Will we be repurposing property in the post-pandemic world?

Could we be about to see a post-pandemic trend for repurposing property in a really positive way?

Repurposing property could be a major post-pandemic trend. Since lockdown restrictions were lifted on estate and lettings agents in May, we are already seeing a growing trend for both renters and buyers to show more interest in out-of-town homes with gardens. And, with more of us likey to be working remotely for some time, properties with space for home-working are likely to become more desirable.

Offices too could be transformed as commercial tenants re-think their space requirements and rely more on technology than on face-to-face interactions, both with colleagues and clients. Research from vertical transportation consultancy, reported by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) reveals that lasting change could be on the cards for the office sector in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mark Fairweather, managing director of D2E, thinks we could see a paradigm shift in the workplace, working practices, and commuting habits,  with almost half (44%) of workers polled by the company in a recent survey saying they will be asking their employers if they can work for at least some days of the week from home. 

The post-pandemic period may also signal the end of trying to cram more people into less space.   D2E expects the typical space allocation of 8 sq m per person to go up to something like 12 sq m per person on main floors, as more social distancing is needed at work. Lobby and reception areas are likely to expand too, and there could be a greater focus on stairwells and walking where possible, to help workers avoid crowded lifts and escalators.  With fewer people keen to use public transport, there may be more need for bike storage and shower facilities, and D2E also predicts changed canteen layouts for social distancing and increased natural ventilation, as well as a swing towards touchless technology in lifts and lobbies.

With all minds focused on the pandemic, it’s easy to forget that we are still facing a housing crisis. Property specialist Colliers International points to the possibility of repurposing hotels for residential use, creating much- needed homes as well as opening up redevelopment opportunities for the hard-hit hospitality sector.

In the beleaguered hospitality sector, rather than take the financial hit of waiting for a return to pre-pandemic operating conditions, looking at redevelopment options may be a more realistic route for some hotel owners. Colliers suggests this would require a relaxation of planning restrictions but it could provide a solution for local authorities, who could then deliver accommodation in Class C categories such as affordable housing, houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and care homes.

At Ringley, we have been calling for some time for new and better use to be made of retail developments in our hard-hit high streets. We believe institutionally-led, integrated build-to-rent and co-working space is the answer. Not only should the demise of large swathes of traditional retail drive the institutions to get creative and repurpose their space but, as we are all facing a similar collapse in the value of our pensions, all those who pay into one should demand it!

We are leading the way by launching a white label flexible office management platform called Busy Living at our new co-working space in Camden and will be blogging about this in more detail soon.

We believe that, once the pandemic passes, we may find ourselves facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to genuinely rethink the way we use property to bring genuine benefits for us all. What do you think?

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Dangerous cladding to be tackled by new £1bn fund – but is it enough?

£1bn of new money to fund replacement of dangerous cladding
Good news for leaseholders trapped in dangerous blocks – but what about those who fall outside the new fund?

Dangerous cladding got one step closer to being dealt with yesterday, as the Government announced a new building safety fund worth £1bn. The fund will meet the cost of removing unsafe non-ACM cladding on high rise residential blocks over 18m high that don’t comply with building regulations. So some positive news at last for beleaguered leaseholders trapped in homes they can’t sell.

The new fund, which was included in the Budget in March, is aimed mainly at leaseholders in the private sector who are facing huge bills to replace dangerous cladding on their buildings. Many are also paying extortionate costs for waking watches while they wait for remediation of their blocks.  The fund will also help people living in social housing, where the cost of replacing cladding systems would otherwise have to be paid by residents.

The fund will meet the cost of replacing non-ACM cladding systems where building owners are unable to do so and the Government hopes it will address some of the barriers to remediation being carried out quickly.

Registration for the fund opens in June and building owners can sign up until 31 July.  Full guidance and an application process for buildings that meet the technical criteria will be available by the end of July 2020.    

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at Ringley, welcomes the news but doesn’t believe the fund will be enough to solve the full range of cladding problems that so many people living in residential blocks are facing. “The government needs to support the removal of non-ACM cladding from buildings that are under 18 metres as well, as there is currently no support in place for those living in these types of buildings across the UK,” she says.

 “Recent tests have suggested that some other cladding types may not have been as safe as previously thought, and if proven to be dangerous, the government should step in and help fund the removal of these too.

“Separately, with the government looking to kickstart the housing market post-lockdown, one area of focus should be helping leaseholders and flat owners unable to sell, as they cannot secure an EWS1 form proving their building is safe.”

This means boosting testing capacity – and that again may require additional government funding.

Is the £1bn fund enough? – what do you think?

www.ringley.co.uk
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Could London-based buyers drive out-of-town housing market activity?

Could Londoners choosing to leave the capital drive out-of-town housing market activity?


Housing market activity is definitely on the up – and London-based buyers could drive activity outside the capital. This is the view from estate agent Hamptons, as it publishes new housing market research. Last week we blogged about a possible ‘lockdown lift-off’ as agencies opened their doors again. Now Hamptons’ figures appear to be pointing in the same direction. “After seven frozen weeks, the housing market seems to be moving up a gear” they say.

The number of potential buyers registering with the agency has more than doubled, with new instructions and the number of offers trebling. This is a positive sign but the market has far from fully recovered and it will take some time before the impact of lockdown on pricing becomes clear.

Early signs are that London-based buyers are going to play a big role in housing markets outside the capital this year. Nearly one in five (19%) applicants who registered in a Southern Hamptons branch in April were from London, up from 12% in April 2019 and 13% in April 2016 when London outmigration last peaked. House prices in the country have lagged behind those in cities over the last decade, which means country homes now look relatively good value.  So as we and other industry commentators have been predicting in the last few weeks, it looks as if there could be an increase in people hoping to move away from urban areas in search of more space and a home with a garden.

“Over the last decade house prices in prime areas of London have risen 79%, almost double the 42% recorded in prime country locations.  This means that the average seller leaving London can gain an additional 953 sq ft by selling up and moving to the country, often the biggest pull for those making the move out of the capital,” says Aneisha Beveridge, Head of Research at Hamptons International.

Despite young people being most like to have lost work or seen their income drop because of the coronavirus pandemic (source: The Resolution Foundation) Hamptons data shows that first-time buyers are leading the increase in demand. In April, first-time buyers made up 44% of those searching for a property to buy, up from 24% in the same month last year. For those first-time buyers who haven’t lost their jobs or taken an income cut, that’s put them in a good position to save.

So if the government decides to add some stimulus to the housing market by offering a stamp duty holiday like it did in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, some first-time buyers may even find they are in a better position to get on the housing ladder than they were two months ago.

Hamptons also keeps track of trends in the rental market. Its monthly lettings index shows that restrictions on movement throughout April meant that most tenants decided to stay put. That meant those homes that were available to rent last month took longer to let than usual due to the fall in demand. It took 29 days on average to let a home in Great Britain last month, the longest time recorded in April since Hamptons’ records began in 2013.

It’s also becoming clear that the income squeeze is impacting rents. Hamptons says rental growth continued to slow last month, with average rents in Great Britain falling for the second month in a row. Rents on renewed tenancies fell -0.5% year-on-year in April, yet London and the South East were the only regions to record falls.

But activity has rebounded quickly. Hamptons registered 13.4% more applicants so far this month compared with the same period last year. That means just under six applicants looking per rental property, up from just over four a year ago.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Is this the start of the housing market recovery?

Would you be confident enough in the new government guidelines to put your house on the market?

The housing market recovery could already be underway. That may be optimistic but it certainly looks set for a rapid post-pandemic revival. Early indicators are better than expected, with Rightmove reporting online property searches surging back to normal levels immediately after the government reopened the housing market last week.  The property website told Landlord Today that within 24 hours of restrictions being lifted in England, almost 5.2 million visits were recorded. That’s up 4% on the same day last year and is the busiest day for enquiries since last September.

With effect from last Wednesday:

  • estate agents’ offices are open
  • viewings – whether virtual or in-person – are permitted
  • show homes are open
  • and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process are re-started with immediate effect.

All good news. But it’s far from business as usual for agents and customers. With new government guidelines in place, potential buyers and sellers, as well as property agents, are having to rapidly adapt to a new normal.

Here’s what the government says. “In the first instance viewings should happen virtually. When viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of those already in the property itself, those considering moving in and the estate agents and lettings agents”.

The new guidelines are that:

  • Visits should be by appointment only. Open house viewings cannot take place and speculative viewings where buyers or tenants are not serious yet, are highly discouraged.
  • All parties must follow strict social distancing guidelines.
  • All internal doors should be opened where possible.
  • The current occupier should vacate the property for the duration of the visit, going out for their daily exercise, going out to the shops or standing in the garden, if possible.
  • Everyone involved in the process is advised to wash their hands on entering the property. And, once the viewing has taken place, all surfaces in the property including the door handles, should be thoroughly cleaned.

Miles Shipside from Rightmove thinks the guidelines are stringent but correct. The recovery of transaction volumes will rely on the fact that prospective buyers and existing and future sellers feel safe enough to get the market moving again, he says. We agree. Our Manchester-based lettings business Life by Ringley has adapted quickly to virtual viewings and they are now on offer to all our clients. We don’t see this changing and in fact, it may simply become the way we do business. It’s quick and easy and helps customers make a quick decision about whether or not they are interested in a particular property. Estate agents are rolling this out to their customers too and in a few years’ time, we will probably all wonder why we didn’t do it sooner!

It remains to be seen whether the surge in online interest from potential buyers will translate into a housing market recovery. If so, will we see new trends emerging towards out-of-town homes versus urban locations, as people fear that living cheek-by-jowl with others may increase their chances of catching a virus that shows no signs of simply going away? The next few months will be interesting, as well as challenging, for the housing market.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Cladding tests – what lies beneath?

Valuers are risk-rating high-rise blocks, leaving many flat owners trapped in their homes


On 5 May Mary-Anne Bowring, Ringley Group MD hosted a UKAA Webinar that looked at the thorny issue of cladding tests. In particular, she focused on EWS1 form compliance and life beyond the Hackitt Review.   EWS stands for ‘external wall system’ and looks at the level of safety displayed by external walls on residential buildings. 

Mortgage valuers are now being asked to declare if there is any cladding is present on a building and lenders will refuse to lend on the building until they are fully aware of what cladding has been used and that the certificate awarded is in accordance with their lending policy.

Valuers are now effectively risk-rating residential blocks. This is causing serious issues for flat owners whose homes are valued at zero making them unsellable while further cladding tests are carried out. Mary-Anne highlighted that the journey from applying for an EWS1 form to receiving it could take around two months.

The challenge is that over time, introducing new materials such as cladding may change the fire performance of the building, if the layers of protection offered by each material are not assessed both independently and in conjunction with each other. It is quite possible that either materials that are now known to be too dangerous to use are present, or that a sub-contractor has substituted the material specified in the design for what they believe is a suitable alternative – thereby unknowingly compromising the safety of the building.

“Lenders used to just be conscious about ACM cladding, but they are now looking at all types of cladding that are used on the building,” Mary-Anne explains. “Now this includes HPL cladding – and the entire wall system which means insulation, fixings, fire stopping around windows, glue, fixings and much more.”

This change in emphasis comes from new government guidance issued in January. Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings sets out that it’s not just all types of cladding that must be considered but any material that will assist the spread of fire – and regardless of the height of the building.

The guidance makes it clear that existing residential buildings that have external walls containing combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety. They could pose a significant risk to the health and safety of residents, other building users, people in the proximity of the building or firefighters; the fire brigade is now taking an active interest in what materials are being put onto these buildings.

However, as Mary-Anne explains: “We’ve got to make sure we are not being fooled by sampling and testing only materials from lower levels. There is the possibility that these materials can change when you move higher up the building. Even before this guidance was issued, the Building Regulations have always applied more stringent requirements for stories over 18 metres”.

The government has set aside a £600m fund to help building owners replace ACM cladding, plus an extra £1bn for non-ACM cladding on high rise residential buildings that are 18 metres or over. But there is no government funding for anyone who owns a multi-storey building that is lower than this. Owners and residents in low-rise buildings have been left behind in potentially dangerous blocks and with no government help yet announced.

One thing is certain – the cladding scandal is far from over. Many people around the country will be effectively trapped in their own homes long after lockdown if nothing is done to help them.

If you are interested in attending any future webinars hosted by Ringley, please get in touch with Anthony.james@ringley.co.uk to register your interest.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Does your home pass the lockdown test?

With the lockdown easing, homes with their own outdoor space and good wif-fi will be in demand

Does your home pass the lockdown test? Not something many of us had considered before 23 March this year – unless you happen to be one of those survivalists with a bunker full of canned food and bottled water! During the last seven weeks, access to food hasn’t been an issue for most of us. Even vulnerable households have been well served by supermarkets delivering to their door. But what has become painfully obvious is that many people are living in very confined spaces with little access to fresh air – let alone outdoor space. With more pandemics predicted, in future homes with gardens and reliable broadband are likely to be in demand.

An article in Inside Housing this week raises some important points about the way many of us live, particularly in urban areas. With thousands of households across the country living in flats, both in the private and social sector, and Parker Morris space standards a thing of the past, much of our housing stock is small. Many households have little or no space for home working – which is now the new normal for many of us – and even less for indoor exercise. Not all flats have a balcony or shared private outdoor space, and not all of us have access to a fast, reliable broadband connection.

As Alison Inman, former president of the Chartered Institute of Housing writes in her article: When people are asked to list the things that have helped them cope with the lockdown, among the most mentioned are gardens, access to outside space, and keeping in touch with family and friends over the internet”.

It’s likely that this won’t be the last pandemic many of us experience in our lifetimes. So Alison makes a good point when she says whether or not the homes we rent and sell would pass a ‘lockdown test’, should be part of the way we think about and design our properties.

In London, more than half of all homes are flats. How do we give tenants and buyers access to fresh air and outdoor space, indoor space that’s big enough for our children to play and exercise without going stir-crazy and enough room for a desk; all supported by wi-fi that’s good enough to support home working, while making developments stack-up financially? It’s a big ask.

Our view at Ringley is that, as the High Street continues to collapse and we prove that working differently is an option, our call to re-purpose the ground floor of buildings for co-working, community and amenity space is as important as ever.  Maybe even more so now that lockdown has helped many of us realise there is a different way to run our businesses.

Grown-up workspaces can be physically but not visually separated from play dens for children and hangout zones for teens, as society learns to come together in new ways.  These spaces should not be subject to tax in the same way as income-generating spaces and subject to business rates, but made part of a new national wellbeing strategy.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Moving House? Now you can push the go button!

Time to get moving – but you must follow the latest guidelines.

Have your moving house plans been brought to a halt by the lockdown? If so, you can now re-start the process. Yesterday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced that, from today, anyone in England can move home if they follow the new Government guidance.

Since lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move house. The government hopes to re-start the market and get buyers, sellers and renters moving again.

Clearly, this announcement doesn’t mean a return to normality – far from it. The process of finding and moving into a new home will be different and that now includes doing more of the process online. Initial viewings will be virtual and vendors will be asked to keep away while potential buyers are shown around. Properties must also be thoroughly cleaned before someone else moves in. So good news for commercial cleaning companies used by landlords and block managers.

After seven weeks in lockdown, the announcement is welcome news for the property industry as well as for buyers, sellers and renters. Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring said today:  “There’s no reason buyers or renters shouldn’t be able to move home if they are able to do so safely in accordance with social distancing guidelines”. However, she is quick to point to the fact that this doesn’t mean the housing market has returned to its pre-coronavirus state.

 Lockdown is set to continue in some form for an unknown amount of time and the resulting economic disruption is likely to weigh down on activity in the for-sale market. A stamp duty holiday, as proposed by RICS and others (see our 29 April blog for more details) could see a stampede in transactions while an extended Help to Buy will support some sales and in turn housebuilding.

 Maryanne thinks the Government now has an opportunity to think long term and introduce policies to reflect Britain’s changing housing needs. “Private renters are a fast-growing part of the housing market and need catering to,” she says,  “yet politicians seem intent in squeezing buy to let landlords out of the rental market and the build to rent sector – a positive emergence – simply isn’t big enough yet to absorb all rental demand.

 “If the government cuts stamp duty surcharge for landlords it could help stimulate the market by encouraging BTL investors to snap up homes to then rent out. Many landlords also help support housebuilding through off-plan sales,” she adds

The housing market as a whole will also have to get ready for a digital-first approach to transactions as more tasks and jobs are done remotely.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Oak trees at your block? Don’t touch the caterpillars!

These caterpillars may seem cute – but they’re nastier than they look

And now for something completely different… does your block have oak trees in the garden? Property managers, contractors and residents, especially in London and the South East are being asked to report any sightings of Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars to the Forestry Commission and – most important – not to touch them!

Oak Processionary Moth was first identified in 2006. The caterpillars damage oak trees, and their hairs which are also found in OPM nests, can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritations. So a Government programme is in place to limit their spread. They can also occasionally cause breathing difficulties in people and pets, so they should not be handled no matter how cuddly they may look!

The Forestry Commission, councils, and land managers have an annual programme in place to tackle the pest, which affects certain parts of the country in the spring.

What to look out for

Nests are typically dome or teardrop-shaped and about the size of a tennis ball. They are white when fresh, but soon go brown. The caterpillars have black heads and their bodies are covered in long white hairs. From May to July the caterpillars emerge and feed on oak leaves which can make the trees vulnerable to other pests and diseases and drought.

Anyone with infested trees in the control zone monitored by the Forestry Commission will have been advised that work needs to take place over the next two months to help stop the spread of this pest. Contractors spraying affected trees on behalf of the Forestry Commission will carry out work safely, adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Everyone is reminded, particularly those in London and the surrounding counties to report sightings of OPM caterpillars, which could be damaging oak trees in their area, to the Forestry Commission via TreeAlert. Alternatively, you can email opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or call 0300 067 4442.

Building owners or property managers considering pruning or felling oak trees in the affected areas should contact Forestry Commission England’s Plant Health Forestry Team beforehand on opm@forestrycommission.gov.uk or 0300 067 4442 for advice about safe removal of the material.

www.ringley.co.uk
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How will property management change after COVID-19?

Will it be business as usual after lockdown or will there be long-term implications?

How much will change for property management as a result of COVID-19 will depend on the extent to which each managing agent has already digitised their offering.

At Ringley, we have long had portals for clients, owners, tenants and contractors. We already use open book accounting with instant updates to spending against budget and every invoice is online, together with arrears reports, legal debt-chase action, risk assessments, insurance, quotes in progress, cleaning specifications and more. We also have e-post opt-in, e-signing for key documents and apps to power inspections. And our lettings business Life by Ringley has been using video viewings for a while now. So we have moved pretty seamlessly to remote working and our customers should have noticed very little change in the way our services are delivered

That said, apart from the way we work day-to-day, post-COVID-19, there may be changes to the wider workplace that couldn’t have been foreseen a couple of months ago. So what will be the next normal? The pandemic will surely accelerate the decrease in space requirements per person. It is also causing the analysts among us to review and find more ways to exclude paper and print from our processes.

Ringley Group MD Maryanne Bowring believes that, for the foreseeable future, it is doubtful whether any company can expect all their people to work in the office five days a week: “To me, it seems simpler to have a whole department out at the same time, rather than not knowing who to expect in the office each day. More casual arrangements are not the most efficient way of working,” she says.

“However,” she adds: “I do know that while we are all working in isolation, many of our people are reflecting on the value that attending the workplace, sharing lunch and being part of a face-to-face physical team brings”.

What has changed for you during lockdown? Leave us a comment and start the conversation.

www.ringley.co.uk
Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co.uk

Are good property managers now needed more than ever?

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Good communication – at a distance – between property managers and their clients and residents is more important than ever before

The work of a managing agent is to manage, arrange and communicate. We do this for groups of people who need to receive information about maintenance, upgrades, current spending, and future plans but who otherwise would be uncoordinated – they wouldn’t know what was going on, or what was expected of them.

Our role is varied and many-faceted and the challenge is to carry it out effectively and sensitively. We deal on a daily basis with:

  • inter-personal politics and dissemination of information;
  • customer service, helping those who come to us for advice understand the roles and responsibilities within communal living and how a financial year in property works;
  • building pathology to deal with reactive maintenance, planned maintenance and cyclical works; 
  • law to gain a shared understanding of covenants and responsibilities which sometimes need to be enforced; and
  • bookkeeping and accounting.   

Luckily for us and our clients, while our core business is property, the human relationships, regulation, and compliance in what is a complex and highly legislated industry are all things that can be managed remotely.  Not forever though. We very much need to be in touch with the buildings we manage and those who live in them.  There is no substitute for seeing and feeling a problem, and in the short term photos and more conversations than we would normally have with clients and residents are painting pictures of what we need to see.

We have switched to video conferencing to ensure that Annual General Meetings can take place, and we have had over 6,000 customers opt-in to more by e-post.

Our main challenge is finding contractors with the capacity to attend our sites – and in some instances, availability of suitable protective equipment – and clients look to us to ensure that we have responsibly advised the supply chain.

During this pandemic, the need for strong communication is crucial, particularly as residents who are ‘staying home’ have more time for scrutiny of their home environment.  The challenge of  ‘managing and arranging’ has become increasingly complex with trades and supply chains hampered by ill, self-isolating or furloughed staff and many contractors not willing to enter people’s homes. There has also been confusion over which maintenance tasks should be considered, although the government has now published guidance on electrical and gas safety checks as well as lift inspections.  

So, perhaps in these strange times, our services are needed more than ever.

www.ringley.co.uk

Why not READ our Planet Rent Blog too: blog.planetrent.co