Author: Laura Saunders

Land and Property Professionals

We sell, rent, manage, survey, plan and advise...what can we do for you?

Bedford: 01234 351000 (Sales, lettings and viewing enquiries)
01234 352201 (Professional services and general enquiries)
Buckingham: 01280 428010

With recent rising energy costs and global insecurity brought into sharp focus by the war in Ukraine, it is time to take stock of your property assets.

Two issues should be to the forefront of consideration:

For landlords, if you have let your property to a tenant on a long lease with the tenant solely responsible for repairs, it is easy to become complacent. However, there is an ongoing trend of Government tightening legislation as it seeks to meet climate change targets, thermal performance and efficient use of energy.

The Government White Paper for Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) sets out the need for commercial rented buildings to meet a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C from 2028, with an EPC rating of B from 2030. It is estimated that in Bedfordshire alone, 55% of the commercial buildings have an EPC worse than C.

If a property is not maintained and improved on a continual basis and meets tenant/buyer expectations, it can quickly become unlettable and unfit for purpose. Poor maintenance can also result in users of the building having day-to-day activities disrupted and lead to a spiral of lack of care, resulting in an unattractive property.

Recently we have been commissioned by a local property owner of two town centre offices to advise on management issues as follows:

Following a review of the EPCs and obtaining advice on potential improvements by a specialist consultant, we are now drawing up proposals of how to achieve an acceptable rating with a target of EPC rating of at least C and possibly B to future proof.

Various parts of the building were found to be suffering from decay and deterioration resulting in tenant dissatisfaction. Opportunities are being taken to replace windows with thermally efficient versions, while still maintaining the character of the building.

We are also consultants to several local churches to advise on their ongoing repairs and refurbishments. Recently, we have carried out a quinquennial review of properties belonging to Three Rivers Church in Bedford. Various repairs and improvements have been carried out to their three properties during 2021, with cyclical redecoration planned for 2022. Spurred on by the Mayor’s Climate Change fund initiative, the trustees are now looking at ways to reduce their energy bills. Following obtaining an EPC as preliminary guidance, we are now advising on options to carry out improvements to lighting, heating and insulating the building fabric.

Do you have a commercial property that needs to be looked at? Please contact Stuart Brown to find out how we can help you.

If you have a commercial property that you let but are considering property management, then please contact Tessa Smith.

If you haven’t ever considered auction to sell your land or property then now certainly is the time. With a record success rate of selling 93% of lots in 2021, more sellers are turning to the auction route and an abundance of buyers are looking for their ideal lot.

What sells well at auction?

Any kind of property can sell at auction, from hovels to mansions and bare land to vast warehouses but some types work better than others.

Examples

11 Moor Lane, Bedford MK42 9UR

Guide Price: £140,000

The owners of this much-loved family home were the original council tenants who first occupied in 1951 but the house now needed to sell to help with the cost of their joint care home fees.

Acting with power of attorney, their children appointed us to sell the property, wanting a quick, clean sale that would show the house was sold for ‘fair market value’. The last houses which sold in the road achieved £210,000 and £215,000 but these were both more modern inside. Allowing for the cost of refurbishment, we all expected it to achieve less than £200,000 so were delighted when the hammer went down at a staggering £251,000.

6 Clare Cottages, Clare, Thame, Oxfordshire OX9 7HQ

Guide Price: £190,000

Having been on the market since July 2019, we sold this cottage in June 2020 amid severe lockdown restrictions for £275,000 – 50% more than the guide price! We also sold Nos 2-5 Clare Cottages at the same time and totalled £1,220,000.

The highest offer for all the cottages secured by two previous estate agents was £750,000!

Examples

Mad Dog Paddock, High Street, Little Odell, Bedfordshire

Guide Price: £125,000

Having been refused permission to convert this concrete portal frame barn into a residential property, and then refused again at appeal, the sellers decided to sell.  Despite the negative planning history, we felt it would still be appealing to buyers as it is set between residential property within an attractive hamlet, with 8 acres of land to the rear. Our expectations were that it should achieve circa £200,000 so when it sold in our first in-room, post lockdown, auction in October 2021 for £450,000, our clients were delighted.

Being owned by a charity, a sale by auction also helped prove the sale was at market value for compliance with the Charities Act regulations.

Land on the South Side of Nash Road, Thornborough, Buckinghamshire

Guide Price: £55,000

Small parcels of land near houses always do well at auction. This 1 ½ acre paddock was no exception and despite there being a restriction on the title and no planning consent, in December 2021 it still sold for £170,000!

Example

28 Stotfold Road, Arlesey, Bedfordshire SG15 6XT

Guide Price: £160,000

With a sitting tenant to work around, the seller was a local solicitor acting as executor to a deceased client’s estate who needed the property sold to complete his duties. The house had been valued (with vacant possession) by local agents at around £350,000, however a sitting tenant occupied it, a sprightly 75-year-old and reluctant to allow viewings due to the pandemic. Having met with the tenant, it was agreed we would make a video tour, take photos and produce a floor plan. It sold for £275,000, over £100,000 above the guide price and almost 80% of the vacant full market value.

Example

The Old Mission Hall, Middle Weald, Calverton, Buckinghamshire

Guide Price £25,000

The beneficiary of this sale was a charity which had commissioned a formal ‘Red Book’ valuation from a firm of chartered surveyors for this brick building. It sat close to the road in open countryside between two hamlets and was ‘valued’ at £30,000.

Our guide price for auction was stepped back a little from the valuation figure and after intense interest and very strong bidding, the property sold in February 2021 for £80,000

If you would like to find out if your land or property is suitable for auction, please call Charles Lovell.

Yasmine Degmenlibey joins us as Residential Lettings Supervisor. She has over six years’ experience in sales and property management. She is confident in growing the residential lettings portfolio and keen to continue to provide first class customer service.

Rajdeep Dhillo joins us as Residential Lettings Assistant. She is highly experienced in lettings, and delights in building relationships with both landlords and tenants, ensuring all paperwork is completed to meet compliance requirements.

For further marketing queries please contact Laura.

When purchasing a building, you are investing a significant amount of your funds, time and life.  While a property may seem appealing and suitable for your needs, consideration should be given to ensuring that there are no significant issues or major surprises. Whether in a residential or commercial context, the building survey and the role of the professional surveyor is vital in protecting a buyer and managing risk. A survey and report by an independent building surveyor will help you to have a balanced view.

Our detailed surveys involve a thorough visual inspection of the building fabric to ascertain issues such as structural movement, dampness, deterioration and lack of facility. In our reports, we consider our findings and give context to defects found in terms of significance and urgency of repair. Estimated costs of repairs and improvements are also included.

Our specialism is surveying older properties, typically pre-1920s buildings and listed buildings.  Recent commissions include:

Are you soon to purchase a property? Find out more about our building surveying services by calling Stuart Brown.

Over the last ten years there have been changes to, or implementation of, over 175 sections of the regulations affecting the private rental sector. At Robinson & Hall Residential Lettings, we pride ourselves on being up to date with current legislation and best practice. We hold the ARLA Propertymark and as a firm are regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Our lettings team’s top 5 tips for compliance and a seamless tenancy in 2022 are:

  1. Has your tenant got the right to rent in the UK?

Following the UK’s departure from the EU, we can no longer rely on a European Economic Area (EEA) passport or a National ID Card to prove a person’s right to rent in the UK. Evidence of their immigration status must be obtained through the Home Office online service which stipulates their status and the expiry. It is therefore essential the checks are conducted throughout the tenancy.

The new Code paves the way for the introduction of certified digital Identity Service Providers (IDSPs) which will run digital identity checks for British and Irish citizens as part of the Home Office’s introduction of the Identity Document Validation Technology (IDVT) framework.

Adjusted checks, following on from COVID19, using video calls will continue to be accepted until 30th September 2022.

  1. Prepare for the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) changes

Landlords will have until 2026 to ensure all their rental properties achieve band C on the EPC before letting the property. For existing tenancies, the landlord will have until 2028 to meet the requirement.

Landlords under the current minimum rating of E need to invest only up to a maximum of £3,500 which means rental properties can still be let out despite being below an E rating.

The penalty for not having a valid EPC will also be raised from £5,000 to £30,000 from 2025.

  1. Carbon monoxide alarm changes

All landlords will also now be obliged to ensure a carbon monoxide alarm is installed in any room of their homes properties where there is a fixed combustion appliance (including a gas boiler). Where a new fixed combustion appliance is installed, a carbon monoxide alarm will be required to be installed by law. Gas cooker appliances are excluded from the new rules.

  1. Invest in your rental property

With rents continuing to rise, it is good practice to decorate your rental properties every five years to ensure maximum rents can be achieved.

  1. Choose Robinson & Hall as your letting agent

Did you know that anyone can open an agency without having qualifications, experience or knowledge? Therefore, it is extremely important to choose an agent which is regulated by a respected industry body and has a proven track record of letting and managing properties within the area.

For more information or to book a no obligation lettings appraisal, please contact Yasmine.

Why diversify?

The phasing out of payments under the Basic Payment Scheme has resulted in many farmers looking for ways to protect their business income for future generations.

Through the re-use of redundant/surplus buildings or land of low productivity, diversification can open new sources of revenue that does not rely on the day-to-day agricultural enterprise, add value to assets, provide a new challenge, create new jobs and allow new business entrants in the form of younger generations/family members.

Farm diversification can come in many forms such as:

One of the first steps when considering a farm diversification project should be to assess the planning options available and, if necessary, prepare a planning strategy.

Many proposals utilising existing agricultural buildings may fall under Permitted Development Rights (PDR). Therefore, it is important to understand at an early stage in the project whether full planning permission for change of use is required or whether PDR can be used.

When you can use Permitted Development Rights:

Part 3 of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order focusses on changes of use and in particular Classes Q, R and S focus on the change of use of agricultural buildings.

Class Q enables the conversion of agricultural buildings to up to five new dwellings, the floor space is limited at 465 sqm and the structure of the building must be confirmed as capable for conversion. You also must be able to evidence that the building was previously used for agriculture on or before 20th March 2013.

Class R enables the conversion of agricultural buildings to a flexible commercial use up to 500 sqm and the building must have been last used for agriculture on or before 3rd July 2012.

Class S enables the conversion of agricultural buildings to state-funded schools or registered nurseries providing the building was used for agriculture on or before 20th March 2013 and the change of use does not exceed 500 sqm.

The benefit of being able to use PDR to diversify is it is a simpler, quicker and cheaper way to get farm development through the planning system.  

Other factors to consider:

Many sites that offer farm diversification opportunities are located within the open countryside, where planning permission for new buildings is contrary to policy and difficult to obtain. In addition, if a site is located within the Green Belt, a conservation area, a national park or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is further restricted by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and various measures shall need to be taken to ensure the development is acceptable.

Liaising with the local planning authority:

Where PDR is not an option, it is beneficial to engage with the Council at the earliest opportunity and discuss your proposals at a pre-application stage. It is also helpful to engage with your local Parish Council and adjoining landowners and neighbours to gain support and address any concerns prior to the submission of an application.

Often, planning officers are not familiar with the day-to-day running of a farm and how agricultural businesses work. It can be helpful to your application to invite officers to gain an understanding of the enterprise when undertaking their site visit or to submit additional explanatory information as part of an application submission.

Key points to remember:

We have years of experience successfully helping farmers to diversify their farm business. We can help from start to finish and guide you through the process.

For further information or to find out how we can help you, please contact Shannon Fuller.

The industrial and storage market has seen the largest growth in property rents and has remained the most robust of the commercial property sectors. Over recent years, there has been a growth in online sales following the onset of coronavirus and both retailers and distributors are requiring an increased amount of storage space to facilitate these requirements.

Are my farm buildings suitable?

When considering whether commercial industrial property diversification is an option for you, there are a number of matters you should take into consideration, which include:-

  1. Access hours
  2. Additional security
  3. Lease agreements
  4. Deposits
  5. Planning permission and building regulations
  6. Legal requirements
  7. Property management
  8. The tenant’s usage
  9. Additional insurance requirements
  10. Required adaptations to the existing farming method and business
  11. Health and safety requirements

The benefits compared to other diversification options:

When considering whether your farm buildings are suitable, you could also consider storage containers. These have also increased in demand and may be a smaller initial step into the commercial market.  

For more information or to discuss your farm buildings and their suitability, please contact Tessa.

Boundary disputes are on the rise. They can be costly, traumatic and time consuming to resolve so we thought we would provide some tips and advice to help you understand the basics and avoid potential pitfalls when dealing with them.

  1. When buying a property, ask your solicitor for an official copy of the current title plan so you can clearly assess the boundary.
  2. Compare this title plan to the property itself and flag up any differences with the seller prior to exchange of contracts.
  3. Talk to your neighbours to establish who is responsible for maintaining the boundaries. This will help you avoid problems in the future.
  4. You should never change a boundary feature without your neighbour’s knowledge or while they are away.

Disputes occur when boundaries have changed over time but not been recorded, boundary structures are replaced without consulting neighbours or when a neighbour tries to build right up to a boundary. If you are looking to build up to the boundary line then we can help. Refer to our article ‘Understanding the Party Wall etc Act 1996’ found here.

What to do if a boundary dispute arises?

The key to resolving a dispute quickly and successfully is to seek professional advice as soon as possible. We are Chartered Building Surveyors regulated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and are experts in providing advice on boundary disputes.

Our services include checking the title plans, reconciling current plans with historical documents and photographs and surveying the site. We always advocate good communication between neighbours and try and resolve disputes swiftly and amicably.

Please also refer to our previous article about ‘Why use our service to produce Land Registry compliant transfer plans?’ found here.

If you are struggling to locate your title plan, are unsure where your boundaries are or are worried a boundary dispute could arise then please contact Robert Franklin.

Agricultural Land

At this time of year, we look forward to the prospects for the agricultural land market. We would normally expect to see the first properties coming to the market by this time, but the big news is that there is very little available. This continues the theme of recent years when supply has been very tight with well-funded purchasers chasing the better farms and blocks of land which become available.

Some observers have predicted that much more land will come to the market this year as a result of the Agriculture Act, increased fuel prices, increased fertiliser prices and increased interest rates.  Likewise, it is predicted that buyers will be in short supply for the same reason.

My own prediction is that we shall see little difference from last year. In reality, there is little pressure from the banks for farmers to sell. Meanwhile, there is a considerable number of well-funded buyers who are willing to compete for whatever is available.  Smaller blocks of bare land will continue to be dependent upon local interest, which could give rise to a wide range of outcomes.  Well-equipped large farms, whether commercial or residential, will certainly attract interest.

Residential Development Land

Many landowners dream of the possibility of releasing a few acres for residential development. We have certainly been able to assist many across the Oxford to Cambridge Arc and beyond, in converting farmland into residential development land worth a multiple of between ten times and one hundred times its agricultural value.

Such sales can be life-changing, often providing a broader range of opportunities for the next generation. However, a lot of time and money has to be invested to maximise potential. There is much to be won and much to be lost. Proceeding in the correct manner is key.

We work with a select list of professional promoters in securing Local Plan allocations with great success. We are always keen to manage the marketing of the land to ensure that best value is secured and also to deal with important matters such as retaining the correct rights to any retained land. The development world is full of sharks and egos and it is important to be well represented.

If you are considering your options and would like to find out how we can help you, then please contact David Jones.

Whilst we’ve just completed the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Countryside Stewardship Scheme annual claims for 2022, at the forefront of our rural team’s mind is the future of these schemes and those that will replace them. The guaranteed income from BPS is something farmers have come to rely on, especially at times of volatility in agricultural markets such as we are seeing now.

BPS will be phased out by 2028, with 2027 being the last year a payment is received under the scheme. By 2024, the payment will be around half of what claimants received in 2020 and therefore planning for this reduction in income is now vital.

The Lump Sum Exit Scheme, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) retirement scheme, is not an option for most but will be useful for a few farmers.

The Countryside Stewardship Scheme offers good levels of payment, recently increased, and is a good way of securing a guaranteed income from poorer parts of the farm without the risks of weather, price volatility, etc. Applications for agreements to start on 1st January 2023 must be submitted by 29th July 2022. With the huge range of options, including capital items, it is worth considering the scheme well in advance of this date to ensure applications are ready for submission by the deadline.

We now have more information of the Government’s much publicised Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), the first part of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). In 2022, the scheme will open in June with the Soils Standards for arable, horticultural and improved grassland. We are gradually getting the information on the scheme from DEFRA and the boxes below show the confirmed requirements so far.

Arable and Horticultural Soils Standard

Improved Grassland Soils Standard

Further standards under SFI will be launched in 2023-2025 including payments for hedges, woodland and biodiversity.

A further payment available under ELMS will be the Animal Health and Welfare Review. This is a contribution towards an annual vet visit. It is available to those with at least 50 pigs, 20 sheep or 10 cattle and the payments are as follows:

There is also funding available for capital items, with the Countryside Stewardship: Capital Grants Scheme. Applications are open now and will remain open until all the funding is allocated. This scheme pays a set rate towards capital items under three categories:

Claims can be made for capital items up to £20,000 for each category, £60,000 overall. There will also be further rounds of the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund and the Farming Transformation Fund.

A number of the above schemes are time limited and therefore it will be important for farmers to consider which schemes work best for their farms and act swiftly where funding is available. Making a start with the SFI Soils Standard will put people in a good position to enter the further standards when they become available as part of the paperwork will already have been completed.

For information or assistance on any of the above schemes, please contact Polly Sewell.