Choosing a Buy to Let Mortgage

Key Mortgage Considerations for Property Investors

The buy to let market shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. But getting the right mortgage deal is key to maximising your investment yield.

The past ten years have been rocky for investors. Interest rates have been through the floor, stock markets have tremored, even government bonds started returning negative yields at one point. Yet the property market has remained consistently buoyant through it all.

There are those who say that the market will face its greatest challenge yet when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in a few short weeks. This might or might not be the case, but it is worth keeping in mind that when other investments plummeted in the wake of the EU referendum, the property market held firm.

There is no doubt that even if prices take a short-term hit, property remains a sound investment in the long term. However, as with any investment, it takes a thoughtful strategy to derive the optimum yield. The first thing that most people need to look at is the plentiful choice of buy to let mortgages on the market.

Understand the fees

When you take out a residential mortgage, you tend to look at the interest rate first and foremost. Of course, this is still an important factor with buy to let, but if you immediately plump for the deal with the lowest rate, you might well be making a mistake.

Buy to let mortgages typically have higher up-front fees, so it is imperative that you sit down with a pen and paper to put the different offers side by side and understand which will be most cost-effective in the long run.

Consider affordability

It might sound like a statement of the obvious that you will need to take affordability into account, but here’s the thing: Over the past five or six years, people have been flocking to join the buy to let party, and they have not always done so with both eyes wide open. As a result, the Bank of England (BoE) introduced some quite strict affordability tests in 2017, so be prepared.

A key measure is the Interest Cover Ratio (ICR). This is the ratio to which the property’s rental income needs to cover the mortgage payments. It is tested at a representative interest rate, typically 5.5 percent, and the BoE rules state lenders must look for 125 percent. In simple terms, this means the estimated rental income needs be 125 percent of the mortgage payment. This is the BoE minimum, however, and some lenders work to a higher number, and 140 percent is not uncommon.

Larger portfolios

If you own multiple properties (typically four or more) you will be considered a portfolio landlord, and more stringent lending rules will apply. In this situation, the lender sees you more as a business, and applies appropriate rules for lending.

More properties mean higher ICR expectations, and lenders will also want to go through your existing finance and cash flow projections for the years ahead. Finally, keep in mind that, just like with a business loan, they will want to know just how highly leveraged you are. This means looking across your entire property portfolio and checking the overall loan to value ratio. If it is any more than 65 percent, they will be reluctant to lend you more.

How To Get The Most From Your Staff

Manage Your Team Better Going Into 2019

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to think of ways to up productivity before 2019 arrives.

Whether you have been having problems with your workforce or you want to keep them working at their current high standard, you should always be looking at ways to get the most from your team. Here are five ways of boosting productivity and positivity in your office.

Set meaningful goals

Setting goals is really important. Your employees will feel much more motivated if they know what they are working towards. Don’t expect the impossible though. Asking for something that is out of the realms of possibility will just induce panic and division. Set goals for the team as a whole, and then look at each employee’s unique strengths and set smaller individual goals for them. Keep checking in and ask how they are all getting on, but do so without putting any pressure on them.

Be a good communicator

It’s impossible to get the very best out of your team if you don’t communicate effectively with them. Be open with your team, and don’t withhold useful information from them. You should always give clear feedback too, so that your staff are sure of how they should approach things going forward. If you have something positive to say to someone, do it in front of everyone to boost their confidence and inspire their colleagues. If you have negative feedback, discuss this in private.

Try team building

Investing in some team building activities is a really effective and easy way of getting more out of your team. Zing Events are the go-to team for innovative corporate team building event ideas in London. Their team building activities range from pub quizzes to cooking classes, with all sorts of other creative events available too. With indoor, outdoor and evening activities for you to choose from, you’ll find the perfect one for your team in no time at all.

Make work fun

It’s a great idea to bring some of the fun of a team building event to your regular office schedule. Introducing things like dress down Fridays, monthly team lunches and the occasional night out will give everyone a chance to blow off some steam. Knowing that the workplace can be fun and informal will lead to employees feeling much more positive about their short and long-term goals. This is particularly effective during busy periods where everyone may be feeling stressed.

Let your team do their jobs

It’s important to keep an eye on what your team are up to, but don’t be tempted to micromanage. Letting them do their jobs without having to adhere to super-strict guidelines will allow them to flourish and develop their own unique skills. You may have an idea of how a job should be done, but then one of your employees may totally surprise you with an even more effective solution. So give them room to grow.

What changes will you make?

As you can see, it doesn’t take much at all to get your team working more effectively – both together and individually. If you start implementing changes now, you’ll be on the right path come the start of 2019. As the year goes on, there will be no stopping you all! So what are you waiting for?

How High Street Estate Agents Are Flourishing Online

A Virtual Presence Provides the Best of Both Worlds

The rise of the online estate agent has presented a new risk to the high street. But traditional agents can fight back in the virtual world.

Online estate agents are taking the UK by storm. We’ve all seen the TV ads promising low fees and a quick sale, and there is no doubt that the established agents that are part of every high street are feeling the pinch.

Up until recently, it is fair to say that estate agents have been a little behind the curve when it comes to ecommerce. The popularity of platforms like Rightmove and Zoopla have, according to conventional reason, given them all they need, and few have bothered to devote much time or effort into building an online presence of their own. This new challenge has led to a rethink, and today, SEO for estate agents is a vital part of marketing if they want to remain competitive.

The new breed of seller

If we want to research something, whether it is car insurance or a takeaway pizza, we tend to reach first for our smartphone to check out the options, look at some websites and read reviews. The same applies to customers looking for an estate agent. Suddenly, there is a whole new set of customers who are practically invisible to the high street agents and are drawing their conclusions without venturing beyond their front door or picking up the telephone.

To engage this hidden market, estate agents need to use digital marketing and SEO strategies to attract traffic and then convert those lookers into clients.

Most estate agents have a website, but very few have one that is truly effective from an SEO perspective. Too often, the site has minimal content, and what it does have is repetitive and not properly optimised for SEO.

Technical SEO

The first criterion that any SEO professional will assess relates to the construction of the site itself. Headings, urls and alt text for images should contain the right keywords; the design of the site must be attractive, uncluttered and easy to navigate; the site must be optimised for mobile so that visitors can access content and fill in forms from their smartphones.

Content is king

The content on the site is absolutely core to successful SEO. It’s not enough to provide contact details, pricing information and a list of properties for sale. Clients want to see that an agent really understands the local property market, and a regularly updated blog or news page is the way to demonstrate this.

Google My Business

Local knowledge is the one area in which high street agents can really score points against the online competition, and Google My Business is a tool that allows them to leverage this advantage.

An optimised and verified Google My Business page delivers more traffic directly to the site, but it also helps to establish the hyperlocal credibility of a specific agent, sending the site soaring up the SERP rankings when potential clients enter a geographically specific keyword phrase.

Harsh Winter Likely to Cause More Power Cuts

Cold Snaps Will Put Pressure on Homes and Businesses

The freezing temperatures in early December were just a taste of what is to come throughout early 2018. Are you prepared?

Anyone thinking that with the festive season behind us, we can now start preparing for spring will face a rude awakening, according to the latest from the Met Office. The UK is likely to face more freezing conditions as we go into February, but these will be preceded by high winds, particularly in coastal regions.

The combination spells a high probability of disruption on the roads, potential flooding and almost certain power outages for homes and businesses. We have seen the devastation caused by severe winter weather in the USA this year, but in the UK, we have a habit of being taken by surprise. Ensuring heating systems are operating reliably and having a backup power generator in place are simple measures that we should all be considering.

Growing reliance on electricity

In years gone by, power failures were common during severe weather, and were something that we put up with – but the truth is, we were less reliant on electricity back then. Those of a certain age can probably remember lighting the candles or oil lamps, sitting around the open fire and listening to the battery powered radio. There was a fun sense of adventure to it all.

These days, fewer houses than ever have alternative heat sources that are not reliant on electricity – and how many of us still have candles and oil lamps tucked away for backup lighting?

Even more critical, however, we typically have hundreds of pounds worth of food stored up in the freezer, and if the power is off for any length of time, it will start to defrost.

Staying connected

There is also the question of connectivity. At first glance, you might heave a quiet sigh of relief at the family being unable to go online due to the router being powered off. But for the millions of home workers and freelancers, no power means no income, missed deadlines and financial problems that can have major repercussions.

The cost to businesses

For commercial premises, the implications of power outages can be even more severe. For one thing, workers cannot be expected to sit in an office that is freezing cold. For another, the issue of connectivity again comes to fore, and there is probably very little they would even be able to do if there is no power. And this assumes that people are actually able to get into the office in the first place – modern electronic security systems need power to operate, and you can easily find yourself locked out of your own office.

Get a backup in place

A backup power generator provides peace of mind to homes and businesses, and essentially means you can carry on as normal, whatever surprises the British weather might have up its sleeve.

Some people choose to buy, but by hiring a unit from a reputable supplier, you can be sure it is always in tip top condition and ready to be called into action when you need it most.

Can Fatbergs Become Fuel?

Carelessly disposed of waste could soon be powering buses and trucks

Thanks to advances in recycling technology, the fatbergs extracted from the sewers below ground could soon be used to power buses and trucks above ground.

A giant 130-tonne monster fatberg found under the streets in Whitechapel comprising grease, oil and fat and bound together with thousands of used wet wipes and other carelessly disposed of items such as thick wads of tissues is actually being coveted by a Scottish biodiesel company.

Reusing waste products

Argent Energy, based in Motherwell and with a new plant in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, have used all sorts of waste products including old mayonnaise and soup stock to make biodiesel, which is a renewable fuel for powering lorries and buses and some machinery.

Argent already use sewage sludge taken from water treatment plants across the country to help create clean oil, which is then processed with chemicals to create biodiesel. The company say their Ellesmere Port facility could process 300,000 tonnes of fatberg a year; enough to fill 50,000 lorries or buses with diesel.

Good for the environment

It’s well documented how bad diesel emissions are for the environment, so biodiesel is an ideal source as it emits a fraction of the pollutants of traditional diesel oil. With government targets for the use of renewable fuel rising, this unexpected productive use for waste products like FOGs (fat, oil and grease) that provide plenty of unblocking and clearing work for drain contractors is very welcome.

The government want to see a minimum of 10% renewable fuel used in petrol and diesel by 2020 – a sharp increase from the current 4.75% figure – and Argent are already supplying biodiesel blended at 20% with ordinary diesel to one of the capital’s largest bus companies, Metroline. It’s estimated the giant Whitechapel fatberg could provide around 10,000 litres of biodiesel.

Thames Water makes the most of FOGs

The capital’s water authority own and run Beckton sewage works, originally constructed by the engineer behind London’s sewage system Joseph Bazalgette and now the largest in Europe. Next door is a plant that uses FOGs to heat and power the sewage works; much of the FOGs collected comes from restaurants and drains and is then liquified before being  used to power the huge 800 tonne diesel engine that can produce 19 megawatts of power.

Unfortunately, this very impressive and efficient way of providing power is unlikely to be replicated across other plants in the shorter terms due to a certain EU directive on energy transmission, and current government policy not supporting this type of renewable project.

A mixed blessing

While fatbergs clearly offer an attractive source for biodiesel manufacture, the irony is that water authorities would rather they didn’t exist in the first place.

The disruption they cause, such as damage to sewer tunnels, plus the cost of removal (around £1 million a month in Thames Water’s case) and the time it takes (around three weeks minimum to clear the Whitechapel monster) is the root cause of a constant headache for the capital’s water authority and others elsewhere in the UK.

How to Run a Small Hotel

Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts can be extremely profitable small business if you impress your guests and acquire loyal returning customers. Many people go for small hotels over large hotels due to their cosy and welcoming feel; corporate accommodation is also very popular for its fully serviced rooms for short or extended stays.

Here are a few tips on how to run a small hotel and what areas you should focus on to achieve success.

The entrance

First impressions most certainly count! Make changes to the entrance hall to ensure it looks welcoming and friendly, such as adding fresh flowers each day to brighten up the room. Maintaining the space outside to ensure it stays neat and tidy also shows guests (and potential guests!) that you take pride in your hotels appearance and the interior will follow suit.

The rooms

It’s important to thoroughly clean all rooms and use crisp, high quality hotel bedding for guests to be in total comfort. Use a checklist when cleaning the rooms to make sure every aspect of the room has been thoroughly cleaned and is to a standard that you would stay in yourself! Add a touch of luxury with dressing gowns, towels and slippers. Small gestures show your guests how welcoming and caring you are.

The service

Excellent customer service is essential, especially in small hotels and B&Bs where you want to create a home-from-home feel. Many guests prefer them as they enjoy the level of personal service and enjoy talking to a small team of staff.  If you make your guests feel at home they’re more likely to return in the future.

The exposure

To help get your small hotel out there, online exposure is essential to increase customer numbers. Social media is a great tool for promoting your business and helping to get the word out there.

Hosting competitions online can help gain more fans and followers for your Twitter and Facebook profiles, and once you have a fan-base, engage with them to sustain their interest and be sure to post any news or events to keep people in the loop about your business.

Beaulieu is The New Property Hotspot in Essex

Are you looking to building a property investment portfolio based on long-term family tenants, why not look to Essex? With the help of Balgores in Chelmsford, the multi-award-winning estate agents, their experience and property knowledge make them the top estate agents to find your perfect property investment, which could also be your new home.

The new Beaulieu development in Chelmsford

Beaulieu, a new countryside development just North East of Chelmsford, is the next impressive string on Chelmsford’s bow since its city status award in 2012.

Beaulieu will create up to 3,600 new homes over the next few years, and the first phase named Beaulieu Heath is already complete. Beautiful Colonial style houses are located on one side of a picturesque heath, with a bustling neighbourhood centre known as Beaulieu Square on the other.

For those who prefer a more modern city living feel, Beaulieu Chase has just launched, with striking contemporary style homes overlooking landscaped parks and garden streets. Later phases include Beaulieu Rydes, Beaulieu Fields, Beaulieu Exchange and Beaulieu Central.

The ideal location for commuters

The development will also be home to a number of new schools, nurseries, shops, restaurants and a health centre. It’s a highly accessible location with great potential for commuters. There is a network of cycleways throughout Beaulieu and a high-quality bus service providing quick connections to Chelmsford city centre and beyond.

Proposed plans also include a 400,000 sq ft. business park and a new mainline railway station, providing strong evidence that Chelmsford is well and truly on the way to becoming commuters first choice for locating to.

The South East will also benefit from the Elizabeth Line once it opens in 2018. The service will improve journey times across London, ease congestion and offer better connections to London. The service can be used at Shenfield station, which can be reached from the Chelmsford station in just 10 minutes.

Take Control of Your Business with a Monthly Bookkeeping Service

Outsourcing Bookkeeping Improves Efficiency and Reduces Costs

Every business needs to monitor its finances closely. By using a monthly bookkeeping service, you cover all the bases with minimal outlay or hassle.

Whether you are operating a mature business or launching a new start up, one thing that is absolutely essential is to have firm control and visibility of your finances. Yet this is often an area that is given limited attention, or is chaotically shared between management, administers and anyone else who has a few minutes to spare.

Bookkeeping firm Linda Carr Accountants has first hand experience of how its services can bring order to chaos and help businesses large and small to thrive in today’s challenging economy in the following ways:

Managing payments on time every time

If you are busy running your business, it is all too easy to miss a small administrative detail such as remembering to pay a bill. But the consequences can be serious, as well as embarrassing. Let your bookkeeper take care of invoices and billing, and you can be sure that everything will be paid on time, every time.

Payroll

Even the smallest organisation is likely to employ at least one or two people, either now or in the future. Payroll can be an enormous headache for anyone who has not managed it before, but thankfully, it is something that bookkeepers deal with every day of the week.

Track income

Securing a great contract or sale is what your business is all about. Dealing with the invoicing and payments is boring and time-consuming. Your bookkeeper will be able to look after it all, using the latest software programs.

Reporting

If you want your business to grow, you need access to all your critical financial information. A bookkeeper can provide the data you need, whenever you need it, in a format that helps you see exactly how the different areas of your company are performing, and to help you make those critical insights to drive your business forward.

Don’t Pay Over The Odds On European Parcel Delivery

For many businesses, the cost of logistics can make or break a company. Scheduled groupage services offer British businesses an efficient and cost-effective way of transporting goods to and throughout Europe.

Europe is one of the UK’s biggest trade partners, with over £250 million of exports going to the continent in 2016. Having access to such a big market offers great opportunities to British businesses and, for many companies, export forms a significant part of their business activities.

However, in order to export goods to Europe, you need to have an effective transport and delivery system in place. This costs money, particularly for smaller companies, and if you are not careful, you could find your delivery costs eating into your profit margins, making you less competitive in the European marketplace.

So, whether you want to send freight to Romania in Eastern Europe for example, or to a closer continental destination, such as France, it’s important to make sure that you are getting the best possible deal.

Transport options

When it comes to transporting freight to Europe, there are a number of options open to you, with some proving more costly than others.

Air transport is one of the quickest and most secure methods of transporting parcels, but it can be pretty costly and is best kept for situations where delivery time is a key factor. In contrast, transporting freight by sea is one of the cheapest shipping options available and is great for delivering large quantities of goods. However, it is also one of the slower transportation methods, and, as it is restricted to set routes and timetables, its lack of flexibility may not be suitable for all businesses.

Transporting parcels via road is often the best option for many businesses, particularly with the good motorway networks, extensive national distribution networks, and fuss-free border crossings that the EU offers. It’s reliable and can be very cost-effective, however if you are unable to fill a whole van or lorry, you could sometimes find yourself paying over the odds.

Save money with groupage

In this situation, one of the best ways of keeping delivery costs down is to use a groupage transport service.

Particularly suitable for companies who need to deliver frequent but relatively small loads, groupage involves consolidating loads from several different customers into one delivery vehicle, and it can offer significant benefits to both the freight company and the customer.

Freight companies prefer to fill their vehicles to capacity but, in reality, lorries frequently have room to spare. By combining multiple compatible shipments from a number of companies into one single delivery load, haulage suppliers are able to maximise their profits, and these savings are then passed on to you the customer, enabling you to benefit from an efficient and economical transport option.

While it offers lots of advantages, groupage transport won’t work for everyone – for example, if you need to transport specialised goods within a tight time frame it may not be the best option for you. However, if you are able to be flexible with your delivery requirements, groupage could be the perfect solution to your delivery problems, enabling you to send parcels to Europe cheaply, effectively and efficiently.

What is Pension Equity Release?

Is There a Better Way to Manage Retirement in the 21st Century?

Pension release provides a mechanism to cash in some or all of your pension and put the money to more effective use.

The media is full of stories about people working later into life because they cannot afford to retire. This comes on the back of other stories about companies such as Royal Mail and Jaguar Land Rover pulling the plug on their final salary pension schemes in the wake of eye-wateringly huge pension deficits. Little wonder, then, that so many commentators are saying that the traditional pension model is no longer financially viable in the new millennium.

All this is interesting enough, but if you are in your 50s and thinking wistfully about the possibility of retirement in the coming years, you are probably more interested in finding out what you can do about it, to avoid having to stay at work into your 70s. Perhaps you have heard of the concept of pension equity release, but are not sure what it is or whether it applies to you.

Pension release allows you to withdraw money from your poorly-performing pension fund and put it to better use. It might be the perfect solution to achieve that retirement you were dreaming of.

How does it work?

Changes to the pension rules that came into force two years ago provided investors with additional options for how they manage their pension funds. It is now possible to release some or all of the equity from your pension pot.

Once you have done so, it is up to you what you do with it – after all, it is your money. However, you do, of course, need to bear in mind that if the funds are no longer in your pension fund, they cannot be used in retirement. This is why most people choose to either reinvest in alternative ways that will produce a greater income, or use the money to pay off debts whose interest rates are sapping away more money than the pension fund was generating.

Multiple pensions

Pension release is a particularly attractive option for those families with multiple pensions. They often elect to leave the larger pot intact to provide a regular income through retirement, and cash in the smaller one. This might be used in any of the ways described above, or you might just choose to see it as a windfall with which to treat yourself.

How does a world cruise or a classic car sound? After all, it is your hard earned money, why not enjoy it?

What to do

Financial planning for your retirement is a serious matter, and the first thing you should do is set about getting a pension review from an independent expert. These are free of charge and will help you to get your own circumstances clear in your head, and really evaluate the options available to you.

One thing is for certain, in today’s financial environment, it is not enough to sit back and hope for the best. Get to grips with your pension plans now, so that you can enjoy the long and prosperous retirement that you have worked so hard for.

 

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