Getting to grips with your apartment bills

Most of us have been affected one way or another by the economic downturn – we are certainly less inclined to use our credit cards than we were a few years ago and we are all looking for ways to cut back on the bills,  especially with the rise in VAT looming. Here are some suggestions from Inspired Property Management that could help RMCs and leaseholders keep their costs down.

Utility bills

When you add up all the bills for electricity, gas, telephone calls and water, they account for a considerable proportion of the monthly outgoings. It is always worth keeping an eye on what you are paying for utilities. Consider changing provider if another company can offer a better deal. You will not notice any difference in your supply but customer service and response times to queries can vary enormously between utility companies. Ask around – can friends or family recommend their supplier in terms of cost and service, speak to your neighbours as collectively if you all switch they may offer you a discount? Changing provider is not a complex process and is quickly completed, but do expect a call to ask you why you are moving to a different company. If you pay your bills by direct debit you will need to contact your bank to cancel your existing arrangement and set up a new one.

Gas and electricity

Consider using the same provider for gas and electricity – a dual fuel discount may be available. Look out for special offers: some companies offer additional incentives such as ‘Nectar’ points to new customers which you can then use to pay for supermarket or high street items.

Some quick wins are:

  • Use low energy light bulbs, switch off lights and don’t leave appliances such as TVs and computers on standby.
  • Invest in an energy monitor or employ an electrician to do an energy survey of your home for you to identify which appliances use the most electricity.
  • When buying new appliances choose those that are A- or B-rated for energy efficiency.
  • If you live in an older block and have open fires, use them, if you have somewhere to store the fuel. A few logs will keep you warm and save you turning up the central heating – but don’t forget to get the chimneys swept if you haven’t lit a fire for a while. Check first that you do not live in an area that restricts the use of solid fuels or a smoke free zone.
  • If your hot water tank isn’t lagged, do it this weekend. It is cheap and easy and will save you money.
  • Invest in fully lined curtains and insulation around doors and windows – this will help keep the heating bills down if you don’t have double-glazing.

Telephone and broadband

Telephone calls are another major overhead for many of us, especially if we have teenagers in the house or work from home. There are lots of deals out there and it is worth going to a cost comparison website such as www.homephonechoices.co.uk to find out if you could be paying less for your phone. Check your contract to make sure you’re not tied into a fixed period with your provider. Switching phone companies is a simple process, which shouldn’t take more than 14 days to complete.

You can even do it online. For those with broadband, it can be more cost effective to bundle the cost of a landline and broadband together by using one provider for both – you could even add mobile calls and satellite TV. Sky and Virgin media both offer TV and telecoms packages. If you do decide to change broadband provider, don’t forget to check the speed of your new provider’s broadband service in your area and ask how long it will take to connect you. This is particularly important if you rely on your internet connection for work. If you don’t want to change provider but are keen to keep phone bills to a minimum, look at the small print on your next bill: making off-peak calls is cheaper. Talk Talk offer evening and weekend packages and BT ’s  ‘Friends and family’ gives you cheaper calls to certain numbers. All providers have their own tariffs so check your telephone company’s website for more information.

You might even consider dropping the landline altogether if you can get a good mobile signal at home – there is no line rental on a mobile, contracts are very competitive and you will be offered a new handset free of charge on a regular basis. If you live in a mobile signal blackspot – there are products on the market such as Vodafone’s Sure Signal, that claim to give you a strong mobile phone signal in your home, using your home broadband. It boosts the signal throughout your house for up to four people at the same time. To use, you need a broadband connection with a minimum line speed of 1Mbps, plus a 3G mobile phone.

Water

Although UK water companies have been privatised, the market is not open to competition, so you can’t switch provider in the same way as for other utilities. Nor are bills based on the amount of water you use. Unlike gas and electricity, water bills are still based on the rateable value of your home.

The only way to ensure that you are only paying for the water you use is to opt to fit a water meter. Only 37% of UK homes have a water meter but having one installed could save you money – and help the environment. If you know you’re paying for every unit of water you use, you are unlikely to waste it.

The average water bill in England and Wales is around £360 a year. For those households with meters, the average bill falls to around £300. However the price of water differs from region to region and so before deciding to switch to metered water, it’s worth finding out whether or not this would really save you money. A rough indication is to look at the number of bedrooms in your flat – if you have more bedrooms than people, a meter could save you money.

For a quick way to estimate how much you could save, go to www.uswitch.com or the Consumer Council for Water website at www.ccwater.org.uk. Both sites have tools to help you calculate your possible savings, depending on where in the country you live.

Suppliers Every block of flats uses a range of suppliers – some deal with aspects of the block itself, such as gardeners, window cleaners and lift engineers and some are employed by individual residents, such as plumbers, electricians, and cleaners. RMC directors or property management company that are responsible for employing suppliers on a regular basis, should ensure that they revisit the costs involved in regular repairs and maintenance on a regular basis. By shopping around not only can you find alternative companies or individuals who might be able to do an equally good job at a better price, but if existing suppliers know that you are aware of the market rate for their services, they may be less inclined to put their rates up.

For individual leaseholders, the cost of employing tradesmen to do small household jobs can be prohibitive. RMCs are in a great position to help leaseholders by encouraging them to pool their resources. Why not employ a carpenter or painter and decorator to bundle a number of small (or not so small) jobs for different residents together over a few days or weeks. This could keep costs down for the tradesman because he may be able to buy supplies in bulk and has less travelling time to and from jobs and as a result may be willing to give a better price. Don’t forget that some tradesmen are also willing to give a slightly cheaper price for cash.

However, cheapest isn’t necessarily best and doesn’t always offer value for money – always check tradespeople’s credentials and use those that are members of reputable trade associations or are professionally qualified. Check they have the relevant insurance cover should problems arise. Never employ anyone who turns up on your doorstep touting for business, no matter how convincing they are.

Inspired Property Management are committed to providing the best service for all our RMC’s and leaseholders, which is why we will review all annual repeat costs and make sure we are giving you the best value. If you’d like to find out more about our services and how we can manage your development please get in touch with a member of the team on 01302 729 500.

IPM celebrate 10 years with new App

Inspired Property Management (IPM) one of the leading providers of block property management services across the UK celebrates its 10th anniversary with the launch of a bespoke new App and the expansion of their head office in Doncaster.

IPM was launched in 2009 by David Poppleton, Andrew Poppleton and Danielle Parker who have established a thriving business with over 80 team members, managing over 500 developments nationally.

IPM has ambitious plans to continue their impressive growth, aiming to increase the number of developments it manages over the coming years. Based at Malton Way, Adwick-Le-Street, Doncaster, with a further office located in central London, IPM recently completed the acquisition of a further neighbouring building to expand their head office in Doncaster.

IPM has been attentive to increasing connectivity, passionate in embracing digital change and listening to their customers. The development of the brand new IPM Maintenance App will enable customers to request repairs, report problems, all with a simple click on the App from their mobile device, anytime, anywhere.

David Poppleton, Director of IPM, said: “We are delighted to be celebrating 10 years of growth and success for Inspired Property Management, and we wish to thank all our team for their steadfast dedication and commitment. Our vision is to provide customers with the best property management services in the UK.”

Danielle Parker, Director of IPM said: “It’s been an incredible journey over the last 10 years building the business to where it is today. We all share a genuine commitment to putting customers’ needs first and that has been the basis for our success. Here’s to the next 10 years!”

Andrew Poppleton, Director of IPM said: “When we started IPM, we all had a shared vision to build a business focussed on customer care with a talented, motivated and passionate team. The new IPM Maintenance App highlights our commitment to embracing technology and investment.”

Can I have a pet in my apartment?

We are a nation of animal lovers. 1 in 2 households own a pet, with around 20 million pets owned in total. It is no wonder that residential property agents are frequently asked if pets are allowed in flats?

Can I have a pet in my apartment?

Landlords are often reluctant to let tenants keep a pet in their rental flat as there are often concerns about potential damage or noise caused by the animal. 78% of pet owners have had trouble finding a flat which allows pets, advises a survey by the Dogs Trust.

It’s important to check your tenancy agreement to see if there is a ‘no pets’ clause before you move in. If a landlord does allow pets, make sure that you get their agreement in writing. The landlord might have a covenant that allows them to withdraw their agreement if problems arise that impact the neighbours or damage the interior of the property.

It is also vital to inform the estate agent or property management company of your requirements for your pet when you are looking to rent or buy a property. When you buy a flat, it is most likely to be leasehold. If this is the case, the terms of the lease will specify whether you are allowed a pet in the property or in the grounds and what if any restrictions there are.

The other consideration that has to be prioritised when looking to keep a pet in a flat which is also very important, is the welfare of the animal. Many dogs and cats could be unhappy confined to a flat, especially if they don’t have easy access to a garden or outdoor space.

How do I find out if you can’t have a pet in my flat?

All leasehold flats will have a lease, which sets out the rules that you have to abide by. Pets aren’t the only potential restrictive clause in a property lease and you should look out for others. Subletting may seem an obvious one but even hanging your clothes to dry on your windows might be prohibited, alongside the installation of individual satellite dishes or aerials, more likely in listed or older properties.

What if pets aren’t in the lease?

If there is no mention of pets within the property lease yet the landlord refuses permission to keep a pet, they may argue that pets aren’t allowed under a general nuisance clause. However, the landlord would struggle to enforce this if the issue was taken to court without concrete evidence of what was deemed to be causing the nuisance.
What are the penalties for breaking the terms of my lease?

Under the unfair terms regulations – part of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – you should be able to request that you can keep your pet in your flat despite a clause in the lease against it.

Be wary of a landlord who removes the wording that says a tenant can apply for permission to keep a pet. If a landlord does this, this automatically renders the clause unfair and so – in theory – nothing in the tenancy agreement will stop you from keeping a pet.

If the freeholder then gives their consent to allow you to have a pet, your solicitor will ask the freeholder for this agreement in writing. You could be taken to court by the freeholder if you breach a no pets clause on your lease. The court would then order you to remove your pet from the flat.

If you can show that there will be no problems with your pet, this will give you a stronger case. Your landlord will be concerned about potential noise and any possible damage to the property. They may consider allowing you to keep a pet if you can pay for the flat to be professionally deep cleaned when you leave. This could be funded using your deposit.

If you keep a pet against the clause and are on a shorthold tenancy agreement, the landlord can evict you using the section 21 procedure or simply refuse to extend your tenancy at the end of the term. If the animal is clearly inappropriate to be kept in the flat, the landlord has the right to take you to court even if you have a long fixed term tenancy agreement.

If you are a landlord and want to allow pets in your rental property, a tenancy agreement with clear terms and conditions will protect your property. You can specify what pets you will allow and refuse and who will look after the animal if the tenant is unable to do so.

Are guide dogs are allowed in flats?

You are not automatically entitled to keep an assistance dog in a flat. In the case of Thomas-Ashley v Drum Housing Association Ltd [2010] EWCA Civ 265 a disabled tenant was not allowed to keep a dog in their flat, despite the dog being critical to maintaining the tenant’s health. This was not considered to be discrimination against disability by law as the terms on the lease were clear and applied to all.

As a flat owner, how can I be prevented from keeping a pet?

You can’t be prevented from having a pet if you own the freehold to the flat, however when you buy a flat, most properties are typically leasehold. You will therefore need the freeholder’s permission to keep a pet in the property, as you would if you were renting.

You should check the property leasehold to find out if there is:

– A no pets clause
– A statement saying that prior consent is needed before you can keep a pet

Including a no pets clause in a lease is straightforward. The clause should be written clearly and explicitly and it should forbid any pets being kept in the flat, even temporarily. It should highlight the actions that will be taken if there is a violation, plus any costs that may be incurred.

A statement asking for prior consent should make clear that each pet will be considered separately – it is not a blanket authorisation. The leaseholder has the right to refuse any pet. The clause should also highlight that if permission for a pet is granted, each rule must be adhered to, otherwise the privilege can be automatically revoked.

Most landlords don’t allow pets in their flats due to risk of damage to the property, however by allowing pets in flats landlords may be able to attract more prospective tenants. Tenants with pets also tend to stay in their flat for longer, meaning a lower turnover rate and potentially higher revenue.

Always check and then check again!

Fire safety in high rise flats

​​Following the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London, we understand that people will be concerned about the safety of their own homes. The safety and wellbeing of our tenants is very important to us.

If you live in a private rented high rise block

The fire service advice is to take up safety concerns with the Responsible Person for the premises which is likely to be the managing agent or landlord. If residents have concerns about their own safety within their flat, then they can request a visit their local fire authority for more information.

Our advice to residents living in a high rise blocks:

STAYING SAFE

  • Make sure that you have an escape plan and all members of your household know what to do if there was a fire in your flat
  • Make sure everybody understands your escape plan and knows where the door key is kept

FIRE SAFETY IN THE BUILDING

  • Keep exits and passageways clear of any obstructions
  • Close all internal doors at night to prevent any spread of fire
  • Never use, or store, bottled gas cylinders in high rise blocks
  • Always report faulty doors on staircases
  • Never tamper with internal fire mains (dry riser) inlets on the landings
  • Never park your vehicles in a designated parking space for emergency services
  • Do not start cooking if you are very tired or have drunk a lot of alcohol. Never use a chip pan
  • If you smoke make sure that you put cigarettes out properly, and don’t smoke in bed or while sleep

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF THERE IS A FIRE

  • If there is a fire in another flat in the building, you are usually safest in your own home unless you are affected with heat or smoke
  • If it is too dangerous to follow your planned escape route, ring 999 and stay inside the safest room
  • Keep the doors closed and use towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block the smoke
  • If you leave the building due to a fire use the stairs, do not use the lift
  • If there is a fire never assume that somebody has called 999 make the call yourself

​STAY PUT POLICY

  • Raise the alarm if possible
  • Call the Fire Brigade on 999
  • If your flat is affected by smoke or fire, leave the building
  • If your flat is not affected, and you consider it safe to do so, you may remain in your flat until advised by the Fire Service
  • Evacuate the building using the staircase. Never use the lift

CLICK HERE FOR YOUR ON-LINE GUIDE

5 tips to reduce your buildings insurance premium

Although building insurance can be quite a dry topic with insurance companies being seen as a means to an end (much like property managers), it is an important and typically expensive element of a service charge budget, which needs to be thoughtfully addressed.

IPM have been asked many times for our top tips and tricks to reduce buildings insurance premiums which has led us to compile the below list that property managers and resident management companies/leaseholders can use to reduce and manage your buildings insurance:

Compare quotes

You should never accept the first and only, so make sure your property manager or person responsible for the insurance get at least 3 quotes. There are many insurers available with competitive premiums so use this to your advantage.

Get a valuation

When commencing management of a property, IPM always suggest that a full insurance valuation is completed if it hasn’t been completed recently. Insurance reduces financial impact on the policyholder should a risk occur and the last situation you would want is to find out that the policy is underinsured.

Increase your excess

If insurance claims have become a regular occurrence in your building, discussing the possibility of increasing the insurance excesses may bring the overall premium down and warn off any consistent claimers. The usual risks on building insurance policies are: escape of water, fire/lightning, explosion, subsidence and accidental damage.

Be proactive

Building insurance tends to become a hot topic when claims become a regular occurrence. More often than not, these claims are attributed to water leaks throughout the building. Ensure you have a PM with a proactive maintenance plan which will help prevent further issues arising. The damage may already be done with increased claims leading to increased premiums but proactivity can reduce premiums over time.

Payments

Most property managers are in a position to organise credit for their clients who can then pay premiums monthly, however, this can increase your annual cost by up to 10% in some cases so it’s important to find out the overall cost. It is financially prudent to manage the service charge accurately to pay for the building insurance in one annual payment.

IPM has access to the entire market, providing our clients with the best insurance policy for the year ahead, for more information about our services and how we can manage your property efficiently, please get in touch with a member of our team.

 

Inspired Property Management get responsive!

We’ve recently completed and launched our new fully responsive Inspired Property Management website.

The site is fully responsive for mobile and tablet so no matter what the device the website is viewed on visitors can navigate around the site with ease and find exactly what they are looking for quickly.

In addition the site features a full content management system (CMS) and links to our very own on-line tenant portal system where our customers can find all the information they require about their property and can even make payments on-line.

Dave Poppleton, Director, advises,

“We wanted to ensure that we provide a smooth and seamless service to our customers and our new fully responsive website reflects this.”

“With enriched content and the latest company news, the website becomes our on-line voice to our customers.”

Why not browse the new site and let us know what you think!

Inspired Tenant Portal

Inspired have now recently created and implemented a ‘Tenant Portal’.

This will allow owners to access specific information and news updates relating to their development 24 hours a day, for example a copy buildings insurance policy, as well as being able to access statements of accounts and transaction history.

Owners will also be able to make payments on line using a debit or credit card 24 hours a day. You will no longer be required to call in office hours to make payment over the phone.

A maintenance section is also available to report any maintenance issues.

Please click here to access the Tenant Portal or you will find the ‘Client Login’ button in the top right hand corner of our website.

We hope all users will find the Tenant Portal extremely helpful.