa little bit further. There are lots of clever ways and it’s having that access to all of those different suppliers and the knowledge of what to get from where and then that sort of sense of style that these guys have in being able to pull it all together that is really going to make the difference so you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to get a really good look.

    Alex: With your experience in the business what are your top tips if someone is looking to appoint and instruct an interior designer? What are the key things in your mind that people should be mindful of and sort of any potential pitfalls that they should avoid?

    Eleanor: I think the absolute key to it is finding somebody that you get on with and that you can work with and that will listen to what you’re saying to them and will take it on board and the things they’re coming back with are going in the right direction, and that’s easy to test out because you can come along to one of our showrooms which is what we suggest most people do as a starting point and you can just browse through some fabrics, you can chat to the designers because we’ve got lots of designers and it might be that one designer you particularly gel with more than another. That’s really important as you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person and you’re going to be perhaps having them in your house and sharing sort of your personal space with them so you really do need to be on the same wavelength to make sure that you work together and you need to enjoy working with them because at the end of the day it’s meant to be a fun process.

    Alex: It is indeed, I suppose just on a parting note if someone just said well look I just want I suppose re-orientating and pointing in the right direction as you said the designer can come out for £175 but I guess there’s no obligation they can sort of say well you know what you need to do what we think you need to do.

    Eleanor: That’s absolutely fine and some people do that and then they might just come in and just buy a mirror and a lamp and we never see them again, other people might decide to take down all the real curtains and start from scratch. Either’s absolutely fine.

    Alex: Fantastic stuff, well Eleanor I can’t thank you enough for coming in and if people wanted to chat through everything in more detail with you, what’s the best way to reach you guys?

    Eleanor: You can come in and see us, I think it’s the best thing, it’s very much a touch and feel kind of business. We like to think we’re sort of the friendly approachable side of interior design. We have a website as well if you want to have a look and have a read through about us before you do that, we’re or you can call us at either of our showrooms. The number for Wetherby is 01937 581451 and our new Harrogate number is 01423 567757.

    Alex: Fantastic, Eleanor thank you once again, really appreciate it.

    Eleanor: Thank you Alex.


    Interview With Eleanor Goddard from Furnish & Fettle | Are Interior Designers Worth the Money?

    July 2020
  • Listen to Alex Goldstein’s chat with James Tiffany of Roger Tiffany Limited, who reveals some amazing builder tips, including what to look for when choosing a builder, and what to avoid. They also talk through the process of a building project from planning and design stage right through to completion, including how to deal with common problems.


    Amazing Builder Tips

    Alex: We are honoured, indeed, to have James Tiffany here in the studio. Now, you’ve been in the business a long time, haven’t you?

    James: Yes. I did construction management at university, then I worked for some national contractors for 12 years before moving back to the family business about 10 years ago.

    Alex: Back to the family, there you go, there you go. And it’s quite interesting. I mean, you look out in the sort of the general sort of property marketplaces, strikes me, there are lots of builders out there. And they’ve all got their vans, and they’ve all got their logos, but if you’re just Joe Public like me, what do you actually need to look for in a good quality builder?

    James: I think you need to go for someone who has been in business for a number of years. Longevity is a quality, obviously, because it’s important you get a builder who is good at business, as well as good at building, because if somebody goes bust or can’t finish your project, then even if the quality’s good, that gives you a big problem. Somebody who has been around, somebody who can provide references, somebody who’s recommended by an architect or somebody else in the industry is obviously a good reference, and somebody who would be happy to sign up to a building contract because that means many things. It means they’re happy to work and get paid monthly. They’re not asking for money up front. They’re happy to have a retention deducted from the work, Alex. That gives you the comfort that they’ll come back at the end to put things right.

    Alex: Yeah, no, absolutely. People often say, “Well, if my builder can start straightaway, then he’s obviously no good because his diary’s completely empty.” Is that also another point to go by, or am I just clutching at straws there?

    James: I think that can be a little bit unfair.

    Alex: Obviously, the odd free space does crop up.

    James: Yes, it does, and especially in winter when things are a bit quieter. But, I think, if you’ve looked at the other points, you’ve taken references, and you’ve spoken to an architect, then it may be you just dropped lucky.

    Alex: Yeah. I mean, one of the, I suppose, jargon phrases is this sort of ‘procurement process’. Just talk everyone through, what does that actually mean. What does that actually entail, again, if I’m a homeowner and I’m looking to get you on board?

    James: Well, the traditional procurement route, Alex, is that if a homeowner’s looking to get some work done, they will tend to approach the architect in the first instance because the architect will guide them through the planning process. He will tailor a brief, he will provide them with some options, develop their brief so that they’re happy with it. Today, there’s more and more regulations to get through. The planning process is more complicated, especially if you’re in a conservation area or a national park. There’s more energy efficiency regulations. You have to have a SAP calculation done before you do any work. The architect, once he’s got the drawings through the planning process and to a building regulations stage, can then invite tenders from building contractors on behalf of the client, and that really is the way to do it. Employing the architect, then, to monitor the works throughout, to check the quality, is definitely the way to go.

    Alex: And so the tendering process, as you mentioned, what does that entail? What does that take?

    James: So a builder will take the architect’s drawings, schedule of work, specification, and he will price to that. We’re normally given sort of three to four weeks to put a price in with others. Everybody gets the same amount of time and the same information, to keep things fair. And then, if it’s been set out properly, then the client and his team can analyse that price when it comes in to make sure that everything’s been covered. Or, if things haven’t been covered, then at least everybody [inaudible 00:03:07].

    Alex: Surely, on that sort of basis, it just comes down to price, surely. Is it down to being the cheapest, on those tender processes?

    James: Well, theoretically, it could come down to price, but sometimes on a tender, the client asks for a methodology. You know, “Please explain how you’re going to build this, how you’re going to do it without affecting the neighbors, how you’re going to do it without knocking down something that you’re driving past every day.” And also, program, “Is it going to take three months, four months, or six months?” So there’s other things that can matter, as well, but as long as the builders know at the outset, then that’s the fair tendering process.

    Alex: Got you, got you. And how does a homeowner know that they’re going to get the best price? How can you sort of reduce that risk at the end of the day?

    James: Well, getting several quotes obviously helps them.

    Alex: And that’s through the architect again, is it?

    James: It would tend to be, yes. Yeah, that would be the best way to do it. Having a good design with a lot of details helps because, as a builder, then I’m clear, what I’m pricing. It’s when we get ambiguities or things we’ve not met before that the price starts going up because there’s a little bit of risk and that gives us a worry. So the more things that are drawn, the better. If the client schedules things out that they want, you know, the specification of the kitchen, the pottery, the floor coverings, the more detail we get, the better price we can give, Alex.

    Alex: The more accurate?

    James: Exactly, yes.

    Alex: I’ve got you. And there’s a bit of a buzz at the moment, and there has been for the last few years, about this sort of energy efficiency, and certainly, when you’re looking to extend or, certainly, if you’re building sort of a brand new property from the sort of foundations up, this technology is always sort of advancing and evolving. What are the key things that a lot of clients are coming to you for at the moment? What should people keep an eye on?

    James: Well, people want things increasingly energy efficient, Alex, as you’ve said, and that’s driven by the building regulations, as well as by the client. We get a lot of renewable technologies these days because there are grants available, and clients want things like air source heat pumps which take the energy from outside and use that for heating. It’s free heating. Solar panels on the roof provide free electricity that goes back into the grid, and a client can actually receive an income back from the power company. Underfloor heating is obviously very common.

    Alex: At the moment, everyone is a property developer, everyone’s an expert. You’ve got all these wonderful programs out there and they make it look so easy. I, personally, don’t feel it’s really the case, but when you, say, come to extend a property or indeed build a new one, that’s very much the trend at the moment. What are the issues that, with your experience, people sort of come across and need to be, I suppose, aware of? Because it’s not a case of one of those sort of property hammer programs you buy for \$50,000, and you spend \$10,000, and all of a sudden it’s worth \$150,000. I don’t think it’s as straightforward as that.

    James: It always seems very easy, doesn’t it, on the program?

    Alex: It does. It’s easy in a sentence sense.

    James: The things to look out for are to get some advice on price up front. It’s amazing, the amount of clients we go to who’ve not been given any advice on how much a job will cost, so we often price it and they can’t afford it. So, speak to a builder early on, perhaps before you’ve even employed an architect. It will certainly give you an approximate estimate of the cost, within 15%, 20% accuracy, and that will help in your decision making. So, we definitely do that because that avoids wasted cost and time. Things like speaking to your neighbors, people forget to do, especially if you’re living in close proximity to them. Again, we turn up on site, it’s the first time the neighbor knew there was going to be a building project, and we get all sorts of issues. Things like trees and hedges can be problems, especially if you’re digging near them. Again, people overlook them. Conifer hedges, leylandii, big trees can all give problems to your new extension that’s encroaching on them, so things like that. Disruption to your own house. If you’re knocking through the kitchen into the dining room, you’re going to get a lot of dust. You might not have considered that it means changing the heating system, or that your hallway and your entranceway are then going to need decorating. The builder can obviously damage your driveway because he needs a compound and he’s bringing diggers in, and he needs to take down your hedges and your fences at the back of the house, and people, perhaps, forget that they then need putting back. The drive may need repaving or re-tarmacking. These are all costs that people forget about.

    Alex: Indeed, but those are things that you’d sort of say, in advance, “Just so you’re aware, to get access, we need to do…”

    James: Exactly. A good builder would flag that up. But, again, if that’s in the tender documentation, then everybody’s pricing that.

    Alex: Absolutely. So it’s not as easy as I thought. You look, on TV, and it’s not as easy as making all that sort of money from one of those auction programs, is it?

    James: No, it isn’t, definitely not, definitely not.

    Alex: Right. The other issue that people often come up against is damp, damp appearing in the property or, indeed, sort of rising damp where it sort of comes up the brickwork. How can you sort of get around that? What are the options?

    James: In a new property, obviously, you shouldn’t have any damp, Alex, and that’s alarming. You should always look for the damp proof course in the brickwork. In an old property, it’s more complicated because houses weren’t built to current standards, obviously. Things to do, that you can do is to check the roof to make sure you don’t have any broken slates, that your gutters aren’t blocked. Cleaning out your gutters every year after the autumn is something to do. But old houses can just be damp. The solid walls, modern living, means we’re putting a lot of moisture into houses. With washing machines being increasingly airtight, plastic windows don’t help really, so you must ventilate your own homes. Keep the heating on, keep trying to get the moisture out of the buildings. Sometimes, in an old property, you can’t avoid some levels of damp, but it may be that you don’t have a damp course, so you can inject a damp course. There’s easy ways to do it. It can be disruptive because you’ve got to knock the plaster off the walls. Or, you might have external ground levels that are higher than inside, so that might mean that you have to tank, and tanking isn’t easy when it’s done afterwards, but it is possible. There are experts out there that can advise on that.

    Alex: And just picking up on that point, what is the difference between, say, a damp proof course and tanking?

    James: Well, if your outside levels are higher than inside, then a damp proof course won’t work because the damp can still strike through from outside, so you must tank that wall above the height of the external ground levels to stop the water coming in. Alternatively, you let the water come in and you have an internal drain and an internal lining wall, and then you just drain the water away. So, often, in a basement, you’ve just got to accept that that water will get in, and you put a pump in and you get rid of the water.

    Alex: Really heard it all there, fantastic stuff. And I’m sure, surely, in your career, you’ve had some amusing stories that you may have come across, botched DIY jobs, possibly, that you’ve had to help out with. Anything springs to mind there?

    James: Well, we’ve got to be careful what we say, Alex, really, but yeah, we’ve come across those. We’ve come across… We’ve been caught in the middle of a crossfire of arguments between husband and wife, which can always be a little bit embarrassing.

    Alex: Yeah, it can be difficult.

    James: I’ve heard of builders that might have knocked expensive vases off furniture before, and now, Alex, have to glue them back together.

    Alex: Obviously, nothing to do with yourself.

    James: No. And yes, with the onset of Google, it does amuse us when we have a client who can’t answer a question on a Friday afternoon, but by Monday morning, he’s an expert on the subject and puts us on the back foot. So, all things that are difficult at the time, but quite amusing afterwards, Alex.

    Alex: Absolutely, absolutely. And we’ve had some great sort of inside information there, James. If someone wants to sort of talk through anything with you, whether it’s energy efficiency, or extending, or damp proofing, what’s the best way for people to get in touch?

    James: Yeah, happy to help, obviously. Phone us or visit to our website, Our phone number is 01756 793734.

    Alex: Fantastic, James. Thank you so much, indeed, for coming on the show. Really appreciate it.

    James: Thank you, Alex.

    Choosing A Builder | Tips & Advice from James Tiffany of Roger Tiffany

    July 2020
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