Friday, 27 June 2014

Web Watch #1

A Selection of trending stories from around the web and across social networks:

* Young homeowners worried about debt: The Daily Telegraph highlights a report from the Homeowners Alliance which found fears of a rise in interest rates is causing concern amongst younger home owners.  Many have only been able to buy their homes with help such as loans from family, Help to Buy schemes and low interest rates. The Telegraph also comments that the rise in house prices is causing young people  to resort to ‘desperate measures” to get on the housing ladder.

*  Homeowners typically need £1,200 to cover mortgage and household bills:  In some helpful advice from Zoopla, buyers are encouraged to think about their monthly household budget.  Research from the Money Advice Service shows that the average household bill consists of £749/month on the mortgage and £467/month on other bills. The new rules on mortgage lending introduced in April focus on the affordability of taking on a mortgage, particularly in regard to foreseeable events such as having a baby or a rise in interest rates.  This means that mortgage applications are taking longer due to the need to provide evidence of other financial commitments.

* Demand for homes is on the up in Devon and Cornwall Finally a local story which appeared in May’s Western Morning News reporting that, according to a recent survey of estate agents, demand for property is on the up.  The study also found that estate agents also expected prices to rise and that confidence has returned to the South West housing market.  However, Cornish sellers were warned that being realistic about the value of their homes was still important.

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Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fancy living the Good Life in Cornwall? Here's how.....

If there’s one thing that defines a Cornish summer, it is the thought of a cream tea with lashings of fresh clotted cream and a large bowl of ripe local strawberries to tuck into.  If your cream tea was enjoyed near the Lizard Peninsula, it may well be that those strawberries were grown at Grange Farm
A picture of Grange Farm house with gardens surrounding it

Fernly and Maralyn Curnow have lived near Gweek all of their lives and decided, in 1992, to build a home and plant a few strawberries on the land.  With a background in agriculture and a love of the land, Fernly was perfectly placed to start his enterprise. Over the years, they have run a B&B, served cream teas on the lawn and established a local restaurant. 
A picture of Fernly and Maralyn selling strawberries

Their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit has paid off and today they run a successful business which sells strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries to a wholesaler for distribution in local shops. “We have a number of polytunnels which keeps everything dry and a watering system which saves us watering by hand” says Maralyn.  Despite the poor weather at the beginning of this year, they are looking at a bumper crop this season “I’ve got so many raspberries, I’m not sure how I’m going to pick them all!” says Fernly.  “We planted apple, plum and pear trees recently and last year, Fernly made 54 bottles of wine from our own vines” continues Maralyn

Now the Curnow’s would like to enjoy the fruits of their labours and spend more time with their family. “It’s time to move on and hand the business over to someone else” Maralyn explained “We’ve enjoyed it so much and met many lovely, friendly people over the years” Fernly concludes “We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us and we want to say a big ‘Thank you’.  However I’m looking forward to having a bit more time with my grandchildren”.  They have joined the National Trust and are relishing the prospect of spending more time visiting gardens and on Coverack Beach, perhaps even enjoying a cream tea.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

How best to find a solution for Radon

You may have heard of radon gas and wondered what it is, how it might affect your home and what you can do about it.  Here’s a quick guide and some good news about how you can deal with high levels of the gas if necessary.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas which comes from granite and has no taste or smell.  All of us are exposed to it, however, some areas of the UK with most granite, such as Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, have higher levels of the gas.

A picture of a beach with granite rocks leading down to the sea
Granite in Cornwall

Radon circulating in the air poses little risk to us, it’s only when it gets trapped in our homes that the risk rises.  As we breath in, the radioactive elements enter our lungs and start to decay which, over time, can lead to tissue damage and in some cases, lung cancer.  The risk is greater if your lungs are already damaged from smoking.  It’s therefore, important to reduce the levels of radon coming into our homes.

Testing is easy and under £50.  You will be sent two small plastic detectors which you leave in your home for 3 months and then send away for evaluation.  Levels from house to house vary and it may be that your levels are low and, therefore, nothing to worry about.  

Fortunately, there are quite a few solutions available if you find high levels in your house. It may be that you need a sump under the floor boards which sucks any radon away before it enters your home, or a positive ventilation fan which blows air from your loft changing the pressure in your house.  If you have a suspended floor, natural ventilation may well be all you need, or you may need mechanical underfloor ventilation.  

If you were buying a house that had a high level of radon, your mortgage company may consider a retention until the right solution is found.  However, as you can see, testing is easy and there are many solutions which can fix the problem, so it shouldn’t stop your sale from going through. Have a chat with us and we can advise you on the best course of action.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Shelter Inspired Art

Here at Hus, we are supporting Shelterbox this year and we are pleased to promote the work of artist, Lindsey Morgan-Lundie who is using her work to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees through her art installation.

Lindsey Morgan Lundie painting a picture
Lindsey Morgan-Lundie

While on a mentoring course at Newlyn School of Art with nine other contemporary Cornish Artists, printmaker, Lindsey Morgan-Lundie was struck by a picture of a refugee child standing outside a tent in Syria. ‘I was exploring the idea of portraiture, when I came across a haunting image of a girl’s face’ she explained.  Lindsey was moved to find out more about refugees and set off on a journey of exploration that led to an art installation at the PZ Gallery in Penzance between 7-11 June 2014.  

Lindsey discovered a love of printing during her Fine Art degree in Falmouth in 2007.  Since graduating she has exhibited her prints on many occasions and is currently the resident printmaker at Cornwall College in Camborne, where she teaches students various printing techniques.  She was thrilled to be selected to go on the first mentoring course at Newlyn, where she works alongside an eclectic mix of other local artists.  It was here that she started to consider the themes of shelter, relationship and community.

The final show will feature end of year work from all of the artists being mentored at Newlyn, and will include paintings, films and installations.  Lindsey’s own installation will feature multiple small tents, made using wax. Each one unique and fragile, exploring our inherent need for communication and relationship.

‘When disasters happen, communities often pull together,’ Lindsey said ‘Its been interesting to explore how we crave relationship and don’t like the feeling of isolation’.  Each tiny wax tent, will be individually printed with an varied mix of near Eastern patterns, original drawings and pictures of nature.  ‘I love the quality and fragility of wax and the fact  that it allows me to create layers of meaning within the work’ Lindsey explained.

Entry to the PZ Gallery is free and events during the exhibition are being planned, so keep an eye on the Newlyn School of Art website for more details.

Showroom PZ Gallery Poster advertising end of year show from Newlyn Art School

Newlyn School of Art Mentoring Course Final Show
PZ Gallery
7 Coinage Street
TR18 4AY

More information from 

Open Saturday 7th June 11am
Private View June 7th 6-9pm

Open Sunday to Wednesday 11-6pm each day

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What to do if you have Mundic in your house

Did you know that Mundic is a Cornish slang word?  From about the 1900’s to the 1960’s some of the waste from the Cornish mines was used in the making of concrete blocks.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time and must have felt like a cheap, early form of recycling.  

However, as the years passed, it was discovered that some of the bits of iron ore used in the mix became unstable when wet.  This really came to light as we started to install unventilated double-glazing into our houses in the 1970’s.  We might well have been nice and warm, but the moisture trapped in the houses made the walls damp and consequently the concrete blocks started to degrade and crumble.

A picture of concrete breeze blocks

You will probably find that if you are buying a house in Cornwall built between 1900 and 1965, your mortgage company will ask that you have a Mundic test.  The test costs approximately £350 and will involve a specialist drilling holes and taking samples of the concrete.  The concrete is tested and the results will fall into 4 classes: A and A/B will be sound and safe, whilst B will be sound but likely to cause problems in the future and lastly C which is clearly unsound. 

Houses that are affected by Mundic are generally sold at a lower price because of the difficulties of getting a mortgage, which means if you are a cash buyer, you may well pick up a bargain.  It might be that just one wall needs replacing or in the worst cases, you may wish to consider re-development of the site.

The good news for sellers, according to Cornwall Consultants, is that 80% of the 14,000 houses they have checked, come back with an class ‘A’  and only 5% end up with a class ‘C’.  If your house, was to fall into either the B or C classes, then you should have a chat with your Estate Agent who can advise you on what you should do next and how it might be best to help you market your house.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Writing a new chapter in a Newlyn home

The arrival of super-fast broadband and the rise in popularity in remote working gives many people the opportunity to make Cornwall their home.  Copywriters, Dee and Gerard are no exception.  

Following their marriage in 2009 at the beautiful Trereife House near Penzance, they "up'd sticks" from London and re-located to West Cornwall.  After a period of renting, they bought a 3 bedroom terraced house in the centre of busy fishing port, Newlyn.

A picture of Dee in the pantry and Gerard relaxing in their Newlyn home

Dee describes how, since 2009, the charming Edwardian House has been ‘lovingly restored.’ “We decided to update the house and bring it firmly into the 21st century” she revealed “It took a team of helpers to strip the house of the wood chip wallpaper, re-plaster and re-point. We removed gas fires, installed period cast iron fireplaces, renewed the electrics and generally ‘de-70’d it’.”  During the renovation, they even found a fire-place surround although, to their surprise, it was tucked under the lounge floorboards!  The house, which had been garishly decorated in the 1970’s has now been given a new lease of life and brightened up using contemporary neutral colours.

A picture of an Edwardian terraced house in Newlyn
The lounge in a Newlyn Edwardian Terraced house

Dee loves to cook in her light filled kitchen but confesses that the duel aspect loft is her favourite room.  “The views of Mounts Bay on one side with the harbour and town on the other, make it a fantastic room to work in” she said “Because of the nature of our business, we are in this room for so long, it’s inspirational to see the town busy at work whilst we write.”

They have a clear affection for Newlyn and the Mounts Bay area. ’There’s a great sense of community and solidarity in the road we live in and we will miss it very much”  Dee acknowledged.  In fact they love the area so much that they spend their spare time, along with a photographer friend, compiling a blog called the Penzance Post which captures the essence of Mounts Bay along with current events and activities.

Dee and Gerard decided that although they have clearly enjoyed making the house relevant and suited to the 21st century, the time has come for them to be nearer family.  So with a degree of hesitancy they have decided to move a little nearer the centre of Cornwall.  Dee concluded “We are very fond of this house and the neighbourhood, but the time is right for us to move and we won’t be too far away from the friends we have made”

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

De-mystifying the buying and selling process #5 - How to present your house outside for sale

We’ve covered the inside of your house but what about the real first impression that buyers make? Try standing outside your house and having a proper look for 30 seconds. Forget that you live here and put yourself in a potential purchaser’s shoes. Compare it to the neighbouring properties or better still compare it to what you think is the best looking house on the street (that is if you have neighbours! If not then looking at similar properties on the internet will do just as well). 
How are the gutters looking? Been meaning to give the windows a sand and a repaint for a while? Well it’s now or never. Pressure washing the front of the house and the approach is a good start as is making sure the windows are clean, letting as much light in as possible.  Sometimes however something a little more drastic from painting to re-rendering may be required.  
As for the front and back gardens themselves, a well-kept, thoughtfully laid out garden is a powerful incentive for many people when they are choosing a new property. It goes without saying that you should mow the lawns, weed everywhere, pressure wash patio areas and re-lay any wonky paving stones.  Not every house is lucky enough to have an abundance of mature ornamental plants and established trees but with spring upon us you could get some seasonal bedding plants in to add some instant colour.
A table on a deck looking out over a garden with wisteria and sub tropical plants

Garden buildings, everyone loves a shed, great for storage and for some even a safe haven. If you’ve got one spruce it up, a lick of paint, tidied up inside and a lock on the door is another ticked box for a potential buyer. The best tip for gardens is to go out of your way to make it as easy as possible for people to imagine themselves using it. Everyone uses their garden for different reasons, whether it be somewhere for the children to play, a veg patch or entertaining space. Make the most of what you have and make it easy for people to imagine enjoying the space with friends and family.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

De-mystifying the buying and selling process #4 - Preparing your home for sale

You know your home and your area better than your agent, you’ll probably have a fairly good idea what type of person will buy it as well. One very important starting point when preparing your home for sale is to consider your target market, try to coax their interest without alienating others. Got a 3 bed  house with the box room used as a junk room/office? Then for example set it up as a proper small bedroom and move the workstation elsewhere to ensure you appeal to young professional and also those with children.

A cutting from the West Briton about preparing your home for sale
It is very important that you emotionally disconnect from your house when you decide to sell it, potential purchasers need to be able to picture themselves living in the house as soon as they come in through the door. De clutter as much as possible, take down elaborate ornaments and personal photos. Anything that you don’t use daily put away in the loft. Overly large pieces of furniture should also be stored and replaced with smaller ones and make sure you arrange items around the room to maximise the space and make it functional. It is vital that the house appears as large and inviting as possible.
Cleaning and de-cluttering is key. Put away all coats and odds and ends so you immediately get a feeling of space when you walk in through the door. A deep clean throughout will do wonders, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms which will need to shine. In the bathrooms put all bottles and products away, hang fresh white towels neatly up and maybe fit a new loo seat. In the kitchen and dining room clear all surfaces, lay the table for a meal and possibly put some flowers out to give it that spring feeling. 

Fresh coats of paint all round are always a good idea if you have the time. Avoid pure white as it makes the house look a little clinical but anything neutral and warm will do just fine. While you’ve got the brush out why not treat your old front door to a few coats too! Don’t forget the grimy old carpet, wood floors are always a good option if you’ve got some nice floorboards tucked away or if not then again stay neutral when fitting anything new. Kitchens can be brought up to date with new worktops, Corian looks especially good on a budget. Painting the units and fitting new handles also does a sterling job of smartening an old kitchen up and in the bathrooms re-grouting and installing new matching fittings will save you a packet.

Monday, 31 March 2014

How to deal effectively with Japanese Knotweed

Our gardens are full of exotic shrubs bought back by Victorian plant hunters, most of which bring us colour and enjoyment.  However, there is one notorious for blighting, not only gardens but also causing structural damage to buildings.  Japanese Knotweed was transported to England from Japan in the 19th Century and,  at the time was highly prized as an ornamental shrub.  Little was known about its destructive potential when removed from its natural habitat or away from the pests that control its spread.

Japanese Knotweed growing through the pavement and up a wall
The presence of Knotweed, has caused problems when it comes to buying or selling houses.  Mortgage companies have been unwilling to lend money to buy houses which could be destroyed by the roots finding their way through masonry or concrete.  As buyers can’t get a mortgage this reduces the value or may prevent the sale the house. If you suspect you have knotweed, don’t attempt to treat yourself, as shop bought chemicals just won’t do the job and digging it up may leave tiny fragments which can sprout and cause outbreaks in other areas. 

Recently, the Property Care Association (PCA) together with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), has put together guidance to help deal with Japanese Knotweed.  The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) has also endorsed this scheme and, according to their website treats each property on a ‘case-by-case basis’  looking for evidence of initial and ongoing treatment.  

The best thing you can do is get it treated early, using only a specialist weed control contractor who is licensed to use more potent chemicals. Even then, treatment can take 3-4 years to ensure it is killed off properly.  Make sure you look for contractors who can provide guarantees that are backed by UK Insurance Companies which can show your mortgage lender that the treatment has been done properly or is in progress.  Sellers can then provide an insurance backed guarantee (IBG) which means their house is safe to buy.  Buyers can also get a mortgage and have peace of mind that their dream home is one that is safely weed-free.

So, although Japanese Knotweed is the last thing you want to find in your garden, there is lots of information on the web such as here to help you identify the shrub and Hus’s Peter Madsen would be happy to advise you further.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

De-mystifying the buying and selling process #3: What to get ready when you decide you want to buy a house.

As anyone who has bought property can tell you the process is a stressful one. We all know that estate agents only act on behalf of the seller, and are looking for the most committed buyer at the highest price, however what people often forget is that in an increasingly optimistic market it is also a highly competitive process.

a pretty cottage with a large lawn in front
With so many buyers on the prowl and limited stock levels, now more than ever you need to make sure you stand out from the competition and tip the odds in your favour if you want to secure the property of your dreams. If you have a house to sell, get it on the market as soon as you can and ideally get your house sold subject to contract before going out shopping to give yourself the best opportunity of rising to the top of the pile.
If you want to be the first person to hear about new properties agents need to know you are ready to buy. Expanding on this if you have got a mortgage agreed or have cash in the bank you are far more likely to get that call, if you haven’t then go see someone who can help you get this arranged as your competition will have already done so. Make sure your expectations are realistic; agents will soon spot those people whose search criteria will never amount to anything, do your research on prices and area and make sure you aren’t searching for the impossible.
A lot of agents are quite old school in their filing systems so be proactive and make contact regularly so you stay on the Hot Buyer Lists. You’ll find that you are evaluated and ranked from your first phone contact so while you may be loath to play into the hands of yet another shiny suited estate agent knowing the system and getting them onside could pay dividends.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Shelterbox is our charity of the year

Small, well-presented, with development potential and a pleasing outlook. That might be how Hus Estate Agents would describe  Shelterbox because they’ve chosen them as their charity of the year.
At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much to connect a firm of estate agents with ShelterBox. But they are both, in a way, in the business of putting roofs over people’s heads. 
Granted, Hus Estate Agents may be just a little envious of ShelterBox’s numbers – providing homes for thousands of families worldwide in the last few months alone. But as many people know, ShelterBox only steps in when bricks and mortar have failed, providing emergency shelter after disasters such as earthquakes, floods and typhoons

A picture of a child standing behind a Shelterbox box

The good people at Hus have made the connection, and generously decided to support ShelterBox’s work for a whole year with a mix of regular donations and fundraising events.  
Felix Billington director of Hus says, ‘We liked the idea of supporting a locally-based charity that does such fantastic work on a global scale. The disaster relief support that ShelterBox provides makes a real impact to communities in need and is something we should all champion and be proud to support.’
In addition to a monthly donation the Hus team is planning on taking part in ShelterBox’s Dartmoor Challenge. There may also be a charity rally, a racketball competition (Hus director Peter Madsen organises the county racketball championships), and a sponsored run or swim (another director Will Tyas is a keen marathon runner). 
Felix Billington adds, ‘Having lived and worked abroad in developing countries and seen the devastating effects of some natural disasters first hand, supporting ShelterBox was an obvious choice for me. No other charity works as hard or as broadly to support those who are often forgotten by the international community. They truly make a difference to those most in need and we are very proud to support them and their work.’

Photograph used with permission.

Monday, 10 February 2014

De-mystifying the buying and selling process #2: What to get ready when you decide to sell

Making the decision to sell your house is a big one but once you’ve made it there are a few things you can do to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible. After choosing your estate agent the second thing you should do is get a solicitor instructed. How to choose one was covered in last issue’s article in some depth but the important thing to remember is not to leave this step until you agree a sale. Getting started with the paperwork now could save you valuable time and give your buyer less opportunity to change their mind. You will need to sign their terms and conditions, provide ID and complete “property information” and “contents and fittings” forms. At this stage they will also highlight to you some documentation that will be useful to get in place. 
Much of your preparation should focus on speeding up the process from sale to exchange and with this in mind you will want to make sure that you have located your deeds and relevant documentation. Electrical certificates will serve to allay any possible fears on the buyer’s side and if you have gas central heating make sure you have copies of the annual boiler servicing certificates.
If you have had any works done to your house that required planning permission get all of that documentation together in one place, you will also need building regulation details and any completion certificates. Others works that have been carried out such as damp proof work will need their guarantees and if you have had double glazing fitted in the last 10 years you will also need your FENSA certificate.

Lastly depending on the age of your property it may be worth considering getting a home buyers report done. Commissioning  the survey has always historically been the preserve of the prospective buyer but having a newly done survey on hand on viewings and in your estate agent’s office can often shortcut the decision process and stop you from losing many thousands in a re-negotiation.

Monday, 27 January 2014

De-mystifying the Buying and Selling Process #1 How to Choose a Solicitor

So what does a solicitor actually do during a house sale and purchase? Well their main role is to act as the intermediary through whom all legal documentation will pass. This will include contracts and transactions ranging from money transfers to the transfer of legal ownership of the property. Throughout they should liaise with the other party’s solicitor and hopefully expedite the process where possible.
So how to go about choosing the right one? One of the best ways to choose a solicitor is to get a recommendation, family members or friends are a good source or ask your agent to suggest a few to contact. Don’t pick one that is too junior or too busy to pick up the phone and get them to explain the whole process in detail including their fees.  Service levels vary but you should really look to someone who can commit to regular updates about the property transaction and ideally a way of keeping up to date with progress online. While a lot of people still like the reassurance of hiring a local firm so they can pop in with documents, almost all contact can now be done over the phone or on the internet which greatly speeds up the process. 

Getting three quotes is sensible before making a decision as costs can range widely from around £500 to over £1500 depending on the work involved. Furthermore make sure additional costs (often known as “disbursements”) such as postage and VAT are explained clearly upfront.

Sproulls soclitors, Hus Estate Agents
Fees are charged in a variety of ways from fixed fee deals to a percentage based on the value of the property. Some even offer a no-sale no-fee agreement ensuring they are as committed and driven to get to an exchange of contracts as you are. This is an increasingly popular strategy that is definitely worth considering when you consider that according to a survey commissioned by the Conveyancing Association 25% of sales fall through due to bad communication.