So you’re just about to become a first time landlord?

How choosing the wrong letting agent will make you cry…

It happens more often than you think.You might get a new job offer that’s too good to turn down, you may decide to move in with your partner or you may just fancy a change of scenery and take some time out traveling.

The thing is, what do you do with your home? You could sell it, and reinvest the money, although returns on most things are very poor nowadays, as well as taking on a large amount of risk. So why not keep it?

If you keep it, you can either leave it sat empty and have a friend or family member check on it every once and a while, or you could let it out and hopefully make additional income along the way.

This is where doubts start to creep in…this is where becoming a first time landlord really can start you off worrying about your home that you have painstakingly improved and maintained over the years. There are so many horror stories about people renting out their homes from tenants not paying the bills, blocking the drains, decorating in unsuitable colours to running illegal ‘so-called businesses’. The problem is that a lot of dysfunctional, criminal, deranged or antisocial people can, when the occasion demands, give an impression of being an upstanding trustworthy member of society.

Unfortunately, without carrying out the right checks and trying to mitigate the risk as much as possible you may find, to your cost, that you end up with an unsavory character renting out your home.

Even if you do carry out the right checks, there is always the chance of things going wrong …way into the time scale of the tenancy. For example, what happens if the tenant stops paying, for no apparent reason? This can really start to cause cash flow issues.

There are also the legal obligations of being a landlord. Falling foul of the law can end up costing you an awful lot of money. For example, failure to comply with gas safety regulations could lead to prosecution and/or imprisonment with fines up to £25,000. Then, of course, there is the legal requirement to put your tenant’s deposit into a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme (TDS) See details about ‘Tenancy deposit protection’ on the UK Gov. website.

So the choice is yours… do it yourself or bring in a Letting Agent to help you.

So what should you really be looking out for in a lettings agency?

There are a few things that your letting agent must cover without a shadow of a doubt. If they can’t help you with these five things…then stay well clear.

  • Processes and measures in place for finding the right tenants
  • Health and Safety – complying with the law
  • Optimising rental income
  • Tenancy deposit scheme
  • Comprehensive tenancy agreement

Choose a letting agent who is a member of the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS), or one of the professional bodies that support it.

– The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA/Property Mark)

– The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

– The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA)

Level of service
Can the agent offer you different levels of service, from full management to just finding a tenant, depending on your requirements?

Do they have professional indemnity insurance?
This will cover the letting agent against the possibility of being sued. Do they also have a client money protection policy in place

Tenancy deposit scheme (TDS)
Can the letting agent deal with this for you? If so, check that the scheme they belong is a government-backed reputable scheme.

Ongoing support
Does the agency undertake regular property visits to check up on the state of the property and the wellbeing of your tenants?
Is there an emergency maintenance out of hours contact number available?

These are just a few of the things you should consider when renting out your home for the first time. However, there is nothing like meeting up with the letting agent, to see what they are like in person. Do they get on with you, how helpful do they seem? How knowledgeable are the staff, and are they continuously being trained (CPD courses) on the latest legislation for example.

Also, check out a post by ARLA on “How to find a good Letting Agent”

7 Of The Most Beautiful Autumn Gardens Walks

Blow away the cobwebs and take inspiration from a wealth of autumn walks where you can appreciate flora and fauna in dazzling shades of burnt orange, warm yellows and deep burgundies. Here are some of the country’s best…

Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey – During the autumn months, the splendour of Winkworth Arboretum comes to life with rich, blazing colour from the Japanese, American and Norwegian maples. The 2.5-mile walk to Oakhurst weaves its way through the woodland to the top of Hydon’s Ball, where you can enjoy spectacular views across the landscape.

Killerton, Devon – Admire the pallet of colours offered in this garden, including the deep orange berries of the Chinese scarlet rowan, the red berries and furry leaves of the Cotoneaster lacteus, and the Zelkova carpinifolia turning a deep, buttery yellow.

Felbrigg, Norfolk – The Great Wood on the Felbrigg estate is full of interesting fungi in the autumn. After inspecting these, look up to see the bright copper leaves of the Victory V beeches. It’s worth taking a detour (at point 6 on the route) down Lion’s Mouth in autumn. The route feels like you are walking into the jaws of a lion with the tunnel of colour provided from the trees.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, North Yorkshire – The sweeping landscape of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is full of autumn colour at this time of year. One of the rangers has designed a deer park walk through the estate which gives you the chance to see the deer rut as well as the beautiful autumn colours.

Gibside, Tyne and Wear – Buzzing with wildlife, Gibside is home to red kites, roe deer and many other rare animals. During the autumn months, you can see the colours changing on the trees below as you rise out of the Derwent Valley on this circular skyline walk offering plenty of pportunities for panoramic views.

Dinas Island, Pembrokeshire – This circular walk on Dinas Island boasts some of the finest views anywhere on the Pembrokeshire coast. In early autumn, the coastal slopes are cloaked with the yellows and browns of fading bracken, while on the headland, the pinks and purples of common heather are just coming in to bloom, alongside the yellow gorse flowers.

Dunster, Somerset – A walk to the keep of the castle rewards visitors with a 360-degree view taking in Dunkery Beacon (the highest point on Exmoor) and the Bristol Channel. The south terrace offers views across the former deer park which will be full of colour and the opportunity to spot red deer. The area has a Mediterranean feel due to its microclimate which enables tender plants to thrive, including a row of Chusan palms.

Visit for more details about the gardens.

By Hannah Stephenson

UK Residential Property In £ Per Square Metre

Local property hotspots in areas such as the Blue Triange in Fleet and the Cricket Green in Hartley Wintney have seen £ per square metre levels as high as £4,304 and £6,521 respectively, which sounds robust so how does that compare to other parts of the UK? These hotspot figures do not represent an average for the area, so bear this in mind when reading the following.

One square metre of house space in Kensington and Chelsea is 25 times more expensive than the cheapest area of England and Wales, new figures show.

The London borough tops the list for the costliest house price per area, with homebuyers paying almost £19,500 per square metre last year.

By contrast, the amount paid in Blaenau Gwent in Wales was £777, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Prices in the capital continued to soar far above other regions, with the cost per area almost doubling to £6,639 between 2004 and 2016.

The five boroughs with the steepest house prices per square metre were all in London, with the City of London (£17,371), City of Westminster (£16,246), Camden (£12,671) and Hammersmith and Fulham (£10,718) following Kensington and Chelsea.

Three of the five areas with the lowest cost per square metre were in Wales, with Merthyr Tydfil and Neath Port Talbot clocking in at £917 and £984 respectively.

They were joined by Burnley (£838) and Hyndburn (£976) in Lancashire.

The figures showed the north-south gap continues to widen, with prices in the South East (£3,445) almost double that of the North East (£1,271).

The data covers houses and flats bought in England and Wales between 2004 and 2016.

While there was a slight increase (2.7%) in the size of floor space bought, the rise in house prices was the main driver of growth, the ONS said.

Price per habitable room in England and Wales increased by almost half (45%) in the same period, whereas room size only increased by just over 1%.

A room in London cost almost £133,000 last year, almost four-and-a-half times more than those in the North East, with an average of around £29,700.

A boost in the proportion of detached homes purchased, along with a fall in the proportion of flats bought, account for the slight increase in room size.

Main Source: Isabel Togoh, Press Association

Gardening Delight in Autumn Harvest and Apples

At McCarthy Holden we know the added value that comes with a beautiful and productive garden, so top tips from gardening expert are worth having…..


As fruit-lovers celebrate harvest with Apple Days this month, Gardeners’ World presenter Monty Don offers tips on how to grow them.Monty Don loves apples. He has around 60 different types at his garden in Longmeadow, Herefordshire, growing in various forms – some are big trees, others stepovers, or smaller trees.

They are among the most popular fruits in this country and yet people have a fear about growing apples, says Monty in his latest book, Down To Earth.

“They somehow feel it has to be a big tree, but it doesn’t. You can grow stepovers or espaliers, you can grow fans or cordons. You can train the fruit to fit your space,” he explains.”People also get very worried about what are actually quite trivial afflictions. It could be a bit of mould on a leaf or a bit of bitter pit in the apple, but by and large apple trees are robust. They don’t need much looking after.”

Some people are also confused by rootstocks, he observes. “It’s moderately complex because all apples are grown on a different rootstock, so the roots of one tree are joined at the graft to the trunk and branches of another tree. The root dictates the size and vigour and shape of the tree, and the bit above the root dictates the fruit.

“So you could have my favourite eating apple, Jupiter, as a dwarf, a cordon or a great big tree, but you’d need a different rootstock for each of them.

“All you need to know is, I want it to be this big, my garden is this size, what rootstock do you have? And a good garden centre should be able to tell you.”

Monty’s tips for apple-growing beginners

1. Find a sunny spot – Apple trees need sunshine and good drainage. Don’t grow grass right up around them. Clear the grass for at least a 1m radius around them until the trees are as big as you want them to be, then you can let the grass grow back up to the trunk. Grass will take a lot of moisture and nutrients they need.

2. Plant more than one – “Some apples are self-pollinating, but you should always plant more than one. There are eight groups of apples, which are numbered solely on when they produce their flowers. Number one is the first to blossom, and number eight the last. “If you have two apples, one from group one and one from group eight, they won’t blossom at the same time and if they don’t blossom at the same time, they can’t cross pollinate. Either have two of the same group or one from either side, so if you have a group three apple, you should either have another from group three or one from group two or one from group four.

“The earliest apples start blossoming at the beginning of April and the latest blossom at the end of May, but the flowers have to be open at the same time to pollinate.”

3. Learn how to plant new trees – “Dig a wide hole no more than one spade’s depth deep, loosen the hole and the sides, but don’t add manure or compost. “Plant the tree slightly higher than it is in the pot or, if it’s bare-rooted, slightly above soil level, so it’s on a tiny pyramid. Firm it in well, so it’s planted in a slight cone, not a well, because more trees die from being over-wet than too dry. “Water it well, stake it and mulch it thickly with either garden compost or wood chippings, to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. You don’t add compost to the hole because you want the roots to grow out into the soil. If you put compost into the hole, the roots will stay and curl around and become almost pot-bound. Roots need to grow horizontally as quickly as possible. “Most feeding roots are within a spade’s depth and horizontal. They don’t go down, they go sideways.”

4. Know when to prune – “If you prune hard in winter, you will get lots of shoots coming back and none of those shoots will have any fruit on them. If you want to reduce the size of the apple tree, do it in summer. If you want to stimulate it to grow bigger, do it in winter. “Almost all apples produce their fruit on spurs and the spurs only develop on wood when it gets to two or three years old.”

5. Get inspired about varieties at Apple Days – “My advice is to go and taste as many different varieties as possible, see what they look like. Use it as an experience to extend your knowledge about what apples look and taste like. When you go to the supermarket, you’re just not going to have that opportunity. Then, if you find an apple you really like that you can’t buy in a supermarket, that’s the one to grow.”

Down To Earth by Monty Don is published by DK, priced £17.99. Available now.

To start your search for a property with a perfect garden just click here

Happy Home Recipe


The 82-year-old reveals 10 favourite household tips in her new book, Mary’s Household Tips & Tricks – Your Guide To Happiness In The Home.

“My focus may have been on cooking, but it’s always centred on the home. In my books and TV programmes, I’m always keen on sharing tips to help people,” says the cook.

“This book’s not about creating more work, or telling people what to do, it’s just passing on a collection of tips, things I learnt from my mother, my own ideas gleaned from years of practical experience, as well as helpful hints from friends and family.

“Home should be a place where, if you have a family, they want to visit and can come in and instantly relax,” Mary adds. “We’re very lucky – my husband and I have been married 50 years and don’t really argue – life’s too short. Never let the sun go down on a row is our motto.

“The one thing Paul and I really disagree about is how the house is decorated,” she says. “My husband likes the style he grew up, which isn’t exactly mine! For example, I’ve got tie backs on the curtains, but if I go away, he removes all the tie backs and puts them away in the cupboard. Similarly, he’ll move cushions he dislikes out of sight. Then gradually I put them all back again. It’s a farce really!

“Our kitchen is a practical, attractive space where everyone tends to congregate – family, friends and our two dogs – and where all the decisions are made,” reveals Mary.

“I have collections displayed, from china hens to vintage christening mugs. There are all sorts of easy tricks to making a space more practical. For instance, if you have good quality cupboard doors, fixing spice racks to the back of them is very useful. That’s the perfect dark place to store them, because light causes spices to fade and lose flavour.”

Here are Mary’s top tips:

1. Sort it out

“My house is tidy but definitely not immaculate! I like to keep on top of things though, so every so often I’ll sort out the chaos in my wardrobe and clear out some clothes. I also clean out kitchen cupboards and drawers every six months – I empty them, use a clean cloth and hot soapy water to wash all surfaces, and dry thoroughly. I’d suggest lining pan drawers with ridged rubber matting (available from online catering companies).”

2. Iron candle wax off a carpet

If wax has got onto a wool carpet, place kitchen roll or grease proof paper on top of the affected area, then iron it. The wax will melt and stick to the paper. (Take care with synthetic carpets as they don’t take well to heat!)

3. Clean your machines

To clean a dishwasher, run a wash with white vinegar. Use around 250ml placed in a container on the bottom rack – just run a normal cycle and it will be like a new machine. For the washing machine, run an empty cycle to clear the drum, and add a cut lemon to a short empty cycle, to keep the machine fresh. To pep up your microwave, put a cut lemon in a bowl of water and microwave on full power for one minute – condensation will release stains around the sides and make it easy to wipe clean.

4. Use nuts to help fade furniture scratches

Break an oily nut – such as a walnut – in half, and rub the exposed area over scratches in the wood. The oil of the nut should help them to fade and appear less noticeable.

5. Steam clean your floors

“I use a steam mop to clean my tiled floors and I don’t think it’s too much to say that it’s changed our lives. Steam mops are quick to heat up, can be used on any sealed floor surface, and the reusable micro fibre pad collects dirt with minimum effort,” advises Mary.

6. Wear rubber gloves and get stuck in to properly clean a toilet

To remove hard water and limescale toilet stains, wear rubber gloves, flush the cistern and remove a mugful of water from the bowl – I use a tin mug – so you can see the rim of the limescale line clearly.While the water level is low, pour or spray the loo cleaner around the limescale in the bowl. Make sure you get the product around the top and where water drips down the back of the bowl too. Leave for 30 minutes (or according to the product instructions), then rub with a fine scourer or brush. Pour the water in mug back into bowl, then brush and flush the cistern again.

7. Use onions to rid paint smells

If you have newly-painted walls, counteract the smell by cutting two onions into quarters and leaving them cut up on a plate overnight.

8. Protect the floor when you’re partying

Protect carpet if you’re having a party by using rolls of polythene film, used by builders to protect flooring. Make sure you buy the appropriate film for the floor surface – the one for carpet shouldn’t be used on hard flooring.

9. Keep flowers looking and smelling amazing

When putting cut flowers in a vase, remove any leaves which come below the water, otherwise they’ll make it turn green and smell. To clean irregularly shaped vases or containers, use a handful of rice and a good glug of white vinegar. Swirl around briskly, so the rice can clean corners, before rinsing and drying.

10. Clean windows the old-school way

“A half and half mixture of vinegar and water is a traditional window-cleaning solution and an alternative to chemical sprays. Alternatively, use a window/glass-cleaning spray and a micro fibre cloth, which won’t leave bits of lint on the surface.

Mary’s Household Tips & Tricks by Mary Berry, is published by Michael Joseph, £20.00.

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