Posted in Lifestyle, Savings, Tips & How to's, Uncategorized

So you want to be a homeowner? Why buying a house is not all that.

As much as I love blogging, it does not pay the bills -yet- and as such I have a proper grown-up day job: I am a Mortgage Case Manager.  I know, right!  In my privileged position as both a homeowner and as someone who gets to help other people become homeowners, I am able to let you in on a little secret … owning your own home is not all that.

homeowner

There I said it.  It is an intrinsically British phenomenon to want to burden yourself with hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt for your entire working life, and I know that no amount of me telling you will convince you otherwise, but hopefully the following points will be of comfort to those who think they are failing in life because they aren’t mortgaged up to the hilt yet.

An average first time buyer borrows almost 4 times their annual income, meaning that someone who is earning the average wage in Bristol, where I live, of approximately £18K a year would only be able to borrow £72,000. The average price of a house in the city is £255,000.  For those who don’t have a £183K deposit saved up, it would appear that home owning is near impossible!  But take heart.  There are many plus sides to not being burdened with homeownership.

 
Home ‘owning’ – there is something particularly galling about watching You tubers, or seeing Instagram posts of beautiful interiors that belong to people half your age (I am a bitter old woman, what can I say)  How can someone that age possibly own a house! But take heart – technically, most of them don’t either; The bank does. This means that they are effectively renting too, just without a landlord to fix the boiler for them. And what if you had taken out an interest free mortgage? These are all but unavailable to new borrowers now, but back in the day they were all the rage.  They meant you only paid back the interest that had been incurred on your loan, but that you still owed the full amount you borrowed at the end of the term.  Mortgage companies are working with people to help those stuck in the ‘interest trap’ but if you cannot rearrange your finances, you will probably have to sell your home to repay it – that is unless you were preternaturally lucky with your endowment and you have managed to find the one repayment investment vehicle that is actually making good on its promises. (Totally not bitter about my crappy endowment that wasn’t worth the paper it was written on… deep breaths)

Mortgage debt per household is at the highest level recorded; in the ‘Money Charity’ report produced in the last quarter on 2017, the figure for the average outstanding mortgage was over £120,000. This has come about due to the high house prices which have in turn resulted in higher loan amounts and longer loan terms; the number of people with 35-year mortgages has effectively quintupled since 2005.

Therefore many owners are tied into the ultimate long term lease; they have the major downside of renting – potential homelessness if they don’t pay up, but none of the bonuses.

Hidden costs – My house is… let us be generous and say ‘in need of a bit of TLC’; okay it is a dump.  The flush just snapped off the toilet, we have no hot water and the double glazing is shocking.  Here’s the thing though. All those repairs cost money.  If I had a landlord I could get them done for me, but as it is the cost of upkeep for my money pit falls squarely on my impoverished shoulders.  It turns out that homeownership comes with loads of hidden costs that no-one thinks about until the bills roll in. While those who have rented for a while will know what to expect in terms of utilities, anyone moving from a parents home will be surprised at all of the costs they hadn’t taken into consideration once they become homeowners.

Planning on buying a flat? :
When I bought my first property, back in the heady days of 1995, all we could afford was a flat.  This was fine by us, we were a young couple, starting out and it would be plenty big enough for us.  I mean, okay, it was on the second floor, and completely the other side of town to my entire family, but it was ours! We were property owners…Weren’t we?
The flat we purchased was one of a block of six.  While our flat, and the one belonging to couple opposite was owned, the four flats below us were ‘council’, this meant when all of the flats had their windows and heating upgraded, we went without.  It also appeared that they were paying a heavily reduced ‘service charge’.  We were not made aware of the service charge until we moved 5 years later.

It was at this point we were advised that we should have been paying monthly charge towards the communal gardens (that had we never used), the staff who ‘cleaned’ the stairwells and common areas (whom we had never seen the whole time we lived there), and we had to pay towards a window that had been broken on the main entrance door, that had occurred during a rather loud party of the lad in number 23 on the ground floor.  Our flat was held hostage; we could not move until we had forked over a few thousand pounds in charges.

Problems often occur when purchasing leasehold properties. This essentially means that while you own your home, you are ‘leasing’ the land on which it stands – this is very common in flats as the leaseholder will own the whole building but rent or sell the flats as separate units.  It can also apply to some houses. In this instance you may be charged ground rent.  Mortgage companies ideally expect there to be at least 85 years remaining on your lease, and they can be next to impossible to sell on once this lease gets closer to running out, so ALWAYS confirm the length of the lease on a property before even thinking about buying it!

Fine then, I’ll get a house – a freehold one! – Instead.
You’ve jumped through all the hoops, starved yourself and gone without new clothes and holidays to save a deposit, you got your mortgage and now you are a homeowner…of a house, you’re not falling into that ‘leasehold flat’ trap! The first thing you will need is lots of insurance:
You’ll need Life insurance – don’t think dying will get you out of paying back that mortgage! You will need a policy that covers your mortgage term as a bare minimum, with a sum insured that will cover your loan amount, and possibly enough to bury you if you want to be sensible about it.
Public Liability Insurance – just in case the postman trips on your pathway, bangs his head, and tries to sue you.  Don’t worry though, this is often included in your…
Building insurance which you will now need as a condition of your mortgage.  You may have had contents insurance if you previously rented, and this is the same…except for boring stuff, like the wind taking your roof off, or your pipes bursting and flooding your bathroom.  To be fair, the insurance itself is not that expensive…it’s the excesses that can by pricey.  Many insurers will not pay the first £1,000 of any claims relating to subsidence, and if a large crack starts appearing across the front of your house it will be something you want to get sorted pretty quickly! No landlord to sort it – it is all on you now!

It’s not just insurance, there are all the other bills which will suddenly seem really expensive – you will certainly realise why your Mum was constantly telling you to turn the lights off once you start paying for a whole house worth of electricity! And maybe your new house has a water meter… goodbye long showers! Don’t forget council tax; what band is your new house in?  And as for neighbours, fences and trees…

Negative Equity:  You’ve invested all you have and are now diligently making your mortgage payments every month.  But what if the market crashes! Or, slightly less melodramatically, the council decides to open a quarry down the road, or a massive out of town shopping centre means a massive bypass will be built outside your house.  All of these are going to have an impact on the value of your property, and you could now find yourself in negative equity.  All his means is that the amount you still owe on your mortgage is now more than what your house is worth.  In everyday terms, this isn’t a huge problem.  This is your home and it doesn’t matter what it is worth…unless you want to move that is. It will only take a 10% drop in house prices for one in every ten borrowers to fall into negative equity, and as most of these people will then choose to stay put rather than move there will be a knock on effect on the housing market as less properties will become available to buy. This links to our next homeowner problem…

Lack of change: You are now stuck in one place.  With renting comes flexibility; you can swap homes, cities, counties if needs be or if employers request it, and all you have to do is wait for your rental lease to expire and pack up your stuff.  If your place had been furnished, you don’t even have the stress of dealing with lugging wardrobes! There is a reason why moving appears in the top five most stressful life events. Suffering the pain of paying out for a survey, only for the chain to break and the house you thought you were going to move into slipping from your grasp is something few people want to repeat. However, staying still is not for everyone, and the idea of living in one place for the next 35 years may be enough to put someone off the idea of owning a house entirely.

I had planned to write a positive takeaway for those still determined to be homeowners; there are plenty of tips to share, but this piece is a bit longer than I had intended.  It also means I can do some more research and I can go off and work on a piece with (totally non legally binding) advice for improving your chances of getting on the housing market if this piece hasn’t put you off.

Obviously all housey based comments are my own, and your home is at risk if you do not keep up repayments…bla bla bla.. please talk to your lenders/brokers/read reliable sources, before committing to long term borrowing.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Polly’s 40 things to do before 40: #2 Find 40 Geocaches

Back in the day, I had a 40×40 list, a list of 40 things to do before I was 40.  Well I turned 40, and upgraded the list.  One of the things on that new list was – finish the old list!  One of the things on that list? Find 40 Geocaches

#2 Find  40 Geocaches

Geocaching – it is basically using millions of pounds worth of satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.
With an ever increasing access to GPS via phones and tablets, Geocaching has seen a huge rise in popularity.  And what is not to love!  It gets you out and about, exploring new places (perhaps even some old places you had forgotten about) it’s fun, adds interest to a walk and gives you an excuse to play with your phone! 

 

Geocaching  is a global phenomenon

There are over 2 million Geocaches all over the world ranging from Nano (tiny ones, you may probably miss if you don’t look REALLY closely) to giant ones (Like this one in Cyprus)  A cache is a container for a logbook and sometimes swaps, you find it, sign the book and do your little ‘Geo-dance’ (Just me? Okay, you don’t have to do the dance)

So what is it all about? What do you have to do?  Well it’s simple really.  Find out where the caches are, I recommend the Geocaching website, although there are other sites.  Sign up (it’s free!) and then decide where you want to go and look.  You can enter your postcode and find those near to home, or if you are planning a trip somewhere why not see if you can ‘grab a cache’ while you are there…

Now this is where we have two options – when I initially started geocaching, back in the old days ( i.e: 2010) I did not own a GPS device, or an internet enabled phone, so how I went  about finding a cache was slightly different than how I do it now. If you have access to tech click here, and visit the official site; it will tell you all you need to know.  If you are not currently ‘teched’ up there is still a way to join in with the geocaching fun.

Geocaching without GPS

Back in the day, when I was an impoverished student who could only get on the internet at home, Uni or if I sat outside McDonalds/Starbucks/a pub that happens to be part of ‘the Cloud’, I couldn’t geocache using the traditional GPS assisted method.

So how do you do it without GPS?  Through the power of Google maps.

Once you sign up to Geocaching.com and have a look around the caches that are in your area, you will notice numbers at the top of each listing like this:

N 51° 27.270 W 002° 31.145  

These are the co-ordinates at which the cache is hidden.  If you enter these into Googlemaps you will get as close as you are going to get without tech. (If you are a fellow  Geographer you could, of course, look up these co-ordinates on a map, and plot the whole thing properly, but ain’t nobody got time for that!)

When the map appears, put the satellite image up, and see what you can see.

As the map in my example above doesn’t show a road, you can’t utilise the ‘streetmap’ facility, which can sometimes get you really close in to your target, but with the satellite view you can still work out where it is you need to be.  Often the cache listing will give you a clue, use this to get any extra information you can (you can also look at the gallery of photos other people have added).

Then, you go for a walk, keep an eye out in the area, especially for suspicious looking piles of twigs (or stickoflague, as we call it) these are often hiding caches, and you will get very good at spotting it after a while.

Once you find the cache – making sure there are no muggles about- sign and date it, and, if you can, put a small swap into the box (we use go-gos, or little badges) Don’t forget to log the find on the website – and if you are doing the National Trusts “50 things to do before you are 11 and 3/4, then tick that task off too.

And that’s it – go forth and search my Geo-friends!

With regard the  40 x 40:

So my challenge was to find 40 caches – which I did – including one in Oslo and one in Japan. So this challenge is…

 

completed
Have you tried Geocaching? Let me know if you make an interesting find.

Posted in Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Forever Summer – Why a house of plants can keep your home happy

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House of Plants
Everyone seems to love autumnworking on a few Hygge themed posts myself, but I am still eking out the last few days of the summer season (even if it is blowing a gale outside). Warm weather being such a rarity in England, and with us having had such a great year of sun this year, it seems a shame to prematurely herald the fall and start on the pumpkin lattes as soon as September begins.There is a part of our house that is forever summer… and it centered, mainly, around the top of my crockery cabinet in the kitchen.

These are a few of my plants; let me introduce you to my personal Urban Jungle and give you some reasons why you should think about getting one too.

 

Creating your own house of plants:

You have considered getting a few houseplants; they are a great interior design staple after all, but what is the point? There is all that watering and…well that is about all the care they need really if you buy the right plants, but it does seem like a bit of an effort.  What is in it for you if you create a green haven in your living space?

They purify the air in your home:

Do you breathe? You know, take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide?
Same! Me too!
And you know that plants do the opposite right? So having them in the house has to have some kind of air filtering benefits.
(Well, technically, they photosynthesise and to be fair, they also steal oxygen at night, which is why you should only have succulents or bromeliads in a bedroom, because they don’t do this).

Annie the Pineapple
The pineapple is a bromeliad, one of the plants that give out oxygen during the night, rather than absorb it.

This is Annie – Who doesn’t want a pineapple growing in their bedroom!

According to research done by NASA, indoor plants can remove almost 90% of the volatile organic toxins in the air during a 24-hour period.  There are substances present in the average home: in your plastic products, in the paint on the walls, even in your books and paperwork, that could be drawn and trapped into the soil of your houseplants.  Many people have homes that are double-glazed, and as the weather gets colder, we tend to open up the windows less. We create an almost hermetically sealed environment for these pollutants to build up in, so by introducing a bit of greenery into your living space you are mitigating these nasties in the air.  The NASA research even suggests the best indoor plants to have if you want to remove airborne toxins. You could get a spider plant, a Peace lily or bamboo palms, like the ones below right.

DSC_0438
Timmy and Tilly the bamboo palms

All of them were inexpensive; my pineapple plant came from Ikea and cost £7, while the bamboo palms were from Wilkos and cost around £3 each ( I have 2 in one pot). The recommendation from NASA is that just one potted plant is required for every 10 square metres of space, so you could soon be creating a fresh air feeling in your own home, for very little cost.

They help increase humidity and boost your health:

Plants are basically like green, well behaved, little people. They sit still and do as they are told, they breathe, they drink, and they tend to ignore me when I talk to them… perhaps not that well behaved then, but you get the idea.  Plants also release water vapour into the air as part of the transpiration process. When watered, they soak it up into their roots, and then the moisture circulates around their systems like a blood supply. Once the water gets to their leaves, it evaporates, increasing the humidity in the room. 10 percent of all the moisture in the air outside comes from plants,  and you will need to have a number of plants to effect a change in the humidity in your home, but studies have claimed that doing so can help decrease colds, dry coughs and sore throats, as well as helping with dry skin.  Another study carried out in Holland claims that office sickness fell by 60% in workplaces that had plants, with a decrease in colds and headaches.

They help you to focus and work better:

It is believed that by having plants in your home, you are going to see an improvement in your concentration, your productivity and your memory; Just by carrying out your tasks or studying around plants, you can produce more.  Apparently, nature has an amazing psychological impact on us, and it increases our accuracy and the quality of our work.  Studies on both office workers and students saw a rise in knowledge retention in a plant filled environment over an empty one; being among greenery is relaxing, and this translates into a feeling of wellbeing that helps people work not just harder, but smarter.

Plants, when used in large enough numbers, are even able to help reduce background noise; They are able to refract sound that would otherwise bounce off walls.  Have you ever noticed how empty rooms tend to echo?  If you place plants against the walls this can lessen the effect, creating a more homely environment.

They are aesthetic as 

Type ‘interior design’ into a search engine and go to the images.  How many of those rooms have plants in?  Most of them? Greenery in your home is so now! It really brings a room together and is a cheap ( and removable) way of decorating a rented place or bedroom.  As a consequence, it can make your Instagram photos looking banging; it justs adds an extra something.

plant 1

I love me a bit of social media; I have a Pinterest account, I am all about twitter and have an unhealthy obsession with Hashtags. If you are any good at taking photos, and happen to have a few good looking houseplants you will never be short of aesthetic shots for your followers.plant 2

Just be sure to incorporate the right tags:

#plantlife #plantlover #natureinthehome #urbanjungle #houseplantsofinstragram
#houseplant #livingwithplants #green #plants #indoorjungle #instanature

 

Now  you can be a spark of summer sunshine among all the golden leaves and candle pictures that are about to litter the Gram!

 

plant 3

Do you have house plants? Do you think you are feeling any health benefits?

Let me know below.

Posted in 40 x 40, Bucket List, Regarding polly, Uncategorized

Polly’s 40 things to do before 40: #1 Get a Tattoo

I recently had a look over my old ’40 x 40 blog’ – Dear God it is pink! I then realised that if you are a new follower to this blog, or haven’t seen any of the vlogs that I have been doing for the last 2 and a half years, then you may wonder what is happening here ( and don’t feel bad about missing the vlogs, no-one else has seen them either!)

Back in the day, I had a 40×40 list, a list of 40 things to do before I was 40.  Well I turned 40, and upgraded the list.  One of the things on that new list was – finish the old list!
As I would like this site to be a true historic record of my task attempts ( and I would really like to transfer everything off the old blog and delete the monstrosity!)  Here is ‘Article One’ of the things from my bucket list that I succeeded in…

Get a tattoo #1

 

This was number 1 on my list and was accomplished on my 39th birthday – yes, I gifted myself pain that day!

I got Paul to take some photos – and there is a vlog above, if watching me in pain is your thing! This is an old video though, and while my editing skills have certainly not improved, I feel obliged to warn you that the tattoo montage is louder than the rest of the video – just so you know!

Recently, I have been considering another one… some Cherry blossom, maybe a coloured one? But I am then reminded about how painful it was. I am also reminded that tattoos are not particularly popular in Japan, and as I would love to visit an onsen when I return to Nara, it would probably be sensible to not ink myself up again.

My friend Rin is currently ‘out-mid-life-crisising’ me, having just had her belly button pierced and planning her 5th (maybe 6th?) tattoo, so I am almost tempted, but I am then reminded of boring grown-up stuff, like paying out for the dentist and having to save for my younger daughter Hannah’s 18th Birthday trip in October 2019.  Maybe stabbing myself for sakura will have to wait…

With regard the  40 x 40:

So my challenge was to get a tattoo – which I did – painful as it was. So this challenge is…

completed
Would love to see other people tat’s.  Leave your instagram link below so I can pop on over and see them.

Posted in Declutter, Lifestyle, minimalism, Uncategorized

Why you should declutter alone

As soon as I mentioned I was having a mass declutter to my Mum, her first comment was “you better not be getting rid of any of my stuff” – note that I am clearing MY house, so what she technically means by ‘her stuff’ is anything she has bought or given me – EVER. This highlights one of the problems I have with decluttering with others; having someone else there means potentially dealing with one extra bundle of emotions, making it impossible to shed your possessions.

declutter
Having a clear out

Whenever I have tried to clear up with accompaniment I have had to contend with cries of “oh I forgot about this, I can’t get rid of this” whenever they came across a toy, picture or item that had been unceremoniously dumped in a box and stored away in the back room for years. I am equally guilty of this. When I asked my daughter to gather up a few things for a charity sale I was holding I couldn’t help have a look through the bag she brought down from her room…and I couldn’t help but rescue my bracelet, an owl I had bought in India and a Littlest Pet Shop lizard belonging to my now 19 year old (because I KNOW she will want it to live among her cactus collection). The point is, we cannot judge what other people consider to be junk, so how can we help them clear it? People just as often fall into the ‘bin it all’ camp as they do the ‘you can’t throw that out’ camp, neither of which are particularly helpful when you are trying to declutter large amounts of stuff.

I was recently reading an article about the pitfalls of decluttering alone. While I acknowledge each point made, the exact opposite of everything said could be equally as true; the piece just seemed to confirm what I have long believed about getting your home sorted – it is quicker and less hassle, at least at the initial stage, to do it yourself.

The ‘Pitfalls’ and why I don’t necessarily agree:

“There are too many distractions if you tidy alone” – the article suggests people move around and try to clear too many areas at once because they are distracted, or give up when one area becomes a little overwhelming. This can happen whether you are alone or not, and is more about focus and having a plan. Chose the area you want to clear and work on it, not moving on until it is done. If you do not complete it, do something else – that ISN’T clearing! – and then come back to it. Do not try to do too much at once or you will become totally disheartened with the whole exercise.

“It is slower on your own” – Not if you have to justify every item you are discarding it isn’t! There is an old African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I am not advocating clearing your entire house on your own – some of that stuff might be heavy! But for the initial stage of deciding what you want to keep, and where you might put it, go it alone. Get in help when you need it and when it will benefit what you are trying to achieve.

“Sell? I found a bunch of stuff I wanted to sell, but then I had to deal with putting up the ad, taking pictures, dealing with … weirdos on craigslist. That in itself is not a huge ordeal, but it adds another layer of clutter in your mind.”
Not sure how having someone there would make this any easier. I made a decision early on that I wouldn’t sell my stuff; if it was good enough I donated it. I learnt this one the hard way – I had 3 Ikea blue bags full of “stuff to sell”, but never got round to taking the pictures or advertising it, and had I got round to E-baying it, as was the plan, I would still then have to had to take into account trips to the Post office and packing it all. In the end it was still just clutter, organised in bags, hanging around my house, so taking it all to the charity shop was liberating! We need to start looking at our possessions as just that, things we pay money for (or are given) that are used and, once their purpose is served, we are free to give them away, guilt free. They are not investments; you don’t need to get your money back on a dress you bought if you have worn it, enjoyed it, but no longer want it. Space and freedom from clutter is always better than potential money sat in the corner in the form of things you no longer want.

Hauling it out. Now you have to haul it down stairs, to your car, and drop it off, sell it, or trash it?

Why would it make a difference whether someone was there or not? Unless you have literally bagged/boxed yourself into a clutter corner and need a friend to dig you out, you can easily do this bit alone. In fact, this is the best bit: it’s already bagged up, you are the closet you have been to clearing the space than you have been all day. We always clear a ‘landing area’ for the things we are trashing. A spot in the corner of our living room. If the junk is visible you are not then tempted to leave it shut away in a spare room; if it in your ‘face’ or main living space you HAVE to clear it. Once I have enough I pile up the car and take it to the tip. Before I had a car, I would organise a friend to collect it for me – this gave me an extra incentive to bag up and declutter quickly as I knew there was a time limit. If you are not in the position to get stuff out, try to plan some help in advance, so your declutter rhythm doesn’t get broken.
What is the alternative to NOT hauling it out? Keeping it? Why declutter in the first place if the most important bit – the ACTUAL getting it out of your house – is going to pose a problem?

Getting permission. “How could you get rid of your Star Wars toys?”

All the more reason NOT to have people there! Unless the friend wants it in their house, you are entitled to get rid. I had a declutter yesterday of a drawer I had been unable to access after the handles fell off (the struggle is real! ) there were photos, old DVD’s, a plate one of the kids had decorated in 2011… We had not missed any of it, but, had there been people with me we would have stopped to go through all of the pictures, I would have had to explain who the people were in them… it would have taken a lot longer than it the five minutes it did to dump most of it (I kept a few photos).

So, if you want to declutter – have an initial look through on your own. If you decide you need help, then you can bring someone in. Remember: These are your things – you do not need permission to get rid of stuff that no longer has a place in your life.

What is the hardest thing for you to declutter? What are you holding on to? Would you prefer to have help, or go it alone?

Still not decided about whether you want to declutter yet? Here are five reasons for decluttering ; some suggestions to get you thinking.

If you don’t want to commit to a full scale tidy, here are five things to declutter today, to start you off.