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To retrofit or not to retrofit? That is the question

Many landlords remain in the dark about retrofitting their property. To gain insights into the best practices for renovations and retrofits, we sat down for a chat with Holly Harrington, renowned Architect, Founder & CEO of Housi.uk

Our conversation sheds light on the intricacies of balancing design, finance, and regulations in property management.

Holly Harrington

Holly is an experienced architect having worked on all scales of residential developments from large regeneration projects, towers, and listed buildings – all the way down to individual house projects. Here, she spotted how much stress homeowners experience when going through renovations. She is now on a mission to help streamline and revolutionise this consumer experience with Housi Ltd, acting as a one-stop shop in addition to providing guidance along the way. 

In addition to this, she has a small property development company with her partner,  co-chairs a female professional network in London, speaks on podcasts and teaches from time to time.

With a passionate curiosity for the future of the industry, she is currently investigating how the industry can be improved and driven forward with the assistance of technology. To make any further progress,  she believes collaboration and value chains in the industry are key, moving away from silos and towards teamwork across all parties. 

Navigating renovation costs and prioritising investments

For landlords, it’s vital to assess how changes can add value to properties. Holly emphasises the importance of understanding both the market and upcoming regulations. She mentions the upcoming EPC upgrades as an example and points out that it’s always better to be ahead of changes than to fall behind. This can involve creating a whole house plan that outlines potential improvements over time, ensuring the right measures are implemented at the right time and in the right order. This can help to prioritise and phase the works in a financially sensible manner.

For example, if considering replacing windows between tenants, but then also considering adding internal or external insulation at a later time, it would be wise to understand the different ways for these works to be phased in order to choose the right method so money isn’t lost later on by installing items in the wrong order. 

In the interim, there are many small things that can be checked in existing buildings like damp, mould, and large or blocked vents – all of which contribute to poor living conditions and poor building performance. Blocked gutters, covered-up airbricks, loose roof tiles and non-functioning vents can all cause water ingress, loss of heat and damage to external walls and will require investment to fix at some point. These are all simple measures that can be found and remedied tomorrow and are required before implementing any retrofit measures.

“Having a clear itemised plan allows property owners to see how much money goes to each item and it will also help define priorities of work to be done – if it is not financially feasible to be done all at once.”

Holly Harrington

Holly also recommends looking into schemes that provide financial support and guidance. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme runs through energy providers and could be an option for landlords looking to improve energy efficiency through upgrading boilers to heat pumps, or even wall insulation. The tenants do however need to be on a low income, and the scheme is only open until March 2026.

Unfortunately, the Warmer Home Scheme offered by the GLA which provided financial help to upgrade properties has now closed. Other schemes still open such as the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, offering boiler switches to heat pumps through energy providers like Octopus, may be worth looking at as soon as possible before the scheme ends.

Whilst the financial support is still limited for private landlords currently, a whole house assessment would still be a low-risk, low-cost first step to understand the options and how to
plan for the future costs. There are many companies now offering quotes online and easy
booking for a house assessment from around £750.

This plan and assessment can then be shared with other specialists like architects later on, to
form part of the brief if any other design or planning approvals are required, such as grants for heat pumps with Octopus Energy, offering boiler switches under the same grant.

Get in touch to learn how Letio can help you maximise the return on your property investment

Measuring the success of your investments

So, If you’re making a larger investment in your property or if the work you do requires a
larger investment – how would you measure success? We asked Holly these questions,
and she shared a number of things to consider.

“When investing in a renovation project, we look to ensure we are aware of upcoming trends and changing legislation – this can often be a valuable selling point later on.”

Holly Harrington

In addition to any profit made by adding value and increasing the price of a building, Holly also recommends looking at how quickly a property sells or how quickly you find tenants.

“If your property sells quickly, this is a testament that even if market conditions are difficult, your property will sell or attract tenants.”

The current state of UK housing

The UK housing market is currently slow due to a mix of factors such as inflation, high interest rates and high construction costs showing a decrease in house sales and planning applications.

Notably, house sales and planning applications for new homes have dramatically decreased,
reaching their lowest point since 2010, as reported by CBRE. However, Holly points out that
some opportunities are on the horizon for people looking to get into property.

“The design, planning and technical stages of creating homes takes a long time so as an architect I am kept busy either pre-planning, or if a project is on site they rarely stop. I often see more renovation and extension projects coming in during downturns as people who were looking to move, now cannot, so they improve their homes instead. From a developer perspective, it is a buyers market right now, but if landlords or developers can remain cash rich in the coming months this may offer some investment opportunities.”

Holly Harrington

Holly notes that homeowners are currently caught in a stalemate, burdened by high-interest
rates. Likewise, developers face the weighty costs of debt servicing, compounded by decreased demand due to those high-interest rates for homeowners. This leads to a buyer’s market where potential bargains on property investments could be made.

Looking ahead: A stronger focus on health and sustainability

When asked about future trends, Holly points out that the focus on health and sustainability will continue to increase. “There needs to be a mindset shift in the property sector to how we view properties as homes vs assets, where we have better standards to ensure people are living in healthy properties.”

Retrofitting and renovations can become very costly – especially if done incorrectly. It’s important to understand what type of value can be added and where so property owners can feel comfortable that they are investing correctly in their assets.

“We need sustainable materials and solutions to become more mainstream to allow the retrofit market to take off. This will create a lot more value and jobs within the industry.”

Holly emphasizes the importance of landlords fulfilling their duty of care towards people, which cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the long-term reputation of businesses holds significance. Being recognised as the environmentally conscious landlord or sustainable developer within the area can have a positive impact.

“We have already seen horrible stories of young children dying in the UK due to unhealthy living conditions. Our homes cannot continue to make us sick.”

Holly Harrington

Especially in challenging market conditions, this distinction can make all the difference. While other properties may struggle, having a higher quality offering can lead to faster sales or easier tenant acquisition. Ultimately, if there were two houses for sale, with one being slightly more expensive but more sustainable, healthier, and resulting in lower monthly bills, the choice is easy for most people.

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