Saturday, 20 November 2010

Shark films and documentaries

This has nothing to do with property but it's entertaining.

This is my favourite shark film. I remember watching it when I was a kid and it was so real I thought they couldn't possibly have faked it and people really did get killed to make this film - they must have chopped a leg off someone to float it in the sea and someone got bitten in half by the shark. Other films I also thought were so real they couldn't possibly have faked it (when I was a child, of course) included Planet of the Apes, American Werewolf in London and Poltergeist. Yep, I did spend my childhood living in fear of being shipped off to ape planets, running into werewolves in central London and being sucked into TVs.

Shark Attack 4
I have not watched Shark Attack 1, 2, or 3 ( but I own the DVDs as they were bought as part of a 10 disc creature feature boxset). "Best film ever made" was one review I read of it. Sadly not true, but quite hard to beat when there is a scene where a man jet-skis into the mouth of a giant prehistoric shark. There is also a scene where people partying on a boat fall off it into the mouth of the shark (in cocktail party wear) in a 1970's-falling-into-a-black-hole style. If you don't know what I mean, either watch the film itself or one of those films where someone is sucked into a black hole in a whirling fashion.

Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus
The title of this film doesn't mess around and neither does the film itself. Best bit is when the mega shark jumps out of the sea and snatches the plane between its teeth. Yee-eah!

Deep Blue Sea
Very entertaining film and I don't understand why they haven't made a sequel (or rather my husband doesn't understand why). The only annoying thing is the lady doctor who would rather protect these intelligence-enhanced sharks to harvest their brain cells to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease than want to save the people around her that were eaten up by the sharks. But I like the cook and his parrot.

Shark documentary about shark attacks re-enacted using models
This is one of the most bizarre things I have watched. There is a shark researcher (I forget his name, but I am not making this up) who goes around interviewing shark attack victims and then re-enacts the experience with a little mannequin, the wooden ones with articulated joints that artists use, and a shark model. This is ridiculous in many ways. Firstly, the model of the shark he uses is half the size of the wooden mannequin, so yeah right, this is realistic. Then he "performs" the event with his models like a boy would if he was playing with action figures. The best bit is how this guy treats this as very serious research, when in fact all he is doing is waving a wooden figurine and a plastic shark toy around. One would have thought if they could afford to make a TV show about it they would surely beable to afford a more accurately scaled shark model.

I recently watched another shark documentary and this model man was in it. This time he was diving into waters with sharks without a cage. It introduced him as newly-wed (not sure what the relevance of that was) and showed him sitting on a boat with his wife holding hands. His wife worked with him and she also dived but was in a cage and took pictures. She was also interviewed and was prompted to gush about her husband (not sure what the relevance of that was either). Whilst they were interviewing him, or trying to, he kept diving back into the sea because the shark kept returning - wouldn't it have been easier to just stay in the water? This poor guy looked petrified. I don't think he wanted to do it but it looked like he was forcing himself to keep up with his peers as there are other shark researchers now who dive cage-free. Strangely entertaining to watch.

I have high hopes for Jaws 5.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Accidental Landlord

With the current economy and market trends more and more people are finding themselves in situations they don’t want to be or are new to them. One of them is becoming an accidental landlord because they have a property they would have sold but for various reasons have been stuck with it and are therefore renting it out instead. For example, you own a flat, you have gotten married and now live in your new spouse’s home, you would have sold your flat but there is no buyer so you let it out instead. The concept of the accidental landlord isn’t actually a new one but it has become more common recently.

Help! I’ve become an Accidental Landlord.
Don’t panic you haven’t caught an incurable disease. One of the problems of becoming an accidental landlord is that you didn’t plan to come into this business and so you may be less well prepared than those that did. People who purposefully become landlords have probably researched carefully, read books and attended courses. That is not to say that all accidental landlords haven’t done that but the likelihood is that one is not even aware of these things in the first place. Don’t feel bad about it, it’s a massive learning curve and part of the learning is finding out about the things you should know. We are not all the same, how much we want to learn and invest of ourselves into being a landlord varies between each person but what is important is fulfilling the basics.
This isn’t a how-to guide. There are already many well written articles on the internet relating to all the aspects of becoming a successful landlord. This is more of a “pep talk” for those who have become landlords reluctantly. Do you need this? Yes you do.

Pep talk 1: This is only a temporary thing, so I don’t need to take it too seriously.
Wrong, yes you do. Being a landlord means you are running your own business. If you run your business poorly you will lose money. As with any business, there are legal requirements, you need to familiarise yourself with these so you don’t get into trouble and also to protect yourself from those who may cause you trouble.
You don’t know how long you may be in this business for, so you do need to take it seriously.

Pep talk 2: I didn’t become a landlord by choice, and I have many other more important things I need to deal with in my life, so this is not a priority for me.
Unfortunately you are the owner of a property with someone living in it, be responsible for that. The home they have made in your property is just as important as your own home.
If you don’t have the time, delegate; find a good managing agent.
If your property is due to become empty, delegate; there are various services around that will help you find a tenant in good time.
What you should not do is leave things because you have other commitments and you do not see this as your main job. Doing nothing or leaving things to the last minute will cost you more in the long run.

Pep talk 3: There must be an easier way that involves less work and less stress.
Yes and no. There are basic requirements that need to be met with respect to your property (there are many sources on the internet that will tell you what these are).
Again, you can find a good managing agent which will do most of the work for you but it will cost you. Choosing a managing agent is a task in itself and making an informed choice is very important.
It is important to realise that this is a business and things can be unpredictable, being psychologically prepared for this is important especially in coping with the stress.

For those who have truly become landlords accidentally and unwillingly, do it like you mean it. If you feel your motivation waning, refer back to the pep talks above and soldier on until you can find a way out.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

COD Black Ops midnight launch

This has nothing to do with property but it's the funniest story I have listened to for a while.

If you're aware of anything in the gaming world, you'll know about the next big game is Call of Duty Black Ops. The previous release MW2 was a real success and they acquired alot more fans on the back of it . Therefore this latest one in the series has been MUCH anticipated.

My husband is a big fan and so he arranged to go to a midnight release with his brother and brother-in-law. By the way, in the run up to this, he has spent numerous hours on the internet trawling forums, posts, etc so that he can plan the best way to get his hands on a copy because it has been preducted it will sell out very quickly. I'm not really into all of this but it seems alot of others are - there were midnight launches in many of the bigger branches of supermarkets and game stores. People were actually queuing up nationwide (actually internationally, my husband found a world map locator) for this game?

So this is what happened.

Following numerous calls and texts, my husband and his fellow CODders, decided to head to a location with the most supermarkets in close proximity that were doing the midnight launch. Sainsbury's was their first stop. They thought this would be a good place to start as the Sainsbury's offer required £30 worth of groceries to qualify buying the game - they thought this would put off a lot of young men as you couldn't buy alcohol, car fuel, baby product and electricals. Some people on forums commented that they'll be buying enough baked beans for the next 20 years. Other proposed starting points were Tesco Wembley (not easy to get to), Blockbuster North Finchley (not the most obvious place to buy a game) and Asda (but would be very popular and may have long queues).

So, the three amigos drove up to their chosen Sainsbury's at around 10pm last night. When they got there, there wasn't a queue, so they decided to check out Asda down the road. Then when they go there, there was already a reasonable sized queue. Fearing that they had left a favourable situation at Sainsbury's, my husband's brother-in-law exclaimed "NOooooo, we must get back to Sainsbury's" and they made a mad dash back flying over speed humps in my husband's sisters newish Merc. Guess who wants the game more out of the three.

So they got back to Sainsbury's and it was a 2 hour wait in the cold. My husband said it was actually quite enjoyable, his brother-in-law agreed - note, both men have young children under the age of 2 and don't get out much, so this is all relative. Well, he thought it was enjoyable until at around 11pm when someone from Sainsbury's popped out an announced that all these male gamers should get into single file. So they all shuffled in line, but as it was cold, people were jiggling up and down on the spot, and as it was lots of eager men there was a lot of close body contact. Hmmmm, a long line of young men jiggling up and down behind one another - I think that's when the fun stopped for my husband.

There was also an announcement that anyone who looked younger than 25 would not be sold a game. My husband overheard some adolescents in the queue panicking, fearing they would lose their place in the queue if they left to go get some ID - they decided to ring up their parents to come drop off their passports. Comments like "are you buying a game or going on holiday?" were heard. Remember, this is nearing midnight at a local supermarket.

Another announcement was that there was only 50 of the PS3 version and 75 of the Xbox 360 version. Apparently there were about 100 people waiting to buy the PS3 one and 7 for the Xbox. My husband managed to get his hands on a game (PS3) and left promptly, fearing attack from some game-hungry young males. He was home by quarter-past-midnight. I always thought it took 20 minutes to drive to that local Sainsbury's, but now I know it doesn't when you want to get home to play a game.

Some might say it's just a game but many out there would disagree.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bringing it home

"Marketplace" type websites have been a phenomenal success in the last few years. Look at Amazon, price comparison websites, expedia,, to name a few. Although they are all different, they all essentially bring services or products to you in your own home via your computer. Apart from the very young and very old, there are very few people who don't use a service or who don't buy something online. By the way, I'm talking about the developed countries here, so don't be a smarty pants and say "but what about the people in Outer Mongolia"? (I could have picked a bad example, they probably all have ipads and iphones out there).

Why is this? Is it because we are all so lazy we are uncapable of doing anything other than tapping and clicking motions with our fingers (like in the Disney cartoon Wall-E)? Have we all moved to places where it is impossible to go to any shops? Shall I make some more stupid suggestions? No, I'll get on with it.

Thinking about the way we live now, everything happens a lot more quickly and we expect things to. I remember in the old days, booking a holiday meant finding the time to go down to the local travel agents, where they discussed my preferences and needs. Then the holiday would be booked and I had to wait ages for the tickets to be sent to me. Or I would walk into five different shops in my local shopping centre or high street to make sure I  got the best price for a toaster. Actually, I still do that, but I also check online for the best deals and book my holidays online where I get the tickets emailed to me virtually instantly. I also use online banking as I find it difficult to get to a bank during opening hours. I also pay my bills online so I don't have to pay at a bank/post office/paypoint or even walk to the post box to send a cheque. Ha, I don't even write cheques now. I type my credit card details in so much that I can recall from memory the 16-digit number, start and expiry date and the security code.

It's great, I get about 10 things done in an hour, when I used to have to ear-mark a day just to perform one task. At the same time, we are expected to do things much quicker. For example, if bills are paid on time I am offered a prompt payment discount from British Gas and if they are paid late we are speedily sent reminders. I recently paid my British Gas bill late by a few days and I received a reminder in the post that said I my bill was "really overdue" - their idea of really overdue differs significantly from mine, but if I was owed money I might feel the same way too I suppose.

One of the main reasons why doing things on the internet is so much quicker, aside from removing the bottleneck of not finding the time to actually do it, is the fact that it doesn't require the time to walk down the street and physically go through the process of whatever it is one needs to do. Going back to my first example, if I wanted to book a holiday and I had to go to the travel agents, I wouldn't even get as far as walking out of my home because I wouldn't have the free time in the first place - which is annoying because I would book annual leave at work but not have the time to book a holiday abroad for this leave. Yes, I am that busy.

Doing things on the internet also takes away the tedious task of repeating the same process several times over just to check for the best price. For example using price comparison websites rather than making lots of calls to various companies.

So can everything be done online? That depends, obviously there are some things that can never be replaced. Can this apply to letting a property out? Yes and no. There are already online lettings agents that find tenants for you through the property portals but they cannot replace the traditional high street agents as they do not conduct viewings (which is a real deal-breaker for me as I cannot do my own viewings). There are online estate agent directories so you don't have to physically turn the pages of your Yellow Pages. A happy medium would be using Property Leaders UK to find you lettings agents who will then call you up (there is no obligation on your part) to market your property. This would combine the best of both worlds, offering you a very personalised service to meet your needs. It also means another task can be done without leaving your home like all the other things we do now from our homes quite routinely.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Keeping up appearances

Any property that is lived in will suffer general wear and tear, this has to be accepted. But to what amount is acceptable if you are renting out property?

For landlords, an inventory is recommended to provide a "baseline". You can do this yourself (and I'm sure there are guides found on the internet) or it can be done professionally. The easiest would be to ask your letting agent to arrange it for you, although this may not be the cheapest option.

Realistically though, what are we going to turn a blind eye to?

I am renting a flat at the moment and my 22 month old daughter has discovered scribbling on the walls with a biro is a lot of fun. That's terrible! But is it? Her graffiti is just an addition to the already marked walls (from previous artistic toddlers I bet). She is also potty training and she has managed to pee in every room so far. I also found a raisin in the bathroom the other day - or so I thought, actually it was a pebble of dried poo. Nice.

However, when we moved into the flat, it was really quite grimey - there was chocolate stuck to the carpet and the curtains were filthy. I bought a carpet cleaner and gave all the floors a good scrub. I also changed the curtains for wooden blinds.

In the flat that I rent out, my previous tenant's rabbit chewed a hole in the carpet. Oh no! She also made a black stain on the wall from a burning candle.

Well, my tenant managed to rectify things - the hole was covered up with some creative carpentry and the stain was painted over. She also put up a blind on a window and some handy coat hangers.

What else? Lots more, more than I could mention. Where do you draw the line? My personal opinion is that there is a lot of give and take. Obviously I am not talking about rogue tenants that turn a place into a tip, that is a completely different situation. Tenants may add to the wear and tear of your property but they also improve things to make it more habitable/homely (sometimes for free).

In my own experience, having good communications with your tenant is essential in maintaining your property. Knowing when things go wrong and fixing them as necessary can prevent a bad situation from deteriorating into something worse. Otherwise not only will you have to spend more resolving a larger problem but you will also lose more money if it stops someone else from moving into the property.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

So, what kind of landlord are you?

Or it could be read "what kind of landlord do you have?"

As individuals, we all have our boundaries and limits - how much information about ourselves we are willing to divulge to complete strangers (some a lot more than others, just read facebook, myspace, twitter, etc), how much money we want to spend on things, how much time we want to spend with our friends, and so on. It all makes us who we are. The same goes for being a landlord - when reading blogs written about landlords by tenants, we may seem all the same money-grabbing irresponsible beings, but the truth is we're not.

Most landlords will have rented a home at some point in their life, I can't imagine that it is that common to have just inherited property or enough money to buy property to become a landlord without first being on the other side and working up to it. So we'll all have our stories and the "ah, yes, that one".

Here are some that I've come across, maybe you'll have too, or maybe you are one of these.

The Handyman Landlord
Actually, this wasn't one of my landlords but an ex-colleague. He was always in her flat doing something, fixing something. She got a scare one time having woke up from a nap to find her landlord there doing some DIY. This type can be a double-edged sword, on the one hand the property will be well maintained, but then you can't walk out of your bathroom with hair dripping wet and just loosely covered by an old towel (unless you don't mind, as we all have a different level of comfort zone).
A word of advice to landlords who are in the habit of just popping in, legally you are required to give reasonable notice (usually 24 hours), otherwise if the tenant feels insecure or threatened in their own home (and it is theirs, not yours) you can be arrested for harassment.

The Over-Familiar Landlord
I had one of these once. It wasn't bad, but it did somettimes get a bit much. Some landlords forget that your relationship is purely a business one - the only reason why you know them is because you are paying to live in their property. It isn't because you like them and you want to be their friend - maybe they want to be your friend because you have such a great personality but it isn't the same for you.
My landlord wanted to be my mother - she would tell me that she told her friends I was like her adopted daughter (except I wasn't) and she would introduce me to her family. There were perks, sometimes she would bake me biscuits or bring me apples from her garden, but then sometimes I got told I was too messy.If I wanted to be told off for being messing I can get that for free - live at home with my parents.

The 2-D Landlord
Also masquerades as the "only-on-paper-but-not-in-person" landlord. I think we've all had one of these - they are the ones that fuel the urban myths about landlords. They never do anything, you can never get hold them, their property could be swallowed up by quick sand and they wouldn't seem to care as long as your cheques don't bounce. These are a nightmare as you are usually tied in to some sort of contract which prevents you from leaving the property for some time (usually 60 days) and so you'll be living with compromises until then. Boo hoo.
My experience with one of these was when I rented a property where I paid the rent to someone else, all calls and problems were dealt with by someone else (and they weren't the managing agent). Then one day I received a court notice through the letter box regarding a year of mortgage arrears - it seemed the landlord wasn't in person to pay that either. I promptly moved out and the landlord wasn't in person to get the last month's rent off me.

Slightly one up from the "only-on-paper" is the "only-on-telephone". You hear from these but you never get to lay eyes on them.

The Over-Anxious Landlord
I think if you're going to let out your property and have a told stranger live there, you have to be a bit relaxed about the fact that things are going to get damaged a bit - walls are going to get marked, stuff is going to break or not work and things will go wrong time to time. Some people just can't detach themselves, they take the inventory too seriously and they think they have ghosts for tenants. Or maybe these types are just putting it on and it's a ploy to keep their tenant's deposit.

The Thief
I haven't called these "landlords" because I don't think they deserve the label, calling them so just gives all other landlords a bad name. They are hated by all, other landlords, the letting agents, tenants and especially their own ones.
My husband recently came across a family of these - like a family of vampires. They suck your blood and leave you dry. This particular "coven" let and manage their own properties, they never maintain their properties, they expect their tenants to live in filth, they don't respond to their tenants' calls and if they do it's usually to tell the tenant to keep quiet or face legal action. Then at the end of it all, they keep the tenant's deposit. Why do people rent properties from them? Well, a lot of the times people don't, they pull out after reading the negative press about them (very popular forum thread) but then you get the ones who don't know and fall for the empty promises that properties will be cleaned or repaired.
People who own property and use it to con other's money should be seen for what they are, thieves, they are not landlords as they do not take on any of the responsibilities of a landlord. They are greedy and are just like any other hustler except they use property as part of their scam. How do you spot them? It's hard, but like most scams, there is always that element of "it's too good to be true" to suck you in.

That's pretty much my fair share of landlords. I am one myself now and I hope I am a fair one - there when I'm needed and undetectable when I'm not. It's like being a fairy godmother, and that is a whole different article in itself.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Rent out your property without venturing down the high street

I was doing some research today - how I could rent out my property without going down to a high street estate agent.

Well, there are some options for those who want to keep it an exclusively off-street affair. This list goes down according to effort (top is most and bottom is least).
  1. You could painstakingly upload your property to all the property portals like rightmove, findaproperty, zoopla, etc. Then you can take all the enquiries and then conduct all the viewings yourself. There are online services that help you produce all the right documents should you find a tenant. You'd save a lot of money (an estate agent's fee) but then it's a lot of work - you might even have to give up your work just to do this, hmmm...
  2. There are some online agents that you give them a small (compared to what you'd give a high street agent) and they take all your property details and upload it to the portals for you. They even arrange the viewings for you - I don't think they conduct them, not for that price anyway. Still, it sounds like a lot of work for me. I think the hard work lies in the viewings, running around doing them is exhausting. Only slightly less effort than option 1.
  3. Sign up with Property Leaders UK - they will call you and take the details you would give to an estate agent. They will find the agents for you. The agents will call you to confirm the details and the instruction. You don't have to visit the branch to sign contracts if they find you a tenant, they can post or email it all to you and you can post it back. So you didn't save yourself any money compared to the online agent way, but you saved yourself a lot of effort and you didn't pay more.
One thing I don't think people realise is that high street agents can be quite accommodating if they want your business and are happy to go out of their way to close the deal. The last time I rented my flat out I got the estate agent to move a sofa bed up 2 floors because it was needed to complete the deal. I also had estate agents offer to pick up keys from wherever I am so they can do viewings, offer to bring me the contract so I can sign it. After all, they do make a reasonable sum on commission.

In combination with Property Leaders UK, you pretty much don't have to leave your front door to let your property out, and you don't have to pay more than what you would if you went trawling down the high street. Actually, it could be less as we also negotiate lower rates of commission for you.