Tag Archive: property

  1. How to prepare for a flood

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    The storms that hit Britain between Christmas and New Year, flooding 16,000 homes, displacing more than 3,000 families and causing damage for an estimated £1.3 billion, have been a stark reminder of the danger of rising waters.

    With more than 150 warnings still in place in the UK, now is the time to make sure you have everything in place to minimise the impact of flooding and protect the lives of both your family and your horses.

    Assessing your flood risk

    According to charity The National Flood Forum, some 5.2 million people in England and Wales are deemed to be at risk of flooding, but less than 40% of those facing a serious risk are aware of it. So the first step towards flood protection is to find out whether your home is potentially in danger (and, yes, it can be at risk even if you live far away from the sea or a river).

    The Environment Agency’s website has a dedicated map that shows areas of England and Wales that prone to flooding, SEPA has a similar one for Scotland and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has one for Northern Ireland. For a more detailed assessment that’s specific to your house, you can ask a surveyor to carry out a property-level flood risk survey.

    Preparing to withstand a flood

    Once you have a clearer picture of what you face, you can begin getting ready. Start by assessing your land and your buildings.

    Developing a flood plan

    Nicki Whittaker, Equine and High Value Home specialist at insurers NFU Mutual, suggest that you look for any higher ground, above flood levels, where you could move your horse for safety. If it is on your land, make sure it is equipped with a field shelter, enough feed and water to last for a few days and a first-aid kit.

    If there’s no higher ground on your land, try and find a high place close to you and gain permission to use it for your horses ahead of a flood. Is there a friendly farmer with suitable land that may take your horse in? Ask around and make arrangements.

    You’ll also need to come up with a sound evacuation plan. “Find a safe route and consider transport if you need to travel off site,” says Whittaker. “It is unsafe to lead your horse or drive a vehicle through flood water, so make sure that you plan your route accordingly. Ensure additional gates are fitted and attach your contact details on field gates if your field is at risk of flooding.

    “If you have a large number of horses,” she continues, “anticipate the course floodwaters might take and establish which horses you will move first. Start moving animals in advance of any danger. Even if the evacuation turns out to be unnecessary, at least you will have practised for the future.”

    Your evacuation plan (which should extend to humans as well as horses) should become the cornerstone of a broader flood plan that you need to devise if you live in an area at risk. “While you can’t control the floods, having a flood plan will mean you’re more in control of your situation,” says Whittaker.

    Your plan should set out the procedure to follow when a flood is imminent such as, for example, unplugging all electrical equipment, putting up flood boards and sandbags to prevent water coming in, and turning off utility mains—if you don’t know where they are, ask your supplier, advises Whittaker, who recommends marking taps or switches with stickers to make them easier to find.

    Saving your valuables

    You should also identify all your valuable possessions and move them to the top floor of your house (or at least on a high-mounted shelf). These should include photo albums, family videos and mementoes, as well as jewellery, priceless furniture or expensive electronics. Important documents such as passports, birth certificates and insurance papers should be placed in watertight containers.

    “Think about what you can move now, don’t wait for a flood,” says Whittaker.

    Packing flood kits

    Another key element of your flood plan is preparing emergency supply packs for both you and your horse in case you need to evacuate swiftly.

    Whittaker suggests packing warm, waterproof clothes, blankets, a mobile phone, a first aid kit, prescription medicines, bottled water, non-perishable food (including baby food and care products, if you have a small child), a wind-up or battery radio and torch (with spare batteries), copies of your insurance documents and any useful contact numbers—from those of friends and family to those of local emergency services, your utility suppliers, the vet, your GP, your bank manager and your insurance company.

    In your horse’s flood kit, Whittaker goes on, you should put “a spare head collar and lead rope (attach contact details to the head collar) plus your horse’s passport and first aid kit, any medication he needs, wire cutters (in case you can’t leave the field through a gate) and a warm waterproof rug.”

    Also store as much feed and water as possible above flood level, enough to last until clean water and food can be delivered.

    Checking your insurance policy

    It goes without saying that you should also have your insurance cover in order in case the worst hits. Whittaker recommends that you check the terms of your cover: make sure that it includes your buildings and contents and that the amount insured is sufficient — it’s easy to underestimate the value of your contents or the cost of rebuilding your property.

    “Many insurers,” she adds, “will provide alternative accommodation for you and your family if your home is flooded but you should also verify if your policy covers emergency stabling, kennels or cattery for your animals while you are unable to live at home.”

    Preventing disease

    Don’t forget that contaminated floodwater teems with germs, creating the perfect condition for your horse to pick up a nasty disease. If you live in a high-risk area, you should talk to your vet about suitable health strategies, including, where applicable, vaccination (tetanus being high on the list of flood related conditions).

    And be sure to share all the details of your flood plan with neighbours and friends because you may not be at home when disaster strikes.

    Making your home more flood-resistant

    Of course, you will also want to flood-proof your home and yard as much as possible. At the very least, you should stock up on flood barriers, such as flood boards, gel sacks and toilet seat seals, plus handy products such as disinfectant, torches, brushes, fans, generators and pumps — but there’s much more that can be done.

    A specialist flood surveyor will be able to advise you on the measures that work best for your house and yard, which can vary depending when and how they were built and on the local soil. As a guideline, though, you should both build up your flood resistance and make your house more resilient in case water does get in.

    To boost your property’s defences, the Environment Agency and the Association of British Insurers suggest you look at installing flood-resistant doors and window frames, choosing air bricks with movable covers, filling in any cracks in your walls, sealing your floors and fitting a pump and sump system to drain water from below floor level.

    Proper drainage is crucial to keep you safe: check that your pipes are clear, well maintained and capable of coping with huge volumes of water, and fit them with non-return valves, which allow water to flow only in one direction, to reduce the risk of sewage backing up into your home and stables. You also need to seal pipe and cable access points, including, for example, the washing machine in your rug room.

    Improving your resilience if it floods

    Realistically, though, you won’t be able to keep all floodwater out—and if it rises beyond one metre, you won’t want to, because the weight of that much water pressing against your property could make it collapse.

    In this case, flood resilience measure can help you limit the damage. These include placing all electricals, boilers and service meters, both in the house and the yard, at least 1 1/2 metres above the ground, changing wall insulation from mineral to closed cell, treating wood to help it withstand water and preferring water-resistant materials wherever possible — for example, lime-based plaster or horizontal plasterboard to gypsum, concrete to timber, or tiles to carpets.

    What to do if it floods

    If your home does get flooded, try and stay safe and in control. “Horses will become stressed and anxious during a flood,” Whittaker says. “Wear a hat and gloves and if you have many horses, try to move them together as this helps to keep them calm. Do not put yourself at risk to rescue a horse—contact the emergency services or the RSPCA who may be able to help.”

    And remember that, regardless of where you live and whether a flood alert has been issued or not, when it rains heavily, you should check on your horse regularly to keep him safe.

    For more information, see The National Flood Forum, the Government’s flood advice pages, the Association of British Insurers and NFU Mutual.

  2. What you need to know about buying a thatched cottage

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    Michael Clark of Jackson-Stops & Staff estate agents in Exeter has no doubt: “Thatched cottages are like Marmite, you either love or hate them. Many people who move here from other parts of the country love the idea of an archetypal thatched cottage or farmhouse. But the other half is extremely wary.”

    Buyers are often put off by thatch because they worry about increased fire risks and maintenance and upkeep costs, according to Sarah Broughton of property buying agency Prime Purchase. Some, adds Diana Rowell of Churchill Country & Equestrian, are also concerned that they may attract birds and insects. “It is rare to find someone who asks for thatched property particularly but it is not rare for prospective buyers to refuse a viewing because of the thatch,” she says.

    Thatched homes are definitely not for everyone. “Speaking from first-hand experience, many thatched houses tend to be cottage-y inside and anyone remotely squeamish needs to be prepared for the wildlife living in your roof,” says Edward Heaton of Heaton and Partners.

    That said, he adds, “in my view there is little difference in value between a thatch and non-thatch property, they just appeal to slightly different buyers. Buyers of high-value properties, who are less financially sensitive, tend to be more relaxed about buying a thatched house, as are many second home owners who like the appeal of the picture-postcard weekend cottage.”

    And you can take a few steps to minimise the issues linked to this kind of property. For starters, you can install wire-netting to stop birds, rodents and other animals getting into your roof. A specialist pest-control office can also provide further advice.

    The risk of fire is another commonly voiced concern but “statistically, a thatched roof is no more likely to catch fire than a conventional roof,” according to Nicki Whittaker of rural insurance provider NFU Mutual. It’s true, she continues, that if thatch roofs do ignite “the fire is very difficult to control and the results can be devastating, with some buildings being partially or totally destroyed.” But taking appropriate precautions can make a huge difference: “As 90% of thatch fires relate to chimneys and the use of wood-burning stoves, making sure that your chimney is swept and inspected on a regular basis and that it is appropriately lined can all help to reduce the fire risk.”

    This should also help reduce your insurance bill, according to Mark Lawson of property search agents The Buying Solution: “It is possible to reduce premiums by agreeing to various conditions within the policy, including higher excesses, regular chimney sweeping, the agreement not to have solid fuel burners and using treated or fire-retardant materials.”

    Similarly, shopping around for specialist insurance providers will ensure you get the best deal. Nick Rickett of Norton and Rickett estate agents in Stamford believes that “insurance for thatched properties is no different to listed buildings — you would need to go to a more specialist provider rather than a mass-market insurer.”

    Many of Rickett’s buyers, however, are also worried about the costs and hassle of rethatching a property after a period of time. This, say specialists, can be easily addressed with some investment and wise property management. According to Jonathan Penn of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Ipswich you should always choose a cottage with good thatch and get accurate quotes for re-thatching from the vendors, so you can factor in the spending for any future work into to your purchase.

    Remember that the best quality materials, while initially more expensive, will last you longer. For example, says Broughton, “Norfolk Reed should last 70 years and Long Straw thatch, which is not as strong, should last 40 years. Norfolk Reed is fixed directly to the rafters whereas Long Straw is fixed into an underlying base coat, so the roof is rounder and thicker.”

    Regular maintenance — namely “‘re-ridging as soon as required and combing the rotten thatch on a regular basis” — will also help extend the roof’s life, according to Lawson. Again, it paus off to invest in the best ridge you can afford: “a high quality ridge will only need replacing every 12-15 years, a poor quality ridge may only last 5-7 years,” cautions Whittaker.

    Some of these maintenance costs may also be offset by lower utility costs because, says Jackson-Stops & Staff’s Clark, “thatched properties are extremely efficient, keeping the heat in during winter and the heat out over the summer.” Plus, notes his colleague James Wilson of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Shaftesbury , “thatch being a natural material it blends well with the surrounding environment.”

    Perhaps more importantly, though, thatched cottages are an integral part of the British landscape. “In my patch in East Anglia there are numerous thatched houses and barns as it was the traditional roofing material of choice for many years,” says Broughton. “they make up the unique architecture of some villages.” Buying one is as much a property purchase as a good deed in conservation.

    For more information on thatched roofs, see the NFU Mutual’s Protecting your thatched home guide.

  3. Postcard pretty: equestrian cottages for sale

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    Looking for a new place to live? Little beats a cosy cottage with a few stables and lush paddocks. From Scotland to Devon, here are seven idyllic cottages for sale where you can enjoy life in the country.

    North Farm, Hallington, Northumberland, £675,000

    Cottage for sale:North Farm, Hallington, Corbridge, Northumberland
    Dating from the early 18th-century, Grade II-listed North Farm (also pictured at the top of the page) has bags of period charm. Behind the traditional stone façade are airy interiors full of original features, including beamed ceilings, exposed stonework, and flagstone or reclaimed hardwood floors. An exposed stone arch tops the landing leading to the bedrooms, two of which have vaulted ceilings, painted stone walls and long views of the beautiful garden, with its topiaries, vegetable patch and apple, walnut and Kentish cob trees.

    The yard has three traditional loose boxes and gated access to the paddocks. The land totals five acres of grounds, native woodland and meadows.

    Agent: Finest Properties, 01434 622234.

    Netherton, East Allington, Devon, £1.25 million

    Cottage for sale: Netherton, East Allington, Devon
    Perfect for two horsey families looking to share the cost of buying an equestrian property, Netherton comes with a five-bedroom main house and an ancillary gatehouse with three bedrooms. Behind the main home’s traditional, stone-clad façade hide bright, contemporary interiors — the open plan living area, in particular, flows seamlessly from the reception area with feature wood burner to the cutting-edge kitchen with glass roof.

    Outside, the lush gardens, studded with mature trees, have a pond and an outdoor seating area with fire pit. Opposite the house is a barn that’s currently used for storage, while the stables are situated off the drive. Just down the road is a three-acre field, split into two paddocks with running water.

    Agent: Marchand Petit, 01548 857588.

    Dallows Wood, Hereford, Herefordshire, £750,000

    Cottage for sale: Dallows Wood, Hereford, Herefordshire
    The glorious Herefordshire countryside stretches at the foot of this delightful climber-clad cottage, which enjoys long rural views from all the main rooms. But the interiors rival with the panorama, with plenty of charming details, including exposed beams and stone walls, flagstone floors and an original stone cider press.

    The house opens onto the pretty landscaped gardens, dotted with mature trees, and onto the stable yard — you get a clear view of the arena from the patio. The equestrian facilities include a block of seven stables with hay store, a 40-metre x 20-metre all-weather arena, a Monarch covered four-horse walker and store sheds. The land extends to nine acres of grounds and post-and-rail-fenced paddocks with water and three field shelters.

    Agent: Fox Grant, 01432 367802.

    Court Farm House, Southminster, Essex, £850,000

    Cottage for sale: Court Farm House, Dengie, Southminster, Essex
    With pretty white weatherboards under a clay tiled roof, this Essex farmhouse, which dates from the early 17th century and is listed Grade II, is as pretty as it gets. The interiors are heavily beamed with two massive Inglenook fireplaces, one in the sitting room and the other in the dining room.

    Mature gardens surround the house. A driveway leads to the yard, which has stabling for three (including a corner foaling box), tack room and hay barn. Beyond the stables are the all-weather, 40-metre by 20-metre manège and the paddocks. The land total 3.3 acres.

    Agent: Zoe Napier Country & Equestrian, 01621 840333.

    Catherton Farmhouse, Cleobury Mortimer, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, £1.175 million

    cottage for sale: Catherton Farmhouse Cleobury Mortimer, Kidderminster, Worcestershire
    Dating from the 18th century, Grade II-listed Catherton Farmhouse has has plenty of interesting details — think vast fireplaces, feature stone walls, chunky beams and a four-oven Aga in the kitchen. The windows look out across the pretty gardens to the neighbouring countryside. Behind the house is a leisure complex with an indoor swimming pool.

    The yard has seven stables, three pony stables and a feed room, plus a large stone barn housing a covered tie-up and wash down area for horses and a secure tack room. Two additional stables are situated on a four-bay Dutch barn situated to the side of the 36-metre by 20-metre floodlit manège.

    For sale in two lots, Catherton Farmhouse comes with either 8.3 acres or 15 acres of paddocks and grounds.

    Agent: Strutt & Parker, 01584 873711.

    Strawberry Hill Farm, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, offers over £2.5 million

    Strawberry Hill Farm, Robertsbridge, Sussex
    More a country estate than a cottage, Strawberry Hill Farm comes with a massive 173.5 acres of land but the Grade II-listed house, which has four bedrooms, is of manageable size. Additional accommodation is available in a separate bungalow.

    Outside are several outbuildings—from a cattle yard to a Sussex barn and an Oast house, some of which have plenty of equestrian potential. Best of all, you can ride on your own land — a rural paradise of pasture and woodland populated by fallow deer and badgers and coursed by a small stream.

    Agent: Watsons Estates, 01435 865077.

    Merkland House, Willoxton, by Mauchline, Ayrshire, Scotland, offers over £475,000

    Cottage for sale: Merkland House, Willoxton, by Mauchline, Ayrshire
    Built in 2007, Markland House combines traditional style, contemporary comfort and striking country views. The bright, airy interiors, which look out across the lovely gardens and the Ayr valley, have many fine features, from the granite tops in the beautiful kitchen to the sunken jet stream bath in the master bedroom’s ensuite.

    The equestrian facilities comprise stabling for seven horses, tack room and feed room, an all-weather, floodlit arena and a fenced paddock. The land reaches up to 4.33 acres.

    Agent: CKD Galbraith, 01292 268181.

  4. Choosing the right fencing for your equestrian home

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    It’ll never make your friends swoon with envy when they visit your yard. It won’t even make it to the top of the wish-list for your new equestrian home. But good fencing is vital for the welfare of your horses.

    Equestrian horse owners, advises the British Horse Society (BHS), should always choose fences that are safe and suitable for horses, such as wooden or impact-resistant plastic post and rails, stone walls, or a combination of post and rail with electric fencing.

    Katharine Watters, a property search agent specialising in equestrian homes at The Buying Solution, says that post and rail, if installed and maintained properly, has the double advantage of being both durable and easy on the eye. “The most popular type is sawn post and rail or peeled posts with half round rails, with the best wood being chestnut, she adds, quoting a cost of about £20 per metre that was given to her by Adam Dalton of Haslemere Fencing in West Sussex.

    “Many people,” she continues, “also choose to install a guard rail of electric tape or wire for extra security. Not only does this discourage horses from chewing the wood, it also acts as an additional barrier to horses getting too close to neighbouring horses in adjoining paddocks and so offers a level of safety.

    “When budget is no object, some choose to install “double” post and rail fencing, which is in effect double fencing with a small gap of about one metre between each paddock. This not only discourages horses from jumping out but also stops horses in adjoining paddocks from fighting over the fence.”

    Her colleague Bobby Hall adds that, lately, the buyers he acts for seem to favour stud fencing: “Traditionally, this was post and rail with a hedge infill between two sets of post and rails, which provides a barrier and exclusion zone. Not only is this form of stud fencing safer but it also provides cover in inclement weather.

    “With stud fencing, additional safety measures can include the in-filling of corners which negates the 90-degree corner danger zone. We are also seeing the replacement of the horizontal wooden rails with high tensile plastic with impregnated metal wires which looks pretty much like wood but is more durable, longer lasting and safer.”

    By contrast, adds the BHS, plain wire, stock fencing, single-strand electric wire and, above all, barbed wire, which can cause devastating injuries to horses, should all be avoided. Hedgerows may also be inadequate if they became weak or have gaps in them, so you may need to supplement them with post and rails.

    That said, you should pay as much attention to your fencing’s height, strength and spacing as to the materials. Fences should be high enough to avoid horses jumping or fighting over them but also low enough to prevent a foal or a small pony crawling underneath.

    The BHS recommends fencing heights of between 1.08 and 1.38 metres (3.6 ft to 4.6 ft) for horses and 1 to 1.3 metres (3.3 ft to 4.3 ft) for ponies, with the lower rails positioned about half a metre (1ft 6 in) above the ground.

    Extra precautions are in order if you have a stallion. Fences should be 1.25- to two-metre (4ft- to 6.5ft-) high with a double fence line if the height is on the lower side of the range. You may also need to add an electric fence along the top of the stallion field boundary.

    Obviously, fences should be sturdy to ensure horses cannot break through them. Posts, for example, should be set deeply into the ground to prevent them falling over and should be connected by at least two robust rails.

    Maintenance is equally crucial. As agent Luke Morgan of Strutt & Parker cautions, wooden post and rail fencing can rot — not to mention that some horses like to chew it — so it needs to be checked and treated regularly.

    Similarly, you’ll need to inspect plastic post and rails to ensure they haven’t weakened or become brittle while, with stone walls, you’ll need to look for water damage, get rid of vegetation and carry out occasional repairs. As a guideline, the BHS recommends inspecting your fences every day.

    Although installing and maintaining good fencing can be expensive and time-consuming, investing in it always pays off. For starters, it may make it easier to resell your home when it’s time for you to move on. Granted, people are unlikely to drool over it in the same way as they do over a tip-top Martin Collins manege. But, as specialist equestrian agent William Grant of Fox Grant says, bad fencing can completely put off buyers and devalue your property. And, above all, good fencing keeps your horses safe and you out of trouble — as the BHS explains, you may be liable for damage if inadequate fencing allows your horse to escape.

  5. Equestrian occupancy restrictions: your guide to tied properties

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    The house looks perfect: swish yard, professional manège and a decent price. But then you look at the small print and you read that it is subject to an equestrian occupancy restriction. Should you buy it? Or will it be a costly mistake?

    Occupancy conditions restrict the occupation of a house to people “wholly, mainly or last employed” in a specific industry, usually agriculture or forestry, or their widowed spouse and dependants. Placed by the local council when granting permission for a new build, these ties were first introduced in 1948, when planners sought to limit development in the open countryside while still allowing farmers to build themselves a home on their land. Since then, many restrictions have been widened or changed to include equestrian activities, which don’t fall under the definition of agriculture.

    Unfortunately, the wording of equestrian occupancy ties can vary wildly from area to area. “Every council words differently and polices differently,” says William Grant of Fox Grant, a specialist equestrian agent who often sells tied properties such as Kingfisher Equestrian (pictured), a 35-acre home with American barn stabling, indoor school and international size arena that is subject to an agricultural, forestry or equestrian occupancy tie (£1.4 million through Fox Grant).

    Some clauses, explains Grant, “only require the keeping of horses or be retired from an equestrian business,” while others can be incredibly specific. Generally, though, people who work full time in the industry, whether as trainers, breeders or livery yard owners, should meet the criteria for most ties. It can sometimes be trickier when a household has more than one source of income—for example if someone runs a livery business but the main breadwinner is employed in another sector. As a rule of thumb, Grant explains, “most parties will qualify as long as they can make a profit of £15,00-£20,000 per annum from their equine business.”

    Nonetheless, it is always best to get solid advice from an experienced solicitor or planning consultant, who can help unravel the exact meaning of the restriction and check whether you comply. If in doubt, it’s also worth trying to speak to the local planners themselves prior to committing to buy the tied property.

    The good news is that, if you do comply with an equestrian occupancy restriction, you will pay less for your property than you would have done for a similar one with no tie. Occupancy conditions tend to reduce values by 10% to 15%, depending on a house’s location and quality, and on the state of the market. The flipside of this, however, is that, when you go and re-sell your tied property, you too will have to settle for a lower asking price because your house will appeal to a smaller pool of buyers. The key to selling well, Grant advises, is to “get an experienced and knowledgeable agent to value and price realistically at, say, 85%-90% of the open market value, depending on how restrictive the tie’s wording is.”

    Unless you manage to get the occupancy clause lifted before reselling, that is. Having a restriction removed is no easy feat and requires proving to the council that there is a lack of need for a tied property in the area. “It depends on how old the tie is and, again, on the wording,” says Grant. “It will take 12 months and cost £2-£5,000 but will add 5-10% to your property’s value.” The process often requires putting the property on the market for a period of time and showing that no one has come forward to buy it.

    A more common, but dicier method is to try and obtain a certificate of lawful use. This happens when someone who does not comply with the tie has been living at the property for an uninterrupted period of ten years and can demonstrate this to the local authority. The burden of proof is on the applicant so good records are crucial. However, don’t be tempted to buy a tied house in the hope you may live there in breach of the condition for ten years—local authorities can and do enforce restrictions on a regular basis.

    That said, it’s important to note that an equestrian occupancy restriction only applies to occupation, not ownership.  You can still purchase a tied house even if you work in another industry, so long as the people who occupy it are employed in the equestrian sector—for example, you could let it to a stud or a riding school.

    Complying with a tie, however, is only half the problem. Often, says Grant, the biggest hurdle is funding the purchase of a tied home. “Only about three to five finance houses will lend money,” he cautions. You should always talk to specialist lenders, who are more familiar with—and less scared by—restrictions. Plus, adds Grant, you should ensure your loan-to-value ratio—the amount you are borrowing compared to the total value of the property—is low: “It should not be more than 50-60% of purchase price.”