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  1. SAMPLE: Getting your house ready to sell (a similar post was written for an estate agent at the end of 2016, with several points that they had already identified as being problematic for previous clients)

    If having the whole family round at Christmas has made you realise your house is too small, then you won't be the only one! Spring is always a time when more properties are put on the market as people realise it's time to move on, and hopefully spend next Christmas in a bigger place.

    But because there's an increase in houses on the market it can be difficult to get yours to sell for the price you want. There's a few things you can do in the colder months before you put your place on the market which will help your house stand out.

    De-clutter

    Even if you're moving to a bigger place it's a good idea to have a clear out. You might like that your bedroom is stuffed with three wardrobes full of clothes, but it can make the room look smaller and put off potential buyers. You may have every kitchen gadget under the sun, but a cluttered look will make it difficult for other people to imagine themselves cooking or eating there.

    Go through each room with a critical eye and imagine how it looks to other people. Clearing one room at a time will help you stay focused and motivated, and you may find that you like the extra space. You can try selling things on eBay or Facebook (with the added bonus of getting some more money towards moving costs), or donate them to a charity shop. For large furniture items that you can't bear to get rid of a storage unit can be hired where you can keep things ready for your move.

    Tidy up outside

    The front of your house is the first thing people will see. If they don't like it then no amount of perfection inside will convince them to buy. If you have a front garden then mowing the lawn, trimming back any hedges or bushes, and clearing out all the winter detritus (dead leaves, wellington boots, abandoned flowerpots) will improve the look. If you have wood-framed windows or a wooden front door then a fresh coat of paint will stop it looking tired, as will painting the soffits and fascias and making sure the guttering is in good repair. If you have a roof porch over your front door then investing £10 in two hanging baskets and some cheap plants will give a nice effect.

    The same goes for the back garden. Although you might want to show that it can fit a trampoline, potential buyers may be less impressed. They also won't want to see five footballs, a collapsing garden shed, and the corner where a bonfire got out of control last year. Repainting the garden fence, removing an old shed, and trimming the plants and grass will again give a nice look that will help buyers envision how they could change the garden to suit their own tastes.

    Get rid of garish

    Interior décor is a personal choice, but some colours are likely to put off viewers from making an offer. So if your sulky teenager has painted their room completely black, or if an orange dining room was fashionable ten years ago, it might be time to change. Painting everything neutral can help, you'll be showing viewers that it's all ready for them to add their own touch. But if you really hate the idea of Scandinavian style (or if you're concerned that a white wall won't stay white for long) then pale greys, blues and greens can all be utilised to give a bit of colour without being over the top.

    By getting your house in order early on you can make a huge difference to the photographic appeal of your house. Getting more people through the door for viewings will increase your chances of getting a good offer.

  2. SAMPLE: Why you should make your will (a post similar to this was written for a solicitors website in 2016)

    Free Wills Month is organised by a group of charities to encourage those over the age of fifty five to write a will.

    But writing a will isn't just something you should consider when you're approaching your sixth decade. Although no one likes to think about it, a sudden accident or a health crisis can strike you whatever your age. Creating a will is essential to help give peace of mind to those left behind, and ensure that your wishes are followed after your death.

    Unmarried couples

    In the UK the concept of a “common law partner” is not recognised in law. That means that if you die without a will, your next of kin will be your parents, or children if you have them. Should you have no children and have already lost your parents, your next of kin will be your closest blood relative such as siblings. This can cause all manner of problems. Even if your partner gets along well with your family it will take time, and a lot of stress, to sort out your affairs. Bank accounts in your sole name will be assigned to family, if you've bought property in your sole name then that will go to them too (if you have a “tenants in common” mortgage then this can also cause problems). Your partner could effectively be blocked from accessing the money they need to pay the bills and keep a roof over their head.

    Of course for some people family members can be estranged. Again the law doesn't recognise this, you could have been with your partner for fifteen years, and not spoken to your family for the past twenty years, but under the law your family will inherit your assets. Getting your wishes on paper will ensure that your partner does not have to face legal battles while dealing with grief.

    Married couples

    If you are married then this can make things a little easier, but a will should still be written. Your partner will inherit your estate, but if you die without a will then they may be charged inheritance tax. Writing a will, even a basic one that declares that you leave your husband or wife everything, will mean that they don't have to try to find the money to pay an unexpected tax bill.

    What you can include in a will

    Along with leaving your money to a person, several people, or charity, your will can also nominate guardians for children or pets. It's always best to discuss this with the relative people first, you may think your brother and his wife would be great parents, but that doesn't mean they could cope with your three children should the worst happen. Likewise your wife's sister may joke that she wants the dog if you die, but that doesn't mean that you should name her as recipient of your pets without talking to her.

    You can also detail how you'd like your funeral to be carried out. Whether you want burial or cremation, if you've already paid for a plot, or if you'd like your ashes to be tipped in to a bottle of brandy and thrown over the side of a boat while a brass band plays “For he's a jolly good fellow”. If you haven't discussed your wishes with your family then at least leaving things in writing means that difficult decisions are already made for them, making arrangements a little easier during a difficult time.

    A solicitor can help you draw up a will, ensure that all areas have been covered, and that it's legally binding and difficult to challenge in court. By getting such paperwork sorted out early on you could make a very challenging situation less difficult for your loved ones, and make sure that horrible aunt Betty doesn't get your pet chinchilla.