An Interview With an Expert….Tony Guerguis

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Chartered Building Surveyor at Davis Brown

 Licence to Alter 

Tony Guerguis studied Economics at university to Masters Level before deciding on Building Surveying as a career. He has over ten years’ experience in dealing with a broad range of Building Surveying aspects including specification writing, contract administration, dilapidations and insurance valuations. His main interest and area of specialisation is party wall matters.

First things first Tony – what is a Licence to Alter?

A Licence to Alter is a formal document which sets out the terms and conditions in the event that a leaseholder wishes to make alterations to their property. It is essentially an agreement between the leaseholder and the freeholder (also known as the landlord) and act as a formal consent for the works to go ahead. A Licence will be required wherever the Lease states that Landlord’s consent is required for any alterations.

 

Why is a Licence to Alter required?

Where a lease requires consent for alterations, a leaseholder carrying out alterations to the property in the absence of a Licence to Alter, would be in breach of the terms of their lease. The leaseholder would be at risk of enforcement action being taken against them by the landlord, which could result in a costly and lengthy legal dispute. A Licence to Alter is designed to protect the landlord’s interests and ensure that the proposed works do not compromise the structure or functionality of the property and comply with up to date building regulations and legislation.

 

What kind of alterations invokes the need for a Licence?

Structural Alterations – this includes removing internal partition walls, building new partitions, inserting/removing beams etc.

Service Alterations – the installation of a new bathroom or kitchen, moving existing pipework to service a different room or installing new electrical circuits.

External Alterations – this involves works to the exterior of the property including the installation of new windows, applying a new roof covering or replacing a section of brickwork. Before committing to external alterations, the extent of the demised premises should be clarified within the lease.

Additional work which usually requires a Licence is the installation of a new hard floor covering.

 

How is the process of producing a Licence to Alter typically carried out?

The leaseholder proposing to carry out the works would engage with the landlord in order to obtain consent in accordance with the terms of the lease,. He or she would have to provide details of the proposal including a specification and drawings. The landlord’s solicitor would draft the Licence and an appointed surveyor would review the proposal and make recommendations to the Landlord. If the lease contains an absolute prohibition then the landlord can refuse or impose unreasonable conditions.  If the lease contains a qualified condition then Landlord’s consent cannot be unreasonably withheld where work is classed as an “improvement” (s.19 (2) Landlord and Tenant Act 1927).

Depending on the extent of the works, the surveyor would inspect the property intermittently during the works to ensure the terms of the Licence are complied with.

Who pays for the Licence?

All fees (solicitor, surveyor, managing agent if applicable) would typically be covered by the leaseholder planning on carrying out the works. It is prudent to check with the terms of the lease beforehand.

What advice would you give to a leaseholder who is about to engage with their landlord in order to obtain a Licence to Alter?

Check that you own the whole of the demise you intend to carry out works to! We have seen leaseholders do everything they need to do and pay all the required fees without realising that the area they propose to work on isn’t actually demised to them. Ideally they should take professional advice before applying for a Licence. At Davis Brown, we act for freeholders wishing to assess applications for Licences to Alter and provide advice and assistance to leaseholders wishing to apply for Licences.

Interview With An Expert: Ralph Cooley, Cooley Architects

Davis Brown has worked with Cooley Architects on several commercial and residential projects throughout London over the years, including Adeline Place in Bloomsbury, Fortess Grove in Kentish Town and Old Ford Road in Bow.    Here’s an insight behind the man at the top!

Adeline Place, available to let

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NAME: Ralph Cooley

JOB TITLE: Managing Director of Cooley Architects Ltd

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS AN ARCHITECT?

I started my career working for other practices on competition designs for major urban projects and museums. But to start my own practice, I relied on domestic extensions and refurbishments to build up experience and contacts.

WHAT SORT OF PROJECTS DO YOU TYPICALLY DEAL WITH?

We are unusual in that we work on small one off houses and flats for developers, right up to £40million student housing schemes. Typically we work on residential projects up to 100 units.

HOW DOES THE ARCHITECT FIT INTO THE DESIGN TEAM FOR A PROJECT?

Traditionally, architects were in control of projects, however with new contracts and ways of working we often get placed on the same level as any other consultant. However because of the historical arrangement we find that the other members of the design team still tend to look to us for guidance.

WHAT PROJECT DO YOU FEEL MOST PROUD TO HAVE WORKED UPON?

I was born in and went to architecture school in Portsmouth. Last year, our design for a 25 storey tower completed on site in Portsmouth City Centre. It’s a product of its economic constraints, but I think we did well to get an interesting design realised. It’s visible from my old architecture school so I guess I have to go with that one.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BUILDING?

The TWA terminal at JFK airport, by Eero Saarinen. Its joyous enclosure of space is what architecture can be at its best. In London I like the expressive optimism of the Barbican.

WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES IN DESIGNING BUILDINGS?

Everything is important, and the skill lies in bringing it all together. We have to try and produce what we think is a good building within the cost and planning constraints of the project.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON PROBLEMS YOU ENCOUNTER?

Communication is key. It’s the tool that we use to get things built and if it’s not 100% clear in both directions, then it will cause problems.

WHAT ARE THE KEYS TO SUCCESS WHEN WORKING ON RESIDENTIAL PROJECTS?

For developer led residential projects that we work on, the keys to success are commercial. The scheme has to stack up financially to be realised, whilst at the same time, being of a good enough quality to obtain planning approval. The trick is to keep that in mind and still try to produce something wonderful.

HOW DO YOU THINK MOST PEOPLE COULD IMPROVE THEIR HOMES WITH THE INPUT FROM AN ARCHITECT?

An architect should be able to give the client something they never thought was possible. But the client needs to be open minded when listening to ideas.

HOW CAN PEOPLE CONTACT YOU?

ralph@cooleyarchitects.com

 

 

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS & WHY YOUR HOME NEEDS THEM!

 When selling a property, what better way to pique someone’s interest than by doing so visually?  I know I know – one should never judge a book by its cover but in the property world these first visual impressions really do count. With more and more house hunters starting their search for a new home online, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure your home has impressive marketing photographs giving potential buyers or tenants the best possible first impression. As Estate Agents in W1 and Commercial Agents throughout London we understand that selling or renting can be expensive and no one wants to spend money on a service that they think they can do themselves. We advise our clients with property in London that professional photographs are a key  factor to generating interest and increasing their chances of getting their property let or sold as quickly as possible.

Damien Davis has photographed properties of all shapes and sizes. We asked him for his top three tips when it comes to preparing your property for professional photographs and we have even included some examples (it really does make a difference!):

  1. De-Clutter.  Clear surfaces and worktops – remove knick-knacks and appliances. Remove rugs and throws – they can make a room look untidy and scruffy. Close cupboards and draws, clear the sink and hide the bins.
  2. Light. Open blinds and curtains to allow as much natural light to flow through the property and make sure you replace any broken light bulbs.
  3. Home staging. Plump up cushions, set the dining table, make the bed. Fresh flowers and plants add a flash of colour. You are putting your property on centre stage and you want it to look fabulous!
  1. S T R A T F O R D   P L A C E, M A R Y L E B O N E

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(Davis Brown Commercial Agents in W1 sold this stunning Grade II Listed Building in excess of the marketing price)

G R E A T M A R L B O R O U G H  ST R E E T, SOHO

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 (Let at the asking price! Contact Davis Brow Estate Agents in Soho for more properties in Soho)

A D E L I N E  P L A C E, S O H O

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(Newly refurbished offices in Bloomsbury – contact our commercial agents in Bloomsbury for more info)

G O O D G E  S T R E E T,  F I T Z R O V I A

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(Davis Brown Estate Agents in Fitzrovia will be bringing this property to the market)

Welcoming Our New Property Administrator!

Hi Sonia and welcome to Davis Brown!

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Sonia joined the property department at Davis Brown and has now been with us for just over a week.  Here is a little insight into Sonia’s world…

What is your role at Davis Brown?

Property Administrator

What does a typical day entail at DB?  And what are you favourite and least favourite parts of the day?

So far…. It has consisted of answering emails, speaking to contractors, producing invoices and chasing arrears. As well as the odd property inspection and property visit.    

Favourite? Stroking Bertie – the office dog!

Least Favourite? hmmm…. Don’t know. Don’t have one.

What do you like best about working in Fitzrovia?

Busy and bustling. Lots of choices for places to eat and for shopping…… bad if you’re a shopaholic. Good for a browse. 

What is your favourite part of London, and why?

So many……. But I love Serpentine in Hyde Park and Embankment. Anywhere near a river/canal and a city view.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself – what you like to do in your spare time, hobbies?

I love doing kickboxing and Krav Maga classes after work. Weekends, I like playing squash.

Big cinema fan, esp. any Marvel Film. I also like to spend my spare time with my family, partner and pets (cat and dog).

If you could be locked in a building overnight what would it be?

It’s a toss up between Selfridges or Everyman Theatre – depends on my mood that day.

A Day in the Life of a West End Lettings Negotiator

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Josh Webber – Lettings Negotiator at Davis Brown.

Hi Josh – what is your role at Davis Brown?

My main dealings at Davis Brown are predominately within the lettings department. From valuations to arranging & carrying out viewings, handling negotiations and obtaining references, to signing of the contracts – I do it all really. Having experience within the sales field as well, I assist my manager where required to ensure the smooth running of the residential department.

What does a typical day entail at DB?  And what are you favourite and least favourite parts of the day?

There is no typical day! Once I’ve had a coffee or two, I’m usually running around London from viewings to meetings – by far being my favourite part of the day, as I get to see the true beauty of London as a city on a daily/weekly basis and its luxury homes. Alternatively, I can be in the office doing paperwork in order to get a pending deal over the line. It gives me the opportunity not to be stuck behind a desk all day, so the more I’m out and about, the better (as long as it’s not raining – which it usually is)!

What do you like best about working in Fitzrovia?

Fitzrovia is like a little village, everyone knows everyone! When popping out for lunch, being able to know both residence and workers in the area makes you feel at home, or how I like to say home away from home.  It’s a beautifully quiet residential area filled with gorgeous bars, restaurants and café. And let’s not forget Fitzrovia Square in the summer, it turns into a sun bathing, lunch driven paradise between the hours of 12-2.

What is your favourite part of London, and why?

That’s a very difficult question! London is comprised of so many different micro markets each uniquely tailored and offering its own special features! Working all across the capital in my time and seeing so many different places it’s hard to choose – I guess that’s what makes London so special.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt so far working at DB?

Working as a team, which in turn allows us to achieve the best results. 

If you could be locked in a building overnight what would it be?

Buckingham Palace, although I don’t think I would get very far without security stopping me.

SPRING BUDGET & THE LONDON PROPERTY MARKET

Prior to the Budget being announced property landlords, tenants and surveyors in London were hoping that both the Stamp Duty and Business Rates taxes would be addressed. London has taken a significant hit in both accounts, as a high number of properties are subject to high Stamp Duty charges, and commercial property across the board is subject to severe Business Rates increases in April. The question was how would the Chancellor address these issues in the Spring Budget?

The Business Rate revaluations in April have hit London to extreme levels, even after accounting for any form of relief. Some businesses could potentially see a 45% increase in rates payable in 2017 alone, so unsurprisingly many are concerned that such dramatic tax increases could result in companies facing insolvency. To make things worse if one wished to challenge their Rateable Value with Valuation Office the appeal process has been adjusted in a manner so that it could take 2-3 years before reaching a Valuation Tribunal, and even then, things will not be adjusted unless there is a ‘glaring’ error! In simple terms if you feel that your property has been over valued and you are now paying an excessive level of tax, it is going to be a long drawn-out process, with a limited chance of success.

As there is a level of economic uncertainty, many surveyors in London expected the Chancellor to address the problem in order to protect the many companies and organisations throughout London.

Sadly however this appears not to be the case, apart from a number of pubs that could see a £1,000 reduction, little support has been provided for the rest of the occupiers of any commercial property.

The Chancellor did accept the rating system needed to be addressed and reviewed before the next revaluation in 2022.  This however, provides no support to the many that are being affected by the sudden increases this time round.

When George Osborne made amendments to Stamp Duty, putting additional surcharges on buy-to-let and second homes, the number of transactions in the London property market slowed down almost immediately. Many Estate Agents in London thought that a Budget coming from a new Chancellor would automatically see a change in Stamp Duty, even if only slightly, just to get London sales market running again. It turns out the Chancellor disagrees for now, therefore the London property market won’t get the boost everyone was hoping for.

Overall the Spring Budget was disappointing regarding property market. Property surveyors are now hoping that the Chancellor sees things differently in August 2017 to give London a boost that it needs and protects the companies that have been hit badly by the upcoming Business Rate hikes.

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London’s Turning Emerald!

This weekend the capital will be putting on celebrations to remember the Emerald Isle’s patron saint – St Patrick.  He was believed to have died on 17th March in the year 493, hence the celebrations at this time of year.  He was brought up in Roman Britain but travelled to Ireland in the 5th Century as a young adult to convince Irish pagans that Christianity was the way forward.  Have you ever wondered why the shamrock was synonymous with Ireland? Well it was St Patrick who made the shamrock famous when he used the 3 leaved-clover to describe the Holy Trinity to as many non-believers that would listen to him.  I bet you didn’t know that!  

If you’re in London and want to join in the craic then you really are spoilt for choice as to what to do.  On Saturday Camden Market will be playing host to the London St Patricks Day Festival where you’ll find plenty of live shows and performances from music to acrobats, and a whole lot of activities to keep the kids amused too. 

For those of you interested in the more historical side of the Irish, you can explore the Irish history in London on one of the many free walking tours taking place, from St Pauls Cathedral to Covent Garden.  

St Patricks Film Festival London is putting on a few free (hurrah!) screenings at the Regent Street Cinema as well as at the London Film School in Covent Garden.    

Make sure you save some energy for the big one though!  Celebrations will come to a crescendo on the Sunday when the St Patricks Day Parade takes place.  Floats representing the 32 counties of Ireland will be taking part with all sorts from Irish dancers to marching bands to the dancing leprechauns!  Things kick off at Hyde Park Corner at midday and end up at Trafalgar Square, where you’ll be endlessly entertained by Irish food (champ and potato, beef and Guinness pie, corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew – to name but a few) Irish music, Irish booze and Irish people!

PADPIC!   

Generation Rent

We English love to think of ourselves as Kings and Queens of our castle, no-one else in Europe feels quite the same way as we do about our beloved patch! Margaret Thatcher’s controversial right to buy policy from 1980 gave the aspirational working class the opportunity to buy their council homes at a much discounted price, which lead to a steep rise in home ownership over the following 2 decades.  Today, however things are changing.  So why has the market slowed?  Since the turn of the century, high house prices and weak income growth has brought about a steady decline in home ownership, it’s increasingly difficult to get a foot on the property ladder – despite low interest rates and government subsidies for first time buyers.  Between 2000 and 2014 average earnings rose by 51% but house prices rose by a whopping 132% !  The younger generation – or Generation Rent, is now expected to pay far more than their parents did to get a mortgage, and salaries are just not allowing for it.

In London private renters outnumber homeowners for the first time in over a decade.  It’s not uncommon to see young families being priced out of the housing market, but this isn’t necessarily all doom and gloom.  Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Germany’s book, they have the greatest proportion of renters in Europe where only 39% own their own homes, compared with around 60% of Brits.   Why?  Well having a large mortgage is a huge commitment and people just can’t be bothered!  But isn’t home ownership a crucial cog in any healthy economy?  Well, in Spain around 80% of people own their own homes but unemployment is around 27%, and 39% own in Germany with unemployment at 5.2%, so I think that answers that question!   The housing market is clearly evolving and rather than panic perhaps we should be embracing the change.

Ref:  Quartz Media, The Independent, The Guardian

 

Meet our Graduate Building Surveyor – Alex Hooper

Hi Alex – what is your role at Davis Brown? I am a Graduate Building Surveyor at Davis Brown where my main role is to deal with party wall matters. I am also shadowing and assisting a couple of the directors in relation to contract administration, dilapidations, full building surveys and project management in order to broaden my skill set and obtain more experience.

What does a typical day entail at DB?  And what are you favourite and least favourite parts of the day?A combination of working in the office where I would typically liaise with clients, engineers, architects etc in order to produce documentation to facilitate building works, and going out to inspect properties/attend meetings with clients and construction professionals. 

Favourite Travelling around London and visiting a wide range of spectacular properties. Not only does this improve my knowledge of building pathology but I also get to meet interesting people from all walks of life in the process. 

Least Favourite I enjoy a good balance between being in and out of the office, so it would have to be when I am in the office for too long, sometimes it’s good to unleash some energy on an inspection!

What do you like best about working in Fitzrovia? I enjoy the diversity of different services Fitzrovia has to offer, it is a very mixed-use area which I think sets it apart from other central London districts.  Each road seems to have a unique defining feature. The large variety of different cuisines prevents sustenance from becoming tedious!

What is your favourite part of London, and why?My favourite part of London would have to be East London in general. I have only ever lived in East London and feel at home there now, there’s always something going on.

What is the most important thing you’ve learnt so far working at DB?As my previous experience in surveying was somewhat limited, I have learnt the extent of responsibilities required from each aspect of building surveying. This has helped my confidence when liaising with other professionals.

If you could be locked in a building overnight what would it be?St Bartholomew’ Church is a particularly impressive building I have visited recently, I could finally learn how to play the organ….

Thanks Alex!

Red Planet Dwelling

Feeling as though Planet Earth has gone a bit wayward in recent months?  Feeling like you just want to run away?  In around 20 years’ time you might be able to do just that (but by flying in a rocket – not running).   Mars could well be the next planet humans will be inhabiting, and a model of what the first human homes could look like have been created in London, using materials closely resembling those that would be found on Mars.   

There are many things to take into consideration when building a home on the Red Planet, (and here comes the science bit) the atmosphere is 100% thinner than it is on Earth and consists of approximately 96% carbon dioxide.   The model home is a pod-like building with a double air-locked entrance; a trap door leads downstairs where there are heaters to combat the average minus 80 degree F temperatures, and a machine to convert the carbon dioxide to oxygen.   Upstairs there is a small kitchen area – not that the food will be anything to write home about, with freeze dried food making up the most part, so a microwave will be an essential piece of kit.  Humans will have to grow around 20% of their food, so a place for plants to grow will also be essential.     

A survey was carried out about people living on Mars – and despite its unforgiving atmosphere a surprising amount of people were up for relocating quite a way away, a whopping 30% said they would consider going there to live, and a considerable 24% said they would definitely consider living there even if it was a one way ticket.  So, as David Bowie questioned “Is there life on Mars?” I think we can absolutely say yes there is (or will be in the not too distant future.).  Perhaps Davis Brown Estate Agents & Chartered Surveyors will be the first to market these homes on Mars; you’ll have to just watch this “space”…

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