Posts Tagged ‘housing’

The importance of council houses

Monday, April 13th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I am a proponent on the free market. That doesn’t mean I am a hardcore economic libertarian that thinks the state should keep its nose out. Far from it. I think the free market works best well in a strongly regulated environment that forces companies to provide a high level of service and prevents them from gaining a monopoly.

Housing is a tough one though. House prices continue to go up. Why? One answer is, that people keep buying them. Getting into more and more debt. Which, as we saw in 2008, can only go so far. Yet the property market continues. While the rest of the world burned, house prices never really dropped that much.

Another reason is that the government know that home-owners vote, and so continue to push out policies that prop up house prices. As I have written about before, any consideration of the help to buy scheme quickly reveals it as a trick to help the middle class. Rather than forcing home-owners to lower prices to those affordable to first-time buyers, it forces young people to take on even more government-sponsored debt while allowing the home-owning class to extract their silver.

The problem with the housing market though, is that there is no opt-out. With consumer goods, if they are ludicrously expensive, you just buy something else with your money. Housing is not like that. You need somewhere to live. While house prices may be irrationally high but we face the same problem that those who said they knew the 2008 financial crash was coming. Just because you know it to be the case, does not mean you can stay solvent longer than the market can remain irrational.

Another reason that the free market fails with regards to house prices is that people have stronger non-financial considerations. They want to live near their friends and families for example and have jobs tying them down to locations. In a free market, everyone would move to Darlington to enjoy cheap, spacious houses. Yet people continue to rent hovels in London for £2,000 a month because their connections keep them there. They are trapped in a restricted market.

In contrast, an increased investment in council houses could help fix the market. Having council houses with reasonable rents could provide a genuine alternative to buying or renting from private landlords, forcing the private housing market to compete for customers on a truly free market.

House prices and the free market

Saturday, June 28th, 2014 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently a new report by Shelter suggested that 80% of homes were unaffordable to most families. Government intervention on this issue has failed us. Perhaps it is time for a free market solution?

Firstly, the government’s “Help to Buy” scheme is not helpful. It allows people to take 95% mortgages by allowing the banks to make less risky mortgages and the government paying the rest. The problem with this is that it allows people to buy homes they can’t afford.

The example of the Help to Buy website shows the government adding in £20,000 to the £5,000 deposit the buyer has, thus allowing them to buy a £200,000 house. But they cannot afford a £200,000 house. Based on the deposit they are putting up they can afford a £40,000 house. However, state intervention then allows everyone to charge £200,000 and have buyers for them, thus house prices go up to way beyond what they should be.

Secondly, the banks are willing to take large risks on mortgages because they know the government will bail them out if they get into trouble. Thus they can take huge risks, get rich when times are good and make the tax payer pay when times are bad. Who wouldn’t do that?

The government should stop doing things to make this huge prices affordable and actually do the opposite – making them unaffordable! Thus the free market would then bring prices down.

This, not propping up unaffordable house prices, is where state intervention would be useful. In order for the free market to function effectively you need to ensure there is liquidity in the market. This can be achieved by making sitting on second homes unaffordable.

Leeds City Council has already taken steps to do this. They have revoked council tax discount on empty properties and after two years you even may a premium of an extra 50% (you pay 150% of the normal council bill) to encourage you to sell it. Similarly, as I wrote about in 2012, you could just ban people from buying second homes.

Ending the state-sponsored propping up of house prices and introducing further measures to add liquidity to the housing market could then allow the free market to bring house prices down to a reasonable level.

Obviously this is a topic that most people will have an opinion on, so I would love to hear why I am wrong (on which I expect there will be some good arguments).

Notice to require possession

Friday, March 9th, 2012 | Life

On Thursday, 1 December I received a letter from my letting agent, Walker Singleton, stating they would be terminating my tenancy because they had to sell the apartment on behalf of the mortgage company. I was shocked and alarmed at the idea of having to leave me home, so I phoned their office. Multiple times. They never answered.

I eventually managed to speak to them the next day, and said that if they had to sell the apartment, I would just buy it (at the asking price!), it would be cheaper for them, it would be cheaper for me, no one would have to move, everyone is a winner.

They said no, claiming they had to sell it with vacant possession, and if I wanted it I would have to move out, wait for it go on the market, then buy it and move back in.

I went away and discussed this with a few people, and it didn’t make sense to any of us. So on the Monday I rang them back and explained to them the situation in more detail, and that HSBC had said they would give me a mortgage, so this really was an easy win for the both of us.

They said no. I asked why repeatedly but they wouldn’t give me a straight answer, just saying they couldn’t do it. I then asked if I could speak to the owner of the property, or the mortgage provider. They said that wasn’t possible, but wouldn’t explain why.

So I went to the Land Registry and got the title register for the property and found that the lender was Mortgage Express. So I phoned Mortgage Express and they put me through to Possessions. Possessions said they hadn’t taken possession yet, so I would have to speak to Late Arrears. So I phoned their help desk back again and asked to be put through to Late Arrears.

They said they couldn’t discuss anything to do with the property other than to confirm that someone had a mortgage on it, but because I wasn’t the account holder I wasn’t allowed any further information.

I also tracked the guy down on LinkedIn

Hi Richard,

I’m a tenant of yours, currently living at an apartment you own – Crown Street Buildings in Leeds. I’m just looking for some more information about what is going on, as I’ve been served an eviction notice.

Best wishes,
Chris Worfolk

He never got back to me.

So now I’ve moved out and everyone seems to have come away with a loss. Bad times.

The housing problem

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Following on from my rather angry post yesterday, I thought I would elaborate on a possible solution to the housing problem.

By the housing problem, I refer to the fact that house prices continue to climb above inflation and therefore become more and more unaffordable. A contributing factor to this is the inability to match housing supply to demand – that is to say, we simply don’t have enough houses.

But actually, we do. Go for a walk around Clarence Dock or City Island and you’ll find them a ghost town. Nobody lives there.

A significant contributing factor to this is that a lot of people bought second homes to rent out and then the property market collapsed and so all of these people were left with properties they couldn’t rent out nor could they sell and nor did they really want. But of course people refuse to sell them at a loss, so house prices don’t go down to an affordable level, and so they continue to be unaffordable.

One way to resolve this problem is to ban the practice of buying a second home to let. Just make it illegal. This might sound crazy at first but it’s actually more common than you would think – in Japan, for example, you can only rent out a property that you own in its entirety (without a mortgage).

Because, when you really think about it, buying second homes for rent is really just taking advantage of the younger generation, or poorer strata of society. If you weren’t allowed to do this, housing companies would be forced to sell to people who actually want to live in the house and so they would have to be affordable for people – no more fat landlords buying all the properties and forcing people to pay rent to pay off someone else’s mortgage.

Paying your rent

Monday, February 20th, 2012 | Thoughts

One of my friends was recently screwed over by an agency he was contracting for who refused to pay him a rather large amount of money they owed him. This caused all sorts of problems, including a rather late rent payment, and as a consequence he soon found his letting agent moaning about how they had had the landlady (who owned their house) on the phone screaming that she couldn’t pay her mortgage.

This was something that really resonated with me. Because, it’s nonsense.

As if it’s our job as tenants, to pay their mortgage. That is the risk you take when you choose to rent your second house out, and it’s not our job to cater for your bad financial planning. Don’t buy a house unless you can afford it.

If I wanted the stress of having to make sure I could make a mortgage payment every month, I would buy a house. I rent, because I don’t want that stress.

But much more than that, it is a problem with the inequality in society. These people are so wealthy that they can afford not just one house, the one they live in, but at least a second one, the one they rent out to you.

What do we receive for the privilege of helping these people build their property empire? We get to pay their mortgage for them, keeping them rich and us poor. And we’re supposed to give a shit if they can’t pay the mortgage on their second home while the tenant struggles to find the money to feed his child? Fuck off.

Other services include

Saturday, August 1st, 2009 | Life

Here’s a few more fun adventures with the new apartment…

We only have one key fob between the three of us. So I asked my letting agent who said I would need to speak to the building management company. I did, they told me I needed to speak to the caretaker. He told me I needed to speak to some guy in Shipley.

I spoke to the guy in Shipley, he said he had some in stock. I tried to order some but apparently they don’t take credit cards. It’s 2009, but they don’t. So I have to mail them payment before they can send them out.

I got a letter through from nPower telling me if I didn’t ring them in the next 14 days they were going to cut my gass off. So I rang them, not really having looked into it, and they told me that the apartment did in fact not actually have a gass connection.

I tried to at least get my electricity sorted but I needed a meter reading for that so I rang my letting agent who said they didn’t have one as they couldn’t get in to wherever the meters are so had had to request one off Accent the building management company who hadn’t got back to them.

The car park permit people are very much like my letting agent – they don’t answer their phones even when I’m trying to give them money.

The repairs division of my letting agent do answer their phones, but not when you press 1 for repairs on the automated voice at the beginning. You have to press 2 for rent payments and then ask to be transfered.

I needed to speak to them however as I would like my door handles to be attached to my doors and screwed in, not simply pushed on as several of them are at the moment. I also need a key to the balcony door, which they don’t have, so they’re probably going to have to drill the lock out and put a new one in.

Good times.


Monday, July 27th, 2009 | Life

Walker Singleton Back when I started my flat search I came across a beautiful one in Langton’s Wharf which I was most glad of given the standard of most I had seen. Having arranged a second viewing for everyone else we decided to take it.

By the time the agent had got back to the office his colleague had just taken the fee from someone else. I was devastated but luckily I soon came across another flat which was nice and cheap marketed by an agent named Walker Singleton. Thus begins my fantastic tale…

I booked an appointment to view the place. The guy that showed us round wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the draw. He had never been to the property before and didn’t really have any idea what was going on. He explained it was very strange that it didn’t have a washing machine. I explained to him it was probably communal. Because it’s perfectly normal to explain to the letting agent the setup at a perspective property.

He didn’t know how the parking situation worked either. Or the policies for the communal garden. Or the council tax band. He told me he would get someone at the office to phone me about the council tax band. They never did.

It wasn’t the best viewing ever, namely because there was no electricity so we couldn’t really see anything without using our phones as torches. Of course he didn’t know how why the electrics were out or how to get them back on.

Anyway we decided to go with it. They wouldn’t sign up up anywhere but their office though – which is in Halifax. So I changed my plans and arranged to go down there and get it all sorted on the Friday of the AHS Conference when I had to be out of my current house by the Monday. Not ideal but I recruited some hired help to get everything moved and ordered by BT line so we could get the internet up and running asap.

Thursday, the day before the move arrives and I get a phone call. It’s the letting agent informing me that there was a leak in the property and so I couldn’t move in. Brilliant.

I spoke to my current landlord and luckily he had another property he could give me for a month – so having got back from Warwick I spent the Monday night moving into this other property. Which is a bit of a nightmare in one night as I’m sure you can imagine.

Over the next few days and weeks I continue talks with the letting agent – as well as looking elsewhere unfortunately the only other letting agent with any suitable properties listed on Rightmove are also morons who have let all their properties but insist on relisting them – when I can of course because they don’t answer their phones, it just drops to voicemail almost immediately every time you ring them and I have never yet had them return a voicemail message despite rining them every day, often several times a day.

It turns out the leak is coming from one of six other flats but the people at Walker Singleton don’t know who the other flats belong to or who owns the building so they can’t get it sorted and they don’t know who to contact about it.

This goes on for weeks and they still can’t find out where this leak is coming from. How does that work? As a letting agent are you not concerned about such issues as your property flooding? I mean you just couldn’t write this stuff.

I phoned them on Friday and finally got through on the third time to find out they had another flat in the same building that I could have for a short period if I wanted until the actual flat was really. I suggested we just have that one instead, apparently that hadn’t occured to them.

They said I could look round it – how nice of them. But they couldn’t be bothered to actually show me round it, they told me I had to come to Halifax to pick the keys up! So Monday I sped over to Halifax on my lunch break and picked up the keys.

I had been prewarned that the place was a bit of a state – it only had two en-suite bedrooms but it had a communal bathroom so that wasn’t a problem and the smashed in windows were getting replaced. “Sounds great” I said. I also enquired if there was a code to the building and was told there wasn’t. So I got back in my car and headed back to Leeds. As I pulled off I got a phone call. From Walker Singleton. “Oh, by the way, there is a door code.”

I went to look round after work and tried the front door – but the code didn’t work. That meant I couldn’t check out any of the communal facilities but luckily the apartment can be accessed from the outside.

I went in and picked my way over the broken glass and piles of junkmail. It was suprisingly underground for a “ground floor flat.” That and it only had two bedrooms and a mystery door – which the handle for was lying on the floor and even when I reconstructed it, it was locked. Was it a bathroom? A third bedroom? Who knows.

I phoned them back on Tuesday and told them about my experiences. I asked about another apartment which she said she needed to speak to her colleague about and would phone me back. She didn’t, so I phoned her and she said she had spoken to her colleague and it was still available but she needed to speak to her manager to see if they could lower the price.

I was desperate at this point so I said I wasn’t too bothered but she said she would phone me back later that afternoon to confirm the price. She didn’t so I phoned her back again on Wednesday morning and she said she was still waiting to speak to her manager. I replied “no, it’s fine, I’ll pay the asking price.” She responded, “well, I’ll speak to my manager and see if we can do it a bit cheaper.”

They weren’t answering their phones in the early afternoon but around 2-3ish joy of all joys – they actually rang me and said that it was available (no new information or anything) and suggested I come down to pick the keys up to have a look at it – again, they weren’t prepared to show me round or anything.

Also their contractor was coming to do some work on it tomorrow so I had to go to Halifax, picks the keys up, drive back to Leeds, have a look round, drive back to Halifax and give them the keys back so they could give them to the contractor and then drive back to Leeds in time to get my train down to London. In order to do this I had to change my train tickets which cost me £9.35 for the ticket and £15 in “admin fees.”

I get to work at 7:20 so I can make an early start and get away early. Except nobody else decides to turn up early today and I don’t have any keys – so I spend 50 minutes sat outside waiting for someone who does, to turn up.

I had out just before 12 and race over to Halifax and pick the keys up. Stepanie’s colleague informs me that she is out but has left the keys for me to pick up. So I take them and head back to Leeds to check out the apartment.

I get into the building easily enough and find apartment 31 – except the keys don’t work. I phone Stephanie who says everyone else has gotten in without a problem so I give it a few more tries, still nothing. I give up in the end after ten minutes of trying to open the door with these keys and head for the exit at which point I run into the caretaker of the building.

He offers to give it a go for me and on our way up there realises the problem – there was a leak and they don’t have any contact details for Walker Singleton and so couldn’t get the keys and so had to break in and replace the locks.

The caretaker manages to find the person with the keys and show me round (it was very nice) but also explains they have had some water damage and so currently it has no floor – and this won’t be going in for another week. Walker Singleton don’t know this because they don’t have any contact details for each other and also, thanks to the locks being changed, my letting agent no longer has a set of keys to get into the flat.

By this time it’s too late to run back to Halifax as I have an adjusted train to catch. I head down to London and back, my training arriving back into Leeds at around midnight and I’m not in the best mood because I got absolutely soaked in London with the rain despite having both a coat and an umbrella. At which point I have to drive to Halifax and back before I can go to bed.

I agree to take the place because it is very nice and finally make an apointment to sign up, but it isn’t until the week after because they don’t want to do it until the refurbishment work has been done. Of course by the time I actually sign up on the Friday after it still hasn’t been finished.

They do at least agree to sign me up at the property and I meet Adam there who seems to know a little more about the general situation though has no idea what any of the keys do. Or what the code to the building is. He promises he’ll get someone to ring me with the details that afternoon – which of course they don’t.

And despite claiming to have visited the apartment several times to run all their “checks” they seem to have failed to notice or ignored that the place is a right state with stuff still left by the previous tenants in the cupboards and random bottles of cleaning chemicals everywhere as well as the surfaces not being clean. Something I have extensively documented with my digital camera and will be returning the property in a similar state.

So that is my experience with Walker Singleton so far. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind. The scary thing is though, they’re probably all just as bad.

Fingers crossed

Sunday, July 19th, 2009 | Photos

I’m having a nightmare finding a new place to live at the moment, with the two places I have had lined up both being flooded and now my temporary house also has water coming through the ceiling. Perhaps God is finally going to reveal himself to me in the form of a second great flood in which I must build an ARC that is also a Tardis to accommodate two of each of the billions of species on this planet.

In any case I have found a place I rather like, so while I’m not holding my breath as given recent experience it is highly likely to go tits up again, would hopefully suit me quite nicely, especially given the central location, righr next to the Corn Exchange in town.

So, here’s to hoping. Pictures of the views out of the windows are below.

Living area Boar Lane Corn Exchange

It could only happen to Liz

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 | Friends

But it didn’t, it happened to Si.

He arrived at his new flat in Leeds today, unlocking the door and locking it behind him once in. It then came for him to leave the flat. So of course, step 1 is to unlock the door. The only problem is that the keys didn’t work.

So I drove round to try them from the outside. Nothing. Well, I say nothing, I now know where Si’s flat is. But still, Si is currently locked inside his flat. And we all thought the days of crappy student houses were over.

Things I’ll miss

Friday, May 9th, 2008 | Thoughts

With us planning to move into a professional let next year, I think I’ll miss the querks of a student house. After all next year we will have…

  • Front doors that stays open when you open it so you can carry things in
  • Streets that aren’t lined top to bottom with cars 90% of the time
  • Streets you don’t need a four wheel drive to safely navigate over the potholes
  • Hallways you don’t have to swim through due to the amount of leaflets put through the door
  • Door handles that you can twist without having to push it back together first
  • Bathrooms that don’t randomly have woodlice appear in
  • Kitchens that don’t randomly have slugs appear in
  • Kitchen taps that release water when you turn them on rather than within about 5 minutes of turning them on
  • Kitchen floors that you stop sticking to once you’ve cleaned them
  • Washing machines that don’t randomly stop working and randomly start working again later
  • Ovens that light when you turn them on
  • Microwaves that turn on when you try to put them on for less than 2 minutes
  • Irons that allow to entire your entire item of clothing rather than the bit within a foot of the plug socket
  • Telephone lines that were installed within the past 200 years and so can actually carry a signal
  • Surfaces that you can clean the dust off and come back to an hour later without discovering they are once again covered in dust

Then again, maybe not.