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To Buy Or Not To Buy? By John Eden, Surveyor

Low section view of a man standing by text Rent and Own with arrow sign represents the concept of home ownership.

I am approaching my 29th birthday and I notice that people my age are making many big life decisions, one of which being the purchase of their first home. As a result, I keep being asked when I will make that leap on to the housing ladder, and where or what will I buy. I am currently renting a flat in Westbourne Park, and although I am paying a reasonable rent, it is still difficult to save enough to allow me to properly contribute to a deposit large enough to make my first move.

In order to save enough money one has to first cut down on the initial costs and a good way of doing this is by spending less on rent.

One obvious saving scheme is to move back in with family; however this is only really possible if they live or have property available in commutable distance from where you are working (and also if you can stand the idea of moving back home after over ten years of living independently!).

Another way of saving some cash is to find cheaper rental alternatives. One option is shared accommodation; this can be a bit of a gamble, but if you ask the right questions when interviewing potential flatmates and choose like-minded people then things should go swimmingly!

 You could otherwise move a little further out into Greater London and beyond. This does however come with the increased commuting costs.

When it comes to buying your first home a number of things will have to be considered: should it be in a more central area, where sales prices are higher but where I would prefer to live, or should I branch out to into London’s commuter belt where I am likely to get more for my money?

If I were to stay in Central London, the likelihood is that I would get a small 1 or 2-bed flat that I would quickly grow out of and would be once again looking to move in the near future. Moving house is a relatively arduous process with lots of additional costs and spent time, whether it is refurnishing or dealing with the small bits of unexpected maintenance / repairs you find whilst moving in.

The other option would be to move further out of London and get more for my money, however in return I would have to sacrifice being less central with a longer commute and potentially having to suffer from Southern Rail strikes!

My parents seem to be the most eager for me to get on the housing ladder, however I strongly suspect that they have not realised how much the ‘Bank of Mum & Dad’ would be depended on. Not only would it be assisting with initial deposit, but then it is likely I would need them to cover a lot of the additional expenses coming from buying and moving into a new home. Unfortunately, it is unlikely this is going to change anytime soon because there is not enough housing to satisfy the demand of the first time buyers.

So what do I do? It’s weighing up all the pros and cons, and looking at it from my situation I currently live in a great flat with great connections in to central London, not to mention a private garden (something I wouldn’t be able to afford if I was to buy.). On top of that I have a good relationship with my Landlady, so when things do need repairing they are quickly resolved at no cost to me. So I think on that basis I will sit back and relax, for me – at my stage of life it’s just not necessary to be undertaking the extra financial stress.

“Why I chose a traditional agent over an online agent”

Handing over the house keys from one person to another.

“When the time came for me to sell my home, the dilemma of instructing an agent is hard enough, and with the rise of the online agent who charges a fraction of the price of a traditional high street agent, at the time it seemed a very tempting choice so that’s the route I decided to take.  Online agents will organise marketing materials such as photos and floorplans and the property is listed on property portals such as Rightmove & Zoopla.  All you have to do as the vendor is conduct the viewings, negotiate the price and boom – your property is sold!  Is all sounded so appealing and simple, I was sold!  Moving along a little further into the process and the difficulties started to appear; once my flat was listed I started to receive viewing requests, potential buyers wanted to view at all times of the day which is particularly inconvenient if you have a full time job. Buyers can also be very critical with their opinions, and this is not what you want to hear about your pride and joy (yes I am VERY house proud!).  And then there was dealing with the offers, which was to say the very least, a bit of a nightmare!   I soon came to realise my decision to use an online agent was the wrong one and as the enquiries dropped off, I decided to instruct a traditional agent (Davis Brown) to manage the sale.    

Only then did I start to realise all the invaluable work that traditional agents put in behind the scenes to help you sell your home.   First and foremost there is the personal touch – they talk to you and are there each and every step of the way; they take the pressure off when you simply don’t have the knowledge, energy or time to give to selling your property.   They have negotiating skills, they know where and how to market the property, and they act as leverage between the buyer and the seller.  They have the knowledge of the local area – what has sold and for how much, which properties have got planning permission – the list goes on, but to put it simply they have the experience that I didn’t!    

I have heard some horror stories about agents in the past, and this was why I decided initially to go down the online route, but if you take your time to find an experienced, professional agent it will honestly take a huge chunk of stress out of selling your home!”

An Interview With …….

Susan Battson – Residential & Commercial Property Manager at Davis Brown.

Where did you begin in the property industry and how old were you?

I started in the property industry in about 1984 and I began in a company called Batty Stevens Good in Museum Street in WC1, where I was a residential sales and lettings negotiator. I was probably about 24.

What kind of properties and clients were you dealing with in 1984?

We were based in Bloomsbury and I was dealing with properties around that area, stretching right down to the Barbican in EC2 and Clerkenwell. We dealt with a mixed portfolio of flats and houses. The Barbican was very modern whereas Bloomsbury was really quite traditional with lots of conversions where we had dealings with developers who were looking for buildings to convert.

Wow so there were even developers back then?!

There were! I’m not such a dinosaur after all!

And the kind of clients that you were dealing with then – was it fairly split? What kind of clients did have on your books and who did you primarily deal with?

In terms of lettings, we were letting to students but not really overseas student like you are nowadays, that is something far more recent, if there were students potentially more English students, otherwise they were just people looking for rentals because they weren’t buying a home in this country. The sales were people either looking for a second home or looking to live in central London. The Barbican was particularly popular for people looking for a second home. 

And what about the clients?

The clients were a complete mix of private individuals and portfolios.

What do you think has changed since you left the estate agency industry?

I think there has been a huge input from foreign investors and I think the pace has got much faster, I think there’s a lot more legislation you have to deal with as an agent and as a lettings negotiator – far more than we ever had to deal with. It’s much tighter, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I think a lot of it’s a very good thing, but I think there’s a lot more work that you have to do as an agent, especially in terms of a letting agent to get a deal through than you had to do back in my day.

How have the properties changed in your eyes?

The properties themselves I think are much improved, I think people want a much higher standard of property; I think they’re looking for clean, sharp lines and for good refurbished units, they’re looking for high quality. In those days, I’m going back over 20 years, people would often settle for a lot less, but then rents were a lot lower.

With the property market now, what do you see? What’s the first thing that comes to your

head when you think of the market now?

How high the prices are!

How do you think the buyer has changed in the last 30 years?

Well again, I think there are a lot more foreign investors than there were before. A lot of the young people who are buying have much more parental help these days, which we didn’t have before. I think that’s because prices are quite high. So maybe we have families buying into a property with their children, to get them started in central London.

Where do you see the property market in the next year and then within the next 10 years?

That’s a really difficult question! I think it’s probably slowed down a bit in central London, I think it’s almost peaked.  But I think London is always going to remain very popular, it’s a global capital city, everybody who wants to come to England is drawn to London, so there will always be great demand here. But I think, as has been historic, there are peaks and troughs, and that’ll continue. Where it’ll be in the next 10 years is anybody’s guess. 

        Have a guess?

I’m sure it’ll be on the increase. 

Do you think buyers will change?

I think the buyers will change. I’m not quite sure how the young people are going to be able to sustain buying in central London with the prices that they are. I think that with the salaries that people are on, I’m not sure that that is going to be sustainable. Depends what happens to London prices.

        Did you have your kind of ‘top deal’ in the 1980s – your        favourite property which you let or sold, and whereabouts was it?

Oh, I had a top development deal which was in Bloomsbury and I’d worked on that for months and months and I can’t remember the name of the street, it was adjacent to Museum Street. It was a building that we’d sold to be converted into flats.   But I really, really also enjoyed working down in the Barbican, because that’s where I went to school. I think it’s a fascinating place and I thought the flats were quite quirky. They were actually at that time, beginning to become almost slightly dated because they were built probably in the 1970s, and so by the 1980s they were beginning to need a little bit of interior work being done to them, but the time I spent on the Barbican was a very interesting, fascinating time and there were great deals to be done there and it was a lot of fun!


An Interview With an Expert….Tony Guerguis


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


NAME: Ralph Cooley

JOB TITLE: Managing Director of Cooley Architects Ltd


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.





 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


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



 (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


(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


(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!


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


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.


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.


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!