3 Tips for having a good staycation

Having some time off work but not going on holiday? Read on my friend…

After enjoying three holidays abroad this year, a house to finish decorating and with one week of annual leave left, a staycation was the only option my bank balance would accept (for clarity, I class a staycation as having time off and not going on holiday).

It’s important to remember that most of the time we have annual leave to allow ourselves to have a period of rest away from a working environment, however if you don’t do this productively (quite an oxymoron I know) you could end up getting back to work and feeling like you’ve wasted this valuable time. So, I propose that you follow these three simple rules that will give you the best chance to recharge your batteries and feel accomplished:

1 – Have one period of adulting

I guarantee there’ll be jobs you’ve been saving until you ‘have time’ to do them. This is the time! But make it count – write out a list of those jobs and get them done in one go and before you do anything else. If you don’t you’ll end up doing them in bits and bobs through the week and breaking up other quality time, or rushing to cram them in at the end which will likely make you feel a bit frazzled. Getting it done up front will instantly make you feel accomplished, take a weight off and move your vibe towards chill mode.

2 – Plan out you time

Mapping out what you’re going to do means you can use all of the time you have to its fullest advantage and know what to look forward to and when.

Even if you plan to do nothing, plan the days/times of you’re going doing nothing so you can prepare – make sure your fave PJs/loungewear are freshly washed, you’re fully stocked up on snacks and Netflix is primed to take you to binge watch heaven.

3. Do SOMETHING, even if it’s just one day/night

It doesn’t have to be far, it doesn’t have to cost a lot, hell if you’re forgetful like me it could even be free!

Do you have any vouchers for a spa treatment/hotel stay/restaurant/theme park that you got as a gift and have been waiting to use? Now is the time, I enjoyed a lovely mid week stay at Thorpe Park Hotel from one of last year’s Christmas gifts.

Have a look around to see if any of your favourite cafes/restaurants/bars do special offer during the week that you wouldn’t normally be able to enjoy. We managed to find one of our favourite pizza places had an insane lunch deal that was about half the price of the usual menu. Good food, less money, happy you.

You don’t have to think drastically outside the box, you ould simply do the things you’d do outside of office hours, just with more time and less people. Enjoy a day walking around the shops and a lazy lunch, visit family members you don’t see as often as you’d like or hit the gym and enjoy the freedom of getting on any piece of equipment you want.

So there it is – not rocket science, just quick wins that you may not think of when you’re tunnel visioned on the concept of ‘not being at work’. Now, off you go to enjoy yourself!

Thanks for reading,

J xx


Buying a house – what to ask/ do during the viewing process

Quick note: this is not my furniture or how my lounge looks. Not that it matters, just wanted to point it out.

So, you’ve done you research (see the first post of this mini-series to find out more about that side of things) you’ve seen some places you like and you’re ready to go out and see them in person. But…what are you supposed to do when you’re there besides look?

Buying property is a huge commitment, so you want to make sure you get it right, and that’s where I can help. I’ve viewed so many houses over my adult life, more than half of them within the last couple of years so my experiences are pretty current as well as long standing. Learning from my family, friends and a few industry professionals I believe I’ve honed my line of questioning, so now I’m sharing what I’ve learned below.

This post will take a little while to read, but if you’re thinking of buying a property soon it’s totally worth it!

Before you view

When you call (if this is not an online agency) to book a viewing, ask:

– For an idea of the seller’s situation (i.e. Have they found a new house, are they in a hurry to sell, is the house vacant) and clearly communicate yours to them.

If you’re a first time buyer with a decision/agreement in principle or have sold your house and are in strong position to move make sure this is known, as the agent will communicate this to the seller which lets them know you’re a reliable and serious viewer.

– Who is showing you the house and their name

It’s good to have a name so you can start off by building a good rapport (this can be useful as if you end up in any kind of bidding war, the fact that they warm to you *may* help sway things in your favour). It will also give you an idea of whether it’s the homeowner or a representative of the agent showing you around; if it’s the latter you will need to ask the next question.

– If they can answer all questions you may have about the property themselves

If it’s not people who live in the property showing you round (they may have passed away, or simply have asked the agents to help because they’re at work) then it’s likely that whoever is present at the viewing will just be letting you in the house to look around and won’t have a great deal of knowledge to answer questions on the spot. If they’re a good agency they will have prepared some of the key points but other things they will probably have to ask and get back to you about. If you know this in advance, you may be able to have the agency get some of the information from the seller before your viewing which will save time later.

During the viewing

First things first – get your game faces on. Be prepared to be pleasant but try to keep a poker face – you don’t want to appear too keen if you love the house as this will leave you with no bargaining power if you make an offer later, however you don’t want to appear rude as this is somebody’s home and very important to them.

These are what I would deem are the core questions you should ask as you move throughout the home, just ask as part of a natural conversation. The person showing you around will be expecting you to ask a lot of questions so don’t hold back!

– How long have you lived here?

If it’s a long time, good sign. If it’s not, that’s not the worst, but it makes the following question more important.

– Why are you wanting to move?

If the agency have given any indication already this will help confirm this. Usually it’s a very legitimate reason e.g. To be closer to work, need a bigger/smaller house, and you can usually tell if they’re not being honest with you. If you don’t feel they are you’re definitely entitled to press a little, but don’t push too hard.

– What’s is the average cost of utilities/bills?

As well as your mortgage payments, this gives you an idea of how much your total outlay may be. I’ve quite often phrased this as “apart from the mortgage, how much does the house usually cost to run every month?”

– What council tax band is the house in?

I would follow this up with how much does that cost every month if they don’t tell you. If the house is occupied by 1 adult and you’re buying as a couple yours will cost 25% more per month than this, or 25% less if a couple is currently living there and you’ll be living alone. A lot of people also don’t know that you have the option to pay your council tax bill over 12 months (the traditional amount is 10) so there are opportunities to save a bit on the monthly outlay of this one.

– What is the broadband signal like in the house?

VERY important – one of the houses we previously owned was in a “blackspot” and the connection was terrible and patchy (yet we had to pay the same amount, ugh.) which then also affected our satellite TV as that also relied on this.

– What is mobile phone reception like in the house?

Again, VERY important – the house we live in now is a bit of dodgy area for the EE network which led to us changing to O2. You can easily see on your own phone what the reception/connectivity is like, and ask the sellers what network they’re on or if there are any areas on their property that aren’t as good for signal.

– The age of windows/doors/ conservatory/flat roof – how long ago where they fitted?

I’ve come to notice that the ‘general’ age for big items like this to perform well before they require repair or replacement is about 10-15 years. This isn’t an exact science but double glazing usually has a 10yr guarantee against it which is a fair indication. If the weather is bad (wet, windy, snowy) when you view you’ll probably be able to see/feel any droughts or leaks. Some of these problems can be put right for a few hundred pounds, others can be a few thousand, butnif you know what you’re dealing with you can decide if you feel the house is worth it.

– Where is the boiler, how old is it and when was it last serviced? How regularly has been serviced whilst you’ve lived here?

An old boiler isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in my last house it was about 30yrs old) if you’re also told it’s been serviced at least once per year whilst the seller has lived there. If it’s fairly new and has been serviced every year, even better. If you wanted to go one further you could ask the make of the boiler (you may have a savvy relative or want to google the company afterwards) if the seller currently has a boiler cover and the cost to allow for this in your monthly bills.

– Do you have solar panels or loft/cavity wall insulation – when were they fitted and how effective are they now?

The second part of the question could probably only be answered if the sellers had these things installed whilst they lived in the property, if not they will probably only be able to comment on how effective they find them in general (i.e. Does the house get and stay warm)

– What can you tell me about the neighbours?

Much better than “are the neighbour’s nice?” In this day and age people may not know the neighbours more than to say hello to, but if there’s been any kind of acrimony or negativity you are giving them the opportunity to tell you (there’s potential legal recourse if they fail to disclose a serious problem, as it may affect whether you choose to buy the house or not). You’ll generally find most people will be quite vague “we don’t see them much but everyone seems nice” which is the answer you should hope for.

– What’s parking like down the street?

This is becoming such a hot button issue as many houses have at least 2 cars, sometimes more if older children live at home or visit often. Not everyone likes to park in garages or on drives as they’re lazy, but this obviously takes up valuable space and determines how easy the area is to drive and manoeuvre around. If the property has a shared Drive, ask what kind of arrangement are currently in place between the seller and neighbour for right of way etc.

Top tip: whatever answers you’re given, do a couple of drive-bys at different times/days in the week so you can see for yourself (evenings, weekends and early mornings are key times)

– What are local transport links like?

Also see if they can tell you the name/number of the local services so you can look the timetables up afterwards, how far away the nearest bus/tram stop or station are, and if they know how reliable these are.

– Is there anything else we haven’t asked that you feel would be useful to mention?

If you’ve asked all of the above and anything else that’s popped into your head as you’ve walked around, there probably isn’t, but it may trigger a memory of questions that other potential buyers have asked the seller.

– What is your favourite thing about living here, and what do you like the least about living here?

This one is a curve ball and generally not a regular thing most people would ask, however the hubby and I viewed so many properties this time around that we added it in to wring every last bit of honesty out of the seller. They won’t be expecting the question so won’t have had any time to pre-prepare an answer, meaning you’ll get a response that’s more honest or more telling. We found this very useful indeed.

After viewing

As you’re leaving a viewing, thank the seller for showing you their home and tell them at you will be in touch with your feedback shortly. This doesn’t indicate you love or hate it, but simply that you’ll let the agent know either way what you thought and how you’d like to move forward.

If the agent is getting information about the property from the sellers, be sure to chase this up after a couple of days if you haven’t heard anything.

A good agency will call or e-mail a day or two after your viewing to ask what you thought of the property, if you have any questions and if you would like them to book a second viewing or pass along an offer on your behalf. With these conversations I find it best to be honest and clear – if you didn’t like the house, say this and explain the reasons why if possible as this will help the agency manage things and stop them chasing you about it. If you’re genuinely in the fence, tell them this as well and they may be able to help with this, either by booking a follow up viewing for you to have another look and make up your mind or trying to find out why to see if they help you work through this.

And that is basically it in a nutshell – it’s a pretty large nutshell but it’s all here!

If you’re able to ask all of these questions during a viewing you’ll get a pretty complete picture of the property you’re interested in. It’s not an exhaustive list; every property is different and some may require a bit more fact finding than others, but it’ll put you more in control of the process and let the seller know this.

I’m planning one more post as part of this series that covers the last part of the process (the part people usually get the most stressed over) from offer to completion.

Happy house hunting!

J xx


LIFESTYLE / Buying a house – getting started

Welcome to my new mini series!

I’m going to start by saying this post is going to be long and definitely more on ‘functional’ side of things you’re likely to read in the blogosphere, however it may also help you immensely when taking those first tentative steps in to a house that you’re considering turning in to your home. It’s a huge commitment!

I decided to write this for a couple of reasons – firstly, because I’ve seen more than a few posts on social media lately from people looking to get their foot on the property ladder and buy their first home, secondly because searching for a new property consumed a large chunk of my life for a good 18 months between last year and the year before sorts something I feel equipped to talk to people about.

I’m by no means a property expert – I’ve bought and sold three houses over the past 13 years and viewed legit close to 100 properties of varying size/price point/ seller in a variety of different financial markets so I’m comfortable in saying I believe I have a good deal of experience. I also spent three years working as a mortgage and insurance adviser, so I have experience from a slightly alternative prospective there too.

Before you start to look

First things first: you need to know how much you’ll be able to borrow. There’s no point in looking for houses you can afford, right?

You’ve got a couple of different options for doing this – speak to a mortgage advisor (face to face or on the phone) or do some research online. Even though I used to work in the business and done this both ways in the past, I’d probably lean towards going, at least in the first instance.

Mortgage calculator tools have significantly developed to provide more and more accurate information, and many times mortgage advisors will use something similar to provide the information you’re looking for.

Internet research can be done at any time of day so you can fit it around work/family/social life easily, and you can look up as much as you want for as long as you want without being constrained to a set appointment time.

I’d suggest starting with your own bank/building society’s website first; they may be able to offer a better deal to you as an existing customer (for example, I get cashback into my current account every month at a higher rate because I have my mortgage there too). Comparison sites are also a really good resource as they have access to a large portion of mortgage providers in the UK, including special deals for first time buyers or larger deposits etc.

One key document you should look to get at the end of this process is an Agreement in Principle (sometimes called a Decision in Principle). This is official confirmation from a mortgage provider that they would be happy to lend you the funds you need, subject to supporting documentation (e.g. Payslips) and valuation of the property. When you starting making appointments to viewing houses, saying you have an AIP shows you’re a serious buyer who can afford the property you’re like to look at. Most of the time now you can get an AIP without having to go through a credit check; this is better as too many credit checks in a short space of time can actually lower your overall borrowing limits when you’re ready to go ahead. For this reason it’s better to do just one before you’re ready to apply for a mortgage, even if you decide not to use this company to go ahead.

Key piece of boring adult advice here: tell the truth and MENTION EVERY SINGLE THING – if you have credit card balances, loans or bad credit these could affect what kind of amount you can borrow, it’s better to know exactly where you stand from the jump than waste time on a situation that end up not being able to move forward.

Let the house hunt begin…

Now you know what you can afford, you can start looking for your dream home, eek! There are three main ways to do this:

– Online

Back online you go, same reasons as before – you can look whenever you want and for as long as you want and change parameters of your search. Sites like Rightmove or Zoopla are good because they have almost all estate agencies registered with them and can show all of the houses for sale within your price range (with possibly the odd exception).

Some sites have a function that shows you average house prices in a certain postcode area/street too, so you can get an idea of property prices for the areas your interested in living in.

When clicking on individual property information, pay close attention to two areas:

1. Listing history. This tells you the date the property was put up for sale, if you can see how long it’s been on the market for you’ll be able to get some idea of the level of interest other buyers have shown and therefore what room there is for negotiating on the asking price. If a house has been on the market for a while the sellers may be more open to a deal, if it’s new to market that’s when they usually attract the most attention and sellers aren’t usually as open to this.

2. Properties sold nearby. This tells you the date and value houses on the same street have sold for. This gives you an exact picture of what properties down the street are selling for and therefore what you’ll need to pay to live there. Remember though; some streets have several different style of house, so try and check that the property is similar before comparing.

– Drive bys

You probably have an idea of the area/s or event streets you’re interested in living in, so simply jumping in the car or taking a walk there and looking out for ‘For Sale’ signs could narrow the search pretty easily. Plus, you get to see the area as people are living in it – types of people, parking, local amenities – which will help confirm that it feels like it could make a nice place to live.

– Register with estate agencies

Estate agents typically have mailing lists that will send out an e-mail every time they list a new property that matches your basic criteria (usually area and price) which are worth signing up to alongside the above two options. Some of the more attentive / organised agencies are also happy to give you a call with this information as soon as they take on a new property if you ask them to.

In the next instalment of my ‘Buying a House’ series, I’ll be talking about the next stage of the process – viewing houses. This will include valuable questions to ask and why, as well as things to think about whilst you’re viewing.

Thanks for reading,

J xx


Say Whaaat…?? Addressing the Work/Life/Blog Balance 

  

 I’ve just started the next phase in my life – having finished uni I’ve just started my first full time graduate job. I’m really happy about getting back into the world of work and feeling like I’m making a contribution again, but at the same time it throws up a lot of potential issues in other areas of my life. Well, not issues per se, more like ‘points to ponder’.

Whilst I’ve been at uni I’ve managed to:

– lose weight and get a grip of my diet and exercise/activity (pretty much, as you’ll remember from another recent post that’s kind of slipped lately)

– start my blog and have time to plan and make its content come to life 

– have a weekday social life: coffee with old friends on a Monday, shopping and lunch in Leeds on a Friday (obviously not all the time, I was a semi broke-ass student after all!) 

– run a home: washing kept on top off, everything fairly tidy all week and meals cooked from scratch most nights.

– spend time with Mr Alice during school holidays and just chill out together 

The current ‘points to ponder’:

– being in an office environment will probably not give me the opportunity to be as active, no more morning power walks for me

– If I forget to plan my meals the night before, I may only have less healthy options to grab during the day.

– can I be bothered to properly cook when I get home at 6ish, or will that turn into a grab ‘n go sitch too??

– if I do online shopping, where will I have it delivered?? (My office is buried in the very heart of a massive building) 

– when will I shoot blog pictures, style outfits, or see my blogging buddies? 

These points may be very placed very firmly under the heading of First World Problems, nevertheless they’re important to me and I need to somehow figure out how to make everything work. 

 So over the next few weeks my aim is to become my usual organised self and come up with some solutions, which I may share if anyone feels it may be useful. Likewise,many one else who’s been in a similar sitch as welcome to share with me as well

Wish me luck!

J 😘xx